Smash Bros at E3 - Retrospective
By Phil Myth
As we head into E3 2018, the big focus for Nintendo's presentation is the upcoming Super Smash Bros title for Nintendo Switch. But it's not the first time that Smash has played such a big role at E3. In fact, Nintendo's brawler and the LA Convention Centre go together as well as Final Destination and No Items. We here at Nintendo Village thought it would be interesting to take a look at the history of the franchise, and the role it's played at video games' spiritual home of the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
64 and Melee
Smash's first appearance at E3 was in 1999, where the original N64 release showed up for people to go hands on with. The game had already been out in Japan for several months, and in fact had released in the US a few weeks earlier. Needless to say, there wasn't any big surprises on show but it nevertheless began the relationship between Masahiro Sakurai's brawler and the event.
A couple of years later, Nintendo was gearing up for the launch of the Gamecube, and at E3 2001, they unveiled Super Smash Bros Melee for the first time. Beginning the segment, Shigeru Miyamoto and Bill Trinen discussed how, when creating games for their new system, they had to decide which characters they wanted to bring to the little purple box. The obvious answer being as many as possible!
As well as the 12 returning characters, the reveal trailer showcased a bunch of newcomers. Naturally, some more obvious additions cropped up in the form of Bowser and Princess Peach, but there was genuine surprise from those in attendance at the inclusion of Sheik and Ice Climbers. The most striking thing though was just how good everything looked running on Nintendo's new hardware.
Not only did attendees witness the unveiling of what would become perhaps the most iconic entry in the series, but they got to go hands on at the show floor too. The only new playable character was Bowser, but press at the time gushed at how great everyone felt to play. Those that were lucky enough to get their mitts on it remarked how natural it was to jump in as their favourite returning character and pull off the same attacks and combos they'd grown accustomed to on the N64 original. This familiarity with characters transitioning from one game to the next is something the series has maintained throughout its existence.
That said, they weren't complete carbon copies. Visual upgrades aside, more signature moves started making their way into each characters' moveset too. Mario was rocking his cape for the first time, and although unplayable at the event, Peach could be seen pulling out turnips Super Mario Bros 2 style on looped videos around the Melee booths. Whereas Smash 64 introduced the concept of Nintendo's most popular characters duking it out, it was evident from this early look at Melee that reverence for Nintendo's history was starting to become synonymous with the franchise.
Not that characters got all the love. Coverage from the likes of IGN gushed equally about the huge expansion of stages. Whether it was the sheer size of them, or the increase in hazards - such as the F-Zero stage that saw combatants fighting it out directly over an ongoing grand prix - it was clear that the extra horsepower provided by the upcoming Gamecube was going to allow for some serious variety in battles. Somewhat ironic given the popularity of the no-frills Final Destination stage in hindsight.
Turning to Brawl, and it was originally confirmed to be in development by then president Satoru Iwata at a pre-E3 press conference in 2005. Absolutely nothing else was known about the game at that point, other than it was scheduled to be a Wii launch title (which didn't happen) and that it would feature online matches (which it did). It wasn't until the following years' event however, that the game would be properly revealed, and given its subtitle of Brawl.
Interestingly enough, Brawl didn't actually show up in Nintendo's main press conference. With the focus of their presentation being the inclusive nature of the Wii, they instead opted to show the trailer for their more hardcore fighting game to press at an after-hours briefing.
The fact the spotlight wasn't on the reveal didn't stop them from holding back though, with a whole host of new characters unveiled. The trailer shown to reporters included Meta Knight, Pit, Zero Suit Samus and Wario. Perhaps the biggest shock though was the trailer concluding with Snake of Metal Gear Solid fame. Series producer Masahiro Sakurai revealed to IGN that Snake was included after Hideo Kojima practically 'begged' for him to be added to the roster.
Although nothing was confirmed at the time, Miyamoto also hinted at Sonic's inclusion, responding to an inquiry about the blue blur by saying: "there are probably possibilities for other third parties as well, and it maybe that even now there are corporate discussions going on about including some of these other characters." Given the success of Melee - not to mention the overwhelming hype surrounding the Wii - it's no surprise that third parties were eager to get their mascots into Nintendo's flagship fighting game.
It also showed off the Smash ball and a Final Smash attack for the first time, though it seemed to fly under the radar somewhat. Understandable given the bombshell of Snake's inclusion. As the months passed, more info was given on this new mechanic on the Smash Dojo website. The following year, E3 2007 was a scaled down event, though Brawl got a mention nevertheless - with a release date of December 3rd announced. Reggie made a big song and dance about the game releasing that year, so it must've been a little embarrassing when it was eventually delayed until January 2008.
Despite the game having released in January of that year, Brawl still showed up at Nintendo's booth at E3 2008. Given the calamitous nature of their press conference - centred around Wii Music, an underwhelming Animal Crossing reveal, and the ill-fate Wii-Speak accessory - it's perhaps no surprise that the big N needed to pad out their booth with something a little more substantial.
Wii U and 3DS
Although confirmed to be in development at E3 2011, it was a couple more years before we got the first look at the next instalment in the Smash Bros franchise. By the time E3 2013 rolled around, the Wii was gathering dust in old-people's homes across the land, and it was becoming clear that the Wii U was never going to reach the heights of its predecessor (to put it mildly). That didn't stop Nintendo from bringing the big guns though. Eschewing a traditional press conference for the first time, 2013 saw the birth of Ninty's - now traditional - digital event.
