Let’s begin at the beginning
Despite the guff it gets from some members of the fighting game community, the Smash Bros. franchise is not only the biggest game in the genre but also one of the biggest in all of gaming. Each and every entry in the series has outsold the one before it, and with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launching December 7 on Switch, that trend is no doubt set to continue. While it remains to be seen if the content of Ultimate will allow the title to live up to its name, there’s little argument the included roster is indeed an ultimate assortment of some of the biggest names in Nintendo and gaming history.
69 playable characters will be in the game at launch with one more coming a bit later as free DLC. That is a lot of fighters coming from a lot of different games. 59 different games in fact, and in the lead up to the launch of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the titles each Smash character debuted in and rank them below.
Unfortunately for Popo and Nana, there isn’t an Urban Champion character in Smash because that’s the only way this dull, slow, and boring platformer could ever avoid ending up at the bottom of any ranking.
Have I played Stack-Up? No. Is it fair to rank a game I’ve never played above Ice Climber? Yes. Ice Climber is just that bad.
Duck Hunt was a fun game right up until you learned on the schoolyard that you could cheat the system by shooting at a lit light bulb. Kind of lost its appeal after that.
The original Game & Watch title, Ball, sold 43 million units. Or what Square Enix would call “disappointing sales numbers.”
Anyone who says they enjoy the original Street Fighter is a lying liar who lies.
Super Mario Land was pretty highly acclaimed at release — mostly because it was Mario on a handheld — but it has not stood the test of time. At all. In any way. That said, it did give us Daisy, the best Princess in the Mario series. Though, by that same token, it also gave us Daisy fans.
What do you call a Kirby game without his signature ability to copy enemy powers? A boring Kirby game.
Nintendo says Luigi made his official debut in the arcade title Mario Bros. However, a Game & Watch title debuting several months before also titled Mario Bros. was his actual first appearance. Keep that in mind as it’ll be important further down on this list.
Kid Icarus is a game that is in dire need for a built from scratch remake. I like the idea of the game, and the world Nintendo created for it is certainly ripe for exploration, but hot damn can the original be a nightmare to get through.
So North America and Europe never saw the original debut of Marth in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light, but we did get the Shadow Dragon remake on the Nintendo DS. It was bright, colorful, well animated, and button-breaking difficult. Greener pastures for the series were right around the corner.
Super Mario Land 2 is vastly superior to the first title, but it still isn’t that amazing of a game. What is amazing, however, is this is the first time players were introduced to Wario, the best character in the Super Mario series. WAHHHHHHH!
It is 1:00 am right now as I type this up and I feel asleep.
I remember going to Target during the height of the amiibo craze and there were just shelves of Dr. Mario amiibo that nobody wanted to buy.
A lot of games on this list got it right on the second try. The original Mega Man is fine, but it took a sequel for Capcom to hit its stride with the franchise. 30 years later, we still can’t get enough of the Blue Bomber’s escapades.
Remember when people tried to use video games to lose weight? Glad we got over that craze and are finally content with being gross, and unhealthy. Pass the queso, please.
Donkey Kong would have rated higher but unfortunately, its association with Billy Mitchell drops it a few spaces.
How do you crawl?
Castlevania taught me many things as a child, playing it on my NES. It taught me how to go slow, how to approach a game methodically rather than just try and run through each stage. Most importantly, it taught me how the food you find in walls is quite delicious and nutritious. That’s actually my new diet plan: eat only food I find in walls. Best guess, I’ll be dead by the end of the week.
I’ve seen Super Mario Bros. on many “Best of” lists and for a lot of publications, it is the greatest video game of all time. In my opinion, it’s not even the greatest game on the NES. But it is the greatest game of its time. When Super Mario Bros. hit, it was the only thing that mattered in gaming. After Atari nearly ruined everything, Mario Bros. came in and literally saved an industry. While its excellence was surpassed quite quickly, it’s still the standard bearer of how you should approach creating a platformer.
