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What if Smash Bros. was released on the NES?

Super Smash Bros. debuted on the Nintendo 64 in 1999 and introduced us to a world where our favourite Nintendo character of the first four generations of Nintendo could fight it out for supremacy. Launching in 1999 gave Sakurai many franchises and games to pull from, and allowed him to make a game with 3D polygonal graphics. But this last point has always lead fans to wonder, “what would Super Smash Bros. look like in 2D?” Over the years many fans have tried to see if it is doable, Super Smash Flash being the biggest example, but one that really stuck out was Super Smash Land by Rivals of Aether creator Dan Fornace.

Super Smash Land was a “demake” of Super Smash Bros for the original Game Boy and was done in a style that would fit on the system. It came with six characters, eleven stages, and two modes, and took into account the limited buttons of the Game Boy for authenticity (even though it was made for the PC and used keyboard controls). This fan-game was a true experiment and I think it paid off, so today I wanted to pitch an idea for another demake of Super Smash Bros., one that I have seen plenty of fanart for but nothing beyond: an 8-bit rendition of our favourite platform fighter. today I am going to answer the question “What if Super Smash Bros. was released on the NES?”

So a few points. First off, let’s be real, it would be for the Famicom Disk System and not the NES. That way it could save, have more content, and have more power to run the title. What that means for an international release I couldn’t say, but if Zelda came across fine this probably could do. Second, I’m gonna cheat a little and not take NES colour limitations into account here. Without proper NES programming knowledge I am not sure what limits would be applied, but this may be the biggest factor preventing the game being real (apart from the fact that it was never actually real). So every character and interactable objects have a black outline, essentially making each sprite out of 4 colours and not 3 like they should be. Lastly, and the most important point for this article, I am going to treat the release of this game as 1990. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. By doing so I can focus solely on NES/Famicom games and not have to worry about SNES or Game Boy.
  2. One way to look at this is ‘what if Sakurai made Smash Bros. as his first game and not Kirby? In which case 1990 would be a good date for this. Sakurai joined HAL in 1989 and Kirby would not release for three more years, but the idea was conceived in 1989, so instead now Smash will be and then released a year later.

I wanted to explain these two points as it will answer some roster-related questions, specifically the lack of Kirby, Fire Emblem, Joy Mech Fight, Startropics, Yoshi, and Wario content on here, as they all saw games on the NES but in 1990 and beyond. So with all these technicalities out of the way let’s dive into how it would play.


How would it play?

Before we cover content we need to cover controls. The NES is much more limited than the N64, and so certain changes will need to be made. The NES only has a D-pad, two buttons, and start and select buttons. The lack of trigger buttons mean shielding and grabs may not be possible to pull-off, although one could be mapped to select. Shielding is the better of those two to remain, so this game won’t have grabs. Up on the D-pad will also be for jumping, just like it was in Smash 64. Another Smash 64 holdover will be the inclusion of only three specials and not four, omitting the side special. I decided to translate this limitation over to the standard attacks as well; there won’t be forward or backward attacks. Instead, pressing “side” and “attack” will always do a dash attack. Lastly, I am not sure if Smash Attacks could be implemented, but it would be good to try to find a way to keep them in.

Another limitation of the NES is that it is only two player. There are external devices like the NES Four Score and Famicom’s four player adapter, but these were never utilised by Nintendo internally (The former was official and used in the US but the latter was a 3rd party device). Furthermore, the Famicom’s two controllers were always attached to the system meant it was difficult to do more than two players, so Super Smash Bros. on NES would only be a two player experience. Maybe there could be four player matches but two of the fighters would have to be CPU. This also means team battle is also gone; it could still exist by pairing up with CPU, but considering the lack of four-players and the NES colour limit it may be too hard to implement.

Lastly, before we move onto content, the game would be called simply “Smash Bros.” This isn’t a Super Nintendo Game after all.



Now, this is probably the section you have all been waiting for. Let’s jump first into the characters. NES games are not very large, so the amount of content would have to be much less than that on the N64. However, they are bigger than Game Boy games, so while it’s not an official game, we think it’s appropriate for there to be more content than in Super Smash Land. We ended up stuck on whether to have ten characters in total, with six starting characters and four unlocks, or eight characters, with two unlocks. The six starting characters would be in regardless, so let’s cover them below


Nintendo’s mascot is an obvious addition. His sprite is based on his Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) version, as he had blue overalls there and the design is very similar to his internationally recognized Super Mario Bros. 3 form. Most of his attacks are the same as in Smash 64, but now the spin has a Tanooki Tail and can possibly reflect projectiles.


