Lately I’ve been playing more Smash Bros. than I have in my entire life. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really not.
I missed out on all the Nintendo consoles after the SNES, so I never owned a version of the game before Smash Ultimate, which came out for the Switch last year. I moved constantly, which meant constantly shifting friend groups, making Smash Bros. parties a relatively rare, yet fun, occurrence. Like a trip to Disney World, or making a quiche.
This meant that, for most of Smash’s 20-year reign, I was very bad at Smash. It was a purely social game for me, something I only ever got the opportunity to play a handful of times a year, and never enough to truly get acquainted with the Smash du jour.
Funny thing about being bad at Smash: People will still, for some reason, invite you to play. I imagine that this is because everyone likes to have someone they can beat up on, but still, it’s nice that they’re thinking of me. Whatever the opposite of a ringer is, I’m that.
Now that my friends and I all have Switches and Smash Bros. Ultimate, we’ve all been playing online together. Which means that I am, for the first time in my life, a regular Smash player. In my new career playing Smash, the weirdest thing has started happening: I’ve started winning.
Playing online this week, my friend Kevin — a man best described as “smug Ness main” — did something extremely out of character: He complimented me on how well I was doing. And then, like a character at the end of a Christopher Nolan movie, I began to flash back to my last couple of Smash games, and how I have, somehow, been holding my own and winning matches. I felt… a little sad?
I kind of liked being the guy who was Bad At Smash. It’s a great way to stand out at parties, and make sure everyone knows your name. Hey, I’m Joshua. Remember me? The dude that was complete butt at Smash? And then they’d say something like, Yeah, wow, you really are bad! What are your thoughts on the afterlife?
As fun as it was to be comically bad at Smash, I was always a little perplexed by how — given the game’s deceptively simple design — people got so damn good. On an intellectual level, I got it, but as someone who strictly played the game at parties, the skillset necessary to be “good” at Smash might as well have been another language.
This was uncomfortable for me, because I don’t have many wholly casual relationships with games. If something’s difficult, I’ll figure out if it’s worth the time investment, and either buckle down and figure it out or move on.
It’s funny, then, to find a game clicking for me in a way that I have barely noticed, since I tend to give games so much of my attention. But maybe, if you have faced me online, you have. And felt fear. Because I am somehow now good at Smash.