That all ended in 1999. That year Nintendo unleashed a little party fighting game on the Nintendo 64, featuring cameos from its greatest and most profitable gaming series. Mario, Link, Pikachu, Samus, and others battled in four-on-four matches in sprawling stages. Special moves were pulled off with the ease of pressing B and a direction, making fighting games accessible to any newbie. Rather than the deadly concentration of a black belt, "Super Smash Bros." rewarded luck, randomness, and cleverness. The best player did not necessarily have to win, rather it was the one that grabbed the right item and could best manipulate the situation. There were still plenty of frames to skip, physics exploits to learn, and combos. But "Smash Bros." was above all the People's fighting game.
Super Smash Bros. has thrived and grown in popularity with each passing console generation, adding as many new fans as it adds characters to its roster. The other fighting games now sit either growing more niche or more desperate for attention. At this point the Smash Bros series is the only fighting series that really matters anymore. So when a new game in the series comes out, it is not some small release, it is an epic event that tops out any new Nintendo console. "Super Smash Bros. for Wii U" and "Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS" are two games with very long titles. They are also the newest games in the Smash series, and thanks to their royal bloodlines, now rule the fighting game world by default. But does heritage alone merit this domination? Are they worthy of their throne?
(I'll save you the suspense: Yes.)
"Super Smash Bros. 4" is one game divided on two consoles. Where typically Smash was a console-only affair, the Nintendo 3DS allows you to finally beat up adorable cartoon characters on the go. For the hardest core, 3DS Smash is clearly an inferior product. The buttons locations and the grip never quite add up to same perfect balance of a GameCube controller. It takes awhile before you quite get the hang of the handheld control but it does work. Nothing really can compete with the party experience of friends, preferably inebriated, huddled around a single TV breaking each other's characters to pieces. And this Wii U version supports eight characters at once, making the battles ever more unpredictable and intense.
|To the world you're just a loser with a 3DS. In the game, you are the high emperor of Smash. The world can suck it.|
However, those last two paragraphs really described the most exciting and innovate part of "Super Smash Bros. 4". The biggest change is how you play the game, not what the game actually is. Super Smash Bros. has always been about knocking your Nintendo icon opponent off the stage, either with your own attacks or with the random weapons and items falling from the sky. Victory is achieved either through killing your friends the most time or if you're a player worth anything, you set it to Stock, and then the last one standing with remaining lives wins. (Thus removing the kind of asshole player who hides in the corner and does nothing but steal kills. Do not be friends with people like that.) You have two sets of attacks set to the A and B buttons, along with grabs, an orb shield that defends your entire body from hits, and any number of extra skills.
Where the GameCube title "Melee" and the Wii title "Brawl" both seemed to add new interesting features to the franchise, essentially remaking the fighting game every time, "Super Smash Bros. 4" does not. From the title on down there seems to be a conscious decision to not make this newest game particularly unique. They might as well have called it "Super Smash Bros.: Another One". The first game on the 64 has a sweet innocence about it, like a child playing with his toybox. "Melee" aimed for hard cool, a kind of dangerous speedy action. "Brawl" was consciously epic, from more realistic character designs to a main theme filled with Latin chanting, it was its own victory lap. "Smash 4" has no personality of its own. It has so little to say for itself it does not even have a proper single player mode. Nothing on the scale of "Subspace Emissary", the lengthy impressive campaign for "Brawl", was even considered for this game. It barely even has an opening movie on the Wii U and none at all on the 3DS.
|Smashing has never looked this good.|
Actual battle physics are mostly the same as they were in "Brawl" with a few improvements. "Smash 4" is measurably quicker than "Brawl" on both platforms, though still a bit slower than "Melee". The best news though is that one of the dumbest mechanics of all time, random tripping for no reason, is gone. Hopefully for good. Another great change is that ledge gameplay has been completely reworked. Where in older games your opponent could hog ledges dooming you to death, you now rip them off automatically when trying to save yourself from falling into oblivion. It makes for prolonged battles and removes one of the cheapest tricks from the series.
(Though fucking Kirby can still sacrifice kill you whenever he wants. That's not going anywhere. I hate goddamn Kirby. Don't be friends with Kirby players either.)
Really though, the deciding factor for a Smash game is the roster. The character selection has never been better with dozens of unique characters to choose from... along with a ton of clone characters to also pick. As I mentioned before this game has a whopping cast ranging from mainstays like Mario and the man with the greatest ass in existence, Captain Falcon, to newcomers like Shulk from "Xenoblade" and the Goddess Rosalina from "Super Mario Galaxy". Particularly interesting are the cameos from old Nintendo titles, such as Mega Man who has not really been a Nintendo mainstay for decades now after he had eight straight games on the NES. That asshole dog from "Duck Hunt" is a hidden character. And then Pac-Man enters the fight, grandfathered into the fray because Namco is the primary developer of this title.
|Hey don't be mean to Toon Link!!|
Still these niggling issues can easily be forgiven if your favorite characters are back, which I am happy to report is the case with me. Toon Link is my favorite video game character of all time and he has been my primary character ever since "Brawl" ruined Star Fox (who actually is much more usable this time around, but never again will reach his "Melee" heights). My back-up character, the filthy whore hiding under a veneer of innocence, Princess Peach, is here too, ready to crack your jaw open with a golf club. Even if you happened to be a fan of the now-MIA Ice Climbers, there are plenty of characters to choose from. It might take a little while to realize the exact way to deal with "Animal Crossing" Villager or how exactly to get Greninja from "Pokemon X"'s counter move to work, but it is rewarding and well worth the effort.
"Super Smash Bros. 4" is a huge game with tons of modes and plenty to offer. There is too much to explore even in the course of the three weeks of research play such as what went into this review. I was able to spend a long time playing the Smash Run Mode on the 3DS, a brief single-player adventure that ends in a competitive battle against your opponents using the stats you acquire to dominate your foes. I happen to really like that. But then there is the Amiibo functionality, a brilliant marketing strategy from Nintendo which sells extremely overpriced action figures with little memory chips which create unbelievably strong CPU fighters from your own battle data. I have not even begun to explore that. Then there are Home Run Contests, Multi-Man Melees, gimmick fights, online tournaments, All-Star Runs against every other playable character, and thousands of trophies to collect. This is a mind-bogglingly massive game.
Once again, Nintendo has done it. They are a frighteningly effective company when it comes to stealing my heart. The golden crown of fighting game domination has landed in their laps, and it appears that it is going to stay there for a very long time. At least until somebody manages to find an ever better collection of video game royalty and throw them into an even stronger, more balanced, and deeper fighting game. That is something that almost certainly is not going to happen for at least another console generation, and most likely the only fighting game to surpass "Super Smash Bros. 4" is going to be "Super Smash Bros. 5".
* Slightly tough call since "Melee" is probably slightly better in terms of speed and gamefeel. It is an indescribable feeling, the physics of that game just work for me, no fighting game ever managed to match it. "Melee" will stay in my Top 10 of Best Games Ever Made, I love it beyond the abilities of the English language to properly describe.