Super Smash Bros. is one of the most popular franchises in history. The ’90s gave us a multiplayer brawler that embraced frantic party chaos as opposed to arcade finesse. It also gave legendary Nintendo game characters a place to duke it out. But while Mario, Link and Samus ruled the battlefield, 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl brought third-party characters into the fray. It shocked everyone when these new fighters entered the ring, but unlike many similar crossovers, these characters never felt out of place. But why is that? How could these “outsiders” actually fit into Smash Bros. so seamlessly?
Super Smash Bros. went from a footnote to a smash hit when Nintendo granted Masahiro Sakurai and Satoru Iwata the use Nintendo characters in the fighting game they were designing. The frantic fighter earned praise for its multiplayer-focused action and accessible controls, but its identity became rooted in the Nintendo mashup. Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, Samus, Pikachu, and more were all playable, with memorable items, stages and moves taken straight from their respective games. Super Smash Bros. Melee broadened the scope with franchises like the Japan favorite Fire Emblem and even Mr. Game & Watch from Nintendo’s first LCD handhelds.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl brought in characters like Kirby’s Meta Knight, Ike from Fire Emblem, and Pit from Kid Icarus, but everyone was thrown for a loop when Solid Snake sneaked into the fray under his trademark cardboard box. That earth-shattering “showtime!” opened the floodgates for speculation on what other third-party characters could potentially appear in Brawl.
That speculation reached a fever pitch when Sega mascot Sonic the Hedgehog was announced. Though Sonic and Tails had been teased for Melee in a Nintendo Power April Fools’ joke , Sonic’s official Smash Bros. appearance was confirmed in a tongue-in-cheek video that took shots at Mario. Sonic’s appearance was surreal for veterans of the 16-bit wars. All of Sonic’s trademark moves appeared in Brawl, from Spin Dashes to Spring Jumps to a Final Smash featuring Super Sonic. Sonic and Mario, together at last, could finally beat the crap out of each other.
Today, third-party characters are more common than ever. Sonic the Hedgehog has already been confirmed for Super Smash Bros. 4, alongside Capcom’s Mega Man and Namco’s Pac-Man. Pac-man is one of the most recognizable faces in video gaming and Mega Man’s original design is widely considered the definitive incarnation of the Blue Bomber. The gamers who are likely to play Super Smash Bros. 4 are very familiar with both.
This synergy is why Pac-Man and Mega Man fit in so well in Smash Bros: they may not represent Nintendo itself, but they’re part of the same generation. Sonic’s appearance in Brawl might have been sacrilege to 16-bit purists, but it brought the console war to life like never before. It is a landmark moment not unlike Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny’s banter in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Seeing Sonic and Mario duke it out fueled a perverse kind of nostalgia that excited our sadistic inner children. Pac-Man and Mega Man’s appearances share a lot of that same nostalgia. By breaking down franchise barriers, Smash Bros. no longer represents just Nintendo, but an entire age of video games.