None of us were really expecting any news on the new Super Smash Bros. game anytime soon. Since Sakurai's studio, Sora, had just finished Kid Icarus Uprising, it was safe to assume that it would at least be six months before we heard anything. That's why it's surprising to see Nintendo announce the game proper and revealing that it's being handed off to an outside developer.
It was revealed last night that Nintendo was handing off development duties of both the 3DS and Wii U versions of Super Smash Bros. to Namco. Sakurai will be overseeing the project, but all the development will be handled by the team at Namco. Which team you ask? It's really a collection of who's who at Namco with Yoshito Higuchi from the Tales series, Tetsuya Akatsuka from the Gundam series and the development team behind Tekken.
The team choice at Namco makes it obvious that Nintendo is looking to bring more of a fighting game feel to the newest Smash Bros. game. The addition of the director of the Tales series might even bring some RPG elements to the series. I would be totally for a better single-player mode in Super Smash Bros. after the disappointing Subspace Emissary mode in Brawl.
This isn't the first time that Nintendo has outsourced a major IP to Namco. The Ace Combat team at Namco was behind the love it or hate it Star Fox Assault on the Gamecube. The flying sections in Star Fox Assault were fantastic as a result of the Ace Combat team's experience. The same experience in fighting games from the Tekken team should lead to some interesting results with the new Smash Bros.
Of course, the addition of Namco as a developer is only going to start fueling the flames of speculation over guest characters. Brawl featured Snake and Sonic with other third-party characters constantly rumored. There was even talk of Mega Man possibly making an appearance, but the request for addition was made too late into development. Will Mega Man get in this time? Will Capcom, Namco and Konami request to add other characters to the game? Will Namco characters receive special consideration over the other third party characters?
These are all questions that we don't know the answer to. At this point, all we know is that Namco is making the new Smash Bros. and that it will probably release on the 3DS and Wii U around the same time, if not simultaneously. I bet that we'll have to wait another six months to hear any more on the project and maybe even see some gameplay footage. Until then, just keep on playing Smash Bros. Brawl, Melee or the original and hope that Namco can do the franchise proud.