Super Smash Bros: Nintendo’s Undercover Marketing Machine

The Big N uses its popular brawler to highlight the more obscure titles in its back catalogue.

By Jake Shapiro. Posted 03/03/2014 11:00 7 Comments     ShareThis

You love Super Smash Bros. I love Super Smash Bros. Even people who don’t like video games love Super Smash Bros. Everyone enjoys seeing their favorite Italian plumber and pointy-eared adventurer duke it out. But it’s not just the big names like Mario and Link. The first time many of us played the series, we had no idea who Ness, Captain Falcon, or Mr. Game & Watch were. Some first-time players back when the original was released in 1999 didn’t even know Samus was a woman. But those characters have earned a place in our hearts, and their games have gone on to become popular in their own right.

When EarthBound was finally released on the Wii U Virtual Console last year, it was a huge deal within the gaming community. Some of it was due to the game’s cult status, but most people rejoicing had never touched the game before. Most players’ familiarity with the game and its characters comes from Super Smash Bros. It’s no coincidence that Smash Bros. developer HAL Laboratory is also the studio behind EarthBound.

Nintendo, master of nostalgia, has this sneaky way of using its popular brawler to make us nostalgic for games we never even played. Super Smash Bros. hooks us in with its big-name characters, but it uses the game to introduce the company’s more obscure and dormant series. Fire Emblem had never seen a Western release before Marth and Roy showed up in Super Smash Bros. Melee, but once the characters found a devoted fanbase in Melee, suddenly we got a whole slew of Fire Emblem titles released outside Japan. There hadn’t been a new Kid Icarus game in over two decades, but once its protagonist Pit appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, his popularity prompted Nintendo to create Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS in 2012.

An obscure character popping up in Super Smash Bros. hasn’t always meant a new game in their series. Despite the Ice Climbers’ appearance in two of the three SSB titles, Ice Climber 2: Electric Boogaloo is nowhere to be found. R.O.B. was playable in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but I’m still waiting on my Wii U Robotic Operating Buddy peripheral.

Sometimes a change in an existing Super Smash Bros. character design signals something about that series. Metroid had already seen a Wii iteration in 2007 with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. But when Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out the following year, Samus wasn’t sporting her look from Corruption. Instead, she had a decidedly pre-Prime trilogy design, and spent half the game outside her armor as sexy Zero Suit Samus. Trivial, right? Yet two years later we got the infamous Metroid: Other M. A strong female character whose femininity had never been brought up as an issue in any of her previous games… until she was sexualized in Brawl, and then the following Metroid game was all about how frail Samus is as a woman, and how she just needs a man in her life to tell her what to do.

Super Smash Bros. is, along with Mario Kart, by far the most commercially successful crossover Nintendo franchise. It appeals to both hardcore gamers and the casual crowd. It’s a love letter to Nintendo games, with its trophies and extras effectively serving as a Nintendo encyclopedia. But in many ways, Super Smash Bros. is simply a marketing vehicle for Nintendo’s B- and C-list franchises. That’s not a bad thing. Tons of creative new games have come to fruition due to characters’ popularity garnered in Super Smash Bros.

We’re all dying to learn which characters will join the lineup of the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. I’m excited for the game itself, but I’m even more interested in what the new SSB lineup means for Nintendo’s lesser-known franchises. Little Mac from the Punch-Out!! series has already been revealed; what other characters from less famous games would you like to see in the new Super Smash Bros? I’m hoping for the chubby guy from Ice Hockey. His Final Smash could be an 8-bit line brawl!

7 Responses to “Super Smash Bros: Nintendo’s Undercover Marketing Machine”

  • 0 points

    I think your last sentences Jake signals a creeping problem within the Smash franchise.

    No more notable mascots to mine! And even outside of that – the very notion of bringing more players into the fold doesn’t have the electric charge it did with Melee or Brawl.

    Personally, I figure that Little Mac is an excellent addition. But, if you’re going to make the case that anyone outside the Nintendo elite and faithful even know who that is, or would have reason to get excited, that’s a rough argument to make.

    Sonic the Hedgehog? Yes. Him going into Smash Bros. was a big deal. In terms of mascots, it’s about as big as you can get. Solid Snake? Again – in terms of identity – and people who actually know who that is – an absolute master-stroke.

    Little Mac and the Wii-Fit Trainer? Outside of the Nintendo old-school, and a large segment of the more casual users (re: those who didn’t pick up a Wii-U), these characters don’t have the “Ka-POW!” that Snake or Sonic do.

    So, these characters are in the game. Great. The game has new characters. But if you think I’m nervously unwrapping the covering of the game on the bus, unable to contain my excitement from being able to play as the Wii Fit Trainer, you’ve got another thing coming.

    What’s the next Smash going to do? Get the guys from Solstice and Star-tropics to appear? I mean – awesome? No doubt. But to think that someone outside of myself, and that dude who in Michigan who’s been locked in his basement for twelve years would care is a bit of a stretch.

