It’s no secret that Nintendo has used Super Smash Bros. to market their series for decades. Even when Roy was included in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Nintendo has continued this tradition through the release of Byleth in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. However, this marketing method dates even further back than Melee. The original title, Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64, introduced players into many series as well. In this week’s Smash Column, I’ll go over the importance of Smash Bros. for marketing and how it’s impacted us as players.
Super Smash Bros. (1999)
The original Nintendo crossover started with 8 characters. Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, and Fox were among the many classic staples with a legacy on NES, SNES, Game Boy, and N64. I had not yet played Metroid or Kirby until sometime after Smash’s release, so I did not feel as familiar with Samus or Kirby. However, because I enjoyed playing as Pikachu, and summoning the Pokémon out of Poké Balls, Smash got me into Pokémon. It was the first of many times that this series would influence my gaming choices.
When you fulfilled certain conditions, you would unlock four characters: Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon, and Ness. Luigi’s inclusion was due to being in a game with his brother, Mario. You would think it was an obvious inclusion. Yet, after the release of Super Mario 64, his lack of appearance spawned many rumors and questions as to why he wasn’t there.
Jigglypuff, on the other hand, became a favorite among the Japanese audience who watched the anime. This would later lead to the inclusion of Pichu, Mewtwo, and Lucario. All of these Pokémon had anime movies featuring them.
However, Captain Falcon from F-Zero and Ness from EarthBound were two characters I was completely unfamiliar with. Captain Falcon comes from the F-Zero series, Nintendo’s racing series that predated Super Mario Kart. In those games, you don’t play as Falcon outside of his Blue Falcon vehicle. He only appears in the SNES title’s manual and in the select screen of F-Zero X.
Just who was this person? Why was he dressed as a superhero and why were his quotes so memorable? Falcon’s battle quotes, including his popular Falcon Punch, became popular Smash Bros. memes throughout much of the series’ existence.
Ness, on the other hand, came from the SNES title, EarthBound. Before JRPGs became big in the west, EarthBound was known only to a small niche group. Even among RPG fans, Nintendo’s worst attempt to market the game may have turned away potential fans. Whoever this Ness kid was, however, must have been a big deal in Japan. America largely knew nothing about him. But before long, Super Smash Bros. would invoke the curiosity of many players wanting to try EarthBound. Not only would people emulate the title on their computers, but copies of the game would sell for absurd prices on eBay.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Melee introduced a plethora of new characters and worlds from even more series than the original. Not only did Peach, Bowser, Zelda, Ganondorf, Young Link, and Falco join the fray, but it introduced new series as well. While the inclusion of Ice Climbers, and Mr. Game & Watch, took a page out of Nintendo’s ancient history, an even more surprising introduction gained immediate notice: Fire Emblem.
Introducing Marth and Roy, the characters became an immediate hit due to their character design, fighting style, and their memorable theme music. Fans speculated if Nintendo’s Strategy/RPG series, Fire Emblem, would ever come to America. Smash series creator, Masahiro Sakurai chose to include Roy, in Melee, prior to the release of his home game, Fire Emblem: Binding Blade, in Japan.
Nintendo ultimately chose to keep these mysterious characters in the western release, opening us to a revolution. Fans demanded Fire Emblem be localized and Nintendo gave in. This preceded the American release of Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade in 2003.
Not only did Fire Emblem’s characters fascinate players, but the introduction of trophies gave us a new dimension to look through Nintendo’s history. Fully rotatable, 3D rendered models of characters, items, and stages fascinated us. But the lore that came with it introduced its history.
At the end of each description, Nintendo listed the original title that featured the trophy. For anyone interested in trying out these games, this little database gave them what they needed. I spent hours reading these descriptions and admiring the models.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
In one way, Brawl did the opposite of the past two games. As opposed to introducing us to series we weren’t familiar with, Snake’s surprise inclusion invited fans to demand another popular video gaming mascot – Sonic the Hedgehog – into the roster. While your average gamer needed no introduction to Sonic, Metal Gear Solid was known primarily as a Sony PlayStation title. While Snake had appeared in several Nintendo games, Snake’s inclusion in Smash would introduce many Nintendo fans to a new world.
