How Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and its director Masahiro Sakurai redefined hype

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Super Smash Bros. and purveyor of all its hype, has finally revealed the last addition to the massive Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster. In one of gaming’s most appropriate swan songs, and following months of rumors, Mr. Sakurai revealed Kingdom Hearts’ main protagonist Sora will be joining the fight – a final, massive cultural inflection point in the series.

During the appropriately titled ‘Mr. Sakurai Presents’ series throughout Smash Ultimate’s lifetime, the bubbly gaming director – equipped with a low budget and minimal set – would discuss the latest additions to the game’s roster, modes, and cosmetics for customizable Mii fighters. It aired at irregular times yet garnered thousands of viewers, as fans impatiently waited in Nintendo’s YouTube channel, spamming mostly rumor-fueled commentary in the chat to get a rise out of one another.

Community engagement

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

(Image credit: Nintendo)

As Sakurai explained in the most recent presentation, six years ago – when Super Smash Bros. released for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U – players participated in what was called the ‘Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot.’ That same poll revealed Sora as the single most requested new fighter, but Mr. Sakurai detailed how he and then Nintendo president and CEO, the late Satoru Iwata, decided not to reveal the results. He explained that, for fighters at the top of that list, people would “demand them from their respective game companies”, potentially leading to issues between the parties involved. Despite the technical hurdles of featuring characters from a multitude of other franchises, Mr. Sakurai and his team have built a legacy of hype with Smash reveals.   

The format and structure of reveals have evolved from short computer-generated cinematics to richly detailed, narrative-driven trailers that seem to represent more than just a fighting game with Nintendo characters. Each bit of news, carefully curated by Sakurai and his dedicated team, initially appeared on the popular website Super Smash Bros. Dojo (opens in new tab), and when it was first announced that two new non-Nintendo characters would be joining the Super Smash Bros. Brawl roster in 2006 and 2007, the internet collapsed into itself. One of the earliest and most genuine indicators of the direction Super Smash Bros, would take with character reveals happened when Metal Gear’s Solid Snake cameoed at the end of the Brawl “high definition” trailer.

Super Smash Bros Characters

(Image credit: Nintendo)

“Despite the technical hurdles of featuring characters from other franchises, Sakurai and his team have built a legacy of hype with Smash reveals”

After Snake, Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog landed, making a crater in a community already reeling from the hype delivered from the first reveal. Gaming news outlets and video game forums were at their wits’ end as Brawl, and its immaculately composed theme by Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu, ushered in a new era of fan engagement that would typify Mr. Sakurai’s creative genius. Leading up to the biggest reveal in the franchise’s history, the Super Smash Bros. director had been a spectre – he’s been on the record about his reticence to agree to interviews because of the weight of expectations that came from the conversations he’d have. WIRED magazine was lucky enough to sit down with Mr. Sakurai at the 2008 Game Developer’s Conference (opens in new tab), but even that was a brief conversation that fell well under three minutes.

Earlier this year, Katsuhiro Harada, the legendary producer and director of the Tekken fighting game franchise, had Sakurai on his YouTube talk and variety show called ‘Harada’s Bar.’ The two talked about some of the pressures of speaking publicly on game development but also its growing importance in the gaming industry. Mr. Harada was quick to highlight how impactful his friend’s presentations had been on viewers and fans, as ‘Mr. Sakurai Presents’ offered direct-feed gameplay of each new Smash Ultimate character, as well as insights into their development. It’s clear why the Bandai Namco general manager was impressed, as nearly all character reveal presentations have gone off without a hitch. During the peak of the pandemic, Sakurai even presented the character DLC Fighters Pass Vol. 2 from his home, with subtitles in place of the usual English voiceover and his living room working as the temporary backdrop instead of his studio.

Defining the legacy

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Sakurai is a conversation starter, even when he doesn’t try or want to be one. After those presentations from his home, viewers took to social media to collectively comb the images of his living room for hints about the next Smash character or any relevant indicator. When he first revealed Banjo-Kazooie as the next roster addition in 2019, he encouraged gamers to play the titular Rare game on Xbox, causing it to trend in Japan (opens in new tab) despite the many challenges Microsoft had breaking ground in the region. Community engagement has always been at the heart of Super Smash Bros., but when you add the genius and creativity of ‘Mr. Sakurai Presents’, a fuller picture begins to take shape that highlights the accomplishments of a director who simply does not quit.

The art style of reveal trailers that came to represent the massive appeal of Super Smash Bros. was defined by the series’ fourth title that arrived on the Wii U. Characters like Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, and Mega Man now had their own fully realized cinematics that told their story as they joined the growing roster of playable characters. For the first time ever, DLC characters were going to be introduced to the game as well, and this essentially became the genesis for ‘Mr. Sakurai Presents.’

With the last Smash Ultimate fighter announced this month, the series bids farewell to an era of indescribable hype and heartache, with players rejoicing in most reveals and sharing their dismay with others. Sakurai has redefined community engagement with the work he’s done throughout the life of this franchise. The influence Smash Bros. has had, and continues to have, on the gaming industry at large is a testament to his commitment to current players and newcomers. This chapter of Super Smash Bros. may have closed, but the countless player experiences that have come to define a generation of gamers will carry on to the next title. 

With Sora joining the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster, the legacy of Nintendo’s brawler has been enshrined forever. Why not click through and see where it lands on our best Switch games list. 

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