Monday, January 28, 2013

Stages of Smashing Success! - Part One

All three instalments of the Super Smash Bros. franchise have introduced their own shiny new stages to the battle, but most of the battlefields from before have been lost between games. Sure, some stages are carried over as "Past Stages", but the ones that return are only a small taste of the former glory found in the previous games. In the future I'd like to see Nintendo do away with this concept of "Past" Stages and simply revive previous stages, either with slight adjustments or almost completely as they were before. Of course, I don't think every stage should be revived. Over the next three days I'm going to take a look at the stages of the present and past and put forward the ones I'd like to see in the future.

The original Super Smash Bros. had nine stages for multiplayer and an additional three for the single player game, and one bonus stage for the "How to Play" video that, regrettably, was never playable at all. While three of these stages (Yoshi's Island, Dream Land, and Congo Jungle) returned in Melee, two of them were almost revived in newer stages (Yoshi's Story, and Green Greens) and no original Smash 64 stages were revived for Brawl. This is an awfully sad state to leave these stages!

All images from SmashWikia.

Peach's Castle, as featured in the original Super Smash Bros., is a stage that floats in the sky far above the actual Princess Peach's Castle. What's cool about this stage is that it actually features some kind of tiny tower in the background as part of the floating ballroom, so it indicates that this stage could be some kind of guard tower or aerial bunker. Just fun to think about, yeah?

The stage contains elements from Super Mario 64 as well as one hazard unique to Super Smash Bros.: the bumper. It's a small stage with a lot of charm and two primary battle areas. Being used as the first allied round in the single player mode, Peach's Castle was designed with four-player battles in mind which makes it a solid pick for a game so focused on multiplayer.

*As a cool aside, it would be nifty to see this stage floating in the background of Princess Peach's Castle much like you can see her castle beneath this stage in Super Smash Bros. It might also be cool to include randomly generated battles happening on the background stage. Just a thought.

Donkey Kong's home base in the original Super Smash Bros. was a little floating island with fun elevator platforms and rocket barrels in the middle of the dense woodland known as the Congo Jungle. Here he towered to gargantuan proportions and served as a mid-boss in the single player game. The stage actually reappeared in Melee as a Past Stage, so it has only been excluded from one game in the series so far. That's for good reason. This stage, like most of the other Super Smash Bros. stages is really fun to play on. It has an old-school aesthetic charm that keeps it in the hearts of many.

Hyrule Castle, not to be confused with the later Hyrule Temple, is probably the first stage anybody new to Smash 64 is likely to see. It's kind of the "Welcome" mat for the whole game. Like its Zelda II-inspired successor, Hyrule Temple has the good fortune of being one of the largest stages in the game. It features a number of interesting architectural decisions, such as a purposeless point protruding from a flat level roof, but who am I to judge? I absolutely love this stage, right down to the micro tornadoes that spawn to hound players across the stage.

Planet Zebes never returned in the two Smash Bros. sequels, but it did have a spiritual successor in Brinstar which showed up for both Melee and Brawl. While Planet Zebes didn't feature the awesome destructible platforms of its offspring, it did start the Metroid-stage obsession with rising lava (or acid). It also provided a wider and more diverse playing field than Brinstar and even had a Q*bert throwback in the stage-scaling elevator off to the right.

Yoshi's Island, which is more inspired by the N64 "let-down" known as Yoshi's Story (quick aside: I love Yoshi's Story. And Yoshi's Island DS. Ya'll need to get over yourselves.) than it is by its namesake Yoshi's Island, actually reappeared in Super Smash Bros. Melee alongside its nearly identical twin Yoshi's Story.

Knowing how similar these stages are, with the only real difference being that Yoshi's Story features a more boring platform layout than its predecessor and some cool vanishing clouds, I'd like to see both of these stages return as a single stage under the Yoshi's Story name. I'd rather see this layout replace the boring one from the Yoshi's Story stage, but also work in the Flyguys and vanishing cloud platforms. If they wanted to get completionist about it and include both stages, they could incorporate a page-flipping gimmick for the storybook platform where each page features a different layout.

Actually, I'd like that. That's a really neat idea. The players could have to rush off to the vanishing platform to avoid being page-flipped. It'd be neat. Nintendo do this. Do this right now.

