Time To Wreck Some Nintendo Mascots
Super Smash Bros.
Throughout its history NintendoSince 1983 (with the release of the Famicom gaming system in Japan), Nintendo has proven to be a gaming company dedicated to finding what gamers want, even when the gamers don't know it themselves. From dual-screen systems, to motion controls, to convertible home console/portable consoles, Nintendo regularly proves that the weirdest innovation is exactly what the gaming community needs. has found ways to foster, and protect, their biggest franchises. while some may complain that Disney is risk averse, never willing to invest in something new when they can trot out the same old thing maybe slightly dressed up, Nintendo realistically dos the same thing. Nintendo is, in effect, the Disney of the video game world: risk averse, but with a batch of mascots that are beloved the world over, all of which can easily sell Nintendo consoles time and again (so long as the consoles aren't complete train wrecks). it is rare to see Nintendo so anything risky or different.
Some might argue that the original Super Smash Bros. was hardly risky. It's a Nintendo game (developed by perennial 2nd-party studio HAL) where all the Nintendo mascots come together. If one mascot can sell a game, then putting more of them together clearly will sell more games. Where's the risk in that? But the Devil is in the details and, at the time, Super Smash Bros. did, indeed, feel like something new, different, and very weird. Where else could you see a bunch of company mascots beat the ever loving shit out of each other over and over again?
For those unfamiliar (although I don't know how many of you that read the site wouldn't know the game series), Super Smash Bros. is a mascot fighting game. The original edition is petty bare-bones in comparison to the games that would come, but the basic structure of the series was set here. The game was split down the middle with a single player adventure and a multiplayer party mode. In the single player game, players would take their selected fighter and put them through a series of battles (the whole roster of the game, in effect), fighting each character (or, sometimes, group battles of the same character) until they reached the last battle: Crazy Hand, a giant white glove with some pretty intense attacks. Meanwhile, in the multiplayer game, up to four players could battle in either a free-for-all, or in teams, until time ran out (or all the character's lives were depleted). It was simple fun, but so replayable.
Considering the fighting games of the time, if anyone was going to be able to compete with the likes of Capcom and SNK it was Nintendo. The charm of Super Smash Bros., though, was in the ways Nintendo completely elided taking on those other fighting games one-to-one. Where the popular style of the time was to have 1-on-1 battles (or, with the Marvel vs. Capcom series, tag-team battles), Smash went for big, 4-player brawls. Where the likes of Street Fighter and King of Fighters used complex button combos to pull off special movies, fighters in Nintendo's game worked off of simple presses of the A and B buttons plus a direction on the control stick. The differences in the games were night and day, in effect.
That simple control scheme really is what game Nintendo's title its charms. True fighting games of the genre are dense. Learning to master each character, with not only their complex button combos but when and where to use them, can be a daunting task for new players. You have to spend hours learning a character, and then hours more mastering them in a competitive game. And if you want to get good enough to really compete? Well, that's a lifetime to master. Meanwhile, someone can simply pick up Nintendo's game and instantly understand the basic workings of the title. Press B+Up and Link thrusts his sword in the air. Press B and flick Down and Pickachu with so a ground spin. Everything just instantly makes sense.
The controls may be simple but there is depth to the game. The characters move quick, and they all have a certain amount of invincibility after they get hit by a strong attack, so you can't simply spam the same attacks over and over again and expect to win. A good game of Smash is like a dance or a fencing match. Your characters dodge and weave around each other, attempting to lay in attacks, all while the other player is ducking around. Combos are hard to pull off, but this is a game where you press your advantage while you can and then go on the defensive when thins quickly swing against you, all with simple controls that facilitate the fast and frenetic play.
The one other major change this first game made from all other fighting games of the era was health. In a standard fighting game, you goal was to deplete the health of the other character until they fell over. In most scenarios your character played in a best two-out-of-three to win the match. Smash, though, changed up all of that: characters have damage they take, and the number ticks up. Do more damage and the character will bounce around more and more. The goal is to get them so damaged that the fly around, careening of the side (or the top) of the big battle map, which marks a kill. But then the character comes back and you do it again. You're either playing against time (so as to see how many kills you can rack up before time expires) or a stock of lives (with last person standing). It just feels so different, but refreshing all at the same time.