    Smash fever was palpable for Brawl (across all gaming sites and media well prior to its release). That doesn’t seem to be happening this time around. Maybe those who picked up those 2.8 million units just aren’t making that much noise. Or, who knows, a lot has gone on since the Wii-U was released two years ago. Maybe they’ve picked up a next-gen system in meantime.

    • 63 points
      Jake Shapiro says...

      Well, Mega Man is coming to the new Super Smash Bros, and to me that’s just as big an addition as Sonic.
      If you were the producer of SSB, what would you do to make people care about the new game?
      I think the direction they’re going in is fine. It’s not like Pikachu and Fox are being taken out of the game in favor of Wii Fit Trainer. The old classics are still there. And while most of Nintendo’s major franchises are already represented now, something Brawl did was introduce way more interesting stages than what had been seen before. As well as Assist Trophies, one of my favorite additions! So I think the upcoming Smash Bros. still has a lot of potential.

  • 156 points
    excaliburguy says...

    A Golden Sun character would be perfect marketing for the series. Golden Sun is too good to be an overlooked gem. Plus, I want Golden Sun 4 on the 3DS!

  • 0 points

    If I were the producer of Super Smash Bros. Jake, what I would do would be super simple.

    Make the game shine in competitive play. Not just with your Bros. on the couch, but in terms of tournaments. Make this a game that people who fancy themselves the most skilled combatants in fighting-games arrive at.

    What Brawl did what was so mesmerizingly stupid was that automatic trip-function. Where, for no reason whatsoever, your character would fall straight on his ass, giving them an immense disadvantage. That one move alone (alongside eliminating many of the harder-to-pull-off secret moves) pretty much eliminated Brawl’s contention inside anyone’s living room who takes fighting games -seriously-.

    So, what does that translate to, really? Well, the competitive tourney scene is still playing Melee. Like, if they were playing Brawl, and Nintendo could’ve captured some of their events, put some advertising behind it, put a spot-light on a natural event (people willingly playing your game) and emphasize the importance and the coolness of it.

    There is a reason the X-Bone released with Killer Instinct. It’s a no-brainer. Get that super-hardcore crowd into your brand’s den is the first thing any competition based company would do. It’s like a signal: “We take gaming seriously.”

    So – the first thing I would do – is make this game relevant to the very people who would be playing it all day. Fighting games stick. I could pick up a SNES controller right now and put you through your paces in Street Fighter II. Many people could. Fighting games represent and can build a different world than say . . . a platformer can.

    Yet, Nintendo treats this title like it is a platformer. Oh boy! I can collect trophies?!? WHO GIVES A SHIT!!!

    Show me a FIGHTING GAME, damnit! Show me a game that shows me the formula has been updated, improved, and made sharper. Get MY imagination going. Not by the bucketloads of virtual bobble-heads I can collect by treating the game like work, but by sneaky ninja moves pulled off on the field of battle, new techniques, new strategies, and a new reason to buy this same old game.

    Honestly, all the extra crap is necessary (I suppose), so I’m not necessarily begrudging them that. It’s just that the extra crap has taken centre stage in the conversation of what this product actually is. The words issued on this “publication” large and whole doesn’t treat the Smash Bros. title like an actual serious contender in the fighting game rink. It’s seen rather as some kind of elusive sales-trick, where when you bring the Smash Bros. game out of the closet, that’s when systems move off shelves.

    And why would people want to play this Smash Bros. game? Why, look! You can play as Mega Man! Or Bowser! Or Wii Fit Trainer!

    Yes! Yes! That’s great. But the conversation after that stops. It doesn’t ever go into what this game seriously can do. Or how it will play. In fact – Nintendojo doesn’t – and nobody else does either. Probably because everyone figures that this thing is going to be just like Brawl was, with a few more characters thrown in.

    At least that’s how Nintendo is advertising it. Releasing a new character to the news every couple of weeks – and then don’t talk about the actual game itself.

    In terms of those who really care – the fighting game community – no one’s waiting for this title after the slap-in-the-face (to them) that Brawl was.

    In terms of people who don’t already own a Wii-U – no one’s talking about the next Smash game. Probably because it doesn’t have a name. But probably too because nobody else has bothered to mention a peep about it.

    And in terms of people who already bought the system – well, great. They get their Smash game. They’ll probably enjoy it.

    They just won’t be able to pretend it’s the cultural wrecking-ball it once was.

    • 1 points
      Kevin Knezevic says...

      I’ve let this go on for long enough. I’m tired of logging in every morning and seeing you hijack the comments section as a vehicle for your long-winded counter essays, so consider this a final warning: either learn to make your points MUCH more concisely, or your commenting privileges will be revoked.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    I still think Lala and Lolo would be a good second duo to go along with the Ice Climbers =)

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