I shouted as I walked in the front door of my college house, affectionately known as The Batcave.
It was just after midnight. Birdman, who had been working on the school paper with me, walks in behind me. My roommate C-Bag, sitting on the couch looking at his laptop, looked up at us. Barely a moment later, he grabbed the Wii-mote and Gamecube controllers.
This was our ritual. Whenever Birdman came over, we played Super Smash Bros Brawl. It’s a great way to unwind. Few things are as therapeutic as bashing in the skulls of your friends’ virtual avatars.
We even developed our own lingo: Crude nicknames for characters, shorthand for specific levels, battle cries to accompany each move, and code names for house rules and etiquette.
That night, we started with a battle at Jungle Japes. I chose Pikachu, who’s always my first-round-of-the-night character. Birdman chose Diddy Kong — for those damn bananas — and C-Bag chose Old Man ‘Dorf. Because he always chooses Old Man ‘Dorf.
I grabbed a Landshark for each of us from the fridge as Birdman handily won the first the match. For the next match, I switched to random character selection, while Birdman and C-Bag stuck with Diddy and Dorf. I ended up with Ice Climbers — good news for me, bad news for Birdman and C-Bag, who were about to get spammed with ice blocks.
It came down to the wire, but I ended up winning when Diddy tripped and I smashed him off the screen for the win. See, Brawl added a new element of randomness to the game: characters will randomly “trip” into a defenseless prone. Birdman, outraged by the trip, flew into a rage about how stupid the game is.
“Well then, why don’t you ever suggest we play the N64 Smash or Melee?” I asked, interrupting his stream of profanities.
“I’d love to play N64 Smash but you guys never want to,” he said.
“True,” I admitted.
“And the variety of Brawl makes it less repetitive,” he said. “There are so many characters and stages.”
“I agree,” I said. “I just can’t go back and play Melee or N64. They just feel wrong. I know Brawl is supposed to be less competitive, but it’s not like we use the more annoying stages or over-powered Meta Knight or anything.”
“We’re just playing to have fun,” C-Bag added. “I just think this one is the most fun.”
We sipped our Landshark to that.
We played six or seven more rounds and polished off another brew each. Birdman rotated between Diddy, King “Sucks a” Dedede, and Bowser. I played some random, but also Toon Link, Sonic, and “Bro”-limar. C-Bag played as Old Man ‘Dorf. Because he always chooses Old Man ‘Dorf.
After a particularly tense match. I glanced at my phone and saw that it was already 1:30 AM.
“Guys, I have a 9 AM tomorrow,” I said. “I mean, we all know I’m skipping that. But I also have an 11 AM, which I actually intend to go to, so we should wrap up soon.”
“So… LASTIES!?” Birdman interjected.
My favorite Brawl tradition is “lasties” in which the three of us all pull out our best characters for one last, epic battle at Final Destination.
For me, that means playing as Mr. Game and Watch. I love his quick, airborne style of play. And there is no move I love more than The Bucket.
For Birdman, that means playing as Zelda. She’s low-tiered according to official rankings, but Birdman is wily enough with her — and spammy with her side-B projectile — that he always makes her a threat.
For C-Bag, that means playing Old Man ‘Dorf. Because… well, you know.
We selected Final Destination, set stock to three lives, and began our hyper-tense “lasties” match.
My bread and butter with Game and Watch move has always been “The Key” — Game and Watch’s down-air. Mere moments have passed before my first attempt to key Zelda, which Birdman promptly dodges.
“You know, The Key is one of the few down-airs you can aim,” Birdman said. (Once, while singing the praises of the move, I repeated this fact twice within a week, and so Birdman and C-Bag of course claim that I “always” point it out. This means that they now always point it out to make fun of me.)
About fifteen seconds go by before I land a sick torch (side-smash) on Dorf, followed by a well-placed parachute (up-B), and his first life is toast. This is known as The Ganondorf Principle — Old Man Dorf always gets roughed up early in the match, usually wasting a quick life. If Dorf wins, it’s late game heroics, because The Ganondorf Principle dictates he must suck early in the match.
