As long as iconic video game characters have existed, the question of who would win in an all-out grudge match has been well-rooted – at least in my mind. Super Smash Brothers on the N64 is the first official title to shoot at reconciling this question. The Mario brothers, Donkey Kong, Samus Aran, Kirby, Pokèmon, an others all debut in a communal combative role. With a cast of twelve characters (4 of which are unlocked through gameplay) each with a unique set of moves based upon simple 2-button combinations, the game is simple enough to pick up, yet possesses enough variety to maintain interest.
For my play session, I select Kirby. You need nothing more when you’re “one tough cream puff.”
The game is itself a diversion from eight separate “stories” from which the characters are drawn. It possesses none of its own, following a linear fighting-game pattern of attacking each of the other fighters in turn with a final min-boss and boss (Metal Mario and Master Hand, respectively). This is not a game for the person who requires a deep story, although may be the perfect follow-up for someone who has completed the represented titles, each of which is well-established in the industry.
In an ingenious method of pressing either A (physical attack) or B (special attack), the game develops an immense database of possibilities. These two buttons combined with a direction from the movement stick each produce a unique way to maim your opponents. For example, my choice character Kirby has these attacks:
?+(B) Final Cutter
(A)(A)(A) Flurry Punch
?+(A) Flip Kick
?+(A) Split Kick
?+(A) Strong Kick
?+(A) Spin Kick
?+(A) Drill Kick (down)
?+(A) Drill Kick (side)
In addition, maneuvers available to every character include:
2D Movement (Left, Right, Multi-Jump)
Shield (blocks damage and effects from attacks but decays over time)
The game itself pits 2-4 characters (controlled by human players or the computer AI) in any combination on one of a number of interactive map levels that give tribute to the characters’ origins (such as Zelda’s Castle or Kirby’s Dreamland). The maps, despite simple features of interactivity as minor as a light wind or as great as shifting platforms an intermittent spaceships, each provide a unique arena and affect the strategies available during each match.
Furthermore, the game possesses an amazing variety of randomly spawning power-ups to further diversify individual matches, each of which hails of the included game characters. Examples include Mushrooms, Hammers, and Fire Flowers from Mario Bros., Pokèballs with a random assortment of pokèmon, as well as lasers, swords and landmines, oh my!
Even my brief gameplay experience for purposes of this log was enough time to run through the story mode of the game once and engage in a number of matches against computer opponents.
As noted, this game is the first to bring it all together, as it were. Never before have game licenses been mixed and the protagonists (and villains) of such varied games (platformer, racing, rpg, shmup) been brought together under a single system and the result is amazing.
Design Elements (and Reward Structure)
Four characters are unlocked during gameplay to complement the initial eight: Captain Falcon (F-Zero), Jigglypuff (Pokèmon), Ness (Earthbound), and Luigi (Super Mario Bros.). Additionally, there is an unlockable stage (Mushroom Kingdom) that references the NES Mario Bros. title.
Adding an additional element to both the story mode and the versus matches is a point reward system that grants varying positive or negative score modifiers at the end of a match based upon your actions during the match. These include a massive bonus for Pacifist (win without using a physical attack) and penalty for being a Coward (for spending too much time out of the action).
The game, by its nature, draws interest from any and every player who has enjoyed one of the 8 game licenses represented by the playable characters as well as fans of fighting games.
I would propose the addition of additional characters, levels, items, and a rebalancing of the existing but it has already been done in the game’s sequel on the Game Cube and will be done again with the next evolution upcoming for the Nintendo Wii. The second installment of the game also included a rather involved challenge mode that introduced additional elements tied to each character.
Perhaps, it would be interesting to include variations of the original game licenses from which the characters are drawn using the enhanced rendered avatars of the game to be included within the combat system. Well, it would be interesting, but not feasible.
Ah yes, one specific character to be represented in a future iteration of the game: King Dedede (the primary villain of the Kirby series) – although I am happy to see that the Kirby license will be expanded in the Wii release to include Meta-Knight (the archetypal villain-turned ally).
While not emergent in and of itself, the game does allow deeper bonding with each of the characters that enhance the experience of the respective licenses. Having commanded Kirby to fling Yoshi mercilessly to his peril time and again, my game experience in other license titles such as Kirby’s Dreamland and Kirby Pinball are somehow enhanced through the deeper bond we have formed. Don’t mess with the cream puff.
The game transitions quickly and smoothly from character select to battle to results screen and back again, with no notable downtime.
The battles themselves flow well with a respectable (but not tedious) number of attacks required to increase your enemies’ Knock % culminating in a one of three variations of a ring-out. Respawn time in instantaneous after a such ring out (I select 3 or 5 lives as a play option, although others, including Time are available). When lives are depleted you get to watch any remaining players duke it out until the next round starts. It is all extremely well-paced.
Play it. Play its successors. Kirby > All. How can you possibly lose when your special ability is sucking?
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