Back in the year 2001, Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Melee, the successor to the Super Smash Bros. 64 title, pitting legends of the Nintendo universe against one another in an all out brawl. If you were a kid during this time there is no doubt you played the game, and in most cases probably thought you were pretty damn good at it. But underneath the surface of this nonchalant Nintendo party game, there was a growing community of smash bros. players that took that question to heart. Who really was the best smash player in their neighborhood, town state, region, country, and possibly even the world?
The Smash Brothers, directed by filmmaker Travis Beauchamp or better known as Samox, is a film that tried to answer that question by taking an in-depth look at the history and legacy of the Smash Bros. fighting community. As a newer fan of “E-Sports” I am not completely clueless of competitive gaming scenes. But Smash Brothers revealed to me a community that I sadly never knew existed. Ken, Azen, Isai, KoreanDJ, Mango, names that may mean little or nothing to most, but legends among a small hardcore group of gamers across the country and world.
From the rise, fall, and rebirth of the melee competitive scene, the film did a fantastic job explaining to somebody with no previous knowledge of the scene why we should care about crew battles and smack talk between the East Coast and West Coast players, the mind games used by Ken against the gaming savant Azen, Isai’s touching reasoning behind his “MEL” gaming tag, and explanations behind the terms “No Johns”, “Dittos”, and “Wave dashing”. Terms the general populace, including most gamers, have little knowledge about.
These guys are not just gamers and players, they’re a tight-knit family. What makes this documentary special and among the best gaming documentaries I have seen (Including King of Kong, and Indie) is not the sick games, moves, or a players’ prowess, but the stories these players tell, and how these stories fit within the larger scope of this small niche community.
Let’s face it, the gaming community in general has a negative connotation given to it, and at times rightfully so. Now tell somebody that you play a game hours on end to compete in a tournament based out of a guy’s house with a chance to win just enough money to buy gas to get back home. The general populace cannot comprehend the reasoning behind communities like the smash community and simply put them in that basement dwelling, virgin nerd stereotype many have given this entire culture because they happen to have a love and passion for something that is different from what they find “acceptable”.
The few gripes I have in an otherwise fascinating film experience would be further coverage and explanation into the grassroots competitive movement involved within the community. As stated earlier I am a fan of E-Sports, notably StarCraft 2, which at release, became the most privileged game and community in the industry. It had the fandom and infrastructure of Brood War, and a gigantic developer in Blizzard supporting the game from the get go.
Melee didn’t have that luxury as Nintendo, including the designer, Masahiro Sakurai, for unknown reasons, despised the smash community. In spite of all that, seeing all the effort put in purely out of love the community has, trying to take melee into the mainstream would be invigorating and inspiring to the non-gamer viewer.
Another small gripe would be the narration by I believe the director himself in the beginning of the film. While eventually getting used to it, his narrative voice in part 1 was a bit off-putting to say the least, and may turn off viewers who aren’t completely on board with the premise from the beginning.
But besides the few gripes, this documentary shines. the most poignant and beautiful thing that this documentary is able to showcase is the love, diversity, and acceptance the smash community has towards another just because they have passion for a game. It doesn’t matter if you're white, black, asian, rich, poor, young, old, attractive, or ugly, if you care about this awesome game, we’ll love you. No one would consider a guy like PCChris, a cool, attractive, humble guy hanging out with the likes of a Mew2King, watch the documentary and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The scene looks like it came out of a badly written sitcom, but if you look behind the story and appearances, it makes complete sense.
If you're a fan of gaming whatsoever, this is simply a must see. No other fan-made documentary is in the ballpark of The Smash Brothers, and flat-out makes the others look bad. And from the small collection of gaming documentaries out there, this is one of the best. For non-gaming fans it may not hit as near home with you, but the stories, characters, and emotion reverberating off the screen will hold most people's interest for most of the film's run-time albeit a few breaks in between as the documentary is roughly three-in-a-half hours.
Samox was able to accomplish something that is rarely found within the gaming film genre, he found a heart. Samox was a smash outsider and history has shown that outsiders many times don’t take the care and empathy that the directors focal points deserve. That isn’t the case with The Smash Brothers, Samox looked at the players and community as equals, not below him. And cared that they care about something that many consider weird. The film brings up this question, what other niche communities out there have a history and story worth telling? I do not know that answer, but if The Smash Brothers is any indication, there probably is a lot more stories to tell.