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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Memories #17: Super Smash Bros.

The year was 1999 and the Nintendo 64 was entering its third year of life, still holding second place to Sony's PlayStation. While the PS did have a diverse library of games that catered to everyone, the N64 had something the new, gray hip box on the block lacked: undeniably fun local multiplayer games. Oh, sure there were some four player titles on the PS, but you needed a multi-tap adapter to get in on that action and so many four player games were few and far between. But on the N64? You were constantly tripping over four player multiplayer masterpieces. It helped that the system had four controller ports staring you in the face at all times and Nintendo took full advantage of them. GoldenEye 007, Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, Mario Party, Nintendo's 64 bit baby was the go to machine for four player mania.

Fun as it was to gun down your friends, shoot them out of the sky or steal their power stars, the N64 was lacking in one of the best multiplayer genres: fighting games. The SNES enjoyed no less than three versions of Street Fighter II, but Capcom turned their attention to the less costly CD consoles to have their popular characters throw down. New IPs don't come often from The Big N, but when they do, people sit up and take notice. 1999 saw the birth of a new IP from the company that would not only use their pre-established character icons, but would also be a fighting game. That's right, a fighting game, from Nintendo. Well, the game was developed by HAL but Nintendo owns them, so that's kinda splitting hairs. The fact that Nintendo was backing such a game at the time was mind boggling.

News of this upcoming N64 fighter first reached me through the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly. They had a nice two page preview of the game and just by reading and looking at the screens, I knew this would be a fighting game like no other. The concept still bewildered me. Mario, Yoshi, Samus, and Donkey Kong (among others) were going to be beating each other to a pulp. Oh sure, in 2014, this wouldn't make anyone in gaming raise an eyebrow, but in 1999, this was a shock to the system. Nintendo stars were throwing down in a N64 fighter called SOOPA SMAAAAAAAASH BROTHEEEEEEEERS!!! 

Anyone in denial that such a game involving Pikachu electrocuting Mario could actually exist were silenced by one of the greatest ads Nintendo has ever produced. I would pay good money just to see the look on the faces of people that found out about Super Smash Bros. from the TV ad.

That ad is BRILLIANT! Of the countless questions that commercial raised, the primary one had to be "Why are they fighting?" The only question that really mattered was "Who cares?!" You know how you don't realize how bad you want something until it was placed right in front of you? That's what Super Smash Bros. was. Until this point, I had never given thought to the idea of Link and Mario fighting out. Now that such a thing was possible, I had to have it.

Knowing that Super Smash Bros, would released on April 26, 1999, I saved up my 20$ weekly allowance and after school, I headed to my local Meijer and it was a Monday to remember. Being the age of cut scenes, Super Smash Bros. also had an open opening introduction and to my surprise, it even came with one of the most badawesome title shouts I've ever heard, not even topped by the game's sequel.

I'd played Street Fighter, Tekken and Mortal Kombat but I already knew that I was in for a completely different beast and If I was going to spend some quality time with this game, that would mean knowing how to play it. I learned much of what I needed to get by in the nifty How to Play Super Smash Bros. Demo that proceeded that sick opening, which, funnily enough, showed Mario kicking the crap out of Luigi, who was one of the four hidden characters. The controls for this game were amazingly simple, you had two buttons for attacking and another for jumping. In contrast to the simple controls, a myriad of moves were at your disposal. Taping the A button three times rapidly would execute a quick three hit combo. If your fighter ha d a projectile, it could be unleashed with the B button. Even controlling your fighter on the ground and in the air felt incredibly fluid with the analog stick, much to my surprise.

The small roster didn't bother me in the least.
I got to fight with Nintendo characters so I
was hype enough with that.

Like any other fighter the goal of Super Smash Bros. was ultimately to defeat your opponent, but this game went about reaching said goal differently. There were no life bars to speak of, only a percent meter over your fighter's avatar. You wanted to build your opponent's perfect meter up. The more damage they've taken on, the further they would get knocked back from attacks and the same went for you, too. The stages in Smash were't just backgrounds for your characters to fight in. No, staying in the stage was of vital importance. Most fighting games have you knock your opponent unconscious. Super Smash Bros. wants you to knock you opponent off the stage so they don't come back. As much as the game was about fighting, it was about platforming as well. Each character could perform a triple jump move to help them land back on the stage, provided they haven't been knocked so far back. If your percent numbers were still white, you probably had nothing to worry about. However, if those numbers reached the triple digits and turned red, one good attack would be all it would take to put you into orbit.

