The game discussion show GameXplain has a weekly Super Smash Bros Ultimate segment where they discuss all of the Smash blog updates from the week. As part of this discussion, they also accept questions from their patrons about the upcoming title or the series in general. The question posed last week fascinated me, so much so that I wanted to discuss it here on Adventure Rules. So as we close out this week and approach one step closer to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, let’s imagine a world in which 2018 was not the fifth installment in this fighting game series, but the first.
This question was posed by a GameXplain patron named Thomas Henton (sorry if that’s misspelled, Thomas, on the off chance that you read this). Here is the specific text of his question:
As everyone knows, the Smash 64 cast was picked based on Nintendo’s biggest franchises – or most important – at the time. My question is: if the game was to be released in this day and age for the first time, who do you think would make the cut? Do you think it would stay the same, or will it change? The roster would be limited to twelve characters.
Before Smash Ultimate was revealed in full, there was discussion on the web around whether or not it was possible for the game to be a reboot of the franchise. In such a game, there would surely be character cuts and changes, and I shared some speculation of my own about the kinds of changes I’d like to see to the cast. This is a whole ‘nother ball game, though. If Smash Bros never existed until now, who would make up the twelve characters of the game’s roster? Which franchises would earn representation? Let’s talk about my choices and why I think they’d make it into the game!
Note: I did some “research” in the form of quick Google searches that led me to a few Wikis about video game sales figures. I looked at numbers for Nintendo’s all-time history as well as sales for the Wii U, 3DS, Switch, and even mobile to help me get an objective idea of what franchises might occupy the top spots. Also, if you watched the aforementioned GameXplain video you might think these lists seem pretty similar – I did my best to discount their suggestions in my own list, basing it more on the research that I conducted. I think the overlap is due more to the fact that many of the characters in the original Smash 64 are still relevant today, and make sense as picks for many of the roster positions.
Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way, shall we? I cannot imagine an era in Nintendo history in which the plumber did not make it into Super Smash Brothers in the number one slot. Mario is effectively the mascot of Nintendo, and with games like Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D World, and , there’s no arguing about this man’s ability to sell systems. I imagine in 2018, established parts of Mario’s current Smash moveset such as the F.L.U.D.D. and the super cape would probably be replaced with tools from his more recent games.
Remember when Breath of the Wild had a 100% attach rate to Switch consoles sold? The Legend of Zelda is a major Nintendo powerhouse and a system seller. Link has been around since the early days just like Mario, so the combination of selling power and extensive history make him a shoe-in for Smash. Link is another character who would probably be different as far as movesets go, too. While his bow and arrow and remote bombs still make a lot of sense, the boomerang hasn’t been a major part of his suite of weapons for quite some time. And while Link still has the sword spin, it’s not necessarily his signature move in the way it was back in the day. Perhaps he’d recover with Revali’s Gale?
Realistically I think this little guy or gal should be above Link when it comes to selling power! When you look at a list of 3DS top selling games, Pokemon occupies nearly every spot in the top 5. It’s also second only to Mario in the top selling Nintendo franchises of all time. So naturally, the mascot of such a prolific series would have a presence in Super Smash Bros. Personally, I would love to see a different Pokemon in this spot as I consider Pikachu to be overrated, but its overrated-ness is precisely why no other Pokemon would fit in this spot quite as well. Pikachu is a character that I imagine would be pretty similar as far as moves go. I suppose they could potentially be different if the game started development in 2018 versus being released in 2018 – at that point they might include influence from Let’s Go Pikachu, such as the Splishy Splash move.
What, did you think I was just gonna rattle off all of the characters who were in the original Smash 64? Splatoon may be beneath the top 10 for Nintendo’s all-time successful franchises, but a big part of that is due to lack of history. As one of the newest IPs for Nintendo, Splatoon is doing very well for itself, making top 10 on both consoles on which it has been released. With that kind of popularity, this is definitely a crowd that Nintendo would want to appeal to with their brand new fighting game. Since Inkling’s moveset was just designed for Ultimate, I imagine that there wouldn’t be any differences in this alternate reality where Smash never existed. Even if Inkling technically fills a character slot that the series didn’t have before in a chip damage/poison type character, it makes too much sense for his/her moveset to remove it.
