Monday, January 16, 2012

Matt's Top Ten Favorite Super Smash Bros. Stages

The Super Smash Bros. series is one of the most popular of Nintendo’s franchises and for good reason, it’s a great series. But beyond the gameplay and how much fun the games are, they’re so popular because it brings together all of Nintendo’s other franchises. What other game can you see Mario duke it out with Kirby? Or pit Ness against Captain Olimar? Gamers everywhere hype themselves up so hardcore about the next Smash Bros. that discussions of what characters should and will be included in the next begin the same day the last game was released. People love that stuff.

Seriously, this is the worst stage.
But what about the stages? Nintendo has a lot of memorable and iconic locations from their games too. Stages often go overlooked in favor of the characters but they are just as much an important part of the series. So far, Nintendo has put together some real winners with the line-up of stages and locations. Sure, not all of them are great, some of them are pretty boring (Peach’s Castle, Yoshi’s Island), some of them are great in concept but not in design (75m, New Pork City) and some of them are just plain bad (Brinstar Depths, Rumble Falls). But today, I’m taking a look at the best of the best. Which stages from the past three Smash Bros.’s games stand out the most in my eyes? What are my favorites? Well, let’s find out.
10. Sector Z

Kirby might not be proper size, but The Great Fox is!
Sector Z is the Star Fox stage from the very first Smash Bros. game. The Star Fox universe takes place all over the universe so I can imagine it would be hard to pick a location based on that alone. Not to mention, up until that point, you’d never really set foot on any of the planets, just flew over them so it made sense to put the stage on top of the Star Fox teams base of operations, the Great Fox. Sector Z makes it on my list not just because it’s a cool concept and a well-designed stage but also because it’s the only Star Fox stage to date to get the size of the Great Fox even close to right. It’s massive in Super Smash Bros., as a stage that takes place on a giant spaceship capable of holding other, smaller spaceships should be. In Melee, the Great Fox returned for two different stages but this time it was way smaller compared to the characters and when Corneria from Melee reappeared in Brawl, it was even smaller! The character models were so much larger than Melee’s and Nintendo didn’t bother to rescale the past stages so it essentially looked like a Godzilla film was taking place on top of the world’s smallest spaceship. Sector Z didn’t have that problem. While the background might not have been as exciting or dynamic as later Star Fox stages, the stage itself was bigger and made for a better battlefield. Take note, other Star Fox stages.

9. The Great Bay

More stages need giant turtles.
Of all the Zelda stages to make it into the Smash Bros. series, The Great Bay is my favorite. It isn’t the biggest or necessarily even the most interesting but just love the design of it. Being able to fight on top of the giant Island Turtle that takes you to the Water Temple is a great idea and the fact that it disappears and reappears adds a bit of strategy to fighting on top of it. I’m also a big fan of Tingle floating around with his balloon on the stage as well. You can stand on top of it but do too much and it’ll pop and send him flying to the ground. You can even get him to fall into the water if you time it right. But perhaps my favorite part of the stage is the background. The Moon from Majora’s Mask looms over the stage with it’s deadly stare and slowly makes it’s way closer and closer into view. Soon, it’s huge and just when you think it’s going to crash, the Four Giants come out and push it back into the atmosphere. Sometimes I just like to watch the background play out instead of fighting. Great attention to detail there, Nintendo! So okay, maybe this stage doesn’t belong on my list. Maybe the Temple is a little more fun to play on and the Pirate Ship has a better artistic design but the Great Bay is just so much fun to watch that I couldn’t help but put it on here. It’s far from a bad stage and it’s got a great level of detail put into every aspect of it. 

8. Shadow Moses Island

It also has giant robots that do absolutely nothing.
Yes, that’s right, one of my favorite Smash Bros. stages isn’t even from a Nintendo game, commence booing and tomato throwing now. Shadow Moses Island from Metal Gear Solid was the obvious choice for a Metal Gear stage, it’s the first location you visit in the first Metal Gear Solid and very iconic to the series, so it made sense for it to be Snake’s home stage. And boy did they make it a good one. It’s not the most dynamic stage, it has an upper platform, a floor on the bottom and two smaller platforms in-between that but what really makes it stand out and what really makes it fun are the two watch towers on the side of the stage. On both the left and right of the stage, there are these two huge watch towers and you fight in the middle of them. In order to remove the watch towers, you have to destroy them. If you don’t destroy them, prepare for one hectic battle. It becomes quite a challenge to actually kill anybody in this stage because you’re constantly sending them bouncing off of the towers instead of off the side of the stage as you normally would and since there’s no holes in the floor, the only way to kill anybody is to send them flying upward. It causes for some intense battles and makes for a lot of fun. If you do manage to destroy the towers, the stage becomes larger but it’s easier to kill people on. But don’t get too excited, the towers do come back. A well designed stage that really adds some extra strategy to the way you play the game, as you’d expect a Metal Gear stage would.

