On December 7, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” was released for the Nintendo Switch. This long-awaited title is the 5th installment of the series, and in response, the Smash community is thriving. However, it was not always such a popular scene.
The series made its debut in 1999, when “Super Smash Bros.” was released on the Nintendo 64. “Super Smash Bros.”, commonly referred to as Smash 64, is crossover fighting game featuring main characters from many different popular video games.
Starting off, players could play as one of eight starter characters (Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, Yoshi, Kirby, Fox and Pikachu) who will appear in future installments. Players could also unlock extra characters, another theme that would carry through the series. This set the standard for all of the Smash games in the future. Players could pick their favorite characters to control in a battle against a computer (CPU), or against their friends.
Originally, this game was only available in Japan. However, due to the huge success and growing popularity, it was not only sold internationally, but also had a sequel released two years later.
Released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2001, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” had many of the same mechanics of the original game, but also included a few extra features and improved graphics. Although the game was designed as a party game for casual play, Melee ironically kicked off the Super Smash Bros. competitive scene both in Melee and in the original Smash 64.
Fans of the game series began to host “Super Smash Bros. Melee” tournaments where players would battle to see who was the best fighter. The frequency of these tournaments was on the rise, but really took off in 2003.
During this time, those who were serious about playing the game at a highly competitive level began to discover ways to exploit features of the game to give them an edge against other opponents. Terms like wavedashing, wobbling and l-canceling are used to refer to these advanced inputs, also known as tech. Currently, tech is common knowledge among competitive players.
At the time, however, this was completely new and generally unknown. Players who discovered and used these techniques had a significant advantage over other competitive players, or “Smashers,” who were unaware of them. Players who mastered tech ruled the world of Smash. They consistently placed high in tournaments and became big names throughout the community. Smashers like Azen, Recipherus, Ken and KoreanDJ (KDJ) were some of the first players who were considered to be the best in the world, but Melee continued to rise in popularity.
Melee became and remains the highest selling GameCube game. It had grown into a highly competitive and highly popular fighting game, prompting Nintendo to create another. Released in 2008, “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” was engineered in a way that drastically lowered the complexity of the game. Unlike its fast-paced predecessor, Brawl had much slower character speeds. The majority of the tech from Melee was removed, and newer, less popular features were added, like the infamous tripping mechanic which caused fighters to occasionally trip while they were dashing, leaving them vulnerable to attacks. Some of the Melee players took that as an attack on their community. The idea that Brawl was created in an effort to discourage competitive play was taken as a message that Nintendo did not support them.
It did have some redeeming qualities. One of the new characters in the game was Sonic the Hedgehog, who is an extremely recognizable character created by Sega. The fact that he appeared in a Nintendo game was a big deal. On top of this, it also was the first Smash game to introduce online play, making practicing much easier for the majority of players. That, combined with the new format allowed newer players to more easily get a foothold in the competitive scene. Though, most of the veterans regarded Melee as a superior game. Despite the criticism towards Brawl, it became the new standard for tournaments for the next year, while Melee tournaments had dropped off. This period of time is referred to as “The Dark Age of Melee”.
In the absence of Melee tournaments, many players such as M2K, Azen, Chillindude, Ken and ChuDat continued to play Brawl until 2009 when Alukard hosted “Revival of Melee”, the first major melee tournament since the release of Brawl. Accurate to its name, this tourney revived the Melee competitive scene, and in doing so, created a divide in the Smash community. There were essentially two different sides: those who prefer Melee, rejecting Brawl and those who elect to continue to play Brawl as it is the most recent Smash Brothers game. This is a rivalry that still exists and affects the community to this day.
The Smashers who chose to revert back to Melee continued to discover more about the game over the next several years. Five players in particular were recognized for their contributions to the community, and their seemingly inhuman abilities in-game. M2K, Mango, Dr.PeePee (PPMD), Armada and Hungrybox (Hbox), in that order, became known as “The Five Gods”. During this “era of the Five Gods”, one of those five players won almost every major tournament and were widely considered to be the greatest Melee players in the entire world. Very few players outside of the gods could take a set (best of 3 or 5 matches) off of any of them, let alone all five. The first person to do this was Leffen.
After reigning for years, the gods finally had some outside competition. Leffen was able to beat Hbox in January of 2014, Armada in February of 2014, PPMD in June of 2014 and Mango in January of 2015. Finally, on January 31st, 2015 Leffen defeated Mew2King and earned the title of “God Slayer.” A player named Plup is the only other person to ever accomplish this feat. In addition to becoming the God Slayer, Leffen was also the first non-god to win a major tournament in years resulting in Leffen and the five gods being known as “The Big Six”.
Meanwhile, as Melee returned, Super Smash Bros. Brawl died down, but players continued to participate in tournaments. During the earlier years, Mew2King was the greatest player, as he consistently placed first in tournament brackets. However, it wasn’t long before he had competition and was officially dethroned around 2012. This paved the way for a intense battle between top players like Ally, ADHD, ZeRo, Nairo and ESAM.