Donkey Kong Jr.

Before the NES, the only presence for Donkey Kong was in his classic titles, where the big ape was either in a villainous or supporting role. His son, however, was one of Nintendo’s earliest heroes and also a kind of rival for Mario. It was hard to decide whether DK Jr. should act like the Donkey Kong we actually got or something unique. His up special can still be the spin and his down special has the same effect as Donkey Kong in Smash 64, but he bangs his chest instead of the floor. Rather than just a charge punch though, DK Jr. throws a nut at his foes. He was always the smaller and younger Kong, bulky but never with the big muscle that Donkey Kong did, so I don’t think the Kong punch would fit.



Nintendo’s next major icon is Link, and at this point he would have what, at the time, was a very respectable  two games under his belt. His sprite is based on the one from Zelda 2, as that title was based around 2D action and platforming. So Link’s specials range from the same to completely different. Link has the bomb attack as his down special, but rather than the boomerang or bow, he has the Sword beam for his standard special – it’s still a projectile, just different. His up special, however, is the fairy magic. The spin-attack doesn’t exist at this point, so and the Fairy’s flight works as a suitable recovery. Link briefly turns into a Fairy and flies upwards in a slight arc before turning back to normal. It has a lot of distance but no damaging power.



The sister series to the Legend of Zelda, The Mysterious Murasame Castle was the only Japan-exclusive in the “Famicom Four” and became the least relevant as time went on. By the time of 64, he was mostly forgotten, but in 1990 he was only four years old. His standard special would be the throwing stars; charging up increases their spread. His down special is a counter, and his up special is similar to what Marth would get in Melee.



Nintendo’s next action star, Samus plays basically identical to how she did in Smash 64, but without the charge beam, as that was not introduced until Super Metroid. Nothing else to really say.



The sister series to Metroid, Kid Icarus was the final of the “Famicom Four” and had a troubled development. However the angel Pit remained a popular character, and he managed to at least earn a sequel on the Game Boy before disappearing until his debut in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. His appearance here is more like his Brawl form: arrows for the standard, the Wings of Icarus for his up, and the Mirror Shield for his down specials. He doesn’t use a split bow for his standard attacks though, using the rod, hammer and melee attacks instead.

So those six are the starter characters, and here are an additional four unlockables. In Smash 64 Sakurai said the unlockables were based on both reusing character assets and being more gimmicky. and I wanted that here.



Just like in Smash 64, Luigi is a clone of Mario but taller and floatier. His sprite is based on Super Mario Bros. 2, as this was the one game where he wasn’t just a Mario palette swap.



Ninten is the latest character on this list and the only one from an RPG. He would play just like Ness did in Smash 64 – the two were always similar.


Little Mac

Punch-Out!! on the NES was huge, the most successful game in the series to this date (both in real time and the release of this fictional Smash Bros.) and Little Mac is a fighter already, so it fits. He fits being an unlockable because of his gimmick of a poor air-game but a great ground game. It makes him the most technical character on this list (although Ninten would be trickier). Little Mac’s uppercut would now be his up special and arc just like Takamaru’s up special. The Star KO is gone and replaced with a charge punch. Little Mac is also the only fighter without a projectile, which makes him more gimmicky/unique.



Our final character I wanted to be a surprise would be the Devil (localised as Demon in the west) from Devil World. The Devil isn’t the hero – that’s Tamagon’s role – but he is the titular character and easily the most iconic in the game. His inclusion here adds another heavyweight character to the roster, as well as its first villain. For his standard B he launches a fireball from his fingers, a move he stole from Tamagon. His up special is like Link’s fairy ability, but instead he becomes a bat. His down special, however, is unique – a short-range projectile like Mewtwo’s disable that flips opponents vertically.

And that is it for the character. It got the most focus because I know that is what people prefer the most but there is more to Smash than its characters and here is a quick run-down of other content you could find in this game.


Arcade mode, with a Master Hand boss, and versus mode are the two main modes of the game. You can change the rules in the options from the menu but it is all standard stuff like stock and time. Maybe no team battle and no special battle. There are also no special modes like break the target. This game would most likely be very basic and the focus is on the fighting. It could have a simple biography page though, like Smash 64 had.


