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Monday, December 7, 2015

Super Smash Marvel Melee: What Would the Second Super Smash Marvel Game's Roster Look Like?

When we last left our Super Smash Marvel series, we had assembled a roster of 12 superheroes to serve as the hypothetical series’ initial installment. But where would this series have gone from there?

In the real world, Super Smash Bros Melee was released in late 2001, just shy of two years after the initial game. That’s the smallest gap between any games of the series, although in both the Nintendo game and our Marvel equivalents, there were enough characters who were near misses from the first game to tide us over without having to break into newly-created characters. The roster consisted of 26 playable characters*, meaning that we have fourteen new slots to work with for Super Smash Marvel 2.

*I’m counting Sheik and Zelda as separate characters here, partly since they were eventually separated anyway, partly because they are just one move short of being fully distinct characters. If there’s a Marvel character who had an especially compelling reason both to be on the roster and to employ this mechanic, I’ll definitely use them in this role, but don’t count on it.

One difference I would like to try and make from the real world is with removing characters between installments. After Melee, each Super Smash Bros installment would see some number of characters not return for sequels. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll try to avoid that when picking this roster; deciding who to kick off would be it’s own challenge, not to mention figuring out reasons they wouldn’t make the cut would be a little strange given how specific the reasons have been for getting rid of characters in the real games. In other words, the characters I’ll be adding here are in it for the long haul.

What are some different ways of looking at the additions to the Smash family that came about in Melee? Well, the fourteen newcomers were spread across seven different franchises, three of which were totally unrepresented in the original (and one of those three got a pair of people). The other four franchises saw three (Mario), two (Pokemon), four (Legend of Zelda), and one (StarFox) new members. I won’t be matching those figures exactly, although I tried at first; I eventually realized that Video Game franchises and Comic Book franchises are just a little too different for a direct one-to-one translation. But they do give us a good baseline to work with, though. We probably shouldn’t add more than three or four characters for any one franchise.

Another breakdown worth considering (and where I’ll be starting my roster construction): Super Smash Bros Melee was the first entry in the series to add out-and-out villains to the roster. And they were the villains of the Nintendo universe, between Mario’s primary antagonist Bowser and Hyrule’s big bad Ganondorf. Who are their equivalents in Marvel? While there are plenty of good choices with antagonists like Green Goblin, Loki, Ultron, Thanos, and so on, I think it’s pretty difficult to argue against Magneto* and Dr. Doom being choices 1) and 1a). I’m not sure any of the other villains of the Marvel universe are quite as iconic or important to their series as those two.

*One character who might be able to pull of the transforming gimmick would be Magneto, given his infiltration of the X-Men as Xorn. However, Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men was still far from ending in 2001, which would have made Magneto transforming in this game a huge spoiler for the end of the run in 2003.

With those two out of the way, let's move on to the heroes. One thing that jumps out at me was that one franchise got four new representatives; which Marvel series could support that many roster spots in just the second game? The X-Men, obviously, but we already have five of them (or three and two spin-off teams, if we're trying to copy Nintendo more closely). But next on the list is Fantastic Four I would think. Even with one slot going to Dr. Doom, three spaces is more than enough to add the rest of the team after only including the Thing in the first game. So welcome aboard, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, and Invisible Woman. Maybe today, where there’s a plethora of Marvel Cinematic Universe characters muscling their way into the public conscious, there’d be more competition, but back in late 2001, where production on a movie was kicking into high gear (after over a decade of attempts) and Mark Waid was just about to start his highly acclaimed run on the book, I’d say they’d be the obvious next choice.