Probably the coolest and most original and not-stupid Pokémon stage is Saffron City, which has been wrongly ignored by all people employed by Nintendo. But I assure you, it has not been neglected by fans. This stage is always one of the first to crop up in fan lists, fan games, and Brawl mods, and it was definitely in the top ten custom stages when the Brawl stage builder was discovered. There's a very good reason for that: this stage rocks.

For starters, it's set in an identifiable place representative of the first generation of Pokémon games. It isn't in some obscure floating stadium in the middle of nowhere and it isn't some kind of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade rip-off. This is in god damn Saffron City. No ifs, ands, or buts. To be honest,  it was probably replaced by Fourside when Melee rolled around, but there are enough differences between the two of them that they feel like totally different areas.

Probably because they are.

The main attraction of the Saffron City stage is the tiny little elevator compartment on the central platform. Occasionally those doors open up and you can huck one of your enemies right on in there. The unfortunate Smashster will find themselves greeted by a charging Pokémon intent on just ruining their day. I'm pretty sure there were about fifteen Pokémon that couldn't pop out of Pokéballs but could rush from this box. That's awesome.

The only unlockable stage in the original Super Smash Bros. was an early version of Mushroom Kingdom inspired by the second Super Mario Bros. game in Japan (known as Lost Levels on this side of the sea.) Unlock its Melee counterpart this stage wasn't super boring (okay, that wasn't fair. I actually like Melee's stage.) It featured a smaller and more connected elevator platform, a radular POW Block, but above all else: warp pipes.

That's right, you could utilize the classic warp pipe in this stage. There were three, but only two could be entered. Occasionally they'd dump you out of a trap pipe and into almost certain death if you weren't Kirby or Pikachu, but that was half the fun. Each character also had their own "using the pipe" animation, and at nine years old it was my personal mission to see them all.

Not only can the pipes be used to escape from your enemies, but they can be used to murder their sorry faces as well. See, not only is there the one trap-pipe that gets all n00bs at least once, but the warp pipes, in true Mario fashion, are home to famished Piranha Plants. These bastards will chomp on anyone unlucky enough to be thrown at them. I'm quite fond of feeding them.

Metal Mario's Stage, also known as Metal Cave, Crystal Cave, Metal Caverns, and a million other probably-wrong names, is unplayable outside of the single player mode and home to Metal Mario, at this time a fierce shadow equivalent to Super Mario who could whip your ass. Hard. Metal Mario was Master Hand's lieutenant, but that was probably by choice, because Glover Sr. had nothing on this moustached menace.

This stage always had a special charm about it, at least to me. There's a lot of mystery behind it. The evil Metal Mario, the location of the stage itself. It's amazing musical score. For such a small stage, it sure packs a punch. While I've been able to pack this stage into Brawl thanks to the magic of mods it really isn't the same. I'd love to play on this stage legitimately, and sooner rather than later. They gave us Final Destination and Battlefield once Melee rolled around. Its time to finish off the Boss Stage Trio, Nintendo.

I have no doubt Battlefield will return in some capacity. It's been loyal to us through three games, although with a slight change of character each time, and I'm pretty sure it'll continue this streak through another iteration of games. I don't really have much to say in its defense then. I just hope they don't try to mix it up by moving the platforms around or adding hazards. That would kind of ruin it.

Did you read the entry right above this one about Battlefield? Yes? Go read it again, but this time replace all instances of the word "Battlefield" with the words "Final Destination." Trust me, it's worth it.

A cool addition, although not really anywhere near my hype-meter. For some reason I've always wanted to play on this Pseudo-Dream Land level known as "Explain." Unlike the previous three stages, which could be accessed in single player, this stage was completely unplayable without a GameShark. It was used exclusively as the stage for the tutorial video. It's got a very simple design, almost like Smashville, and would make a good area for bare-knuckle, no-item matches.

So there you have it, all the Smash 64 stages I'd like to see show up in the next Super Smash Bros. title. Some more than others, but all would be nifty, even if they're DLC. I know it's almost all of the stages in the game, but I honestly feel like they should have never been left out at all. I prefer games, especially games of this genre, to build on what exists before introducing new elements. Brawl was better at this than Melee, but even that ignored so many of these great stages.

Oh, and for those curious, here are the two stages I don't want to return in the future:

Dream Land - Almost exactly like Green Greens, which I prefer.
Sector Z - Actually, I love this stage. I like the aesthetic a lot more than Corneria. However, Lylat Cruise makes it a little redundant. I'd rather show off as many diverse locations for a series as possible, so I think it would be a better decision to include Corneria over yet another space level.

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