Note: The following includes points that are entirely based on the author’s opinion. You are allowed to disagree.
EDIT: New information provided by our fans helped to shed some light on the development of Luigi in Super Smash Bros and the article has been corrected to accommodate this.
In a recent interview conducted in the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary Book, Sakurai made a comment on how he creates the roster for each Smash game and it really shed some much needed light when it came to fans trying to predict what to expect.
“Industry trends around the time when development begins is a pretty big factor. I started development on Smash for 3DS/ Wii U right after I’d wrapped up Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Fire Emblem Awakening was released one month after Uprising. So what’s popular around the time when I begin designing the game is important.”
– Masahiro Sakurai (Translation by Soma).
With this new information in mind I got curious. Is this something new for Super Smash Bros for Wii U & 3DS or has this been Sakurai’s philosophy throughout the Super Smash Bros series? Could the trends of the time really help to influence the roster this much? Does this mean that with the seemingly eventual ‘Smash NX’ we should not start predicting characters until it is actually announced?
Super Smash Bros.:
In analyses like these the first Super Smash Bros game should always be thought of as an exception due to being the first game. In some ways, it feels much more like a prototype for Melee and what the series could and would become in the future. One key factor about deciding the roster for this game that stands out from the others is that the game was not originally intended to include Nintendo characters. In later games most characters are chosen during the planning stages with a few only being added afterwards, often under unique circumstances (mainly clones and semi-clones).
When deciding the characters for the first game, Sakurai decided to focus on Nintendo’s 8 biggest all-star series for the starting roster, with the other 4 being chosen later on for a few different reasons. Due to this, the relevancy of each series at that time is less of a factor in this game than it would be in later iterations of Smash. However,it is still interesting to take a look at as each series, bar 1 (Pokemon), had at least two titles under their belt and had either a game that was undergoing development or a game that had just been released.
The game changed into a Nintendo-themed fighter in September 1997. Sakurai had chosen 4 characters to show off to Nintendo, which he did in December of that same year, from a starting roster of 8 characters who were all chosen in September of that year. So the date for games this time around is late-1997 (rather than October 1996 when Sakurai first finished the original proposal).
The Original Four:
Starting with these first four characters, an interview with Nintendo Dream helps to shed light on why they were chosen over the other 4 characters for the prototype.
Sakurai: It’s easiest if you think about it as a process of elimination. Kirby and Yoshi aren’t humanoid, and they have special moves that involve copying other fighter’s abilities and laying eggs, which were above the threshold of difficulty for characters to include in a prototype. Also, Pikachu is a very popular character, and we were sure he would subject to a lot of editorial control, so we decided to err on the side of caution and include him later. Also, Link’s game, “The Legend of Zelda” was in development at the time, and I didn’t want to work on him until I got more details about what he was going to be like in his game.
With that explained, let’s cover each character individually, starting with the first four.
Mario: I think this one speaks for itself, Mario is the mascot of Nintendo. Sakurai would not make a Nintendo themed crossover game without including him. So naturally, Mario was included in the roster. When looking at games released in this time period Mario had a lot on his plate. Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 had released the year before and were both successful. The Game & Watch Gallery series began in 1997 and Mario Party was in development. Mario was always going to be very relevant so his inclusion just makes sense.
Donkey Kong: Just like Mario, Donkey Kong was one of the original four characters chosen. As Mario’s original rival, he has that Nintendo history that likely made him a priority in development. His design is based on the popular Donkey Kong Country series which had just seen its third game launch the year before. It is hard to say how privy Sakurai was to the development of the Donkey Kong games as they were being handled in the UK and not Japan. Diddy Kong Racing did launch that year in Japan however, so Sakurai could see that the series was at least relevant at this point in time.
Fox: Unlike the previous two, Fox was arguably not as big of an all-star, but he did have a brand new title released at this time. Star Fox 64 launched in Japan earlier that year to critical acclaim. His original title, Star Fox, on the SNES was used to show off Nintendo’s Super FX chip and was equally as praised. Star Fox 64 was also well received, so Fox was in the public eye at this point.
