Music to Smash To 4: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS / Wii U

Music 3DS Wii U
With thanks to Push DustIn, Spazzy_D, and Soma.

NOTE: this is an opinion article, and comes from personal interpretation.

To an extent, the 2014 double act Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U represents the inevitable difficulties of the series’ artistic identity, even as its fourth and fifth iterations work mightily at bridging its many contradictions into a damn fine game. It’s a series powered more than a little by nostalgia. Yet its creator, Masahiro Sakurai, struggles to avoid each game being mired in the past. It looks to broad, diverse audiences as an ideal, yet has wrangled an obsessive, extremely devoted following.  It trades in some of the strongest, most kinetic multiplayer in gaming while often rewarding single player efforts (albeit at their most truncated in this iteration). In other words, these are games that try to move in one direction while also paying respect to others; it is a tension of forward momentum versus outward growth. That can be seen in the music of this installment, the development of which had a problem of its own: the inevitable constraints of big-budget game development.

The score for Smash for 3DS / Wii U, which was mostly relegated to the latter game due to its vastly greater storage capacity, seemingly suffers from the inevitable logistical and licensing constraints that come from such a large series with content from so many companies. While some of the franchises have a number of new additions, others – in particular Sonic the Hedgehog and most extremely, Final Fantasy – are much more bereft of new content. Though the number of new remixes is comparable to Brawl’s (122 to 133, most of the latter returning for this game), there’s a much higher number of songs directly ripped from the original games; while it would be hard to improve on pieces like “Gusty Garden Galaxy” and “Mangrove Cove,” their greater number implies that money and time had to go to other areas. Considering the sheer size of both games put together, that explanation seems as acceptable as any.

Additionally, for unknown reasons (possibly due to a need for space) multiple pre-existing songs were cut down to fit an approximate two-minute runtime. It’s less noticeable for long pieces like “Gaur Plain” and “Super Mario Galaxy”, but it does deeply hurt some songs such as Melee’s infamous “DK Rap.” It also features what might be one of the series’ most bizarre cases of localization, with a lovely second arrangement of “Ashley’s Song” being inexplicably made inaccessible in all international releases (one exception: it was used in the “Mii Fighters Suit Up for Wave Six” trailer). Additionally, a number of songs were cut from Brawl entirely (particularly ones with vocals), leading to WarioWare actually suffering a reduction in musical representation.

However, these criticisms should not be taken alone; the Smash for 3DS / Wii U soundtrack remains genuinely marvelous, exciting, and absolutely fun. Though It’s ultimately weaker in comparison to Brawl’s, it’s more than a worthwhile contribution. It features more songs from unattached third party series, like “Culdcept” and Baten Kaitos“Valedictory Elegy.” It was able to draw from an even wider musical history, from mashups of Namco arcade songs to music whose games of origin wouldn’t even be heard until after the games’ 2014 release (the most recent examples being remixes inspired by Super Mario Maker and Fire Emblem Fates), and it managed to get a similarly large crew of returning and new composers to buff its expanded take on Brawl’s “My Music.” When combined with the returning music from Brawl, Melee, and even a few tracks from the original Smash Bros., the total number of songs for both versions put together hits over five hundred, a brobdingnagian amount almost no game can match.

Over the course of this series I have argued that the music of each Smash game carries a specific ethos, one tied to their game. The original is ambient and experimental, Melee is orchestral and spirited, Brawl is massive and comprehensive. 3DS and Wii U’s combined score, then, is about finding the new, unique pockets in Nintendo’s history, and focusing on where the company is going. There was a much greater focus on Satoru Iwata’s tenure, with many remixes – for instance, “the Great Sea / Menu Select,” “Circuit,” and “Mii Plaza” – representing the GameCube up to the Wii U. Because Brawl’s songs on an individual level drew more from games across console generations (compared to Smash for 3DS / Wii U), there was something of an opening for this long and eventful era, as well as an eye towards how Nintendo, a company that by 2012 was struggling for sales, critical acclaim, and identity, could potentially move forward successfully. This is true for both the music and the game itself, which had an eye for the history of the Wii, 3DS, and Wii U.

There was also an element based around a sort of historical functionality. Songs – even ones that had been given full remixes of their own in earlier games – were readily combined into larger medleys. It’s an odd yet not unwarranted direction; if the music budget could not keep up with the series’ even greater expansion, then why not work to combine as many famous and obscure songs as possible? It does mean that some feel less identifiable on their own, “Onett Theme / Winters Theme” being an extreme though still not bad case, but it also does allow a fairly substantial amount of representation on the musical end.

