Yesterday, following an otherwise unremarkable Direct presentation, Nintendo dropped a bomb on us. A big one. They not only confirmed that a Super Smash Bros. game was coming to the switch, but that the Inklings from Splatoon would be in it AND that it will launch this year. Watching the chat room for the stream react to this was amazing, especially since most of the comments throughout the presentation amounted to “Ok but when Smash???” Seeing the people that obnoxiously lamented Nintendo’s smaller announcements get knocked on their asses by that spectacular end reveal was satisfying on its own, but it also highlights what makes the marketing behind Smash Bros. games so special. For the rest of this year Nintendo can make literally every announcement exciting, as each one will come with the possibility of a new reveal for Smash. Which characters are returning? What new characters could they add? Will there be a story mode like there was in Brawl? These questions and many more will power Nintendo’s hype train until this game comes out, and that prospect almost has me more excited than Smash 5 itself.
Let’s look back to the marketing campaign for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3ds (or Smash 4 if you want to differentiate it in a way that isn’t completely unreasonable), starting at E3 2013. I didn’t have the good fortune to see this live at the time, but the announcement trailer was legendary. It begins with two quick slashing motions forming the Smash insignia, an opening that by itself would provoke excitement when used repeatedly in the coming months. The screen fades into an idyllic scene from Animal Crossing. A villager receives a letter sealed with that familiar insignia and excitedly runs off, mirroring our own uncontainable enthusiasm. Then, every one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises gets a small scene over the rising music until it all culminates in some good old familiar Smash gameplay. This trailer started the hype off at astronomical levels, but more importantly it set a precedent for the marketing surrounding Smash 4. If the announcement was this bombastic, what could we expect closer to release?
The answer was more. A whole lot more. Every time I saw those two quick slashes my heart started pounding. It got to the point that it was basically Pavlovian; all I needed for a huge dose of adrenaline was the intro that signified a new smash trailer. And the trailers were all killer. Several of them even used the art style from the new characters’ games- seeing a cell shaded Captain Falcon fight Lucina from Fire Emblem was incredible, and who could forget Link and Pit’s anime battle? The absolute highlight for me was Charizard and Greninja’s reveal, but that had more to do with the presentation of the trailer than anything else.
Anyone who was disappointed by yesterday’s Direct before the Smash reveal had obviously never seen a Direct before. Nintendo loves to hold their clincher announcements until the very end, with little to no buildup or acknowledgement. The Smash 4 related Direct in April of 2014 was no exception. I was watching the Direct live with a buddy, and we both knew the big N was saving something huge for the end. Once the trailer started neither of us was surprised, a character reveal had been all but assured. Our calm demeanors were quickly shattered as the screen was littered with pokeballs, signaling that the new character would be from Pokémon. The camera quickly panned up to reveal Pikachu standing next to Charizard, confirming the orange dragon’s spot in Smash. We were ecstatic, we both loved Charizard in Brawl and were excited for him to return. It felt odd though, this would have marked the first returning character to get a full trailer. What we didn’t foresee was the reveal of a second character. As Charizard confidently flies to face a crowd of Smash veterans, the group is attacked by a shadowy figure in the distance. The shadows recede, and the lithe, froggy form of Greninja is unveiled. At this point my friend and I completely lost our minds. Nintendo had baited us into thinking the trailer was for Charizard, which lowered our guards for the actual surprise of a brand-new character.
I think there’s a lot to analyze about that story, but the part that still sticks with me was a comment from an outside observer about our excitement. They said: “Man, I wish I could be that excited about literally anything in my life.” There’s something really powerful in the culture we’ve built surrounding gaming, and the buildup to a new Smash game showcases some of the very best of it. Smash 4 ended up being a damn good game, but the end result didn’t really matter. Regardless of the finished product, we got to experience the unbridled joy of looking forward to it.
So here we are four years later, on the cusp of another era of Smash Bros. hype. The reveal trailer for Smash 5 is extremely promising; it’s obvious that Nintendo hasn’t lost their touch for the dramatic. With that said, they’ve got a long way to go if they want to top their previous performance. No matter how Smash 5 actually turns out, I’m looking forward to a year of unrivaled anticipation and excitement.