Never mind what they say – women love to Smash

Super Smash Bros. (1999)

My girlfriend recently asked me why men are always fighting, with more than a hint of melancholy in her eyes, a melancholy that suggested all of the nice things she’d heard about the world had come crashing down at the thought of male penchant for pugilism. I didn’t really have an answer for her, although I’m keen to point out that I do my best not to start the aggro. That’s probably for the best, since I have a win record of zero. 

It’s always great to watch a pagger erupting out on the street though, particularly when it’s chucking out time from the nightclubs. And even if you’re not there, there’s usually a tremendous series of videos to catch up on – fights, grappling, lunging tackles, roundhouse kicks, sirens, blue flashing lights, women screaming, the whole nine yards, and it’s properly compelling viewing.

And I’m convinced that any man out there secretly wonders who’d come out on top, if there were a brawl among all their friends. Who’s got the most stamina? Who can take and throw a punch? In my imagined social fight club, I always come out on top because I can take a lot of pain, so long as it isn’t a guitar string, or hot water. I’m pitting myself up against manual labourers here, by the way, and I’m out of breath just moving my computer mouse around.

To paraphrase Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society, men fight for one reason, to woo women. And in that endeavour, being knocked on your ass will not do. That’s the real reason why people go to the gym. Well, we (who am I kidding, not we – they) want to also look good naked, but there’s that hopeful scenario that might play out, where you have to throw down and impress the women with your pugilism. Men want people to be afraid of them, right? So you need to know where you stand among your similarly violent thoughted peers.

It’s why the premise for Super Smash Bros was genius, when the first game came to Nintendo 64. It was originally presented as a tech demo for a crappy, 3D polygonated fighter, something you’d never be arsed playing. That’s when a Sensible Suit intervened and told Sakurai, whose first name must be “long-suffering”, to stick a bit of brand recognition on there. That, he was assured, would make everyone sit up and take notice. What they didn’t tell him is that he’d be embarking on a twenty year stressfest, trying to keep bawling fans happy.

One of the most memorable Nintendo ads of all time told the new Smash Bros story succinctly – the one where mascots of Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Yoshi and Mario are strolling through the fields, to Happy Together playing and big Don LaFontaine from the movies narrating. They’re having a nice stroll before they’re laying into each other, a bit like me and the boys when it’s Friday night fight night. I’d put it up there as one of the all time great video game ads, and it properly set the scene for what was to follow.

It was the question we all needed answering. Who would win in a fight between Mario and Pikachu? Even if you’re not concerned with who wins, maybe you wanted to take Link and cut up that pesky Kirby. Well, now you can, with a range of 12 different fighters – eight from the start, and four unlockable. We’ve come a long way from then, eh? Nowadays, Super Smash Bros is what they call a juggernaut, I’d even call it a leviathan or a behemoth.

The series has got zillions of fans now, all baying for video game character blood, and thanks to Smash Bros a fight between Sonic, Cloud, Banjo Kazooie and Mega Man is routine and everyday. Hell, you could add four more characters to that scrap, and stage the fight in a Pac-Man maze if you like, with Guile’s Theme playing in the background.

The first Super Smash Bros game hasn’t got anything like that third party crossover, it hasn’t got a wide range of stages, and if we’re honest, it hasn’t even got a good controller, what with that horrid 3D stick and those odd C-buttons making up a large part of your fighters arsenal. Playing Smash 64 now is a bit like watching a new film without sound or turning your TV to greyscale, maybe even like those weirdos who live completely off the grid in some wooden shack out in the sticks somewhere – a complete foregoing of every kind of modern convenience. But then, I’d say that even about the Wii U and 3DS Smash Bros now that Ultimate has come out.

This game introduced the main concept of Super Smash Bros, with an excellent and attractive damage system – rather than having that stern meter that your Mortal Kombats and Street Fighters have, it’s an easy to follow percentage system. The more digs you take, the higher your percentage gets, which means you get launched farther offstage.

New players can find themselves falling off the stages all the time, which is especially exacerbated by the fact that the characters in this game barely recover. Seriously, get launched off the stage and, if you’re someone like Link or Mario, you can barely get back on. There’s nothing like a Hail Mary, last-gasp recovery in Smash Bros, so you miss out on that in the N64 original.

Competitive Smash Bros players start breaking out in hives at the thoughts of this game as well, considering there’s no Final Destination and not a whole lot of balance among the characters either. Every level has something interfering with you like the Smash Bros fandom interfere with themselves on a regular basis, and if you don’t pick Kirby or Captain Falcon you can forget it. See, that’s how desperate they were for characters back then – Captain Falcon, who’s all man but we never even saw him outside of his F-Zero machine. And Ness, an unlockable character from a game none of us had even heard of.

No point in sugarcoating it, Smash 64 might be fun for an hour or two of an evening with a pal or three, but that’s about all. It’s a bit of an antique now, an artifact. If you’re playing alone, it won’t last you very long. If you’re playing with your pals, well, they’d have to be retro losers like you and I but I’m pretty sure they’ll just want to play Melee or Ultimate instead. And 64 has very little worth as a competitive game either.

Happily, every single part of this game got an improvement and jazzing up in Smash Bros Melee, which was an enduring classic until everyone who played it was suddenly outed as a paedo, or a sexual deviant, or both. And all at once, too. Well, if it’s any endorsement, I can tell you that you don’t need to be a paedo to get fun out of Smash 64. And I don’t think young kids who’ve been exposed to modern Smash Bros would ever care for this one anyway.

Look after it as a novelty, play it for a bit every so often, but be on the lookout for someone to flog it to while you go back to what modern Smash is really about – taking bizarre screenshots of Wario biting foes on the bum. Or you could have a fight instead, but haven’t we agreed that we’re above that sort of thing?

20 August 2021

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