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September 4, 2011 / jwaxo

Super Smash Bros. (Genre Variations)

Paradise (n.): Nintendo characters fighting each other.

There was really only one fighting game in the world, back in the nineties: Mortal Kombat. It featured bloody graphics, complicated button combinations, and atrocious spelling. We were forbidden from playing it.

Of course, this didn’t exactly stop us. Whether it was at a relative’s when the parents were upstairs, or at the friends who lived in the other neighborhood’s house, we would sneak peeks and take turns playing this, and other forbidden games, to our hearts’ content.

My heart’s content lasted about five minutes in, because I was absolutely horrible at the game.

I’m not sure what it was. Probably the need to memorize long strings of button inputs in order to get anywhere, button inputs that would massively change depending on what character you played. Then there was the fact that, no matter who I played against, they always had a lot more experience than me, thus not giving me any time to actually figure anything else before they were pushing me up against a wall, hammering punches through my skull.

I tried to like the genre of 2D fighter. I really tried. I played an awful lot of Killer Instinct, another fighter that had evolved from an arcade cabinet. As you may remember, it had come with my GameBoy. I managed to beat Killer Instinct, in fact. On easy difficulty. With two out of the dozen or so characters, one of which I found out later is still considered really cheap.

Why wouldn’t you pick the guy made out of living ice water?

No, this genre was not made for me. Not one bit. I just couldn’t enjoy fighters.

Cue middle school, one boring summer. My friend from a few streets over and I were just hanging out with the good ol’ N64, playing around with the only game I owned for it: Mission Impossible. Suddenly, he asks if I’ve ever heard of this game about these brothers. I have not. Immediately I am regaled with tales of our favorite Nintendo characters, all of them fighting each other in glamorous, famous Nintendo locales. Link, Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikachu: all of the awesome characters are there, and a bunch of other cool ones.

I was curious, of course. So we scampered down to a mutual friend’s house, borrowed a copy of this game. I still had no idea what was in store for me. But, after we plugged the cartridge into my system and booted it up, I realized what we were looking at: another fighter. Just like those two games that I had now cast to the bottom of my “games I actually am willing to play” list.

And so we played. Mostly because it was boring that day, and because my friend was so excited about it. He picked Link, I picked this big red robot-looking guy who shot missiles.

And I realized: this game was fun.

At first it was only because of the sheer fun involved with crossovers. After all, who doesn’t want to see Luigi and Mario at last beat up on each other with punches and kicks? And then it was because I learned there were absolutely no specific button combinations to memorize, other than what the standard button presses did differently for each character. And even then I loved it because I found out just how much depth the game had. Here my skill wasn’t dependent on my ability to remember what to press when, it was mostly based on instinct and my ability to react quickly.

In short, just a few changes to the standard fighting game formula made it playable.

None of this.

This lesson is one that is older than the trees. Getting bored of something? Girlfriend want you to do something that you really can’t stand? A slight variation on that theme might even make it your new favorite thing.

In this case it was the extremely technical parts of fighters that made me want to throw the controller through the screen. Smash Bros took that, removed the weird button combos, and tossed in levels that had were more than just flat fields and the option to randomly spawn items, thus ensuring every single fight would be different than the last, and still be just as easy to pick up and play. The same kind of approach can be used for movies: if romantic comedies are getting boring, throw in a bit of adventure and watch The Princess Bride (again). Or choosing classes at school: you may not like drawing, but painting is actually very different.

I guess the bottom line is, don’t knock something just because you don’t like something similar. Minor changes can make a world of difference, and it’s always fun to find out that you like new things.

This didn’t make it any easier for my friend to convince me to try playing as other characters.

It wouldn’t be until years later that I found out the disgusting truth: Samus is a girl. Not a robot.

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