The Funnest Game Ever Made

Smash WiiU

I semi-deliberately used the word “funnest” in the title of this article instead of the grammatically sound “most fun”, because that un-word, in a way, represents the philosophy of the game (series) I’m talking about – Super Smash Bros. Rules and expectations may be stretched or broken, but it’s all in the name of fun.

Indeed, Smash Bros may very well be the funnest/most fun game ever made, as far as I’m concerned. It’s certainly not a title I bestow lightly – it may even seem to an outsider ridiculous to even attempt to rank a single video game series that highly. But it has two qualities built into it that make such a thing worthy of real consideration: Range and Longevity.

Regarding range: In this context, I refer to range in terms of appeal. At the time the first game came out, franchise crossovers weren’t common cinematic cash cows (as Marvel has made them). In fact, they weren’t common at all in any medium except maybe comic books, particularly for a company as cautious and protective of its franchises as Nintendo. And yet along comes a game that mashes up most of Nintendo’s popular franchise characters into a 4 player sumo wrestling-inspired fighting/party game. It’s a strange, very Japanese concept, but the appeal of iconic characters from separate Nintendo franchises beating the snot out of each other is immediately enticing to anybody who grew up playing those games.

Smash_64_2

That conceit alone could have been enough right there for moderate success. Developer HAL laboratories could have simply crammed those characters into a conventional fighting game and it probably would have sold well. Instead, they created an entirely new paradigm for fighting games – a formula that a few games have since attempted to recreate but haven’t managed it. Instead of the goal being “hit the other guy until he runs out of life”, every hit you land on an opponent makes them fly farther off the platform-like stage. Chipping away at them doesn’t make a meter go down, but up, and the higher that meter gets the less likely they are to recover from a blow that sends them sailing off the edges of the play field.

Such an unusual style of gameplay meant that experienced fighting game players couldn’t use the basic principles honed in countless Street Fighters, Tekkens, and Mortal Kombats over the years to gain an edge – they had to learn an entirely new skill set. And lo and behold, after hours upon hours of addictive but low-level Smash Bros play, a revelation: The game was really, really deep. The imbalance and chaotic nature of the game was hiding levels of strategy that would take years to master.

But it wasn’t until the second entry in the series – Smash Bros Melee – that gamers really found something to chew on. That game took the same foundation of the original but honed and expanded everything about it to a ridiculous degree. I remember asking for a Gamecube for Christmas specifically for this one game, and I remember my friends and I being totally overwhelmed by the speed and chaos of it all. But as we sank hours into competitive play with each other, we started gradually discovering the intracacies of the fighting system. We found subtleties and quirks that didn’t reveal themselves until literally hundreds of matches were played.

That’s where the other side of the “range” equation comes in, as initially Smash Bros seemed like the world’s most unlikely candidate for “serious”, tournament-level play. Nintendo never marketed Smash as a technical fighting game – they were insistent about its identity as a light, social, “couch” game to play with friends and have a good time, not to spend hours studying frame data and balance spreadsheets. But that’s what people did. The depth was there, waiting to be plumbed.

Smash Bros can be enjoyed equally at any skill level, from casual button mashing chaos to tightly controlled, esoteric technical play. As for me and my friends, we fall somewhere in between. We’ve all put in enough hours (more than we’d like to admit to others certainly) with the game to get “good”. Any poor souls coming in new to the game with us inevitably gets steamrolled in what seems like utter chaos. As a matter of fact, we’ve all experienced that moment of attempting to teach the controls to a newbie, only to discover that we didn’t know them consciously – the actual inputs long since relegated to muscle memory.

But we never got hardcore enough to forget what Smash is actually all about – getting together with good friends and just PLAYING. Others have dedicated years to learning how to exploit quirks in the physics and programming to attain mobility that can best be described as superhuman – like Neo discovering how to stop bullets and fly at the end of The Matrix. We never had much interest in that. Smash Bros may have the depth of a technical tournament fighter, but it’s a party game at the molecular level.

Smash

As for the longevity I referenced earlier, well that speaks for itself. There have been three Smash Bros games released between 1999 and 2014, and not three months has gone by in that time frame that my friends and I didn’t get together to play one of them. It quite simply does not get boring. A great video game has replay value that lasts for years, but it’s a legendary game indeed that shows no sign of growing tiresome over generations. From jobless high schoolers to married, mortgage-having, career-minded capital-A Adults, Smash Bros never stopped feeling great.

Today, the fourth game in the series releases (or fifth if you count its portable sibling). We’re all limbering up our creaky old man thumbs for an epic inauguration. How many more years will we mine out of this one?

Comment (1)

  1. […] multiplayer platform when the very first Super Smash Bros came into our lives. 16 years later, that series is one of the only video games I still play regularly. It all started […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *