You might think it’s impossible to deem any one game the best game ever. Different games set out to accomplish different things in different ways to give us different experiences. Games achieve their goals to varying degrees, but I generally think of games as great, good, OK, or crap. Multiple games fall into the “great” category, and many come from different genres. I’m a man who appreciates scientific measurement, but there’s just no such measurement for how good a game is, at least not a widely accepted one.
Despite all that, I’m here today to tell you that Super Smash Brothers on the Nintendo 64 is absolutely the best game ever. Well, OK it’s one of the best games ever. It’s certainly my favorite fighting game ever, since I can’t say I’ve ever been hooked to any other fighting game I’ve ever played quite like this one. Not Street Fighter, not Marvel vs. Capcom, not Mortal Kombat. Just Smash Bros.
Smash Bros. takes the title in my mind for several reasons. The first being that it was a lot of fun to play. The second is the level of polish and detail that went into Super Smash Bros. The characters are distinct and offer a wide variety of playstyles. Whether you approach the fight as a feisty, irritating electric rat, an overly popular dinosaur that makes perverted noises, or an overwhelming ape with a nuclear haymaker (my personal choice) you can emerge victorious if you are not truly the best player on the field. Like most fighting games, the button-mashing technique can carry you through a lot of fights, especially against less experienced players. When you got into serious competition though, you needed finesse and tactics. Dodging and blocking until your button-mashing friend used a clumsy attack allowing your cooler head to prevail against the onslaught comparable to kids on the playground using an arm-flailing windmill attack. Ultimately the combination of timing, reflexes, and aggression decide the winner.
An impressive variety of customizable rules and levels complemented the equally impressive variety of playing styles. You could play with a set number of lives or just set the timer and see who could get the most knockouts in that time frame. Adding weapon spawns to the fight gave the game even more flavor. I usually turned objects off, but they acted as an equalizer and could turn around a fight in an instant. Finally Donkey Kong could pick up that hammer and give Mario some of the payback he deserved! You could also assemble a fight around using just one object. My friends and I would sometimes set the objects to Pokeballs only and set them to appear constantly. It was a pure dice roll to see who got the best allies from the pokeballs, but there was also strategy in when to go for the pickup and when to attack. It added a whole new dimension to the fighting game, and SSB’s sequels continue the tradition of creative annihilation.
While pitting characters from different franchises wasn’t completely original (Marvel vs. Capcom), I really believe using Nintendo characters gave the game a cartoonish tone that contributed to its appeal. Everyone recognizes Mario, remembers Donkey Kong, and is at least somewhat aware of Pokemon. More astute fans of gaming recognize Link, Fox, Samus, and Kirby. Oh, that perverted green thing I mentioned earlier is kinda popular too, I guess. Many of us grew up with favorite gaming characters and argue about who was the best character or which game was better. “Link would kick Mario’s ass” or “Star Fox would annihilate all Pokemon, given the chance” were bold statements that we could now visualize thanks to this game. This was especially great in the latest installment when Mario could fight Sonic. That blue, speedy bastard.
Smash Bros. also spawned excellent sequels, a rare feat in any genre. The follow-ups stuck to the core mechanics and philosophy. The only major updates were a continuous roster expansion, new settings, some new game modes (home run derby, and break the target) and shiny new graphics. They really were simple changes. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Can you imagine if they switched the percentage system to a health bar? It’d be a completely different game, and it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
Something I appreciate in any game is bringing people together to play, then making them hate each other. Countless hours were spent in my parents’ basement with our curses carrying up the stairs and through the house. This was the first game my friends and I decided to record as we played by feeding the N64 through the VCR. That way we could watch the replay when we wanted to call bullshit on Link’s shield going up in time, or try to figure out how exactly Kirby managed to body slam Mario onto that bob-omb and come away unscathed.
Anyway, Smash Bros. wins for its excellent production quality, replay value, memorable moments and a score of other reasons too numerous to list. Also, have you seen a better commercial for a video game? If you think you can name a game that is better than this one, I’ll make a deal with you. We’ll settle it over a game of Smash Bros.: five lives each, no object spawns, on Hyrule Castle. Sound good? That’s what I thought.