“Super Smash Bros.” Impact 21 Years Later

Super Smash Bros is 21 years old, and it’s hard to believe it’s been around for that long. It is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises and has continually been a staple in multiplayer gaming.

Its simple yet hard to master game mechanics give the games so much depth. Anyone from beginners to hardcore fighting fans can easily enjoy this game.

Each game in this series has brought something new to the table in its 21-year lifespan that has people going back to it to this day.

Humble Beginnings

When the original launched in 1999 for the Nintendo 64, fighting games were known for their difficult combos and unforgiving nature. Every character in Super Smash Bros. has the exact same button inputs that anyone could easily pull off. The A and B buttons are used to attack, and the player could move the stick while pressing those buttons to do forward, side, and down attacks. There’s a jump button and shield button, and players have to launch other players off-screen to win, and the more damage a player has, the easier they are to launch.

It was the intention of director Masahiro Sakurai, who has directed every entry since, to make this a game people of all demographics could enjoy.

What made the game even more compelling was the fact that Nintendo’s own iconic characters were fighting each other. Mario, Samus, Pikachu, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Link, Ness, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon, Kirby, Luigi, and Fox all came together from multiple beloved franchises to slug it out. Sakurai didn’t even get Nintendo’s approval at first to make this game happen and went about putting these characters in. It was supposed to be a fighting game with original characters, but Sakurai felt that adding iconic characters would make the game more special. Sakurai was right because since 1999, fighting with your favorite character from your favorite game just feels more special than playing as generic characters.

The simplicity combined with the intense four-player battles and amazing characters made it a must-have game for get-togethers.

Melee

1999, however, was almost the end of the N64’s lifecycle, with the Gamecube on the horizon. Through literal blood, sweat, and tears from Sakurai and his development team, Super Smash Bros. Melee was fully developed in the span of 13 months in time for the launch of the Gamecube.

Melee is by far the most beloved of the franchise that literally improved and expanded upon everything. The graphics, gameplay, music, character selection, and game modes were all vastly improved, making the first game hard to go back to. It has been 19 years and people are still playing the game because it introduced everything that’s beloved about the franchise today.

Character

One of the important things about Smash Bros. are the characters and the way they are represented. Everyone has a favorite character they use because they come from a game they love or are just to fun to use. There are also cases of people getting into certain franchises because of their inclusion in Smash.

Marth and Roy’s inclusion in Melee made Fire Emblem suddenly relevant in the Western Hemisphere because a lot of people loved using those characters and were interested in the games they came from. Every game in the franchise not only tries to include popular characters from past and present but also the more obscure ones that lead fans to seek out the games they come from.

Competitive Scene

Due to the short 13-month developmental time, there was literally no time to polish the game further, so it’s a miracle it feels so good even to this day. Every single game since has built upon the mechanics of Melee, and for better and worse, it’s never quite replicated it.

Melee is still being played in competitions today because the rushed developmental cycle accidentally made the game have deep fighting mechanics. Stuff like wave-dashing, edge-canceling, teching could only be pulled off by hardcore competitive players, which increased the gap between the skilled and casual. If the game had more development time all that hardcore competitive depth most likely would’ve disappeared.

Even Sakurai himself admits that Melee skewed a little too much to the hardcore audience.

“I think a lot of Melee players love Melee. But at the same time, I think a lot of players, on the other hand, gave up on Melee because it’s too technical, because they can’t keep up with it. And I know there were players who got tendinitis from playing, and messing with the controller so much . . . that really is hard on the player. And I feel like a game should really focus on what the target audience is.”

While the Gamecube wasn’t the most popular system at the time, Melee was a game nearly all owners of the system had with its 7.09 million copies sold, making it the highest-selling game on the system. While that first N64 game was successful, Melee solidified the franchise as a system selling killer app.

