Posted by: Munomario777 | October 15, 2016

GDiSD Follow-Up: Champion of the Ring

Note: This article was originally posted elsewhere, but I adapted it for the Bunker because I thought that y’all might find it interesting.

In a previous Game Design in Set Design article, I talked about the idea of mechanics as metaphor – how the core gameplay of a character can reflect their personality and traits. I went over some of the ways in which we can convey personality through a moveset: how the character feels to control (Luigi), certain moves that reflect a character’s personality (Flame Choke, Flying Slam, and Peach’s float), and even how the character can feel to fight against (Duck Hunt). Today, I would like to use another example from Smash to not only highlight another type of Moveset as Metaphor, but also to show that pretty much anything can be used for this purpose, no matter how wild it may seem.

Which leads us to our example today. Introducing champion of the WVBA, the Bruiser From The Bronx, Little Mac!

Champion of the Ring!

Little Mac, being a boxer, brings with him a few unique attributes in Smash. Boxers are not known for aerial combat, so he benefits from keeping his feet planted: Mac is fast and powerful on the ground, but his aerial attacks and recovery moves are ineffective. Little Mac is very much a glass cannon, easy to KO thanks to his light frame but packing powerful attacks that can send opponents flying!

Unfortunately, Little Mac’s design puts him at a disadvantage in some respects. Being a ground fighter in a game that places such an emphasis on aerial combat is no easy task, and as such Mac is not considered to be a particularly viable character in competitive play. While he does have heavy-hitting moves that can surprise opponents, his weaknesses are easy to exploit. Needless to say, Mac is not the optimal character to choose in terms of winning matches. However, that does not mean that Little Mac does not have thought put into his design. Of course, in order to understand Little Mac’s design in Smash, we must first analyze his character and attributes in his home series: Punch-Out!!

Little Mac, in Punch-Out!!, is portrayed as quite the underdog. Outsized by all of his opponents, Mac will often get knocked out in only a few punches, while requiring significantly more in order to do the same to his foes. Nobody would ever expect him to win, which is evident in Punch-Out!! – his opponents even taunt him in the middle of a match! However, Little Mac never gives up. He keeps on training, pushing his small body to the limit, punching sandbags and doing sit-ups for hours on end. And when he enters the ring, Mac is prepared.

Show that sandbag who’s boss!

Little Mac does not rely on simply having the physical capability to keep up with his opponents; rather, he has the wits and mindset that he needs in order to succeed. Even when Mac’s opponent is taunting him and beating him to a pulp, he keeps a level head and never strikes at an inopportune time. When his opponent sleeps on him and taunts him, Little Mac takes that opportunity and runs with it, delivering a swift punch to the gut. Mac identifies his opponent’s patterns and capitalizes on them – picking up on attack tells, dodging blows, and countering with his own lightning-fast punches. His small frame, while disadvantageous in terms of tanking hits and delivering powerful blows, is perfect for nimbly dodging attacks. And even if Mac’s opponent has a sizable lead, he can make a swift comeback with a Star Punch!

This is the essence of Punch Out!! – picking up on the opponent’s patterns and punishing accordingly. Attacking at the wrong time never works, and patience is key. But when you get that opportunity to go to town on your opponent, it is incredibly satisfying.

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Booyah!

With this in mind, we can go back to Little Mac’s portrayal in Smash. Little Mac is, as mentioned previously, a rather poor character in terms of competitive play. He is a glass cannon, with extreme weaknesses but devastating strengths. Playing Little Mac is not an easy path to travel. You will get beaten up, destroyed, thrown offstage, chewed up, and spit back out. Some would quit there and find a new main. But a truly dedicated player will go back to the lab and keep training, keep practicing, keep improving. Learning matchups, practicing combos and techniques, feeling out the character more and more, until you are a force to be reckoned with.

To play Little Mac is to rely on your strengths as a player rather than relying on the character. This goes for many low-tier fighters, but Mac especially so, as staying grounded is essential. While Little Mac has strengths such as powerful attacks, armor, mobility, and combos, his weaknesses must be overcome first. Maining this character requires skill, determination, wits, guts, and patience. Attacking headfirst with a dash attack will just get you shield-grabbed and thrown offstage like in a YouTube montage. Instead, the Little Mac player must feel out his opponent, pick up on habits, and know exactly when to strike. Some players may sleep on Mac, but the Mac player will take this opportunity to deliver a swift smash attack to the face and send the opponent flying. Little Mac, with enough dedication, can even use his weaknesses to his advantage – a weak Down Aerial is ineffective for edgeguarding and gimping, but exactly what Mac needs to jab-lock opponents!

By playing as Little Mac, you become the underdog. You become the weakling. You become Little Mac. Physically, your character is not very powerful overall. But by putting in the hard work, dedication, effort, and time, by putting up with the jeers and ridicule you get from playing as such a low-tier character, you, the Little Mac main, can take advantage of Mac’s strengths, outwit your opponents, show the world what you’re made of, and become the true underdog champion of the ring.

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Show the naysayers what you’re made of!

Who would ever have thought that making a character underpowered on purpose would enhance their design? Little Mac’s design uses game balance in a unique way, making it so that anybody who decides to main him will naturally follow Little Mac’s path as a character. While this particular example works better in an actual Smash game than it would in a written moveset, it should also encourage us to think outside the box when trying to find ways to deliver a character’s personality and characteristics through a moveset. Little Mac also shows us a prime example of one of the best types of characterization: the type where the player becomes the character.

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