Like Mega Man above, Pikmin is a title that is certainly fine in its own right but is more the groundwork for a superior sequel. Unlike Mega Man, Pikmin is a brutal, suicide-mission of a game where you willingly send alien creatures to their death to you can abandon their planet.
This list is for games only, so Lucario’s appearance in Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew doesn’t count. He’s actually my favorite Pokémon to play as in Smash, but compared to the other Pokémon games represented on this list, the Diamond and Pearl duo is probably the least exciting and inventive of the bunch.
Every time Slippy Toad asks for my help, Star Fox drops another spot in the rankings.
Some of you will probably argue this game is far too low on the list and it’s okay to be wrong. Super Mario Sunshine is a bright, sunny platformer that also feels unfinished and lacking as a follow-up to Super Mario 64. There are many great ideas in it, but the level design just doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of Mario’s 3D output.
Fates is an absolutely wonderful entry in the Fire Emblem franchise, but really, did they have to split it into three separate games?
So long as Nintendo is in the business of porting GameCube and Wii games to the 3DS, could we get Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn on the handheld? Wait, nevermind. Just bring them over to Switch.
During the height of the Wii era, my aunt, a woman I had never known to play a video game, purchased a console along with a few, casual-friendly titles like The $100,000 Pyramid. The only thing I ever saw her play on it was Wii Sports and to this day, whenever she entertains, she breaks the game out for a few rounds of Wii Bowling with guests. Some of you probably think the game is no more than a tech demo for motion controls, but you can’t deny what an impact it had on the industry or that Wii Bowling is still the best bowling game ever made.
There was some behind the scenes discussion about this one because I was trying to figure out if I should consider Metroid Prime 2: Echoes as the first game with Dark Samus or Metroid Prime. The character appears at the very end of Prime in a secret ending where you see her hand and arm emerging from the rubble. As an arm and hand aren’t a character, I went with Echoes. It’s not as good as Prime, but it’s still an amazing first-person adventure game that’s heavenly to play as part of the Metroid Prime Trilogy pack.
Look, I don’t actually like Sonic games, but I feel if I put this any lower I’d never hear the end of it. And no, his appearance as an air freshener does not equate to a game debut.
Honestly, when is Meta Knight going to get his own game? Get on that Sakurai!
Honestly, when is Captain Falcon going to get another game? Get on that, somebody at Nintendo!
If you were to tell me 17 years ago that one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises would be that cute game about paying off your mortgage, I would have laughed in your face. Animal Crossing was a game I enjoyed for sure, but when it first debuted it seemed too niche to actually reach a wide audience. I’m glad I was wrong. Can’t wait for AC Switch!
Up until the Let’s Go titles, Pokémon Sun and Moon represented the biggest evolution for the often stagnant series. The titles were still largely the same as before and players progressed in a generally similar fashion, but the small changes made throughout truly elevated the title above the fray. Sun and Moon leaned into the concept of a world populated with monsters you can befriend and force to fight greater than any prior entry, giving us the best-realized version of this fantastic world.
Oh jeez, I have to write about another Pokémon game?!
It’s at this point in the list that I’m really starting to regret having individualized write-ups for each of the included games.
I love Kirby games and I adore Smash Bros., but, gun to my head, the most ambitious game Masahiro Sakurai has made is Kid Icarus: Uprising. Pit’s inclusion in Brawl proved to be so popular that Sakurai, working under Project Sora, was able to resurrect the dead franchise in a spectacular way. Nearly seven years later, Uprising remains one of the most ambitious and epic games on the Nintendo 3DS. This is a title that could eat hours of your life away and if you’re getting a 3DS or 2DS for Christmas, I urge you to add it to your collection any way you can.
Had Nintendo not canceled the release of Star Fox 2, that would have been the debut of Wolf. Though it was later included in the SNES Classic, it’s probably best this baddie was introduced in Star Fox 64 because it’s still the best game in the franchise. Star Fox 64 took everything great about the original and gave it the graphics and processing power it needed to truly shine. It also gave us Slippy’s voice which is why it’s only ranked at 24.
