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Rethinking Smash 4’s custom specials

The ability to customize a character’s special attacks in a Smash Bros. game is a novel idea, in theory. The idea of customizing any abilities of a character in any fighting/action game is naturally exciting. Custom specials could allow players to pick and choose which particular specials suited their play style. At least, this is what people had hoped would be the case in the months before Smash 4’s release.

custom specials
Custom specials ultimately look a bit similar to each other. Image: SmashWiki

The execution of custom specials in Smash 4 left a bitter taste in peoples’ mouths. There was a brief period after the game’s launch where people gave custom specials a chance and considered the viability of custom specials in competitive play. They are now largely disregarded by most of the Smash 4 community. Only default specials are legal in competitive play. In addition, the seven DLC characters added into the game weren’t even given additional specials beyond their default ones. The concept of custom specials in Smash 4 is very fascinating, and yet it now feels largely abandoned.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The concept of customizing a character’s moves has a ton of great potential. If given another attempt in a future Smash game, customizable move-sets could give more layers of depth to each character. So how exactly can Smash 4’s execution of customizable move-sets be improved upon?

Abandon Gimmicky Custom Specials

One of the larger problems with the existing custom specials in Smash 4 is the nature of the custom specials themselves. A lot of characters feature custom specials that aren’t actually new moves. Rather, their custom specials are modifications of their default specials. Taking Mario as an example, his neutral special, fireballs, has rather lackluster specials. One is a large, slow moving fireball. The other custom special for this move is a smaller, quicker fireball that travels horizontally. These custom specials don’t make Mario’s neutral special feel any different. Instead, these moves feel like gimmicks simply thrown on top of the existing default special.

custom specials
Donkey Kong’s “Storm Punch” custom special isn’t a new attack – it just adds a different property to an existing attack. Image: YouTube.

This sadly applies to most characters in the roster. One of the most notorious examples of custom moves in Smash 4 is Donkey Kong’s custom neutral specials. One of Donkey Kong’s custom neutral specials simply reduces the damage done by the punch and adds in a large, powerful windbox. The attack itself looks exactly the same. The only difference with this custom special is that it pushes other players away instead of dealing damage.

Custom specials that slightly change properties of default specials are underwhelming. Many custom specials are simply default specials with a gimmick thrown in to make it different. This execution of custom specials feels cheap, for lack of a better word. These moves don’t feel like different moves. For future entries that incorporate customizable move-sets, this approach to customizing moves needs to be abandoned.

So what are some more optimal ways to incorporate customizable move-sets?

The type of Custom Specials that work in Smash 4

There are some characters that provide examples of how good customizable specials can look. Palutena serves as the greatest example of this. Each of her custom specials are significantly different from her default specials. Not only that, but Palutena’s custom specials also significantly change how the character is played. These alternate moves give Palutena better approaching options than what her default specials provide. In fact, many people would argue that using Palutena with custom specials makes her a better character.

custom specials
Many would argue that Palutena is a better character with custom specials. Should she be the model of custom specials done right? Image: YouTube

This example proves that customizable move-sets can work in Smash 4 if approached the right way. Palutena’s custom moves don’t try to add different properties to her existing default specials. Rather, Palutena’s custom specials focus on making her play style feel different depending on which custom moves are selected.

If future Smash games allow players to pick and choose different versions of each special, I think every character’s alternate specials should be modeled after how characters like Palutena were approached in Smash 4.

Picking Specials in Sets

Another approach to custom specials in future Smash games could be to have custom specials only usable in sets. Instead of choosing from three different versions of all four specials, what if players could choose between three different sets of different special attacks? Taking Mario as an example, what if one set had Mario default specials as is in Smash 4, but another set would have, say, the Spin Jump from Super Mario Galaxy and an attack where he throws out Cappy from Super Mario Odyssey?

Imagine Ganondorf having custom specials or even a custom moveset designed around his sword, or his Ganon form. Image: SmashWiki

Perhaps this could even bleed into characters having entire move-sets to choose from. This could give veteran characters a degree of freshness that they may not see otherwise.

Another example would be Ganondorf. We could have the option of a having a heavily modified version of Captain Falcon as he is in Smash 4, but also have the option of him to use the sword that’s seen in his down taunt.

Especially if future Smash games include less new characters than Smash 4, this could maintain a level of freshness to the game without necessarily having to add entirely new characters.


Custom Specials and Custom Move-sets in Smash’s Future

Smash 4 took a step in the right direction for custom specials. It under-delivered on many, but there’s plenty of potential for what custom specials can bring to the table in future Smash games. Smash 4 legitimized the idea of custom moves in the series. All that’s needed is for future games to expand and improve upon the idea.

Do you agree or disagree with custom moves? Do you think custom specials and/or custom move-sets should be in future Smash games? As always, feel free to join the conversation and let us know!


Featured Image courtesy of fabry90 via YouTube.

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