Masahiro Sakurai explains his philosophy used to balance the Super Smash Bros. roster. Ultimate

Kingdom Hearts’ addition of Sora to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the final character to join the fight brought the player count to 86. Despite the enormous size of the character selection screen, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is actually the most balanced entry in the series. This is especially interesting because it tends to be more difficult to make a balanced fighting game the more the fighters are varied from each other.

In the last Famitsu column by Masahiro Sakurai (translated by Kody Nokolo and PushDustIn), Sakurai briefly explained the philosophy behind the balancing decisions for the game.

“When it came to balancing, it was important to retain the characteristics that made each character unique and not outright eliminate their weaknesses,” Kody Nokolo summed up of what was said. “Sakurai thought that it was better not to eliminate the strengths of the characters, just add other weaknesses to compensate.”

It seems that the balance fixes followed this approach, for the most part. For example, Pichu was initially considered very strong at the start of the Super Smash Bros. meta. Ultimate, but the self-destruct penalties associated with using electric attacks have been significantly increased in an effort to weaken the Pokémon in a certain patch.

Of course, it was also judged that Pichu’s forward lean was a bit too strong, which made him nerf. While this is a major strength of Pichu that has been toned down, the move itself is still technically good, albeit worse than before.

However, it was probably this design philosophy that held back characters like Little Mac. At a glance, it’s clear that Little Mac is destined to be a soil specialist who excels in raw speed and power.

Unfortunately, the focus is on jumping actions in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Additionally, Little Mac is designed to have one of the most actionable recoveries in the game.

“To make it right, you have to standardize a lot of things. And when you do, every character ends up feeling the same.” – Masahiro Sakurai

While there were a few balance fixes that tried to make Little Mac better, its bad antennas and terrible recovery were basically left as is. In other words, the developers believed Little Mac’s weaknesses were part of what made it unique and didn’t try to eliminate them altogether.

In a previous interview with DenFamiNicoGamer, Masahiro Sakurai also noted that “a game is not fun if it is fair”. It seems that Sakurai is content with a certain imbalance.

“To make it fair, you have to standardize a lot of things,” Sakurai said in the 2018 interview. “And when you do, every character ends up feeling the same.”

Back in a 2014 issue of the Famitsu Chronicle (translated by Source game), Sakurai mentioned that if he really wanted to balance Smash Bros., he would just make everyone play the same.

“There is no point in making the game more balanced if it decreases the fun factor,” said Sakurai. “To give an extreme example, I could make all the characters behave the same as Mario and achieve the perfect balance. However, that probably wouldn’t be much fun at all.”

Overall, however, it feels like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate strikes a good balance in terms of fairness and the fun factor.