Masahiro Sakurai has always been one for theatrics. Both in game design and in general, the man knows how to create a certain atmosphere. In particular, Super Smash Brothers has always been the series he spoils the most. It’s a series that needs no introduction, and the games have always received acclaim due to their crossover nature and general sense of fun. C’mon, who among us hasn’t always wanted Kirby to beat the pulp out of Cloud Strife? This game makes such a reality (and if you believe Nomura, a canon timeline as well). Sakurai has also been known to play games with his fanbase, keeping them guessing on the next character reveal and generally speaking to his audience not as a businessman, but by addressing them as players first rather than just consumers. When those glorious Smash arrows shoot by, you know the moment is here for a character reveal. It’s become tradition these last few years to watch a Nintendo event (or sometimes even dropped with little to no warning) be preceded by a new Smash Brothers trailer, and the hype, the reaction videos, the cheers and jeers of it all make it an incredible exercise in community engagement.
But where did these invitational videos get their start? The key phrase here is “invitational”. Back in 2014, The very first trailer for Super Smash Brothers for WiiU and 3DS dropped (yes, that is the full title. Yes, Nintendo PR had to refer to it in full for a few years). We had a neat showcase of the 3DS version first, and the thought of a full portable smash was tantalizing in the moment. Then, when that scarlet plumber leapt into glorious HD we knew Smash brothers had risen again. It’s important to keep in mind, at this point Smash Bros Brawl was the most recent incarnation, which was the red-haired stepchild to Smash Bros Melee or fan works such as Project M (may it wavedash in heaven). Super Smash Brothers for WiiU and 3DS…I’m not calling it that. Smash 4 was a breath of fresh air for the series. It brought over many familiar faces while also adding…Villager from Animal Crossing? Wii Fit Trainer? The odd ball picks are what gives Smash it’s identity, and while characters like Wii Fit were met with backlash on arrival, I’d argue they are a staple of establishing the series’ personality. Without our Duck Hunts and R.O.Bs, I think some of the novelty of the roster would wear off quick.
What I would like to home in on here would be Villager’s reveal trailer though. Let’s rewind back to the beginning of the Smash 4 reveal trailer. Here, we start on a shot of Animal Crossing in HD (Which is ironic since a proper AC title on the home console at the time, the WiiU, did not or never would exist). A Villager gets a letter in the mail with the smash insignia emblazoned on it, and then rushes out, leaving the invite in plain sight. He then appears later in the trailer, solidifying his state as a proper newcomer and ushering the era of fighter splash screens, which would become a staple in the years following. Fighters also revealed during this time were the aforementioned Wii Fit Trainer and perhaps the most exciting of all, Mega Man from his titular franchise (Smash guests from other companies were incredibly rare at the time, with only Snake and Sonic existing in brawl).
Neither of these trailers were themed around a letter, rather both were staged within their home franchises and then triumphantly revealed to be playable in Smash 4. It’s clear that all the trailers that follow were prepared far in advance, none centered around gaining an “acceptance” to Smash like a proverbial Hogwarts invitation. It seems more like Sakurai and the gang devised smash newcomer trailers to be based in their own world (if not only in the realm of video games in general, not like real world inclusions that will be touched on later), first and foremost.
This is all but proven with the up and coming fighter trailers that followed; Rosalina was paired with Kirby in a Mario Kart crossover, basically inviting herself into the roster (Kirby would never even be a part of Mario Kart, at least at the time of writing, making this another throwaway cameo. Maybe the older Smash trailers are insights into projects Nintendo was experimenting with at the time). Little Mac was shown at his iconic ring training for a mystery event, Charizard & Greninja were duking out as Pokemon do, and Palutena essentially used her goddess’ divine power to will herself into the game. These are only a few of the examples of the trailers leading up to Smash 4’s release, and an invite as we know it today is completely unseen. Up until the final DLC reveal for Smash 4 (Bayonetta), the letter was never a part of the Smash Bros circuit.
