Gaming has a rich history that spans multiple decades. To this end, The Last Word on Gaming Backlog is a series that looks back on titles across all generations. From the golden 8-bit era to the landscape-changing 64-bit scene and beyond, The LWOG Backlog’s aim is history. In this edition, we shift back to the early 3D gaming era to focus on a Nintendo 64 title that created the foundation for one of the most popular video game franchises – Super Smash Bros. 64.
Super Smash Bros. 64 – An Overview
An Unprecedented Crossover
It can’t be said enough just how important the original Super Smash Bros. is. Published by Nintendo, the first title in this ongoing series was developed by HAL Laboratory; the latter is best known for their development of Kirby titles including Kirby’s Dream Land for the Game Boy. Masahiro Sakurai, who spearheaded the project, aimed to create a fighting game for the Nintendo 64. However, to ensure its success, Sakurai knew that it had to be original. Thus, the rough prototype featured Mario, Donkey Kong, Samus Aran, and Fox McCloud as playable characters. After this was pitched, Nintendo gave the concept the green light.
This illustrated an instance of Nintendo going off the beaten path. Historically, Nintendo has been protective of its intellectual properties. The idea of a crossover fighting game featuring characters from multiple Nintendo franchises seemed like a concept from an avid gamer’s mind. However, it’s important to consider the leaps and bounds the Nintendo 64 was responsible for concerning series such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, taking them to higher levels. Furthermore, the N64 was multiplayer-oriented, evidenced by its 4 controller ports. Simply put, the title that would go on to be known as Super Smash Bros. 64 by fans fit the platform.
Diving into the game, Super Smash Bros. 64 is a considerable rabbit hole. Many characters were planned, only to be scrapped or added to future series installments. Furthermore, Super Smash Bros. 64 began its life as Dragon King: The Fighting Game, which featured the same game engine but lacked Nintendo characters. Despite all the changes made, the Nintendo 64 title, Super Smash Bros. 64, established the groundwork for one of the most memorable series in gaming.
Compared to other fighting games, not only of its time but across all eras, Super Smash Bros. 64 is easy to pick up and play. Furthermore, it focuses less on dealing damage and more on knocking opponents from stages. This is done with not only the combat maneuvers of characters but special items that can turn the tide in one’s favor. From a gameplay standpoint, especially compared to well-known series such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros. 64 proved to be newcomer-friendly.
Super Smash Bros. 64‘s roster and stage selection are the collective definition of fan service. Nintendo stables such as Mario, Link, and Pikachu were included in the 12-character roster, while the likes of Captain Falcon and Ness represented the deeper cuts of Nintendo’s history. Most characters have their own stages representative of their respective series, too. While the idea of only 12 playable characters in a Super Smash Bros. title seems paltry, every character has a purpose. Simply put, it would be difficult to imagine Super Smash Bros. 64 without them.
Super Smash Bros. 64 is best played with other people, though it does feature a core single-player mode simply entitled 1P Game. In this mode, the player battles a series of computer-controlled opponents in a gauntlet before facing the final opponent, the ubiquitous Master Hand. It’s in this mode that one will unlock much of the game’s secret content, including characters. 1P Game doesn’t change from character to character, meaning that the game’s longevity will be largely dependent on multiplayer. Make no mistake: when playing with others, the magic of Super Smash Bros. 64 is immeasurable.
Presentation (Graphics and Sound)
The majority of Nintendo 64 titles, from a graphical presentation, can best be described as “polygonal.” The same can be said for Super Smash Bros. 64, so it’s important to note the period this game was released in. With that said, for its time, it was a graphically impressive title. The characters look exactly as they should, though somewhat reimagined to fit the unique aesthetic of Super Smash Bros. The environments are appropriately detailed and colorful, too. From the pastel visuals of Yoshi’s Island to the sunset in the background of Congo Jungle to the intense atmosphere of Planet Zebes, each area has characteristics all its own. Much like the character roster, while limited, the stage selection is exactly what it needs to be.
Super Smash Bros. 64 excels in regard to its soundtrack, too. In fact, along with stages, the tracks in this original title would go on to reappear in future series entries. Many of the songs are essentially remixed versions of classic Nintendo tunes. To cite a few examples, the music for Peach’s Castle takes direct inspiration from World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Bros., while Hyrule Castle features a revamped version of the traditional Legend of Zelda overworld theme. Hirokazu Ando is credited as the composer for Super Smash Bros. 64. Ando joined HAL Laboratory in 1991 and is currently the lead composer for the Kirby series.
As stated earlier, the longevity of Super Smash Bros. 64 is dependent on multiplayer. Even at the highest of difficulties, this isn’t a terribly challenging game to complete and unlock everything. It’s also worth noting that, despite its importance, it’s primitive compared to future entries. Super Smash Bros. Melee, released on the Nintendo GameCube as the original game’s follow-up, refined the gameplay and established a more solid blueprint for future entries to follow. Super Smash Bros. 64 isn’t a terrible game but it has been outdone by future entries. One may consider playing the original Nintendo 64 title for nostalgia or a curious glimpse into the past, but not much more.
It should come as no surprise that Super Smash Bros. 64 was a success. It performed well commercially, selling over 5 million copies; this makes it one of the top five best-selling games on the platform. The fact that it outsold other favorites on the platform, including Banjo-Kazooie, Star Fox 64, and Pokemon Stadium can’t be overlooked. Super Smash Bros. 64‘s success is warranted in terms of its appeal. With most major Nintendo staples represented in the original title, it’s appealed to everyone to certain extents.
Since the beginning of the Super Smash Bros. series, it became a must-have on every home Nintendo platform. From the N64 to the GameCube to the Wii to, currently, the Nintendo Switch, it has made a sizable impact on gaming. It has also been a major selling point for every system; if one wasn’t looking to buy a Switch before, for example, the announcement of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may have changed their perspective. Super Smash Bros. 64 started a legacy and it does not appear that it will end anytime soon.