Former guy-who-used-to-be-involved-with-video-gaming Cliff Bleszinski once referred to Bayonetta as having crunchy game design and to this day, I still can’t think of a better way to describe it. Bayonetta is not without its faults, but those faults played into making the game unlike anything else on the market at the time. A sequel would smooth everything to perfection, but any future entries in the franchise wouldn’t have happened without an original game that was so good and so well loved throughout the industry.
Oh. Did I not mention I was including alternate costumes that are actually different characters in this ranking? Well, I am, and making her debut in Smash Ultimate is Pikachu Libre. Most people probably associate her with Pokkén Tournament but she made her debut earlier than that in the wonderful remakes of Ruby and Sapphire. And that’s where she’ll stay as Game Freak decided to not let this Undiscovered Egg Pokémon into the Global Bank. As Stephanie Tanner would say, “How rude!”
I beg you please, please don’t make me write about another Pokémon game.
I still think Tom Nook would have been a better pick from the Animal Crossing franchise to be included in Smash. Because I have no issue beating the snot out of Tom Nook, but Isabelle? This is going to be like beating up a nun or that kid San Francisco made Batman for a day. I will take no pleasure in shooting her in the face with Fox’s gun, setting her ablaze with Mario’s fireball, or swallowing her whole with Kirby. I mean, I’ll do it, but I won’t feel good about it.
Did you know Alph was originally planned to be his own character, an Echo Fighter take on Olimar before there was such a phrase? It’s true. He was originally supposed to be able to pull Rock Pikmin, one of the two new species introduced in the excellent Pikmin 3. Seriously, this is one of the best games on the Wii U and I hope to the high heavens Miyamoto is actually working on a proper sequel for Switch.
It’s strange to think there was a time Nintendo had no faith in this franchise. I don’t know if the Operation Rainfall people are really to thank for the western localization of Xenoblade Chronicles, but we all owe whoever is responsible a beer. A good beer too, none of the InBev shit.
I think I found out where Snake’s missing butt went.
Yes, I really like The Legend of Zelda series and yes, despite what some have argued, I think the original game is still as enjoyable today as it was back in the ’80s. Some of its systems haven’t aged well and I still don’t know why they included that damn raft, but the first adventure through Hyrule is still an epic quest that should be played by everyone.
The great thing about including Yoshi in Smash is that it’s been confirmed that in Super Mario World, Mario is smacking the back of Yoshi’s head everytime he wants him to stick his tongue out. Swallowing Mario and dropping his egg off the ledge of the Yoshi’s Island stage really feels like fitting payback for all the abuse.
King K. Rool — which I’ve always pronounced as three separate words and will continue to do so until the day I die — making into Smash is doing a small part to address what I think has always been a lacking aspect of the franchise: too few playable villains. There are many great villains found throughout video gaming, from Bowser to Sephiroth to the Wii Fit trainer who gets mad at me when I don’t work out. His addition, plus that of Ridley, is a step in the right direction and I can only hope the DLC characters planned for Ultimate include at least one more baddie.
Remember when Nintendo was extremely indecisive about bringing Earthbound to modern consoles, and then in the span of like two years, we got the game on Wii U, 3DS, and in the SNES Classic? Much like with Xenoblade Chronicles, Nintendo need not be so worried about how its RPGs will fare in the west. In other words, #LocalizeMother3.
I imagine there are a lot of people who’ll say this game is ranked far too high, but really Splatoon is the best original game to appear on the Wii U (sorry The Wonderful 101). It’s bright, colorful, and completely in-tune with what hip, modern gamers want. Stay fresh!
There are two schools of thought Nintendo has been following in regards to how to make 3D Mario games. The first is the open-world playground format, where players are free to explore big, beautiful worlds filled with curios, knick-knacks, and doodad. The second is the obstacle course approach, something more in-line with the 2D Mario games that came before. Super Mario Galaxy is probably the closest Nintendo has come to combining both approaches into a single, perfect package and even if there are niggling issues that I’d change, it’s still one of the greatest games ever made.
