April 27, 1999 – Let’s start off by saying that Super Smash Bros. is not really a fighting game. Yeah, we know. It says “fighting” in our categories box to the right — and in a way, this HAL-developed beat ‘em up bears all the signs of a traditional fighting game
But unlike the Tekkens or Mortal Kombats of this world, Smash Bros. does not rely on complex button combinations or a ton of moves to bring the game to life. To figure out what this game is all about, imagine a hybrid of Mario Bros. (the original, non-scrolling game) and Street Fighter. The outcome is a refreshing multiplayer battle game that won’t fix the gaping hole in the N64 fighting game lineup, but delivers a ton of fun and heavy dose of nostalgia.
- 3D graphics with 2D-style gameplay.
- 12 Nintendo mascot characters.
- More than nine battle stages.
- Each character possesses his/her own appropriate fighting skills and techniques.
- Multiple opponents on screen.
- Four-character simultaneously fighting possible.
- Team mode.
- Usable items and weapons, including Fireflower, Striking fan, Bob-omb, Pokeball, beam sword, DK’s hammer, and more.
- Unique bonus stages break up the action.
- Saves directly to cart.
- Rumble Pak support.
Players pick from eight Nintendo characters (plus four hidden) and square off in nine famous Nintendo locations, ranging from Zelda’s Hyrule to Planet Zebes from the Metroid series. These stages, each based on a different game franchise, are basically condensed, platform-based versions of familiar locations from the respective games that range from twice to about six-times the size of the screen. The viewpoint is fixed (making this game a 2D fighter with 3D graphics) and the stages scroll to the left and right as well as up and down.
Both characters and stages have their unique abilities and features. For example, a floating barrel in Donkey Kong’s stage can prevent characters from falling off the stage, whereas a rising acid lake threatens to scorch the contestants on Zebes if they don’t move quickly enough. Other obstacles include a laser-firing Ar-Wing in the Star Fox stage, blowing trees in Kirby’s Dream Land and randomly appearing Pokemons in Saffron City.
The game’s premise is simple. Kick, punch or throw the other character(s) off the platforms to score points. This is easier said than done, since each fighter can pull off multiple jumps (most can do two, plus a special move that prolongs the jump even more) to return and to safe ground. But each character also has a damage meter that increases with every hit. The higher your damage, the further you get thrown when someone picks you up or knocks you off the platform. Fighting is mostly handled via the two A and B Buttons (attacks vary depending which direction you press the stick in) and the R Button (grab or kick in the air). C Buttons make you jump, L triggers a finishing pose (do this for extra points at the end of a match) and Z triggers the shield. Each character can punch, kick and throw and has his/her own signature moves:
- Mario: The Italian plumber’s famous fire ball and tornado attack are here, as well as a coin-scattering super punch.
- Donkey Kong: The lumbering gorilla can pull off a spin attack as well as some Earth-shaking punches.
- Link: Can launch powerful attacks with his sword. Also rather handily wields two other weapons to great effect: bombs and his boomerang.
- Samus: Long-distance attacks (charge beam) and air attacks a specialty. Can roll up in a ball, launch a screw attack and lay bombs.
- Yoshi: Capable of very high jumps. Can catch hold of enemies with his tongue and change them into an egg. Can also spit them off the platform and do his famous butt-stomp.
- Kirby: Has the ability to mimic his opponents’ killer attacks by sucking them in. Can also fly for a short time and slam down hard by changing into a brick. Also does a great E. Honda impression if you tap A repeatedly.
- Fox: Has the advantage of speed and lightning-quick mid-air attacks. Can also use his blaster, reflect attacks and do a scorching Fire Fox launch.
- Pikachu: Can move and turn on a dime very quickly. Can also inflict damage with his electric shock attack and teleport to safety. One of the strongest characters in the game.
- Luigi (hidden): The often neglected green brother features Mario’s moves.
- Jigglypuff (Purin): A super-cute Pokemon with big eyes. Good for kicking… Sings its opponents to sleep.
- Captain Falcon: F-Zero X’s super-fast racing stud dishes out devastating Falcon punches.
- Ness: The boy from Mother (EarthBound) fights with magic, a yoyo and his trademark baseball bat.
The amount of moves is rather limited when you compare Smash Bros. to a traditional fighting game. Don’t. The game’s small, but enjoyable selection of moves makes it possible that everyone and their little brother can get into the game. The real challenge lies not in learning complex button combos, but in mastering the art of kicking the other players off the platform. By using special moves to great effect, opponents can be knocked off, but following up the easily executed move with a well-aimed item-toss or aerial kick that sends the other player tumbling down with no chance of rescue is key to scoring points.
In addition to the each character’s special attacks, Nintendo and HAL have also thrown in a variety of items:
- Motion Sensor Bomb: Stick to surfaces and will blow up anyone who steps on them. GoldenEye flashback, anyone?
- Bob-omb: Mario’s walking bomb adversaries explode on impact or start to walk around if left alone.
- Bumper: This pinball bumper can be thrown at opponents to bump them off the stage.
