The most controversial Smash Bros. mechanic ever just turned 20
How wavedashing almost broke the game.
Imagine an exploit becoming the defining feature of your game. That’s precisely what happened with Super Smash Bros. Melee. While Nintendo’s fighting game series was already popular for letting you battle as your favorite video game characters, the discovery of an exploit in Melee brought the game’s competitive scene to a whole new level. Gamers called it “wavedashing.”
How wavedashing works — In Super Smash Bros. Melee, players could air dodge. Within a few months after the game’s release, players discovered that by air dodging diagonally into the ground, their character would slide a short distance and still be able to face and attack in the same direction.
Positioning and spacing are super-important any fighting game, and this mechanic gave players a way to move and attack quickly with few significant downsides. It’s pretty tough for a casual player to pull off, but any Melee player that wants to be viable in the competitive scene must master wavedashing.
Why wavedashing was controversial — Competitive players discovered and popularized the mechanic, and it became more commonplace in tournaments. But it was a pretty contentious mechanic for quite a while, mainly because many players thought wavedashing was an unintentional glitch that ought to be patched out.
If the developers didn’t intend players to wavedash, should it be a crucial part of its competitive scene? In 2008, Director Masahiro Sakurai confirmed that he knew about wavedashing before Melee’s release but decided not to remove it. This firmly established wavedashing as a valid exploit rather than a glitch, making it forever a mainstay in the Melee competitive scene — even these days when Panda Global and Nintendo are planning official competitive tournaments.
Though it’s much less controversial in 2021, it is a mechanic that makes Melee somewhat inaccessible for new players when the pros have had two decades to master the mechanic. Though it might be frustrating to casuals, the wavedash’s effect on the Smash Bros. series and its clones is undeniable.
The wavedash’s impact — The ability is so iconic that many Super Smash Bros. clones intentionally include it as a core facet of the game’s design. Rushdown Revolt and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl have wavedashing systems. We reached out to WB to see if the mechanic would be present in MultiVersus but did not get a response. But it’s probably there, right?
While Sakurai dropped the mechanic in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it was added back in as part of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, though it takes longer than before. It’s not as definitive of a mechanic as Melee's wavedash but still cements Ultimate as a perfect culmination of Nintendo’s fighting game crossover series.
Happy anniversary — Without wavedashing, Super Smash Bros. Melee likely wouldn’t be nearly as popular with hardcore fighting game fans as it is today, to the point where Nintendo is hosting an official event featuring the game.
20 years after its launch, Melee remains one of the most important fighting games of all time. So while wavedashing might have been controversial, it ultimately ensured that Melee would never be forgotten.