And, yes, there is thrill in playing as Mario, DK, Yoshi, Link, Samus, Kirby, and all the rest. These are beloved characters that not only rarely ever crossover, but also are all considered hero types so they'd never battle each other. Ad yet here they are, in a free-for-all, kicking total ass as they take each other out. Sure, the game explains this away as they're toys and the Master Hand is, in essence, the kid playing with his action figures, but still, that's a threadbare story used to justify utter carnage. It works for what it is, but deep down all we cared about was smacking Luigi off the screen with Nes's baseball bat.
This first game is certainly the purest distillation of what worked in the series: twelve fighters (four of whom were locked away until you somehow managed to find them, and then defeat them in battle), a small selection of stages, and two game modes. It's sparse and bare in comparison to latter entries, but it worked so well at the time. And, honestly, the basic style of this game is its own benefit. Later entries add so much that it becomes daunting sifting through it all (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has 89 characters, between the base game and DLC, and an overly-long story mode, World of Light, that will take most casual players literal days to get through). The simple purity of this first game is nothing to balk at.
In same ways the game has aged quite noticeably, though. Certain mechanics for each character, that were improved (or at least nerfed) in later entries are totally out of whack here (Pickachu's lightning bolt is a good example having no upper cap on its start position, meaning you can infinite juggle flying characters around). Playing on the Nintendo 64 controller is a trip, ad you forget how much the three-pronged doodad really was a strange choice for the company. And, sadly, the Nintendo 64's graphics look chunky and bland now, making this game look even worse as the years tick past.
And yet, once you pick up the game it is still absolutely fun o play. The characters here are all solid, and while some may lament the lack of later inclusions (I really like Princess Peach and wish she was in this game) there's a nice balance between the 12 characters we do get. Game play is fast and frenetic here and while the later games add more and more they never really change what works about this right here. This game sets the tone and tenor and, realistically, all the later games could do was just add more. You can't change the controls because that would alter the game too much, so all you can do is go bigger.
I think that's part of the reason why, despite the later games having so much more in there, I actually prefer these early entries (with this first game holding a special place in my heart). There's only so much you can do with this series and the earliest games have the right balance between things to do but keeping it all simple and effective. More doesn't always mean better, and I think the later games (Ultimate especially) traded focus for completeness. Yes, you can see just about every character in Nintendo history (and quite a few inclusions from other companies) in the latest games, but what does that really add to the game that wasn't already present in these earliest editions? More, yes, but nothing really new.
Super Smash Bros. is just intensely fun to play. Yes, you have to get past the old and clunky graphics, but the game itself runs smooth as silk. It's so fast, and so active, that you stop noticing the graphics after a while and just focus on killing everyone around you. That kind of game play remains timeless.
The legacy of the game, naturally, is defined not only by the sequels it had but by the genre it inspired. Before Super Smash Bros. there was only one "right" way to do a fighting game, and that was the way Capcom, Midway, and SNK were doing it. After, though, you had companies looking to see if they, too, could create their own simple-to-play mascot fighter. Sony got into the act with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a bald-faced clone of Nintendo's series just with Sony-owned characters instead. It did reasonably well, but was soon discarded by Sony because players just weren't that interested, long term. The biggest thing that hurt the game is simply that Sony's characters aren't as well known as Nintendo's.
Since then, the market was dominated by Nintendo, as they had the best stable of characters. It would take a while before two more mascot battlers would come for the crown. One is the Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. No one can argue that Nickelodeon has a good collection of characters (with all the shows they've produced, and the franchises they've bought up such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies.). The game does seem to be well supported, and decently liked by players, although it's arguable whether it had the clout to really best Nintendo at their own game. And then, more recently, Warner Bros. announced they'd be getting into the mascot brawler game with MultiVersus, featuring characters from DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s., Looney Tunes, Adventure Time, Scooby-Doo, and more all beating the ever loving shit out of each other. This one... well, sounds weird, but maybe it works.
Nintendo is Nintendo and will always be Nintendo. They have the best stable of characters in the game (and until Disney makes their own brawler that will probably remain the case) and they can handle these games in-house. That, plus Nintendo's impeccable quality, means they will probably never be unseated from the throne of best mascot brawler... but time will tell. Even still, you don't get to all these games, and all these companies vying for the crown, without the first Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64. It may be small, and simple, and have aging graphics, but it remains one of the best entries in the whole genre, bar none.