E3 is our Super Bowl. It’s our Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Halloween and birthday all rolled into one. Even if no games actually are released, it’s a huge spectacle that results in thousands of journalists making their pilgrimage and reporting on thousands of different games. Who is making what? What looks fun? What looks terrible? Are there any surprises? I can’t tell you how giddy I get before each major conference; whether terrible or fantastic, each requires a huge amount of unnecessary analysis. Making fun of the awful presenters. Breaking down trailers scene by scene. Making bold, inaccurate predictions that won’t have any fallout, because well, how could you possibly have known that Game X would be terrible and that System Y would sell like hotcakes?
I’m getting off track already. See, that’s what E3 does to you. It gets you impossibly excited about the sheer quantity of game updates, new games and hilarious sound bites that it makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
This year, we got an update about a franchise that consumed much of my life. The 18-year-old me would be losing his mind over it, along with my high school and university buddies. Not just any buddies, the ones you grew up with. The ones that don’t need to ask to come over to your parents’ house, or take food from the fridge. They’re there so often that no pretense is needed. They’re not guests, but they’re not family. They’re Smash brothers.
There’s no way Nintendo could have predicted how successful the Smash Bros. series would be. The original was the most revolutionary, and the second was as close to perfection as you could achieve. The first trailer had my friends in awe; you can play four players without split-screen? With Nintendo mascots? Soon, everyone had a copy and brought over a controller to your house to play it. It replaced GoldenEye 007 as the game to play, and back then, that was a very big deal.
So, a new Smash Bros. Very exciting! I’ve played thousands of matches across the three incarnations. Sadly, I am not as excited to play this upcoming one. No, it’s not because I’m getting older. I’m not looking through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, though if you’ve read any Serotonins, I wouldn’t blame you if that was your diagnosis. I’m not as pumped because I don’t have my Smash brothers with me anymore. None of them have died, but I’m not in high school anymore; some would be happy to make that statement, but high school for me meant my parent’s basement, unspeakable amounts of Coca-Cola and my best friends playing marathon Smash Bros. sessions.
We grew up a great deal while beating up each other’s digital representations. It was much easier to talk about things while you’re trying to get the umbrella before Samus blasts you with her cannon. School. Siblings. Parents. Girls. Future plans. Because our focus is elsewhere, and we’re not looking at each other in eye, difficult sentences are easier to say. Awkward breaks in the conversation vanish; there’s Smash to be played and, no doubt, somebody will proclaim that one of us is of the highest order of jerkwad since we smashed them into oblivion. No plans were needed. Nobody’s sensibilities or interests needed to be specially catered to.
Not that we were consciously thinking about important life matters while we were dueling. It’s hard enough to win a match against three veteran players with a clear head, after all. No, winning was the primary goal, and if you couldn’t win, well then since Henry’s so cheap with Kirby and won’t shut up, I’m going to suicide him and laugh loudly while he sulks on the couch.
Identities in high school are difficult things to obtain. If you try too hard, you look like a tool. If you don’t try at all, you’re invisible. Personalities emerged while playing Smash, and you began to associate characters with specific friends. It’s eerie how stuck these comparisons are in my mind. David Vallance is built like the Hound from Game of Thrones. He was much bigger than me in eighth grade, and he’s much bigger than me now. I’m sure he’s murdered far fewer people than Sandor Clegane. That’s the first thing I look for in a friend. “Hi, I’m Henry. Nice to meet you. By any chance, are you going to skewer my insides with a pitchfork in the near future? No? Cool. Nintendo?”
Dave played Yoshi. Always Yoshi. Dave was never really all that concerned with winning the game; he was concerned with two things: having a good time, and being vocal about it. The whole match, you’d hear Yoshi’s grunt as he drifts upward and the “Brrrng-HA!” as Dave would try to slam on your head from above. I think he threw in a punch here and there, but it wasn’t as funny-sounding, so those moves became a much lower priority. That was Dave in a nutshell. “I’m going to do something to elicit a laugh from the group, and you’re not going to stop me from doing it. How could you? You’re a foot shorter than me.”
