ByAna Valens, writer at
Writer and games critic. As seen at the Daily Dot, Waypoint, Kill Screen, Bitch Media, and ZEAL.
Ana Valens

Super Smash Bros. is one of those games where friendships are made and subsequently destroyed. If you haven't played the series yet, the premise is simple: Two to four Nintendo characters enter a 2.5D battlefield, fighting one another in an attempt to knock each other off the map. The last fighter standing, or the fighter with the most points, wins the game.

Of course, there two reasons why the Smash series has remained so popular over the years. For one, the game pits dozens of Nintendo (and Nintendo-adjacent) fan-favorites against one another on a wide range of maps. You can have Mario do battle with Bowser, Peach beat up Zelda, or Samus Aran face off against Link. But it's not just Nintendo's brand power that keeps Smash afloat. It's also the challenging gameplay, which mixes the best of the fighting game world with an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master gameplay style perfect for both parties and competitive championships.

There's a lot of history behind Smash, and to this day it remains one of the best competitive games around. So if you want to hop in and learn Smash for yourself, here's what you need to know.

Smash Broke Out On The N64

'Super Smash Bros.' [Source: Smashpedia]
'Super Smash Bros.' [Source: Smashpedia]

The original Super Smash Bros. wasn't originally going to feature Nintendo characters. Sort of.

Back then, HAL Laboratory's Masahiro Sakurai was developing a four-player fighting game with simple, basic character designs. He presented the game, then called Dragon King: The Fighting Game, to fellow coworker Satoru Iwata. Sakurai and Iwata realized the product's future was through Nintendo characters fighting one another, so they changed up the prototype from generic characters to Nintendo mascots.

Of course, there was no way Nintendo would give the rights to the idea. But Sakurai kept developing a prototype anyway, and he later showed it to Nintendo. It convinced the company, and the game was soon greenlit for a full release.

Super Smash Bros. was released in 1994 for the N64. The game introduced many of the franchise's core features: simple attacks, 3D characters on a 2.5D stage, a wide range of Nintendo mascots to play as (some of which unlockable), and battle rounds where players do damage to one another in order to knock each other off the stage.

The concept worked very well, becoming a major multiplayer hit, particularly in both the United States and Japan. HAL Laboratory quickly realized the game needed a sequel.

The Definitive Smash Hits The GameCube

'Super Smash Bros. Melee' [Source: Smashpedia]
'Super Smash Bros. Melee' [Source: Smashpedia]

The Nintendo GameCube was released in 2001, and within that year, Super Smash Bros. Melee launched for the console. The game was an instant hit.

Melee changed up the Super Smash Bros. formula a little bit. The original N64 version played much more like a fighting game. Players could successfully knock out their opponents by landing combos until their opponent's health was weak, eventually knocking them off the stage. But movement was slow, at times even sluggish. And it was hard to recover if players missed an attack.

But Melee tried a new approach. Combat held onto the combo format, but it became faster and much more fluid. This time, fighting was all about engagement, positioning and initiating short combo attacks. And this would later go on to influence the game's competitive scene after players figured out more complicated moves like wavedashing.

Melee also packed on a ton of new content thanks to the game's expanded disc size over the N64 cartridges. This included a wide range of levels, characters, items, music and single-player challenge modes. Between Melee's brand new gameplay tweaks, and an assortment of new characters added to the game (including Falco, Ganondorf and Peach). Melee was a new dawn for the Smash series. And to this day, it's still considered one of the best Smash games ever released.

The Wii And The Wii U Get Their Turn

'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' [Source: Smashpedia]
'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' [Source: Smashpedia]

Years went by without a third Smash Bros. title. Fans were eager for a new game. And that ended up being Super Smash Bros. Brawl, released for the Nintendo Wii in 2008.

Brawl expanded on Melee's formula quite a bit. New characters were added, including King Dedede, Wario, Zero Suit Samus and Solid Snake. "Final Smash" attacks floated through the battlefield, giving its owner a powerful move that dealt major damage (and in many cases, death) to their combatants upon release. Single-player was expanded and multiplayer received more game modes. And perhaps most of all, Brawl introduced online play to the Smash series, a highly requested feature for years.

All that said, Brawl has been criticized over the years by many Melee players for its gameplay. As one fan points out, Brawl features much slower gameplay compared to Melee. This means that the reflex-based combat and competitive moves from the GameCube version were replaced with a more nuanced game based around gradually wearing down one's opponent. It's a different beast. And while Brawl is fun, many consider it a weak point for the series.

'Super Smash Bros. for Wii U' [Source: Nintendo]
'Super Smash Bros. for Wii U' [Source: Nintendo]

For the longest time, Brawl was the last Super Smash Bros. release for years. But then Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS were both released in 2014, and Nintendo reintroduced gamers to a whole new way to play Smash.

The Wii U and Nintendo 3DS Super Smash Bros. releases helped change up the Brawl formula while providing a proper sequel. Character movement largely sped up and combat was left more to skill than chance. New characters were added, and both versions of the game spouted a rather comprehensive single-player mode. And the Wii U and 3DS's sophisticated online connectivity meant additional characters could be introduced via DLC, a common occurrence throughout the game's lifetime.

Of course, every Smash fan has their personal favorites. But Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS served as two promising releases for Smash's future. Now, as the Nintendo Switch grows in popularity, fans hope Smash will soon see a hope on the Switch as well.

But Which Smash Game Should You Start Playing?

'Super Smash Bros.' [Source: Nintendo]
'Super Smash Bros.' [Source: Nintendo]

From the original 1999 Super Smash Bros. to 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, every Smash Bros. title has its own appeal. No matter what game you choose, it's easy to jump in and play. So really, playing Super Smash Bros. comes down to personal gameplay preference. And maybe system availability.

As a rule of thumb, if you have easy access to an N64 and you want to experience a slow-paced fighter with a focus on combos and first hits, go with the original 1999 Super Smash Bros. This title plays a lot like a party remix of old-school fighters, giving the game a retro feel compared to later releases.

Meanwhile, if you want to jump into a thriving competitive community pushing the limits of one of the best fast-paced four-person multiplayer games of the past 20 years, start with Super Smash Bros. Melee. The game features an intricate competitive dynamic that can be hard to jump into at first, but is incredibly addicting once it's learned.

Brawl makes for a great slow-paced Smash title, with a wide assortment of characters from Pikmin to Metal Gear Solid. And Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as well as Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS refine Brawl's formula, speeding up the pace while reintroducing a combo execution system similar in style to fighting games.

In Conclusion, Pick Your Favorite Playstyle And Jump In

[Source: Nintendo]
[Source: Nintendo]

Ready to play some Smash? Here's what we recommend.

Super Smash Bros. (1999)

  • Play if: You want to experience the Smash series from its very early origins on the N64.
  • Also play if: You want a slower, combo-based Smash game that's largely inspired by fighting games of the era.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

  • Play if: You want to experience the definitive Smash game, the one hailed as the best among the four.
  • Also play if: You want to get into the game's competitive scene, which is enormous.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

  • Play if: You want a slower-paced, refined Smash game that has a wide range of characters to play through.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS (2014)

  • Play if: You want to play the latest Smash game around.
  • Also play if: You want a Smash game with a faster pace than Brawl, but with an emphasis on combos and flexible playstyles.

That's our guide to the Super Smash Bros. series. Have a recommendation? Share yours in the comments below.


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