As per the series’ standard, this installment will focus on a few songs which, altogether, represent the ideas and interests of these games’ combined score. Like the games discussed in the last article, almost all of these were part of the games’ marketing, whether used on the site’s “Music” page or given a spot in A Smashing Soundtrack, the promotional two-disc soundtrack CD given out for purchasing both versions. Now, let’s begin with a look at the theme for one of the earliest stages shown to the public:

While songs and stages from series with no characters were surprising and notable in Melee and Brawl, by the time of 3DS / Wii U it appeared almost commonplace. Stages drawing from Pilotwings and Balloon Fight, series that were commercially or historically valuable but often utterly lacking in characters, were normal to the point of appearing in the early trailers. A particular standout was Nintendogs, the 2005 digital pet simulator whose almost 24 million sales helped propel Nintendo’s “Blue Ocean” strategy and DS handheld skyward. A stage from the sequel Nintendogs + Cats allowed Smash 3DS to greatly expand its representation from what it got in Brawl (that being the first revealed Assist Trophy character) and it needed music to go with it.

By 2013, the notion of shrunken Smash Bros. fighters tearing up Nintendogs‘ Country Home was almost quaint.

Bath Time Theme (Vocal Mix) by Masato Coda (Devil May Cry, El Shaddai) is a fairly normal example of a Smash 3DS / Wii U song, an accurate arrangement of an original piece that plays up the use of instruments and a bassier rhythm that keeps the piano section from feeling too light. It’s also appropriately goofy, cluing new players in on Smash’s wide comfort zone for tone and inspiration. The track could also be less charitably described as incomprehensible “elevator muzak,” though it’s contrasting levels make it far too dynamic for that. Certainly, Smash had became diverse enough in musical taste that something less “traditional” for fighting games, and more representational of Nintendo’s contemporary output, fits like a glove. Incidentally, It may have even been one of the earlier remixes made, considering how the 3DS stage Living Room was one of the first revealed for the game, long before stages representing many of the most prominent Smash series.

One important facet lies in its name; this iteration of Smash for whatever reason cut down the number and prominence of vocal songs; the only known reason was an aside from Sakurai about how vocals “aren’t always the best match for battles”. The big ones were the Japan-only “Ashley’s Theme Ver. 2,” and non-specific vocal additions to “Bath Time,” “Light Plane” (also done by Coda), and “Donkey Kong Country Returns.” Almost all the new vocal remixes (not counting original songs like Sonic Colors“Reach for the Stars”) have a non vocal equivalent used as an alternative on the same stage, “Bath Time” included. On Living Room, the game uses the vocal version as an “alternate” track, by extension treating it as somewhat secondary. But it’s the “Vocal” version that was used among the main site’s sample songs and included in a Smashing Soundtrack, so the more elaborate one is clearly seen as the “main” version. Even if the musical vision isn’t quite as ambitious as it was in Brawl, there’s still a very strong interest in experimentation and embellishment.

Compared to previous Smash Bros. games, Smash for 3DS / Wii U had a much greater degree of currency. While nothing may ever top Melee adding the fighter Roy months before he even debuted in a Japan-exclusive game, these games were able to draw from a much more recent crop of titles. Perhaps Sakurai felt that, with all the biggest and most important characters already being in the game, it was important to focus on where Nintendo is going instead of increasingly tertiary figures from its past. Or it may have been that Smash fans simply desired younger characters for whatever reason (either due to an interest in new titles or the fanbase becoming younger), an argument supported by not only Bayonetta winning the Smash Bros. fighter ballot but SourceGaming’s own independent poll as well, whose results carried an overwhelming slant in that direction.