Eric Schneider was always Link. Always. No, not Young Link, or Toon Link. The original and nothing but. Eric liked to hit you with every item in Link’s arsenal, and believe me, it became a real pain in the arsenal to play against him. I loved the Legend of Zelda games, but grew to dislike Link with a real passion. Oh sure, up close I could slam, duck and smash my way around half the time. But the other half, when I wanted to back off and take a breather, I would be bombarded by the following items: bombs, arrows, boomerangs, taunts and emasculating verbal jabs. Nobody likes a fantastic surprise, nor figures one out faster, than Eric. Anytime he would be holding a bomb, and a Bob-Omb would be walking along the ground, we’d both (of course) try to grab each other and introduce our opponent to Mr. Bomb.
So, you have two combatants, two bombs and many other environmental dangers in our way. An explosion would occur, and Eric would immediately know why. I would wait in a dazed stupor for any kind of indication as to what just happened. I really didn’t need to bother looking for a score on the screen, or the cry of Kirby as he flies off-screen. I just listened to Eric. His triumphant laugh or sorrowful bellow indicated the correct outcome. It was more often laughter from him. His advanced knowledge, and eagerness to share it (after a win or two), was one of the great joys I had playing games. Our best-of-five matches after we were each finished work during the summer will never be forgotten, least of all by Eric, who beat me almost every time.
Dobbo is an entirely different breed of Smash brother. Dave and Eric are verbal. You could play all night against Dobbo and not realize he was in the same room. Quiet, but enjoying a giggle or two, Dobbo would pick Pikachu and that was that. You could expect nothing but zip-zip moves across the map and 800 lightning bolts, accompanied by Pikachu’s unnecessary announcements of its name. Pika! Thunder. Pika! Thunder. “Dobbo, can you please do something else?” Pika!
His play style was curious; it would result in a win or two now and then, but he was most concerned with annoying me. I’ve never seen such dedication to murdering Kirby; it was impressive. Nothing gave Dobbo greater joy than to hear me rage on the couch next to him and possibly hit him on the arm in real life. That would just make him laugh more, as my switch to real-life violence usually meant my distracted character would die again.
Pikachu represented Dobbo quite well; most of the time, you would just see this little yellow rat running around. But when something of note happened, it was more than notable. Pika! Off the screen goes Kirby, Link and Samus. Pikachu wins. We’d look at Dob and he’d smile and nod, as if it was his plan all along. It probably was. Dob doesn’t talk as much as we do, but when he does take the time to make an announcement, it can have as much weight as a well-placed lightning bolt.
Kasim Husain is easily the most academic of my friends. He looks like he’ll be in school all of his life; he sports a professor’s beard, is on his way to obtaining his Ph.D. by age 28 and has a quiet, thoughtful demeanor. He’s fair. He’s also one of those people who will stop peaking only when he dies.
Kasim always played Samus. Always a threat, shooting charged up blasts, laying the ground with bombs and, Kasim’s favorite move, screw-attacking everything in sight. If you ever let him know that you’re trying to dodge this move, or that you hate this stupid move, he would nod and verbalize his agreement and do it again. Kasim was always a mainstay, but rarely won many games in a row.
Gone are the high school days of Kirby domination. The last time we played, I couldn’t touch him. He was a different person. Was I out of practice? Had my senses dulled? Reasons are irrelevant when Kasim wins ten games in a row, looks at you and says “yeah, well, Aslam and I play a bit now and then.” A bit. A bit? I suppose understatements aren’t a part of his thesis.
His brother Aslam joined us from time to time. He had his own group of friends and was two years younger, which at the time meant he was sometimes invited to join and sometimes not. Aslam (or Slams, as only I like to call him) was a perennial powerhouse. He was almost always in the mix to win. I swear, he would go a few games without winning just to be polite. His all-time favorite game series is Mega Man, and I hope, for nostalgia’s sake, that 12-year-old Aslam will get a visit from some time traveler letting him know that one day Mega Man will be in a Smash Bros. game.
Look for the second part of this story on July 6.