With Super Smash Bros. Brawl coming out in Japan tomorrow, it’s likely anyone reading this is feeling one of three emotions. The first would be utter jealousy and contempt for the Japanese gaming public, the second would be indifferencedue to not knowing or caring about Nintendo games in general, and the third is totally annoyance with all the Brawl related news currently sprawled over this and every other gaming blog on the interent.
This editorial is mostly for those in the second and third camps, those who don’t know about Brawl or actively feel “player hate” towards the current joy-drenched insanity that Brawl‘s impending release has induced in it’s fan base. The haters out there should know there is more to Smash Bros. craze than “putting a bunch of Nintendo characters together in an fun fighting game = $$$“. This information isn’t intended to convert anyone to the cult of Brawl, but will hopefully increase tolerance towards oppressed Brawl news addicts everywhere.
Hit the jump for five secrets to Smash Bros.‘ soul stealing success.
Pic via Pedro Blandino’s C-blog.
Reason #1- Smash Bros. Melee was Nintendo’s biggest GameCube game.
It’s an easy one, but people often forget it. Super Smash Bros. Melee, Brawl‘s prequel, sold approximately six million copies by the time of the GameCube’s death in early 2007. That’s pretty big numbers for the a ‘Cube game, considering the console had an install base of only twenty one million or so units by the time it conked out. Melee was in fact the biggest game on the GameCube, selling better than any GameCube Legend of Zelda or Mario title. There is no current data on how many additional copies Melee has sold since the Wii has started it’s currently campaign for world domination, but we can guess the number is close to one million.
So there are a lot of people, up to seven million, who own Super Smash Bros. Melee. Most of them probably loved it. All of them must have at least some interest in Brawl, as Brawl is set out to do everything that Melee did but better (and online).
Reason #2- No cross-over game this big has ever been released on a highly successful home platform
As awesome as cross-over games may be, they are not always the sign of a healthy company. When the Sega Saturn started to show a life threatening inability to compete with it’s arch-nemesis the Sony Playstation, Sega pooped out the cross-over fighting game Fighter’s MegaMix in a last ditch effort to seduce it’s ex-fan base back from Sony’s sweet embrace. It didn’t work.
Capcom tried it’s own “cross-over desperation attack” in arcades during the 1990’s with it’s “Marvel Versus” series. After Tekken and Mortal Kombat hit the scene, many arcade gamers previously loyal to Street Fighter 2 had abandoned ship. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 was the no holds barred, go for broke attempt to win the arcade fighting game audience back from it’s polygon powered, fatality laden competition. To a degree the plan worked, Marvel Vs Capcom 2 held it’s own against the Tekkens and the Soul Calibers of the time. All was going great until Capcom lost the license to make games with Marvel characters, effectively canceling the Versus series and damning 2D Capcom fighters to the lower dregs of arcade hell, never to return.
Nintendo pulled a Marvel Vs Capcom-like move of it’s own with the original Smash Bros. title. Many arcade loving gamers had abandoned the N64 for the Tekken, Street Fighter, and Soul Edge enabled Sony Playstation. The original Smash Bros. was clearly an attempt to win these old school gamers back. Three years later, Smash Bros. Melee would be born from a different kind of desperation, that of the first year of battle between the GameCube, the Xbox, and the Playstation 2. Though it failed to force Nintendo into the leader of the 2K console wars, it succeeded in providing at least one must have GameCube game for the doomed device.
These are all examples of what companies traditionally use the cross-over game for. It’s a “secret weapon” to try to make a comeback, or to wage war against companies competing for market share. But with Wii sales continuing to average at around 1.8 million consoles a month for over a year, Nintendo doesn’t need to make a come back. Some would argue it doesn’t even have any competition.
If the above listed cross-over games were like the last gasp burst of speed of an exhausted marathon runner who knows he’s far behind, hoping that with one final push and he may finish in tenth, then Brawl is like a sudden burst of momentum for a runner who is already way out in front.
No one has ever seen Nintendo produce a game that had this kind of built in demand on a console that had this kind of momentum. After the shortages are delt with, Brawl may go on to sell more copies in less time than even the almighty Halo 3.
Reason #3- Fans of fighting games and 2D home console action/platformers are desperate for a fix
Fans of fighting games have been stuck for the past ten years with nothing but the predictable series from Capcom, Namco and Sega that we’ve all played before, with the the occasional Mortal Kombat or Guilty Gear release thrown in for “B” grade variety. Say what you will about those fighters, but don’t try to argue that any of them have packed any truly eye opening content since Marvel Vs Capcom 2, (with the exception perhaps being the recently announced laser sword cameos for Soul Calibur 4). Fighting games have been in a rut for a long time, with slumping sales to match.
Likewise, the home console 2D action/platformer more or less died died with the Sega Saturn and Guardian Heroes. There have been pockets of great moments in the genre since then, Viewtiful Joe and Alien Hominid being two shining examples. But other than one, maybe two titles a year, the 2D platformer gets no representation on home consoles anymore. Super Smash Bros. Brawl and it’s action/platformer game-with-in-a-game The Sub-Space Emissary may simultaneously bring both fighting games and 2D home console action/platformers back from the dead. That is something many life long videogame fans want, if even only on principal.
That brings me to point #4
Reason #4- The Smash Bros. series is made by and for life long videogame fans.
