I’m about to make you feel ancient by talking about the Super Smash Bros. Brawl 15th anniversary.
It doesn’t feel so long ago that I was a middle schooler avidly waking up each morning to check out updates on the Smash Dojo. It also feels like it’s been an absolute eternity. I think that’s what growing up feels like. Smash Bros has fallen way off my radar for absolute favorite gaming experiences, and none of them even made my Best Games of the 2010s list back when I wrote that at the end of 2019. But for a long time in my childhood, the series was vitally important.
So, I want to take a minute and celebrate the Super Smash Bros. Brawl 15th Anniversary as best as I can.
Smash Bros. Melee was the epitome of video games for me in elementary school and for a while beyond. The way it perfectly encapsulated the late 90s and early 00s Nintendo culture entranced me. As an avid Nintendo Power reader, seeing the whole magazine distilled into a single video game was just so amazing. It had all the cool Pokemon Gold & Silver stuff I liked. It had all the cool Mario stuff I liked. It had Zelda and Metroid and F-Zero, and even these weird Fire Emblem dudes. It even prominently featured Yoshi’s Story, which is one of the best games ever when you’re 7 and that’s the only game you can beat on your own.
I had been dreaming of a third Smash Bros. game for years and years. I distinctly recall one summer, probably 2004 but maybe 2005, I got obsessively into Earthbound and started planning a Smash Bros. game of my dreams… and it featured like 12 Earthbound characters, including frigging Diamond Dog for some reason.
The extremely long wait between entries made me really antsy even as a little tike. So you can imagine what happened when THIS trailer graced my G4TV-tuned television screen in May 2006…
Absolute, unbridled mayhem to my soul.
A NEW SMASH BROS! WITH REALLY GREAT REALISTIC GRAPHICS! SOLID SNAKE FOR SOME REASON!
It honestly looks a little quaint now in an era where we’re totally used to mega-crossovers and all that. But in 2006, the novelty was still very real, and this sent me wild. We were gonna see so many new characters. So many Nintendo worlds brought to life in beautiful 3D. And so many awesome unlockables. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was almost here.
…And then it took two years for the game to actually release.
Two agonizing, hype-building years. Now, Nintendo was firing off on all cylinders back then, with new big and fresh Wii games almost every month through late 2006 and all of 2007. It wasn’t like Smash 4 where there was nothing else major announced for the console for a year before release. So my attention was kept by stuff like Zelda and Warioware and Mario Galaxy. But… None of it meant as much to me as Brawl.
Director Sakurai Masahiro kept the world satiated as best as he could, with an extremely innovative developer transparency-turned-marketing-machine called the Smash Dojo.
If this were a c-tier Youtube video essay, this would be the part where I turn the title into “Smash Bros. Brawl: How to Market a Game” and focus almost exclusively on the Smash Dojo. The website is still up, so you can see it all very easily.
Every weekday, there’d be a new update with something cool from the game. A character, an item, a Pokemon, a feature, an Assist Trophy, some music… Anything was up for grabs, and it was an extremely big deal. Anytime a character was revealed, it was treated like a major event.
I remember my very first time seeing the Smash Dojo for myself. It was THIS character’s reveal…
Little did I know, a few months later, this very buff, very gay man would completely change the course of my middle school gamer life. I had no idea who he was, but he looked really cool. And the fact that they were introducing brand-new characters left and right, including ones I didn’t even KNOW? Just incredible.
This went on from summer 2007 all the way to March 2008, when the game released. Obviously the game released then since this article is about the Brawl 15th Anniversary, but whatever.
Hype for a video game, for the first time in my life, and probably many other nerds of my age, became an important, hobby-defining thing. I joined the Smashboards forum as one of my first ever social networks not called Nintendo City. I religiously listened to the Show Me Your News! podcast every week. I speculated, I made weird fan idea stages and character movesets and story stuff (I’ll share some of if demanded by readers), and I reveled in the anticipation fueling an entire community of weird nerds.
The sky was the limit back then. We had no idea what to expect. And there was just so much content being teased.
THIS day completely destroyed me and many, many others:
15 years after Sonic’s debut, the blue rat and the red man were finally fighting each other. Holy crap.
And, as we slowly came to realize, this game had a STORY.
The Subspace Emissary wasn’t just an adventure mode like Melee. It was a full-fledged story campaign crossover event. WOW!
It also made the weird choice to have no dialogue and to heavily feature original monsters instead of crossover enemies. It wasn’t exactly the most comprehensible plot, either, but it was just way, way too cool.
The game got delayed, twice, and broke my heart each time it happened. December 3rd, 2007, moved to February 10, 2007, then moved a final time to March 9, 2007. When you’re 13, this is a big, big deal. A tragic one.
Especially because the game came out a month early in Japan, and thus leaked to Americans super early. I found out all the story beats, all the hidden characters, and also the horrifying truth that there were ONLY 36 characters total. Back then, the idea of 50+, maybe even 60+ characters was just a simple fact, but it was the result of overhyping only, sadly. We were kids. It was disappointing.
