Fighting games, especially crossovers, are a dime a dozen these days. Many fail, some are a one hit wonder, and there those that have long term success. For nearly 20 years, Nintendo has provided an edition to the Super Smash Bros series for their consoles. With the anticipation to the release of Ultimate still a few weeks away upon the writing of this Editorial Tuesday, we thought it would be nice to go down memory lane and explore its history.
Nintendo 64/The Beginning
It’s the year 1998, crossover fighting games are barely in their infancy thanks to Capcom paving way for it with X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, which would later evolve into Marvel Vs. Capcom. Around the same time, Sega also released Fighters Megamix, their own crossover fighting game featuring their franchise characters. With X-Men Vs. Street Fighter being largely in arcades (with its PS1 port being a disgrace, and its arcade perfect Saturn release exclusive to Japan) and with the Saturn being a failure in the US, who better than Nintendo to fill in that gap?
During the conceptual stages of Smash Bros under HAL with Masahiro Sakurai as the supervising programmer (while also under the tutelage of Iwata), he wanted to make a fighting game to take advantage of the Nintendo 64’s 4-player capabilities. At first, he wanted to make a game called Dragon King: The Fighting Game. Since he understood that the fighting genre was competitive on the business side of things, he had to make it stand out. Instead, he decided to make a crossover fighting game with Nintendo franchise characters. Fearing that he wouldn’t get official approval off the bat, he created a concept in secret which featured Mario, Donkey Kong, Samus, and Fox. Upon presentation, he was given the green light.
Since the game started as a passion project, it was given little to no advertising and was intended to be exclusive to Japan. Little did anyone know, the game became an instant hit upon its release in January of 1999 to the point that it was given a US release in April, and it became an international success. As opposed to your typical fighting game, whether it would be Street Fighter or Tekken, Smash Bros feels more like a platform game like Mario but with fighting game mechanics. Instead of depleting an opponent’s life bar, you knock them off the stage a certain amount of times, or when the clock stops ticking.
Since the game doesn’t require any complex commands to pull off special moves, anybody can instantly pick it up and enjoy it. In many instances, the stage has novelty weapons at your disposal from bob-ombs, Donkey Kong mallets, pokeballs, and bazookas, or at times, the stages may work against you like in a platform game (like missiles coming out to hit you). Due to the many variables this game offers that pays homage to Nintendo’s franchises by providing a novel challenge, it instantly appealed to all Nintendo fanatics, and there was no way anyone would refuse a 4-player fighting game, which was something that was unique at the time (other than the WWF and WCW games for N64).
GameCube/The Next Step
In late 2001, Nintendo released their successor to the N64, the GameCube. As opposed to being a release for the console’s latter end to the lifespan, the sequel to Smash Bros—Melee—was released at the beginning of the GameCube’s release. Beyond its smooth graphical upgrades, it retains its gameplay with some improvement to its physics engine and provides more selectable characters, but introduces some characters from Fire Emblem, an RPG that was exclusive to Japan upon its release. However, its main selling point was its intro video dramatically presenting the characters in dramatic action. Throughout its 13 month development, Sakurai worked on the game 24/7 without taking a single day off to the point it broke him, but he was proud of how it turned out and of its long-term success.
Brawl for Wii/Beyond Nintendo
After seven years in 2008, Nintendo released the next installment for the Wii, Brawl. New contenders that fans are familiar with include Diddy Kong, Ike from the Fire Emblem series, Lucas from Earthbound, and Pit from Kid Icarus. But what makes this entry unique is that it would be the first to include non-original Nintendo franchise characters for fans to enjoy. Those characters are Snake from Metal Gear Solid (who was included at the insistence of Kojima himself, and no, his name is not plastered all over the credits), Olimar of Pikman, and Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, Kojima and Sakurai would often play together during its testing run.
What also contributes to Brawl being a unique entry is that it was the first to have online play. Even though Sakurai was no longer officially part of HAL, at the insistence of Satoru Iwata, he still wanted him to be the director. The inclusion of online play was an obstacle during development, but in the end, they got it to work. Despite being an international released title, the official Japanese site allowed players to ask for what they wanted included in the game. As a matter of fact, it was thanks to this survey that Sonic was included in Brawl.
Upon its release, it was once again an instant hit. In addition, Brawl would become one of the very few class of games to score a perfect 40 in Famitsu magazine (in addition to Ocarina of Time and Nintendogs).
Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U
Unlike the previous three entries to the Smash Bros series—as opposed to Nintendo affiliated companies being the sole developer—Bandai Namco (notably team members of Tekken and Soul Calibur) would take over with the assistance of Sakurai. When you look at the official title, it’s natural to assume that if one person plays on a Wii U, they can play against someone playing on a 3DS. Unfortunately, that is not the case since they are essentially different games with their own distinct features.
The 3DS release appropriately takes advantage of its 3D capabilities and has two exclusive mini games, Smash Run and StreetSmash. Smash Run is pretty much the City Trial mode from Kirby’s Air Ride, and StreetSmash is where you knock your opponent off a platform.
As opposed to 4-players, certain stages in the Wii U edition can now support up to 8-players (unfortunately, this is not included in online play)! The Wii U also introduces some of its own exclusive mini games as well. For example, Smash Tour is a customizable board game where 4-players can have fun. Despite Snake being removed from the roster, Sonic is still a non-Nintendo franchise playable character. So who else did they add this time? They added Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles, Mega Man, and Pac-man. Later on as download content, Ryu from Street Fighter, Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, and Bayonetta also became playable.
Beyond these non-Nintendo characters, what original Nintendo characters are included this time? Little Mac from Punch Out, Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy, the Wii Fit Trainer, and the dog and duck from Duck Hunt! In addition, you can use your customizable Miis and Amiibos! So what can Ultimate offer? For starters, we’re getting Snake back! And what can be better? We’re getting David Hayter back to play Snake! We know Sakurai and his team are trying their hardest to include every past character as possible for a superb roster. As opposed to using an updated engine from the Wii U release, they’re making a new engine from scratch. They’re doing everything to making it as balanced as possible for newbies and veterans alike. With weeks away from release, we’re looking forward to how it will turn out for the best party fighting game ever!
It is really amazing to see how Smash Bros has and hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. Upon its debut, it exclusively featured Nintendo’s iconic characters. As they got new entries, fans got to enjoy other non-Nintendo characters in the lineup such as Solid Snake, Sonic the Hedgehog, Megaman, and Ryu from Street Fighter. While they are not originally Nintendo characters, the games that they come from have helped contribute to the legacy of Nintendo and its consoles, and vice-versa. Megaman got his breakout on the original Nintendo, and Street Fighter helped make the Super Nintendo become a smash hit. In the 16-bit days, kids would argue who would win, Mario or Sonic, and the fact that we got this opportunity through Smash Bros is why it’s a cross-generational success.