The method at which you went about achieving victory was new and intriguing and as fun as watching it play out in the demo was, it felt so satisfying to do it with my own hands. If you were there in 1999, you know how cool it felt to play as Mario and for once, not be saving that dumb blonde, but to be chucking fireballs at Link, uppercutting him and seeing coins come out, complete with the classic Super Mario Bros. coin sound affect and deliver the final blow to knock him off the stage and hear the announcer say "Game Set!" The whole gang fought in the style of the games they were lifted from. Link wielded the Master sword, the Bow, the Boomerang, Donkey Kong would pound the ground and knock opponents off their feet. Samus used her Screw Attack, Missiles and Bombs. It was just so awesome to see these Nintendo legends fighting each other with signature movies from their respective series.

Nostalgia meets four player madness.

Items also set Super Smash Bros. apart from other fighters. Throughout a matches, items would appear at random. The Beam Sword allowed those besides link to get in on the blade swinging action. Poke Balls caused just about everyone to panic, that is unless a Goldeen popped out and did an ineffective Splash Attack. The Hammer turned you into an unstoppable force and made everyone run in the opposite direct, lest they be KOed. But the grandaddy of all items had to be the Homerun Bat. This simple-looking, wooden bat was the most feared of all items. All it required was a good forward A connect to send you into space, even if you were at 0%. As if the action in Smash wasn't crazy enough, items introduced a whole new level of chaos, that I fully embraced.

Multiple opponents and items dropping at any time. How could things get anymore hectic? Well how about making stages that weren't just merely background scenery? Oh sure, levels took inspiration from the games the cast cane from like the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule and Dream Land. But each stage had it's own unique hazard that meant you'd have to not only pay attention to items appearing as well as fighters, but also be mindful of whatever obstacle the stage would throw at you. Planet Zebes was a small enough stage and one of the first things I noticed was what looked like acid below. Sure enough, every now and then, the level of acid would rise up and damage anyone not high enough off the ground. Sector Z was a pretty spacious level and seemed pretty harmless until Arwings fly by and shoot the fighters, would could be lethal for anyone at high percentages. Whispy Woods stood out like a sore thumb in the Dream Land stage and he would occasionally try to blow players off the the stage. Dream Land ended up becoming one of my favorite stages to go to, not only for it's simple design, but because of the kicking Run, Kirby, Run remix.

It doesn't matter what their beef is. Mario and
Link are fighting. That's the important thing.

Single player mode also panned out different from other fighting games. Yeah, you still had one-on-one matches against AI opponents, but the game mixed things up considerable. One minute you'd be pit against an army of 18 Yoshi's, then next you'd be trying to send a giant Donkey Kong off the stage with some help from a computer controlled fighter. Even the final showdown was unique. No evil dictator, no four armed freak show to contend with and no old men with crazy hair styles and family issues. The Master Hand couldn't be knocked off the stage. Unlike all the battles before, you had to take his percent meter down to 0 and he had no intention of making that task a simple one. You know you're in for a fight when an evil laugh actually sends a chill down your spine. Master Hand would slap you around, shoot bullets at you and attempt to crash into you, shattering your shield if you activated it at the wrong time. You might not expect a hand to fight with such ferocity, but Master Hand managed to be pretty intimidating for being nothing but a white glove.

Unlocking fighters to add to the roster has been a fighting game staple long before the first entry of Super Smash Bros. hit, but like the rest of the game, the method of unlocking charters was also different. If you wanted to add Luigi, Ness, Captain Falcon and Jiggly Puff to the original eight, you'd have to take them down first. I think the fights with these four was actually a lot easier than in the Smash games that followed were the AI was noticeably cranked up. I still find it pretty interesting that Captain Falcon was playable. Of all of the fighters, he's the only one that has been limited to a race track in his series, so all of his moves were made specifically for this game, including the famous Falcon Punch.

The hand that feeds you is sick of being bitten and now
it's going to fight back. 

For all the four player mayhem Super Smash Bros. offered, it was difficult to get my circle of friends to play it. Every now and then I'd manage a four player slug-fest, but for the most part it was just myself and a good friend for multiplayer sessions. Getting a group of buddies to punch out never damped my enjoyment of the game, though. I can't even recall how many times I'd battle it out against three AI fighters. Yes, any fan of the series will tell you that the best time you can have in a Super Smash Bros. game is with friends, but I'm certain Masahrio Sakurai and his team took into account that doing so wasn't always an option. After spending years being able to punch and kick just one fighter, having three others to contend with was a breath of fresh air, even if they weren't humans. And again, these were Nintendo stars I got to fight as and beat on.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Super Smash Bros. series and we saw the release of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the fourth installment in the series. What started out with humble polygonal beginnings has since exploded into one of Nintendo's most popular franchises. Super Smash Bros. is now so massive that each release may as well be treated like an event and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was hyped up like you would not believe and the demand for the 3DS version was pretty high, too. I'll probably only return to the original Super Smash Bros. when I'm feeling nostalgic but I'll always be grateful for the wonderful memories the first game game me and for birthing one of my all-time favorite Nintendo franchises.

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