Whatever the reason, it allowed the game to include new content that otherwise would never have had a chance. Greninja was chosen before Pokémon X & Y were even publicly announced a year after development on Smash started (with it being inspired by character art); in addition, only six months passed between the ninja frog being discovered when X & Y launched and its reveal in Smash. The just revealed Corrin stars in a game that came out in Japan mere months ago, Nintendo’s first possibly openly LGBT protagonist may represent a future for the company and its interest in looking towards underrepresented demographics in the games industry. Stages like Tomodachi Life, Gamer, and Mario Circuit were inspired by titles released after Smash started development; that they were detailed and faithful to their original games implies an unprecedented level of communication between Sakurai and the rest of Nintendo (in Brawl he wasn’t privy to concurrent projects, and even in the first Smash Bros. he was upset that Hyrule Castle wasn’t accurate to its Ocarina of Time incarnation). Super Mario Maker was out for less than a week by the time Nintendo announced a downloadable stage based on the title. Wii U even has a stage inspired by a game that came out a year after it; Woolly World was added so far from the Japanese release of Yoshi’s Woolly World that the “original” version of its main theme is actually different from the one that was used in the final game!

The song “Wrath of the Reset Bomb” wasn’t nearly as current as “Woolly World” – Kid Icarus: Uprising was finished a month before this iteration of Smash seriously entered production  – but the game from which it is inspired is a good example of this concept. Sakurai’s project in between Smash titles was one of the more inventive Nintendo releases of its time (and a continuation of his revival of the series in Brawl) that threw its hero Pit into a frenetic action game spent equally in the air and on the ground. The origin of this arrangement shows the game’s appeal well: it plays during a chapter in which Pit has to stop a vindictive goddess from committing mass murder by fighting through multiple waves of monsters, shutting down a “reset bomb” poised to rejuvenate the environment through violent destruction, and shutting down the bombs’ depot. It’s wild, and with a serialized, theatrical energy – inspired by, among other things, space opera movies and science fiction anime – that’s hard to find in most Nintendo products (it’s notable that one of the company’s biggest series that also draws from science fiction films, Star Fox, is only now poised to return from a decade-long hiatus).

The 3DS’ Reset Bomb Forest stage is evocative of not only Uprising‘s visual style but its ethos as well. It dynamically changes after about a minute in each match.

Yuzo Koshiro’s (Culdcept, Etrian Odyssey) remix of his own piece from Uprising – which was cut down from the original’s larger runtime – gets at this cornerstone of the game and its inspiration from outside Nintendo. From the start, where loud percussion beats throw players into a sense of pitched battle, it sounds hectic and forceful, but a strong rhythm keeps it entertaining. Changes to the tempo and rhythm recreate the chaos of war without undermining the flow, and a rising string section sounds reminiscent of Pit flying further into the sky, instilling a sense both energy and danger. To reference how “Wrath,” like many of Uprising‘s tracks, is synched to its stage of use, the song even stops playing when a match on Reset Bomb Forest is paused so that it fits the stage even after it changes. It and “Battle! (Trainer Battle) (X & Y)” are worlds away from his wonderful, slow Brawl remixes “Norfair” and “Main Theme Ver. 2 (The Legend of Zelda),” and they help make this dual installment feel energetic and animated. Considering how Smash 3DS was advertised partially on the premise of players being able to “settle it in Smash” anywhere, the portable version especially needed to highlight that pace.

The song’s sweeping energy is representative of Uprising, but to an extent it also shows the value of drawing from more recent works, especially ones that try to explore new areas as they can add tones Smash would otherwise never have. You’d never find anything like this in an established Nintendo franchise, because Nintendo’s general outlook and brand discourages paying explicit homage to Star Wars or Kamen Rider. This has changed somewhat in recent years, though, with Uprising’s look to space opera, Splatoon’s pop cultural milieu, and the sentai and superhero inspiration in the Wonderful 101 and Codename S.T.E.A.M. respectively. And it’s necessary for Smash Bros. to draw from that evolution, too.

One point of criticism given to the music of this iteration of Smash is a perceived undue focus on main themes, as well as songs that have already been referenced. The Legend of Zelda will end these two installments having accrued around ten variations on its original overworld theme, the only music for Street Fighter’s Suzaku Castle were versions of Ryu and Ken’s stage songs, and several already used pieces got new remixes. Some of these, like “Forest / Nature Area” and “Gerudo Valley,” were arrangements of original songs ported to Brawl. Others, like “Yoshi’s Island” and “Battle! Wild Pokémon (Diamond & Pearl),” replaced older remixes, while “Mute City Ver. 3” and the “Jazz” and “Tribal” arrangements of “Jungle Level” were able to share space with their many counterparts.

