|An early image of what would go on to become the biggest|
crossover series in the history of video games.
It was the fifth generation of console gaming and after winning the previous two, Nintendo found themselves struggling against Sony's PlayStation, ironically, a system partially born out of a broken partnership when Nintendo stabbed Sony in the back. Sony's 32-bit disc based baby was killing it and while the Nintendo 64 was still moving units, in the end, the PS utterly crushed the N64. Even though this was a tough time for the Big N, the company did turn out some fantastic, ground breaking games on the system. Super Mario 64 was the 3D platformer from which all others were judged for years to come, GoldenEye 007 did a marvelous job of demonstrating just how viable FPS games could be on consoles, and The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time is often hailed as one of the greatest games ever created. It was on the N64 that a very, very different style of fighting game was born and while the budget for the game was low, it would go on to spawn a juggernaut franchise for Nintendo.
Dragon King: The Fighting Game began development began in 1998 and was directed by Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai, who would later be joined by his colleague and future Nintendo President of Japan, the late/great Satoru Iwata. Placeholders for the fighters were a bunch of generic-looking no names that would go on to supply the move set for a certain captain. Sakurai's idea for fighters was unthinkable because he thought it wouldn't get approval: he wanted the fighters of Dragon King to be Nintendo characters such as Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and Pikachu. Nintendo was a very different company back then, so one could see why Nintendo characters beating each other up probably wouldn't fly with the top brass. And yet, the idea was approved. Sakurai probably knew that giving Dragon King more appeal would help it sell and tossing around some nameless polygons wasn't gonna cut it. Nintendo's characters are known far and wide and it definitely helped supply the game with far more personality than it would have had otherwise. I'm guessing someone (perhaps Sakurai himself) thought that with the Nintendo characters inclusion being green-lit, name change was in order. Good thing, too, because Dragon King: The Fighting Game does not roll off the tongue very well. For all the digging I've done, no one seems to know how the name Super Smash Bros. came to be, but it sounds a heck of a lot better than it's initial name.
|One-on-one fights were possible in the|
|...But one of the biggest draws was the four|
player free-for-all battles.
I still remember the first time I'd ever heard of Super Smash Bros. It was in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly (those magazines that use to rule video game news and reviews back in the day). I'm guessing they were previewing the Japanese version because the full title I recall was "Nintendo All-Stars: Smash Bros." Nintendo's characters had made appearances in other games before, but never like this. This was a full blown crossover. It was so strange looking at screen shots and seeing Nintendo characters whaling on each other. And yet, I knew it was a game, I wanted. Strange as it was, it sounded so cool to play as Mario, Samus, or Link in a fighting game unlike anything else.
The fighting in Smash was also much more comical than other fighting games. Loud, crunchy, cartoonish sound effects were heard when connecting hits on opponents. When fighters were KO'd they woulld sometimes soar off into the background and fade out as twinkle or smack up against the TV screen, adding a element of humor. The method of knocking out fighters was also vastly different from other games in the genre. There were no health bars to be found in Smash, rather the game used percentage meters. The more damage fighters take on, the higher the percent increases, making it easier to knock a fighter off stage Just because you got sent flying didn't mean you couldn't return to the stage. All fighters can perform multiple jumps, bringing them back into the game, so long as they weren't too far away from the ledge.
Stages in which players fought on weren't just random backgrounds but every single level was modeled after themes from the games the respective characters came from. Mario and Luigi's stage took place at Peach's Castle, Samus had Brinstar, Kirby had Dream Land and so on. Each stage also had a type of hazard that players would have to avoid or send their opposition into. Hyrule would spawn random twisters that launched the player upwards, Whispy Woods would try to blow players off stage and random Pokemon would come out in Saffron City. Randomly appearing items also made things pretty interesting. If you threw a Pokemon, you could get aid from Blastoise or Staryu. If you were unlucky, Goldeen would pop out and do nothing. Beam Swords, Ray Guns, Fans, the Hammer from Donkey Kong and several other items could litter the battlefield to turn the tide in your favor. All of this ensured that Super Smash Bros. was an insanely chaotic game and with the option for up to four players at once, it was great for multiplayer. Players that didn't want items on were taken into consideration with the option to disable them being included.
When all was said and done, Super Smash Bros. was the fourth best selling game on the N64 and a sequel would release a little over two years later and a very ambitious one at that.
With a short development period of only thirteen months, Super Smash Bros. Melee was released on the GameCube in 2001. Melee was a massive step up from the original Smash 64 not only in terms of visuals and sounds, but in gameplay and content. Melee was much faster (the fastest game in the series in fact), had a roaster of 26 fighters over the first game's 12, had way more stages and wealth of modes to ensure that it would be a very long time before players ran out of things to do.
Melee introduced a new adventure mode felt like a homage to classic platforming and action adventure games. Homerun Contest was a simple mode where you would rack up as much damage on Mr. Sandbag and then take a crack at him with the Homerun Bat to see how far you could make him fly. Multi-Man Melee had several modes in and of itself where you could spend three minutes KOing Wire-frame fighters, see how fast you could defeat ten or see how long you can last against an endless onslaught of them. All-Star was an endurance mode where you would take on the entire roster with only a single life and limited health recovery items.
Melee was responsible for getting gamers acquainted with some of Nintendo's (at the time) more obscure characters with the several newcomers to the roster. Popo and Nana, the duo that makes up the Ice Climbers had not been in a game since Ice Climber on the NES. One of the last characters players could unlock, Mr. Game & Watch is one of Nintendo's oldest icons, even predating Mario. He was also the oddball character that no one saw coming and began a trend that would continue with each new Smash title. I'd wager most Nintendo fans and gamers had no clue who Marth and Roy were and the two's inclusion probably helped spark interest in the Fire Emblem series, a franchise that now enjoys steady releases outside of Japan.
It wasn't just new fighters in the roster that had players asking questions about who these characters were. Melee gave birth to trophies, unlockable and purchasable (with in game currency) figurines with information about each one. These ranged from tons of know characters to a plethora of less known and to many players, unknown characters from Nintendo's rich history. The inclusion of these trophies made Melee feel like one had their own Nintendo museum.
For all of the new content and character's Melee added, however, perhaps the game's greatest contribution to gamers was that it lit the fire for competitive play. Despite the game being close to 20 years old, Melee still has a thriving competitive community. Not only is the game at Evo every year, but each Smash game to follow has had it's own competitive scene.
2006 marked the year that Nintendo would release the Wii and when that year's E3 rolled around, fans had a new game to look forward to: Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The trailer was heavily focuses on introducing newcomers that included, Pit, Wario, and Meta Knight among others. When the trailer was seemingly over, fans were greeted to one very unexpected reveal: Solid Snake. For the first time in the series, a third party character was joining the battle. Apparently Snake's creator, Hideo Kojima was/is a big fan of Smash and wanted Snake in Melee but the game was too far along in development to include him.
Snake wasn't the only special third party guest that would be in Brawl. When SEGA became a third party publisher in 2001, Nintendo welcomed them with open arms. Sonic games sold quite well on Nintendo systems and though SEGA refused Sakurai's initial proposal to include Sonic in Brawl, they later allowed it, which led to the game being delayed.
When Brawl did release in early 2008, it was met with high praise.
So here we are, twenty years after Super Smash Bros. was unleashed upon the world. The game that originally began life as a low budget, Nintendo-characters only game has since exploded into a mega sized crossover brawler that is a celebration of video games as a whole. Whenever a game in this series is released, it is like a huge, huge event.