Note: The following includes points that are entirely based on the author’s opinion. You are allowed to disagree.
Update: changed to the correct Pokemon movie.
This is a sequel to the previous installment, On Character Selection: Smash 64.
In a recent interview conducted in the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary Book, Sakurai made a comment on how he creates the roster for each Smash game and it really shed some much needed light when it came to fans trying to predict what to expect.
“Industry trends around the time when development begins is a pretty big factor. I started development on Smash for 3DS/ Wii U right after I’d wrapped up Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Fire Emblem Awakening was released one month after Uprising. So what’s popular around the time when I begin designing the game is important.” – Masahiro Sakurai (Translation by Soma).
With this new information in mind I got curious. Is this something new for Super Smash Bros for Wii U & 3DS or has this been Sakurai’s philosophy throughout the Super Smash Bros series? Could the trends of the time really help to influence the roster this much? Does this mean that with the seemingly eventual ‘Smash NX’ we should not start predicting characters until it is actually announced?
Melee: June 1st – July 7th 1999
After the release of the original Super Smash Bros in early 1999, Sakurai was tasked with creating a sequel almost instantly. That same year, Sakurai began Melee’s development, and not a lot of time had passed since he decided on the original roster. Sakurai felt that what he had accomplished with Smash 64 was only 60% of what he had in mind for his final vision of the game. With Melee he could finally make the complete Smash experience that he wanted. Not many series had changed drastically in relevancy since 1997, so there were various other reasons why certain characters made it in. However, all the characters chosen sans one were relevant at that time.
For starters, let us look at the characters that Sakurai had originally planned for the first Super Smash Bros game but did not make the cut due to time.
The Almost Smash 64 Characters:
Bowser: When deciding which characters should be added to Super Smash Bros. Melee, Bowser was one of the frontrunners for various reasons. Not only is he Nintendo’s main villain character, but he was also popular as Sakurai has stated that he was the runaway winner in the Smash 2 poll.
So Bowser’s inclusion makes a whole lot of sense even without looking at recent games. Much like Mario, Bowser is always relevant as he is always appearing in games. Mario Golf, the Mario Party series and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe were all recently released at the time and Bowser appeared in all of them. He was also planned to appear in both Paper Mario and Mario Tennis which were in development at the time so, so he would continue to be relevant.
Marth: Thanks to a very recent interview with Sakurai in the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary book, we now know that Marth was considered for Smash 64. One of the reasons Sakurai wanted Marth in the game was to have some variation in the sword-wielding characters. However, there was another reason that is more relevant to our discussion. Sakurai said that he wanted Fire Emblem represented in Super Smash Bros because Fire Emblem was a popular series that boasted multiple popular titles. This being a criteria for including Fire Emblem makes it likely that this same criteria was used when looking at other new franchises as well (excluding retro franchises which operate under a different set of criteria).
The status of Fire Emblem’s popularity had not changed in the previous two years since making the first Smash Bros. title. It’s only natural that Marth became one of Sakurai’s first choices for inclusion in Melee . Marth was an original hero and the only character from Fire Emblem to span multiple games: the first title on the Famicom, the Super Famicom remake and the Satellaview Gaiden Chapters (which at the time, was also the newest Fire Emblem game released). Two Fire Emblem titles were in development during the project plan of Melee, neither of which contained Marth. These were Fire Emblem 64 (that went on to become the Binding Blade), and Thracia 766.
Mewtwo: We also know that Mewtwo was one of the four cut characters planned for 64 (the others being the two mentioned above and King Dedede). We also know that when deciding Pokemon, Sakurai considers the movies and what Pokemon are popular.
Mewtwo was a major Pokemon character, thanks to Pokemon: The First Movie. The movie was released on July 18th, 1998 in Japan, slightly over a year after the project plan for Melee was finished. In that time Mewtwo had arguably become one of the most popular and important Pokemon characters. This, along with the increase in Pokemon titles due to the various spin-offs, both released and planned by the time of Melee’s development (like the Pokemon TCG game, Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Pinball game) made a new Pokemon representative an obvious choice. Its relevancy and popularity was only increasing.
Next are the other characters that were planned from the very beginning. A lot of these characters have something unique about them that pushed them to the fore-front of development. Additionally, many of them were relevant during the time period of Melee’s development as well.
The Remaining All-Stars
Ice Climbers: When picking new characters Sakurai had decided on including a character that would represent the Famicom-era. A purposeful throwback character. Sakurai made a list of characters that were from this era and then went through them with a set of criteria. Could they easily be made into a fighter? Did they have something that made them unique? Was there game popular?