Brawl

Super Smash Bros. Brawl released in 2008 on the Nintendo Wii and its reputation now is quite polarizing. The game considerably slowed down the gameplay from Melee that included random tripping, making the game skew more towards a casual audience that was reflective of the people buying Wiis. But the game sold even more than Melee and took the franchise to the next level.

The game was filled with infinite hours of content that included an epic story mode and modes that players can get lost in.

Another thing that stood out about this game was its amazing soundtrack that included orchestra, choir, vocal tracks, and catchy remixes to iconic themes. The standard for music for later entries was set here.

Third-Party Characters

Brawl was unveiled during E3 2006, and the biggest talking point from that trailer was the inclusion of Snake from Metal Gear Solid. This opened the floodgates because it meant that non-Nintendo characters had a chance of becoming a character. The game itself was not only a celebration of Nintendo but of video games as a whole. The most requested 3rd party character was Sonic the Hedgehog, and many fans’ dreams came true with his inclusion. The success of these characters’ inclusion made fans go rabid over who deserves to be in Smash or not. Since then Nintendo has gotten even crazier characters into Smash, but that wouldn’t have been possible if Snake and Sonic weren’t so beloved.

Subspace Emissary

One of the defining elements of Brawl is its epic story mode filled with fully rendered CGI cutscenes. The mode itself is sort of mixed bag due to its convoluted nature, and the gameplay just being a side-scrolling beat-em-up that could get tedious.

The cutscenes, however, are worth the price of admission alone because the character interactions are so charming and feel so true to the characters. The boss battles were also a lot of fun because they were challenging, with some callbacks to past Nintendo games. It’s worth mentioning that the mode could be played in couch co-op, so it was a blast playing with a friend.

Subspace may not have been the perfect story mode, but its charm was undeniable and people still claim it’s the best single-player mode in Smash history.

Overall Brawl more than delivered on being the biggest Smash Bros. at the time with its bigger roster, epic story mode, and hours upon hours of content that could be enjoyed by four players at get-togethers, It’s a shame the gameplay was more party focused, but it led to fan mods like Project M that fixed people’s complaints. Brawl was huge for Nintendo, selling 13 million copies, becoming the most successful single entry in the franchise at the time.

For Wii U/3DS

It’s weird to think about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS now. It’s neither controversial enough like Brawl or as beloved as Melee or Ultimate. It unfortunately now just exists, but in 2014, it was an amazing step in the right direction for the franchise after the polarizing Brawl.

It’s best remembered as the first time Smash Bros. was on handheld devices. It was a true game-changer to have a full Smash experience on the go that still ran at 60 fps.

The gameplay was refined to be a compromise between the casual and hardcore. It was undeniably faster than Brawl, but still not as intimidating as Melee. It felt really good to play and at the time it felt like what Smash should’ve always been. Up to eight players could engage in eight-player battles resulting in even more chaos. Collectible amiibos could be used to level up and fight against or alongside you. And this was the first game to implement DLC to add more Mii costumes, music tracks, levels, and new fighters.

Unfortunately, the simultaneous development of two games nearly broke Sakurai to the point of getting calcific tendonitis and muscle ruptures in his right arm. It’s rare to see the console and handheld version of a game complement each other so well, and Sakurai did his absolute best for that to happen. The biggest omission for these two games was its lack of a single-player mode like Subspace, which was probably because of the strenuous development of two games.

Insane Roster

Brawl may have opened up the possibilities of future characters, Smash for Wii U and 3DS absolutely went insane with its roster. Not only were characters like Wii Fit Trainer, Duck Hunt dog and Villager from Animal Crossing being included, but characters like Mega Man, Pac-Man, Ryu from Street Fighter, Bayonetta, and Cloud from Final Fantasy VII also somehow made the cut. No one ever thought Cloud would even be possible, but it happened. Anyone from a video game was a possible candidate for Smash and fans to this day are losing it with speculation for future DLC characters.

