Back in the 90’s, home gaming was popular but, unlike today’s climate, the arcade industry continued to strongly impact popular trends. But this tale isn’t about an arcade game. This game created the opposite effect and blew gamers’ expectations away at the time.
That’s when Nintendo seized the opportunity and Super Smash Bros. came out of the blue. Smash came to represent more than a ridiculously fun casual fighter. It gave gamers a glimpse into the future of multiplayer gaming and how important one little crossover could become to an entire industry.
Read on as Pop GO inducts Super Smash Bros. into The Hall of Games.
The fighting game market was just growing out of the arcade and the hardcore market was still on in its infancy. To compound problems for Nintendo, few fighters were being developed for the N64 as the PlayStation brand was accelerating its growth by introducing bold new franchises, such as Tekken and Dead or Alive.
Over at HAL Laboratory, folks well known for the Kirby series, they had a very different idea for a fighter, combining the stars from each of the brightest Nintendo franchises. Masahiro Sakurai presented the idea to Satoru Iwata (now currently president of Nintendo) and, with his help, continued on the project without telling anyone. As it was initially developed, players were only able to use Mario, Donkey Kong, Samus and Fox as the playable characters. Sakurai only let loose about the game once he had finished a working prototype that he knew was balanced and would become approved. Obviously, Sakurai knew he was onto something big and so did everyone else at Nintendo.
A huge issue with fighters, which continues to plague them to this day, would be the lack of accessibility for new players. Sure, it was fun enough to go and mash buttons for an hour against a buddy but the imbalance between a new player and experienced user did become irritating and off-putting. Instead of competing with the many other established franchises, it seemed as if Nintendo almost conceded that the hardcore fighting market was out of reach and focused on creating a title that allowed every involved player to have fun.
One of the aspects that made Smash so welcoming to new players had to be its usage of familiar characters of venerable Nintendo franchises. It was difficult to become Ryu in Street Fighter or Scorpion in Mortal Kombat, but it was easy to jump in as Mario or Link and spit fireballs or swing the Master Sword. Even if you couldn’t recognize a sprite, like Ness from Earthbound, the simplicity of the controls eased newbies into the subtleties of the combat.
You have to admit it: you’ve mashed buttons at least once in a fighting game. It’s never pretty but it does the job. However, Smash was different. All there was for new players to learn was each characters small move set, which is easily accomplished during a couple matches. Yet, hardcore players could still find substance within the simplicity to up their game. An integral reason of Smash’s simplicity was the absence of long combo inputs, a requirement in fighter for pulling off the most powerful attacks. In its wake left the use of the combination of a single directional input and a button press.
Super Smash Bros. also introduced the usage of items in combat, a common feature of “Beat ‘Em Ups” but rare in more traditional fighters. The items were not only cleverly mixed in but sensibly designed as to eliminate imbalances and dependancies within the game. Forget those puny lead pipes; Smash added legendary weapons into its arsenal, such as the Invincibility Star, randomly filled Pokeballs and the truly epic Home Run Bat.
Another area that differentiated Smash from the crowd was the basic premise of a fight. Most fighters utilize individual life bars, where the end goal is a knockout. Smash flipped the mechanic on its head by giving players a damage counter that could be filled above normal levels, up to 999% damage, which only affected the true goal of a match: forcing an opponent out of the map. Characters could be defeated only by being sent beyond the boundaries of a stage, accomplished by a powerful strike or opportunistic play on the edges of maps.
The final, and no doubt contributed to its great success, is the art and music. Smash must have been developed with the casual fan in mind because it became immediately evident from the start-up that gamers accustomed to any Nintendo series was welcome. The sprites of each playable character were instantly recognizable and appeared very friendly, in comparison to the harsher, battled-scarred combatants of other fighting franchises. This was truly a feat considering the warriors that could be in the arena at any one time. Sure, Jigglypuff and Yoshi seemed innocent enough… until they got into the ring against Donkey Kong to lay a beat down. And somehow all this cartoon violence splashed up against a vibrant Dreamland just matched perfectly.
Smash’s soundtrack wasn’t made up of new material. Relying more on nostalgia, Super Smash Bros. used re-recorded versions of main scores from its characters’ main franchises. By using classic music, players could immediately find that well-known hook and become attached all over again.
Of course, the real reason why everybody loved Super Smash Bros. was the multiplayer. Fighting computer-controlled characters was dull and predictable. Battling against three pals was a complete adventure with characters frantically launching around the screen. Fights were tight and intense but never frustrating. More than a few good natured rivalries must have been formed among friends because of Smash. The game was one of the best early examples of how gaming could become a staple of living room entertainment.
Looking back at Super Smash Bros. now, it’s fairly obvious that the series has had an enormous influence in expanding the fighting genre and helping begin the crossover craze. Many would like to credit Capcom’s Marvel vs. Street Fighter with introducing the idea of mixing franchises but Smash is the game that brought it to the masses. Moving over 5 million copies of Super Smash Bros. worldwide and millions more sold with its sequels, gamers all over the world found a staple in their libraries. Besides, nothing beats hearing “Falcon Punch!” and seeing Pikachu float helplessly out to oblivion.