SUPER SMASH BROTHERS (1999) – HAL LABORATORY
There are rumours flying about at the moment that Sony is looking to collect its very best characters from first party IP’s and put them all together in a fighting game. Potentially, it could be a very good title – but the thing that amuses me is that while fans argue about the validity of putting certain characters in, I wonder why it has taken Sony so long to emulate a game that Nintendo got organised more than a decade ago, in the form of the original Super Smash Brothers. Considering the enormous success of the franchise, in particular the sequels Melee and Brawl which regularly top lists of people’s favourite multiplayer games, it seems strange that the idea of putting your very best mascots into a fighting game was a foreign concept in 1999. People generally looked towards the established names of the genre (like Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat) if they wanted a good bout of fisticuffs, but the lure of being able to kick the crap out of Pikachu as Mario soon drew in the punters. 4.3 million sales later, and Nintendo’s little gamble (it was only ever intended to be released in Japan) gave us one of the best multiplayer games of the fifth generation.
It’s a combination of things that makes Super Smash Brothers such a joyous thing to play – first off, just look at the roster. There may only be eight playable characters (with four secret ones to unlock, including a certain meme-tastic racing driver…), but they read as a list of genuine gaming Hall Of Famers: Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, Kirby, Pikachu, Fox McCloud and Yoshi. It’s the cream of the crop from the Nintendo roster, and they all come with their own individual moves; Mario perform kicks and punches straight out of Super Mario 64, Samus has her laser firearms, Yoshi can swallow others and spit them out as eggs etc. This immediate familiarity with the roster gives Super Smash Brothers a charm that few other fighters can ever claim, and gives you the chance to settle disputes over who the best character is. Its not just the characters who represent though, as the stages are based on the franchises (the Dream Land from Kirby and the Corneria from Star Fox as just two examples), and items that can be used in battle are also taken straight from the games, including Pokeballs which will summon a monster to help you out and mushrooms which make you grow in size for a short period of time. These are staple elements of the series that have grown expansively in the sequels, and so it is important to note their origins here.
Super Smash Brothers also marks a drastic departure from other fighters in the way it plays. It plays from a 3D perspective on a 2D movement plane on the various stages, and players are free to jump around and collect items, but the biggest change is that there are no health bars; instead, at the bottom of the screen is a percentage total that starts at 0%, and rises to record damage as you lay the smackdown on the opponent. The idea is to knock the other players out of the stage, and you can do this by building up the damage percentage – anything around 100% will increase the chances of a knockout hit, although the counter can rise all the way to the giddy heights of 999%. What this system encourages is a blind melee of attacks, and keeping yourself on the stage, a system which is helped by the simple control scheme – whereas the likes of Street Fighter require the memorisation of tricky button inputs for the best moves, Super Smash Brothers uses just four buttons: A for simple attacks, B for special attacks, and the triggers to block and throw opponents. The control scheme is the same for each character, although the attacks vary depending on the combination of buttons you use. What this means is that the game is incredibly easy to new players to pick up, and a challenge to fully master, allowing everyone to get involved.
There are two modes on offer in Super Smash Brothers, the first of which concerns single player. It’s a simple enough experience – you pick a character and the difficulty, and fight through a number of preset stages and battles (including one on one fights, target hitting requiring you to make the best use of your characters abilities and multi character fights), getting an arcade score along the way depending on how you performed….and that’s it. Aside from doing the challenges in a separate single player mode, there really isn’t much to the one player experience – once you’ve unlocked the four secret characters, the only thing you can do is go back and improve your score using the complicated and never fully explained scoring system. It doesn’t really matter though, because no-one bought this game for single player; it’s all about the multiplayer aspect of the game. Up to four players can get involved in kicking the crap out of each other, and playing together offers one of the finest multiplayer experiences you could get on the N64, ranking up there with the likes of Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye
As a game to look at, Super Smash Brother is a bit disappointing. Choosing to have a more ‘comic-book style’ approach to character design and levels means that there is not the same levels of detail that one might have seen in say, Ocarina Of Time, and some of the effects, such as the Pokemon that appear out of Pokeballs, are laughably basic. Also, the inclusion of a fighting team of polygon characters in the main story has always struck me as being a case of very lazy game design, which is disappointing from the likes of Nintendo. To compensate, the game uses its inclusion of franchises to great effect with regards to music, as many of the iconic themes, such as the Brinstar theme from Metroid or the main menu theme from Pokemon Red & Blue, are present and accounted for as new arrangements. The sound effects from the games are present as well, such as Link’s shouting when spinning a sword and the little pop made when Mario churns out a fireball.
Super Smash Brothers then, is not a work of art: far from it, and comparing it now to its successors makes it look laughable in terms of size and scope. However, Melee & Brawl owe everything to this game, and it stands as one of the premier games by which the N64 is remembered. Just remember Sony, if you do go ahead with ‘Title Fight’, look to this as the drawing board from which you should start out.