By John Parry
Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 was an instant multiplayer classic. More than a decade after the N64’s demise, the console remains a staple in college dorms, because darn near everyone enjoys some old-fashioned Smash. If you haven’t yet been indoctrinated, it can be intimidating to see the intensity that can arise from a hotly contested grudge match. Here are the basics, courtesy of Fire & Ice, so next time maybe you can pick up a controller too.
7. Damage: How Does That Work?
In a standard fighting game, each player has a health bar, and damage done by the opponent reduces the health bar. The players hack away until one player “KOs” the other. Super Smash Brothers turned this model on its head.
Whereas previous fighting games counted down, Smash Bros. counts up. You start off with 0% damage, and each hit raises the percentage. Contrary to what you’re already thinking, you’re not automatically KO’d when you hit 100%. That wouldn’t count as innovation at all.
No, the higher your damage count climbs, the farther you’ll fly when enemies attack you. A solid hit by itself is usually not enough to net a KO—you have to knock them so far off the platform that they can’t hop back on (more on jumping later). Sometimes it’s possible to KO players with high damage counts by hitting them straight into the air.
You can erase some or all of your damage using Heart Containers or MaximTomatoes. In case you’re curious, the maximum possible damage count is 999%. Typically, players bite the dust around 100% or so.
6. It Doesn’t Matter Which Character You Choose
Tough-looking characters are not any more powerful than Kirby. Weapons like Link’s sword will not hack Yoshi to bits. You’ll just have to deal with the fact that this game is not based on logic, and that Nintendo tried to balance all of its revered icons as best as possible. That said, Nintendo didn’t do a perfect job, and there are people out there who’ll argue the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.
Major League Gaming’s SmashBoards provide in-depth rankings of all the characters. These are primarily intended for actual professionals. It’s appropriate for obsessive competitors at the top level to nitpick every character, but you should remind yourself that anyone who has ever made money from playing Smash Brothers will be able to tear apart your roommate no matter which character they choose. You’ll find that some characters suit your playing style, and you should embrace that instead of fretting about what a lofty pro gaming community (or anyone, for that matter) thinks of your preference.
5. Just Keep Jumping
It should go without saying that standing still in a fighting game is an awful idea, but in Super Smash Brothers, it’s equally crucial to spend a decent chunk of time in the air. Most people tap the “C” buttons (X or Y on GameCube), but there are some weirdos who press up on the joystick. The buttons are preferable because you can simultaneously complete attacks that require pushing the joystick left or right.
All characters can perform jumps in mid-air, so it’s not a question of being slightly elevated—there’s truly a vertical dimension to the combat. Often times the player with higher ground will succeed. Ground hazards are another incentive to stay airborne. Bob-ombs wander back and forth, exploding on contact; Motion-sensor bombs attach to the stage, nearly invisible; red and green Koopa shells glide across the level and crush anything they meet.
You have to be prepared to jump at a moment’s notice to avoid these items, and you’ll be better prepared to do so if you’re already jumping constantly. Finally, jumping is the only way to preserve your life when you’ve been knocked off the stage. Pressing Up + B after two standard jumps will give your character a third chance to reach the ledge.
4. Use Your Shield (Wisely)
Press the L or R button to activate a colorful sphere that will temporarily protect you from almost all damage. The most obvious application is enduring power-smashes: any time an opponent charges up an attack or makes a lengthy lunge, you can lay waste to their effort with a push of a button. When an opponent throws an item at you, quickly tapping your shield is a great way to protect yourself and maybe even send the item back in the opposite direction.
Of course, you knew that such an awe-inspiring shield had to come with drawbacks. If you take too much damage all at once, the shield breaks, and your character stands still for about three full seconds, wobbling back and forth, totally at the mercy of your opponent. Shields also shrink over time, and using it for too long or too often in a short period can result in the same woozy state. A combination of damage and duration of use will also crack your valuable bubble. As such, don’t waste your shield blocking weak attacks; dodge those instead.
3. Let Your Opponents Deal Damage to Each Other
The most exciting Smash Bros. matches feature three or four players, so the chances are that your matches will too, especially if you’re in a dorm room. Beginners can save their own skin and learn about their opponents by sticking to the sidelines when their opponents allow it.
For example, your friends might find themselves in a cycle of retaliation. Ultimately, they’ll each wind up with a sky-high damage count, making them both easy targets, and if they don’t bring you into the fray, you’ll be harder to kill. You’ll also get a chance to observe any patterns in their respective playing styles. It’s more likely, however, that your friends won’t let this happen too often.
Take advantage of it when you’re going unnoticed. Conversely, when you become the center of a double-team, call attention to the fourth player escaping all the damage. You have the power to subtly control this dynamic by calling attention to the inequity.
2. Know Your Items
Everyone in the room will turn into an unruly second-grader the moment a Sledge Hammer drops onto the stage in the original Super Smash Brothers. The Hammer is a death sentence for the rest of the folks on the stage. Beam Swords, Homerun Bats, and Bob-ombs also pack a serious punch. The aforementioned damage-reduction items are also coveted.
Other items, though, are a running joke. The Fan, made of paper, is exactly as fearsome as it sounds. The pinball-inspired Bumper only deals out 1% damage. Crates and Barrels slow your character to a crawl, and there’s no guarantee a good item will emerge if you break one, let alone connect with an opponent.
Not only will this knowledge help you understand in-game strategy, it will help you know which items to turn off. You and your friends get to pick and choose which weapons will plop down onto the stage, and now you’re better equipped to know which way to vote. Hardcore players tend to prefer fewer (if any) items.
1. Spam the A Button
Alright, it doesn’t have to be the A button, but the point is to attack relentlessly. We picked the A button because B button attacks tend to be more niche or skill-oriented. Super Smash Brothers is definitely a “button-masher”, meaning if you’re not continuously pressing something to the point of wearing it out, you’re doing it wrong.
Should two players attack each other simultaneously, the attacks can cancel out. That’s right; a well-timed and evenly matched attack can serve the same purpose as the shield, but without any drawbacks. It’s a benefit you won’t get if you’re just standing there, or worse, fleeing.
On that note, the best defense in Smash Brothers really is a good offense. There’s no dedicated defense aside from the shield, which dwindles quickly. Keep the attacks coming, and at the very least your opponents won’t find the time to set up haymakers.
We expect you’ll be holding your own with your dorm buddies in no time.
"Super Smash Brothers: A Beginner’s Guide" by John Parry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.