Super Smash Bros. series director Masahiro Sakurai was ‘surprised’ by the reception to the original, a newly-translated 1999 interview has revealed.
The interview, translated by shmuplations, was conducted for the third volume of the short-lived Japanese magazine Nice Games. Sakurai details the development of the N64 classic, along with the difficulties in getting approvals to use Nintendo characters, balancing issues, and even his work on Kirby’s Dream Land. You can check out the full article in the link above, or read some extracts below.
On development of Kirby’s Dream Land:
…the original plan had been for HAL Laboratory to publish Kirby’s Dream Land on our own. But when we went to take prospective orders for Kirby, the demand was tiny: a mere 20,000 copies. (laughs) Then, right as I was getting desperate to finish the game and was thinking I would have to use all my accumulated vacation time, someone from sales came over and told me “We’re cancelling the release.” (laughs) The reason, however, was not because there weren’t enough orders; it was because Nintendo had stepped in. Nintendo said it would be a waste to see such a good game only sell 20,000 copies, so we asked them to be the publisher. Nintendo also changed the title and created commercials for the game… as a result, it ended up selling 1.5 million copies.
On why development on Super Smash Bros. began:
In the beginning, we had plans for four different kinds of games. With Satoru Iwata’s help, of those four, we created prototype versions for two of them: an action-adventure style game and a competitive fighting game. It took a lot of time, but having a working prototype like that makes it much easier to explain your game to other people. We actually had decided on making the action-adventure game, but right around that time, the other game I had been working on, Kirby’s Air Ride, was abandoned. So we found ourselves needing to hurry and release something, and we chose the fighting game prototype because we thought we could get it done faster. That game, of course, would be the prototype for Super Smash Bros.
On getting permission for characters:
When [Shigeru Miyamoto] saw our work he said, “Hey, you’ve got Mario down pretty good!” The Pokemon characters took the longest to get permission, because thir [sic] image is tightly supervised. I broached the subject with Pokemon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara, but the impression I got from him was that it would probably be difficult. Satoshi Tajiri was more encouraging—he was like, “this looks cool!”
On the overseas reception for Super Smash Bros.:
The reception overseas really surprised me. The reviews were like, “The best strategy is to just mash the A button to win. Grade: F.” As the creator, I was crestfallen when I read that. We spent a lot of time thinking about tactics (the same kind of tactics you can see people using at the tournaments now, actually), so it really hurt to see people completely unaware of that, saying you should just mash the A button… you know? (laughs)
We had the HAL debug team do test matches, and more or less based the balancing off those results. People have been telling me at this last tournament that Ness and Kirby are too strong, though. The thing is though, take Ness’ PK Thunder ability, for instance… in a 4-player game it’s extremely effective. But in a 2-player battle situation it becomes practically unusable. The effectiveness of the abilities totally changes depending on how many players there are, not to mention all the difference in rules between time and stock matches. For that reason, it’s an incredibly difficult game to balance […] I’ve realized now that we probably should have nerfed PK Thunder.
On content cut from Super Smash Bros. during development:
We were only able to include about 60% of what we had planned for Super Smash Bros, sadly […] We had to cut a lot: various items, as well as a “Destroy the Target” gameplay mode. That was going to look something like the Birdman Rally competitions: you’d be standing on a platform with a dummy target, and you’d have 30 seconds to do as much damage to it as possible, and then the target would be launched into the air, flying further the more damage you did. (laughs)
Want to know more about Super Smash Bros.’ development and legacy? Check out our retrospective!