15 years ago, Mario first punched Link in the face

15 years ago this month, Nintendo released the first Super Smash Bros.

Nintendo released the first Super Smash Bros. in late January of 1999 as Nintendo All-Star! Great Fray Smash Brothers. The arena brawler brought together Mario, Link, and other famous mascots... and forced them to kick the crap out of each other.

In the latter days of the Nintendo 64, Masahiro Sakurai started making what he called Dragon King: The Fighting Game--a four-player battle royale that would eventually become Super Smash Bros. With the help of future Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, he was able to craft a unique fighting game in which Nintendo mascots attempted to knock each other off the stage using their unique skills and various iconic weapons. In many ways, it was the anti-Mortal Kombat--an energetic fighting game that deemphasized "finishing him" in favor of knocking opponents around.

The appeal, of course, was in its all-star cast of characters, which included the likes of Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong. And with Pokemon in the midst of blowing up in 1999, there was significant appeal in smashing in Pikachu's adorable little ratface and sending it flying with a plaintive, "Pikaaaa... Pikaaaaaa..." More than a few fighting fans turned up their nose at the seemingly simple mechanics, but it quickly became apparent that Super Smash Bros. was a deceptively deep fighting game. As such, it eventually earned itself a small but extremely loyal competitive audience.

The Japanese version of Super Smash Bros. quickly became a major success, selling more than a million copies and earning an international release. Interestingly enough, the global version ended up being quite a bit different from the original. In addition to major balance changes, the sound effects in the U.S. version were quite a bit cartoonier than those of the original game. Regardless, western fans quickly embraced Nintendo's quirky beat 'em up as well.

Super Smash Bros. eventually earned sequels on the GameCube and the Wii, with additional installments due to arrive soon on the 3DS and Wii U. After fifteen years, the roster has grown considerably, but the raw appeal of Super Smash Bros. has hardly changed. With each successive release, Super Smash Bros has become more of museum dedicated to Nintendo arcana dating back to the 80s--even introducing American audiences to the Fire Emblem series and representing Earthbound years after Nintendo stopped localizing it. In that, it's become a love letter to gaming history--a time capsule that can't be beat.

This Week in Gaming brings you bite-sized gaming history every week. Come back to find out what the past can tell us about the future, and to reminisce about a time before high-definition visuals, always-online DRM, and digital distribution.