It is my opinion that Super Smash Bros Ultimate has some of the best trailers in gaming. It is definitely a continuation of the style of trailers from the Smash 4 era, but if you watch all the trailers from Villager to Sora you’ll definitely notice a refinement of the formula, particularly on the gameplay sections. Watch Rosalina’s trailer again and it feels kind of odd how it doesn’t even show her Final Smash or have many easter eggs and references to the original games. I feel like, by Ultimate, Sakurai and the animators have truly come to perfect the art of making a character reveal.
Part of the reason why a new Smash Bros inclusion feels like a much bigger deal than something like Fortnite (which is arguably just as incredible a crossover as Smash) is the fact that, when a character is added, it really feels like THE CHARACTER rather than just another model (like in Fortnite). And obviously much of that is due to the developers incredible attention to detail in crafting movesets, stages, song lists and etc . However, just as importantly is how they are revealed. When a character is added to Fortnite or Nick All-Star its mostly just “here it is”, but Smash has PRESENTATION.
One thing I think its truly remarkable is how Smash trailers truly embody the essence of the character and series they represent. It’s more than just showcasing the moveset, or making a few references to the original game. The best Smash trailers are built in such a way that, even if you never heard of the character before, by the end of it, you get an idea of what they’re about and why people like them. They do this by picking out core elements of a game’s identity and using them build their narratives. Basically asking the question “gameplay aside, what’s the appeal of this game? What does it feel like?”
So in this post I’d like to try to analyse all of Ultimate’s trailers to see just how they do it. Of course, my expertise on these characters varies, so I’m going to miss things, feel free to add what you think.
Ridley: Smash Ultimate had quite a few villain reveals, but they’re all done a little differently. In Ridley’s trailer, we see the characters walking through a dark, claustrophobic sci-fi environment, like those of the Metroid series. One of the big draws of the Metroid series is its sense of isolation, of being alone in a hostile environment, and this feeling is passed on in the trailer. The big pit thing is seemingly empty (keyword: seemingly), but the characters walk slowly and clearly on edge.
In Metroid games, Samus is usually alone, isolated, but in the trailer she has companions – at first. A shadowy blur strikes from the deep, and swiftly takes out both Mario and Mega Man, finally leaving Samus alone. Mario and Megaman’s “deaths” are also shockingly brutal for a Nintendo trailer, with a striking red colour just showing silhouettes implying impalement and skull-crushing. Finally, Ridley appears from the shadows and attacks Samus, but not before mocking Mario’s death by twirling his cap in a twisted parody of the odyssey trailer.
In this trailer, Ridley is presented as a predator, someone who hides in the shadows, ready to lunge at his prey, and who takes them out so quickly, their companions don’t even notice it. But also shows that he is intelligent and sadistic, due to the Mario cap taunt.
Basically, the story of this trailer is of someone walking through an isolated and hostile environment, where they’re never truly safe, even when alone, because in the shadows lurks a creature of both brutal ferocity and cunning intelligence, ready to strike. And if you’ve never played Metroid, that’s kind of what it’s about.
Simon My favorite Smash trailers are the ones that take place in the world of the character, rather than have him invade Smash, and of this style, Simon’s is probably the best. It’s also the best series to use this style for, since Castlevania is much more about its environment than its main character. It’s easy to imagine a Castlevania without Simon Belmont (there are several) or even A Belmont, but very hard to imagine one without its gothic castle settings. So its appropriate that Simon’s trailer focuses so much more on the setting than on Simon.
For Castlevania fans, Luigi encountering the Mummies, Medusa and Death are fun callbacks to the series’ iconic monsters, but for non-fans it is a tour through the series’ appeal. A dark, gothic environment filled with classic monsters at every corner(note how both this and the previous trailer take place in dark environments, but Ridley’s trailer is empty and isolated, but Castlevania is very much not). Monsters which are too dangerous for the average
Luigi Joe, but not for one hero wielding a holy whip.
