There's something about playing Nintendo games at Christmas. Maybe it's their colours, rich and gaudy like pristine wrapping paper. Maybe it's the giddy sense of fun they elicit that fits so well with the festive season. Whatever it is, I spent much of my holiday smiling my face off at recent favourite Super Mario 3D World, or visiting my Animal Crossing: New Leaf town to see it covered in snow.
And like Tom B in his article anticipating the new Mario Kart, I also used the holiday to revisit a few old favourites. One in particular - Super Smash Bros. Brawl - still gets regular multiplayer outings almost six years after its release. I play it most with a particular friend: we have our favourite stages, familiar strategies (I play as Meta Knight who I'm continually told is OP). And yet every time we play together we aren't able to predict what's going to happen.
You can definitely be good at Smash Bros. (some people are very, very good - I wouldn't say either of us particularly are) but there's an element to Nintendo games where being good at them doesn't really matter. It's the blue shell mechanic in Mario Kart, the Smash Ball item in Brawl. There's still a huge competitive component to these games of course, but also a subconscious set of systems where Nintendo never loses track of its main aim - that everyone should always be having fun.
Smash Bros. does this so well because it has such a wealth of items, faces and locations to draw from. There's an initial geeky thrill to seeing a company's mascots brought together on-screen, Avengers-style, but the best way all these franchises are used is how elements of each are melded into Smash Bros.' astonishingly cohesive final mix. Already we've seen a few of the new additions - newcomer characters such as Animal Crossing's Villager who can plant trees on the battlefield and chop them down to land on your head, or Mario Galaxy's Rosalina and Luma, a pair of fighters that you seem able to control at the same time.
And then there's the game's array of bonkers items to look forward to playing with. Pokéballs, for example, add an element of randomness to each battle - do you waste time going after one hoping that a legendary creature is inside, only to find out it's a Goldeen? Assist Trophies - set to return in the new Wii U and 3DS versions - are even more risky. Will a useful Nintendo character lie inside, or will Animal Crossing's Mr. Resetti appear, filling your screen with text bubble rants? Smash Bros. is a fighter with a lot of heart and a generous sense of humour - it's about gambling and being able to laugh when things fail.
Nintendo is usually pretty secretive with its upcoming projects - you don't see developer diaries from its internal studios, and getting access to preview builds is a rare treat. But there's something different about Smash Bros. - there's so much to talk about and it is such a treasure trove for Nintendo fans - it's the Nintendo series that breaks the rule. Smash Bros. series boss Masahiro Sakurai has been sharing daily screenshots of the project via Miiverse, showing off new items, confirming returning characters - but even after months of new images we still have much to learn about what exactly will be in the final product.
Which characters will make the final roster? How exactly will the 3DS and Wii U versions connect with each other? Will Meta Knight be nerfed? I can't wait to find out.