As more and more brawl tournaments were held, it seemed that more and more players seemed to win using a particular character. Since the very beginning, meta knight and snake were widely considered to be top tier characters. At this point, snake has dropped off, leaving meta knight as the undisputed best character in the game. Tier lists were not a new concept, as certain characters had objective advantages and disadvantages that made them more or less viable for competitive play. This was different. Meta knight had such unrivaled attack speeds and guarding abilities that for a brief period of time, meta knight was banned from tournament use by a committee which was dissolved only a few months after this. Consequently, the ban was revoked and left up to tournament operators/organizers (TOs) to determine.
Another similar issue arose in Melee with the ice climbers. This character has an exploit using its grab and the ability to attack opponents while grabbing them, that enabled the ice climbers to endlessly damage other characters (besides ice climbers). This is called wobbling. In brawl, for the most part, wobbling was removed. However, there was still an exploit with the ice climbers. Their grab could chain into itself, potentially allowing them to infinitely grab opponents. In combination with the meta knight issue, players would argue that this “ruined the game.”
Up to this point, the negative opinion of Brawl had driven a lot of the players off. A mod for Brawl had been created called “Project M”. This was basically a modification that made Brawl play much closer to how Melee played. It was still never viewed as highly as Melee, and never had a very large scene. However, it’s a perfect example of an attempt to try and bridge the gap between the two sides of the community.
2014 marks the release of the next installment of the series: “Super Smash Bros.3DS/Super Smash Bros. Wii U” (Smash 4/Sm4sh). Before the release of the game to the general public, Nintendo hosted an invitational tournament. Professional players were invited to participate including Hbox, Ken, PPMD, aMSa, KDJ, and a player named ZeRo who had never won a tournament, but had made a huge name for himself as a top player in Brawl. The results of this tournament surprised everybody when ZeRo unexpectedly placed first. This was the beginning of ZeRo’s dominance.
When the game finally came out, almost all of the Brawl players switched over. Some of the melee players gave this one a shot, too. Melee players acknowledged the game for being a step in the right direction, but the majority of them kept to melee, referring to the newer, inferior game as “Trash 4/Tr4sh.” They continued to play their game up until now.
The new Smash 4 game acted much like brawl in a sense that it welcomed a lot of new players into the community and it expanded to include more third party characters such as Mega Man and Pac-man. It was also different in a sense that the pacing of the gameplay was relatively faster, it received patches that changed certain mechanics of the game through an online update, and it was also available on the 3DS, making it the first smash game that could be played on the go.
Tournament for the new game started very quickly. The scene switched from Melee and Brawl to Melee and Smash 4. ZeRo, having won the invitational, currently held the crown as the king of Smash 4. That title is one that he would keep for the majority of his career. ZeRo had managed to achieve a legendary streak of 56 first place rankings in tourney. He also was the first player to never lose a single game at the major annual esports tournament: EVO. He started acquiring titles from others in the Smash 4 community. Some call him the “King of Smash 4,” others called him “The Only God of Smash” (a jab at the melee community), but it was agreed upon that ZeRo was undoubtedly the greatest Smash 4 player.
In 2015, going into 2016, ZeRo suffered his first loss to Nairo. Following this, ZeRo decided to take a brief break from smash due to a medical issue. When he returned late that year, he was not able to dominate the game like he used to. Him along with other players such as Nairo, Ally, M2K, ANTi, and MKLeo all fought to prove that they were the best. Eventually ZeRo was able to climb his way back up to the top, but not for long, as he lost to MKLeo and Ally next year. Ally actually took multiple games off of ZeRo, sparking a rivalry between the two of them. During this time more players gained a following, one of them being CaptainZack, who was known for his very flamboyant outfits while competing. CaptainZack used a character named Bayonetta who, in addition to a character named Cloud, was in the middle of a controversy due to her insane combos. More patches were eventually released which helped to balance these characters to make them less overpowered. In spite of the many new obstacles in ZeRo’s path, he managed to climb up to the number one spot for a third time. Then, ZeRo, announced his retirement from Smash. In his absence players such as MKLeo and Ally maintained top placements in tournaments.
Now, since December, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” has been the new focus of the Smash community. Within the first 11 days, it sold three million copies. This game is another huge step closer to Melee as far as the pacing and the mechanics of the game, yet still keeps many of the characters and other features from the newer games. So far, this game is considered to be the best game in the series, and has potential to reunite the community under one game. Until then, Melee and Ultimate will continue to thrive in the community with tournaments being hosted all over the world. There are local tournaments all over, including Farmington Hills, Howell, and MSU, where they recently held a tournament that broke their previous attendance record with 147 entrants. Even here at the Okemos High School, there is a Smash Club dedicated to the game. A video game that was originally intended to be played casually in your living room has evolved into a community of people who can connect with each other and have fun while playing against each other.