King K Rool Here’s a trailer for another villainous reptile, but a very different one from Ridley. The trailer starts rather seriously, with a montage of heroes fighting villains, then cutting to DK. By this point, the trailer has already told you who to expect, but it keeps going. Jurassic Park-style footsteps shake the ground, a large shadow looms ominously over the Kongs. It’s all very threatening, until of course, King Dedede appears and laughs. Obviously, the point of the trailer is to be a joke on the viewer. It knows you want to see K. Rool and then plays with your expectations. But there’s also a reason why this bait and switch happens in K. Rool’s trailer and not in Ridley’s, an equally hyped character.
King K. Rool is a villain and a very dangerous one, but he isn’t scary, at least not too much. He is reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon villain, especially on DK 64. Yeah he is a giant beast with big teeth and a deep scary voice, but he is also a fat cartoon crocodile with a goofy eye, who dresses like a pirate and has a big laser called the Blast-O-Matic. He is a threatening villain, but he is mostly a fun one.
If you have no idea who K. Rool is, the build up to him and the bait and switch with King Dream Drop Distance means nothing to you. What you’re left with is a trailer that looked pretty serious but ended up being goofy and fun. Just like K. Rool.
Isabelle Here’s an example of a trailer that captures the source material perhaps a little too well. It’s one I mostly skip on rewatches because its frankly pretty boring, but that’s just because it captures the mundane and chill nature of Animal Crossing. Isabelle isn’t in danger, she isn’t exploring new worlds or showing off cool fighting moves. She is just busy doing her work, saying dialogue and overall having a cheerful attitude. It’s about being positive and having fun even when you’re doing what basically amounts to a bunch of chores.
It’s not a great trailer for a fighting game, but it is VERY Animal Crossing.
Kencineroar This trailer is unique because it represents two series rather than one: Street Fighter and Pokemon. It takes place in the Boxing Ring for an obvious reason: Incineroar is a wrestler, his Z-Move is in a ring, so Boxing Ring it is. But there’s an extra layer to it. It makes sense that both Ken and incineroar are introduced to the viewer in a ring, in front of a crowd, presumably under tournament rules (launching Little Mac into the jumbotron seems in keeping with WVBA’s concern for rules).
While the Street Fighter series features plenty of serious, high-stakes fights and rivalries, like Ryu vs Akuma, or Chun-Li vs M. Bison, Ken is usually not among them. Yeah, he’s had serious fights with Shadaloo, but most of his endings involve him: getting married, training his kid, sparring with Ryu, less serious fare. As a character, he’s also cocky and brash, and isn’t nearly as centred on training and defeating evil. Ultimately he comes off as taking fighting a lot less seriously than the other SF central characters.
As for Incineroar, well, even though the Pokemon world has serious fights, for most people, Pokemon battles are a hobby and pastime. Pokemon fight each other for fun, and as a spectator sport. This goes doubly true for Incineroar, who has a theme of pro wrestling, a sport that’s all about performance and playing to the audience.
In short, this trailer takes place in a world where combat is not about defeating evil, or saving the world. Fighting here is about being the best, showing off to the crowd, and having fun; perfect for these two characters.
Joker I’ve never played Persona, but it looks stylish and cool, and this trailer looks stylish and cool, so, I guess it works.
Hero I’m again a bit out of my depth here, as I’ve only played the first few DQ games and have not played 11. I feel better asking the DQ fans what they think. However, the trailer doesn’t portray a desperate situation where Link is fighting the forces of darkness alone, and though clearly strong a brave, is being outmatched, he’s about to be overwhelmed and lose, only to be helped in the nick of time, which is pretty Heroic.
Banjo-Kazooie This trailer is mostly a repeat from K. Rool’s, its still fun and Duck Hunt for the fake-out is a great idea, but it loses a bit of opportunity to have a trailer that showcases what’s unique about BK. It still works though. BK is goofy fun and this trailer is goofy fun.
Terry This is the first of two trailers where a ton of characters fight for a Smash invite, which works really well for KoF, as it also involves an invitation letter. While Terry nominally represents the Fatal Fury series, its clear that his inclusion is about the SNK-verse as a whole, and it does its best to showcase some aspects of the company that made it important. First it opens with a console lineup that moves aside to show the Neo Geo, leading to the Neo Geo start-up screen.
Already we are introduced to SNK’s biggest legacy, perhaps more than any of its fighting games, the Neo Geo itself. It’s telling newcomers that we’re moving away from the Nintendo consoles that you know so well and exploring a whole new system.
