How Super Smash Bros. Put Me On The Path To Enjoying Competitive Fighting Games 22 Years Ago

It is the 22nd anniversary of the original Super Smash Bros. in Japan, and wow, that sentence is one hell of a way to rapidly age me – if I weren’t already bald I’m sure I’d be able to see my hair visibly gouging itself out of my scalp and abandoning me. But that’s enough about the hasty retreat of my hairline. Although that may leave me, my love for Super Smash Bros. never will, and I’ll always remember my early moments with the franchise.

I was at school, and it was a “free day” where the other kids could bring in their games and toys to share and play with others. One of my friends brought in their Nintendo 64 and Super Smash Bros. I was perfectly aware of what it was, but I had never laid my eyes on it before. Mario was there, Link was there, Pikachu was there – and that was all I needed to know. I became immediately transfixed and vaguely obsessed with the absurdity of seeing these iconic gaming giants together, on the same screen, in the same game, beating the shit out of one another. In 1999, this was most certainly what we deemed to be a “game-changer.”

I picked up the controller eagerly and was put on the Classic mode run. I failed on the second stage, the notoriously simple fight against multiple Yoshi NPCs. In fairness, I barely knew how to play and was still experimenting to see what the buttons actually did. Despite the fact that my time playing was over all too soon, I knew I needed more. As I watched my character fly off the screen and into oblivion I heard the words “Haha, David isn’t very good at this game,” and that’s when the gloves came off. I later purchased the game from my friend, and while I played it a lot, I’m not sure I ever got much better.

Fast forward two years and I was playing Super Smash Bros. Melee, a game which bolstered my Nintendo knowledge and had me curious about franchises such as Earthbound – which was not available in Europe at the time – and Fire Emblem, which wasn’t available outside of Japan. I kept playing and kept getting more confident. Eventually, it was my turn to bring a game console into school on a free day. I was cocky and beat down any challenger – right up until I didn’t, and a complete stranger annihilated me before walking off without a word. Adam, if you’re reading this, I never forgot you putting me in my place that day, and I thank you for it.

The run up to Super Smash Bros. Brawl felt like the most arduous years of my life. Ever since I first saw the trailer, which debuted the likes of Solid Snake and Pit, I was obsessed, checking online for new information almost daily. I remember forums erupting with excitement when Sonic the Hedgehog was confirmed to be making an appearance in the ultimate crossover game. Despite all that, though, I was underwhelmed by Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and for many years Smash – and fighting games as a whole – fell by the wayside. I barely even thought about them anymore.

Then Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U was announced, and suddenly I was back. My hype levels rose to a fever pitch, and I was playing Project M, the Brawl mod that Nintendo despises, every single day with friends. Final Destination, no items, whatever character you want – and once again, I was getting cocky. I bet a friend I could beat his best character, and he could choose any character for me to play. Once again, I was getting smashed. But I asked for a rematch. And another. And another. And another. Eventually, it got to the point where I couldn’t lose, resulting in a rock-hard pounding in my chest, in addition to a throbbing in my trousers. I was on an untouchable high.

But I was still a big fish in the very small pond known as “my house”. I may have been the best player to walk in and out of my bedroom for a time, but that wasn’t good enough. Luckily, I discovered the humble Super Smash Bros. community in Birmingham, UK, and everyone there was equally friendly and competitive. I was no longer really the big fish, just a minor player, but every bit as welcome as the others. The feeling of being accepted into a gaming community like that is truly wonderful, and an excellent way to make new friends – and rivals.

The more events I went to, the more I learned, until eventually I saw Street Fighter 4 being played at one of the tournaments I frequented. I rarely moved away from the rows of Wii U consoles and throngs of perspiring players, but Street Fighter fascinated me. The thrills I had from Smash, the rivalries, the competition – it was all there, but getting more recognition, and had much more for me to learn. Once Street Fighter 5 was announced, my trajectory was set.

Where am I going with this? Well, Masahiro Sakurai, Smash’s charismatic creator, has always intended for the game to be approachable for anyone, a simple introduction to fighting games as a whole. Sakurai told The Guardian that he came up with the idea of a beginner-friendly fighting game when he destroyed an amateur couple at King of Fighters ‘95 in an arcade in Japan, and instead of feeling elated, he just felt guilty. They didn’t know how to play and just wanted to enjoy themselves – something Sakurai didn’t give them much of a chance at.

But this clearly inspired his whole design philosophy, and it has worked wonders since. 22 years on from the release of the original Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64, the game has opened the eyes of myself and countless others to the potential of competitive fighting games. It’s not necessarily about winning or destroying your opponent, but the relationships you form, the people you meet, the rivalries that build, and so much more.

Masahiro Sakurai set out to make a game that anyone could approach, so anyone could feel the thrill of a real-time head-to-head game of wits and reflexes, and he succeeded. 22 years later, and Super Smash Bros. just might be one of the most important fighting games of all time.

Next: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Sephiroth Moveset Breakdown

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TheGamer Guides Editor. Opinionated about Nintendo.

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