I think everybody is going to have their own idea of which Pokémon game is the best, but my money is on Gold and Silver. Besides introducing so many elements to the franchise that allowed it to surpass the high quality of the original, Gold and Silver are great examples Satoru Iwata’s legacy. Whether this is more myth than truth, Iwata is known as the man who single-handedly saved the game thanks to his familiarity with the Game Boy architecture and his uncanny compression ability. Without him fixing Gold and Silver, Pokémon might not be the franchise it is today.
There is actually some debate as to which game in the Punch-Out!! franchise did Little Mac make his debut. Was he in the arcade original first as the wireframe boxer players controlled on their way to the championship belt, or did the actual Little Mac make his inaugural appearance fighting on the NES against Mr. Sandman or, if you were lucky enough to buy it early, Mike Tyson? In my mind, it doesn’t really matter. Both the arcade and console variants of Punch-Out!! are at the top of their class, containing some absolutely clever gameplay and the type of family-friendly xenophobic stereotypes we all can love. If you’ve never played the arcade original, it’s available now for Switch with vertical screen support to give you the true, arcade experience.
I know what you might be thinking. “CJ,” you’re possibly typing, “Roy didn’t debut in Smash you dumbass. He was in Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade first.” That’s where you’d be wrong. Because while that was his first appearance in a Fire Emblem game, it was not his first video game appearance. The Binding Blade released in Spring of 2002, Melee came out in winter of 2001. That makes him the only Smash character, so far, to debut in a Smash game.
Given that there’s Fire Emblem Heroes, Fire Emblem Warriors, Fire Emblem Echoes, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses on the way, it’s strange to think there was ever a time Nintendo wanted to cancel the series. But that’s what almost happened. Intelligent Systems went into working on Fire Emblem Awakening thinking it would be the final game in the franchise. Turns out, the title of “Awakening” proved to be prophetic because it awakened hundreds of thousands of gamers to the greatness of a franchise that is now one of Nintendo’s most dependable sources of classic, tactical RPG gameplay, and also pants-tightening waifus.
There is literally nothing I could write about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that hasn’t already been written 1,000 times before.
Did you know that if you play as Cloud in Smash Bros. 4,000 times in a row without dying and only using the beehive to eliminate competitors, Aerith will come back to life in Final Fantasy VII?
You know Alph and Pikachu Libre above? Yeah, the only reason they found their way onto the list is because of The Koopalings. I don’t even consider them to be alternate costumes for Bowser Jr., I consider Bowser Jr. to be an alternate costume for Wendy O. Koopa. The Koopalings are great and their debut title, Super Mario Bros. 3, is still the best 2D platformer gaming has ever seen.
Why is Wind Waker up at #2? Allow me to explain with an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the game’s 15th anniversary:
My eternal infatuation with this masterpiece can best be summed up in one word: Life. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was the first time I played a game that felt like something more. It wasn’t just a series of objectives I was running through to reach the end, but a fully realized, living, breathing world populated with dynamic individuals instead of sprites that made a fleeting impression. A Link to the Past has memorable townsfolk, yes, but every single NPC in Wind Waker is unique, each with their own personalities.
Obviously, video game rankings of any sort are arbitrary and bound to the subjective taste of their creator(s). I know people won’t agree with Pac-Man taking the top spot, but really, this game from 1980 is still an absolute stunner. Every time I find myself in arcades, there is always somebody playing the Pac-Man machine. Be it tabletop or upright cabinet, this game has been draining people of quarters for more than three decades, and why shouldn’t it? Pac-Man is a perfectly designed maze game with iconic characters, deep strategies, and a leaderboard-obsessed community chasing that 3,333,360 point score. Sometimes, developers do knock it out of the park on their very first try.
All of that said, Pac-Man is just lucky Sakurai didn’t include Ms. Pac-Man as an Echo Fighter because her game is so much better.
So, there it is, a totally non-binding ranking of the debut games for each Smash competitor. A lot of love and care went into creating this list and I can’t wait to see the imaginative ways you all rip it to shreds. But no matter how wrong you think I am about the top spot or how I must be out of my mind to rank Bayonetta behind Splatoon, I think there is one thing everyone who reads this list can agree on: Ice Climber sucks.