SmashBox controller

Super Smash Bros. Melee players still compete at tournaments with the 15-year-old GameCube controller. But it’s got issues—namely, painful ergonomics and easily-degraded joysticks.

So when Dustin Huffer introduced a modern controller into the Melee mix, he was shocked to hear that the huge, January, 2017 Smash tournament Genesis 4 was considering a ban. After a few painful weeks for Huffer and SmashBox controller acolytes, a Genesis 4 organizer told Kotaku today that they’ll now allow the controller, potentially changing the hardware landscape of a 15-year-old fighting game.

The SmashBox controller can’t do anything a traditional GameCube controller can’t. It just doesn’t have joysticks—only buttons, like a traditional fighting game controller. Earlier this month, top-six Melee player Juan Debiedma, aka Hungrybox, told me that “It’s a way to perform very difficult inputs with more precision, with the downside of having to learn how to play the game all over again.”

But the organizers of Genesis 4 were afraid that, by making the SmashBox tournament-legal, they would open the floodgates for all sorts of unconventional and potentially game-breaking controllers. In a worst-case scenario, players will find a way to use macros, so they could do two moves with one button. Genesis 4 organizers still have that fear. But in an e-mail, organizer Sheridan Zalewski told me that “it’s better to give as many people as possible exposure to the controller and rules implications behind it.” What “tournament legal” means for the Melee community, he said, “should be allowed to develop more organically.”

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It makes sense. The community itself should ascertain whether a controller makes the game less fun and less fair—not a few tournament organizers.

Zalewski insisted that this is a “test period” in which players will “see whether you can break the game somehow by allowing the kinds of mods that the SmashBox requires.” It’s a stress test. He added that banning the controller this late would be unfair to players who made travel plans based on its legality.

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We’ll see whether the SmashBox will prove viable at Genesis 4. It’s not yet widely distributed—Huffer is in the planning stages of a Kickstarter campaign. If the SmashBox works out, perhaps we’ll see more unconventional controllers entering the Melee scene and shaking up the teenaged fighting game.