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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

15 Years of Super Smash Bros.

Do you know what today is? Well, other than just another Tuesday in 2014, on this very day fifteen years ago in Japan, Super Smash Bros. was released on the Nintendo 64.

I can still remember reading a preview on Super Smash Bros. in the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly in January 1999. This was back when Nintendo valued their family friendly rep more than anything. So to see images of famous Nintendo stars kicking the crap out of each other, well, strange doesn't even begin to describe it. Then came the TV spot. Nintendo has had a myriad of memorable commercials in the past but the scenes of Mario kicking Yohsi in the kneecap, Donkey Kong tossing Pikachu by the Tail and Yoshi bashing Donkey Kong on the head with a hammer all in the middle of a field of flowers has got to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen as well a huge WTF moment to those that didn't know of Super Smash Bros. coming. This is arguably Nintendo's best ad.

Not only was the advertisement for Super Smash Bros. unlike anything Nintendo had done, so was the gameplay. This was a fighter that played nothing like anything that had come before it. If you came in expecting life bars and the scenery to be nothing but a background, boy, were you in for a surprise. The goal of knocking out your opponent was kept in tact from other fighters, but they way you went about doing so was radically different. Each player has a percentage meter that builds up every time he or she takes damage. The more damage you opponent has taken on, the further they'll fly but thanks to some platforming elements, it's entirely possible for them to return to the ring to keep the battle going. Add in stage hazards like rising acid in Brinstar, Whispy Woods blowing the players away in Dream Land  or items like the Hammer from Donkey Kong and you've got a fighter that's a completely different animal from what so many players were accustomed to. Four player multiplayer only made things all the more entertaining.

Even the single player mode was
vastly different from other fighting
Smashing someone against the camera is
still one of the most satisfying ways to
KO someone to this day.

Super Smash Bros. was an instant hit in Japan, which prompted a North American release. On April 26, 1999, Super Smash Bros released in the west, just six days after the Columbine Shooting incident. At this time, video games were once again in the cross hairs of the media and every politician that could use them as a scapegoat to further their own agendas. I don't think Super Smash Bros. could have come at a better time in retrospect. When the media was on the video-games-teach-kids-to-kill-bandwagon for the umpteenth time, Super Smash Bros. laughed in the face of such nonsense. Sure there was violence in the game, but it was very much of the Tom and Jerry variety. Even the box art had a very cartoonish appeal to it with words like "ZAP and "BIFF" being displayed next to character attacks like a comic book aesthetic.

Peach and the Ice Climbers were but two
of the many new additions to Melee.

Nintendo knew they had hit series on their hands so they did something they rarely do: release a sequel shortly after the original game. Super Smash Bros. Melee was released on the GameCube on December 5, 2001, just two years after the first game. Initially many, including the gaming press, thought Melee was nothing more than a rehash of the first game with a much prettier coat of paint. PlayStation 2 and Xbox fanboys were quick to use this as a means to bash the GCN, but the notion that Melee was more of the same was quickly squashed flat. The Adventure mode which played more like a platform game was an excellent addition as was the Event Mode, which ranged from super easy to brutally hard challenges required mastery of the new Smash Attack. There were trophies to unlock records to set in Homerun Contest, long forgotten Nintendo icons to add to the roster. Melee was packed with so much to content that it took players months before they saw everything the game had to offer.

A battle that had waged since the 16-bit console
wars could finally be settled.

To say that expectations for Super Smash Bros. Brawl were high would be a grave understatement. This game opened up the gates for something that gamers wanted since Melee: third party characters. The April Fool's gag of 2002 for Electronic Gaming Monthly was hidden inclusion of Sonic and Tails in Melee. Gamers efforts to unlock this SEGA duo was all for nothing but in Brawl, Sonic was made a playable character. At long last, gamers could finally pit Mario and Sonic against each other in battle and see who would come out on top. Sonic wasn't the only third party character to join the fisticuffs. Solid Snake, acclaimed hero of the Metal Gear series was added at the request of Hideo Kojima.

Look who finally got invited to the party.

So what makes Super Smash Bros. so interesting? I can honestly say I never gave a thought to slugging it out with other Nintendo characters until Super Smash Bros. came along. For the Pokemon haters, this was the perfect series to punch Jigglypuff in the face. Tired of rescuing Princess Peach? You could finally vent all of his pent up frustrations by clocking her in the head with the Homerun Bat. The Super Smash Bros. games offer so many crazy fighting scenarios that make it an excellent party game and a wealth of things to unlock for those playing solo.

For a franchise that has just turned fifteen years old, there are only a handful of games that comprises it. There are currently three Super Smash Bros. titles out with the fourth entry, simply titled Super Smash Bros, set to release for the Wii U and 3DS sometime this year. Despite such a small number of entries for a series that has been around for nearly two decades, Super Smash Bros. is one of Nintendo's biggest franchises. Here's to another 15 years of Smashing. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a Jigglypuff that needs to be put into orbit.

1 comment:

Adam said...

hard to believe it's been that long