Forgettable

Despite this game’s success for their respective consoles, it came during a time when Nintendo was struggling. The Wii U is Nintendo’s worst-selling home console to date for a multitude of reasons, only selling 13.5 million, a rare disaster from a company that is the godfather of gaming. While the game was financially successful, it sold more on the 3DS. It was definitely a novelty to have two versions of the game, but it kind of split the fanbase.

While both games were praised at the time for their innovations, it came during a time when the future was uncertain for Nintendo due to its struggles. And now that a later entry exists on a console with a large install base that literally improves upon this game in every way, there’s almost no point in going back to a game on an inferior system. However, without these specific games, the next game would’ve never existed.

Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate came in like freight train, promising to be the definitive entry in the franchise. It absolutely lived up to the hype with its inclusion of every single fighter ever from all its previous entries, along with the inclusion of new characters that fans have been wanting for years. It was one Super Smash Bros. game that could be played at home or on the go, immediately making the previous entries obsolete. It further refined the gameplay making it the greatest compromise between casual and hardcore with its fast, hard-hitting gameplay.

Smash Museum

Super Smash Bros. has always been a celebration of video game history, and while Ultimate is no different it also embraces Smash history. With its inclusion of every character ever, levels from past games that have been updated, many game modes, 100s of hours of music, and overall callbacks to past entries, it really feels like Sakurai set out to make a Super Smash Bros. Museum that embraces its own history.

It is truly a miracle that every single character ever is included in this game, along with the inclusion of future DLC characters. Sakurai has admitted that this will most likely never happen again, because of so many character licensing rights that go into every character. King K. Rool, Ridley, Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Incineroar, Ken from Street Fighter, Simon and Richter from Castlevania all make their much-awaited debuts in this game. Every character looks and feels so refined, while also hitting harder than ever before.

The DLC is even crazier with characters like Joker from Persona 5, Hero from Dragon Quest, Piranha Plant, and Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury. The biggest inclusion for long time Nintendo fans was Banjo and Kazooie, a character under Rare now owned by Microsoft that was once considered a Nintendo mascot during the N64 days. Not only was it huge that a 90s icon like Banjo was finally in Smash, but a character from a direct competitor like Microsoft could actually be in Smash. Now there are six DLC fighters left and fans couldn’t be more excited.

World of Light

World of Light is the game’s story mode, that’s over 40 hours long. Players have to go on a massive game board and each space is filled with a battle with certain regulations that requires strategy and the use of “spirits” that give players special stats to win. The mode is full of references to past video games that some hardcore fans will enjoy. This mode like Subspace is a mixed bag because it is overlong and tedious, but it’s full of so much charm and the boss battles are amazing.

There has almost never been a game in a big franchise like this that has been this generous with its characters and content. The game is overwhelming in the best way possible. Fans have been truly spoiled with this game and it will definitely be a tough act to follow.

What Smash Means

Super Smash Bros. is singlehandedly the most defining multiplayer fighting experience ever. Filled to the brim with charm, characters, and pure fun, it’s no wonder why the franchise has so many passionate fans. It’s also set the standard when it comes to crossover fighting games because of how much care that goes into each character.

It is one of the best games to play at a gathering because not only can up to 8 people just fight each other, but players of all demographics can enjoy it because there’s truly a character for everyone.

A character being part of Smash now is an honor because it means their place in video game history has been solidified. Whatever characters get revealed next, it is just extra icing on a cake that is already deep and full of flavor.

Masahiro Sakurai truly has become a gaming legend for putting everything into each game in a series that has touched so many people’s lives.

As a kid who grew up in a big family, Super Smash Bros. was always there to unite us by beating on each other with our favorite Nintendo characters.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as of right now has sold over 17 million units, making it the second highest-selling Switch game to date. The franchise isn’t going anywhere with those numbers, but its future is always uncertain.

Every game seems to outdo itself, but this time it seems like this is as big as it’s going to get. This feels like Sakarui’s magnum opus and if he wanted to move away from the series, no one would blame him. Whatever happens in the future for this franchise, fans will always have these games to enjoy with the people they’re closest to.

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