They came out swinging, with Super Mario 3D World, Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Bayonetta 2 all showcased. The headlines though, were all focused around the 'one more game' that rounded out the digital presentation: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & 3DS. It led with an Animal Crossing opening right off the bat - with Villager getting his invite to the festivities, and setting us up for new additions.
What nobody could've anticipated though, was that the first gameplay we saw of the new Smash game wasn't for Wii U, but for 3DS. For the first time, we'd be mashing Mario and punting Pikachu on-the-go, and it was thoroughly impressive just how well the game looked on the portable's tiny screen. Any worries about the Wii U missing out were soon put to bed however, with a slick transition revealing HD Smash, and hoo boy did it look good.
This initial Wii U footage showcased a host of returning characters, including Pit and Bowser, before confirming Villager's inclusion in the roster. We saw him seize Mario in a net, drop a bowling ball on Fox, and even catch Samus' charge shot and put it in his pocket. As cool as that was though, the big shock - following the 2014 date reveal - was the appearance of Megaman. His section of the trailer detailed all the various moves he'd have at his disposal, each one taking inspiration from various games from across the franchises' history.
This closing section laid down the format for all the subsequent 'new challenger approaching' videos that we'd be treated to over the following months, leading up to the games' release. Later on the show floor, Sakurai would take part in a match demoing Megaman to attendees. Interestingly, another curveball was thrown just prior to that bout, with the reveal of Wii Fit Trainer as a playable character in the game.
E3 2013 really lay the groundwork for non-traditional reveals of Smash characters. Whether it be just dropping a trailer in during a demo on the show floor, or creating the formula of cinematic trailers that showcase both looks and movesets. Heading into E3 2014, no-one could have expected just how many additions we'd see to Smash, or indeed how much it was going to cost us.
Kicking off their Digital Presentation that year with a Robot Chicken-esque intro, Nintendo then segued into a live action punch-up between Reggie and Satoru Iwata. It was a rather hilarious segment, but transitioned perfectly into the reveal that Mii fighters would be joining the fray this time around. Sakurai went on to detail the various differences between each of the three variations of the Mii fighter, whilst also giving us a glimpse into development. He revealed that he had in fact considered including Mii fighters in Brawl back on the Wii, yet decided that they weren't quite the right fit. Snake seems an even odder fit to me, but what do I know.
Whilst no new characters were unveiled during the presentation, we did get a lightning quick look at some of the various modes that would feature in the 3DS version of the game. Following on from Sakurai's section, Reggie detailed amiibo for the first time.
Pulling a prototype Smash Mario figure from his jacket pocket, NOA's president described the way figures would level up and adopt their own fighting style as they played. Had we known then that Nintendo would release over 50 figures in the Smash line alone, we might've started saving money right away! Not only did they feature in the main digital event, but Nintendo released a dedicated amiibo video at the same time, in which Bill Trinen talked us through exactly how the big N's new toys to life line would work.
Fans of the series will have noted the similarity of the figures to those featured in the original reveal trailer for Super Smash Bros Melee. This was apparently no accident, with the figures specifically designed to look like the trophies you unlock in game. In the 5 minute presentation, we learned all about how levelling up worked, how you could customise not only your amiibo's stats, but their special moves too. It's a somewhat underrated feature, I spent hours training my amiibo, even holding occasional tournaments with my brother in which my figurines would be pitted against his. There were some seriously intense tournaments that took place once our respective amiibo counts reached well into double figures.
As well as the traditional press-focused events, E3 2014 saw Nintendo embrace Smash's e-sports following for the first time too, with the inaugral Smash Bros Invitational tournament. It marked the first time the game had been playable to the public, and served more as an exhibition of the game than a standard tournament. Nevertheless, six confirmed newcomers were available to play, giving us the first look at the likes of Little Mac and Greninja in action.
So what will E3 hold for us this year? Looking back at the kind of things Smash has showed off at previous events, we can expect at least a couple of character reveals, and quite possibly one or two that we'd never expect (although it's going to be hard to top the likes of Snake and Cloud). With Smash being the major focus, there will undoubtedly be a big focus on gameplay, and Nintendo are once again holding an invitational tournament to give the pros some hands on time with the game.
It's entirely possible the new single player mode could be detailed, though history tells us that the focus for Smash at E3 tends to be much more focused on the characters. Brawl opened up the gates for third party characters, and we've seen more and more making their way to the battlefield over the last couple of iterations. Will the likes of Ryu and Bayonetta be making a return? Will third party mascots such as Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon join the fray? Will Nindie darlings like Shovel Knight be completing the roster? It's unlikely we'll get a full rundown, but expect one or two surprises for sure.
And what of amiibo? The Switch's right JoyCon has NFC functionality, and we've already seen amiibo functionality included in a bunch of games. The thought of an entire new Smash line of figures sends my wallet cowering into a corner, but it would be fantastic if the new game supported all the old figures.
It'll be worth keeping an eye on the Treehouse too. Smash will undoubtedly feature there, and there's every possibility Nintendo could pull a move similiar to what they did with Wii Fit Trainer, casually revealing a new fighter during their livestream.
Regardless of what Sakurai and co have got up their sleeve, history teaches us to expect the unexpected when it comes to Smash at E3. We're all super-excited to see what Nintendo have got in store, and it's sure to be one hell of a presentation. Let us know what you're hoping to see, and what your favourite Smash E3 memories are, in the comments below.
Phil is the co-founder and editor of Nintendo Village, and also writes, hosts and produces P Myth Gaming. He has been a Nintendo fanboy for as long as he can remember and owns every home console bar the Virtual Boy (one day... one day...). His favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.