7. Pictochat

If it was accurate, there'd be more penises.
What a great idea for a stage. In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo wanted to show some love to their most successful handheld, the DS, by giving it it’s very own stage. But what would they make it of? The DS itself would have been boring and the DS didn’t really have any built in games, with the exception of one; Pictochat. And man did that work in their favor. The idea behind the game Pictochat is that you can draw and send messages to other people when their DS is connected to it, so the idea behind the Pictochat stage is that new platforms and obstacles are constantly being drawn and erased. That is ingenious and it makes for a really fun stage. One minute you could be fighting on top of a house with a couple trees next to it, the next you’re avoid missiles coming to blow you up. The whole stage revolves around constantly changing so you have to constantly adapt how you play to the changing environment and I love it. Some people are not into the gimmicky nature of many of the Smash Bros. stages but I don’t think Pictochat is as annoying as some of the other gimmick stages like Mario Bros. or Flatzone 2 so that’s why it’s one of my favorites. 

6. Fourside

Link on a UFO? I smell a sitcom.
Super Smash Bros. Melee gave us two stages based on the Mother/Earthbound series and both of them were a lot of fun and pretty unique. However, of the two, my favorite was Fourside. Fourside takes place in the city of Fourside, which is basically Earthbound’s take on New York City. You fight on top of several skyscrapers of varying height and have to avoid falling down pits. All of the buildings were different widths and sizes so you and the opponents were constantly jumping around, trying to avoid each other as well as finding a proper foothold to stand and do battle. Occasionally, a UFO would also fly into the top half of the stage and if you stood on top of it, prepare to fight with the controls because it gets really slippery. I guess space aliens really like to wax their ships and keep them shiny. Fourside looked really cool, it was a fun concept and a joy to play on. It didn’t offer that much in terms of variety or gimmicks but it didn’t need to, it was just a really fun, well-designed stage. So naturally, Onett was the stage from Mother to return in Brawl. Cool.

5. Big Blue

Yes, I am well aware I am the only person on the planet who likes this stage but it’s my list so I don’t care. Big Blue was the unlockable F-Zero track from Melee and I love it. You fight on top of the F-Zero racers as they race along the track Big Blue. Personally, I think this was the best idea for a F-Zero based track, the games are all about racing and going fast so why not make the fighters do battle on top of a bunch of cars going at super-fast speeds? Cars would race off screen and you’d have to jump to another one to survive and if you landed on the road, you’d go zooming off screen instantly because of how fast the stage was moving. Okay, admittedly, that’s kind of annoying but it at least makes sense. I really like the concept of Big Blue and I think there’s a lot of fun to be had when you get four people all fighting with each other but also fighting with the stage to stay alive and find a place to land safely. 

4. Saffron City

The very best, like no stage ever was.
Yes, much like everyone who has ever played the very first Smash Bros., my favorite stage from it is Saffron City. I mean, let’s face it people, it’s the best stage in that game. Most of the other stages are boring or simply uninteresting, and any of the interesting one’s would go on to be replicated in the later games like Mushroom Kingdom and Dream Land. However, the one stage everybody knows, remembers and loves is Saffron City. Fighting on top the buildings, especially the Silph Co. was just too cool and the moving platform on the side of the stage could be a lifesaver when you had to make some of those tricky jumps to save yourself. But of course the best part of the stage were all the Pokémon that came out of the top half of the building and hurt you. Venusaur popped out and shot razor leaves at you, Charizard burned you, Electrode exploded, Chansey threw eggs, it was a really fun concept and basically ensured that every time you played, you’d try to throw your opponent into the Pokémon. This is the one stage everybody remembers and everybody wants to see again so naturally, Nintendo has yet to bring it back. Instead, Nintendo brought Yoshi’s Island back in Melee. Thanks, guys. 

