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A closer look at Smash 4’s rage mechanic

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is turning three years old in a few weeks, and a lot has happened in that time. Competitively viable stages have been debated and changed over the years. Multiple tier lists have been made by many players. The game has been played at many national and international tournaments. Updates to the game helped further balance the game, making certain characters become significantly more common in competitive play over time. New characters and stages have been released via DLC. All of these are just some of the changes and developments that have been happening to Smash 4 in its less than three years of existence.

However, there are a few aspects of the game that haven’t changed that are unique to Smash 4. One of the most controversial additions to Smash 4 when it first came out was the rage mechanic. This feature makes it so that players at higher percents can output greater knockback and damage to other players. This was done in order to balance the game so that players that had a percent disadvantage could stand a better chance at getting KOs in casual play.

Every character in Smash 4 has a bit of Lucario in them – Rage makes them stronger the more percent they have. Image: Amino Apps

However, many individuals in the competitive Smash Bros. community continue to voice many criticisms for this mechanic over the course of the game’s life. Many want rage to be an option that players could toggle off. Here, I will take a look at the arguments for and against the rage mechanic, and judge whether or not the criticisms of the game’s mechanic are worth it. Let’s see if the rage mechanic is truly a good gameplay element of Smash 4.

The Unfair Advantages of Rage

The most common critique of the rage mechanic is how it benefits certain characters more than others. Specifically, the characters that benefit the most from rage are the heavier characters in the roster. Characters such as Ganondorf, Donkey Kong, Bowser, King Dedede and Ike are more likely to accumulate more damage over time due to them receiving less knockback from most attacks due to their weight. Since rage caps at 150 percent, these characters often reach or get near the maximum amount of rage at least once in most matches they are in.

Heavier characters benefit the most from rage. Image: Prima Games.

And since many of the heavy characters in Smash 4 follow the “heavy, but hits hard” trope that we see in just about every fighting game, being at full rage turns a strong character into an incredibly strong character. What’s more, these heavy characters receive the benefits of rage for far longer than other characters do, due to their weight making them not have as much knockback.

This causes what many believe is an unfair advantage for the heavy characters in the roster. Lighter characters in the roster such as Jigglypuff, Kirby, Mr. Game & Watch and Mewtwo don’t benefit from rage nearly as much as heavier characters do. Due to their lighter weight, they receive greater knockback. This makes them often get KO’d at lower percents compared to heavier characters in the roster. Because of this, many people in the Smash Bros. community think that the rage mechanic subtly encourages the use of heavier characters over lighter characters. With the exception of Mewtwo, most light characters in the game are often lower on the third edition of the official Smash 4 tier list, which you can look at here.

In addition to encouraging the use of heavy characters, a common argument against the rage mechanic is that it encourages a certain playstyle from players. Many argue that the rage mechanic encourages players to allow themselves to get to higher percents for the sake of being able to output more knockback and damage towards other players. Many feel that this playstyle makes Smash 4 feel less skill-based than, say, Melee. By making those at higher percents deal greater knockback and damage, many players feel that they have to take damage in order to make certain setups and combos possible. This understandably makes many players frustrated with the mechanic being in the game.

So why is rage in the game at all?

I think it’s easy for many people in the esports and competitive Smash Bros. community to forget that Smash Bros. is, in many ways, a fluke. The only reason as to why Smash 4 became an esport instantly was because of the previous games (and the many mods of Brawl) being played as esports. Even then, Melee – arguably the reason any Smash Bros. became an esport in the first place – developed high-level play thanks to the exploit of the discovered glitch of “wavedashing”.

Many describe Melee as Nintendo’s “perfect accident”, which I feel is appropriate. I think many people forget that what makes Smash Bros. so great as a series is its appeal to multiple demographics. Sure, it’s played at a high, competitive level and played at high-stakes esports events, but it’s also played casually by many people. Masahiro Sakurai, the director of every Smash Bros. game, has made it clear that he doesn’t make these games with competitive play in mind. These games are developed to appeal to coach multiplayer, friends getting together and having 4-8 player battles, with some items turned on. Appealing to the competitive community was never a priority for these games.

In the context of casual, 4-8 player matches, I honestly understand and appreciate the implementation of the rage mechanic. Casually, it’s a magnificent way of having less skilled players, or players that are at a disadvantage, still have a chance to defend themselves, since many players naturally try to KO the player at the highest percent. In the context of a match with multiple players, rage honestly makes sense.

However, the majority of competitive Smash Bros. is 1v1 matches. This makes the rage mechanic feel unnecessary, for lack of a better term. In the context of a match that only has two players, having the player with the higher percentage gives them an advantage over the player with less percent. Simple as that. If the player that has a higher percent KOs the other player, first player still has the high percent. This allows them to continue using their rage on the player’s next stock. Turning the disadvantage of being a higher percent into an advantage in itself.

rage and the future of smash

Despite all of the critiques placed against rage that I’ve mentioned here, I don’t actually dislike rage all that much. Although I totally understand why many players hate the mechanic, I think it helps make certain matches exciting that wouldn’t be otherwise. I think, from the perspective of a viewer of a competitive event, rage makes matches a bit more entertaining to watch. It’s never exactly clear who is in the lead when rage is a factor. If Player 1 is on their last stock and at a high percent and Player 2 is at medium percent on their first stock, there’s still a definite possibility that Player 1 could win the match thanks to rage.

Another component of rage that I personally like is that it makes players have to strategize in the middle of matches. As stated above, rage causes certain combos and setups to only work at certain percents. This, I feel makes matches more dynamic for both players and viewers. It’s simply exciting to see certain combos that are only possible at specific percents. On the other side of that same coin, though, there are still instances of combos possible by rage that many consider to be cheap. Donkey Kong’s “ding-dong” combo is the prominent example of this.

Is rage infuriating for some players? Absolutely. But it’s also entertaining for viewers.

This begs some questions, though: Should rage be in future installments of the series? Is rage good for the core gameplay of the series? These are questions that are clearly difficult to answer. With so much split opinions on rage in the Smash Bros. community, there will definitely be a variety of answers to these questions.

Does the future of competitive Smash have Rage in it? Image: YouTube

My two possible solutions would be to either reduce the overall effect of rage, but still keeping it as a core mechanic, or making it a setting for players to toggle on or off. I think rage is too versatile of a game mechanic to omit entirely in future installments. Conceptually, it’s a good idea for a fighting game. I just feel that it needs additional tweaks and customization to make it something that both competitive players and viewers can enjoy.


Header Image Courtesy of Shoryuken.

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