Disclaimer: The views in this piece may not reflect the views of TSS or other writers on the staff team. The intention of The Spin is to promote debate and discussion of an issue or something that’s happening in the fandom or the world of Sonic.
“Shadow, Quick to Action” render by Nibroc-Rock.
On June 12, 2018 via their E3 2018 Direct, Nintendo finally unveiled Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to the world, coming to Nintendo Switch just in time for Christmas. The celebrated blockbuster franchise is back to reunite gaming’s greatest all-stars, this time with series creator and director Masahiro Sakurai going above and beyond to bring back every single playable character in Smash Bros. history, including one-offs like Pichu and Young Link and DLC characters like Bayonetta and Corrin.
Chief among them is Sonic the Hedgehog, who has arguably become a Smash mainstay since his groundbreaking debut in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, alongside Solid Snake of Metal Gear Solid fame, as a third party fighter. This trend paved the way for other gaming giants to join the battle in later instalments.
So with the new game on the horizon, discussions for new character ideas has unsurprisingly overtaken the Internet. Ultimate is already filled to the brim with nearly 70 playable characters at this time, with the entire Smash cast now joined by the likes of Inklings, Princess Daisy, and the highly demanded Ridley as of the game’s formal reveal last month. Sakurai was wise to advise Direct viewers that they made bringing every character back their first priority, and that hopefully we’re not anticipating too many new fighters towards launch.
Smash 64 started with 12 characters. Melee more than doubled that count to 26. Brawl pushed to 39 while scrapping a few veterans. Including the seven DLC characters, Wii U/3DS totalled to 58. In Ultimate, we’re up to 68 right now with three of these fighters being new… almost.
That doesn’t leave a lot of spots left for wholly new characters, which will more than likely include some of Nintendo’s most recent stars—like Rex from Xenoblade 2, Spring Man from ARMS, or Celica from Fire Emblem Echoes—or other highly demanded characters from the company’s storied past like King K. Rool or Geno.
Thankfully, the game’s emphasis on Echo Fighters—fighters with cloned movesets and animations from another playable character—might help pad out the roster with a few more fun variants. Echo Fighters and semi-Echoes, compared to brand new characters, take little time to develop, as most of the groundwork for movesets is already done, so like Lucina, Daisy, and the three Links, we could expect characters like Impa as a foil to Sheik, Octolings to Inklings, or, dare I say it…
…Shadow the Hedgehog to Sonic.
Like Sonic, Shadow made his Super Smash Bros. debut in Brawl, joining the Blue Blur as an Assist Trophy. Once on the field, the Ultimate Life Form would unleash Chaos Control and slow down time for everyone but his summoner for a short period. This was a role he later reprised in Wii U/3DS.
These days, in the midst of newcomer predictions months ahead of Ultimate‘s release, the growing brouhaha surrounding the nature of Shadow’s possible return to Smash has taken an interesting turn since the game’s reveal this past E3, starting off with the Direct, the show floor demo and the revived Dojo.
Our first deep dive into Ultimate‘s inner workings not only showed how each returning character changed and which stages are confirmed (whether explicitly name-dropped or implicitly hinted mid-footage), but also showed off some of the Assist Trophies. Like the roster, the new Smash will have a much higher count of Assist Trophies present with 50+ confirmed (compared to Wii U/3DS‘ 39).
With the 2018 Invitational and numerous Nintendo Treehouse previews, we have seen 29 of them in action at this time. To the delight of Sonic fans, among the new Assist Trophies comes one who is rougher than the rest of them, the best of them, tougher than leather! Knuckles the Echidna will be lending his hallmark strength and burrowing capabilities to his summoner, surprising opposing fighters with rushes, Homing Attacks, and surprise uppercuts from underground.
However, Shadow is nowhere to be seen. Not only is he not featured on any of the promotional material or even the Smash Bros. website, he is mysteriously absent as an Assist Trophy in the E3 demo at this time.
This leads to one of three possibilities:
- Knuckles has wholly replaced Shadow as the Sonic the Hedgehog series representative Assist Trophy. Given Shadow’s own aforementioned popularity, him being cut at all feels incredibly unlikely to happen, so I don’t think we’ll have to worry.
- Shadow is still an Assist Trophy, and simply hasn’t been shown off yet. Ultimate is still in development after all, and we’ve only seen roughly half of the Assist Trophies from the final version, so Shadow returning to his established Smash Bros. role is all but written in stone. Sonic could very well have two of his rivals backing him up as Assists this time around.
- Shadow the Hedgehog becomes a playable character. While not a probable eventuality, despite the already packed roster and Sakurai’s own comments on a limited newcomer count, quite frankly it’s not an impossibility.
