Sure, Street Fighter 2 was great and a blast to play in arcades. Soul Calibur was also a phenomenal game, with tight mechanics and intense fighting. But neither of those comes close to the joy of watching the Hero of Time defeat a Galactic Federation bounty hunter, or watching a green cartoon dinosaur swallow and poop out a giant ape trapped in an egg. That’s right, it’s time for Super Smash Bros!
Super Smash Bros. released for the N64 in 1999 alongside a very enticing commercial. A fighting game featuring some of Nintendo’s most recognizable characters, Super Smash Bros. allowed people to finally answer the question of whether Samus could beat Kirby in a battle, or which Mario brother was truly the most superior. With up to 4 player support, Super Smash Bros. makes for a great multiplayer experience, but good computer AI also allows the solo player to experience the hectic battles the series is now known for.
Super Smash Bros. features an impressive array of Nintendo characters that you can make fight to the death. The game starts you out with 8 advertised characters including Mario, DK, Link, Samus, Yoshi, Kirby, Fox, and Pikachu, each of whom have their own unique fighting stage. Through playing more, you can unlock 4 hidden characters: Luigi, Captain Falcon, Ness, and Jigglypuff, along with one extra stage based on the original NES Super Mario game. Compared to later entries in the franchise, the variety in characters and stages are limited, but Super Smash Bros. can still provide a good amount of replay even with this limited variety.
Compared to most traditional fighting games, Super Smash Bros. has a very simplistic control scheme. Pressing A causes your player to do a normal attack, which can be combined with a direction to result in a more targeted attack. Pressing B causes the player to do a special attack, which can also be combined with Up or Down to do a completely different special attack. Any of the C buttons cause your character to jump and the R shoulder button makes you do a grab – and that’s basically it. There is no special timing or sequences of buttons to master, making Super Smash Bros. a very easy game to get into as a beginner or non-gamer, and I attribute most of the franchise’s success to this simple control scheme. You don’t have to spend hours with a character to just be passably effective with them – you can be quite functional with a character in as little as five minutes. A surprising amount of depth is present however, and it can take months of play to truly master a character’s nuances.
Another interesting departure present in Smash Bros. is that unlike most fighting games where characters start with a full health bar that is depleted when they suffer injury, Smash Bros. takes a different approach. The players all start out with 0 damage, and gradually accrue a higher and higher damage number as they are attacked. There is no set amount of damage that is fatal; instead kills are achieved by launching the player off the sides of the stage such that they cannot safely return to the platform. The higher their damage number, the farther the fly, making a successful return harder (or impossible if they get cleared off the boundaries of the entire level). Even with insane damage numbers, a skilled player can still be a dangerous foe – however the slightest hit might send them to their doom. This mechanic makes for a very interesting dynamic for a fighting game, one which I believe was unique for the time.
In addition to the multiplayer brawl modes, there is a single-player element. There is a mode where you fight through every contender (or some variant of them) in order, interspersed with stages where you must break targets or test your platforming skills. This ends in a fight with the final boss Master Hand, a non-playable character that can really put your through the ringer. The target and platform stages can be accessed separately as well, giving you the opportunity to log your best times possible. While these different modes are nice to include for the single player, the real meat of the game lies in the VS. mode, where even a single player can compete against 3 computer controlled opponents in a free for all.
Compared to later entries in the series, Super Smash Bros. is definitely primitive. The controls are very limited compared to Melee; there is no ability to charge a smash attack, or due to lack of a second analog control, no ability to quickly do an instant smash attack. As well, the forward+B attack is missing from every character’s repertoire. These differences can make for a frustrating experience for the veteran Smash player as muscle memory will have you trying for attacks that don’t exist. The stages are also limited and simple, but I actually find that refreshing. I feel like Brawl in particular puts too much of a focus on dodging stage related hazards, so a return to simplicity is welcome. Graphics are of course what you would expect for the hardware, and as such look very dated (I really need to coin a term for how badly N64 graphics have aged compared to NES/SNES).
Gameplay: The gameplay is a great start, but very inferior to the later entries in the franchise. Everything is simpler than Melee (let alone Brawl), and the limited character selection is certainly somewhat annoying, but likely limited by cartridge space. The core mechanics of a great franchise are here…they just needed a little more love (and ROM space) to really blossom.
Graphics: The graphics are what you expect from the N64: 3D, yet simple and low-poly. The polygon count is basically the bare minimum that you could get away with and still convey which character is which. The environments however are nice and varied, and some stages really shine and look quite respectable. Others are dull and drab.
Sound: The sound is primarily taken from previous Nintendo games, with little new material to be found. That said, it does make good use of the N64 audio hardware and is very nice overall.
Nostalgia X-Factor: I played this game to death in high school, although no where near as much as I played Melee later in college.
Worth Playing: Only really worth it if you are a die hard Smash Bros fan. By Melee the franchise was much more polished and well-rounded, with lots of extra control options, abilities, and characters. The N64 version laid the foundation for greatness, but in retrospect is actually quite difficult to force yourself through these days.