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Entertainment Geekly Mailbag: 'Smash Brothers' talkback and a 'Big Brother' counter-theory

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Kirby Smash Brothers
Nintendo

This is the Entertainment Geekly Mailbag, where I respond to comments, questions, and angry clarifications. (You can email me at darren_franich@ew.com.) This week: Everyone takes issue with my brutally accurate assertion that Kirby is one of the worst players in Super Smash Brothers.

You sir are right on all accounts except one: Kirby. Is. Awesome. And is my go-to character in Smash Bros. If you’d like me to demonstrate why he should be ranked higher on your character list, Ill happily play a round with you ;)

-theatregeek

I would never dream of insulting anyone’s choice of Go-To Character, because that is a deeply personal decision. Like, your Go-To Character is sort of a weird combination of your favorite baseball player, your mascot, your child and your significant other.

So I don’t mean it as an insult when I say that Kirby in Super Smash Brothers is one of the cheapest characters in the history of cheapness in fighting games. His downward-falling stone move, which leaves him partially invincible, is a favorite strategy for players with no other strategy: it allows you to just float around, flying high above the action, usually only striking when everyone else is busy fighting everyone else. Kirby’s whole Absorbing-Man act is even more annoying. Actually, everything about Kirby is annoying. Every time he says “Hiiii!” with that voice that sounds like a helium-inflated parrot doing a toddler impression, I get the sudden urge to stuff my Nintendo 64 controller down Kirby’s throat, just so then he would absorb the powers of the Nintendo 64 controller and he’s have three legs and would look even dumber than he already does.

With that rant off my chest, here’s my Go-To Character in every fighting game I can think of off the top of my head. You should judge me harshly for at least four of these.

Super Smash Brothers: Fox

Super Smash Brothers Brawl: Mr. Game and Watch

Samurai Shodown: Genan Shiranui, aka the green guy with the claws

X-Men: Children of the Atom: Omega Red

Marvel vs. Capcom: Captain Commando + Mega Man

Tekken: Armor King

Street Fighter II: Dhalsim

Street Fighter II: Championship Edition: M. Bison

Super Street Fighter II: Dee Jay

Street Fighter Alpha: Charlie

Mortal Kombat III: Smoke

Kirby does not deserve to be last. He should be in the Top 5 easy. Luigi is ranked WAY too high and Jigglypuff should be last. Also, I really like Yoshi, but I get why you would rank him low. Still Jigglypuff should be lower.

-GooglesLawyer

AGREE TO DISAGREE ABOUT KIRBY. And I have to admit that I almost certainly grade-inflated Luigi because, as a younger brother, I have a natural inclination towards less-cool siblings. (For the same reason, I also prefer Donatello the turtle, Theodore the chipmunk, Dewey the duck, and Joan Fontaine.)

However, I do think that Luigi in Smash Bros. gets a bad rap, because his upward smash move is one of those hard-to-master-but-super-powerful moves that rewards the devoted player. By comparison, all of Kirby’s moves are easy to master. Go back to Dreamland, Kirby!

Everyone probably agrees with Fox at # 1, but I’d move Pikachu to top 3. Luigi needs to move down.

-jc18630

I approve of this choice. I like Pikachu. If Kirby is ska, then Pikachu is pop-punk.

Donkey Kong was the best and it wasn’t even close

-Playz4Fr_E

I rated Donkey Kong at #8. Then I remembered the move where Donkey Kong grabs another player, carries him on his big ape back, and throws the other character. This is maybe the second most aggravating move in Super Smash Brothers–if you do it to another player, you can actually see them physically freak out. Thus, he should’ve probably been in the top six. But the best? My issue with Donkey Kong in Smash Brothers is the same as my issue with Donkey Kong in MarioKart: His status as a heavyweight makes him uncannily great in some situations and completely awful in other situations.

Lest anyone who doesn’t like me picking on their favorite characters gets the sudden urge to punch me in the face, I would just like to remind you that I once told Shigeru Miyamoto that I preferred to play as Toad in MarioKart, and he laughed in my face over the phone. So, believe me, my face has been punched.

How can both Kirby and Jigglypuff rate so low?
 Who doesn’t like a pair of pinkish round spheres of happiness? And as for the original game’s development, it is interesting to note that it was actually a side project by Sakurai (the guy at the head of development for the Smash series) and Iwata (the guy at the head of Nintendo) during their down time and originally had nothing to do with any Nintendo franchises. 
The moves of the original characters they made were basically transferred to Captain Falcon.

