Competitive gaming. I knew it existed on some level. In high school, my friends had two favorite pastimes: paintball and LAN parties. Both included high-powered equipment, shooting stuff and me screaming like a chick in a slasher movie as I fired aimlessly at my assailant. And then died. A lot. We never had real tournaments; we were in it for the bragging rights. I was just known for my screeching.
We never did much console gaming--we stuck to our social mold and only played computer games. Then one winter we rented a GameCube and began playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. Late nights that use to be dedicated to Starcraft and Counter Strike suddenly became all about smashing Nintendo characters off a floating, virtual battlefield. I still screeched--but this time it was accompanied by lightning bolts from the sky.
That was four years ago, and I hadn't played Smash Bros. since. But upon delving into the world of gaming here in Albuquerque, I discovered something I wasn't expecting--a huge Super Smash Bros. following. At every console gaming tournament in town, you can count on finding Halo, Tekken 5, Soul Caliber III and Super Smash Bros. Melee. I had to get a piece of the action. I ran out and bought a used copy of Smash Bros. and began to prepare for the upcoming tournament at the Video Game and Anime Expo this weekend.
It's go time.
First things first: I am a button masher. No matter what the game, no matter what the console, I'm gonna take the controller and make those buttons the object of my aggression. No, no, please--keep your analog sticks to yourself. I want big, green, letter-embossed buttons that are ready to get a whippin', because they are about the only thing I'm sure I can beat. That's what makes Smash Bros. so great. You can be a button masher and have a great time playing this game--but button mashers don't win tournaments. Some major training was in order.
The object of Super Smash Bros. Melee is to smash your opponent off the map. It's similar to a fighting game in that you punch, grab, kick, shoot and powerblast your competition into oblivion, but no one dies, they just fly off the screen in super-silly Nintendo fashion. Also, like other fighting games, you can choose from a number of battle-ready heros. In Smash Bros., they're all Nintendo-related characters like Mario, Yoshi or the ever popular Ice Climbers (yeah, them). My character of choice: the perpetually sparky and totally obnoxious Pokémon, Pikachu.
To get ready for the tournament (and in an attempt to not get totally spanked while there), I decided to stick with Pikachu during training. For a serious gamer, it's an inherently stupid strategy--diversity counts and not all characters are created equal. Pikachu is light and quick, but the lack of weight also makes him easy to launch off the screen. I figured if I could pick between playing many characters decently and one character awesomely, I'd take awesome. Plus, Pikachu's lightning bolt from the sky can be super annoying to my potential competitors, thus giving me the mental edge. In theory.
To prepare for one-on-one competition, there's really only one thing you can do: Play other people. Sure, playing against the computer can help you hone your skills, but nothing is the same as a competitor with an organic brain. Too bad I don't have any friends who play Smash living within a 100-mile radius. The majority of my training was spent against the most difficult level of computer intelligence, and I got my butt whooped. I did learn what many in the tournament scene have been telling me about the complexity of these games. Sure, when you push the A button and move the analog stick up you do some super cool attack, but when you hit them both at the right time the real power move reveals itself. In a way, I liken it to learning a martial art--sure, you can practice the basics techniques over and over and do them well, but until you put them together you'll never learn the true power behind the moves. Thank you, Karate Kid.
I've been trying to play at least five hours a week, which really isn't much to a serious competitor, but it sure is a lot for me. My chances of winning this weekend are probably 999 to 1. Not bad, really, given my lack of experience and the tiny rat of a character I'm going to play, but not great by a long shot.
To make up for it, I'll dig into my bag o' wit to maintain my integrity with some major trash-talking. I may lose, but I'll get the last laugh. Phrases like, "Eat my lightning bolt, Mr. Fruity Fox," "You liked that, KO? How about I KO your mom" and "I may be little and yellow, but at least I know my name" will spew from my mouth with such force even Shakespeare would be impressed. If you don't got the skills, back them up with your over-inflated ego and sharp tongue--all PG rated, of course. Chances are, my conqueror will be a few years away from getting into an R-rated movie without a legal guardian.
I'll be there at the UNM SUB Ballroom this Saturday, June 17, to rain down lightning and verbal assault on anyone willing to take up controllers against me. I'll let you know of my valiant triumphs or glorious defeats on our blog spot after I recover from the caffeine overdose.