There is only one thing certain about the Smash Bros. series, and that is the promise of a completely unique, creative experience. Even if you’ve been playing games for 30 years, you have still not seen anything like Smash Bros. until you’ve played it. Smash Bros. Melee proved as included the black and white, completely two dimensional, LCD screen based bonus character Mr Game and Watch in a game otherwise populated with fully 3D polygon models. It featured an not an “adventure mode” which at one point throws the on foot player character onto a race track, forcing them to try out speed run a series of futuristic high speed hover cars. These are just a few of the numerous moments of seamlessly crafted, controlled insanity unique to Smash Bros. Melee.
More so than any other gaming series to date, Smash Bros. knows how to reference other games. This provides the player with both a sense of past shared experiences with the game developer and a feeling that the world of videogames is in some way “real”. With Smash Bros. you get more unpredictable cultural references than an entire season of Family Guy, and at the same time legitimization of your suspicion that the Nintendo games you’ve played fall your life did actually all take place in the same world. Where Captain N failed, Smash Bros. succeeds.
This is because Smash Bros. is the artistic representation of “Nintendo experience” as lived though Mashahiro Sakurai, the series’ director. Mashihiro grew up in the 8-Bit generation, so he can love videogames in a way that his mentors Shigeru Miyamoto and Saturo Iwata could never understand. He speaks to the gamer in his twenties in a way that his elders no longer can.
The end result is a game teeming with an endless supply of music, characters, settings, weapons, and other yet unfathomable ideas tailor made for people who grew up on Nintendo. In a modern gaming climate growing ever stagnant with the domination of mini-game collections, first person shooters, sandbox games, and 3D action/platformers, Smash Bros. Brawl is an incredible breath of minty-fresh air. Nothing excites and energizes the gaming populace more than the prospect of new, original, unpredictable content.
Or maybe not. On second thought, there is only one thing that fills gamers with dramatic tension even more so than the anticipation of an all new game.
Reason #5- Smash Bros. Brawl may be the last in the series.
I believe it was Robert Smith who asked, “Tell me who doesn’t love what can never come back?” That kind of love is exactly what many Smash Bros. fans are feeling for Brawl right now. The series has always been on the verge of death, and that has always been part of it’s appeal. The first game came out of nowhere, a seemingly throw away title that debuted near then end of the N64’s life cycle, with no storyline and no promise of a sequel. It practically became a collectible on the day it was released.
Gamers everywhere would end up amazed with the announcement that the GameCube’s opening line up would feature Smash Bros. Meele in place of the standard Mario console launch title. Some would say that Melee sold almost too well through out the GameCube’s life cycle. Nintendo never needed to produce a sequel to Melee on the’Cube, as that would just work to stifle Melee‘s continued respectable sales.
In planning for the Wii, years prior to the console’s run away success, Nintendo feared that it may need a secret weapon to push gamers to take a chance on the under powered, risky new console. They knew that a Smash Bros. game would be sure to give them some cushion in case the Wii totally flopped. That’s probably the only reason Super Smash Bros. Brawl exists.
Nintendo President Iwata has made it clear that he believes the Smash Bros. series need Sakurai behind the wheel in order to be worth playing. Sakurai has both commented “Smash Bros. can’t go on forever” and that he made Brawl with the thought that it would be the last in the series. He has split from Nintendo entirely, forming his own company Sora, intent to create his own games with his own characters. There is every reason to guess that Brawl, Sakurai is now done with this chapter in his career.
On top of all that, one can’t forget that Nintendo has a long history of suddenly stopping it’s game series for no apparent reason. The 2D Mario games ground to a halt for over ten years, despite the fact that they never lost popularity. Though the Mario Party series is a shameless example of Nintendo producing identity free, cut and paste shovelware, the company generally takes a higher road when it comes it’s sequels. For example, when famous Japanese essayist and occasional Iron Chef judge Shigesato Itoi stated he was done making the Earthbound/Mother games for Nintendo, President Iwata formally announced they would not continue the series without him.
It’s hard to imagine Nintendo of Japan taking anything but a similar tact with Sakurai and the Smash Bros. series. With it’s long history of focus on artistic integrity, itself now run by ex-graphic designers and artists, Nintendo of Japan prides itself in making decisions that are both ethically and artistically sound. It would clearly be a betrayal to attempt to a new Smash Bros. game without Sakurai, not to mention being artistic suicide. Making a sequel to Brawl with someone other than Sakurai would be like commissioningbr a shopping mall airbrush artist to make a sequel to the Mona Lisa.
The point is that gamers want Brawl not just out of excitement of what the game will offer, but out of a need to alleviate their fear that their favorite characters have been cut, to know that the series has one last batch of surprises in store, to savor that unique Smash Bros. excitement one last time. There will never be another game where you can play a twenty year old Nintendo game about Eskimos for forty seconds, then train at throwing alien, brain sucking jellyfish on the heads of a small children. As obviously good an idea that may be, it’s just not likely to happen again.
Does this help you Smash Bros. haters to better understand why Brawl is so meaningful? There will be a new Halo beyond Halo 3, a new Grand Theft Auto beyond GTA4, but for Smash Bros. and Brawl, that may not be the case. Halo and GTA are two big games of the two big genres that are currently flooding the market. Brawl is a game that exists simultaneously in the two genres of game that life long gamers are starving for. And as great as Halo and GTA may be, they offer a finite set of possibilities in a finite world governed by a fixed set of rules and restrictions. As for Smash Bros., the only rule is there are no rules. It offers a world of endless possibilities.
But perhaps most importantly, there are 20 million Wii owning Nintendo fans out there right now desperate to experience the ultimate Nintendo game. Brawl promises to be that game.
Fair reason for anticipation, no?