The year is 2007: you boot up the family computer before school to check out the “Brawl Dojo.” Smash Bros creator Masahiro Sakurai would update the site each and every weekday with new information on the highly anticipated follow-up to Super Smash Bros. Melee: Super Smash Bros. Brawl. A new item, a new music track, a new stage, or, could it be — a New Challenger Approaching?! Video game hype has rarely felt so palpable since then, if ever, and coming off the white-hot success of the Wii’s launch, it was certainly no surprise.
The wait between the releases of Melee and Brawl felt like forever. The first entry in the Super Smash Bros. series released on the Nintendo 64 back in 1999, and its sequel Super Smash Bros. Melee followed up just shortly after in 2001 on the Nintendo GameCube, improving on the first entry drastically. With over twice as many playable characters and stages, each character’s moveset being expanded upon from the first game, and a wealth of collectible trophies, each with their own storied history to gather, it was clear that this series had massive potential. Nintendo’s already vast library of video games only continued to grow, and it was hard not to wonder what they could pull from for an additional sequel. Things were just getting started.
Welcome to the Smash Bros Dojo
Years later at E3 2006, at the very end of a three-day presentation, we were given one of the biggest surprises in the event’s history: a reveal trailer for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. What was shown off was surprisingly cinematic, and featured an instantly iconic theme song by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. The trailer revealed several new fighters such as Pit, Wario, and Zero Suit Samus, as well as the biggest surprise of them all: Snake, from the Metal Gear Solid series. This blew the doors off of what had been considered to be the unbreakable rule of the franchise thus far: every character must be a Nintendo character. But now, even third-party characters were fair game. Speculation ran wild on gaming forums across the internet. Who could be next?
Brawl would not be released for another 2 years after its initial reveal. But almost immediately following that early glimpse, Sakurai launched his personal blog for additional updates: the “Smash Bros. DOJO!!” There had been similar websites prior to and following the releases of the first two entries in the Smash Bros. series, but they had largely been limited to Japanese audiences only. For this edition, Sakurai decided to publish his blog entries in multiple languages prior to the release of Brawl, which no doubt contributed to the game’s wild success.
Early updates mostly recapped what had been shown in the trailer, and elaborated on minor changes being made to returning characters (who were now categorized as “veteran fighters”), such as Mario’s down-B move being changed from a spin attack to incorporating something from one of his more recent outings: FLUDD from Super Mario Sunshine. Nothing too mindblowing yet, but as there was clearly a bit of a wait until the game’s release (which would eventually be delayed past the initial projection), information was strategically divvied out over time. Eventually, we got glimpses at things like the introduction of the Final Smash and Assist Trophies — both of which would become series staples. We also saw the introduction of “The Subspace Emissary,” an adventure mode that was a fanfic writer’s wet dream, which was (sadly) exclusive to Brawl. But it didn’t stop there.
Smash Bros Dojo — A Glimpse of Things to Come
We continued to get major reveals: characters who weren’t even shown in the initial trailer (or as the website calls them, “Newcomers”), stages from games both past and present, and assist trophy reveals — for characters who didn’t quite make the cut to “playable fighter.” Sorry, Waluigi fans. Many people remember these updates fondly, and some even have their favorites — but what makes this tactile approach stand out among modern day reveals?
In many ways, the Smash Bros. DOJO was a premonition of social media as we know it today — a direct conduit to the creator, updates not tied exclusively to major press releases. The era of E3 is dead, and people aren’t getting their gaming updates from Nintendo Power or EGM anymore. We’re on our phones and computers more than ever, constantly glued to the drip feed of information straight from the source in real time. In that sense, the Smash Bros. DOJO was ahead of the curve, and a memorable novelty of its own era.
Game companies want to be viewed as our “friends” on social media. Whether that is a successful approach or not remains up to interpretation. Much of Sonic the Hedgehog’s lingering success in the modern day is probably owed to whoever runs their official Twitter account. Information shared from someone who seems like your friend feels more relatable and memorable. In this sense, Sakurai would insert a bit of his own personality and humor into his blog posts, which is something he would continue to do over the years throughout future Nintendo Direct presentations, making him one of the most iconic video game developers working, and his game reveals some of the most memorable in history.
The Dojo’s Legacy
Upon release, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was a massive hit. While it remains one of the more controversial entries in the series, few can deny its legacy or the extent of the hype leading up to it. As the Wii continued to sell like hotcakes, Nintendo fans would know that a new Super Smash Bros. game was on the horizon, one bigger than ever before. After Brawl released, the Wii’s hype slowly died down over time. With HDTVs becoming more commonplace and casual shovelware falling out of vogue, Nintendo’s standard definition console-that-could was showing its age by the day. But Super Smash Bros. Brawl marked the zenith of one of the best-selling video game consoles of all time.
To this day, many game developers try to mimic the hype train started by Super Smash Bros. Brawl, including Nintendo themselves. Each Super Smash Bros. game to follow would divvy out updates and announcements over time, though not in quite the same style as before. They’ve fine-tuned what was in place, to the point where each new character reveal became an instant event across the internet. Platform fighters such as Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl and MultiVersus take clear direction from the Smash Bros. style of reveal trailer, and thanks to Twitter, updates on new games can be as small or as big as they want. The Smash Bros. DOJO let fans inside to feel like they were a part of the process, and in doing so, set the stage for how we would relate to video games moving forward.