The largest video game company on the planet was in its prime; it had multiple billion dollar franchises and was dominating the home console market. This was also the time fighting games were just starting to get stale after flooding the arcades. One day, a young second-party game developer made a fighting game engine that utilized the potential of their console: 4 player compatibility and unbelievably smooth controls. He pitched the idea to the heads of the company and also decided to add in famous characters from earlier mentioned franchises. This game was low budget, had barely any development time or marketing, and was originally going to be a Japan-only release. However, its popularity exploded, and soon became a worldwide phenomenon. Even today, people pick up this ten year old game, which has already spawned 2 arguably superior sequels, all of them being bestsellers on their respected consoles. This how Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 came to be and it is proof that everyone can play with power.
The first thing to note about this game is its commercial. This was pretty much the only way Americans got site of the game (not much internet inflation in 1999). The commercial is about 30 seconds long and features four guys in costumes of Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Pikachu. All of these characters were incredibly famous at the time, however, the watcher can tell that the suits have been worn out several times before; Yoshi’s shoe actually falls off! They start off happily skipping, until Mario trips Yoshi and they all start beating the hell out of each other. There are few gameplay cut scenes and a narrator whispering “something’s gone wrong in the happy go lucky world of Nintendo.” All of this is happening while the song So Happy Together is playing in the background. This was the first step into making a gaming goldmine: short, sweet, and to the point, with a sprinkle of hilarity equals the perfect commercial.
Now once the millions of television-obsessed Americans watched this commercial, intrigued by its obscurity, they go down to a local game store, buy this gem, and pop it in their Nintendo 64. There was very little doubt with a game this promising, for Nintendo has been delivering such games as “Super Mario 64” and “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”; not to mention the fact that both of these games’ star characters were included in this fighting game. It didn’t even occur to them that this was another addition to the piles of fighting games that were released at that time. They knew they were in for a treat. A certain appeal lies within seeing a costumed Mario punching Donkey Kong in the stomach just melts the brain.
From the second the game is turned on, the player can tell that they’ve just robbed the game store. It starts off immediately with a short cut scene of a disembodied hand pulling a familiar character doll out of a treasure chest and placing it on top of a table. As the player looks in awe while the recognizable characters start piling up, the hand sets up objects in a special order. After that, the hand’s fingers count down, and he snaps his fingers and changes the entire room into a fantasy land. All of the sudden, the floppy characters spring into action and the real action begins. All of the sudden we are introduced to the cast of characters.
This is every hardcore Nintendo fan’s dream: Mario, Link, Samus, Pikachu, and plenty more familiar faces all in this one hectic game. Keep in mind, this is only the intro, and all of these action packed clips are happening all at once. There are spaceships shooting lasers, Donkey Kong exploding, and all of the characters clashing with what might be the coolest sound-effect ever made. Right after the clash, the game briefly shows 4 silhouettes. There’s no time to think about them for the title appears and screams, “Super- SMAAAAAAAASH Brotherrrsss…” This is shown right above the traditional Press Start icon.
Here comes the main menu, and it is kind of eerie. The black background, dull yellow selections, and soft ambient music playing are rather creepy, especially when right after such an adrenaline rush of an intro sequence. There are only 4 main menu choices: 1-Player, Multiplayer, Options, and Data. The best part about these menu options is that they are fast, really fast. The player can adjust preferred settings in mere seconds, and all of the tabs are clear and recognizable. Other fighting games usually had annoying loading screens, slow controls on the menus, or really redundant and awkwardly named game modes. The character and stage selections are also clear, simple, and most of all fast. This is pretty incredible for a console fighting game; the speeds a player can get to an arena match that of an arcade.
In the actual fighting grounds; there are 3 main factors to point out on the game screen: the characters, the stage, and the damage meter. The character is the avatar, he/her moves with the control stick, attacks with the A button, initiates special moves with the B, and shields with Z. The unique and recognizable characters personality really shows in each of their individual moves. Mario shoots his fireballs, Pikachu uses electricity, and Link uses all of his tools along with his sword. One can almost say that a character selection is based on how much the player loves the game more so than their actually play style. The stage is the setting, there are 8 stages at the start, all of which have hazards, platforms and even tend to drop grab able items for players to use. For every playable character, there is a corresponding stage. It’s nice to see places like peaceful Hyrule in the background while all of this action is going on in the foreground. The third and most important aspect is the non-diegetic damage gauge. This percentage meter rises as the player takes damage. The greater the damage, the further the character will fly after being attacked. The meter also changes to a darker color indicating that the character is close to being defeated. Some items lower the meter. Any player knocked off-screen is eliminated. There are attacks that help players get back on stage (usually Up-B). Depending on what rules are set, the winner is the player who scored the most K.O.s in a specified time or the last player with lives remaining.
The controls of this game are what make this fighting game unique. Every other fighting game at the time had multiple attacking buttons (some have had up to eight), but this game only has 2. The A button initiates regular moves; depending on what direction the control stick is tilted, the character does a specified attack in that direction. Every single character has the same number of attacks. The developers really took advantage of how smoothly the controller’s stick could handle sensitivity. To this day, no other fighting game has gone this precise between “tilting” a control stick and “flicking” it.
Everything about this game is charming. The character models are clear and colorful, and every move is distinguishable. Some models in fact were direct rips from other games, such as Yoshi and Link. All of the characters were animated beautifully and the artists really know how to capture emotions within a few polygons. When a character gets electrocuted their skeleton shows, they turn scorching red when burned, and when the match is over, the winner egotistically poses while the good-sported losers clap their hands.
The backgrounds are fresh, but don’t distract from gameplay. Usually the fighting ground is 3D while the backdrop is a still painting of a familiar area. Sometimes, little sprites are seen floating within these paintings. A player can also “pause” the game to get a closer look at the models and pixelated NPCs.
The soundtrack is filled with iconic tracks from these highlight of Nintendo history, as well as some of the best sound effects ever heard in a video game. Nothing is more satisfying than slamming Mario’s giant polygonal fist into Donkey Kong’s fat face, while hearing that brutal “SMASH” sound and seeing tiny firework effects, indicating that this is a finishing move. Keep in mind that this game was rated “E” for everyone, so the violence was more like that of cartoon slapstick that a mature action game.
Another little note about this game is that it can almost act as an enjoyable history lesson. Despite everyone knowing the likes of Mario and Link, some other little known characters like Ness and Captain Falcon got some spotlight after a long hiatus. In game there are some character biographies as well as lists of games each character appeared in. This brings a delightful back story to each character for these interested in them, and for those who don’t care too much, this is completely optional.
One of the greatest parts about Super Smash Bros. is its incredible lasting power. Unlocking all of the hidden content could take even the most hardcore gamers months. The huge selection of characters, stages, and items, make for unbelievable amount of possibilities. This is a great party game, for that is what the game was made for. It was the first fighting game that allowed up to four players, and its simple control scheme lets anyone join in. However, even solo players can have a whole lot of fun. Practicing with computer AI, getting a high score in the one player modes, and even just reading character data is just the tip of the iceberg. If there is one word to describe the original Super Smash Bros. it would be, TIMELESS.