When I was 4 years old, I remember being at a friend’s house for a birthday party, and they had this green, oddly-shaped, transparent gaming console which, unlike my PlayStation, used these big, grey cartridges instead of discs to play games.
You could plug up to 4 ridiculous M-shaped controllers into it (till this day, there are still debates on how you’re supposed to hold an N64 controller), which was a huge deal back when most consoles only supported up to 2 players. And it had this fighting game with this red-hatted, moustachioed little man who kept shouting “woohoo!” after every hit, an anthropomorphic fox with a laser gun and a cool jacket, and a bunch of Pokémon in it, including a certain electric mouse.
I was captivated. I had so much fun that afternoon that I spent several weeks afterwards thinking about and dreaming about this magical game. Fast forward 22 years, and it feels surreal to sit here and realise that Super Smash Bros. (or known colloquially as Smash) has been a part of my life since then. And it all started right then and there.
The Saga Begins
That game eventually got a bunch of sequels on each of Nintendo’s subsequent home consoles. And I was there—every step of the way.
Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001) was one of the reasons I persisted in convincing my parents to get a GameCube for Christmas. My sister just wanted to play Mario Kart. Thankfully, they did. And that led to dozens upon dozens of afternoons and sleepovers of Poké Ball and home run bat-filled, 4-player chaos on Corneria all throughout from Primary/Elementary School, to even Middle/Secondary School. But slowly, the GameCube became a relic of the past, and all the kids started moving onto other things, elsewhere.
Then the golden days of the Wii arrived, and now in High School, duking it out in Brawl (2008) became a cool thing to do again. My friends and I used to gather at each other’s houses after school and on weekends, with Brawl being the only thing on the agenda. Sometimes we’d give each other crap for unworthy cheap wins with the horrendously overpowered Meta Knight and Pit.
Our minds were blown to bits when our (very inexperienced) friend won a face-off with his Bowser by jumping off-stage with the opponent in his clutches. Thankfully that has since been nerfed. Even then, Smash had a way of creating moments of awe with the attention it paid to the little details and rewarded players for exploring and trying new things. And that friend, well, he earned himself bragging rights for the next month or so, which is a pretty big deal in High School.
And we (all) had that one friend who not only had the audacity to play as Sonic, but insisted on doing so with a Wii Remote and a wired Nunchuck. Remember those? And then he proceeded to go on a winning streak for most of that afternoon. It seemed that no matter how strange the control schemes got for Nintendo consoles, Smash always found ways to adapt and welcome new players to join in on the action, in whatever way they wanted to.
Play (Still) Has No Limits
Because of Smash 4 (Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, 2014), I became the only person within my circle to own a Wii U, a console that sold a dismal 13.56 million units in the entire time it was on the market (which was about 5 years). For reference, the Nintendo Switch has sold over 89 million units in just over 4 years.
But it was a worthwhile investment and a fantastic way to spend all the downtime my friends and I had accumulated during National Service. When the time allowed for it, we’d be in the rec room playing these big 6-8 player free-for-alls. Part of the joy of Smash has always been those chaotic, frantic, and over-the-top battles with one too many players, and that’s what Smash 4 delivered on the Wii U in abundance.
Some of us would be on Wii Remotes, others on Pro Controllers, one person on the Gamepad, and the rest would be wired up to one of my OG GameCube controllers through a USB adapter Nintendo designed specifically for Smash. If you really wanted to, you could even hook up a 3DS and use that as a controller. Around then, it became clear to me that Smash was about bringing people together.
More Than Just a Game
Smash 4 also became a great way for me to keep up with friends from back in school. While schedules and life plans meant finding time to play regularly was tough, Smash 4 on the Wii U at my house became an event that we could find time to gather for, at least once every few months. And many of those afternoons have since translated into regular online weekend sessions of Smash Ultimate (2018), often across 3-5 different time zones. That is a pretty cool thing that I’m immensely grateful for.
This week the final piece of DLC for Smash Ultimate has finally been released featuring Sora of Kingdom Hearts fame. And in many ways, it feels like a befitting ending to a gaming masterpiece that, over the last 3 years, has become a lot more than just a game – to myself and the broader gaming community.
Everyone is Here!
After 3 years, 2 DLC fighter packs, and off the back of 4 generations of previous games, Smash Ultimate brought together a grand total of 89 playable characters. This number is impressive not just in its sheer volume, which already gives Ultimate the largest roster in any fighting game ever, but in the composition of that roster as well.
