The Legend of Zelda is arguably the most critically acclaimed video game franchise there is. It’s been around for over thirty years, it’s revolutionized the action-adventure genre through multiple innovative titles, and is a part of Nintendo’s Big Three along with Mario and Pokémon.
But you wouldn’t know any of that by looking at how the series has been represented in Smash.
Let’s go back to Melee, shall we? Coming off the heels of the original Super Smash Bros., Melee opted to add Zelda as a playable character complete with Sheik transformation, Young Link as a relatively inoffensive speedy Link clone, and Ganondorf as a clone of Captain Falcon. The former is a fine addition, the latter is disappointing but understandable given time constraints and that Ganondorf wasn’t the legacy villain that he is today.
Then Brawl comes along. People were anticipating the de-cloning of Ganondorf; Ganondorf had become one of gaming’s most iconic villains and had made three appearances at this point; there was more than enough to draw a moveset from. People would hold feverish discussions over what his moveset could look like: how integral would magic be? Would he use the Sword of the Six Sages to fight? Perhaps he’d dual wield like in Wind Waker? Surely he’d have a new moveset: it’d be inexcusable to leave him as a Captain Falcon clone again. Well, it turns out he did use the Sword of the Six Sages. As a taunt. Because he was Falcondorf again, much to the fans’ shock and dismay.
The decision not to bother giving Ganondorf a fully unique moveset was already indicative of a failure to give the Zelda franchise its due, but Brawl would engage in further mistreatment. Many fans were excited to see what sort of Zelda newcomer we might see: having Zant or Midna as a playable character would be interesting and would allow the series’ Smash representation to expand beyond the Triforce trio. Brawl would indeed see a newcomer, but it would come in the form of Toon Link: a Link clone to serve as a spiritual successor to Melee’s Young Link. As can be imagined, the absence of an actual Zelda newcomer in Brawl did not sit well with many fans, including myself. Oh, and Sheik was still around despite never having made another appearance after OoT and thus being rendered irrelevant. Her inclusion wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, however; it’s a unique moveset that many enjoyed using, and it’s been suggested that Sheik may have been kept due to initially being planned to make another appearance in Twilight Princess, though this didn’t make it to the final product.
Prior to SSB4, speculation regarding Ganondorf was different. Some believed that they would SURELY make the effort to give Ganondorf the moveset he deserves after all this time and the backlash from Ganondorf being a clone in Brawl. Others had given up and resigned themselves to accepting a permanent Captain Falcon clone. Others grew fond of Falcondorf and didn’t want a new moveset at all, maintaining that he had enough differentiating himself from Falcon. Well, in SSB4 Falcondorf returned, retaining the same moveset. Ganondorf was given custom moves that incorporated a sword as some sort of perverse compromise, but it amounted to little more than an aesthetic difference as the attacks remained the same, and most didn’t use custom moves anyway.
Sheik was also brought back, this time as a completely separate character from Zelda, as transformations were done away with due to 3DS hardware limitations. This rubbed some the wrong way as Sheik is extremely irrelevant and has been insignificant to the Zelda series for years now. Personally, I was rubbed the wrong way when they put the effort into revamping Sheik’s moveset(and not just for replacing her down special with a non-transformation move) but couldn’t be bothered to do the same for Ganondorf.
As for newcomer speculation, there was some buzz. Having not gotten a legitimate Zelda newcomer since Melee, it was generally considered a given that SSB4 would get one. Would it be Impa(who really should replace Sheik), a character who had made several appearances throughout the series and seemed to be growing in prominence? Would it be Ghirahim(who I wanted more than any other newcomer), the fan favorite main antagonist of the latest Zelda title? Would they give us another clone “newcomer” in the form of Toon Zelda, seeing as how she was planned for Brawl?
Nope. We got nothing. We didn’t even get the pretense of a Zelda newcomer through a clone. There was nothing. The Zelda cast consisted of Link, Zelda, Ganondorf, Sheik, and Toon Link; the Triforce trio, a clone, and another iteration of Zelda. We couldn’t even get a DLC Zelda character. Somehow Fire Emblem wound up with more characters as well as more unique movesets between them.
They’ll never change Ganondorf. And personally I’m not even convinced we’ll get a proper Zelda newcomer in the next go-around either. I say “proper” because we might get a Zelda clone through Toon Zelda, but that’ll just be another slap in the face to add to the long list the Zelda series has gotten throughout Smash.