Re-visiting Super Smash Bros. Brawl's 'Subspace Emissary' story mode

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will offer a lot of different features, but a story mode will not be among them. Today, Shacknews re-visits the Subspace Emissary story mode from Super Smash Bros. Brawl to remember just what made that tale so memorable.


Warning: May contain spoilers.

This is the week that Nintendo releases Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, once again bringing together the publisher's vast library of first-party franchises for combat. For the latest iteration of the fighting series, Nintendo is bringing out just about everything imaginable to celebrate the company's long history, further building on what was created for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. However, there's one thing that's missing this time around.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will not feature a story mode, which is a shame given that one of the few areas that Brawl is fondly remembered for is its Subspace Emissary tale. This was a story penned by series head Masahiro Sakurai, along with Final Fantasy VII writer Kazushinge Nojima, that brought together many of Nintendo's most beloved heroes and villains for one coherent storyline. So what makes the Subspace Emissary such a pivotal part of Brawl's single-player experience? Today, Shacknews re-visits this story.

Crossover appeal

Super Smash Bros. has always been about bringing together Nintendo's greatest franchises to duke it out. The Subspace Emissary proved to be the first time the company would bring them all together for the purpose of a larger narrative. In this case, the central premise was that Nintendo's world was being invaded by an extradimensional force called the Subspace Army. The story started off with Mario and Kirby in a one-on-one battle before it would expand to include the rest of the Brawl roster.

The mastermind behind the Subspace Army would remain a mystery for the majority of the roughly eight-hour campaign, but Nintendo's heroes would spend much of the story running across 2D stages filled with members of the antagonist forces. Many of the Subspace forces would consist of original enemies created specifically for the story, but players would also wind up facing off with classic minions, as well. The fun part here is that those rogues would run afoul of different heroes than they're normally lined up with. One of the most memorable examples if Bowser's army absconding with Donkey Kong's banana stash. The alpha gorilla would make them pay.

Ally pairings would be just as unlikely. Mother 3's Lucas would soon bump into the Pokemon Trainer, while Mario would venture forward with Kid Icarus' Pit. The story would never stick with the same arrangement of characters for too long, moving at a brisk pace and allowing players to accustom themselves to different fighters. They'd need to learn how to competently control all of those characters, because the enemies they'd come across were more than villains and grunts.

Where the big boys play

The Subspace Emissary was also memorable for featuring boss battles beyond the Hands at the end of the series' Classic mode. Like the Subspace grunts, some of the game's bosses were original creations, such as the two-headed menace on wheels Duon. Other bosses borrowed from the many first-party franchises, including the dangerous Dragon-type Pokemon Rayquaza, the maniacal Porky from Mother 3, and Metroid's sinister space pirate Ridley. The battles themselves often devolved into standard beat-em-up scenarios, but provided an ample amount of fan service for anyone that ever wondered whether Fox McCloud could ever stand up to a giant Dragon Pokemon.

The story would come to include Brawl's playable villains, like Bowser, Ganondorf, and Wario before it eventually force those baddies onto the player's side. That would pave the way for arguably the toughest fight in Super Smash Bros. history, but we'll touch on that later.

The co-op element

Aside from narrative purposes, there's another reason that Subspace Emissary chapters featured two or more characters. The story mode was playable with a friend, allowing for two people to team up and take out bad guys together. Cutscenes would play out and conclude with a prompt for players to choose their character. If a friend wasn't around, a second person could simply drop in or out at any time during any of the game's stages.

The Subspace Emissary's difficulty didn't curve to the number of characters in the game. The story not only felt easier with a friend, but it was also more fun. Super Smash Bros. had been built to this point on competitive multiplayer, but this was the first opportunity that friends had to join forces against a common enemy. Friends could gang up on some of the tougher enemies or mutually pound on the game's bosses.

And a friend would come in really handy for the Subspace Emissary's final stage.

Lost in the Great Maze

Without spoiling many of the more in-depth elements of the story, the final stage of the Subspace Emissary would see players picking five members of the roster to plunge through the unforgiving Great Maze. The Great Maze would be the only stage in the game to feature checkpoints that would allow mid-level saving, because the level, as a whole, lasts about two hours. The maze would consist of areas themed around previous chapters of the game, as well as some new temple-like environments. It was a sinister creation, designed to get players lost and overwhelmed by the hundreds of enemies that inhabited the maze.

That wasn't all, though. As they trekked through the tricky labyrinth, players would have to defeat each of the bosses a second time, as they found them behind mysterious doors. Players would also have to take out shadow versions of each member of the Brawl roster before taking on the final challenge.

The Subspace Emissary's last boss was a truly vile entity known as Tabuu. He'd emerge as one of the strongest bosses in all of Smash lore, capable of taking out all characters at once. But just as he was about to do so, he was stopped by one character that had yet to join the party. A certain blue hedgehog made an appearance in arguably his most memorable moment of the past ten years.

The final fight with Tabuu himself ranks as one of most difficult in all of Smash Bros. and not just because of Brawl's combat shortcomings. Tabuu's attacks are extremely powerful, some of which can kill instantly. After running through the Great Maze that literally lasted hours, I remember facing Tabuu for the first time and feeling exhausted, since I ran through the final level in one agonizingly-long sitting. Others likely also went into this final boss battle similarly fatigued and unprepared for Tabuu's killer attacks. Tabuu doesn't go down easily, even with a friend sitting nearby to help out.

Though Nintendo won't leave fans so fatigued this time around, this is the kind of mind-boggling difficulty that Nintendo will hope to re-create with the Master Core in the new Smash Bros. set to hit on Friday. Given the forms that have been teased, the new boss may be just as brutal as the old boss.

The Subspace Emissary was a fun story to experience once, which is just what Brawl's creators were hoping for. It was one of the most fun diversions to hit the multiplayer-focused Smash Bros. and one that would have been great to see again this year. Sadly, Sakurai decided that a story mode wouldn't be worth the effort, because of the internet's tendency to post spoilers. (Kind of like I did in this article. That sure is irony.)

However, as a one-time experiment, it feels like the Subspace Emissary is a largely underappreciated gem. It successfully translated the Smash Bros. mechanics into a story that capably incorporated platforming and arcade-style beat-em-up elements, displaying the versatility of the Smash Bros. gameplay formula. Nintendo is exercising that versatility further in some of the new modes to hit this year's games, like the 3DS' Smash Run and the Wii U's quirky Smash Tour.

Still, it would have been nice to see Sakurai and Nojima come up with another story like the Subspace Emissary and bring Nintendo's characters together in a creative new way.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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