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6 Features

History Lesson: Super Smash Bros

Violent is not a word commonly applied to Nintendo's software output, which made the open mascot warfare of 1999's Super Smash Bros all the more surprising.

But imagine if it had never happened, and there was no way in the world for Donkey Kong to get up on top of the Great Fox and land a haymaker hard enough to make Jigglypuff spin away and explode. See? That'd be a rubbish world. Praise be for the gift of Super Smash Bros.


Two men were responsible for raising Smash from scratch: Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai and coder Satoru Iwata (yes, that one). While the N64 had memorably launched with Super Mario 64 in 1996, the PlayStation assault soon left it needing another shot in the arm; enter our two young bucks at HAL Laboratory with Dragon King, a four-player fighter built around the N64 analogue stick.

Prototype in hand, they went seeking permission to replace their generic fighters with Nintendo characters engaged in vigorous kicking, gouging, chinning and biting.

On the understanding that they were shown to be toys and not the real deal caught up in some kind of mid-life Fight Club deviance, permission was granted - and Nintendo's fan backlash worries soon evaporated when Smash soared from a low-key launch to international knockout status.

Smash set up shop with an all-new and more accessible approach to fighting games. It opened its multi-levelled playgrounds to all and sundry by ditching combos, standardising controls and focusing on crowd-pleasing screen knock-offs.

There was a refreshing sense of freedom and always something to grab, smash, throw or trigger, so no fighter ever felt penned in and overwhelmed.

As a multiplayer legend from day one, Smash broke the usual 'solo campaign with bolted-on multiplayer' pattern to flaunt its roots as a fine-tuned four-player experience. Sequels later bulked up the solo game to match, culminating in Brawl's nonsensically brilliant Subspace Emissary outing.

Word of mouth and a fan service guarantee firmer than Captain Falcon's manly buttocks (not limited to the Mushroom Kingdom toy box of Mario Kart and Mario Party) helped propel Super Smash Bros towards the five million sales mark.

Many have tried to replicate that success - Viewtiful Joe, Small Arms, Onimusha and PlayStation All-Stars among them - but none have managed, despite an average five-year gap between Smash instalments that makes each new Nintendo vs Itself encounter something to be savoured.

Perhaps the series' greatest achievement is acceptance by the full spectrum of gamers, from classmates and post-pub button-mashers to the intense tournament crowd. That kind of depth and balance is fiercely difficult to bottle... especially when your top combat slots are filled by a plumber, an ape with a tie, a fox-man from space and a rosy-cheeked rat.