Next to note in this trailer is that it uses SNK sprite art. One of SNK’s trademark characteristics were its big, vibrant and beautiful sprite works. Some SNK games like Garou Mark of the Wolves are noted as some of the best looking fighting games of all time, even to this day. And even playing Samurai Shodown or the earlier Fatal Fury games is a pleasure for the eyes. The characters occupy a lot of screen-real estate, the backgrounds are detailed and full of life, the moves and visual effects are eye-popping and punchy. It makes its contemporaries look pretty dull in comparison.
And finally another noteworthy thing about KoF in particular is its large roster, and having so many characters fight for the invitation, it’s a great showcase of that.
So, just in this trailer we are introduced to a new console full of beautiful sprites and lots of characters. It’s a great introduction to SNK and Neo Geo, although it doesn’t actually do much for Terry or Fatal Fury itself. However, it is bright and full of energy, which does fit Terry’s personality.
Byleth Now, as a great contrast, I think Byleth’s trailer is actually really bad. Not talking about Byleth’s inclusion itself, although that already disappointed many people, but the trailer did the character no favors. First of all, the trailer completely lacks in surprise. It feels like a trailer designed for a general Nintendo Direct, where you’re not sure you’re watching a Smash trailer or a Fire Emblem trailer. However, this was shown in a Smash direct, so there’s no hiding, and Byleth is shown right away. So, even if you were excited for Byleth, you get the reveal in the first seconds and then have to watch a drawn-out dialogue before the gameplay happens. And if you don’t know Byleth, you’re just stuck watching a mid-game cutscene with no context.
I guess you could say it’s extremely faithful to the spirit of the original game because it straight up lifts a cutscene from it, but why this? I guess it does focus on the relationship between Byleth and Sothis, which is a big part of the character, but to me, Fire Emblem and especially Three Houses is all about the large cast and the relationships between them, and how Byleth is a leader and inspiration to his students. Why not have a cutscene that has Byleth leading his students. Or how about the Battle of Eagle and Lion?
By contrast, look at Corrin’s trailer for Smash 4. It also lifts a cutscene from the game, but the choice is much better because that cutscene is a) the thematic focal point of the game (where you choose your path), and b) shows off the cast. All in all, Byleth’s trailer had an uphill battle and was not up for it.
Min Min Frankly, I think ARMS got in Smash a bit early. Not saying the game is unworthy, but almost every other franchise in Smash save for the retro NES ones had at least two games under its belt to really build an identity. ARMS is, as of yet, one game, and it doesn’t have much story, but the trailer does its best with what it has.
The trailer plays like a thematic sequel to Terry’s, being animated in the syle of the original game, with several characters fighting for the invitation. This setup works really well to represent a fighting game because a) it shows off the roster, which is the main appeal of any fighting game, and b) any given fighting game is about all these people fighting each other to win a reward, which is exactly what happens here.
If you’re an ARMS fan you’ll see the art and characters and enjoy them like you already do. If you’re a newcomer you’re going to see a vibrant art-style full of spirit and then a bunch of goofy costumed characters punching each other from far away. That’s ARMS for ya.
Steve I’m not sure if this is a popular opinion, but I think Minecraft has one of the best sound designs of any game. The game is dripping with atmosphere and it mostly comes through your ears. From the crunching sound of footsteps on grass, the relaxing piano melodies when exploring during the day, to the eerie sounds of the Nether, to the instantly recognizable enemy sound effects, you could close your eyes and listen to Minecraft audio and feel like you’re in that world. In all honestly, I also think exploring caves in Minecraft is scarier than many actual horror games. They are dark, and usually full of mobs, and if you don’t have good equipment, you could die quickly if you aren’t careful and lose all your stuff. It’s also where the sound design is at its best, since you’ll usually hear a zombie before you actually see it, so you have your ears on edge.
Again, I don’t know if this is a popular opinion but I think Sakurai agrees with me, since it’s through that experience that the trailer introduces Steve. The actual Minecraft part of the trailer is pretty brief, but very effective. Mario is thrown into a dark and unknown environment, where all you can hear are the mob sound effects. Basically, for that brief moment, Mario, and the viewer, are experiencing what it’s like to explore a cave in Minecraft.
