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Why is Nintendo Killing All Its Characters?

VO: Jess Adel WRITTEN BY: Kurt Hvorup
Death seems to loom large amid the launch of the fifth instalment in Nintendo’s increasingly wide-reaching - and increasingly bizarre crossover fighting game series, “Super Smash Bros.”. Yet the cause of this increased emphasis on mortality has been rather mysterious, even as the slaying of Nintendo mainstays has escalated to epic proportions. This begs the question: why is the Big N so set on wiping out its menagerie and what does it have to do with “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”? Welcome to MojoPlays, and today we’ll be diving into the reasoning behind Nintendo killing all its characters.
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Why Nintendo Is Killing All Its Characters



Death seems to loom large amid the launch of the fifth instalment in Nintendo’s increasingly wide-reaching - and increasingly bizarre crossover fighting game series, “Super Smash Bros.”. Yet the cause of this increased emphasis on mortality has been rather mysterious, even as the slaying of Nintendo mainstays has escalated to epic proportions. This begs the question: why is the Big N so set on wiping out its menagerie and what does it have to do with “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”? Welcome to MojoPlays, and today we’ll be diving into the reasoning behind Nintendo killing all its characters.



Let’s jump back to E3 2018 for a moment, where the world was formally introduced to “Ultimate”. That presentation revealed that recurring “Metroid” boss, Ridley, would be finally featured as a playable character this time around, conveyed by way of a trailer that showed the malicious space dragon seemingly killing Mario and Mega Man. At the time, much of the discussion was focused on the overall game and on Ridley’s unexpected presence, and not on unpacking the significance of iconic characters being slain.



The escalation would start to become clear in August, as Simon Belmont’s reveal trailer featured the now-infamous ‘murder’ of Luigi by the manifestation of Death itself. While Nintendo made every effort to reinforce that our favourite green-clad plumber was not really dead, Internet discourse nonetheless fixated on this moment and its potential implications. Compounding this, a Twitter user who goes by @noctulescent cracked the code of the blurred menu option teased during the related Nintendo Direct, indicating that the obscured text read “Spirits”. Given how Luigi’s spirit was separated from his body, it didn’t take long for the connection to be drawn and theories to be derived.





Then came the final Nintendo Direct for “Ultimate”. The centrepiece of the presentation was an exquisitely-produced cutscene depicting the obliteration of the entire assembled cast by beams of light… save for Kirby, who narrowly avoided the same fate. This served as our official introduction to World of Light, Ultimate’s version of Adventure Mode wherein players must battle the now-possessed cast of fighters in order to rescue and unlock them for future use. It was also made clear that Spirits referred to this instalment’s equivalent of Trophies and Stickers - the ethereal remains of dead game characters can be collected and used to boost a given fighter’s abilities.



All well and good, and an interesting way to lend greater stakes to what may well be the most ambitious “Smash Bros.” game to date. However, we feel that there’s more at play here than simply a mechanical and narrative justification for exploring a vast overworld and engaging in the expected range of eccentric fights.



Consider for a moment that, out of the vast roster of characters showcased here, Kirby was selected as the lone survivor to kick off Adventure Mode. Remaining coy about the reasoning behind this, Nintendo representatives nonetheless indicated that Kirby being positioned as the starting character was a deliberate and purposeful choice. Thus, it’s possible to extrapolate that Kirby is important to “Ultimate”, or at the very least is seen as such.



This seems increasingly plausible once you add in the detail that “Smash Bros.” series director Masahiro Sakurai was also the creator of the “Kirby” series. As the story goes, Sakurai’s frustration with the growing number of “Kirby” sequels led to him leaving both the series and his job at HAL Laboratory.



Given how the Subspace Emissary campaign mode of “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” felt to many like a dressed-up “Kirby” game, though, it seems reasonable to speculate Sakurai still has a personal attachment to the Super Tuff Pink Puff. “Ultimate”, then, could be read as Sakurai crafting a scenario in which a character he cares for leads the charge towards a grand heroic triumph. Of course, emphasis being placed on said character above all others might come off as strangely preferential treatment, creating a need to justify why this hero is so significant to the overarching plot.



Thus, we come back to the slaying of almost the entire cast. The efficiency of this creative decision, the thoroughness of it – it appears precisely calculated to both create player investment in the game and frame the centring of one hero above all others as a clever narrative conceit. We like these characters, so we want to see them saved from annihilation, so we’re rooting for Kirby to succeed in his quest, and so we’re on-board to play through the campaign. That’s a deviously simple way to make the buying of a commercial product into something like an emotional imperative, and it’s hard not to respect Sakurai and company’s potential cleverness... if that’s the story here.



Nintendo being as they are, we might not truly know until months or years down the line why they made this particular call. Perhaps it really is a lot of smoke and mirrors intended to sell a game to the masses while also indulging the interests of one individual creator. Or perhaps it’s just good old-fashioned escalation of stakes that comes with the territory when making sequels. Knowing Nintendo, though, it’ll almost certainly be fascinating to see how this all shakes out in the end.
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