Thankfully, Masashi Hamauzu’s (Final Fantasy XIII, Sigma Harmonics) “Stage Select (Pikmin 2)” is thankfully in the latter category, playing on Garden of Hope and Distant Planet right along with “World Map,” a similarly lovely Brawl song that was used in its game’s promotional materials, too. The differences between the two are intriguing; the older song is slower, mysterious, and dark, while “Stage Select” uses more sections almost to mimic the sense of living with Pikmin in their complicated, dangerous world. Each one hits a different element of the series’ tone, even though I strongly doubt they were designed to work in conjunction. When it was first used in the April 2014 Nintendo Direct, I was nonplussed with the piece, but since the games came out I’ve come around on it. The low beats at the beginning sound like a slow, adventurous march, and each unique section gives the impression of Captain Olimar exploring the post-apocalyptic Earth in a new environment. Some of the individual keyboard beats sound almost like Pikmin climbing or building structures; the song makes great use out of distinct, individual sounds. The strain at around the 0:35 mark, when the pace slows and the pitch goes down, even feels reminiscent of Pikmin’s unnerving sunsets.

Many of the stages in Smash 3DS / Wii U emphasized the spirit of their original games. Gaur Plain from Xenoblade highlights the titans that dominate its world, “Mario Galaxy” is based around its memorable gravity mechanic, and Garden of Hope here represents the clutter, wildlife, and danger of Pikmin 3.

While many of these songs are good on their own, I can understand the discontent; the potential Smash offers seems almost limitless at times, and something new is more exciting than a refrain. I think, though, that there’s a reason for this; these songs are iconic and important to their series, and they perhaps hold a power unique to them. As important as those exciting forgotten spaces in the world of Nintendo can often be, Smash does need to engage with these kinds of grander cultural staples. Of course, as much as the franchise deals with the grandiose and iconic, the series certainly has never shied away from more distinct or obscure pieces (or fan favorites, such as “The Grand Finale” from Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and “Smiles and Tears” from EarthBound); it’s sometimes just easier for people, myself included, to see what’s missing when confronted by such a selection.

That’s less the case with the “World Map” music itself, admittedly, which is simply an important song from what’s a fairly minor series. And while “World Map” and “Stage Select” both cover the same territory, they do so from different perspectives and feel entirely unique because of it. That’s the value of playing with themes repeatedly, even if it can cause the soundtrack to suffer from overuse at times.

Interestingly, I’ve not covered the Pokémon series here thus far. It’s sort of an oddball, especially considering its popularity and prominence throughout Smash. It has more representation throughout the games than any other franchise, but much of that – the most extreme case being the divisive “Poké Floats” stage in Melee – feels somewhat perfunctory, or more based on simple iconography than diving into the series’ heart. Perhaps Sakurai views that iconography of the gargantuan cast of Pocket Monsters as the heart? It’d be hard not to; if you cast aside every element of the series that could be construed as ephemeral, you’d still be left with the creatures…over seven hundred at last count.

To whatever extent that’s actually the case, content in later Smash games has gone dramatically against this idea by emphasizing the series’ environments and current history. It’s certainly the case with the Kalos Pokémon League, a stage that twists the “Pokémon Stadium” stage design to homage the climax of X & Y. This is also the case with its main song “Battle! Cynthia / Cynthia’s Theme,” the twin musical themes of the Diamond & Pearl final boss molded together and remixed.

Just in a purely visual sense, the lighting, colors, and spacial design of the Kalos League give it a noticeably powerful, even operatic quality.

Playing with their original order, it starts with the character’s lightly propulsive fight music before segueing into her dramatic personal theme, a beautiful piano arrangement that slavishly represents Cynthia’s grace and slight aura of darkness. Like Melee’s “Fire Emblem,” it allows the match to begin with a quicker pace – albeit with the crazed energy of the earlier song replaced with strings and keys that match the colder environment of the League, especially its waterlogged Flood Chamber. Its style is at odds with how Pokémon is perceived, both by Smash fans or its own, who respectively often see it either through its adorable mascots or wild landscapes. Still, it’s accurate for how the franchise itself has been evolving, with melancholic and dramatic songs that cap off increasingly grandiose sagas. Both of these series have come a long way.

It’s been a recurring motif throughout the series, but this Smash game in particular emphasized mixing songs together; the sheer number of medleys in the score stick out. This has the benefit of working with themes that might otherwise not be “important” or exciting enough on their own, but the tactic can also be used to let two or more related pieces fulfill a function not dissimilar to that of their original games. In the case of “Battle! Cynthia,” composer Manaka Kataoka (the Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Animal Crossing: New Leaf) allows the two themes to sonically recreate the emotions many players had at the end of Diamond & Pearl, an odd mixture of elegance, raw power, and melancholy that characterized the fight against Sinnoh’s Elite Four.

