Debate: Should Goku Be In Smash?

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At the recent Japanese Game Awards, Smash Bros series producer Masahiro Sakurai poured cold water on the notion that non-videogame characters such as Iron Man and Goku would ever get an invitation to join the fight. During a speech at the ceremony (where Smash Bros Ultimate won numerous awards) he stated:

“I get all these kinds of requests from abroad like, ‘Where is my believed Iron Man?’ or ‘where is my beloved Goku?’ However, basically (Smash) will only have content from video games in it.”

Far be it from us to criticise the man himself, but is this the right approach? Goku has appeared in numerous video games over the years after all, so has he not earned a spot on the roster?

We’ve got competing views here at Nintendo Village, so we thought we’d make the case for both sides of the argument and let you guys decide whether or not the Saiyan should be included. Be sure to vote in our poll at the bottom of the page!

Yes, Goku Deserves His Place - Jack Gawn

Goku, for the uninitiated, is the main protagonist of the Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, GT, Kai and the most recent ‘super’ series of the Japanese-created anime/manga. It follows Goku on his path as a warrior to better himself and help save the world along the way using martial arts, ‘Kai’ moves and making friends with 90% of the enemies he faces. Seriously that happens a lot.

Anyways, as a super-popular comic and TV show in Japan, it made its way to the West and has been ingrained in western culture ever since the late 80s to early 90s. It’s well known for paving the way for more Japanese anime and manga coming to the west on the back of the success of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series.

I mention Mr Toriyama’s name in passing as his artwork has been featured in a number of well-known games including the vastly-overlooked, incredible RPG that is Chrono Trigger. More recently he’s also been involved with the Dragon Quest series, including the Hero who was recently added as DLC to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

And so to Smash. When the fighter ballot was rolled out for the Wii U entry in the series, Goku’s name popped up time and time again. Goku has featured in several games on Nintendo consoles and more. In fact, he’s appeared in over 200 games on multiple home consoles, portable consoles, mobile devices, PC ports, official flash games and even Bandai’s own Wonderswan released only in Japan.

Other than everyone’s favourite Italian plumber brothers, the big yellow chomper that is Pac-Man and possibly the blue hedgehog, it’s hard to think of a character who has featured in quite as many video games as Goku.

The very first Dragon Ball game released on the Famicom in Japan on 27 November 1986. Dragon Ball: Shenlong no Nazo was later to be renamed Dragon Power when ported to the NES two years later. It didn’t feature any mention of Dragon Ball, and the Goku character was changed along with a number of other characters to suit the western audience. Nevertheless, they would go on to create 7 more games for the Famicom with retail sales hitting over 4 million.

Dragon Ball Z has a rich history on Nintendo platforms.

Dragon Ball Z has a rich history on Nintendo platforms.

With the release of the Super Famicom (SNES) and the rise of popular fighters such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat - as well as Dragon Ball Z hitting its height of popularity in the early 90’s - everyone clamoured for a game to come to Nintendo’s new system. With the release of the Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden series fans got their wish, and we finally had a good Dragon Ball fighting game on consoles.

An immensely popular series of games featuring several characters from the TV series itself, Super Butoden and its two follow-ups were a surprise hit with over 3.5 million sales in Japan alone, raking in an impressive 35 Billion Yen (£258m or $323m). When you see those figures its no wonder that there’s been so many successful Dragon Ball games over the years.

The best Dragon Ball Z games to grace any consoles were arguably the Budokai series, with the Gamecube home to the first two entries, missing out on the impressive last installment. They were a standard 2D/3D hybrid fighter that had an impressive retelling of the Dragonball Z story, as well as a tournament mode featuring the world Martial arts tournament stage, complete with a ring out win option.

One of the most recent fighting games to come to the Nintendo Switch console is of course Dragon Ball FighterZ. It returns to a 2D plane (as opposed to the more 3D super-imposed onto a 2D field with limited Z axis movement approach of the Budokai series) but all the artwork in the game is based on hand drawn art from the original series. It’s a stunning looking title, as well as a well-rounded tournament fighter that has graced many competitive stages over the last year.

With such a rich history then, is Goku not a video game character?

I feel it’s rather harsh to not include Goku as a character due to his origin as an anime character and not a video game character as Sakurai contests. Especially when the Dragon Ball series has done so much, not just for Japanese culture, but also for Japanese gaming culture - especially in the worlds of 2D/3D fighters and action-adventure games.

These games have paved the way for more obscure titles to make it over to the West, with their popularity having helped the likes of Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest to find an audience. Those franchises quite possibly would never have made it over to the West if it wasn’t for the popularity of the Dragon Ball series.

I’m disappointed to hear that Goku has been frozen out of Smash and though I don’t agree with the reasons for him being excluded.

No, Sakurai Is Right - Phil Myth

Gawny has made a good case. There’s no doubting that the Dragon Ball Z games are prolific, and have been for some time now. And you know what, I think Goku would be great in some crossover fighting game with Capcom or SNK. Hell, he may even work as the token guest character in Soul Caliber. But Smash is different.

Although it may have started life as a fun brawler between some of Nintendo’s favourite mascots, the series has developed into an entire ode to video games as an art form. From even as far back as Melee, the likes of trophies and spirits have made Smash a love letter to the industry’s creations.

And although Goku may have appeared in many video games, he was not born in the medium. Indeed, when Gawny was introducing Goku to you, dear reader, at the start of his argument, he did not refer to him as the protagonist from Dragon Power. Nor did he say he was the main character in Dragon Ball Z: Super Butodan. He referred to him as the lead guy from Dragonball Z - the anime and manga.

Because although Goku is a character in video games, he’s not a video game character. And deep down, no matter how badly you may want him to appear alongside Mario and friends, you know it’s true.

There are far more worthy inclusions to consider before Goku.

There are far more worthy inclusions to consider before Goku.

Sakurai’s right that extending Goku an invitation would open the door to countless other non-gaming characters who happen to have shown up in games over the years. Should Batman be allowed? He’s been just as prolific in the medium as Goku. What about James Bond? Or Shrek, Iron Man and Harry Potter? Can you honestly say Smash would still feel like the same game were these type of characters to make it in?

Moreover, there’s countless mascots who are icons of the industry that have yet to be included. These surely deserve a place before we go plundering other mediums for combatants?

Rayman springs to mind. As do Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Blizzard are more than keen to have someone like Tracer from Overwatch appear in Smash. What about Leon of Resident Evil fame? Master Chief? Lara Croft?!

There’s also some great indie characters who may not be household names, but nevertheless garner a lot of love from gamers the world over. There’s the knights Shovel and Hollow. Shantae the half genie hero. Or even Cuphead! If Banjo can make it in, then Studio MDHR’s creation could be in with a shout surely?

But forget all that, we don’t even have to leave the world of Nintendo to find more worthy additions. Geno of Super Mario RPG is one fans have been calling for. Frankly it’s crazy Paper Mario has yet to be represented. Yes, even Waluigi should get a look in.

A game featuring Goku, Batman et al may be a cool idea, but it wouldn’t be Smash Bros. That would be a pop culture brawler, not a video game one. I’m down for it, but it just wouldn’t be the same franchise we’ve grown to know and love over the years.

To crowbar those characters into Smash would dilute the essence of what the series is: an homage to the worlds, characters, music and works of art that have been explicitly born of the videogame genre.

And if nothing else, Sakurai’s the boss. What he says goes.

What do you guys think, should Goku get an invitation? Tell us your thoughts down in the comments and be sure to vote in our poll!

Should Goku Be Included in Smash?
Yes! He deserves his spot!
No, Sakurai is right!