An Ode to Smashing

The year was 1999. The N64 was in its third year of circulation. Despite underperforming next to the PS1, the N64 already had an impressive line-up of first and second-party games. However, nothing could've prepared Nintendo fans for the game-changer headed their way. And it started with one of the most-bizarre commercials ever shown on TV in the 90's:

Best. Tonal. Whiplash. Ever! (Courtesy of PSNDarKnight01.)

This is still simultaneously the weirdest and greatest promo for a Nintendo game in my mind, and there are many reasons for that. But I'll let The Nostalgia Critic explain that for me, because it'd take too long. Besides, I discovered this game initially in a neighbour's house while dog-sitting, as 9 year-old me was bored of looking after their dog and headed upstairs to the kid's room to keep myself occupied. Sure enough, there was the N64 console that'd introduced me to the likes of Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye 007, tucked away neatly in the corner. Right next to it was a tiny TV, and inside the console's top-loader slot was a weird-looking fighting game I'd never seen before. It looked cool, so I gave it a shot.

That one game kept me going for a full-hour.

I have many fond memories of the Smash Bros. franchise as a whole. I remember playing the original game at my cousin's house whenever I slept over (he lived in a different part of the city, so it didn't happen often.) I remember when my other cousin, who lived 6 houses away, bought Super Smash Bros. Melee for his Gamecube in 2002, and how me bragging about the head-start I'd had with a carpool buddy came crashing down after a single loss at his hands. I remember anxiously checking for daily updates for Super Smash Bros. Brawl on Nintendo's website, and how that might've overhyped it for me. And I remember buying Super Smash Bros. WiiU last year, only to realize I jumped on the WiiU train too late.

Most-importantly, however, each new entry in the franchise was a big event in the gaming world. Which begs the question: what is it about the Smash Bros. franchise that makes it endearing 19 years later?

Let's start with the set-up: any hardcore Nintendo nerd will tell you that Smash Bros., at its heart, is a fighting game franchise. And not any old fighting game franchise, but one that doubles as a party game franchise. Competitive gamers can debate this forever, but when a game doubles as something you play with your kids, or with some friends while inebriated at 2:00 in the morning, it's also a party game. This isn't necessarily bad, as party games have wide-appeal when done right.

It doesn't stop there, though! Aside from being a party franchise, the Smash Bros. games also double as solo-mode games with their single-player options. Whether it's tackling the Story Mode (or Classic Mode, as it'd be called in future entries), tackling the Adventure Mode's sprawling worlds (something introduced in Super Smash Bros. Melee), or simply collecting trophies, the Smash Bros. games frequently made sure you always had something to come back to. The variety of the single-player options was limited, and frequently repetitive, but it was something nonetheless. You also had the option to shoot the end-credits for bonus points, which came in handy when unlocking new stages and characters.

Speaking of which, the Smash Bros. games had a unique way of unlocking additional stages and characters. I'm not sure if this is unique to the franchise, but every Smash Bros. game has in-game criteria for expanding its roster and fighting locations. Sometimes the objective's as simple as playing a certain number of matches. Sometimes the objective's more challenging, with players being forced to do something arbitrary or specific. This made the games unpredictable, especially when said criteria were met by accident. These days it's easy to look up the conditions online, but back then you were constantly kept guessing.

In the event that you did unlock a new character, the games would have you duke it out in an all-out brawl. If you lost, no biggie: you could always try again. If you won, then the character was yours whenever. This made the matches challenging to the experienced, yet not so challenging that they were unfair to beginners.

However, it's the competitions with friends and family, or even complete strangers, that made the Smash Bros. games such a huge success. I can't begin to tell you how many hours I spent battling people in VS Mode! This isn't counting sequels, which'd most-likely triple that number! I kept coming back whenever I had the chance, making the Smash Bros. games some of my most-played. That might make me a weirdo, but I don't regret it for an instant!

And all of this…while utilizing some of Nintendo's most-popular characters. Lore has it that Super Smash Bros. featuring Nintendo characters was originally an afterthought, and it showed in the limited budget it received. But it didn't really matter: the original roster of 8 characters, as well as the 4 unlockables, was enough to please long-time fans desperate to see Donkey Kong face-off against Samus Aran and Captain Falcon in an arena of their choice, so it clicked. It's only gotten bigger as more money was poured into future sequels.

Not to mention that, ultimately, with the crossover appeal allowing for third-party additions in later games, the Smash Bros. franchise is the pizza of fighting games: it's easy, it's accessible, and you can mix-'n-match it however you desire. I dare you to say otherwise!


Popular Posts