What’s possibly the medley’s smartest play, though, is how specifically it manages to work with the original music. Almost literally, even; at several points Kataoka’s instrumentals are overlaid on top of a very faithful chiptune arrangement of the DS games’ original piece (its largest point of difference is in losing the original’s percussion beats, presumably so that the main instruments would not sound too busy). It’s a unique way of bringing in the concept of accuracy into the song, where periods of Pokémon history itself almost seem to be clashing along with the fighters. Both here and in the franchise as a whole, there’s a hint of chaos behind the grace. This can be heard in other pieces from Smash for 3DS / Wii U, like “Route 10” and “N’s Castle Medley,” but it’s particularly striking in “Battle! Cynthia.”

Just like Brawl, Smash 3DS / Wii U featured celebrity composers among its substantial number of musicians. Koji Kondo returned for a new arrangement of his famous Super Mario Bros. score (the “Super Mario Bros. Medley”), but more exciting were the contributions of Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka. Tanaka’s a fascinating icon in Nintendo history: the composer for Tetris, Dr. Mario, Super Mario Land, and Kid Icarus (and who worked on the music of EarthBound and the Pokémon anime), one of the designers for the Game Boy Camera, and current president of the Pokémon empire’s Creatures Inc. He made several remixes for Smash 3DS / Wii U, the most prominent and advertised among them being “PAC-MAN (Club Mix).”

He’s also a DJ whose early musical career was inspired by (among many others) the Beatles, Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, and a Tribe Called Quest, and who currently does compositions as the chiptunes musician “Chip Takana” to differentiate his current work from his time at Nintendo. “(Club Mix)” isn’t really club music, but its pulsing beats, repeated use of bass beats and arcade sound effects creates something akin to it, worlds away from the rest of the Smash soundtrack. The slow buildup, fast middle section, and immediate drop feel more reminiscent of music from outside video games, which aren’t nearly as dependent on maintaining a consistent tone to represent an environment.

Tanaka credits the inspiration for his memorable, beloved Metroid score to the one for the Nicholas Cage film Birdy; he decided to have the player only receive upbeat music as a reward for their having completed the unnerving and frustrating game. While much of his music (for instance, Balloon Fight, a remix from which he made for Smash 3DS / Wii U) is known for catchy beats, he wanted to get away from more traditional game music, focusing instead on embodying the nature and tone of the games on which he worked. While it’s not the case for all his Smash remixes, “(Club Mix)” and “Donkey Kong” from Brawl are very much of that nature, really diving into the ethos of their inspiration’s context and history. “(Club Mix)” noticeably feels dark, crowded, hectic, even a bit claustrophobic; that’s a perfect sense for both Pac-Man working through a maze and someone in a 1980 arcade.

The limited use of lighting on the platforms in Pac-Maze is accurate to the original game, but it also gives the stage a specific style that fits very well with Tanaka’s theme.

There is one other part of this song that’s somewhat of note. It’s a remix of only the four second main theme used to kick off each level, and the five second theme used to end it. The same piece starts off “PAC-MAN,” (another of Yuzo Koshiro’s) as well as the victory theme for Namco’s icon. By this point, a huge amount of Smash is steeped in some of the medium’s most foundational iconography; many of the earliest titles it references were built out of nothing but. Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong…almost every single piece of these games has a place in the medium’s history. There’s an incredible power in these individual elements, and songs like “Club Mix” and artists like Tanaka bring that out and into the forefront.

What may be Smash 3DS / Wii U’s most enduring element to the series, ultimately, is its addition and introduction of downloadable content. Adding separate, often paid content to games is a divisive practice; developers can keep their works vital for months after release with elements that would be impossible in a normal release, or they can cut off interesting, even vital parts and charge players for them separately on the day of release. Sakurai has openly argued against the latter, and for him making DLC carries an element of pride and import; he ended the “Final Video Presentation” by boasting about how the studio refused to start development on additional characters and stages until the game had actually been released.

