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Challenger Approaching: A Super Smash Bros. timeline

At midnight, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will arrive, finally bringing an agonizing waiting period to an end for legions of fans. This will be the fifth installment of the series, all of which center around one common premise: taking Nintendo's most beloved mascots and beating the stuffing out of them. Today, Shacknews takes a look back at the previous iterations of Smash Bros., tracking the series' progression from quirky concept to Nintendo's premier fighting franchise.

Super Smash Bros. (1999)

It was 15 years ago that Nintendo revealed one of its craziest ideas to that point. Take the most recognizable faces that the company has ever put forward and put them all in a fight to the finish. The first battle took place on the Nintendo 64, in which polygon characters took the stage to show their best moves.

The series' origin title was fairly modest, compared to the gargantuan package seen today. There were eight characters with four unlockable extra fighters fighting over nine stages. The idea was the same then as it is now: Beat your opponent enough to launch them off the stage, occasionally with the aid of items that spanned the Nintendo universe. Classic Mode was as straightforward as it got, establishing the formula of mixing together one-on-one fights, specialty matches against giant-sized or metal opponents, and culminating with a fight against Master Hand, who would become the series antagonist.

It was far from perfect, especially with the Nintendo 64 controller laid out as it was, but the seeds for greatness were sown.

Notable additions: The fomula itself.

New fighters: Mario, Link, Pikachu, Samus, Yoshi, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Fox, Jigglypuff, Ness, Falco, Luigi

Horde opponents: Fighting Polygon Team

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Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

After Super Smash Bros. sold over millions of copies despite little marketing and promotion, Nintendo knew it had a hit series on its hands. The company suddenly felt so confident in their newfound fighting franchise that it boosted its sequel to launch alongside its next console, the GameCube. Super Smash Bros. Melee was born, building on everything that made the first game great, adding additional characters and stages, throwing in new features, and refining the combat to the point that it is still widely considered to be the absolute peak of the series.

Melee is also an interesting case of the right game at the right time. Children that grew up with the original NES were reaching the age where they would hit college, making Melee and its four-player battles the ultimate dorm room game. Combined with its propensity for nostalgia and its simple learning curve, it only makes sense that Melee hit the heights that it did.

However, Melee's continued popularity even now is astounding, hitting record viewership numbers at Evo well over a decade after it was released. It's also still enormously fun to play, hitting the sweet spot of skill and random fun. The controls suited the GameCube controller so perfectly, it single-handedly justifies its continued production and popularity. Anyone that has ever picked up a GameCube has played Melee and will likely still espouse its virtues to this day.

Notable additions: Adventure mode, Special Brawls, Coin Battles, new items, trophies

New characters: Bowser, Peach, Zelda/Sheik, Ice Climbers, Mewtwo, Ganondorf, Dr. Mario, Marth, Roy, Pichu, Young Link, Dr. Mario, Mr. Game & Watch

Horde opponents: Fighting Wire Frame Team

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Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

With Super Smash Bros. Melee ranking as one of the all-time classics, saying it was a tough act to follow would be an understatement. So it comes as no surprise that Super Smash Bros. Brawl came across to fans as a disappointment. Brawl is considered to be the game that pushed the series more towards randomness than ever before by adding elements like Assist Trophies and the Smash Ball finishing move. On top of that, movement felt a lot slower and floatier, while fighters could randomly slip on the ground when attempting to sprint. The latter changes, in particular, are what infuriated fans the most.

In spite of all that, Brawl helped morph the Smash Bros. series from a fighting game to a full-blown celebration of Nintendo's past. The trophy list expanded and the new Assist Trophies delved further into Nintendo's vast library. The Subspace Emissary took Melee's bare bones Adventure mode and turned it into a full-fledged campaign that starred all of Nintendo's best characters. Collectible CDs would unlock numerous remixes and original copies of Nintendo's best musical tracks. It was such a celebration that it would represent the first game to include third-party characters, with Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog both joining the playable roster.

Of course, Nintendo's ambitions ultimately proved to be greater than what they could actually deliver. The Stage Builder featured limited options and online play was borderline-abysmal, plagued by netcode issues. All of this was made worse by the Wii's inability to patch its titles, a mind-boggling idea considering it was a console released in 2006.

Notable additions: Co-op play, Subspace Emissary, Challenge board, Assist Trophies, Smash Ball, Stage Builder, Online play, My Music/CDs

New characters: Pokemon Trainer (Charizard/Ivysaur/Squirtle), Lucas, Diddy Kong, King Dedede, Meta Knight, Ike, Lucario, Olimar, Pit, R.O.B., Toon Link, Wolf, Wario, Snake, Sonic, Zero Suit Samus

Horde opponents: Fighting Alloy Team

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Super Smash Bros. for 3DS (2014)

Earlier this year, Nintendo brought Super Smash Bros. to handhelds for the first time. It was arguably the best move they could make, given that there's a far greater install base on 3DS than there is on Wii U. Skeptics noted that the game wouldn't feel as smooth with the 3DS Circle Pad and without a second analog stick, but while the control scheme isn't ideal, it still feels smoother than expected.

The handheld Smash offers a glimpse of what to expect in the much-bigger Wii U version, but it's a great game in its own right. Controls and physics lean more towards Melee, while many of the item additions from Brawl remain in place. Game modes like Classic have been refined, while local multiplayer on-the-go is a feature that cannot be understated. Online play started off with many of the growing pains seen in Brawl, but Nintendo has shown a commitment to patching any shortcomings and the game's online component has seen steady improvement over the past few months.

It's Smash in a smaller package, but Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is a capable companion for series fans and one that will introduce another new feature: compatibility with its console brethren.

Notable additions: Smash Bros. on a portable device, Smash Run, elimination of transformation characters

New characters: Mega Man, Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Pac Man, Little Mac, Shulk, Greninja, Palutena, Rosalina & Luma, Robin, Bowser Jr., Dark Pit, Lucina, Duck Hunt, Mii

Horde opponents: Fighting Mii Team

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