Obviously, Minecraft is a huge game with a lot of different appeals. Nothing in this trailer speaks to the feeling of exploring a boundless world, or the limitless creativity of building and crafting, but a trailer can only do so much.
Sephiroth There are many reasons why Final Fantasy VII is one of the most iconic games of all time, and many more still why Sephiroth is such a memorable villain, but one of its biggest is its use of a narrative technique sometimes called “The Worf Effect”. Basically is the idea of having a character A, who the audience is known to be really strong, and then introducing a character B who easily and quickly defeats character A. This a quick and effective way of communicating to the audience that B is really powerful and a big threat. Final Fantasy VII uses this trope to incredible effect when setting up Sephiroth.
In FFVII, it takes a while before you actually meet Sephiroth, but he is set up as big deal from the beginning. People speak of him in reverence and in fear, you see the brutal effect of his actions, and then comes the Midgar Zolom scene. In the game, the Midgar Zolom is a really powerful monster that you encounter early in the game, guarding a swamp. You have absolutely no hope of defeating it, so you find a way around it. But once you do, you find the Zolom dead, impaled on a tree. One of the characters wonders “Did Sephiroth do this…?” such is the Worf Effect, this big monster that was so much stronger than you, was easily disposed of. It does this with gameplay too. In one section you play a flashback where you party consists of Cloud and Sephiroth, and Sephiroth is just stupidly more powerful than Cloud. This is how FFVII sets-up Sephie, by showing you with story and gameplay, just how incomprehensibly more powerful he is than you, and how you have no hope of defeating him.
So how does Smash introduce Sephiroth? Why, by having him one-shot Galeem of course! This boss that curb-stomped all the fighters is easily killed by Sephiroth. By this point, the rest is just icing on the cake. Yes One-Winged Angel is awesome, and the shot of Sephie impaling Mario is great and helps to sell how threatening he is, but all you needed was Galeem. If you never knew of Sephiroth before this trailer, you were introduced to him with the exact same narrative device that FFVII used 24 years ago.
Kazuya Kazuya’s trailer is best appreciated in contrast with Terry. Both fighting game dudes, but Terry’s trailers is bright and vibrant, while Kazuya’s is dark and moody. Kazuya doesn’t smile, or shout OKAY while fighting, he wears a permanent frown and uses his Devil powers to try and kill his family members. To him, his opponents aren’t worthy challengers; they are trash to be disposed of off the nearest cliff.
Another contrast is the amount of characters, or lack thereof. Fighting games are usually all about the roster of characters, but while Min Min and Terry are accompanied by all their friends and rivals, the only other Tekken character to be seen anywhere is Heihachi, the man around whom Kazuya’s lifelong quest of revenge revolves. Kazuya doesn’t give a fuck about Nina and King; they don’t matter to him, so they’re not here.
It is also fitting as Tekken is a lot more centralized than other fighting games, where the Mishimas dominate the story while everyone else are just side-players. Whereas with other fighting games like Arms, Street Fighter and KoF, even the main protagonists don’t stand much taller than the whole roster. (Ironically, this is not true for Fatal Fury, which is clearly all about Terry over everyone else)
Sora Finally, we have Sora, which is just a brilliant trailer. It ties beautifully with the first trailer and has a great sense of finality, but many people have commented how it feels like Disney magic. From the dark and lonely feeling of all fighters turning into trophies, to the lone flame, to Mario summoning Sora, and then Sora soaring over the fighters like Peter Pan while the orchestral arrangement of Hikari plays.
It’s a scene that is very reminiscent of ones found in the best Disney classics, usually at the end, like Belle breaking the spell on Beast’s castle, or Ariel walking out the ocean. At the climatic point of the movie, things seem dire, hope seems lost, but then, through a simple, innocent but powerful emotion like true love or a sincere wish, the day is saved, light returns, usually while the score plays a symphonic arrangement of a familiar tune from earlier in the movie. Basically, just as Smash was nearing its end, and the fighters were about to be turned to trophies forever, because of a small flame of hope, and because Sora fans believed in the impossible, Sora was able to come in, break the spell, and they all lived happily ever after.
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