Video Game Column: Smashing It Up!

In these past few weekends, a lot of smashing has taken place. No, I’m not talking about destruction of physical objects, or about “getting smashed,” as is a common weekend pastime for some. I’m talking about Super Smash Bros., a fighting video game for which two tournaments were held these past few Saturdays.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Smash Bros. franchise, a little history: Super Smash Bros. is a tournament-style, two-dimensional fighting game which pits characters from various Nintendo franchises against each other in all-out battles royale. Ever wonder who would win in a fight of Mario vs. Link? Luigi vs. Pikachu? Kirby vs. Yoshi? Solid Snake vs. Sonic the Hedgehog? Then Super Smash Bros. is your game.

Smash Bros. games have appeared on the Nintendo 64 (simply called Super Smash Bros.), Nintendo Gamecube (Super Smash Bros. Melee), and more recently, the Nintendo Wii (Super Smash Bros. Brawl). Each installment has a completely different feel (more on that later), but the basic concept is always the same: attack your opponents until you send them flying off the stage in spectacular fashion. This objective makes Smash Bros. unique in the world of tournament fighters, as instead of whittling down a health bar, players’ attacks steadily increment a damage percentage counter. The higher the damage, the further characters fly when hit. Simple enough, right?

Perhaps for friendly gameplay, but at the tournaments I participated in these past few weekends (one for Melee, the other for N64), the matches were anything but simple. Each game has a distinct physics engine, which makes certain attacks far more useful than others in Melee vs. N64. In particular, Melee’s gameplay mechanics are chock full of peculiarities and glitches which, avid players have long since discovered, can be manipulated to grant players unprecedented control over their characters’ movements and attacks. A whole separate lexicon is used to describe these “elite moves,” one about as intelligible as 1337 5p34k to an outsider. Off the top of your head, could you say what a “wave dash” is? How about a “double jump cancel”? The list goes on, but for clarity’s sake, I’ll translate: a wave dash is a glitch that allows a player to slide very quickly when the character jumps, falls fast, and dodges into the ground. A double jump cancel allows a character with a high jump to sacrifice all height in return for the ability to unleash an aerial attack (usually more powerful than a ground attack) much more quickly and at lower heights than is usually possible. Moreover, all of these techniques require a very twitchy thumb, as each requires multiple button presses within the space of a few frames—this gives players less than a second to execute nearly every move in their arsenals (since standard game systems display 60 frames per second). Similarly difficult exploits exist for the N64 version, making both games extremely intense experiences at their highest levels.

Players with average-speed thumbs need not despair. In reality, few people, even within the hardcore Claremont Smash Bros. scene, have mastered the full arsenal of these reflex-intensive attacks. Most players only have one or two such moves under their belt, and the rarified few that do play the game on a higher level are still surprisingly accessible. Tournament organizer and Melee runner up Michael Haber PO ’13 played friendly matches for hours after the official tournaments had ended, giving as much advice and counsel as the less-advanced players (such as myself) could take in one sitting.

At the end of the day, despite the very high skill level brought to bear by players like Haber, the two Smash Bros. tournaments I attended had a decidedly light and social air to them. Sparks flew on the battlefield, of course, but rarely did a match end without both sides laughing and complimenting each other on their best moves, and everyone was willing to share their most secret techniques with everyone else in the hopes of one day seeing a better challenge. So if you find yourself with an open spot in your Saturday on the day of a tournament, I’d strongly recommend checking out the 5C Smash Bros. scene. It’s nearly guaranteed to make you a better gamer, and you might just find it easy to connect with the person who’s matching your enthusiasm ounce for ounce as his or her Mario battles your Luigi to the glorious end.

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