The Cunning God of Death. Military leader of the the dreaded Space Pirates. The most recurring antagonist in the entire Metroid series. One of the most divisive (not to mention most requested) characters in the history of Super Smash Brothers. I am, of course, talking about Ridley.
No other character in all of Smash Bros. speculation seems to attract as much attention, both positive and negative, as Ridley does. It’s not very hard to see why. On one hand, he is a sizable omission on a roster of what are supposedly Nintendo’s biggest stars. On the other, much of what makes Ridley Ridley also makes him an unorthodox fighter. That being said, most Smash talk surrounding Ridley focuses on him as a playable character. The truth is that Ridley’s influence in the Smash series has been present since the very beginning and is a notable aspect of how the Metroid series has been represented. This article will focus on the importance of Ridley to Smash in every generation of the franchise and will hopefully shed some light on why he has, up until now, been denied a spot on the roster.
I. Ridley in Metroid
Before we focus on Ridley’s roles in Smash, it would be helpful to understand who exactly this space dragon is and why Metroid fans think he is so important. Ridley made his debut in the very first game in the series, Metroid for the NES/Famicom. Ridley is one of only three boss characters in this game, but he is not the final boss. That honor belongs to Mother Brain. Ridley has never actually been the primary villian in a Metroid game, and it is a common misconception among fans that he is the main antagonist of the franchise. He instead fills the role of supporting villain as the games in which he is featured contain a bigger and more impending threat, examples being Dark Samus in Metroid Prime: Corruption and Mother Brain in Metroid, Super Metroid, and Other M.
This fact, however, does not diminish his importance to the franchise. Ridley appears in more games than any other villain in the series. The only games to omit Ridley are Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid Prime: Echoes, and Metroid Prime: Hunters. All told, Ridley was only absent for a third of the Metroid games, and his presence is often a driving force in the game’s story.
Ridley also has a very personal connection with series protagonist Samus Aran. He is a commander of the Space Pirates in the Metroid universe, and his actions in this role helped shape the game universe. His theft of the baby Metroid in the introduction to Super Metroid is an iconic moment in the series, and it helped set up the plot to several future games. Ridley’s interaction with Samus sets him on a higher level than any other Metroid antagonist. Ridley is directly responsible for the creation of his arch nemesis as he killed her parents when she was a child. This act, first revealed in Metroid Fusion, led her on the course to become the bounty hunter we know today.
II. Ridley in Smash
Ridley is unique amongst characters in Smash in that despite never being playable in an official title, he has appeared in roles of varying degrees in every generation of Smash, starting with Super Smash Bros. 64 and continuing on up to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U. (It should be noted that he does not actually appear in the 3DS version, although data files referencing him as an enemy character where found in the game.) He is the only non-Pokemon (unless you consider Bob-omb and Whispy Woods to be characters) to have this honor.
Super Smash Bros. 64
Ridley’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. 64 is noteworthy because of how little content was included in this game as compared to its sequels. Very few game villains had any sort of representation in this entry. Bowser and Ganondorf, for example, were nowhere to be seen. Ridley (in the form of his Super Metroid sprite) can be found on Smash 64’s Metroid stage, Planet Zebes, flying in the background at random intervals. This is similar to how King Dedede from Kirby could be seen flying around in the Dream Land stage of the same game.
Super Smash Brothers Melee
Ridley appears twice in Melee: First in the intro movie, where a recreation of the iconic scene from Super Metroid where Ridley steals the baby Metroid, takes place. The second appearance of Ridley is as a trophy. Trophies are collectibles that were introduced in Melee that provide trivia about the object or character in question. The use of Ridley in the opening movie is interesting in retrospect. Two other “villain” or “rival” characters were used in that cinematic: Wolf from Star Fox and Samurai Goroh from F-Zero. One of these characters went on to become playable, the other was used to debut the concept of the Assist Trophy to the world in Sakurai’s Brawl Dojo. It would seem that Sakurai felt that all three were “important” characters.
Super Smash Brothers Brawl
With the scale of Brawl increasing compared to Melee, Ridley’s influence on the game only grew larger. Originally planned to be an Assist Trophy, Ridley was instead made into a boss character for the new Subspace Emissary mode not once but twice. He appears in both his organic and Meta Ridley forms. His first appearance is in the Research Facility, where he attacks Samus and Pikachu as they reach the end of the complex. His second appearance is in the Subspace Bomb Factory as Meta Ridley, chasing a fleeing Falcon Flyer while the facility explodes from behind. Apart from his boss role, both Ridley and Meta Ridley return as trophies as well.