A lot of characters were chosen from big names like Balloon Fighter and Excitebiker to more obscure characters like Bubbles and Ayumi Tachibana. In the end, the Ice Climbers triumphed. The simultaneous multiplayer found in their game inspired Sakurai to make them a duo character where players could control two characters simultaneously.
There was no new Ice Climber’s game at this time or any re-releases, meaning they were chosen specifically for reasons outside of trends. The theme of including a ‘retro character’ would become a common occurrence in every Smash game from Melee.
Peach: Just like Bowser, Peach will always be relevant as she is Nintendo’s leading lady. She appeared in many of the same games Bowser and Mario were in, like Mario Party and Mario Golf, and was sure to be relevant in the future as well. Just like Bowser, Peach did well on the Smash 2 poll, placing second overall with 66 votes. She was also a female character which is something Sakurai wanted to include more of after receiving some backlash on the lack of female characters in the original Super Smash Bros.
Sakurai decided to base her moves off of Super Mario Bros 2 (USA) as it was the only action-game where you could play as Peach. On the Melee website, Sakurai also references Super Mario Advance, where Peach was playable as well.
Zelda & Sheik: Ocarina of Time came out the year before Smash 64 and was considered the best Zelda game at that point from both a critical and commercial standpoint. This meant a new Zelda character made a lot of sense. In the end, we actually ended up with four. Two of them were Zelda and Sheik, who were very unique characters as they can transform into each other. Zelda could become Sheik using her down-special and vice-versa. Neither of these two were the most popular Zelda character in the Smash 2 poll, so it was likely the idea of a transforming character that appealed to Sakurai.
It would have also helped that Zelda was incredibly important to the series as a whole. Sheik does not have this same importance and probably only made it onto the roster because of her connection to Zelda. She stands out a lot from the other Zelda characters in Smash, both here and in future games. Thanks to Ocarina of Time, Sheik was very relevant at the time of Melee’s project plan. Sheik was also popular, receiving the same amount of votes in the Smash 2 poll as Zelda and as Young Link.
Mr. Game & Watch: On the Melee website, Sakurai described Mr. Game and Watch as a ‘rule-breaking choice’. What Sakurai is likely referring to is the fact is not really a character but an amalgamation of various characters from various games. In my opinion, it could also refer to how old the Game and Watch was and so how out of the current gaming trends it was. Sakurai himself even says that it is hard to buy Game & Watch’s anymore.
It was the uniqueness of his character, his moveset, and his importance to Nintendo’s history that led Sakurai to choose him. However, although Game & Watch’s themselves were harder to purchase at this time, the Game and Watch Gallery series were keeping the games relevant, something Sakurai admits himself. The the third Game and Watch Gallery game was about to launch when Sakurai was choosing characters for the roster, so the Game and Watch series was on people’s minds at this point in time.
That is all for the Melee newcomers that were decided in the original project plan, but as we know, these were not the only characters who made it into the game. A handful of characters were chosen mid-development thanks to their models being similar to that of already existing characters. By Sakurai’s own admission, they were chosen for various different reasons: some because of fan requests and popularity, some because of Sakurai’s own wants, and some because of their relevance at this time. We have no concrete time period for when the clones were decided on.
Attack of the Clones:
Dr. Mario: In a e-mail to Sakurai on the official Nintendo website, one fan asked whether or not Dr. Mario could be added as an alternate costume for Mario if there was a Smash 2. Sakurai has also stated that he was a fan of the Dr. Mario franchise especially the music. So, when he decided to include clones into Super Smash Bros. Melee Dr. Mario was chosen. He could make fans of the character happy by making him his own unique fighter. Since Dr. Mario was still technically Mario he could use the model and keep it relatively the same, only changing certain aspects like the fireballs into pills.
In terms of relevancy and trends Dr. Mario was arguably not in the public eye at this time. Dr. Mario did make an appearance in 1998 for Nintendo’s Satellaview service in Japan but that was it. He later appeared in a Japan exclusive, Nintendo Puzzle Collection, but more than likely trends of the time had little to no impact on Dr. Mario’s inclusion in Melee.
Falco: Star Fox 64 was a popular and successful game. Perhaps due to this success, Sakurai decided to add a second Star Fox character and Falco was chosen because he was the highest scoring character from Star Fox in the Smash 2 poll. By May 2001, Rare’s Dinosaur Planet had begun its overhaul into Star Fox Adventures and was now planned to be a GameCube title. Whether this happened before or after Sakurai’s decision to implement Falco into Melee, we just do not know.
