photo courtesy of nintendo

A Smashing Good Time

Last week at E3 Nintendo peeled back the curtain on a new installment in the Super Smash Bros. series. These games have long been a favorite of mine (not to mention a veritable time suck) and the announcement rekindled memories from the launch of the previous Smash Bros.

Nostalgia, enter stage right.

A lot of my gaming memories revolve around time with my younger brother, and none more than the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. At the time Brawl was announced, we were continuing to log hundreds of hours playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. I’d go as far to say it remained our favorite game at the end of the GameCube’s lifecycle. Naturally, we pre-ordered Brawl on day one.

I remember calling my brother – he was in college at this point and I was in my first year with a “real job” – daily to discuss the sometimes awesome and often mundane updates from Mashahiro Sakurai on the Smash Bros. Dojo website that had been up since May 22, 2007. This slow and steady trickle of information intensified our anticipation exponentially as the original release date, 12/3/07, drew near.

A December release was important to us, as I would be moving across the country at the beginning of March and we could no longer play our favorite game seated beside each other (which is the only way Smash should be played). There would be three months of Smashing bliss before being torn asunder.

Things were going great. Months had passed with no mentions of a delay while we were sharpening our skills in Melee and dreaming about new stages and characters in Brawl. Unbelievable updates would come from the Dojo: Sonic! Snaaaaaaaake! a Luigi’s Mansion level!

Needless to say hype was at an all time high when Iwata broke our hearts at the Nintendo Conference on Oct. 10, 2007. Smash would be delayed, and no date was given for the American release (though Japan would be getting it on Jan 24, 2008). This coming two months prior to release, and my brother and I feared the worst… we would not get to Brawl together. We had missed our window.

Redemption! The very next day, George Harrison (Nintendo of America) stated the game would be released on Feb 10, 2008. Eighteen short but sweet days of gaming goodness to forever stamp the upcoming life change. I had already marked off weekends and set days aside for as much playtime as we could muster. My wife was on notice that our last two weeks in Illinois would be spent apart as brothers battled, brawled, and bonded over these final moments together. That is what it was really about, Brawl was bookmarking the end of an era for us, and we both knew it though neither would say it. Brawl had been given life though our projections of significance that we gladly laid upon it.

Disaster struck, as disaster usually does, on a cold, icy Illinois afternoon. It was January 15th, and the news hit my stupefied self like a hookshot to the face. I stared at the date over and over again in disbelief - March 9, 2008. It couldn’t be, I would be gone. I had already pre-ordered the game (and those things don’t transfer). I had already planned out weeks of gaming, I had been relying on this release as a way to say goodbye.

My brother and I rationalized as best we could. Maybe Nintendo could get online working (after all, they did for Metroid Prime: Hunters). Maybe we could use iChat while playing so we could ridicule each other. We could make it work, though we both knew what we lost.

March 1st came. I packed up a U-Haul and trekked to Raleigh, NC with 14 hours to think about my family, new beginnings, and ultimately Brawl. There were no Dojo updates that day (it was a Saturday), but my brother called anyway for one of our regular Smash talks. We wondered if there were any more secret characters, what final smashes would be like, if Sonic could dominate Mario, and began planning a time when we could get back together to play.

The next week was a blur, I was unpacking and setting up my new home and office. The updates were pretty lame (best was a DK Special Moves list) and I forgot to pre-order a copy in Raleigh. One the eve of the release, I went to a local Blockbuster and they had it on their counter! I tried to buy it, but they wouldn’t sell it until midnight. At 12:01 I rejoiced. I was on the East Coast and had the game in hand one beautiful hour before my brother. I rushed home while sending my brother all kinds of bragging texts and popped that bad boy in the Wii I had just unpacked that morning.

What followed was an hour of pure awesome that also felt empty in enjoying it alone. Later when we tried to play online, it was crippled with lag. We knew that online wouldn’t fill the void, but it only created a bigger hole that was full of lost hope.

In August of that year, my brother came out to Raleigh, and we went on a Smashing bender like no other. In that moment, the game was everything we wanted it to be. This is how I will always remember the release of Smash, bittersweet to the end.