There was once a time when Nintendo’s treasured fighting series, Super Smash Bros, was regarded as exactly that: a fighting game. A title whose character roster — together with the moves and abilities that encompassed this eclectic cast of first and second-party characters alike — were the underpinning appeal of the entry in question. Where the original back on N64 and 2001’s Melee on Gamecube were predominantly first-party/in-house centered, drawing on the history of Nintendo’s wide assortment of critical, commercial and even niche IPs alike, in recent times Smash has become more than the mechanics offered and the gameplay with which players can decide to either master or casually approach. 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl can be regarded as the earliest moments wherein the series began to broaden out through external means. Continuing to appeal to the growing crowds who clambered for their desired/beloved favorites to debut and duke it out with established names, while at the same time celebrating video games through other lenses other than the characters themselves.
The introduction of Assist Trophies, Final Smashes and even a story mode, Subspace Emissary, you could rightly consider mere extensions of the strategic fighting-orientated gameplay, were also an extension of what Smash had blossomed into: a homage to just how diverse, creative and at times surreal the extent to which this industry has grown in the past ten years alone, let alone the past thirty. Character rosters were no longer the one and only avenue for fan-service and community desires alike to see fulfilled and while an Assist Trophy may not have the same panache as a fully-playable fighter, it’s undeniable that Nintendo have eventually come to realize that to reflect on the joy of video games is not to simply look inward, but instead look outward, to those whom follow, discuss, debate and inevitably come to tune in and watch as the company’s latest announcements are finally made public.
Super Smash Bros for 3DS & Wii U, was the right game that came at exactly the right time in the evolution of digital marketing. Coming at a point when social media and the devices with which we all use to circumnavigate it all, would only provide companies with a greater means to amplify their desired messaging, Smash is one of the few IPs in video games at present that can take advantage of the absorbing, community-like binding of emotions — both before and after the announcements are made — without ever feeling like it’s exploiting one’s genuine investment in the series. The increased efforts to introduce third-party representatives into the growing roster of Smash, from Final Fantasy’s Cloud to Bandai Namco’s Pac Man, to PlatinumGames’ Bayonetta — the latter of which being the top voted request in a ballot — whether or not you want to debate the relevancy of their relationship to Nintendo in terms of software/hardware presence (maybe even crack a joke that a character like Cloud made it onto Nintendo’s fighting entrant and not Sony’s own) or not is irrelevant. In its last couple of releases, Super Smash Bros. has grown out of its genre-defining attributes and predominantly gameplay-focused content.
What 2014’s dual-releases showed was that Smash had leapt from off this solitary perch as a mere fighting game defined by its first-party representation and had now ascended in the minds of fans the world over — competitive or not — into a game that was as much about the worlds, cameos and music the IPs represented. Super Smash Bros. had become a melting pot of sorts, the cross-roads with which all video game properties and licenses alike could, potentially, weave together into an aspiring, exemplary whole. An ever-evolving love-letter to the industry, but one that showered that respect, that appreciation for its multi-billion dollar stature, outwards rather than inwards. Smash was a game built with its fans in mind. Speak of the devil and (one way or another) he/she/it will appear. The greatest reactionary take-away is that, of all people, Nintendo are the ones appearing to have listened, to be the ones to take note of what is happening outside the secretive walls of their Japan and North America headquarters alike.
This may very well tie into the genius of Nintendo’s general delivery in marketing/communication as well as their understanding of the greater community as a whole — but what we’ve seen of Super Smash Bros Ultimate so far, based purely on its “one more” stinger during March’s Nintendo Direct, the company’s E3 showing as well as last week’s Smash-focused Direct, was nothing short of a realization of what not just the series now means for us, but of the power of its messaging — its trailers, its promotion, its very artistic strides to excite and attract our attention — whether we’d admit to such desires or not.
Deceiving viewers many a time with baited suggestion after baited suggestion; long-requested characters (be it serious or joking alike) finally entering the already-grand “Everyone Is Here!” featuring every character that has taken part in the series; minute mechanical features and subtle nods that showed great attention to detail. You could argue a large portion of this is merely fan-service — contributing little else than superficial decoration to an otherwise hectic competing for supremacy on a match-for-match basis — but the Smash community (if you want to call it that) has come to appreciate the series for far more than the gameplay underpinning all this. The inevitable trickle of new characters, new stages, new info in general; they’re all part of the grander Smash “experience.” The build-up is as much an integral part as the finished product itself.
It’s one thing for Nintendo to lay out each and every one of the improvements made to Ultimate’s in-game controls and systems at play, but it’s another to go into detail about that which Smash was perhaps less regarded for in previous times: stages, music, items, assist trophies, even the main menu itself. But offered in a way that either furthered Nintendo’s on-point timing in comical delivery (“…we must be crazy” in regards to boasting more than a hundred different stages) or still found a way to tease or intrigue (blurring out a portion of the game’s home menu, leading many to believe this as some manner of a “story” mode). Insignificant an asset or aspect they may be, it proves but another avenue with which Smash has, as stated, evolved to being more than its roster when talking of its series-spanning collaborative efforts.
Regardless of whether or not you’re disappointed that your most eagerly-requested character or icon is confined to being but an assist trophy or not, the fact that Smash continues, even not, to show interest in inviting all manner of IPs — from legacy franchises like Castlevania to independent, Western-originated success stories like Shovel Knight alike — suggests that Nintendo too, recognize Smash as more than just an opportunity to appease those who engage with the series on terms of its gameplay. But may also simply relish the livestreams and broadcasts from time to time. The at-times bizarre jostling of elements from many an IP (worlds, characters, items, aesthetic touches), no matter the prayed-upon request for inclusion. It’s up to the internet as a whole on whether or not they want to further canonize the delivery of new information or not, but what’s critical is that Nintendo are at least recognizing the ever-changing state of affairs from the community side…without coming across as trying too hard or too forcibly to appear “down with the kids.”
We’re still four months away from release, but it’s safe to assume already that from what we’ve seen not only of Ultimate — but also of Nintendo’s delightfully hybrid informative/comical delivery through its many Direct streams — that what we’re witnessing is the further-establishing of Smash as a true bastion of one of entertainment’s richest creative mediums. One that rarely (if ever) measures this in some self-indulgently dismissive fashion — forgetting that the most important people who’ve helped shape video games into what it is today are the fans. Those of us who may never set foot inside a studio or committee room alike, but are far from forgotten by Nintendo themselves — the Big N standing as one of the few entities willing to address/respect us as more than mere expendable financial necessity.
It’s highly doubtful Ultimate will fail to meet expectations on a commercial front, but that’s as much due to where the series stands in the current zeitgeist as of late, let alone its stature as a series that has offered plentiful content over its nearly two decade tenure. A meshing of video games’ greatest strides, but a competent fighting series in its own right. The culmination of not just Nintendo’s best efforts, but of Sega, Capcom, Konami, Bandai Namco, Square Enix — together with each and everyone of the developers big and small featured — that have made video games the great unifying and delightful cultural cornerstone it’s now become. Few games can boast of their ascendant nature in the hearts and minds of the community at large, but Ultimate just may prove, come December 7, that Super Smash Bros. has done just that.