Samus: The last Metroid game to be released was Super Metroid on the SNES in 1994, 3 years prior to our date. Now, it should be noted that a Metroid 64 title was being worked on at one point and was dropped for various reasons. Sakamoto turned down working on the title because he could not imagine a Metroid game in 3D with the N64 controller and so development was given to another company (who also turned it down). So, a current game could be an unlikely factor here and it was instead Samus’ own popularity that got her into the game.
The “Other” 4:
With these four characters out of the way we shall move onto the other four starting characters, in order of appearance on the roster.
Link: The Legend of Zelda series is one of Nintendo’s most critically acclaimed series, so just like Mario, having Link in the game was a natural decision for Sakurai. We know Link was prioritized over characters like Marth when it came to choosing a sword fighter. In terms of games, Zelda had two in development at this time. The last proper Zelda game to come out was Link’s Awakening in 1993 (although Zelda Satellaview games on the SNES were being released up until April 1997). Both Link’s Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color and Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 were in development during this time period and would launch in 1998. We know that Sakurai was privy to some of Nintendo’s development of the 64 title as that is what all the Zelda content in Super Smash Bros. is based on (such as Hyrule Castle being based on the beta design found in OoT). Link had games coming out soon and so he was naturally relevant.
Yoshi: Yoshi is another odd choice for this game, as he is arguably a side-character in the Mario universe and less important than characters like Bowser and Peach. Yet he beat them in, and this may be because Sakurai saw him as his own universe, thanks to Yoshi’s Island. Sakurai stated that he did not want to fill the roster with Mario characters and so this distinction may have helped him get through. Every starting character in Super Smash Bros. is from a different universe and this may have been on purpose in order to represent as much from Nintendo’s history as possible. In terms of games, Yoshi actually had his own adventure in development at the same time as Smash, being Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64, and so this could have been a very big factor for his inclusion.
Kirby: The Kirby franchise is Sakurai’s baby and so his inclusion just made too much sense. Sakurai knew the character inside and out so he could easily portray Kirby in Super Smash Bros. He was also a character made by HAL Laboratory so it was easier to get the assets for him and with Iwata having done the programming for both games it would have been easier to implement him. The Kirby series was a very popular one and had a ton of games on the Game Boy, as well as main titles on the NES and SNES. He also had a game just come out during Super Smash Bros. development being Kirby’s Dream Land 3 on the SNES which launched in 1997. This also made Kirby relevant at this time and goes to explain why a lot of the background elements (such as sprites) in the Dream Land stage are from Kirby’s Dream Land 3. There was also Kirby’s Star Stacker on the Gameboy (and SNES in Japan) and Kirby’s Super Star the year before (which a lot of Kirby’s moves are based from).
Pikachu: The Pokemon series is an odd one out in Smash as it is the only franchise represented with only “one” video game out. To top that off it also got two reps with a third one (Mewtwo) being planned which makes it on par with Mario, a franchises with nearly 100 games at this point. So, why did Pokemon get so much attention here?
Well for one it was really popular and unbelievably relevant in during the development of Super Smash Bros. The first Pokemon games, Pocket Monsters Red & Green, were released in 1996 with a Blue version made public later that year. At that same time the Pokemon Trading Card game was released along with a manga adaption. To top all of this off, in April 1997 the Pokemon anime debuted in Japan, just in time for Sakurai to begin his project proposal. When deciding on characters for Super Smash Bros. Sakurai likely could not even go out without seeing something Pokemon related in the streets of Japan so including Pikachu in this game was just as natural as Mario or Link. It was the big trend during Smash 64’s development.
With all the starting characters out of the way we are going to look at the four unlockable characters and it is these four who were possibly chosen much later than everyone else. Sakurai has stated that the first 8 characters were all chosen because, in his eyes, they were Nintendo’s biggest icons. These were the characters that would appeal to the biggest audience. With these final four however, because they were unlockable and hidden away, he could go a bit more crazy with his choices. While every other Super Smash Bros. title has had characters added later in development, it’s unknown when the four unlockable characters in Smash 64 were chosen.
