I’ll be honest. I am not really a Smash kind of guy. The series has always sort of eluded me, at least in terms of reaching that upper echelon of competitive players. I’ll likely never get any better than currently am. Don’t cry for me, I’ve accepted this. I do think however, that the games typically have that beautiful layer of polish that we’ve come to expect from the folks at Nintendo.
My first experience with Smash was with the N64 version. Now I’ll be honest, this version of the game doesn’t really hold up to me anymore. But I remember being in middle school and renting it from a Blockbuster after weeks of the copies being unavailable. Maybe it was really just the hype of all those classic Nintendo characters fighting that sold me on the game. When I got it, I knew it was a fun game, but I was just terrible at it. Say what you will, the controls are simple, but mastering any edition of this game is difficult.
In college, I can remember playing Melee with my classmates during lab hours. I was even more out of my depth as other players talked of “wave-dashing” and all these terms that zoomed over my head. I hated the Gamecube controller. I could not compete.
So largely, the Smash series has always had a lot of pain points associated to it for me. I’d love to get really good at it and play with other players competitively, but I was always frustrated with how bad I played. Mostly I never seemed to get any better.
Enter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. Now I’ve spent the past few days playing this game and I can truly say that if you have ever had issues or bad memories associated to any of the Smash games, this one seemingly wipes that all out. There are countless modes, stages, fighters, and a colossal amount of gaming nostalgia packed into this edition. There are classic adventure modes, a fun Spirit mode which is a game unto itself, and lots of stuff to unlock as you go. Generally speaking, the game is just fun to play, even if you lose a few times.
It’s also, in my opinion, the easiest of these games to pick up and start playing. Again, controls are simple but timing can be hard to master. There’s even a training area much like Street Fighter, equipped with a grid background for fine tuning of your characters various moves. All the characters (that I’ve unlocked so far) seem to have their own flavor and considering there are 74 to choose from, this gives the game a lot of variety and replay-ability overall.
On that topic, it would be nice to have a mode to unlock and quickly familiarize yourself with every available fighter in this game, but in true Nintendo fashion, you have to work for it. I was using an available exploit to unlock fighters by constantly closing the game and restarting it, but Nintendo has since patched that out. Sorry everyone, turns out you actually have to play the game to get all the content. In a way though, I’m perfectly okay with this because playing the Classic mode gives you the opportunity to learn each fighters moves and timing in a fun and engaging way. It’ll take me awhile, but I’ll get to 74 soon.
I do want to also note, that I hemmed and hawed for a day or so before deciding to purchase this game. I didn’t opt to purchase the DLC package for the new fighters yet to be announced, but I’m expecting these won’t be discounted anytime soon. That’s okay, I’m perfectly happy with 74 characters to unlock.
Now cut to this past Monday. Special guests of the podcast, Ben (faceoffoley) and Matt (MateoMatumbo), did not hesitate when I suggested we all get together and play some Smash. And this is what was great. I didn’t even realize I was missing out on something that just happened to come back into my life through Smash: the feeling of community through friends playing together in the same room. We laughed and yelled all while punching our digital guts out. I do also realize that you can kind of get this feeling from playing online multiplayer, but actually seeing your friends react is way more rewarding. And it was something I truly missed experiencing. As we all left for the night, we all commented on how fun and inviting this edition of Smash has been.
All of this is to say that Smash has reminded me of when we did this kind of stuff back in middle school, and more predominately in my high school years. Friends of the show Alex, Kevin, Ben and I would cram ourselves in Eric’s parents basement to play games. It became our weekly ritual in-between watching the monthly wrestling Pay Per Views. I have the fondest memories of Kevin and Alex scoring over and over again in Fifa 2000 by using a bug that would allow them to score from mid-field. Of Ben, going absolutely crazy trying to knock out Kevin in Fight Night. And of me, getting rained on from downtown by Eric as he was way too damn good at that NCAA College Basketball game. I’ve have a lot of memories of playing games with my buddies in someone’s basement. It was just what we did. And maybe that’s why I love video games so much even as I get older. Those were formative years and I always want to be connected to them in some way.
So cut to some 15 years later and here we are, a group that is mostly the same. We’re older, my friends have or are expecting kids, our commitments have changed, but our relationships with each other haven’t. The bond we share as friends comes through in these moments of triumph and defeat. And honestly, I couldn’t thank Nintendo enough for still eliciting these feelings all these years later. We will definitely be playing more Smash in the future.