Super Smash Bros is a staple of my childhood. Some of my fondest memories from my early teens were of me and my brother packing up our N64 and later GameCube every other Sunday afternoon. We would take it to our grandma’s when our cousin was staying over the weekend and we would hook everything up and play all afternoon. Sometimes it was Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing and maybe even Banjo-Tooie on occasion, but primarily it was Smash of both the original and Melee varieties.
Smash 64 & Melee
At the time, we were not much into the competitive nature of the game. I was only 11 when the game came out, my brother was 7, and our cousin would have been about 12. We were less interested in seeing who was the best and more interested in coming up with our own narratives to play out. This is around the same time that we would play Mario Kart 64 and spend half an hour on a single track just goofing off.
Tying these narratives together, we needed a means of transportation. To fulfill this purpose, we of course went with the only logic choice of transportation: the Great Fox. Sector Z is a standout for me and a stage I highly associate with Smash 64. There would be enemy attacks, fallen allies, and mutinies held aboard that spaceship and we reveled in every minute of our fictional adventures. We had these adventure “parties” every two weeks for several years.
Over time, we all grew older and our cousin came over less and less often until eventually we just stopped altogether. Me and my brothers continued playing Smash, but in a much less party-like manner. It became a highly competitive game which fed into that natural sibling rivalry, but it was also a game that was just...there. It was not something I would have considered a core title to own on the GameCube. Yes, that would be considered blasphemous these days, but I was young and I had other things I could be doing besides playing single-player in a decidedly multiplayer game. Melee was a game that meant a lot to me in a personal historical way, but very little in terms of practical time spent playing it.
And then this happened...
And suddenly I’m all aboard the Brawl hype train!
Just like that, me and my brothers are all talking non-stop Super Smash Bros. We talked about newcomers, the visuals, the stages, and the possibilities for what could still come. Snake had essentially opened the floodgates in our minds and suddenly Smash was no longer a Nintendo-exclusive clubhouse. Sakurai only poured gasoline on the flames with the advent of the Smash Bros DOJO!! the following year and personally exploded my brain with a single trailer...
We were finally going to get the chance to pit Sonic and Mario against each other! It was a schoolyard dream come true!
And so Smash hype had reached fever pitch. Between the DOJO!! and some of the frankly industry shaking announcements Sakurai was making about the future of the franchise, the release cycle for Brawl was basically my introduction to major release hype. I’d always been one to keep an eye on the new releases, even going so far as to clip out adverts for upcoming releases so I could keep up with the release dates in the days before we had Internet access. I remember calling stores around the time my dad got off from work to see if they had stocked the new game yet or if I’d have to wait an extra day before he could stop by and pick it up for me instead.
With the advent of Brawl’s pre-release hype though, I had reached a whole new level. Suddenly I was checking the DOJO!! page every weekday to see the latest updates. I had joined forums where we talked and conjectured what else might be included in the final game that Sakurai hadn’t told us about already. I even signed up for a midnight release Brawl tournament at my local GameStop which I even managed to win. The game released and I played through Subspace Emissary and unlocked all the characters and stages. I played pretty consistently for a month or two since winning that GameStop tournament had earned me a place in their regional tournament and I spent every free chance I had practicing for it...only to lose to a Wario player early on.
After the tournament was over and I had nothing really compelling me to play the game other than the game itself, I quickly lost interest and just never really played Brawl all that much after that point. I played the occasional match with my brothers still, but being in college at this point, those chances were few and far between. Smash had once again become a something I looked back on fondly for certain memories, but not something that I actively participated in with any regularity.
Smash for 3DS/Wii U
They cycle started again with Smash for 3DS and Wii U and its reveal. Similar to the situation with Brawl, the initial reveal put me and my youngest brother on the Smash hype train once again and some time later they once again make the big reveal that absolutely wrecks me...Mega Man!
Not only was it the addition of a favorite character of mine or the chance to pit yet another of the major platforming mascot characters of the early 90s against one another, but it was also accompanied with an absolutely stunning CGI trailer which did the Blue Bomber more justice than CAPCOM had in over a decade. DOJO!! could have been a fluke, but the gorgeous cinematic trailers for Smash 4 clearly indicated this would be a thing for Smash forever. We had some great cinematics in Brawl, but they were isolated to the Subspace Emissary portion of the game and were frankly pretty rough as many of them were still rendered in engine rather than being pre-rendered like the trailers of Smash 4 and the overall color palette was fairly dull and muddy.