So much of “lasties” comes down to the bucket metagame. Any time I can absorb Birdman’s Din’s Fire (side-B) to fill my bucket, I’m a major threat to one-hit KO anyone on the board; Din’s Fire gives bucket full power.
So this game, I quickly filled my bucket with Din’s Fire and launched it towards Zelda. But Birdman was ready; he dodged the outpour with ease.
Following a tense back-and-forth with Birdman, our stalemate finally ends when he sweet-spots a “Toe” (side-air), instantly killing me.
But before I could even regenerate, C-Bag had tied it up with a Warlock punch (neutral-B) right to Zelda’s smarmy face.
We’d made it back to “new game” — everyone with the same number of lives and a similar percentage. Two lives remained for each of us.
At a moment of lost concentration, I found myself lingering near the edge of the stage. I avoided a Din’s Fire by jumping off the edge and air-dodging. Bad move. C-Bag used his opportunity to “sui” me — aka grab me and bring me down to Hades with his side-B.
The Dorf sui is a risky movie and not always strategic — a life-for-a-life hit makes sense if you’re up on lives or have a high damage percentage, but is otherwise a tactical mistake. But you forget that we’re playing for pride above victory, so C-Bag never hesitates to pull of a sui when he can.
The two of us now down a life to Birdman, we started targeting him. Zelda unleashed more Din’s Fire as I absorbed it and Dorf did the dirty work of dodging and approaching Zelda.
After filling the bucket, I started approaching Zelda myself. While avoiding a Dorf hit, Zelda hopped to the side, and I took my opening, unleashing a taste of her own medicine at her. The bucket outpour made contact, and Zelda went soaring off the screen. The life count was down to 1-1-1. It all would come down to this last life, just like it so often did.
Our moves were lightning-quick, assertive, and guarded. The difference between a hit and miss was razor-thin, leading to intricate games of cat-and-mouse, as we all try to lure the others into our hit zones. None of us wanted to take the damage, but it was on all of our minds that a few quick hits can make all the difference.
Unfortunately for Dorf, he found himself in the crossfire of a Zelda down-smash, which knocked him right into a Game and Watch torch. One Zelda up-air later, and Ganondorf was off the map. C-Bag was out.
And so there we were, me vs. Birdman, Game and Watch vs. Zelda. It was the most tense Smash rivalry any of us had — culminating the one time we entered a Smash tournament sponsored by our college, faced off against each other in the second round, and fought the closest battle of our life, each of us racking up more than 200% damage on our last life. (Stupid Zelda won with an up-air.)
But right then, my focus was on the match at hand. At this point, the game was our Zen. We were never more alive than these final one-on-one matchups. We weren’t looking at pixels so much as a flow of feints, deceits, aggressions, intimidations, and psychological warfare.
Our one-on-ones often came down to minor victories, like who could land their down-smash more quickly. Zelda held a big advantage in the timing, her kicks outpacing most other moves in the game. But Game and Watch could score a lucky blow with the big hit boxes of the devastating double hammer.
And, finally, with 120% damage racked up on Zelda, I made it happen. I landed an elusive up-smash, the “helmet hit,” launching Zelda to the stratosphere. As Zelda’s body flew off screen, I hit the “taunt” button, letting Game and Watch ring his bells a few times. Victory was mine.
I gave out a jubilant cry as Birdman muttered “cool!?” in his trademark high-pitched sarcasm. I took the last sip of my Landshark. We sat in silence for a few moments.
“Another lasties?” C-Bag asked.
Without pausing, Birdman hit “Start” and we began the match again.
Despite its name, “lasties” usually went on at least four or five matches, the losers hoping to go out on a high note, the winners too giddy from the thrill of victory to say no.
And this is what we would do my senior year, night in, night out. If this Top 100 is a ranking of things that have had an impact on me, those long, thrilling Smash sessions deserve this placement, if not higher. They’re the first thing I think of when I look back on my last year of college. They’re some of my favorite memories, period. Good times, good friends, good game. I’ll ring my damn bell to that.