The Subspace Emissary Kept Me Sane
Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s focus on story over competition staved off my controller-heaving ways
I recently destroyed a Nintendo Switch Pro controller. I was playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate when, following a loss to a Shulk player as Ness, I did what’s become something of a semi-annual ritual: I spiked the controller.
I’m fully aware what happens when I spike a controller in my basement. The floor, which is cement covered with a thin layer of carpet, will ricochet the controller in an undefined direction, usually denting one of the controller handles at the bare minimum. That spike is followed by a series of full bodied jumps, some overhead slams, and a couple more throws to render the controller completely and utterly useless.
It took about two weeks before I stopped finding pieces of this controller.
I’ve come to terms with my ritualistic controller sacrifice. Video gaming is an outlet of enjoyment for me, but Smash is consistently a game that can make my blood boil at certain moments. Destroying a controller has become cathartic, preventing me from simply loading into another game and taking another beat down.
While I take full responsibility for my mangled controllers, I can’t help but think that my anger stems at least in part from the ease of access to online play.
When Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released in 2008, it outmatched the previous games in sheer content size. The character and stage selection blossomed, as did the amount of items and unlockables. There was even PvP online, though the peer-to-peer connection and lack of an ethernet port on the Wii made for an often unplayable experience.
Though Ultimate only continued to grow in ways established by Brawl, the 2008 instalment of the series still has one aspect that, if included in Ultimate, would likely keep me from wrecking another controller: The Subspace Emissary.
A follow-up to Super Smash Bros. Melee’s Adventure Mode, Subspace Emissary was an earnest attempt at adding a story to Nintendo’s mash-up fighter. It begins with the game’s two unofficial mascots, Mario and Kirby, facing off in an exhibition match in a reskinned Pokemon Stadium when Ancient Minister, one of the mode’s original enemies, sets off a bomb with the help of Wario and Meta Knight.
What follows is about seven hours of side-scrolling combat and platforming interspersed with context-giving cutscenes that pit the Smash Bros. world’s characters against one another.
Though much of what Subspace Emissary has to offer can be summarized in a single play through, I enjoyed revisiting it throughout the lifespan of Brawl. In contrast to the cartoony focus of the main game, Subspace Emissary offered its share of iconic moments and food for thought. The ruined zoo, for example, is a neat nod to Mother’s Choucream Zoo, and is where Brawl players will acquire Lucas and face off against Earthbound and Mother 3’s Porky. Later, Subspace Emissary offers a pseudo-Metroid experience with Zero Suit Samus exploring the Isle of the Ancients’ research facility in search of her power suit.
For a game that lacked dialogue beyond attack grunts and taunts, Brawl’s Subspace Emissary did a surprisingly great job at establishing reasons for the game’s characters to exist in its crossover world. Donkey Kong was fittingly found in a tropical jungle, while the Hero of Time Link finds the “mythical” dragon Yoshi in a forest.
Previous Smash games latched onto the idea that the characters were merely toys in a child’s room. There are hints of this in Subspace Emissary too, with the characters becoming trophies and the existence of Master Hand, but Brawl builds the concept out to be a shade more nuanced.
These nuances are only enhanced by the game’s soundtrack, which, in addition to the reworked Nintendo pieces by veteran composers, included a theme song composed by Nobuo Uematsu.
For the first time in the series, Super Smash Bros. Brawl would feature a theme song with spoken lyrics. Building on the orchestral theme from Melee, Brawl’s theme features Latin lyrics that spoke to the formation of new allegiances, a theme stressed in the Subspace Emissary. Like the Melee main theme, Brawl’s theme would be remixed into various forms for the game’s modes — an acoustic version, versions for the Battlefield and Final Destination stages, even a watered down instrumental for the stage builder.
The malleability of music in Smash is befitting of a game that cross-contaminates usually self-contained gaming worlds. Like Melee’s music before it, I love the menu arrangement, which emphasizes the marching band-like percussion for a song that implores players to prepare for battle.
In battle, the main theme stands out too. The second version of the Battlefield theme mixes a guitar and bass led intro with an all-out electric guitar jam session midway through the track along with a musical nod to Kirby’s Gourmet Race.
The scope of the theme was best realized by Subspace Emissary’s attempt at storytelling, which successfully included 36 of the game’s 39 characters (Wolf, Jigglypuff, and Toon Link were only available as secret unlockables). Taken with large scale bosses like Ridley and Rayquaza, reworked character physics (certain characters like Pit and Pokèmon Trainer had their abilities modified to balance gameplay), and its original level layouts, Subspace Emissary set a new standard for the Smash Bros. series and crossover fighting games alike.
Revisiting Subspace Emissary and Brawl is mostly a treat, even with the game’s limitations. The much-hated tripping mechanic is annoying, but only when trying to play competitively (which you’re better off not doing). The game’s more photorealistic art style stands in contrast to the series’ cartoon violence, but it doesn’t hamper a game that’s otherwise steeped in fantasy. Super Smash Bros. Brawl might not be the most technically rewarding game in the series, but it’s certainly one that keeps my controllers intact.