Ganondorf: Ganondorf’s inclusion in Melee is certainly a product of a lucky situation. Ganondorf was the most popular character from Zelda in the Smash 2 poll. He was relevant because of Ocarina of Time. However, Sakurai might have felt that Zelda and Sheik were just more unique because Ganondorf was not included in the original project plan.
Sakurai has stated that Ganondorf’s inclusion is entirely down to the fact that he has a slightly similar build to Captain Falcon. Ganondorf also happened to appear in the Space World 2000 Zelda tech demo for the GameCube where he fought against Link in a CGI fight scene. This meant that there was also a GameCube model for Ganondorf that Sakurai could easily use to make him. All of this is what leads to Ganondorf’s inclusion although that is not to say he was not relevant. While Ganondorf did not appear in Majora’s Mask; he was planned to appear in the Oracle games that were in development at this time. However, it’s unknown if this influenced his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Young Link: In Super Smash Bros. Melee, the Zelda series received four newcomers which was more than any other franchise. Two of these newcomers were clones with Ganondorf and Young Link. Unlike Ganondorf who has evidence to be the final character finished, Young Link was finished a lot earlier. On the Melee website, Sakurai reports that Zelda’s creator stated that Adult Link’s story is a side quest to the timeline and Young Link’s is the true path. Adding to this is that Young Link has appeared in more games than Adult Link. Furthermore, Young Link was the star of the upcoming Zelda title, Majora’s Mask. Adding Young Link also allowed Sakurai to address the common complaint against Link found in Super Smash Bros. 64 that he was too slow.
Pichu: When making clones, Sakurai enjoyed the idea of the joke character. In the original Super Smash Bros. this was Jigglypuff but for this game, Sakurai decided to change this. He chose to buff Jigglypuff up because he had an idea for a new joke character: Pichu. Pichu was added in as a weak Pikachu who had no benefits. Even Jigglypuff could be devastating in the right hands, so Pichu was designed to be all around bad.
A big reason why Pichu could have been chosen, goes back to the anime. For the third Pokemon movie that came out in summer of 2000, there was a short called Pikachu and Pichu that helped to push Pichu into the public eye, just like it did with Mewtwo. It was not just the anime though, a brand new, main, Pokemon game with Pokemon Gold & Silver launched in Japan late 1999. It is very possible that Sakurai wanted to represent the newer Pokemon games, much like he does with later Smash games, so Pichu could have been chosen for that reason.
Roy: Sakurai views Fire Emblem as one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises and mentioned that when he was deciding on clones, he wanted to make a clone of Marth. In the character data, Roy is listed as ‘EMBLEM’ which might shows us that Sakurai did not know which Fire Emblem character he wanted to use. It may also be a reflection of the fact that Roy did not have a definitive name at this time as early artwork refers to him as ‘Ike’ instead.
During this time, Roy’s game had gone through big development shifts, originally planned for the Nintendo 64 but then moved over to the GBA after the failure of that system. Sakurai saw Roy in the beta stages of his design and so his personality and appearance in Smash was heavily based on Sakurai’s interpretation of the character. This is why he differs a bit from his final version.
Roy shows perfectly how Sakurai might pick a character based on their relevancy and was one of my original influences for beginning this series of analysis. Roy was chosen because he was incredibly relevant to the current trends. His game was meant to come out before Melee and so in Japan, he would be in the public mind.
With Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64, a big focus on character choice was their status as one of Nintendo’s all-star cast. In the sequel however, we get a different criteria when it involves picking the characters in the roster. There was also a very short development time between this game and the previous one.
Many of the newcomers in Melee were either important characters to their series, had a unique moveset or idea behind them, or some kind of combination of the two. The clones did not follow this criteria exactly but they were included for other reasons. While relevancy is still not the most important factor in deciding the roster we do see that it is becoming more and more important. It was not the deciding factor as character importance and popularity played a bigger role for some other characters (like Bowser). However, almost every character was very relevant in the public mind at that time and this played a factor into some of the characters inclusions.
The development time between the original Super Smash Bros and Super Smash Bros. Melee was very short but this is all different for the third game in the series, which came out an entire console generation after Melee. The status of many series had changed in that time and many new ones were introduced. Sakurai himself had also changed (with him leaving HAL and becoming a freelancer). This affected how he chose characters for the next game.
If you have any questions or comments then let us know below or hit me up on twitter @MrNantendo. I would love to help out and hear your views on the Smash series roster. With that, I hope you look forward to the third part of these series of articles where I will tackle the Wii’s entry into the franchise: Super Smash Bros. Brawl.