-J_Joestar

I DON’T LIKE A PAIR OF PINKISH ROUND SPHERES OF HAPPINESS. Also, one of my roommates was great at putting people to sleep with Jigglypuff, which is the absolute most aggravating move in Smash Brothers. So I’m working through some issues there.

And re: the game’s development, this is probably another reason why Smash Brothers is so much more interesting than it should be. The first game really does have the vibe of being a tossed-off lark. Obviously, it’s a product of a kabillion-dollar company, but it doesn’t feel like something that was noted to death by too many cooks in the kitchen. Weirdly, Smash Brothers feels like a spiritual sibling to Goldeneye, another game that was made to honor the lineage of a great pop-cultural franchise (James Bond instead of Nintendo) and which is really a monument to taking something that just had to be okay and overdelivering it into transcendence.

I remember when I was 12 or 13, my best friend and I would always travel to our local Mom & Pop Video Store and rent a game every Saturday. They were surprisingly up to date in their selection of games. Anyways, this particular Saturday, we stopped in and were perusing the N64 games when we saw Super Smash Bros. There were 2 thing strange with this picture. First, they had it a few days BEFORE it was available at retailers. Second, it was the Japanese version. We were intrigued so we decided to bring it to the counter and ask if we could rent it. The man said NO. We were disappointed and went back to get a different game. Then he called us back up to the counter and gave us the American Version, fresh out of the box. We were the first ones to rent it. And we played it the whole weekend. Eventually I obtained my own copy that Summer from Target.

-Franky

This story is like “Summer of ’69” for my generation. Just the mention of a Mom & Pop Video Store with game rentals is enough to make me cry tears of melancholic remembrance.

You took 3 paragraphs before you even got to what the article is supposed to be about. That’s bad writing.

-Zain

Every Christmas, my family gets together with our extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, lately cousins’ children. In many respects, the way we get together for the holidays is utterly identical to the way everyone gets together for the holidays, whatever those holidays might be. People gradually trickle in over the course of the day. A meal that is either a late lunch or an early dinner gets served around 4 pm, or sometimes maybe 5 pm. Members of the older generation ask members of the younger generation to explain aspects of contemporary life that confuse or scare them.

On one hand, this Christmas celebration hasn’t changed one bit for as long as I’ve been alive. Faces disappear, replaced by new faces. There are young people and old people. You know how, at the end of The Wire, every character’s individual circumstance has changed, but in the process of changing, many of them have actually transformed into new forms of other characters–one tough cop retires and a rookie cop ascends to take his place; one street enforcer gets killed, but a new street enforcer rises? I don’t love the final season of The Wire, but I do think that ending might be the truest ending to any television show. Everything changes but nothing changes. Or maybe: Things change gradually, which is the definition of evolution.

On the other hand, this Christmas celebration has changed completely, because there was a time long ago when I was the quiet kid who spent most of these reunions reading a book or watching a movie, and now I’m the dude everyone talks to if they need to know something about a movie or a book or a TV show or any aspect of pop culture. This is a fantastic new development insofar as it feels like a minor validation for a lifetime spent obsessing over very silly things, but it does often put me in the position of attempting to explain the inexplicable. Thus, Christmas 2007, one of my beloved aunts told me that she had just seen No Country For Old Men, and generally liked it, but she demanded that I explain the ending:

She was confused by the ending–a totally common reaction among pretty much everyone I knew who saw No Country For Old Men. And not just confused–she was aggressively confused, as if the movie leading up to that ending had betrayed her with such a non sequitur final act. I truly think that if No Country For Old Men ended with Tommy Lee Jones pulling off his face to reveal that he was Tom Cruise the whole time, she would’ve been less miffed. What did it all mean?

“Meaning” is something that we as a culture constantly search for. That’s especially true of geek culture, which generally promotes something’s importance by noting that it “means” something, whatever that might be. But to me, the pursuit of “meaning” is actually one of the most prosaic and boring things about contemporary culture. The idea that you can reduce something to a set of “themes”–Dark Knight is about terrorism!–has gained more credence in our bloggy era, wherein everyone is always looking for a specific “take” on material. And part of the problem, I think, is that the vanguards of geek culture have gotten as self-important as we have. This, I think, is why so many film nerds of a certain goofball sensibility have run to the Fast & Furious banner–that’s a franchise that’s only really about cars, or more subliminally, about good car filmmaking. And I think this sensibility is also beginning to infect the mainstream. (See: Guardians of the Galaxy.)

What were we talking about?