The trailers continued and the hype only served to build. At E3 2014, Nintendo held their own Super Smash Bros Invitational. It was streamed live on Twitch and was part of Nintendo’s initial push into streaming content live from E3 as part of their Nintendo Treehouse Live. The hype was real during the Invitational as this was an opportunity for people around the world to see professional and casual players alike with their first hands-on time with the game. People were watching for any hint of something that had not been explicitly revealed via a Direct or other trailer thus far and probably the biggest moment of the Invitational and probably one of the moments from Smash 4's pre-release hype train I remember most was the in-game reveal of Mega Man’s Final Smash!
After a near miss, the crowd goes wild and we get to see Nintendo reference the history of the Blue Bomber better in a few seconds than CAPCOM had in a very long time. The matches continued and while they were not pro-level tournament rules, the matches were still intense.
Smash 4 eventually releases on the 3DS and I find myself playing it on breaks in the office fairly regularly until the Wii U release at which point I intend to move to that platform...except that never really happened. I again unlocked the big items, characters and stages, but interest wanes in the post-release lull. The only real event I remember from my actual time with Smash 4 was a LAN party a co-worker threw and I brought my Wii U and Smash and we were able to get a round of 8-player Smash going. These guys were mostly into the Halo we got together for, so they needed a bit of a handicap...7 vs 1. I honestly don’t recall the outcome of that round, but I do remember it was the most fun I had with the game.
The first reveal of Ultimate was actually less hype than the previous reveals. It was just a little teaser following a Splatoon focused Nintendo Direct segment that hinted as without quite officially saying that the Inkling was joining the fray. The real announcement trailer of Ultimate though was impressive. It was just a long roll call that just never seemed to end and in our minds we were thinking “This roster is larger than I realized...”. And once again it comes to a familiar character’s appearance to drive home the implications of the reveal...
As if to answer the questions in your mind, the trailer spells it out plainly...”Everyone Is Here!” Snake, Young Link, Ice Climbers...those who had been left behind were now back to battle it out with the newcomers and it was hype! Stages, assist trophies, music...it was all there and it was glorious! They even host another Invitational to show off the game, this time with a slightly more pro feel, though still showing off the casual play styles.
They hype of Ultimate has only continued with the reveal of Ridley, a fan favorite request. Mere days ago as of this writing, they announced two more new characters, Simon Belmont to round out the NES Classics lineup (oh, and Richter too) as well as another popular fan pick, King K. Rool. Not only were these reveals themselves absolutely amazing in and of themselves, the spectacle surrounding them has only increased over the years. Atmospheric trailers which set the mood for the games and characters, elegantly animated to reflect the characters they represent, and music which absolutely captures the excitement you feel when you see these things for the first time. The absolutely stringent attention to detail that these developers put into these games to make them look, feel, and behave as close to their original incarnation as possible is absolutely staggering.
...but I have to ask myself if the game itself can ever match the hype of the game? We’ve seen cases of a game where the hype of the game overshadowed and ultimately negatively impacted the final release of the game. The hot DLC of the month, NEXT for No Man’s Sky, is a clear reminder of where the hype train for a game went off the rails and absolutely ruined the perception of the initial release of the game.
While I have yet to see a Smash game that I’d consider a flop on release due to the hype, I can certainly see myself quickly cooling on the property once again after a week or two. I tell myself that maybe Ultimate will be different since it’s on the Switch and portable, but it didn’t last on 3DS, so I’m not terribly confident that will be the case.
As I examine the Smash series and my relation to it, more often than not, the memories I have of later entries focuses more on the hype than the reality. I look back and wonder if the quick fall off in interest for me relates to the very fact that they do things like the DOJO!! or the Smash Blog. We get so much information up front that we have all the excitement before we even get our hands on the game. I know another factor for me personally is that my gaming habits have changed in the past 10-15 years. No longer am I free to play nearly as much and even when I do it is almost exclusively alone due to the fact that I have to play around my schedule and it just doesn’t line up with my family and friends I could play with...assuming I have friends that even play any given Smash at all for that matter.
How about you? Are your Smash memories tied more to the fun you’ve had with the game or the hype surrounded them pre-release? Do you play more casually or pro? Do you have a lot of close, local friends who you get together with to play party games often?
Sound off in the comments to share your thoughts! Maybe we can find a common thread throughout.