We might as well figure out what to do with the X-Men representatives while we're on the topic. They seem to be Marvel's best match for the expansive Mario cast, so like the Mario series, we should probably grant them three more characters in this new entry. One space is for Magneto, meaning we get two members of the team as well. Last time, I threw out a list of potential names, so I might as well bring that up again: Beast, Cable, Colossus, Emma Frost, Gambit, Iceman, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Shadowcat. To be totally honest, if we were actually making this game back in 2001, I’m pretty sure you’d be taking four or even five of them, but since we’re trying to maintain a balance similar to the one in Smash Bros Melee, I’ll take Beast and Phoenix. Both are original members of the X-Men and had big roles in Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, which had just started in 2001. I’m not confident enough in this that I couldn’t be swayed, but for the time being, I’d still say that they were the biggest, most popular members of that list at the time, and they still might be today.

As I mentioned earlier, one new franchise got two representatives in Melee: Fire Emblem, a classic Nintendo series with a long history and something of a niche following thanks to never being released outside of Japan. The two characters, Marth and Roy, were both swordsmen, giving them a similar skill set and fighting style, although there were some differences. Thankfully, I would say there's a pretty close analogue for this in the Marvel world: Ant-Man and Wasp. Although neither may have been as popular as some of their contemporaries, both occupy an important space in their world's history, including being founding members of the Avengers. And both, at their core, have similar power sets, much like Marth and Roy. I think both heroes would be safe choices for Smash Marvel 2.

That leaves us with five slots left to fill. As mentioned, you probably could take two more X-Men here and I wouldn’t argue with the result too much*, but we’ll try and stick to the Avengers and rest of the Marvel universe for the time being. And who are the biggest names we haven’t included so far? Just of the top of my head, I came up with Hawkeye, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision, Dr. Strange, Falcon, War Machine, Silver Surfer, Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers, She-Hulk, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch. I imagine the primary factor in determining which five of those heroes get in would be something like popularity, but it’s very hard to get an exact feel for that almost a decade and a half later.

*To be totally honest, there are enough well-known X-Men characters that you could probably just repeat this entire exercise with just them and be fine.

I’d start with Hawkeye and Black Widow, though. Those two were popular enough to make their way into Phase 1 of the Avengers movies, even if they didn’t get to headline their own movies like Thor or Iron Man. And they’ve each had their own comic series over the years, as well as long histories in the Marvel Universe. And if nothing else, their reliance on more conventional means of combat would be a nice change of pace gameplay-wise in a game so far filled with super powers, high tech weapons, and the like.

Of the group I listed, I would argue that Silver Surfer is the biggest figure overall. He’s had an extensive publication history with several acclaimed works, and had even crossed over into the mainstream to an extent with his own TV series in 1998 and several attempts to make a movie starring the character.

After the Silver Surfer, I’d say that Black Panther is the next choice, as he has a similarly long publication history and was in the middle of an acclaimed run written by Christopher Priest. That timeliness would probably help his case.

The last slot is kind of a wild card. If you wanted to throw an extra X-Man in, this is probably where you’d do it, but instead, I’ll go with She-Hulk here. John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk in the early ‘90s was well-received (and popular enough that it set Marvel’s record for longest-running solo title starring a woman), and the character was popular enough to continue appearing in different titles throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s until getting another series of her own in early 2004. Plus, from the “comparison to Smash Bros” angle, another Hulk character joining the roster serves as a nice comparison to the StarFox franchise, which added Falco in Melee to back-up Fox. It's also worth noting that this gives our roster a 9/5 male/female ratio, which is roughly in line with what it was in Smash Bros Melee*.

*I say roughly because there's a lot of oddities in Melee's roster; how do you count the different Pokemon, which can be either gender (or none, in the case of Mewtwo), or the Ice Climbers, a duo with a boy and a girl? Or Sheik? I've seen internet fights break out over Sheik's gender.

These roster cuts were actually a lot tougher than the ones for the first game, despite more space to work with. There are just too many characters with compelling cases fighting for these spots, though. Tune in later this week as I find space for some more of them in the series’ third game, Super Smash Marvel Brawl.

Our Super Smash Marvel Melee Roster:
Dr. Doom
Mr. Fantastic
Invisible Woman
Human Torch
Black Widow
Silver Surfer
Black Panther

Returning Characters: Spider-Man, Venom, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, The Thing, Daredevil

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