I generally try to keep away from trailers, but the hype for the upcoming Switch release of Super Smash Bros. proved impossible to avoid. Now that I am feeling the hype as well, I wanted to take a look at the game that began it all. Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64 is, without a doubt, the game that pushed me into becoming a Nintendo fan. It’s thank to it that I would learn about Kirby, Link, Luigi, and many other of Nintendo’s heroes, which led me to buy their games and enjoy those too. But how does this cross-over fighting game hold up?
Super Smash Bros. has a roster of 8 playable characters with an additional 4 being secret fighters to unlock. From the start, players have access to Link, Mario, Samus, Fox McCloud, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Pikachu, and Kirby. Each of these characters has a lot of appeal to it and plays differently. Kirby, for example, has a lot of airtime thanks to his limited flight capabilities, whereas Link is a close-combat hero with an abundance of tools to use, and Fox can fire his gun at a distance and reflect incoming projectiles.
The controls are simple, with fighters being moved with the analog stick and having their base attacks mapped to the A-button. The B-button performs a variety of special moves based on the direction players push in. Down+B with Link pulls out a bomb, for example, whereas a regular press of just B has him throw a boomerang. This makes it easy for players to learn the game, as they are not at the mercy of complex controls to perform the special moves. The hardest maneuvers are the smash attacks, which require you to press a direction just before doing a normal attack (A) to charge it up and hit with extra force.
Smash Bros. ends up playing more like a party game than a traditional fighter. Stages aren’t flat, 2D spaces, but lively arenas with special mechanics that players can jump around in with surprising freedom. Each stage is themed after Nintendo franchises, such as the Pokémon level taking place on top of Silph Co., with a door that has random Pokémon pop out to launch an attack. I like the Kirby stage, which is a flat space with three platforms to give it some verticality, but the tree in the background will occasionally try to blow players towards the edge with his strong breath.
Fights are won by knocking the opponent out of the level, be it by blasting them towards the sides of the screen, or by making them fall of the level. Attacking the opponent increases their damage percentage (shown at the bottom of the screen) and that, in turn, makes them increasingly weightless, making it easier for your attacks to knock them back further and further. This mechanic keeps fights in check and prevents stalemates. I do have to say that it’s kind of a bother that they mapped jumping to the C-buttons or pressing the analog stick upwards. It takes a while to get used to the idea of using those weird, yellow buttons to jump with and using the analog stick is not responsive enough to reliably save you from a fall.
Besides the characters and stages, another homage to Nintendo’s legacy are the items you can get. During battle, items randomly drop that can be picked up and used by the combatants. There are light guns that can be used for range damage, a laser sword, but also a fire flower to burn enemies with and bob-ombs that begin to wander if left alone. These items can make the difference in a fight and allow more casual players to gain an edge. Especially the Pokéballs are fun, as you can throw these on the field to temporarily gain a Pokémon ally that performs an attack. Especially Snorlaxes are neat, as they body slam across the entire screen and do major damage to all other players.
The game permits 4 players to participate and has bots with various difficulty settings to fill any open spots. Players can play either with a set amount of lives or with a timer. There is also a singleplayer mode, where the player picks one of the characters and has to defeat a series of opponents. The order of the fights is always the same, but this mode has a few rounds in it that have the player complete platforming challenges or special battles that aren’t otherwise available.
Gameplay score: 8/10
A lot of 3D for the 2D
Smash Bros. largely uses 3D polygonal graphics for all the fighters and stages, which is kind of remarkable and makes the game look dated, but much more dynamic than it would have been with 2D art. This is also interesting, because I don’t think they could actually re-use much of the work from the games these characters actually come from. Kirby and Mario look vastly different compared to their appearances in Kirby 64 and Super Mario 64. Heck, Samus doesn’t even have a game of her own on the entire console.
The game does use some 2D sprites, most prominently for the Pokémon. These actually look rough and ugly, which is a bit of a surprise.
The soundtrack is comprised of many familiar tunes from Nintendo franchises, with a few original tracks for the end stages of the singleplayer mode and menu. The sound-effects are also nice and have some good weight to them. Smashing an opponent so hard they crash through the side of the screen is made satisfying and it’s neat to see and hear characters like Samus and some of the secret cast brought to life on a system that has no other games for them. In fact, some of these characters wouldn’t star in another game for years to come or would never otherwise touch the realm of 3D gaming.
Presentation score: 7/10
The Mystery 4
The game has 4 extra characters to unlock, the criteria for which takes a bit of time to figure out. You’ll probably unlock at least half of them by pure chance, but as a kid I never unlocked the fourth character. A lot of childhood frustration went into that, I tell you. Additionally, there is a secret stage to unlock, which I didn’t even know about as a kiddo.
While the game is fun enough and has the multiplayer aspect to keep up replay value, there is also a challenge to be found in beating the scores for the singleplayer mode. It grades you on how well you perform in the battles, most prominently on the time needed to win. A fun mechanic is that, after each stage, you get additional bonus points added to your total for various achievements. This can include actions like finishing the battle with a throw or stage hazard, or even winning without a single point of damage taken.
Story score: 9/10
Smash Bros. is a great party game for the Nintendo 64, even as it aged. It feels more casual than Melee and all the Smash games that would follow after ended up being less memorable, making this actually an appealing game to return to.
- A loving homage to all of Nintendo’s great franchises.
- A diverse roster of heroes that all have unique playstyles.
- Themed stages with special hazards and mechanics.
- Useful items bring variety to the combat.
- A fun singleplayer mode with special challenges.
- Multiplayer for up to 4.
- The controls aren’t always responsive or reliable.
- It’s hard to unlock the secret characters without looking up how.
- Dated graphics and ugly sprites.