And the fact that a playable Shadow could very well be coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is enough cause for me to speculate like crazy. Let’s dive right into the thick of it and weigh the pros and cons of just such a wild expectation.
Pro 1: Ease of Development
As previously mentioned, one of the biggest points in the black hedgehog’s favour is that Shadow as a fighter would be much quicker and easier to develop compared to other newcomers, reason being that a good chunk of the development work—when you think about it—is already done. Much like how Dark Pit began as a costume swap or how Falco borrows from Fox’s moves, Shadow’s development would more than likely turn out being just as easy; there’s proof of this already, but we’ll get around to that in a moment.
While Ultimate is a brand new game, it builds upon the assets of Wii U/3DS as its foundation (a certainly fortuitous circumstance what with developer Bandai Namco returning at the helm). It’s only natural that they would still have Shadow’s old model that was produced for the previous Smash, so they already have a rig to work with.
As for his moveset, there’s really nowhere else to look but Sonic himself. While not as a bona-fide Echo Fighter given how he stands out, Shadow’s movepool would borrow heavily from the Blue Blur’s own arsenal, as they’re both capable of Homing Attacks, Spin Dashes, and Spin Charges right out of the gate.
Simply switch out Sonic’s Spring Up Special with Chaos Control (which would behave not too unlike Mewtwo’s own Teleport recovery), alter some of the standard moves and Smash attacks to better reflect his own Chaos-powered capabilities, and keep the running speed appropriately intact to tie with Sonic as the fastest character in Ultimate.
Plus, it would feel like a more appropriate tribute to the character than a mere Assist Trophy, let alone a redundant one. There is already an item in the game that can slow down time through the Stopwatch, so Shadow wouldn’t be missed as an Assist Trophy with the (albeit backfire-proof) same ability if he becomes playable.
Just like that, Shadow would be viable as an easy-to-develop semi-clone and perfect foil to Sonic to squeeze into the roster—a fighter that would hardly take much time away from producing more resource-heavy, wholly original newcomers—which feels like the more realistic outcome than becoming a said original newcomer.
Pro 2: “I’m the coolest!“
This one somewhat goes without saying, but Shadow the Hedgehog is one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise. Ever since his debut in Sonic Adventure 2, the veritable anti-Sonic and the Blue Blur’s top rival earned himself a ton of pull from fans, having become just as (if not more) popular than the likes of Tails, Knuckles, or Metal Sonic, who’ve been around much longer than he has. Some might say he’s become “the second-most popular character in the whole canon.”
That popularity since extended beyond the Sonic fanbase and into the Super Smash Bros. community itself. Sure, we could talk about how fans still voted for the character in the previous Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot despite his established role in Wii U/3DS, but more relevantly, I ask you this.
Who was one of the very first characters to be modded into a Smash game as a playable fighter? From the likes of Project M to Legacy XP and beyond, who was one of the new, non-veteran characters developed by fans and hacked into Brawl and Smash 4?
Shadow the Hedgehog, of course!
We’ve seen already seen for ourselves how program-savvy Smash fans are well capable of modding the game, and with the tools for Shadow’s own movepool already at their disposal, some even went a step further to separate him from Sonic all the more with moves inspired by the likes of Sonic Battle. That right there is attention to detail.
At the very least, from within the Sonic fanbase since 2001 and in the Smash scene, Nintendo ought to know how popular Shadow is as a character. Hell, just thinking of Shadow becoming for an official Smash game with Sakurai’s personal touch, semi-clone or not, would get anyone excited!
Pro 3. No Arbitrary Restrictions
“But Jeff, there can’t be more than one playable Sonic character in Smash!”
Let’s get one of the biggest misconceptions out of the way: there is no “rule” that states that no more than one character from the same third party can join the roster. There is no age-old slab of stone with the “Ten Commandments of Master Hand” written on it decreeing such a law. Sakurai has yet to be quoted on this, at least. It’s merely a popularized assumption that’s been spread among Smash fans, who at this point (myself included) should know better than to say “Sakurai wouldn’t” or “he can’t” within reason.
We’re talking about the same man directing a series of games that brings together a whole cavalcade of Nintendo all-stars led by Mario, while also featuring Sonic the Hedgehog, Solid Snake, Mega Man, Pac-Man, Ryu, Cloud Strife, and Bayonetta. Even James Bond was once considered for Melee following Rare’s GoldenEye 007, only stopped by licensing issues that naturally comes with an IP based on a long-running novel and film franchise.
I look at this picture and deny that this is even real pic.twitter.com/FJBxTTT2LV
— Carlos (@SomeKirbyFan) July 3, 2018
Plus, in a game that already has a staggering 68 playable characters so far, pulled from all sorts of Nintendo properties and more, would a second Sonic character really tip the scales that much? Let alone one who often stars opposite to Sonic and wouldn’t take much time to develop from scratch?