While many of Nintendo’s first-party icons (Mario, Link, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Pikachu, to name a few) and beloved characters from games of yesteryear (Fox, Captain Falcon, Marth, Ice Climbers, and even Samus) made the cut, the inclusion of third-party fighting game stalwarts (like Kazuya, Ryu, and Terry), icons of other platforms (Simon, Mega Man, Sonic, Pac-man, Snake, and Cloud), to genre-bending third-party all-stars (Joker, Steve, Hero, and probably Sora) made this arguably entertainment’s most ambitious crossover ever. And yes, I’d argue it’s even bigger than Avengers: Infinity War.
To think that today we live in a timeline where Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII) can fight the likes of Steve (Minecraft), Joker (Persona 5), and Snake (Metal Gear Solid) in a top-notch fighting game experience is something that only kids should be able to dream up. I’m sure putting something together like this required enormous amounts of trust and collaboration (as well as copious amounts of legal paperwork) across many developers, publishers, and platform holders.
It’s The Little Things That Count
But assembling the roster only scratches the surface of what Sakurai and his team have achieved. What truly deserves to be admired is the incredible polish and attention paid to the smallest of details in every character design, game mechanic, stage design, music, and how it all seamlessly comes together in the realm of Smash Ultimate. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a first-party character, or not.
It’s the little things like how Mega Man explodes into little blue energy balls in his death animation (like in the source material). How Luigi’s down taunt not only does damage but can be used to meteor smash opponents off of edges (I’m particularly proud of this clip), and more recently, how Sora takes on his Valor Form stance from Kingdom Hearts 2 when he wields an additional sword.
No matter how grand the scope of the game became, Sakurai and his team always poured in tons of love and care in making sure each character (and their fans) felt respected, honoured, and right at home.
Welcome, One and All
As a game, Smash is as welcoming as it’s ever been. No matter your skill level, favoured controls (yes, the GameCube controller still works) or depth of gaming knowledge, there’s bound to be at least one character that you can find yourself resonating with. Be that the cute, cuddly and easy-to-pick-up and play Kirby, or niche-r, but more recent Nintendo characters like Pyra and Mythra or Byleth. If you’re looking for something that plays like a walking joke (as I often do), you’ll have a great time with the likes of Ness, Steve, Jigglypuff, and Mr. Game & Watch.
There’s probably something to be said about the representation in this game too. In many ways, Smash doesn’t care if you’re male or female, an anthropomorphic falcon with a gun, a little boy with a baseball bat, a literal monkey, a squishy pink blob, or a girl with springs for arms and noodles for hair. Every character is a true badass in their own right. Each has their own mechanics, animations, and music. But most importantly, they can all dish out a grand ass-kicking with a load of swagger.
Beyond the game, Sakurai’s Nintendo Directs became hype-generating machines that brought the gaming community together regularly. As the boundaries of what was possible grew with the release of each subsequent (DLC) fighter, expectations and speculation around new characters became a pastime in their own right all across the internet. Not only did fans across the board chime in on the fun, but that also brought gaming industry giants together to collaborate in ways we’ve rarely seen before.
The inclusion of characters like Banjo & Kazooie not only commemorated Nintendo’s history but also involved working together with fellow platform holders like Microsoft. The inclusion of Simon, Richter, and Snake required getting the green light and support from Konami. The inclusion of Sora required working across multiple parties, including publisher Square Enix and the great House of Mouse.
And as everyone knows, negotiating with Disney can be damn near impossible at times (which makes Sora’s arrival as the final fighter all the more apt). And even the creative teams at Bethesda have chimed in with representations in the form of Mii Fighter costumes for Skyrim and Doomguy.
And sure, there will always be those of us who wished for Crash Bandicoot, Master Chief and Waluigi. There will also always be those who bemoan that the game has one too many animé sword fighters from Fire Emblem. The truth is that these are all really just nitpicks at best because Sakurai and his team have created a masterpiece and a platform that allowed us to believe that anything, and everything, was possible in Smash Ultimate.
Greatness From Small Beginnings
Once a celebration of Nintendo’s rich and colourful gaming history, today, with the conclusion of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Smash stands as the ultimate celebration of the illustrious history of video games and an ever-growing community of gamers.
4-year-old Jeremy did not know what he was in for when he first picked up that strange N64 controller at his friend’s house, but I’m glad he did. And for that and more, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Mr. Sakurai.
Screenshots taken on a Nintendo Switch. Additional visuals courtesy of Nintendo.