When Super Smash Bros. hit the Nintendo 64 in 1999, it wasn’t quite expected to reach the heights it did, especially not so quickly. The almost haphazard result of Masahiro Sakurai’s desire to make a four-player fighting game that eventually had Nintendo characters inserted, the franchise has grown to have become a staple of the fighting and party game genres. When a Smash Bros. title drops, it’s a big freakin’ deal. Combining with Nintendo’s masterful use of online hype with years of fan speculation, the series continues to deliver with each new edition that is released.
We’re onto our fourth iteration now (4.5 if you consider the 3DS and Wii U versions to be different entries), and all eyes are already set on what lays in wait for the inevitable Switch Smash title. Before we get there, however, it is worth taking a retrospective look back on what each of its predecessors had in store, and in an arbitrary sense, make a sweeping declarative statement as to which of the games had the best roster.
Are you ready to SMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASH?
…I certainly hope so, because all of those ‘A’s don’t type themselves, you know.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64 (1999)
Initial roster: Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, Yoshi, Kirby, Fox, Pikachu, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Ness, Jigglypuff
The original 12. For a game that was just dipping its toes in the waters of Nintendo lore, Smash 64 certainly pulled no punches, juxtaposing company staples like Mario and Link with the new kid on the block, Pikachu. All of the inclusions here feel rather necessary (with the exception of Jigglypuff, a curious choice at the time that still feels shoehorned with modern editions), even branching out to dormant franchise protagonists like Ness and Captain Falcon.
It was important for the series’ inauguration to include a robust cast, and though the roster looks thin by today’s standards, it was certainly impressive at the time.
Final verdict: Not a bad start.
Super Smash Bros. Melee for Nintendo GameCube (2001)
Additions: Bowser, Peach, Ice Climbers, Zelda, Sheik, Pichu, Mewtwo, Mr. Game & Watch, Marth, Roy, Dr. Mario, Ganondorf, Falco, Young Link
With the mounting expectations placed upon them based on the success of the first game, Sakurai and HAL Laboratory more than delivered with a sequel that truly blew the doors off for fans, setting a new standard that has been hard to live up to ever since.
By far the fastest title in the series based solely on gameplay, Melee more than doubled the roster, boasting an additional 14 fighters (counting Zelda and Sheik as two separate characters), and though some of them could be qualified as clones, they each possessed enough variation and quirks to shine independently from one another.
Much like Jigglypuff in the first game, some of the characters were included for promotional purposes only, but with the exception of one sad member (pour one out for the lowly Pichu), they have all seen a return to the franchise in later entries, in one way or another.
Final verdict: Now you’re playing with power.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Nintendo Wii (2008)
Additions: Zero Suit Samus, Diddy Kong, Pit, Meta Knight, Squirtle, Ivysaur, Charizard, Ike, Snake, King Dedede, Wolf, Lucario, Sonic, Wario, Toon Link, R.O.B., Olimar, Lucas
Subtractions: Pichu, Mewtwo, Roy, Dr. Mario, Young Link
It’s hard to explain exactly how much anticipation Brawl was able to generate. Melee was an exceptional title in its own right (still the series’ pinnacle to some people), but Brawl had no subterfuge to hide behind: it simply had to be great.
To accomodate these expectations, the Dojo was built – a website that would reveal gameplay elements every weekday. Some days led to minor news, often accompanied by an audible groan from the rabid Smash Bros. community, while other days yielded stunners that would set the pace for the rest of the week to come. It was a slow burn that preceded even the Wii itself, and allowed people to grow an affinity for a game that didn’t even exist yet.
Coupled with, for my money, the greatest character reveal in gaming history: Solid Snake’s completely unexpected inclusion after the trailer’s presumed conclusion (if you haven’t watched it yet, do it now, and try to contextualise just how shocking it was at the time) made massive waves. Basically, this game could not have come soon enough.
On the roster front, Brawl made exclusions for the first time in franchise history. Young Link was more or less substituted for his modern cell-shaded contemporary, and elements of Mewtwo were reworked into Lucario, a character more representative of the current generation of Pokémon. The other three that didn’t make the cut were effectively clones to begin with, so unless you mained one of them, you weren’t particularly fazed when they didn’t reappear for the third go-round. I mean, I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over the demise of Dr. Mario.
With third party characters Snake and Sonic firmly entrenched in Smash Bros. lore, and characters like the Pokémon Trainer and Zero Suit Samus introducing completely new playstyles, this felt like a definitive roster that spread the franchise’s tentacular reach even further.
Final verdict: Refined… but not quite defined.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U (2014)
Additions: Rosalina, Bowser Jr., Larry, Roy, Wendy, Iggy, Morton, Lemmy, Ludwig, Little Mac, Palutena, Robin, Duck Hunt, Greninja, Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Shulk, Dr. Mario, Dark Pit, Lucina, Pac-Man, Mega Man, Mewtwo, Roy, Ryu, Cloud, Corrin, Bayonetta, Mii Brawler, Mii Gunner, Mii Swordfighter
Subtractions: Squirtle, Ivysaur, Snake, Ice Climbers, Wolf
Though the charming titles were all but scrapped in the newest editions in the Smash Bros. echelons, the 3DS/Wii U entries truly encapsulates Nintendo’s history, new and old, with long-awaited additions as well as surprise entries.
It bears mentioning that the exclusions this time were more painful than they were for Brawl (series long-stays the Ice Climbers were a shocking omission, while my boy Ivysaur getting shelved is a crime beyond words), but the red carpet was truly rolled out for the new challengers this time. Little Mac and the Villager were long overdue for a spot, Duck Hunt and the Wii Fit Trainer were startling, yet completely satisfying characters, and the fact that you could finally stage a fight between Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man and Mega Man felt right in ways nobody could have foreseen back in the series’ humble beginning.
It might sound like lip service to suggest that the roster has gotten better with each entry, but in all fairness, it’s probably true: the Koopalings may be a reskin of the Bowser Jr. character, but it’s an extra length that is appreciated by longtime fans. Shulk was an unexpected delight, each of the Mii characters provides unique and amusing celebrity options…
And come on. Ryu was a mind-boggling addition. Then Cloud, a character so deeply entrenched in Sony’s history, you’d almost think they were married, joins the Smash family in a bombshell that everyone wanted, but nobody truly believed would ever eventuate.
We asked, they delivered – it’s that simple.
Final verdict: Here comes the boom – THIS IS THE BEST SMASH BROS. ROSTER TO DATE!!
Nobody knows what twists and turns lie ahead for this blockbuster franchise, but it goes without saying, everyone is thrilled to bits by the possibilities. Splatoon and ARMS seem like obvious IPs that will join the fray, but what could possibly happen beyond that? Does Simon Belmont finally earn his place? Would Chibi-Robo be able to hold his own in the arena? And most importantly, how much longer until Ivysaur makes a return that shatters continents, perhaps fully evolved alongside Blastoise to finally give us the Pokémon showdown we’ve been waiting for since 1996?
Be sure to comment with your ideas and wishes, and who knows? Maybe with enough willpower, we’ll see our day in the sun. Venusaur works faster in the sun, you know.
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