Super Smash Brothers for 3DS and Wii U
In a bizarre twist of fate, Ridley makes no appearances in the 3DS version of Super Smash Brothers in any way, not even as a trophy. This makes Super Smash Bros. for 3DS the only entry in the Smash series where Ridley does not appear at all. Ridley would, however, appear in the Wii U version as a unique hazard/boss character in the Pyrosphere stage. He would also receive a total of 3 trophies, two of which belong to his “Little Birdie” and “Mystery Creature” phases from Other M.
The stage hazard incarnation of Ridley takes his design and attack patterns from Metroid: Other M. The Ridley in that game was a genetically modified clone of the original. An oddity from the 50 Fact Extravaganza is that Ridley is referred to as Meta Ridley when he absorbs the energy from the sides of the stage. This does not correspond with any of the games, as Meta Ridley has always been a robotized version of Ridley. There is no correct term in Metroid canon for this powerup, so to speak. As a stage hazard, Ridley is incredibly durable, being able to take much more punishment than Metal Face or the Yellow Devil. This is possibly to accommodate the unique allying mechanic this Ridley has as a stage hazard.
Masahiro Sakurai on Ridley
Smash series creator Masahiro Sakurai has always found a way to include Ridley in the game, and he has had a few things to say about the character over the years.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
After the release of Super Smash Brothers Brawl, an interview was conducted in which Sakurai was asked about his opinion of Ridley as a playable character. He was quoted as saying that Ridley could be made to work, but not before saying that it would be “pretty impossible”.
Interviewer: There was a rumor at one point about Ridley being playable. Was that ever a consideration?
Sakurai: I think that would probably be pretty impossible. [Laughs] If we had put our best efforts into it, we may have been able to do it. But he might have been a little slow. Would that be all right? [laughs]
Smash 3DS/Wii U
During the pre-release period, Ridley was teased on several occasions in an ambiguous way. The first major tease was a Picture of the Day where Sakurai showed the Pyrosphere stage with the words “an enemy from Samus’ past could appear at any moment.” This was interpreted by some fans as a sign of Ridley being playable.
The second tease occurred in the April 2014 Smash Direct, where a shadow of Ridley was shown during a segment discussing boss characters. Many felt that this confirmed him as a stage hazard, though a sizable amount of Ridley fans pressed on and believed it to be another tease. This ultimately turned out to not be the case, and Ridley was properly shown as a stage hazard in the 50 Fact Extravaganza stream in October 2014.
Sakurai once again made a comment about Ridley in an interview with IGN at the time of Smash Bros. for Wii U’s release. This time, unlike in the Brawl era interview, Sakurai explained why he believed Ridley could not work, citing proper character portrayal as the primary reason.
“I definitely know that Ridley’s a much-anticipated name for fans, but if we made Ridley as a fighter, it wouldn’t be Ridley any longer. It’d have to be shrunk down, or its wings reduced in size, or be unable to fly around freely. Providing accurate portrayals of characters is something I want to pay ample attention to. If I don’t stick to that thought, then we’d have to lower the quality or break the balance of the game.”
“Something that goes way off spec could break the entire game. Instead of going through a lot of very convoluted hocus-pocus to make Ridley a fighter, I figured it’d be better to keep Ridley as it currently is, the correct way, and have it feel like a truly threatening presence. There are other icons, too, like Metal Face and the Yellow Devil, which help effectively portray each of their world settings. They go a long way toward deepening the game world, and I think it’s been fun to experiment with.”
Many people feel that Sakurai “hates” Ridley. I do not believe it’s that simple. The man went out of his way to ensure that the character was represented in every generation of Smash Bros. He has went on record as saying that the reason he did not make the character playable was because he wanted to make sure he was properly represented. That is an act of respect, not derision. At the end of the day, that might be the most disappointing thought for Ridley fans. Sakurai likes the character and wants to make sure he isn’t watered down, he doesn’t hate him, he just has a different opinion on what he thinks is appropriate for him.
What does this mean for Ridley in the future of Smash Bros.? It’s impossible to say. Sakurai has been known to change his opinion from game to game (Villager is a notable example of this). It is also completely possible that Smash 5 has a new director or that a more Smash friendly version of Ridley is introduced in a future Metroid game. For now, though, Ridley fans can at least take comfort in the fact that he has played an important role in Smash history. Keep dreaming of a bigger tomorrow, friends.