"I'm really feeling it!"
After years and years of waiting, with multiple imitators releasing and rumors swirling since E3 2011, the next Smash Bros. game is finally here. The series is known for a hyper-dedicated fanbase, a perfectionist creator, and more Nintendo nostalgia than any single diehard could ever truly absorb. But what exactly is it about Smash Bros. that has made so many devote countless hours to it?
It's easy to credit the success to an epic celebration of Nintendo nostalgia, or the pulse-pounding pace of the rollicking multiplayer, but there's more to it than that. There are so many little things that make players keep saying "one more game," over and over again. I could list dozens of them, except this is a Top 7, so I'll limit myself to the most important aspects of this very engaging series...
7. Hearing "the fans" chant your name
There you are, playing as Pikachu in the middle of a heated four player throwdown. It's the Corneria stage and everyone is battling on the Star Fox team's ship, vying for the top spot. You grab Pokeball that just appeared, summon Snorlax, and send everyone off the stage. All of a sudden you hear an audible chant of "Pikachu! Pikachu!" And at that moment, all is right with the world.
Having a never-seen audience react to a dominant performance isn't really in-keeping with the game's reality, but who cares? It's one of Smash's many moments where fun trumps logic, making the player feel too awesome to give a second thought to the source of the chant. All you (and your opponents) need to know is that you got some well-earned kudos for your performance, and you're going to rub it in their faces. However, you'd better be careful, because getting killed while they're chanting your name might be the greatest shame Smash can offer. Your one-time fans won't boo you, but their immediate silence speaks volumes.
6. Making a perfectly timed reflect block
For all the importance of brawling and melee in the series, just as much strategy goes into long-distance play. Whether you're zapping folks across the stage with Fox or burning them with Mario's fireballs, a well-rounded player knows how to use projectiles to chip away at an enemy. And it's the most well-rounded of players of players that can consistently fling that dangerous projectile right back into a smug jerk's grill.
Not everyone on the roster has a reflection move, but the counter makes characters like Fox, Ness and others very viable for skilled players. It takes quick timing and spatial awareness to be ready to toss back an attack at the right moment, and it's even more satisfying when you're flinging back a killer charge shot or a Bob-omb. It's a great time to point and laugh at your friend when they get hoisted by their own petard--unless, of course, they then reflect it right back at you.
5. Diving deep into video game history
The Smash Bros. series has seen so many imitators and clones, but they're all missing a certain something. The obvious answer is "Nintendo characters," though the reasoning goes a little deeper than that. The Smash franchise showers so much affection on the medium of video games that playing them is akin to a jaunt through a virtual museum, making you a gaming scholar as you play.
The epic roster of each game pulls folks like Ness and The Ice Climbers out of obscurity. For instance, every move of Mr. Game & Watch is a different reference to Nintendo's forgotten handheld series. Then there are the hundreds of trophies to unlock that cover virtually every Nintendo game in existence, each with a lengthy text explanation attached, like a mini-Wikipedia. And the devs even reach out to guest characters like Sonic and Pac-Man, exploring their background just as much as the Nintendo folks--just watch a bit of Snakes CODEC conversations to see that the love for games reaches far beyond Nintendo.
4. Knocking everyone else off the stage and then taunting
Smash Bros. hardly invented taunts in fighting games, but it does a great job in supplying players with the means to playfully annoy their competitors. Whether it's Sonics "You're too slow," Captain Falcons "Show me your moves," or (my new favorite) Shulk's "I'm really feeling it," taunts allow you to express what a cocky badass you are. However, you're open to getting hit if you do it non-stop, so it's better to pick your moments. In case you don't know, that specific moment is right after you knock everyone else off of the screen.
Let's use our imagination again, gentle reader. You're playing as Donkey Kong in the Jungle Japes stage, and you've managed to fully charge the Giant Punch move. After waiting in the background, you finally see the other three distracted, so you sneak up and WHAM--they're all off the screen. You could wait for them all to respawn, but as long as you have the time while your opponents stare daggers at you, why not taunt?
3. The rush of excitement of a new character reveal
Every fall sees the annual entry in Call of Assassin's: Madden--if you love those franchises, you're rarely left waiting all that long for the next one. Nintendo handles Smash Bros. a bit differently. Melee came out in 2001, Brawl in 2008, and now 3DS/Wii U in 2014. Thats a lot of waiting for its ravenous audience. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it also turns every little piece of info on the sequel into a hype-filled event. If you want a character added to the game, you hope against hope they'll be in the next reveal video, or else you may be waiting until 2020 for your next chance.
Each epically long reveal trailer for 3DS/Wii U is engineered to keep fans on the edge of their seats, waiting to see whos behind the newest tease. I was there when series direct, Masahiro Sakurai, revealed Pac-Man to a roomful of anxious Smash maniacs. And yes, there was plenty of whooping when it happened. People can get so anxious during the wait for a new member of the roster, "news" of a returning stage or redesigned item could throw fans into a frenzy.
2. The sound of a Home-run Bat smash (and all the other great sound effects)
Back in the day, when my friends and I played Melee, we excluded many items from matches for fear that they caused imbalanced contests. But, despite it being arguably overpowered, the instant-KO machine of the Home-run Bat was always welcome in our battles. Looking back, the biggest reward wasnt clubbing someone off the stage with the bat--it was the metallic DING! sound effect that let you know it hit its mark. Without that satisfying bit of sound design, the item wouldnt be half as fun.
Sakurai and company do a great job at picking out the right noise to back up a devastating move. The distinct sounds of a Bob-omb exploding, the Beam Sword slashing someone, or the steady stream of machinegun fire of a Super Scope makes each item unique. The distinct sounds make it much easier to keep track of whos using what on the chaotic battlefield--though, hopefully your opponent is distracted just enough to be vulnerable to a Homerun Bat swing.
1. Seeing the winner celebrate (so long as youre the winner)
Smash Bros. brings to life the lengthy arguments gamers have always have of one fictional character being better than another. You think Mario would annihilate Pikachu, or that Kirby should destroy Donkey Kong? You can battle it out in-game with a friend and settle the score. And if everything goes according to plan, the win screen isnt just showing some mascot posing after a victory. Its the moment proving your favorite character to be number one, and theyre celebrating with you.
Yes, thats might sound a little extreme, but thats what makes crossover games so exciting, and its why Smash Bros. remains the top in its genre. It lets you continually play out the dream matches that used to be confined to forum posts and fan art, so seeing the special win animations of your favorite character makes each experience complete. Even if you lose, theres usually a fun shot of the defeated mascots modestly clapping as a sign of good sportsmanship. Youll dive back into the next match (or 20) soon enough, but youll still linger a moment or two longer to bask in your victory. Youve earned it, right?
"Show me your moves!"
So thats why, more than 15 years later, Smash Bros. has maintained such a dedicated audience, but thats hardly the end of reasons to celebrate it. What little things about Smash do you love the most? Feel free to talk all about it in the comments!