Sakurai did confirm that some characters reused animations in a reply to a fan e-mail that reads:
“In general, we do reuse animations. When you consider the alternative– putting even more pressure on an already stringent schedule, and removing one character (Jigglypuff), what we did was the best option, right? I think we worked pretty hard, though. Normal polygon (3D) based fighting games recycle the same damage and walk animations, after all.”
– Masahiro Sakurai (translation by Soma)
The characters were chosen to be made as clones are possibly picked with the trends in mind, along with some other factors like popularity.
Luigi: Luigi is the definition of a player two character and in all the main line Mario games so far, bar Super Mario Bros 2 (USA), Luigi is identical to him. So his status as a clone character is perfectly logical in this game. Sakurai stated that characters like Peach were not added because he did not want too much of the focus on Mario characters. Sakurai also asked Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, for advice. Much like Mario, Luigi was very relevant appearing alongside Mario in all of the games I had mentioned before except Super Mario 64 where he was planned but not implemented. Just like Mario, Luigi was unlikely to ever drop out of the public, or Nintendo’s, eye and so his inclusion is very well justified.
Jigglypuff: As I mentioned with Pikachu, Pokemon was very popular and so a second rep could be easily justified despite only having “one” game out. Jigglypuff was the one chosen although she is a bit of a random choice. The other character considered was Mewtwo who was the final legendary Pokemon found in all versions of the game and so stood out among the other 150. The reason Jigglypuff was chosen instead was for three reasons. First, the character was quite big in the anime which was big influence in figuring out which characters to use in the Smash series. Second, the character’s general appearance and the focus around sleeping and putting others to sleep made her a prime joke character, something Sakurai wanted. Finally, Jigglypuff could easily be made using Kirby’s model as a base as both are very similar in appearance (see translation above).
Captain Falcon: In an e-mail to Sakurai, a fan points out that Samus and Captain Falcon share some kicking animations (up tilt and down smash) as well as the same getting up animation. Sakurai does not confirm or deny this, but it does give us some insight that Captain Falcon may have been made with Samus as a model. A big influence on why Captain Falcon was chosen was likely F-Zero X. The game was in development at the time and so would be relevant when Super Smash Bros. launched. We can see it influenced Sakurai to a degree as one of Captain Falcon’s alts are based on the adverts used to promote the game. So, despite being more niche, F-Zero was relevant at the time compared to other Nintendo IP.
Ness: Lastly, we have the oddest choice for characters. Not only is Ness’ model the only one that is not easy to pin-point an origin to but the series’ last game was Earthbound on the SNES in 1994. The franchise was also not a hugely popular one, not even being released in Europe and having it’s one game failed commercially in the US. So Ness’ appearance here sticks out like a sore thumb as he does not appear relevant at first glance although the series had a fair amount of popularity in Japan.
However, from Sakurai’s view, the Earthbound series was probably fairly relevant at this time. Not only did Ness have the same ‘home-field’ advantage as Kirby (HAL Laboratory also helped to make Earthbound and Super Smash Bros). with the late Satoru Iwata personally programming both games, but there was a sequel to Earthbound being developed on the Nintendo 64 during the development of Super Smash Bros. While the game would never appear until 2006 on the Game Boy Advance, Sakurai had no reason to believe that Earthbound 64 would not release, even going to the point of thinking of replacing Ness with Lucas for Melee.
For Sakurai, Earthbound is a franchise that would be in the public eye either around the time of Smash 64 or just after and so unlike other niche Nintendo IPs, Ness would be extremely relevant. With this, Ness’ inclusion in the original Super Smash Bros. begins to make a lot more sense.
The conclusion we can get from the roster of the original Super Smash Bros. is that it was Nintendo’s most famous icons. It was more a priority for Sakurai to get the biggest stars, regardless of relevancy, for this game.
It may be coincidence that most of these series had new games coming out around this time or, it may be that Sakurai used this to justify why these characters were all-stars. It’s only natural that Nintendo’s all-stars would be relevant and came from the game franchises with the most amount of releases, as well as the ones that had a bright future ahead of them. But, and I said this at the beginning, the original Super Smash Bros is a unique title and does not follow exactly the same planning rules as future titles.
In the next article I will be tackling Super Smash Bros. Melee. where we will see relevancy playing a more important role in deciding the game’s roster.