I have been playing Super Smash Bros. ever since my brother received it as a gift for his birthday in 1999. It’s a series that has grown and changed before my eyes as I’ve gone from child to adult. Some of my best memories growing up are sitting on the couch playing this franchise with friends and family. The best part of every new game is playing each new character, and bringing them to life by fighting against the other icons of Nintendo. I have loved doing this with every single character except one, R.O.B.
R.O.B was introduced in 2008 with Super Smash Bros Brawl for the Wii, and by all means I should love him, but I don’t. To preface, I don’t think he is a bad character, he is balanced and can be deadly in the right hands. Further, as an accessory that came bundled with the original NES to play the unique games Gyromite and Stack-up, R.O.B.’s place in Nintendo’s history makes his addition to the cast an undeniably attractive idea. It’s not that I have a problem with his inclusion, it’s his implementation that’s problematic.
First let’s address his kit, the abilities and moves a character has at their disposal. All smash characters have the same attack inputs, the most important being four special moves using b (up, down, side and neutral b). R.O.B is a robot, and his moves reflect this as he is able to hover and shoot a charging laser. Other than his laser and shootable top (a callback to Gyromite), he has nothing memorable, just some moves a fighting robot would have. Compare this to a character like Mario who has as basic a smash kit as one can get and you start to see the dissonance.
All of Mario’s attacks are iconic, as they dig into the history of the character and highlight what makes him special. From his iconic fireball to his cape swing, even though Mario’s moves aren’t the flashiest they’re all still fun to use in creative ways. In comparison, R.O.B’s moves facilitate almost no player creativity. His laser is just a single boring projectile that shoots across the screen and his top, though a cool nod to Gyromite, is tough to use in creative ways.
Even just comparing the two characters’ recovery options reveals the problem. Mario’s up-b is an upward punch literally out of the first Mario game, and when you hit an enemy coins come out as if they were a classic “?” box. It’s satisfying, creative and feels like Mario. R.O.B’s up-b has none of those aspects and just allows the player to cruise around.It’s useful, but generic. Because Rob’s kit is so boring it means that whenever he’s involved in a match, whether through someone’s choice or random select, I instantly become apathetic about the outcome. His moveset isn’t just bland to play with, it’s boring to fight against. it negatively impacts the whole experience for everyone involved.
R.O.B lacks personality
Not only does R.O.B have a generic kit, his design lacks the classic Nintendo personality we expect from a Smash fighter. Take Captain Falcon for example, a character from the racing game series F-Zero. Much like R.O.B, Captain Falcon’s gameplay had to be improvised as The F-Zero franchise did not have a lot of source gameplay that could be easily adapted into a fighting game. Nintendo was extremely successful in transporting the playstyle and personality of F-Zero into the moveset and flavor of Captain Falcon, making him an easy fan favorite alongside his now signature move: the Falcon Punch. R.O.B fails at this implementation. Instead of making something interesting and unique, Nintendo settled for a generic personality with a generic moveset. R.O.B lacks the flavor I expect from the company that turned a yellow electric mouse into one of gaming’s biggest personalities and icons.
How to fix R.O.B
R.O.B. isn’t a lost cause however. In order to make him a viable fighter, however, Nintendo needs to fix his kit and give him the good ol’ Nintendo personality treatment. R.O.B’s moves need to resonate with the player by focusing on a mechanic unique to the character from his source gameplay. Stack-Up is a simple game where you run around as Professor Hector and hit buttons that program R.O.B to move in certain ways. Focusing on this programming theme could give R.O.B’s playstyle an unpredictability and creativity that would be both more fun and appealing to the audience. Imagine if instead of simply shooting a laser across the screen he was able to program the direction of the laser, or instead of just rocketing upwards, his up-b could be programmed with an attack at the end of the move. Further, this new playstyle would be made even more satisfying to use if R.O.B was given a clear personality. He could be silly, tactile, even evil, he just needs something to make him stand out. Instead of just being a generic robot R.O.B has the potential to not just be fun, but even become an icon of Super Smash Bros.
In the 1980’s R.O.B saved the gaming industry in America because Nintendo was able to market the NES as a toy, not just a video game. You would think that such an important character in Nintendo’s history would have gotten better treatment when added to the Smash roster, but instead we got a character that seems rushed, forced in at the last moment. They even left his generic design untouched during the transition to Smash 4, a rare case of Nintendo settling on “good enough”. As we look to the future, however, there is potential. Multiplayer games redesign characters all the time, I hope that Nintendo can look at their mistake and give R.O.B the treatment he deserves.