In addition to various new characters, stages, and Trophies, Brawl also introduced the Masterpieces collection. These featured 1-2 minute demos of Nintendo games from their past consoles. Each game also invited the player to download these games to their Wii via the Virtual Console. For anyone new to these games or series, this was the ideal introduction to new series.
The inclusion of Lucas also prompted fans to demand the release of Mother 3 in the west. Being the second EarthBound character to join Smash’s roster, fans of EarthBound wanted to know more about Lucas’ origins. While a fan-translated product was eventually released, Nintendo has yet to officially translate, and release, the title outside of Japan.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U
Smash 4 featured fully animated trailers featuring new characters. One trailer even introduced two characters – Lucina and Robin – from Fire Emblem: Awakening. While these two characters were popular among series fans, this would inevitably lead to the “too many Fire Emblem characters” discussion prominent among the Smash community.
Both Smash titles featured DLC expansions to the roster. In Smash 4, Sakurai introduced the “Smash Ballot.” Fans could vote for a character and the winning character would be added to the roster. While that winner was Bayonetta, Sakurai added one character just for his popularity: Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. Appearing from one of the most revolutionary JRPGs, Cloud was a heavily demanded, but unlikely, favorite.
Despite the love for Cloud, much like Snake, fans were well-aware that Final Fantasy VII’s only console release was on the PlayStation. This also meant a world of introduction for people who have scarcely ventured outside of Nintendo. Notably, Final Fantasy VII would not appear on a Nintendo console until its release, on Nintendo Switch, in 2019.
While Fire Emblem Fates had been released in Japan, the title would not come to America for several more months. Similar to Roy’s inclusion in Melee, Corrin would enter the Smash roster prior to the release of their home game in the west. Despite Nintendo’s obvious attempt to use Corrin’s inclusion to market their game, their efforts resulted in Fire Emblem Fates becoming the best selling title in the series.
Sakurai’s passion extended through his characters by giving these DLC characters special videos explaining to players their fundamentals and origins. He would remark about their home game, the game mechanics, and how he translated them directly into Smash, including the sound effects.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Ultimate’s new roster featured many leftover favorites which came from unrequited fan demands. Prior to the game’s release, Ridley (Metroid), Simon and Richter Belmont (Castlevania), Isabelle (Animal Crossing), Chrom (Fire Emblem), and King K. Rool were all added to the roster. Sakurai’s fulfillment served as a sign of good faith representing the relationship between the fans and himself. The DLC introduced five characters. While some included heavily requested characters, several came out of nowhere and shocked the world.
In terms of marketing, Joker’s reveal might have had the biggest impact. Coming one year off of winning RPG of the Year at The Game Awards 2017, Persona 5 had introduced many new fans into a cult favorite series. At The Game Awards 2018, Joker and The Phantom Thieves stole the show with Joker’s surprise reveal trailer airing during the broadcast.
Sakurai not only included the Mementos stage, and music, from Persona 5. He included a blue and yellow thematic, representing Persona 3 and Persona 4, as well. These also included musical themes from those respective titles as well as their victory themes should Joker win on the stage. As someone who loved Persona 5, I heard good things about the other titles. But I think playing in the Persona 3 thematic prompted me to finally play Persona 3 FES, a game released in 2007, for PlayStation 2. Likewise, beating Persona 3 FES lead me right into playing Persona 4 Golden which, at the time of this writing, I’m about 20 hours into. Keep in mind I also did not own a PlayStation Vita, or TV, to play it on until I felt the need to try P4 Golden.
Even the littlest details could influence my decision. One of the featured songs, “Time to Make History,” appears exclusively in Persona 4 Golden. This re-release of Persona 4 came out exclusively to PlayStation Vita.
Despite owning a digital copy of Persona 4, on my PS3 (via PS2 Classics), I could only appreciate this song more if I played Golden, the game it came from. Researching the laundry list of exclusive content, and improvements, over the original title only helped persuade me to purchase a PS Vita with Persona 4 Golden.
When Hero from Dragon Quest was revealed, it was followed by a trailer of his home game, Dragon Quest XI, coming to Nintendo Switch later that year. While many westerners scratched their heads wondering, “who,” Dragon Quest had always maintained a heavy following in Japan. Nintendo’s method to introduce new Dragon Quest fans in the west involved clever marketing idea.
