Since learning about Source Gaming, I’ve very much enjoyed Nantendo’s series “Dream Smashers” and “Dream Arenas.” They’re enlightening looks at not only possible fighters for Super Smash Bros., but how the series uses its inspiration and innovation as well. I wanted to contribute to the series, but I also wanted to try something a little different. While it makes sense that fans would focus on the characters and stages of Smash, there are a number of other avenues the series uses to explore its history and embellish its gameplay. One of those is items; they’re one of the defining features that separates the franchise apart from other fighting games. Therefore, my suggestion: the Ultra Hand.
History and Importance with Nintendo
Many fans of Nintendo have some knowledge that they have over a century of history in the games industry, making Hanafuda playing cards before board games and, eventually, electronic home and arcade systems. But in the late 1960s and ‘70s, the company had moved very much towards expanding their board game lineup with physical toys and paraphernalia. The blog Before Mario is one of the most popular web resources documenting this history, which includes oddball gadgets like the Love Tester, Rabbit Coaster (which would, incidentally, make a fantastic stage), and Electro Safari.
But their most iconic and visually exciting “gadget,” and reportedly the first one designed by legendary Game Boy developer Gunpei Yokoi, was the Ultra Hand. Built in 1966, it’s a pair of clamps and handles, connected with a series of interlocking plastic bolts. By squeezing the handles, the clamps go down. It’s simple, but that simplicity makes it fun, from the clear visual design to the basic squeezing motion.
Reasons for Inclusion
Masahiro Sakurai and the developers of Super Smash Bros. have done exemplary work highlighting Nintendo’s long history of video game development, and its place in the medium. But there is a huge gap missing with an almost total dearth of Nintendo’s physical products; the one exception to this is how Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS / Wii U was that game that introduced the amiibo peripheral. Many of them have links to the company’s brand and identity, from their focus on ease of use to a broad appeal.
It’s really important to bring up the sheer popularity of the Ultra Hand, specifically. It was one of a number of toys that allowed Nintendo to recoup after serious financial difficulties, and the practical design may have set the stage for Yokoi’s cutting-edge averse development strategy that has often led the direction for Nintendo’s hardware.
Plus, it technically still counts as a Nintendo property; it’s been referenced in numerous games like WarioWare and Animal Crossing, and it even got a 2010 WiiWare title called Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! While the latter isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation, it’s clear that the device does have a place in Nintendo iconography. Many of the old toys do; Rusty’s Real-Deal Baseball has the baseball pitching Ultra Machine, for example. It’s an increasingly notable omission from the Smash lineup, but how to represent it? Stages could work for the toy sets, but there aren’t really any characters…but as an item, a device? That’s a malleable idea.
Incidentally, it actually already is in a Smash game – just not an official one. Fan game Super Smash Bros. Crusade included it as an item in a 2015 patch, with its trailer noting its historical importance. I should note that I’ve never played Crusade and came up with the idea some time ago, as did other members of the Source Gaming team who all separately considered writing a similar article. This should give you an idea about how fundamentally appealing it is, even from a community that sometimes ignores the value of items in Smash.
What Would it Do?
Over the course of four games we’ve gotten a wide array of items: weapons, power-ups, health regeneration, facilitators for one-hit KO attacks, and more. There is, however, a lot of room for items based around an in-game mechanic, especially one used by fighters. The Rocket Belt is like R.O.B.’s “Robo Burner,” the Super Leaf gives characters Peach’s float, but it’s still a fairly untapped field. I think it’d be good to work on that.
Tether recoveries were a big new element in Brawl (albeit one dramatically expanded from a similar mechanic in Melee), where certain characters’ long-distance grabs, like Samus’ Grapple Beam or Toon Link’s Hookshot, could allow them to affix to edges from a distance. Their role was reduced significantly in Smash for 3DS / Wii U after characters who had one were changed or removed, but it remains a cool and dynamic technique.
The idea is fairly simple: whenever a character grabs the Ultra Hand, it attaches to their arm or back for a short time like the Rocket Belt or Screw Attack. This character’s grab would now be a super long, fairly fast tether recovery. It wouldn’t likely change the direction of fights, but it would allow a unique mechanic a little more breathing room. Plus, it’s always important to add weaker items alongside more powerful ones, especially those that can play with the flow of combat a bit. The only “problem” I could imagine for implementation is that each character would need a second grab animation, which shouldn’t be that difficult.
I find issues of “justification” for adding content to Smash to largely be beside the point, but it does seem clear that the Ultra Hand (and in general, Nintendo’s mid-century toy line) carries a lot of potential. It has historical value, a visually dynamic design, an interest from more hardcore fans but also represents broader audiences, and could provide an interesting function within the game itself. The only real problem is that there hasn’t been a ton of precedent for Nintendo’s pre-Game & Watch content in Smash, especially from outside video games. But I think that each new Smash game is going to need to find new ground for content, and that era is incredibly fertile. Hopefully we’ll see the Ultra Hand shine on in Smash someday.