Today, January 21st, is a watershed date for many Nintendo fans. This marks the 15th anniversary of the original release of Super Smash Bros (Nintendo All-Stars! Dairantō Smash Brothers) in Japan. Little did we know just how important the Smash Bros. series would become over time and multiple systems.
Even though it’s beloved among the fans, the original Super Smash Bros was an uncertain quantity during its early days. Under the direction of Masahiro Sakurai and developed at HAL Laboratory, the game’s beta took on the form of Dragon Fighters: The Video Game, starring a clutch of generic fighters in a four-player fighter. In his spare time, Sakurai replaced the generic characters with (surprise) Nintendo characters, in order to add some personality. Nintendo approved of this change, and the game saw it’s release as a Japan-exclusive in January 1999. But why would such a novel concept be considered to remain Japan-bound?
See, before it could come to the west, Nintendo of America had reservations about the game’s image. Was it wise to release a game starring Nintendo’s mascots battling each other? Fortunately, the strong sales of the game in Japan encouraged the western branch of Nintendo to bring it on over. And luckily, it was a big hit. Alternatively, the sight of Nintendo’s big stars duking it out succeeded partly due to the novelty. For the first time, you had a game that collected characters like Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and the newer Nintendo all-star Pikachu all in the same room together. It may have looked ugly graphically, but people still took to the madcap multiplayer action. It remains a point of fondness for Nintendo 64 owners 15 years later.
Today, the original N64 title is cemented as a classic, and was joined by two sequels: Super Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube in 2001, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. Beyond these increasingly impressive sequels, there’s a burgeoning tournament scene built around the series. For a series conceived to exude a party-game atmosphere compared to other fighters, Smash Bros has deep fighting-friendly mechanics, such as wave-dashing. Last year saw a record-breaking live-stream of Melee at EVO, narrowly avoiding its cancellation by Nintendo itself.
Mr. Sakurai is currently supervising the development of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS with Namco Bandai. They are expected sometime in 2014. Heaven knows Nintendo needs these games badly to boost sales (at least on Wii U). They are purported to boast some form of connectivity to each other, aside from expected new characters in the roster, such as Mega Man and the benign Animal Crossing Villager.
Super Smash Bros. remains a top-draw series from Nintendo, always running the risk of sucking attention away from their other, perhaps newer titles. People to this day run back to their Nintendo 64’s to romp around with friends. Some even consider it their favorite Smash Bros., above the sequels that added more characters, stages, and content. That’s surely the best success of what began as a gleeful experiment and turned into a video game phenomenon.