This guy is obviously a casual gamer.

-Itachi

I don’t know what this means. Is this a counter-argument? Is geek culture really so stratified that you need to present your freaking bona fides in order to have an opinion? Does it matter if I spent most of my freshman year of high school playing Final Fantasy VII? Or is that actually a point against me, because Final Fantasy VII was the most popular game in the franchise, and it’s only possible to be taken seriously if you played all the Final Fantasy games that never got released in the States? How many hours of Call of Duty do I have to play in my lifetime until I’m no longer considered a casual gamer? The idea that playing a lot of videogames is the equivalent to knowing a lot about videogames is, I think, one of the signal falsehoods within gamer culture. Playing too much videogames can also lead to a loss of perspective–sort of like how, if you watch a bad TV show constantly, you start to lose track of how bad it is. (I know this from experience; I have watched every episode of Boardwalk Empire.)

This convoluted piece of garbage was clearly written by someone who has not played games in over ten years and is totally clueless about what gaming is about today. I could summarize this junk in a couple sentences:
 “A new Smash Bros is coming out? Wow I liked the first one, here’s some random facts about gaming in the 90’s I got from a wiki to fill space!”

-SkulloManiac

I hearby extend the following appeal to my learned friend SkulloManiac: If you email me a detailed description of what gaming is about today, I will print it in the next edition of the mailbag. Bonus points if you take three paragraphs to get to the point.

Die.

-Benjamin Attwell

Oh, turn six.

Like you I have followed Derek’s masterminding all season and reveled in its subtle brilliance. However, the game this season was made for him.

1. Team America gave him an unlikely connection to dangerous houseguests and I think prevented Frankie from identifying him as a target sooner.  There is no way that Frankie shouldn’t have seen how Derek controlled the game and at least made an attempt on him sooner.  He said as much in his exit interview.

2. The double HOH prevented anyone from going off and creating a separate major alliance since you pretty much had to work with everyone to prevent yourself from being the following weeks target.  Week after week we saw pretty young nothings go off the board, while the remaining pretty young nothings aided and abetted simply to prevent their being the target the following week. Had this been a single HOH season somebody at least could have gone halfcocked and knocked at least one of the detonators off in a bloody last statement. Somebody could have aligned the weaker players into an alliance when they had one of their few HOH opportunities. Never in the past could so many big threats and solid alliance members made it to the end without an occasional loss except for this format. This was ideal for Derek’s long form manipulation and consensus making ability.

3. The weak players were REALLY weak.  Donny could have made a numerically superior alliance at the beginning of the game, but instead watched the person he talked to the most leave each week.  They couldn’t win enough to make anybody think they could make an outsider alliance.

4. Derek’s main alliance was made up of very good competitors who are also painfully loyal and slow on the uptake.  Week after week Cody, Caleb and Frankie dominated the competition and all Derek had to do was wait for somebody to mention his target and then convince the rest that it was the best plan.

As for credit, Derek played this season with what he was given perfectly.  It was so flawless its actually boring. It’s like watching a surgeon. Every contingency is prepared for. Every time somebody started to panic, he calmed them down. Every step was laid out 2 weeks in advance and nobody sees it coming because it’s so seamless.  I still can’t believe somebody sitting next to Victoria hasn’t screamed “don’t tell me she’s the target, she never goes home!”.  It’s due to Derek convincing each person that they are actually more valuable than they are.  In the end that was Derek’s brilliance.

Has it become dull? Yes. But I console myself by thinking what would happen if this house had an arch villain to match Derek.  This season would have been the best ever had there been an Evel Dick or Mike Boogie who would have immediately (first day) dismissed Derek’s attempts at persuasion and identified him as the true threat to their control of the pretty young nothings.

-Darren

New stereotype: Dudes named Darren love overthinking Big Brother! This is all quite true, although I think you’re overrating the Team America twist a little–the connection to Donny didn’t prevent Derrick/Frankie from getting him tossed out of the house, and Derrick would’ve been allied with Frankie even without the added twist. And I definitely disagree that Derrick’s machinations have made this season dull–although I totally understand how a lot of Big Brother viewers have that perspective. I enjoy the ridiculous aspects of Big Brother, but I also love watching strategists at work, and this season has been a feast for strategy buffs.

In the end, though, the only way to really prove Derrick’s brilliance would be to bring him back for an All-Star season. 2016 will mark the ten-year anniversary of the first Big Brother All-Stars. Forget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; the only battle I want to see is Derrick v Dan: Dawn of Chenbot.