3. Smashville

Bowser fits right in.
Much like Pictochat, I love Smashville as much as for the concept as I do for the stage itself, in fact maybe even more so. Animal Crossing is a very popular and iconic series for Nintendo but doesn’t have a spot on the roster. The Animal Crossing games are very peaceful, in fact you don’t have to fight anybody at all in the games. The closest thing to an attack you have is being able to hit people with your butterfly net so it really wouldn’t make sense to have a playable Animal Crossing character in the game (although I wouldn’t be against it, personally.) So, the only logical way to get the series involved is with a stage and I love it. It’s a very basic stage, just on large platform with two smaller platforms that move back and forth. No cheap gimmicks, no having to constantly move, nothing but you and the stage. So why do I enjoy it so much? Well, unlike stages like Final Destination or Battlefield, it just looks so much nicer. I guess you can say this one is on the list for purely aesthetic reasons and that might seem lame but I’m sorry, I love this stage. Depending on the time and day you play the game, the scenery changes too.  The characters and locations in the background change. Sometimes you might see Brewster and his café in the background, sometimes you might see Mayor Tortimer in his Acorn Day mask and if you come on a Saturday night, KK Slider will be there putting on a show. It’s a fantastically designed stage with a lot of love and care for the Animal Crossing games thrown in. I wish Nintendo would go this route and give more iconic games stages even if they don’t have a character on the roster. That would be awesome.

2. Delfino Plaza

It's just so big and pretty.
Now here’s a stage with a gimmick that actually makes the stage better rather than more annoying. Delfino Plaza is the main hub world from Super Mario Sunshine and while it is an iconic location from the Mario universe, there’s no one area in the Plaza that anybody really thinks of when they hear the name, they think of the whole thing. So that’s what Nintendo decided to give us, the whole thing. You start on this set of floating platforms that fly above the stage before coming down for a landing. It touches ground on one part of the island, a part that’s never in the same shape or design as another, fight for a little bit and then the platforms reappear and you fly to the next part of the island. This was a great idea for a stage and managed to have more diversity in this one stage than any other in the game. One minute you’re fighting on a tiny island surrounded by water, the next you’re fighting on top of the Shine Tower, which basically one, long platform but with a few raised areas on it. It’s a lot of fun and one of the most visually stunning stages in the game. Every time you move on the main set of platforms, you can see the whole island in the background and for once it isn’t just there to look nice, you do in fact land on most of it, making it the largest stage in the game. Delfino Plaza looks great, it plays great and it’s a gimmick stage that doesn’t annoy. So what could possibly be better than what is probably the best idea for a stage they’ve ever had? Well…

1. Mario Circuit

It would be even better if the Shy Guy's made noises.
Yeah, this may or may not be a little bias but it is my favorites, after all. Yes, my favorite stage of all time is Mario Circuit, the stage based off of Mario Kart and I mean, what can I say? I love Mario Kart so when I learned there was going to be a Mario Kart stage, I lost it. I was super excited and let me tell you, the stage didn’t disappoint. Unlike Big Blue where you fight along the whole track, this time you’re in one stationary position. The track is laid out with just one big long stretch of land at the bottom and a ramp overhead, meaning there are no holes in the ground so you can’t fall off the stage the traditional way, you have to be thrown off the sides or in the sky. As you play on the stage, 8 Shy Guys in karts make their way around the track and can hit you. They start out driving through the lower half but after a few seconds, they jump over the ramp, as if it really was a race track. It’s very well designed and very well thought out and I love it. It’s fun to play on, it’s a fun concept, it’s just so great. While it might not have been my first choice for a Mario Kart-based track (I’d go with Rainbow Road) it was the most obvious choice and it turned out better than I could have possibly imagined. Mario Circuit is by far my favorite track and I hope they go even further with this Mario Kart concept in later games. 

So there you have it, my ten favorite Smash Bros. stages. I know there are plenty of good ones that I’ve left out like Luigi’s Mansion, Castle Siege, Mushroomy Kingdom, Fountain of Dreams, Jungle Japes (Melee only), Halberd but hey, I could only do ten. But if you think I left out one of your favorites, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear it.

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