The fifth installment in the venerable Super Smash Bros. saga has finally been unleashed. Homes and hearths have been ringing with the sound of smashing, character unlocking, and that sweet, sweet grind.
Despite being a Switch-less Smash dilettante, I am nonetheless a Nintendo freak, so I’ve been following Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s development and marketing campaign intently. And it was only then that a question occurred to me that somehow hadn’t for the last twenty years:
What, like, is the story of Super Smash Bros.?
I’m not talking about the story modes, like Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s World of Light; I’m talking about ~the grander narrative~.
The answer seems, initially, obvious. The opening to the original Super Smash Bros. takes place in a child’s bedroom, with their disembodied hand—the Master Hand, if you will, that appears throughout the series—taking their Yoshi and Samus toys and creating a stage for them to fight on. Boom, easy, it’s a kid—hereafter referred to as the Wizard, because I can—smashing their toys together. The opening to Super Smash Bros. Melee (which slaps! So! Hard!) emphasizes the same conceit. The Wizard grabs a Mario statue off of their bedspread and hurls it into an arena. And so on throughout the game. Once you beat the single-player campaign with a character, they turn into a trophy and get added to the Wizard’s trophy room. Charmingly, the Wizard became a bit of a collector between games; the Melee trophy room features what was then every Nintendo console, even including (in the Japanese version) a Virtual Boy.
(If you are young enough to ask me what a Virtual Boy is, please go ask your parents. It’s a failed Nintendo console, that’s it. I just want to see if there’s such a thing as a flashback headache.)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl appears to continue that trend, but that, my friends, is where our narrative is vexed. For this is the game where our first third-party fighters are introduced, and the introduction of Solid Snake changes everything.
Metal Gear is a series iconic for its unique and often meta approach to gameplay. One of the most iconic moments of gaming in the late nineties was having the villain Psycho Mantis boast of his telekinetic powers… and then reach out to rumble your PlayStation DualShock controller whoaaa dude! Snake is also the first character in Super Smash Bros. who talks.
The Nintendo All-Stars certainly aren’t quiet, but they don’t say much. Snake, in contrast, has a conversation with his support team about every. Single. Combatant. These conversations and his E3 2006 trailer teach us a lot. First, the Metal Gear Solid crew know they’re in a video game fighting other video game characters, from sly references to Game Over screens to Otacon nerding out over ROB’s original Super Famicom color scheme. (…Same, he's adorable.) Secondly, Snake is explicitly sent an invitation to “that Nintendo thing.”
In creeps a new narrative, perhaps a parallel one to the grander story the Wizard was telling: that Super Smash Bros. is a friendly tournament somewhere in a more meta Video Game Land. Perhaps this is reflective of the Wizard finally branching out beyond Nintendo and wanting to find a fun way to incorporate non-Nintendo characters into their long-running story.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS / Wii U (I… still can’t believe they actually called it that) continues along the same lines. Smash is an invitational elite fighting tournament for video game characters who know they’re video game characters who all exist in the same-ish universe. Little Mac’s character trailer shows him training for the tournament, while Villager’s character trailer shows him receiving a wax-sealed invitation. Pit talks about how he and Link both debuted in 1986, though he frames it as being born around the same time.
And so it seemed that the same would be true of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Animal Crossing cutie Isabelle receives her own wax-sealed invitation at work and trains with her boss, the Villager, to get ready. Little Mac and Ken compete in the same tournament. And Luigi gets straight-up murdered while poking around Castlevania. We could rest our case here, concluding that the Wizard, now presumably an adult (because they can now legally play Bayonetta), has grown beyond needing to insert themselves into the narrative to have a good time. What a beautiful story.
Except that the first trailer for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does something buck wild.
It starts like any other character trailer; oh, look, the Inkling Girl and Boy are enjoying a friendly game of Splatoon. Surely, one of them will come up from the ink with an invitation stuck to their back or maybe even accidentally drop into a match! What family-friendly fun that would be!
But no. Suddenly, all light drains from the environment. Inkling Boy disappears. The music cuts out. Inkling Girl is alone, all alone, in the darkness.
And then there it is, a great flaming Smash symbol in a sky where there was previously no sky. The other fighters are wreathed in flame, hidden in shadow. They say nothing. They do not need to.
This Joan of Arc-esque vision can only mean one thing. Inkling Girl hasn’t been invited to the tournament. Oh no, my friends.
She has been chosen.
For the true answer hidden in the center of the Gordian knot of casual justification for a company-wide fighting game? It is not so much the “facts” that matter here, but the feeling, nay, the divine knowledge that each of our combatants, and, indeed, us, have been granted in turn since 1999. That what is best in life is to smash your enemies, see them KO’d before you, and hear the lamentations of their Amiibo.
Toys, trophies, spirits, ourselves: whatever name we call them, there is but one animating impulse. Smash now. Smash… forever.