Smash Bros Ultimate’s vague patch notes are terrible for its competitive scene

Super Smash Bros Ultimate is a pretty good game, but it has a seriously braindead problem for a game in 2018: patch notes. It’s brought together every character from the series so far and then some across a multitude of stages, music, and items that all serve as a massive love letter to Nintendo lore. What’s more, people are having so much fun discovering all it has to offer from competitive to casual play. So why can’t we know exactly what’s going on when tweaks are made when updates like Patch 1.21 come out?

On December 21, 2018, Patch 1.21 was released for the game. When you open the game, the Switch will prompt you to download the patch. When you get into the game, Smash Bros Ultimate will let you know the patch was downloaded and even give you the option to see the details. Here’s the issue: there are no actual details. Just vague statements about what was done. See the image below.

Smash Ultimate 1.21 Patch Notes Misc Various Gameplay Fixes

This is what Nintendo and Smash Bros Ultimate consider to be “detailed patch notes”.

Smash Bros Ultimate 1.21: “Misc. – Various gameplay fixes.”

What does that even mean? It doesn’t say. To the casual player, this likely won’t matter much. They might discover what was different by mistake or have a laugh over a meme posted over it later. Was the Isabelle Assist Trophy bug fixed? What about the Simon Belmont bug when Mario cape sweeps him? Who knows? That said, to anyone trying to compete in this game at a pro level, this is a headache. It’s days of looking for any small details out of the ordinary. It’s scanning forums and Reddit and convening with fellow players to figure it out. It’s desperately waiting for dataminers to crack open the patch and see what the heck was inside it.

To be blunt: it sucks and esports team Panda Global eloquently sums up what all Smash Bros Ultimate pro players must be feeling.

What’s more frustrating is that this isn’t the first time this happened. Patch 1.20 (pulled from Nintendo Enthusiast) was a similar affair. A gaggle of characters were tweaked including Kirby, Ice Climbers, Young Link, Toon Link, Villager, Greninja, Duck Hunt, and notably new character Isabelle, but beyond the details that something happened with them, we’re to guess at exactly what it was. It was worth mentioning that we pulled that from Nintendo Enthusiast, credit where it’s due, but also because Nintendo doesn’t even show the patch anywhere on its official channels outside the game and the initial announcement. There’s an actual blog on the Smash Bros Ultimate corner of Nintendo’s website supposedly dedicated to Smash Bros Ultimate features, but it hasn’t been updated since December 7, 2018 – launch day.

Why Can’t We Know What’s in Patch 1.21?

This seems like an issue that just doesn’t need to exist. You would be hard pressed to find another competitive game in 2018 that showcases such vague and lazy-looking effort in explaining things that could affect its players. Making the changes was likely the difficult part. Is it really hard to describe what those changes were? It’s difficult to call to mind any game outside of Smash Ultimate that makes this an issue. As Smash Bros pro Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios puts it. If Nintendo won’t do the job, then technical folks outside of Nintendo will have to.

At this point it shouldn’t be surprising that Nintendo only lightly supports a competitive scene in Smash Bros. Director Masahiro Sakurai has gone on record time and time again to convey that it’s not a priority and Nintendo itself has only had a modicum of direct involvement in competition, such as in the form of the Smash Bros Invitational at E3 2018. It’s extremely possible they truly believe that nobody outside of the hardcore players would really care about the “various gameplay changes” made. And in most cases, they’d probably be correct: casual players will probably shrug this off, say “oh well”, and get back to playing.

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That understanding aside, this seems more than a little low effort on Nintendo’s part. Not caring about the competitive scene isn’t going to make it go away. Not caring about that scene doesn’t mean hundreds of thousands of dollars are going to stop going into tournaments as avid fans try to make a living at this game. This isn’t just frustrating. It’s almost downright disrespectful to any fan that deeply cares about what the latest things Nintendo is doing with their star attraction game. When a player dedicates themselves to a game to try to make their name in it, nothing can be more frustrating than a dev who doesn’t even bother to supply the barest minimums for that player to rise to the occasion.

And make no mistake. A set of patch notes that actually tells a player what was patched can easily be considered the barest minimum.


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