#5: DONKEY KONG
Donkey Kong is a character that I waffled on quite a bit as I thought about this list. A big part of that is that DK has never been a significant character in my own gaming experience. I didn’t play the DKC games growing up and going back to them as an adult didn’t leave me with a particularly positive impression. But with Tropical Freeze at number 9 on the Switch list and number 13 on the Wii U, as well as DK being 5th on Nintendo’s overall list, this series has the combination of current relevance and extensive history that makes this monkey a lock for Smash Bros in 2018.
“Hiiiiiiii!” Did you think the pink puffball wouldn’t make the list? You probably expected him here, and for good reason. Kirby has an impressive history with Nintendo and is responsible for some decent titles on the 3DS and Switch. He may not be considered a powerhouse when it comes to sales, but Kirby games tend to be pretty consistent when it comes to quality. Kirby’s moveset situation is an interesting one because this character has SO MANY options when it comes to abilities. While his copy ability is obviously a lock, how did they even narrow down to stone and cutter back in the day? Why not include the parasol or the beam? Would new copy abilities like the spider or the scientist make it into Smash Bros if the history of those other moves wasn’t built into the series from the ground up? As a developer, I think I would suffer paralysis of choice with Kirby, so it’d be interesting to see how his moves turned out in the end.
I can imagine that this decision will be met with some skepticism. Why Isabelle over Villager? Honestly, I made this decision based purely on my own perception of character popularity. Having a defined character with a specific personality is always infinitely more interesting to me than blank-slate player avatars, and this is particularly true for a game like Smash Bros where your attachment to the character is part of why you might choose them as your preferred fighter. As far as why an Animal Crossing character makes the list at all, New Leaf’s #7 spot on the 3DS along with Animal Crossing’s #10 spot on the overall list solidify it for me. I also think anticipation of future popularity is something to consider here – the amount of hype built up around the possibility of Animal Crossing Switch was ridiculous before the most recent Direct. Fans care a lot about this series, so I think Nintendo would definitely acknowledge it in the form of a playable character.
Yoshi is another character that I tend to underestimate when it comes to his presence in the Nintendo library. It’s been quite some time since I personally played a Yoshi game, but Wooly World performed well enough to hit #12 on the Wii U list, and now Yoshi’s Crafted World is generating quite a bit of buzz for 2019. Yoshi is also in the #11 spot for all time revenue for Nintendo, so that means he’s got the kind of history that the developer would likely want to acknowledge in Smash. When it comes to Yoshi’s moveset, the only move I can imagine changing is the Egg Roll or perhaps his final smash. I don’t know if we’ve seen his Smash Ultimate final smash just yet, but a transformation from Wooly World could potentially be a good option.
At this point in Smash 64, we’d have filled out the main roster of the game. At the time, technological limitations made it so that the next few characters needed to be based on existing character models. They weren’t clones in the sense that we understand them now (except of course for Luigi), but they were built on existing assets as we’re able to see from the fighting polygon team. Now if the original Smash Bros were to be made for the first time in 2018, I don’t think such limitations would exist. Still, I had to ask myself the question of whether at this point we’d see characters from unrepresented franchises, or second characters from the most popular franchises on the list. I think the top eight are almost irrefutable, but at this point things get a bit more complicated.
I think if any of the top franchises on this list would get a second character, it would most certainly be Mario, and Luigi feels like the strongest choice for a second Mario rep. Peach and Bowser are both great and popular characters, but they don’t hold their own franchises the way Luigi does. Dark Moon is in the top 20 for 3DS and Super Luigi U is in the top 10 for Wii U, and like Animal Crossing, anticipation for a future title is a very real thing – Luigi’s Mansion 3 is coming to Switch in 2019, and I’ve heard multiple folks state that this was their most hype reveal of the recent Nintendo Direct. Besides, Luigi has a presence in many of the games which make Mario famous, so he seems like the best fit for a second representative from a single franchise. Every new Smash title I hope for more Luigi’s Mansion references in his moveset – perhaps if Smash never existed until 2018, those references would be included to differentiate Luigi from his brother since they are not beholden to any kind of previous history in regards to his abilities.
Oh, Samus. I wasn’t sure if I would include her on this list, to be honest. It’s been some time since Metroid has had much strength. Games like Other M and Federation Force darkened perception of the series, and it’s been ages since the Metroid Prime franchise put Samus in the limelight. Yet the recent Samus Returns had moderate reception (although it didn’t even appear on the 3DS list I checked), and once again excitement for a future title comes into play: Metroid Prime 4 was an early reveal for a future Switch release and while it hasn’t generated a lot of buzz due to a lack of coverage, anytime a Direct is announced I see folks speculating about whether this will be the month that we finally see Metroid Prime 4 shown off. So folks do care enough that I think we can expect Samus would be in a modern Smash Bros – she’s definitely riding on history more than she’s riding on current popularity, though.