However, there was one part of the game in which that was not true, though Sakurai can still claim his moral victory. The Wii U version of the game included at launch an unfinished stage, based on Nintendo’s social media application Miiverse. It was later added in June 2015 for free, along with thirteen songs – most of which had been on the disc since at least two months prior, and some from the day the game was released. The most interesting song among them: “Mario Paint Medley,” Taku Inoue’s (Tekken, Ridge Racer 3D) collection of leitmotifs used throughout the eponymous game.

Mario Paint is another game that’s something of an outlier. While it’s ostensibly a Mario spinoff (themselves having only slowly come into Smash Bros.), it’s really more of its own thing: an early stab from Nintendo at “do it yourself” gameplay, and a music and art creation tool that inspired WarioWare: D.I.Y. and Super Mario Maker (oddly, that game’s Smash Bros. stage lacks this song). As much as it draws from sound effects and the ephemera of the Mushroom Kingdom, the only real character was the player’s interpretation of Super Mario. It’s an example in of how different series, games, and in particular ideas can share space in Smash, notable since it’s rare for a franchise’s songs to leave their own stages.

The notion of players directly impacting a game with their own artistic flair is also a major element of the often notorious Miiverse, a cornerstone of Nintendo’s recent consoles.

For the most  part, medleys in Smash – for instance, those of “Super Mario Bros. 3,” “The Legend of Zelda,” and “Mysterious Murasame Castle” in this game– try to emphasize a tonal consistency. They aren’t pretending to not be collections of different songs and leitmotifs, all of which were totally separate of each other, but the various artists do make an effort to make them contiguous. The “Mario Bros. 3 Medley” mentioned above, as an example, tries to sound almost like Mario working through a selection of levels and situations, while the “Zelda Medley” relies on a single instrument to feign the impression of one of Hyrule’s many live performances.

“Mario Paint” jettisons this concept almost entirely, instead leaning on the lack of relation between each section of the song. The result is eclectic and delightfully strange, as the song goes through a number of genres, beats, and tones. Going from the heavy anthem of “Opening Demo 1” to the bombastic, dark “Gnat Attack 1” to the cold, ambient “Save & Load” and so on (and ending with simple sound effects) allows these dramatically unique, very short pieces a fun moment. It works very well for the Miiverse stage, which meshes a stock level design with the inherent unpredictability of a background created by fan-written posts.

It’s diametrically opposed from Inoue’s other Smash songs (most memorably the aforementioned “Legend of Zelda Medley” and “Yoshi’s Woolly World”), but in its own way it fits the environment of Paint, an appealingly loose tool that has inspired content from web series Homestar Runner to the litany of song remixes available on YouTube. While I’ve seen no examples of Sakurai being inspired by the game, his various works definitely understand the appeal of controlled chaos and fevered imagination. The move from section to section can certainly be seen in Smash 3DS / Wii U, which joyously played with fan expectations about almost every one of its aspects. And the way each part is so memorable and unique, yet still fit together both in spite and because of their lack of consistency, is fitting for this series.

Looking at this wide array of music and inspiration brings to mind a question: what is Super Smash Bros., at its essence? It’s a difficult question, partially because – as Sakurai has noted repeatedly, most recently in his Famitsu column last December – it carries a fanbase that is belligerent and numerous, with a diversity of personal histories and opinions. Depending on the fan, Smash is a party game, a competitive fighter, an interactive compendium on Nintendo, something that only matters for a personal favorite series or character, or an environment where the best and brightest stars of video games come together on an incredible stage.

Because of this, Smash is in a position that’s comparably difficult and enviable: it’s one of a rare few games where that aforementioned forward momentum and outward growth are both necessary, valuable, and intoxicating. This may have been the very idea behind Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U, whose bifurcated release foreshadowed the game’s interest in expansion and personal customization. If the first Smash Bros. was about making something different from other fighting games on the market (any conjectured inspiration from the Outfoxies aside), then these Smash Bros. are about making something different from Super Smash Bros., moving it along with Nintendo into the future.

In all of this, the series’ music is as representational as any one element could be, mirroring its slow evolution from something wholly original into something derivative of so many different points of inspiration that it warps back to being unique. That is definitely the case with the score of this iteration, which was comfortable featuring music from games few players had heard of along with some of Nintendo’s most epochal titles. The songs altogether are crazed and odd, with a strong command of instruments and tones. They cover a massive range of history, one that shows just how involved Nintendo has been in the industry. Altogether, and especially when considering the music it brings back, the score is a genuine achievement, the result of incredible effort and ambition.