Then 2018 saw the announcement of Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. Gone were the days of Super Smash Brothers for WiiU and 3DS, that mouthful has been compacted to just Ultimate, baby! The game’s initial announcement was followed by the now legendary “Everyone is Here!” trailer, a trailer that set the internet ablaze by returning every single past fighter into a single package. But it is the very nature of Smash fans to want more. More! (some say the divine riches of all of Yggdrasil, the world tree, could not sate a Smash fan). So in addition to restoring all the old fighters, new ones such as Simon Belmont and Incineroar (with many others, including more Fire Emblem representation which I find incredible) joined the game for the first time. It’s worth mentioning with each new smash trailer there was no mention of the invite in sight. A new title also allows the chance for DLC once more though, and that’s where things with our little Smash invite get interesting.
The first of Ultimate’s DLC was Joker from Persona 5, announced as a surprise inclusion with little warning at The Game Awards. On December 6th, 2018, the Smash community erupted as A. Ultimate would even have DLC (Which had some doubts early on), and B. That such an unexpected character from a company previously unrepresented in the game would make his debut. And guess how Joker was revealed?
Time’s up. I hope you guessed Smash invite. Right, the white envelope with a Smash Brothers seal not seen since Villagers trailer was now being used again in a series that certainly was not Animal Crossing. The fans adored this new approach, and while the invite existed as a popular vessel for fans to theorize new characters before, now it had just become “canon”.
Following this, Hero from Dragon Quest and Banjo and Kazooie, both well requested characters in their own right, had trailers that wonderfully represented their home franchises, though they were sans invite. Then Terry Bogard’s own trailer came along and centered around it. As the invite flew around in glorious NEOGEO pixel art, it acted as both an inventive ark to build up a new character and a way to pay homage to the King of Fighters franchise as a whole. Next up on the DLC reveals for Ult was the incredibly controversial Byleth, generally leaning towards the worst (I mean, this author loves Fire Emblem and watching the community reaction was great for me). As the goddess Sothis posed options to free Byleth from a critical situation, she holds up a Smash invite as an alternative to death (which, knowing the virulent hatred Smash fans have of anything Fire Emblem touches, may have been a better option, heyo!). What should be noted here is the invite has nothing to do with the universe in question, and is merely tossed as a recognizable play along to the community that Sakurai has created. This marked the end of the first pass of DLC fighters for the game.
The second pass, introduced shortly after finishing up the first (possibly as damage control to “another damn Fire Emblem reveal”) opened with Min Min from Arms entering the fray, with her trailer focused similar to Terrys in that the invite was touted as a prize in universe (This is where I mentioned smash trailers used to only stick to video game rules, but as the invite had become essentially a symbol of the smash newcomer in the community, we now have real world influence as well.) the unbelievable reveal of Steve from the acclaimed series Minecraft followed this. Then Sephiroth barged into Smash soon after, leaving no time for any pleasantries such as an “invite”. This leads up to the most recent reveal of Pyra and Mythra from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. While the trailer had a lengthy buildup to the actual gameplay (the longest single trailer to date, including both games), there is a moment where Pyra explains her absence to Rex is due to receiving an invite (where have we heard this before). She then shows her envelope proudly, and the tradition of the smash invite lives on.
Looking back at the timeline of Smash reveals, the lore of the invite extended far beyond what was meant to be a throwaway joke that pertained to only Animal Crossing. Surely, Sakurai couldn’t have known the fan reception would spur the creation of his new favorite way of generating hype with each coming trailer. But this is Masahiro Sakurai we’re talking about. His devotion and enjoyment in keeping fans engaged speaks to a man who is truly in it for the fun. In fact, the legacy of the Smash Invite has become so pervasive that officially licensed merchandise exists of the letters now, distributed as a reward via Mynintendo not too long ago. There are still two more reveal trailers left for Smash Ultimate remaining on its second fighter pass, and personally I hope to see the legend live on.