It’s safe to say that Super Smash Bros. isn’t a fad. Join Nick D. as he explains what makes this crossover series so endearing.
Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS was one of the biggest games released this holiday season, and that’s saying something considering that a huge dump of anticipated games got released mere days before it, as well as the other perennial heavy-hitters like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. To some, the fact that a massive Nintendo brawler is so popular is second nature. It’s Smash – they understand. To others, this is a perplexing idea – that the premise of cramming a bunch of unrelated characters into a single game has managed to not only survive so long, but to be a more popular franchise than the core Mario games. Truthfully, if you pitted Super Smash Bros. against any of Nintendo’s current franchises, I’m guessing the only one that could even begin to give the titan a run for its money would be Mario Kart. Today, I’d like to look at exactly why this series is so popular.
The most obvious reason is fan-service, plain and simple. That’s the reason for games like Street Fighter vs Tekken, or Marvel vs. Capcom, however, there’s more to it with Super Smash Bros. than most crossovers. Nintendo, more than any other company in the market, has a huge and successful history of excellent, genre-defining games. These are the games that touched almost every gamers’ childhood, and continue to play a part in so many of their adult lives. Super Smash Bros. is a lot more than a simple mashing together of unrelated characters. Nintendo goes above and beyond to push every bit of nostalgia in place, whether it’s the hundreds of trophies from various Nintendo games, the music, the stages, or the characters themselves. The game isn’t selling fan-service to grab a cheap buck; it is a loving letter to fans.
And this letter is very hard for even casual Nintendo fans to ignore. Why? Because the entire game has so much fun with the premise. It’s impossible to watch some of the introduction videos without smiling, feeling that unmistakable Nintendo fun feeling. A lot of crossover games get lost in their own shared mythos, and altogether take themselves too seriously. Super Smash Bros. revels in the absurdity, only wishing to provide the most entertaining game possible. In many ways, it’s quintessential Nintendo, which is why it is able to draw so many people to it.
But what gets those people to stay is the fact the game appeals to everyone. Though many proponents of Super Smash Bros. Melee lament the loss of several advanced techniques, the real draw of Super Smash Bros. is that everyone can play. I was just at a casual tournament among a dozen or so friends, and I had to fight my wife in the championship round. She’s not very good at video games. The people that she was playing against weren’t beginners either. How did she win up until that point? Because Super Smash Bros. is a huge mashup. It’s easy for people to ignore non-threats, and a few well-timed items can completely turn the tide of battle. Hardcore fighting fans hate this, but it’s why Super Smash Bros. is so much fun. There’s this random element where even the weakest player can jump ahead. This makes the game fun for everyone, not just those who practice for hours on end.
The reason this casual element is so irresistible is because Super Smash Bros., at its heart, is not a fighter – it’s a party game. Yes, Nintendo is the last bastion of the couch co-op so many of us grew up with. Some see it as archaic, but there’s something to be said with being able to have an actual party over at your house, rather than have to play everyone online and alone. Super Smash Bros. is a game where everyone can play together, and everyone is encouraged to. This builds heavily on the previous points. There are so many characters from across Nintendo’s history that everyone is going to have a favourite. And young and old players of many skill levels can compete on the same level.
Of course, a strong game only goes so far. Another thing that makes Super Smash Bros. such a success is the hype surrounding each release. The creator of Super Smash Bros., Masahiro Sakurai knows how to make hype dance for him. Since Super Smash Bros. Brawl, he has understood the importance of trickling big news out, so that nobody ever forgets about his game. Having large character reveals over time helps keep the momentum going so that people convince themselves that this is a game worth waiting for. It doesn’t hurt that the fan-service aspects of the game really drive this point home.
It’s become a game unto itself – guessing who will make the roster. Only so many characters can make it, and gamers go ravenous for their favourite. Go to a Super Smash Bros. forum and search for the word Ridley. There are hardcore Star Fox fans, who are extremely adamant that their defunct series requires three, four, even five representatives. The same is true of Golden Sun fans, who are certain that those two long-forgotten Gameboy Advance games are worth a slot. Everyone has an opinion about who needs to be in Super Smash Bros., and a huge part of the fun is trying to figure out who Sakurai will pick.
And all of this feeds each other. Internet wars over which characters deserve or do not deserve to be in Super Smash Bros. keep the game alive on the message boards during the bitter wait. Sakurai releases just enough information to keep fans salivating for more. Casual fans may only need fan-service and accessibility, but hardcore fans love nothing more than a good overblown diatribe on the internet. Super Smash Bros. is serious business, and that attracts a large segment of the gaming population to its whimsical grasp.
By appealing equally to the casual and hardcore market, Super Smash Bros. manages to not only maintain relevancy, but also thrive in a marketplace that’s starting to question if Nintendo can still bring the hammer down. This has been a year full of disappointments from highly anticipated games. It’s somewhat interesting to see that all of Nintendo’s heavy-hitters have delivered fully on their promises. Maybe the final reason why Super Smash Bros. is and has remained so popular is because Nintendo has a long history of quality, one that they aren’t going to back down from any time soon.