Everything you need to know about Super Smash Bros Character Design changes through the decades.
Ever since the release of the original Super Smash Bros. in 1999, Nintendo has changed and expanded on the characters that participate in the iconic platform fighter. The different art styles of the games represented Smash have demanded a lot from series director Masahiro Sakurai and the entire team. They all value and respect the source material of the characters to a sometimes frighteningly high level, as demonstrated by the sheer level of complexity shown in Minecraft’s Steve and Alex mechanics and design.
This royal treatment is not only reserved for cultural behemoths, though. Since the original, through Melee and Brawl, every character and the continuation into the soft reboot that was Super Smash Bros 4 and now with the expanding SSBU characters roster has seen detailed changed and visuals updated. All to fit the current generation of consoles that Nintendo had been developing.
The game’s original release leaned on the Nintendo 64’s art style, which many of the first-party titles for the console had been using and were known to create a cohesive and believable environment for the characters in. There were also various second-party characters included, such as Ness and Fox.
Another element of the N64 release was that Masahiro Sakurai and Satoru Iwata developed the first version of the game presented to Nintendo executives behind their backs. He knew he would not receive permission to use said characters otherwise.
A mere two years later, Super Smash Bros Melee would release for the Nintendo GameCube and kickoff a scene that lives on to this day, to what seems to be Nintendo’s dismay. The game would continue with the same base character but introduce two new franchises: Fire Emblem, ice climbers, and Game & Watch.
This was the first time the Smash series would need to adapt their artistic style to its own. For Game & Watch, which came from one of Nintendo’s first entries into the handheld entertainment business of the same name, needed to lose its blocky pixeled look that was a limitation of the time in favor of the new era of less pixelated 2.5D graphics. Here we see something that would become a common thread for the series, using the unique look of the characters to enhance the gameplay experience and immersion instead of outright changing them to fit the existing artistic style of the Smash franchise.
For G&W, this meant having chunky animations, reminiscing of the game the character is from, along with its characteristic moves. That choice made it feel like G&W was ripped from his universe and into the stages of Smash.
Fire Emblem’s Marth and Roy were a bit different, as the FE games at the time were top-down strategy games with only a handful of character portraits. But the team had the 1996 animated series to draw inspiration from, and the voice actors from that anime were also hired to voice their respective characters.
After that, it would be a long wait for the next Super Smash Bros. Six years. Super Smash Bros Brawl would not have the most significant impact in the competitive scene of smash, but it certainly cemented an idea of what Smash’s style should look like. That of more desaturated colors and a more significant emphasis on the proportions and techniques of the characters’ original work.
Snake, Sonic, Olimar, and R.O.B are great examples of said unique proportion and style. Snake kept his blue tones, highly detailed equipment, and human proportions. At the same time, Sonic stuck to the log legs, gloved hands, and uni-eye, as creepy as it might be to think about. Jokes aside, it is worth noting that the owners of the series get a say on how they are presented in Smash. But from what we know of the development process, Sakurai and the team enjoy working alongside them to respect the source material.
The turn of the new decade brought to fans of the series the unofficially titled Super Smash Bros 4, Officially it was the combo of the 3DS and the Wii U entry of the series. Generally considered the start of modern Smash, the game also updated the look of many existing characters.
Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Ganondorf, Link, and many others received a fresh paint job and texture work. Although the Wii U wasn’t the most powerful console in the market, it did enough to add a welcomed level of fidelity to each character and add unto the idea that each character was just magically misplaced into the Smash stages.
Alongside the updated models, the newly introduced characters, like Cloud, Ryu, and Bayonetta, pushed the stylistic style of the game further. A balance that Ultimate, a few years later, would nail right on the head.
As computing power reaches a certain level, it is clear that game artists have room to make their stylistic choices. In fact, Nintendo has been leading the way to only demanding what they need from their hardware to get the visuals they want. No photo-realism is necessary.
There are no indications that there is a new console on its way, and even less so a new Smash game in the works. It will be interesting to see how the new decade shapes the franchise’s visual style. Whether you see it as cartoony or too stylized, the way Smash meshes an Italian plumber, a dinosaur, a fast hedgehog, the hero of time, and even Minecraft is nothing short of amazing.