Super Smash Bros. 15th Anniversary Retrospective
Before there was Super Smash Bros., there was Dragon King: The Fighting Game, a joint project between Smash Bros. (and Kirby) creator Masahiro Sakurai and current president and CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, who was then the head of Nintendo's second-party studio, HAL Laboratory. Sakurai's plan was to create a "four-player battle royale" fighting game for home consoles that would stand out from the prevailing one-on-one fighting game model of the day. He brought his idea to Iwata, who was hungry to develop a game that took advantage of the Nintendo 64's joystick. He enthusiastically agreed to support Sakurai's plan, going so far as to offer to program the game during his weekends.
The two worked during weekends to bring the concept to life. At first, it was built around generic character models fighting in settings derived from photos taken outside of HAL Laboratory's office. But, for Sakurai at least, it was important that their game offer more than just solid fighting mechanics. Because it was designed with the home console audience in mind, he wanted to create a world and setting that would envelop players' imaginations, something that Dragon King's faceless fighters didn't deliver.
The duo approached Nintendo, reportedly with an unauthorized build of the game using Nintendo characters, and to their surprise, they were given the go-ahead to create the Nintendo brawler of Sakurai's dreams. Dragon King was dead, and Super Smash Bros. was born.
The game drew inspiration from Nintendo's most notable franchises, using characters and settings from such series as Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, and, of course, Kirby. It was originally planned as a Japanese-exclusive release, but its success at home encouraged Nintendo to release it overseas. The rest, as they say, is history. Since its release in 1999, Super Smash Bros. has received two sequels and developed a rabidly devoted fan base, and its roster of a dozen characters grew to 35 for the most recently released sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii.
Fifteen years after Super Smash Bros. cartridges found their way into Nintendo 64s around the world, Sakurai and Iwata now plan on shipping two new Super Smash Bros. games in 2014--one for the 3DS and another for the Wii U. As excited as some of us are for these next Super Smash Bros. games, we're also fondly recalling our experiences with past games in the series.
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As someone who grew up playing far too much of the Street Fighter and Tekken series, I thought Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 seemed like a fighting game for babies. Cute Nintendo mascots? Simple controls with only a few buttons and combos? And what was this malarkey about knocking someone out of an arena to win? What about the good old-fashioned KO?
Super Smash Bros. was a fighting game that truly anyone could play.
But as I was soon to discover, beneath its cutesy, seemingly casual exterior, Super Smash Bros. had significant depth. Sure, it didn't require you to master complex motions with a joystick/pad in tandem with six attack buttons, but Super Smash Bros. still asked you to have quick reactions, in-depth knowledge of your character's moveset, and familiarity with the possible attacks of every other character in the roster. Its accessibility was perhaps its greatest asset. With fighting games back in the late 1990s (and even to this day), the barrier of entry for new players was extremely high. Super Smash Bros. was a fighting game that truly anyone could play.
And that was exemplified with one of my first memories playing Super Smash Bros. I invited a friend over for a night of gaming and suggested Smash Bros. as something we could play. My friend wasn't into fighters, but he reluctantly gave it a try. Within a few matches, he was having a ball, and we were soon yelling and cursing at each other (in a good-natured manner, of course) as our competition became more intense. After an hour or so, our downstairs neighbor came upstairs and complained about all the noise we were making. "I don't even mind the yelling," he said, "but all the high-pitched squealing is getting on my nerves." It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but also one of the best gaming memories I have.
Working in a movie and video game rental shop during the summer as a teenager was something I romanticized, especially given that it wasn't under the umbrella of a massive corporation like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. It probably helped that I worked with a bunch of 20-somethings who acted like they had less to lose than I did, and the setting--a Cape Cod beach town with a surfing lean--created the perfect backdrop for their "anything goes" way of life. Even though I was roughly a decade younger and far less boisterous than my tattoo-sleeved manager who wore Rollerblades during his shifts, I was welcomed into the fold with open arms. Granted, I couldn't always join them on adventures, especially if my parents were wise enough to realize what I was getting into, but my friends weren't always looking for trouble. Sometimes, they played Super Smash Bros. after hours.
Video games have always been a great equalizer, so I wasn't surprised to see my coworkers rally like a band of excitable children around the cast of Nintendo characters in Super Smash Bros., but I appreciated that it leveled the social playing field, so to speak. Our age and personality differences mattered even less than usual, and even though none of us were particularly skilled at the game, we were good at having fun with it regardless. It was a summer to remember for a lot of reasons, but because video games are such a big part of my life anyway, I can't help but count Super Smash Bros. among the highlights.
As a college freshman taking Japanese classes early in the morning, every morning, I spent a lot of time walking back through the hallways of my dorm while other students hadn't yet left for class. One fateful morning, I passed a door that was ajar and heard intriguing sounds emanating from within. The unmistakable sounds of a game console in action mingled with the muttered curses and shouts of triumph of two people battling it out. I had no idea who was inside, but I knew I wanted to get in on the action. I knocked, entered, and met two guys who would become two of my best friends--and hated enemies.
The game was Super Smash Bros., and the competition was fierce. After dabbling with a few different characters, I followed in my newfound friends' footsteps; to their Captain Falcon and Fox McCloud, I added my Pikachu. We rarely switched characters and were soon joined by a devilish Kirby, a hapless Yoshi, and our lone polygamist, a Samus/Donkey Kong. Our regular sessions doubled as rigorous training as we constantly sought to outdo each other with sharper reflexes and unexpected tactics. It was my first experience with diving deep into a fighting game (such as it was), learning the precise range of all my moves and the exact dimensions of my opponents' hitboxes. During a good match, I felt at one with that little electric rodent, like I had finally achieved the head-to-head mastery I'd longed for throughout years of parental prohibition of fighting games.
But Smash skills weren't the only thing I forged in the crucible of cartoon combat. With every "Screw you, Fox!" and "Die in a thousand fires, Kirby!" I was making friends that I am still close with over a decade later. It sounds a bit sappy, I guess, though there were certainly times when we didn't leave a session on good terms. But those Smash-fueled memories are some of my most cherished from that time, and we even managed to befriend a few of the many hall mates we tormented with our vitriolic exclamations. To me, Super Smash Bros. is a shining example of the social power of games, and how the bonds formed around gaming can change the course of lives for the better.
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