Super Smash Bros. is a platforming tournament fighter for the Nintendo 64. Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to see your favorite Nintendo characters duke it out? Who would win in a fight between Mario and Link? Could Pikachu defeat Donkey Kong? What if Kirby pissed off Samus? Instead of just arguing about it, now you can play it out for yourself in Super Smash Bros.! Take control of Mario, Link, Pikachu, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Kirby, Samus, or Fox and fight your way through a single player campaign of set challengers. There are a few bonus stages to break up the battles, which consist of breaking a number of targets, boarding a number of platforms, or racing to the finish line. Beat all of your challengers to get to the final boss, the Master Hand. Through this mode you can unlock four new characters depending on the difficulty you choose. Or if you want some fast fun, go into multiplayer and play with up to three other opponents, be them humans or computers. So it’s great for solo time as well as parties! But, how do you play?
Well, it’s a tournament fighter, so each character has plenty of attacks. However, unlike traditional tournament fighters, every character has basically the same set of inputs for their attacks. You can hit A, hit A while holding left or right, hit A while holding down, hit A while holding up, hit A while in the air, hit A while holding forward in the air, hit A while holding backward in the air, hit A while holding down in the air, and hit A while holding up in the air. That’s plenty of attacks right there. Plus, you can do the titular smash attacks by hitting A and a direction at the same time. So you have a side smash, an up smash, and a down smash all while on the ground, but none for the air. You also have a few B button attacks. Hit B to use your special attack, down and B to do a down special, and up and B for an up special which will generally also have a secondary function of an extra jump. You can typically jump twice with most characters. You can also put up a shield to block attacks that will shrink from hits and over time, but it will also recharge when not in use. Move left or right while shielding to roll in that direction. You can also grab and throw your opponents as well. That sounds like a lot, and it varies from character to character as they all have their own attacks and traits that will act differently, but it’s the basic control scheme for the game. If a uniform set of controls isn’t enough to set this apart from other tournament fighters, then let’s look into the mechanics a bit more.
Being able to do multiple jumps, like many of the platforming roots the roster comes from, plays a big part in level design and fighting tactics. Instead of having a life meter, characters have a damage percentage. This percentage starts at zero and goes up when you’re hit by attacks, with a maximum of 999 percent. The higher your damage, the further you’ll fly when you’re hit. If you get knocked far enough off of the screen, you die. It’s also very possible you’ll get knocked far enough out to the side that you won’t have enough jumps to get back and fall too far down off of the screen, which is also a death. Upon respawning you’ll have a few seconds of invulnerability, so use them wisely. Along with platforming in the stages there are also stage hazards that pop up at random. Know your stage and keep on your toes. There are also items that can appear during battles. Most of them are items from the franchises involved. These can be picked up, thrown, and used in different ways depending on what they are. A heart container heals you, a ray gun can shoot foes from afar, and a Bob-omb… well… as you might expect, it explodes. So it’s best to learn your fighters, your stages, and your items as well if you plan to master this game. Pretty different from other tournament fighters.
That’s actually one of the reasons I really like the game. Instead of trying to learn multiple sets of overly complex button commands to do simple moves, you just learn one set that can be applied to all characters. Once you learn all of one character’s moves, you know how to do everyone’s moves. That means that you can focus more on learning when and where to use your moves rather than how to perform them in the first place. The platforming element is also nice to make way for even more combat depth as well as making stages more interesting than flat landscapes with different backgrounds. I like how the combat system is simpler than later entries, making it slower and more deliberate. It feels focused more on stringing together moves and strategizing than quick reactions. I also really appreciate the of level cohesion here that I think later titles strayed from. The N64 representations of the characters and stages as well as the similar instruments used for the music throughout give the game its own consistent atmosphere. Not to mention that the small cast, selection of stages, and items made it all easier to balance. Plus the inclusion of all of the Nintendo characters is very appealing to me as a Nintendo fan, but there’s more to it than just nostalgic affection.
Including characters, stages, items, music, and a bit of information from various Nintendo franchises was a great way to advertise. Advertising for the game itself would pull in people from all of the included franchises due to their interest in their beloved and recognized characters. They would then be exposed to more of Nintendo’s characters and seek out their franchises through their newfound recognition of them. It was genius! Plus, the simplified style of combat made it easy for newcomers to learn how to play a tournament fighter. The randomness of stage hazards and items made it anyone’s game at all times. The ability to customize some of the battle rules also allowed for interesting experimentation. The platforming and damage percentage elements made it stand out from the competition. This idea was an all-around homerun.
However, the game certainly isn’t perfect. The random elements can be annoying to those looking for straight-up, one-on-one combat. There also aren’t a ton of modes, so the game can get a bit stale after a while. The extra bits of breaking the targets, boarding the platforms, and racing to the finish are neat, but they aren’t fleshed out incredibly well and feel more like strange distractions than worthwhile content. I’ll also admit that, while I personally love the N64 style, I can understand how people might think this game looks very dated. The cohesion is something I appreciate, but it certainly lacks the faithful recreation of classic sights, sounds, and behaviors of the base franchises. Combat can sometimes be frustrating. The pace is a bit slow, and sometimes you can get hit repeatedly in good combos without a chance to retaliate or recover. And while the camera isn’t too bad for N64 standards… it’s still not the best. Also… and maybe this is explained in the F-Zero games but… where the shit did Captain Falcon, a racing bounty hunter, get super powers? Is that ever explained or what? Whatever.
All of that being said, Super Smash Bros. is still one of the finest and most innovative tournament fighters I’ve ever played. It has a simple yet deep combat system with balance and cohesion to wrap it up into a wonderful package. And adding in Nintendo characters, stages, and items on top of the great core gameplay is icing on the cake. Maybe it’s the simplicity, maybe it’s the nostalgia, or maybe it’s just the aesthetic that makes me love this game so much… but I’d like to believe that it truly stems from the appreciation of a well-designed game. However you feel about the series, you can’t deny that this important piece of the puzzle is worth admiring. If you’re a Smash Bros. fan or own a Nintendo 64 then pick this game up. It can be spendy, but I do think it’s worth forty, maybe even fifty bucks if you’re really interested. Super Smash Bros. is just one of those classics you won’t want to miss.