On the eve of a new Super Smash Bros. game, it’s time to reflect on the sins of past Smashes. We can quibble over whether Bayonetta should have been in Smash 4. We can beef about Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s infuriating tripping mechanic. Or we could explore some less-trod Smash territory, something so idiosyncratic and dumb that players barely talk about it: Smash 4’s terrifically random board game for the Wii U, called Smash Tour.
I unequivocally do not want to toke on whatever Smash 4's designers were smoking when they decided to strip down Mario Party and put it in Smash. Smash Tour is a board game in which a player is assigned two Smash fighters and, for 15 to 25 turns, moves around the board collecting more fighters and power-ups. There are items on the board that might, say, shuffle around everyone’s fighters or nullify a trap. Players who encounter each other on the board must fight, Smash-style, sometimes roping in others. And then, if they win the battle, they’ll steal the loser’s fighter. At the end, there’s a final battle in which all the players use all their fighters—and those power-ups—against each other. Last one standing wins.
Smash Tour injects chaos into the Smash experience. The board game is only slightly more strategic than Candy Land, although it doesn’t look that way at first. The starting distribution of fighters to players is random. They might suck. Or they might be your main. The matches are silly because one person could be playing a superspeed version of their main versus an opponent playing a hammer-wielding, enormous King Dedede. Maybe you’re all just put in a position where you’re at 300 percentage, on the brink of death, meaning that whoever wins is basically random. Then you get to take your opponents’ fighter! You can optimize for the last match with power-ups, but if your fighters are randomly stolen from you, what does it matter? Also, what if you chase a player you know you can beat around the board, challenge them to a fight, and then lose to the really good player sitting to your left? How unfair.
My preferred setup for Smash play is a little more standardized. When Smash 4 released in 2014, my buddies and I would tear through the options menu, switch off “Time” and switch on “Stock,” turn off all the items, and go. We’re not quite “Fox only, Final Destination” players, but we’re close. We wanted stripped-down Smash, in which the only thing that mattered was how much better you are than your opponent. That’s not how everyone plays Smash, but it’s how a lot of people go about it.
We sure didn’t notice “Smash Tour” until a few days into playing and, frankly, the notion of trying it out was so unappealing! I still remember the day I went over to my Smash friend’s house and, instead of doing one-on-ones, he insisted on gathering a group for an ironic run of Smash Tour. Laughing all the while, he enjoyed the wild power-ups, the stages littered with lawless items, and playing with some of the wackier fighters on the wackiest maps. The rest of us just wanted to get better at the “real game.”
Smash Tour loudly asks the question Smash fans have been asking of the game since its competitive scene ballooned: Is Smash about winning or having fun? Obviously, it’s both. It just depends on whether “having fun” means winning fair and square or enjoying the stupid, wild ride. If Smash Tour had better customization options, it might have been a Smash hit. It was a great idea that appealed mainly to one subset of Smash players—the ones who love chaos and hate try-hards. But instead of bringing out the whimsical, chaos-loving child in me, Smash Tour brings out the “obsessed with what’s fair” kid who got upset when her brother got candy and she didn’t. Who made those rules!?