It’s a night like any countless number of nights from the past two years since Nintendo released “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” in 2018. Evenings like these have been some of the best of my life, and I know my friends feel the same way. As I finally make it to the top level Village A patio, I pause my podcast and shove my headphones in my backpack. I lightly bang my head against the glass door a few times. It takes a little while for my friend Chris to lean over and unlock the door, but before walking into the moldy apartment, I already know what’s waiting.
Sure enough, everyone is staring rapt at the flat-screen my friends found on the street with an inexplicable bar of dead pixels running straight down the center. Timmy and Andy are hunched forward in their seats, white-knuckling their GameCube controllers.
I drop my coat and backpack in the corner, and the room erupts as Timmy’s Jigglypuff goes flying. He had good directional input though — Timmy often does — so he manages to save it. Andy makes his Wii Fit Trainer do jumping push-ups across the stage as Timmy floats back on screen. Andy jumps out over the pit in an attempt to finish him off but misses. Timmy goes for the risky Rest, whiffs and plummets off screen.
The spell has been broken. I hear congratulations for Andy and jeers for Timmy. The two shake hands, and controllers are traded off. I finally go to take my seat as my friends greet me.
“Smash” was a language unto itself for us. Wordlessly, just by looking at character selection, you could read the room. We would squeeze in matches between classes, before parties. Sometimes our group would set aside whole nights for nonstop marathons. “Smash” was more than just a game — it was an outlet for us to express ourselves. If we saw one of our friends playing alone, we would provide companionship because we all know how important this game was.
One of the things that made “Smash” so special to us was how customizable it was. We all made Miis to play as ourselves in the game. We delighted in replicating Chris’ happy little smile, recreating Timmy’s deeply morose countenance and the fact that Zack looked like ’77 Mark Hamill.
We had an unspoken hierarchy of controllers. The first spot used to be held by Jake’s wireless GameCube, which was the best until I spilled Natty on it and got the buttons all sticky — Jake, I’m still so sorry about that. My orange controller had a janky Z button, and another controller was a third-party GameStop controller, so they ranked low. If the games were crowded enough, two unlucky folks had to resort to using sideways Joy-Cons. On those nights, you got controller choice based on the results of the game. Mostly it was a vicious cycle: if you got stuck with a Joy-Con, the chances were you kept it. Still, it made the comeback stories all the sweeter; there was no better feeling than unseating someone and taking their controller. The feeling of triumph was what made “Smash” special, and brought us all together, even in competition.
We all entered a public tournament Georgetown Gaming put on in spring 2019, even though we had no clue what to expect. In the week leading up to the competition, we spent endless hours practicing. While waiting for the tournament to start in the Healey Family Student Center, we nervously clutched our controllers. Jake and I were boisterous and obnoxious — a favorite social anxiety coping mechanism of ours — while Timmy laughingly pleaded with us to stop.
It quickly became apparent to us how badly we were outmatched. Only two of us made it past the first round. The guy who beat me did so thoroughly. What I remember most, however, is my genuine pride and joy hearing the entire room rooting for my friend Andy — who killed it with Wii Fit Trainer, throwing in ample taunts wherever possible. Still, we didn’t stay until the end after we had all been eliminated. We headed back to the house and continued to play among ourselves. I think it’s better that way.
It’s been a few months since I played with my friends. The COVID-19 pandemic and graduation scattered us to all corners of the country. Until we can play together again, I’ll just keep remembering those nights. Breathing stale Vil A air, trading controllers and jibes, being together. And for just a moment, everything is okay.