When I realized that I would be including a second Pokemon rep, I spent a long time thinking about who would make it. With Pokemon Let’s Go coming in the next month, my first thought went to Eevee. However, that rides a lot on the very recent push to make Eevee the secondary mascot. There are more popular Pokemon out there who earned that popularity organically, particularly Charizard and Mewtwo, characters already represented in Smash Bros. Without that history of representation, though, which one would actually make the cut? They seem to be equally popular with both of them getting two Mega forms in Pokemon X and Y. They both made it as unique fighters in Pokken Tournament, too. I ultimately decided to turn to popularity polls, and looked specifically not at articles by US magazines or websites but at which Pokemon were most popular in Japan (Nintendo is a Japanese company, after all). These articles seemed to consistently rank Charizard over Metwo, so I finally settled on the fire starter from the original Red and Blue versions.
It is a rare occasion for me to post things on Adventure Rules in which I am not fairly confident. This…this is one of those rare occasions. I spent many minutes pondering who in the world I would put in this twelfth slot. But I couldn’t find a franchise that felt right. The more I looked at what was left, the more I thought that a third second character might be the way to go, but who would get a second? And then it hit me – would Nintendo put in a third character from their most successful franchise of all time? The villain to their hero in red? When I thought of Bowser’s popularity as a villain and the way in which his relationship with his son is used as a marketing angle for the Switch, I sighed in resignation as I realized that yes, I truly believe Nintendo would include a third Mario character before they would do a second from an additional franchise, or add a long-shot from a weaker franchise. I don’t love this pick, but it feels the most likely to me compared to what’s left.
So before we call it a day, let’s talk about characters who almost made the list as well as those in the original Smash 64 roster who didn’t make the cut. I feel like cutting Jigglypuff is an obvious choice – her popularity mainly resulted from her role as a side character in the anime and has faded significantly since the late nineties. Characters like Captain Falcon and Ness only have a legacy in Smash Bros because of earlier Smash Bros titles. Earthbound may have a cult following but it doesn’t have the star power to make a top 12 list in 2018, and F-Zero hasn’t been relevant in ages. Cutting Fox hurt. I’m a big fan of Star Fox 64 and I’m excited to see Fox coming to Starlink, but if Super Smash Bros didn’t exist, where would Fox be? It’s been many years since Fox has had a game that could truly be considered successful – it is only his history in Smash, particularly in the competitive scene, that gives him the star power he has now. Without that history, he only has nostalgia from Star Fox 64 to recommend him, and I don’t think that’s enough to make him relevant to this theoretical first Smash game in 2018.
I was surprised to see that Wario ranks higher than Metroid, Star Fox, and Splatoon as far as sales. I imagine this is due almost exclusively to the WarioWare titles, which except for the recent release of WarioWare gold hasn’t been in the public eye as of late. I think an argument could potentially be made for him over Bowser, but Bowser’s more significant presence in popular Mario titles as well as his use as an advertising gimmick makes me think his popularity beats Wario’s even if the man in yellow has his own spot on the sales rankings. I also figured I’d be putting a Fire Emblem character on this list. After all, it’s tied for the most represented franchise in Smash Ultimate with 7 characters, and Fire Emblem Heroes is selling gangbusters in the mobile market. But again, we’re assuming this is all happening in a world where Smash Bros didn’t exist yet. Without the influence of Smash, I don’t think Fire Emblem would be where it is today. It is well-publicized that Awakening effectively saved the franchise, and I doubt that we’d have even made it to Awakening without Super Smash Bros giving exposure to characters like Marth, Roy, and Ike to generate interest in the series outside of Japan.
Ultimately (ha!), I think that if Smash Bros really were to be developed for the first time in 2018, the roster would be larger than 12 fighters. After all, the Switch has a lot more power than the N64 did, and there’s a richer and more diverse selection of characters for Nintendo to pull from now than there was back in the nineties. But I wanted to stick to the confines of the original question, because it’s a lot more fun to think of a narrow list of 12 rather than just rattle off everyone who seems to make sense now! Since I’ve now shared my list of fighters, I’d love to hear your own thoughts, adventurers. If Smash Bros were made today for the first time, who do you think would make the cut? Do you disagree with any of the suggestions on my list? Let me know in the comments below!