Every gamer knows the feeling of playing a special video game. You feel excited, on your toes, ready to be surprised, and at the end of it all, satisfied with the experience for the time. But there is also the sad flip side of video games: They simply get old because we want new characters, stories, or adventures. Especially given the current boom in the gaming industry, the life span of individual games seems to be getting shorter and shorter as the industry as a whole gets larger and larger.
But there is one game that defies the trend. One game has forged a permanent place in our attention and stays relevant despite the proliferation of so many newer, flashier games. Its name is Super Smash Bros. And just to be perfectly clear, I’m talking about N64 Smash—later editions are still pretty fun, and some readers will say that better graphics or more characters make the later versions better, but the father of them all is still king in my book.
People have told me that I probably love the N64 version best because of the nostalgia factor that comes along with playing old video games, and there’s definitely a lot of truth in that. But it’s important to remember that Super Smash Bros was awesome when it was released because of the nostalgia factor it already had. Every character in the game is taken from some other already popular video game (Zelda, Super Mario, PokÈmon, Metroid, etc.), so nostalgia is inherent to the game itself. Everyone bought Smash when it came out because it brings together powerful parts of everyone’s childhood so that now, thirteen years later, the initial nostalgia of playing as Samus is mixed with the newer nostalgia for the old N64.
But simple nostalgia isn’t enough to ensure this kind of longevity. We’ve seen tons of other video games that bring together characters from videogame history, such as Soul Calibur, Capcom vs. Marvel, DC vs. Mortal Kombat, but those games have hardly stood the test of time. Smash exceeds its weaker cousins because the feel of the game just makes sense. The controls are ridiculously simple in themselves, but each single character possesses a huge arsenal of varied attacks. The controls are also super responsive and consistent; once you get the feel for the game, which only takes a few rounds, very little unexpected happens. Every action seems to cause an appropriate reaction, and the whole Smash universe just feels right, everything fits together seamlessly and it all seems to gel.
The next unique facet of the game: The outcome of a match is determined entirely by the skill of the players. Smash has no referee that intervenes on the action. Players fight tooth and nail against each other with minimal interference. Of course, the random item drop introduces a degree of chance, especially if you’re brave enough to play with the Hammer or Maxim Tomato. But how often is it that the outcome of a game of Smash is totally based on who was able to get the two hammers that happen to drop? In games with more than, say, 8 lives, almost never. Sure, items like the Star or Landmine may momentarily shift the momentum, but ultimately the best player in Smash will always come out on top.
Smash Bros would be nothing without its eponymous bros. There are eight starter characters, plus four unlockable ones, and every one of them is just as good as the other. Once you get plugged into the Smash circuit, you will almost certainly find players that are good with characters that probably don’t suit your particular way of playing, and this depth and playability of all the characters is another aspect of the game’s appeal. The character you decide to play becomes your avatar, a digital double, and you form your own private team with him/her. Connecting with your character is just like choosing a favorite sports team. Because of this personal connection to the characters, the stakes of each round become huge, and the game assumes monumental importance.
At this point let’s think a little about Smash’s legacy. Most obviously, it’s spawned a bunch of sequels, and Super Smash Bros has become a dynasty in itself that spans across three generations of gaming systems. But it’s even cooler that the characters in the game have themselves become gaming celebrities just by virtue of their inclusion in Smash. Think of Captain Falcon: Somewhere there are fans of the original F-Zero game (honestly I’ve never seen these guys but they’re probably around), but most people by now have heard a friend at some point scream ìFALCON PUNCHHHH!!!î in a setting outside of Smash. Ness is another good example of Smash’s influence, since I think it’s fair to say the majority of people outside of Japan had never seen him before this game. Actually now that I think about it, where the hell is Ness originally from?
Back to the point. I think ultimately Super Smash Bros for the N64 is so special because it brings together a number of great qualities from all the video games we love into one clean package. Maybe its awesomeness is something that can only be appreciated by our generation since it draws from so many sources that only 90’s kids could know about. Still, I think it’s safe to say that Super Smash Bros for the N64 has has found a place in our gaming hearts that can’t be taken over.