- Poke Ball: A random Pokemon will pop out and either provide power-ups or attack your opponents (Onyx, Snorlax, Charmander, Chansey, Beedrill, Goldeen, Staryu, Koffing and Mewtwo).
- Beam Sword: Nintendo’s version of the Star Wars lightsaber.
- Hammer: The famous Donkey Kong hammer. You can still jump, but only once.
- Fan: Quick attack, but doesn’t do much damage. Good for throwing.
- Home Run Bat: Hit your opponents Griffey-style.
- Fire Flower: Another famous Mario item. Will cause fiery breath.
- Ray Gun: The Star Fox blaster can fire 16 shots.
- Star Rod: Clobber your opponents or shoot 20 stars.
- Maxim Tomato: Recovers up to 100% on the damage meter.
- Heart Container: Link’s heart power-up returns your damage meter to 0%.
- Star: You’ll be invincible for as long as the music plays.
- Green Shell: Slides around and damages everyone.
- Red Shell: This one bounces back and forth to home in on players.
- Crate: Throw it at opponents. Shatters on impact
- Barrel: Can be thrown at opponents. Will roll around.
- Chansey Egg: Contains power-ups.
- Capsule: Throw at opponents for extra damage or open to find items.
While the different items add a lot of variation to the fighting experience, we wished the number of stages and characters was a little higher. Including the hidden classic stage, there are a total of nine different fighting environments (plus a few additional ones in the one-player mode). Nintendo owns such a wealth of characters that even a handful more locations and stages would have added much more depth (bring back Kid Icarus! And where is the Rare bunch?). This isn’t really a problem in the multiplayer mode, but the one-player experience is much too limited. Although the game features unique (and sometimes very tough) bonus stages for each of the 12 characters as well as a few group battles against multiple enemies, the opponents’ order of appearance never changes. Playing through the game with different characters turns into a routine act to unlock hidden stuff more than anything else. Luckily, Nintendo added a few nice touches, such as a unique scoring system that awards bonus points for fighting style, speed and perfection, as well as on-cartridge record keeping of Wins, KOs, TKOs, Self Destruction Rate, Time, Use of character, Average number of opponents, ranking, attack total and damage totals. A training and bonus stage attack mode as well as character bios and custom settings (handicap, team attack, stage select, damage, time, stock, difficulty, etc.) round off the number of options.
This is, of course, the game’s main selling point. Thanks to the fixed viewpoint, HAL managed to create kicking four-player brawls that never seem to get old. Players either fight in a set time limit or until they get a certain number of “kills” and can even divide up in teams. Once you figure out the moves and the play controls, Smash Bros. quickly turns into one of the most addictive two-, three- and four-player N64 games out there. Think Mario Kart. The multiplayer mode’s only limitation is that it’s sometimes hard to follow the action when the camera zooms out all the way.
Smash Bros. doesn’t really break new grounds in the visuals department. The character models are simple, low-poly approximations of Link, Mario, Donkey Kong and co. Although they look much too angular during the close-ups, most of the game is played from a zoomed-out perspective, so the polygon fighters look pretty close to their sprite-based 16-bit incarnations. The characters are well-animated and the game’s framerate is silky smooth, with minor slowdown in the four-player mode. The stage graphics are a mixed bag. Peach’s Castle, Congo Jungle, Hyrule Castle and Sector Z are all beautifully drawn, but the pastel color-heavy Yoshi’s Island, Saffron City or Dream Land take some getting used to, especially since some of the textures are dreadfully low-res. Samus Aran’s Zebes stage is a minor disappointment and fails to recreate the moody caves and space environments of the Metroid series, but the hidden Mushroom Kingdom will almost bring tears to your eyes with its nostalgic 2D look and familiar patterns and pow-buttons.
All you favorite melodies and character sounds are here — from Mario’s hollers to Samus’s bomb sounds. Although none of the characters actually talk, each features plenty of familiar voice effects, including hilarious “death screams” from Pikachu (“Pikaaaaa Piiiiikaaaaa!”) and the one-word chatter from the NPC Pokemons. Sadly, Nintendo of America decided it had to fudge with the game’s great punch and impact effects to make it more “wacky.” Unlike in the Japanese version, hits now sound like a bowling ball striking pins. Even worse, NOA also got rid of the lightsaber hum that accompanied the weapon in the Japanese version — probably to play it safe with Lucasfilm licensing… As minute as the changes are, they do have an impact on the feel of the game if you’ve played the Japanese version before getting the US one. Luckily, all the excellent melodies are still here. In addition to a few new tunes, battles are accompanied by re-mixes and slightly beefed-up versions of the Overworld theme from Zelda, the original Star Fox theme as well as music from the NES Mario, Donkey Kong Country, Pokemon cartoon, Metroid and more. Nintendo fans will also love the old-school sound effects for the Donkey Kong hammer, the crowd chants accompanying a winning streak and the “star” theme. Good sound, all around, from HAL and NCL — bad changes by NOA.