Pro-level fighting game tournaments are a joy to watch, often even when you’re unfamiliar with the game being played. The one guy gets hit, and then everybody yells, and then some cool shit happens. It’s great. While the nuances of a given game may be lost on a newcomer, that’s fine. Fighting games look sick as shit regardless. Or, they usually do. The recent Portal Smash tournament hosted by YouTuber Alpharad, however, is a different story. It’s still a joy to watch, but for a totally different reason.
For those of you who have only played, or seen, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate casually, you may be surprised to learn that only about six of the games 120+ maps are played competitively. They are also always played with hazards off to maintain game balance. Melee plays with hazards on, Smash Ultimate does not. Which is what makes Portal Smash such a dumb and fun idea.
The premise behind the tournament is simple: you put eight of the best players in the world in the game’s regular competitive maps, which have been haphazardly recreated by hand in the game’s level designer, but with added gimmicks. These gimmicks include the titular portals, lava blocks, and switches which activate stage motion. All of this produces one of the oddest hybrids between pro and casual play that I’ve ever seen, which is nothing new for Alpharad.
The tournament starred Smash greats Marsss, MKLeo, Aaron, Void, Cosmos, Kola, Charliedakid, and Riddles. Or, it would’ve starred them had the ridiculous stages not taken centre…stage. Hm. The tournament’s early favourite map was Pokémon Stadium, chosen because it was the most normal of the five. With only four portals and no additional hazards to speak of, Pokémon Stadium was a familiar starting point for the tournament. In fact, it was so familiar that players went out of their way to pick it again and again, much to Alpharad’s chagrin.
The real star of the tournament, however, was Portalfield. The normal version of Melee’s Battlefield is simple. It’s a flat plane with three platforms and no ledges. Portalfield, by contrast, is a nightmare factory. The stage keeps the basic shape but includes a central portal which teleports anyone who touches it beneath the stage where there’s an awaiting lavablock to bounce them off the roof over and over again until the portal re-opens and spits them back onto the stage. At least, this is how it worked in theory. In actuality, most characters were teleported into the lava and shot toward the void beneath the stage, instantly killing them.
Portalfield was the home of the incredibl(y dumb)e semi-final match between MKleo and Cosmos, which ended with a Meta Knight upthrow by request of the commentators, sending both men into the hellhole beneath the stage and leaving it up to God to decide the winner. He picked Cosmos, and set the stage for one of the worst (or best) Grand Finals in fighting game history.
Void and Cosmos, having defeated (or at least let the stages defeat) all who came before them, finally met on Portalville, a motion sickness-inducing moving stage covered in portals, lava blocks, and other bullshit. The arc of the match is unimportant, what matters here is its shocking conclusion. After being thrown offstage Cosmos, as Mythra, uses his up-special, which hits Void and throws Cosmos into the air — directly into a portal, which in turn teleports him below the stage where he dies unceremoniously. It is a supremely dumb ending to an incredible tournament.
It’s easy to get way too serious about any competitive event. Whether it be flesh sports, esports, or, I dunno, chess, people get very serious about defeating one another in mortal combat. This tournament is a stellar reminder of the silly joy of competition, where a handful of changed rules can turn any serious sport into a gimmick-ridden clown show starring some of the most talented people to ever play the game. I want more stupid shit like this in tournaments please, because it really is a joy to watch utter hell break loose.