There would be seven stages overall, not including final destination and battlefield. These would be from each of the starting series and an additional Mario stage. My choices were:

  • Mushroom Kingdom from Super Mario Bros.
  • Stage 1 from Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Palace from Zelda II
  • Murasame Castle from The Mysterious Murasame Castle
  • Brinstar from Metroid
  • Skyworld from Kid Icarus
  • Bowser’s Castle from Super Mario Bros. 3 (unlockable)


Each one would have a different layout, but they would all be fairly simple with no hazards, except maybe fireballs in Bowser’s Castle. The other three series could have got levels though. Devil World, Boxing Ring, and Magicant all could work, but I wanted to be realistic. Maybe if in an edited version (although if I was making this as a fan game for PC, I’d probably throw them all in anyway haha).


I wasn’t sure if items would work or not, but I wanted to include them anyway. Link’s bombs and DK Jr’s nut could just be an auto-attack rather than an item, after all. The items would be limited here though. Most likely:

  • Bumper (Pinball)
  • Ray Gun
  • Baseball Bat (Baseball)
  • Starman (Mario)
  • Hammer (DK)
  • Food (Ice Climbers)
  • Barrel (DK)
  • Bob-Omb (Mario)
  • Sandals (Murasame)

All of these are existing items in Smash, with the exception of the sandals, which would just act like the bunny hood with a temporary speed-up. The model wouldn’t need to change, which makes it easier.

Before I end this article today I wanted to give a special shout-out to both Nirbion and Voyager for helping with the art. Nirbion made the NES cartridge art for the game replicating the “bad art” style of the NES era cartridges, with Mario and Link keeping their contemporary American cartoon designs. Voyager, with Nirbion’s help, made the Famicom cartridge art for the game, that includes cues from the character selection screen. In this case, the Mario and Link designs were trying to replicate the Smash 64 presentation of the characters with a dash of “Paper Mario” on it.
For the “character selection screen”, Voyager based the presentation on “Kirby’s Adventure” style, as it would still be a Sakurai game. The character portraits were made based on the Robot Master’s portraits from the Megaman series, trying to convey their designs but keeping it under the restrictions of the era. The small palace on the bottom was made to bring memories from Melee’s intro cinematic on the cloudy colosseum and the night sky scene with Sheik, Kirby and Fox (although none of this would exist yet in this timeline so maybe Melee is a throwback to the castle 😛 ).

And with that, I have covered everything I think we could’ve expected from a Smash Bros. game on the NES. Maybe one day, if I get the ability and time to make a fan game, I will make it myself, but until then please enjoy my design ideas. The hardest part of this article was holding myself back. In some places like stages and characters I couldn’t help myself, but I know the NES is not some powerhouse so I tried to modest. If there are any NES techies out there though who could give some advice to what is possible and what isn’t, then hit me up on Twitter or comment below. I’d love to chat!

  1. great article. honestly doing a NES Smash should be pretty easy to do if you’re going to reuse plenty of assets like the newer games and do it on a accessible developer software MMF2 and the upcoming NES Game Maker.

    also, i wished people just stop using Ninten’s fan redesign already. coming from someone who beated Mother within a day
    he doesn’t wear a handkerchief, hair doesn’t go down on the back to much, and his shirt isn’t red white and blue. (yours is correct at least)

    i feel relieved someone like Nibroc didn’t manage to alter him while modeling his proper appearance. but people will assume, if Mother gets another fighter of course, he’ll get a Smash-only redesign to be distinct to his successor.

    heck, i’ve already cracked down on ideas on how he’ll easily be different from Ness like Lucas was in Brawl. but i’ll present it another day.

    again, and regardless of that long bit on Ninten, this is a great article.

    ZenythSmash on March 1 |
  2. What would the game boy version be?

    David Horan on March 2 |
    • Super Smash Land obviously (lol)

      ZenythSmash on March 6 |
  3. What about Kirby or any 3rd party characters like Simon or Megaman?

    • Due to the year that we decided this would release, Kirby did not exist yet.

      David "Spazzy" Krane on March 2 |
  4. This already exists as Famicom fighters, granted its a fan made game but a good one.

    jazzmanjazzmanJazz on March 2 |
  5. There is a Smash Bros. fangame called “Super Smash Bros. NES” already. It features Mario, Link, Kirby, Samus, Mega Man, Pit, Ryu Hayabusa, Balloon Fighter, and Rash from Battletoads as playable fighters. It’s not hard to find.

    Nate Smith on March 9 |