My point is: Shadow isn’t impossible. Improbable? For reasons we’re about to get into, sure. Outright impossible? I don’t think we’d be giving Sakurai enough credit.
But every party needs a pooper.
Con 1: Seeing Double
Shadow isn’t an impossible addition to Smash Bros. Ultimate, but despite his strengths, there are still a number of odds stacked against him, starting right from his own home series. We could sit here all day about how Sonic’s longtime companion Tails is more worthy to become a second fighter, or how Metal Sonic would make the better Sonic clone in Smash (which sounds incredibly ludicrous to me honestly, given his robotic abilities), but when we’re talking about popularity and ease of development, Shadow loses out on both fronts to none other than Sonic yet again.
Or, to be more specific: Classic Sonic.
Shadow is not the only possible Sonic alternative, now that the little hedgehog many have grown up with is back in the limelight since the tour de force that was Sonic Mania. Classic really doesn’t need any major differences and would play 1:1 to his Modern counterpart aside from a handful of minor tweaks, and would come into his own quite naturally as an Echo Fighter with the exact same moveset. We’ve got two Marios and three Links already, so what’s a second Sonic? Easier to produce than Shadow, that’s for certain.
Con 2: Assists No Longer?
As I’ve previously mentioned, Ultimate is still in development, and while we know how many Assist Trophies will join the game, we’ve only seen about half of them on display. Of the many Assists who are still missing in action, there are several Nintendo characters who have been highly requested to be made playable and, for all we know, might get the coveted promotion to playable character like Little Mac did before them.
These include forgotten heroes like Saki Amamiya from Sin and Punishment and Isaac from Golden Sun, as well as other oft-mentioned characters like Ashley from WarioWare, Skull Kid and Tingle from The Legend of Zelda, and Magnus from Kid Icarus.
Sure, Shadow might have the upper hand when it comes to development time and name recognition, but there’s no denying the high demand backing some of these potentials up, not to mention how unpredictable Sakurai can be in his roster choices. The retro and obscure often make for excellent additions to the cast (Mr. Game & Watch, Ice Climbers, Duck Hunt Duo to name a few), and might even see revivals and a resurgence in popularity for smaller, neglected in-house franchises.
Fire Emblem got its foot in the door of the Western market thanks to Melee, and Kid Icarus got its first new game in over 20 years for the 3DS after Brawl, so who knows which other series might be dusted off in time for the biggest Smash game ever?
Whatever the case, Shadow isn’t the only Assist Trophy in the running for “Promoted to Playable” and might just return to his prior role for all we know, with Knuckles in tow. Still, at least he has a sliver of chance unlike some.
Con 3. Musical Chairs
“We’ve made including every single fighter ever our number one goal, so I’m kind of hoping you aren’t expecting too many new challengers.”
While I’m personally stoked to play as all of my mains in a single game, Sakurai’s final words in the Nintendo E3 2018 Direct did paint a somewhat bleak picture for those expecting an array of newcomers like in previous titles.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has a roster comprised of 68 characters thus far, and there are many other potential fighters who have been requested over the years. Regardless of who makes the cut from here until December, barring possible DLC after launch, many will inevitably be disappointed if the amount of spots left for new characters are slim. Shadow can, at the very least, edge in as a Sonic semi-clone, but it’s likely he’ll plain lose out to other characters.
Metroid fans have asked for Ridley since the very beginning, so his inclusion lends some hope to other highly requested Nintendo stars like Geno (who Sakurai often considered in previous games) making the cut.
New heroes have emerged in just the past few years and their games have been in concurrent production with Ultimate for the Switch, so Sakurai more than likely started work on these recent additions long before games like ARMS and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 were announced to the public, just like he did with Greninja for Wii U/3DS while Pokémon X & Y was in early development.
Plus, like Shadow, there are plenty other minor Smash Bros. characters who might get the playable upgrade, be they prior Assist Trophies or cameos. Palutena once played a part in Pit’s Final Smash, Little Mac went from Assist Trophy to a deadly glass cannon of a fighter, Charizard used to be a Pokéball summon, and Inklings used to be a Mii Fighter costume. Sure, this increases Shadow’s odds, but that applies to so many others as well.
There aren’t a whole lot of spots left, and there are many names to consider. Does Shadow stand a chance among them?
Do you believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Ultimate Life Form should stand toe-to-toe against Sonic and other Nintendo greats in Final Destination later this year? Do you think the odds are in Shadow’s favour, or should he stick to being an Assist Trophy to make way for other, potentially more viable fighters?
More importantly, who do you think will make the cut for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and which newcomers would you most like to see? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, so share them with us in the comments below!