What does all of this mean for the future? With the final updates to Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U expected in February, we’ve likely seen the last of Smash for a few years. That it’ll return is more than assumed, and if series tradition is any indication it’ll likely have a bunch of new ideas up its sleeve (even if the fan guess that the NX will get a gussied up edition of Smash for Wii U turn out to be accurate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had more new content than simply characters and stages). Its music is likely to be part of that, either with unique kinds of production or new and innovative composers.

And with these games, that’s it for “Music to Smash To.” I wasn’t able to write about all my personal favorites, like “Meta Knight’s Revenge” or “Smiles and Tears” (which has a great deal of personal significance, as one article on my personal blog about EarthBound that used it as a starting point may have kicked off what led me to Source Gaming). Hopefully this selection hits a lot about what has made the music of Smash Bros. so engaging, and why it all feels so right for these games. In Smash discussions we often emphasize things through a prism of hype or salt, and elements like audio often disappear through the cracks. Despite that, music has always been an integral element in how the games work, and it’s most likely going to remain that way.

Some time in the future, I may return to discuss individual franchises, and I’ll be keeping it in mind for the inevitable next title in the series. But for now we’d love to hear from you, the readers. What are some of your favorite songs in this game? Were there any fun surprises, or songs that grew on you? Please tell us in the comments below.

Previous entries:

Part 1 – Super Smash Bros. (64)

Part 2 – Super Smash Bros. Melee

Part 3 – Super Smash Bros. Brawl

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  1. Dear Lord, how do you manage to write so much about music? I don’t think I could ever analyse it so deeply, but then I didn’t even think about it this way until you started this feature.

    I’m also surprised and a little disappointed that you didn’t cover the main theme of this iteration, as it is by far my favourite theme of the series. Still, it was very interesting to be able to see such insight into the music of the series, and I do feel that, musically, Smash 4 is a little lacking in terms of identity compared to the other iterations when it comes to remixes.

    1. It’s funny that you brought up the main theme (incidentally, it’s my favorite too), because I actually considered the main theme of every game in the series except the first; in the end, though, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to write about this one. I think there might be something where it seems to borrow a tiny bit from the Melee and Brawl themes, and a possible from Tekken or Namco, but I wasn’t sure not how much I could really argue that point.

  2. This was an enjoyable series to read. Thanks for sharing!

    I think another enjoyable aspect of the Smash Bros. soundtrack is how it can provide some form of homage to series that otherwise receive no representation in the form of playable characters or stages. Examples from Brawl include the wonderful remixes for Cooking Navi and Shin Onigashima, or even the aforementioned “Tunnel Scene” that originated from X.

    That being said, there’s still a goldmine of fantastic Nintendo music that remains uptapped from some of their more obscure games, or even from some of the less popular games from the established franchises. A few songs I would love to have included in a future Smash installment include “Dungeon Theme 6” from Startopics II, or “Ripple Field 3” from Kirby’s Dream Land 3.

  3. This is one huge research you’ve made so far! Great job!

    Yeah, Smash 4 really had a lot medleys and split versions like Onnet/Winter, which is not bad, but they could’ve at least made a full remix of one particular song as possible rather than combining/mixing both songs together or making it one medley. Much more, many remixes were mainly focused on old songs rather than new ones, which is odd why there were so many originals on new songs. I don’t know if it was because of licensing or costs, but we have a lot of brilliant music artists in Smash, and they could have tried out something that they really wanted to try.

    This also includes non remixes which are Sonic and FFVII. I could understand FFVII’s lack of remixes because of probably license issues or lack of timing, but Sonic’s lack of remixes other than Angel Island Zone (a reuse from Brawl) was a disappointment for a Sonic fan like me. Although there were newly added songs like The Lost World’s musics, Sonic and the Black Knight’s “Knight of the Wind”, Sonic Color’s “Reach for the Stars”, Roof Top from Sonic Generations than Sonic Unleashed and which was oddly a version from the non Nintendo platform, none of any Sonic songs were remixed but reused from the original. I know Sonic’s iconic musics are mainly the heavy metal vocal songs like “Open Your Heart” and “Live and Learn”, but they could’ve at least made a remix of any songs of their own version if possible. And it was sad Jun Senoue didn’t even join this Smash’s music group either. I was hoping he could’ve played any Nintendo songs in his heavy metal style.

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