That idea involved showcasing his trailer to reveal, not just who he was, but where he was from, and when his game was coming out as well. This, in turn, helped lead to Dragon Quest XI receiving some of the best sales in the series history. Dragon Quest’s newfound success in the west further cemented Smash’s success in marketing game series including those not developed by Nintendo.
For a rare change of pace, Smash itself did not get me into Dragon Quest XI. Rather, it was one of the top Smash competitors, Nairo, who influenced my decision to try the game. As a fan of the player, I also checked into his Twitch streams from time to time. One of those streams happened to be Dragon Quest XI, which had not yet been announced for Switch at the time. The gorgeous design of the game and its polish really caught my attention. Eventually, I caved in and chose to buy it for myself.
Banjo & Kazooie
Banjo-Kazooie, stars of the legendary N64 title, finally entered the Smash Bros. roster in summer of 2018. Given their large fanbase, they became one of the most massively requested characters to enter the series. However, I’m going to shorten this section because there was little marketing involved. While Banjo-Kazooie’s feature included a fantastic throwback to a legendary game, from 20 years ago, there was no real “marketing” involved, per se.
Banjo-Kazooie still remains absent from the Nintendo Switch and has not been released on a Nintendo system since the N64. Until there’s any sort of re-release of the game, Banjo-Kazooie’s reveal served a purpose similar to Sonic’s. Rather than market the game, they wanted to introduce fans to a character largely loved and remembered by fans.
Months later, Terry Bogard, from SNK’s Fatal Fury, would debut in Smash. Despite western Smash fans once again bewildered with confusion, Sakurai gave fans an entertaining history lesson on Terry in a video explaining the origins of Fatal Fury as well as his recommended choice for series beginners. Incidentally, these titles went on sale, for discounted prices, on the Nintendo Switch’s eShop. Any curious player immediately had the chance to see what Terry was like in his home game.
As someone largely unfamiliar with Terry at the time, I resonated well with this video. Sakurai’s history lesson invited me to get into a series I never thought I would love as much as I do now. Furthermore, the King of Fighters Stadium stage boasts the largest number of music, including remixes, of any of the DLC character stages. The love Sakurai showed for the SNK music marketed not just good music and arcade classics, but showcases an impactful level of passion as well.
With Fighter Pass 1 wrapping up with its last character, the inclusion of Byleth gave way to controversy as well as positive reception for the character. On one hand, it brought forth anger from Smash fans who felt the roster was, at this point, overly saturated with Fire Emblem characters. On the other hand, Fire Emblem: Three Houses won numerous accolades, including the Player’s Voice award at 2019’s Game Awards. This highly successful title immediately became one of the best selling in the series. Given that it had quickly become one of the most popular titles on the Switch, Nintendo had already decided to add the character to Smash in order to boost sales and introduce fans to Three Houses.
While Sakurai himself admitted that Smash has too many Fire Emblem characters, he gave Byleth a trademark ability to distinguish him from the other swordsmen. By allowing him to wield three additional weapons, his varied playstyle added new flavor to the roster. The additional weapons gave Byleth a different flavor than most would expect from a Fire Emblem character. Despite the initial protests, Byleth eventually made themselves at home in Smash along with several noteworthy tracks to add to Smash’s already renowned soundtrack.
Nintendo has used Smash Bros. to market gaming series for over 20 years. Fans, like myself, got into Metroid, Kirby, EarthBound, Fire Emblem, and many more. I was fascinated by the music, the stages, the characters, and the Trophy lore. This introduced me to countless worlds of wonder and many new series I would love for years to come.
While Fighter Pass 2 has already confirmed the first character to be from the Nintendo Switch fighting game, ARMS, five more characters will be revealed over the course of the next year. Therefore, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will come to Smash. Given that many of the most-requested characters have entered Smash, it truly becomes anyone’s guess as to who will enter. Nintendo has already chosen their picks for Smash Ultimate, so perhaps they’ll be used to market an upcoming Switch title. We will keep you updated with the next wave of Smash info. In the meantime, stay tuned for our next Smash Column!
What series has Smash gotten you into? Let us know in the comments below.