The game turned out fantastic, though. It got a 10/10 from Nintendo Power, which was EXTREMELY RARE I have to say. They gave less than 20 titles total, ever, a 10/10.
The game was a zeitgeist at my middle school. All genders, all backgrounds, people all walks of life, as long as they were nerds, played and loved this game. Casual and hardcore, anime weirdoes and Sonic furries alike.
Everything about the game was highly polished, extremely intentional. Even the trophies were looking extra great.
They had match replays, an absolute wonder back then. Custom stages, even if they were a bit simple. Tons of screenshot features. Customizable music. Online sharing, and even online battling except it lagged too much to be that useful. Event matches, and CO-OP event matches, just to stretch this game’s content out to massive extremes. A bazillion really beautiful, really dynamic stages. A few of them sucked, but even Elektroplankton holds a fond place in my heart. The sticker system was a bit overly complex, which would carry into the next game, but it was still loads of fun for the people who cared about it.
The customization was sublime. The single-player campaign was expansive. The extra unlockables were near-endless. The
Of course, over time, the cracks began to form in one area specifically–competitive play. Melee had the big tournament scene, but Brawl’s just didn’t add up the same way.
“The one with the tripping” is how the game is characterized now. Slower, a little clunkier fighting system, one character extremely dominant over all the others.
Competitive fans didn’t like it. They quickly moved on from the series and went back to Melee, and for some reason the lack of a big competitive scene somehow turned this absolute critical and commercial triumph into a “controversial black sheep” type thing. It makes absolutely no sense, but the internet narrative is there because the kingmakers with influence are, of course, the tournament players.
It’s not controversial, I think, to say that aside from the competitive level of fighting, this is probably the best Super Smash Bros. game, as an actual game. Yeah, I’m hyping it up since it’s the Brawl 15th anniversary. But it’s honestly pretty true. The game has an absolute smorgasbord of content. Single player, co-op, multiplayer. Custom stuff, challenges, so much history jam-packed into a two-layer DVD that it literally contains timed demos of N64 games.
As much as I love all 5 Smash Bros. games, you can’t quite say the same about the others. In Melee, you can unlock all stages and characters and finish the Adventure and Event modes in probably 20 hours if you know what you’re doing. In 64 and Smash 4, you can complete most of the single-player content in even less. Ultimate’s single-player mode is a bit longer, but not by too much. (HowLongToBeat stats disagree but they probably vary on what counts as “main story” and “main + extra” with a title like this) Smash 4 on 3DS and Smash Ultimate have infinitely replayable and very addictive single-player modes with Smash Run and Spirit Battles, and I love ’em for it forever.
But… Brawl’s just got the best stuff, y’know? There’s so much of it that my friends and I were still working through finishing it all come summertime months later!
The sheer ambition, the sheer massive girth of this game, is something I’ll never forget.
And where Nintendo’s work ended, fans’ work began. Thanks to Wii hacking being what it is, Brawl is one of the most-modded games ever. People are still making tons and tons of new modded content every day! And I’m sure y’all remember Brawl+, and later Project M. It was an extremely popular Brawl mod that changed the fighting to be more like Melee, and even added new characters and stages. Except for its gray legal status, it would have become a tournament mainstay, and honestly is a great way to enhance the experience for Brawl once you’ve mastered everything else the game has to offer.
The Project M developers canceled the mod a long time ago, in order to work on original games. And their free-to-play game Rushdown Revolt is pretty good, albeit lacking greatly in single-player content.
But don’t worry. The modding’s still going in the form of Project+, which added further updates and a whole new character in Knuckles. There’s also Project M EX which is more ambitious about adding new content (over 100 characters!!), and is probably your best bet for a non-competitive big mod. It’s easy to install these mods, and Wiis are still really cheap to obtain and hack, so I’m really hoping you’ll try them out if you haven’t already.
I’m writing this a month in advance, but I can bet you there’ll be some big splashy mod release right on the Brawl 15th anniversary date. Which is today, if you’re reading right when this comes out.
Thanks to easily accessible fan content, the game will never really die, and that’s awesome.
I’m really, really still yearning for the Forbidden Seven. Seven unused character files hidden in the Brawl disc, never to be played with because there’s not enough data. Of the seven, Mewtwo, Dr. Mario, and Roy have been programmed back in with Project M. But as of Project M EX Remix, Dixie Kong, Toon Zelda, Tetra (Toon Shiek?), and Plusle & Minun are still MIA.
It makes me sad because those are exactly the characters who were never gonna appear in a future Smash Bros. game. The stakes got too big, and the only new characters who could appear by Ultimate time were promotions for AAA releases, or huge 3rd party inclusions. Aside from the Piranha Plant, we never got the weirdo inclusions like Plusle & Minun that the Forbidden Seven teased.
But… Maybe one day there’ll be a way…
Anyway, I’m done celebrating the Super Smash Bros. Brawl 15th anniversary, but that doesn’t mean the end of this story.
Because we can just keep playing the game whenever we want. Go! Play the game and make the Brawl 15th anniversary awesome!
Read another blog post about my old Nintendo obsessed teenage years:
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