In today's gaming market, a franchise that's 15 years old would typically have around 18 entries (looking at you, Assassin's Creed), but for the Super Smash Bros. games, the number of titles in the series can still be counted on one hand. Franchise entries have never been rushed to market, and while one might think Nintendo would benefit from releasing the games a bit more frequently, it's a testament to the developer's determination to make the best game possible every single time.
One benefit of the long wait between games is that players can watch the evolution of the series over time. Super Smash Bros. has remained true to its core - that is, beating up on classic Nintendo characters - but over the years, the game has changed and evolved so much that the newest entry in the series is nothing like the classic that preceded it.
Originally released on the Nintendo 64 back in 1999, the very first Super Smash Bros. was different from nearly every other fighting game on the market. It was the first game that ever featured Nintendo characters slugging it out, and instead of restraining character movement like most fighting games, Nintendo opted to let players explore the arenas. This changed attack and defense strategies, allowed players to pick up items and changed the focus from knocking characters out to forcing them off the stage.
The full roster, including unlockable characters, included just 12 Nintendo characters. There was a grand total of nine playable stages, and multiplayer matches were restricted to standard rules. The single-player offerings were more diverse, with mini-games such as 'Break the Targets' and 'Board the Platforms' rounding out the fighting modes. Compared to the rest of the series, Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 was rather light on content, though that has more to do with the experimental nature of the project than Nintendo skimping on content.
Super Smash Bros. was originally meant to be a Super Nintendo game titled Dragon King: The Fighting Game and was not scheduled for release outside of Japan. A young member of the development team, one Masahiro Sakurai, thought the game would fail without the inclusion of Nintendo characters. Without permission, Sakurai created a prototype of the game with key Nintendo characters and presented his work to the company. The reworked version of the game was immediately greenlit, and following a hugely successful launch in Japan, the game was released internationally.
It was clear that Sakurai had almost single-handedly created Nintendo's newest franchise, and work on a sequel began almost immediately, though no one could have predicted just how well the next game would do.
Super Smash Bros. Melee was released nearly two years following the debut of the series. From the moment it hit store shelves, the game was a hit; it was the highest-grossing game on its system during the entire console's lifespan and is still considered by many to be the best entry in the franchise.
The character roster was more than doubled to 26 playable characters, and the game sported 29 different arenas. Classic mode returned from the first game, plus several new mini-games and modes for single-player. Multiplayer was greatly expanded with the advent of variant matches, or battles that featured a specific set of rules: slow-motion, giant characters and coin battles were just a few of the different types of fights featured in Melee.
The longevity of Melee was bolstered further by an increasingly large focus on tournament play. While it was never strictly built for high-level competition, Melee attracted a huge number of players that focused on playing the game competitively. The phrase "Final Destination, no items," became standard rhetoric for the game, and the tournament scene continues to thrive even 13 years after Melee was released.
It would be a ludicrously long wait for the next Super Smash Bros. Following the release of Melee in 2001, players would have to wait nearly a decade before the next entry in the franchise would be released.
On March 9, 2008, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was finally released for the Nintendo Wii. The sequel promised more of everything that made the series great: a better singe-player mode, online play, more characters than ever...but once the game was released, fans were divided on the quality of the game for the first time in series history.
The roster grew yet again, now including 35 different fighters. Third-party characters Solid Snake (of Metal Gear fame) and Sonic the Hedgehog made their debut, and while the new characters were well-received, many fans noticed that the number of clones - characters that are simply copies of other characters - was starting to get out of hand. What had initially seemed like a cute nod to specific player preferences was starting to seem like padding. On the other hand, Brawl featured an astonishing 41 different stages, and many fans of the franchise believe that the arenas of the third game are the best in the series.
Unfortunately, Brawl's online modes were plagued by bad connections and performance following the game's launch. Super Smash Bros. is a series that demands precision play, and the WiiConnect24 system that Nintendo used for its online play simply wasn't up to the task. While the multiplayer modes were bigger than ever, the game remained a largely offline experience.
Other inclusions in the game further alienated players: random tripping was introduced, in which characters would simply fall over in the middle of a match. It became the bane of tournament players everywhere, as fighters were left vulnerable for several seconds through no fault of their own. Between the tripping and character balancing issues, Brawl never saw the same tournament play that its predecessor did.
For over six years, fans have been arguing as to which game was better: Melee, with its focus on precise maneuvers and high-level play, or Brawl, which focused on giving players more content than ever. With the newest entry arriving last Friday, Nintendo is hoping that players will embrace the future of the series on a much different scale.
It's hard to really speak on the future of Super Smash Bros. 3DS quite yet: we thought the game was a blast, but whether or not the community embraces the title has yet to be seen. The game is easily the largest in franchise history: 48 playable characters, all with customizable options, 29 stages, new modes and better online play are all part of Super Smash Bros. 3DS.
Nintendo has also made it clear that complaints about Brawl's gameplay have been addressed, with random tripping being removed entirely and characters feel more diverse across the board. If anything Super Smash Bros. 3DS feels like Nintendo's way of thanking fans of the series for their dedication over the years.
As one of Nintendo's flagship franchises, every new Super Smash Bros. is an event on its own. There's no other game quite like it, and while others have tried to capitalize on Nintendo's success, Super Smash Bros. manages to stand head and shoulders above its competition.
As for the future, the Wii U version of the game is still set for release this holiday season, and anything after that is anyone's guess.