Carter Newson/Edge columnist
Pirate Ship is the best stage in the Super Smash Bros series.
Super Smash Bros. is a crossover, party, fighting game released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64. The game’s playable characters were 12 of Nintendo’s icons including Mario, Donkey Kong and Pikachu.
Super Smash Bros. has often been credited as a series meant to represent the history of video games with its wide inclusions of content and references to other video games series. A museum of sorts to major and minor games in the industry.
The games do this by having playable characters and many stages but also including a staggering amount of hours of music tracks from video games as well as hundreds of trophies of characters with a paragraph of information detailing the history of the object or character in the trophy. Smash Bros truly does try act as time capsule for games.
Stages are essentially the locations in which the players take combat in. They can be original areas like Battlefield or Final Destination, or they can be based of an area from a game such as Princess Peach’s Castle or Pokemon stadium.
As the series progressed and more games introduced more stages there eventually totaled to be more than 100 stages in the entire series. Of these Pirate Ship based on The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker is the best, because of how well it encapsulates the game it’s from as a whole thus completing the goal of smash bros which is to represent video games through smart and accurate adaptation.
Pirate Ship the stage was first introduced in Super Smash Bros Brawl in 2008 and has been in every game in the franchise since. With 41 stages in Super Smash Bros Brawl, Pirate Ship appears to be an ordinary stage.
When it comes down to it, Pirate Ship is a typical stage. The stage is a sailboat on the open sea, with the main fighting area on the deck of the ship with two more additional platforms on the mast of the ship.
Stages in Super Smash Bros. often follow a particular set of tropes.
The first of these is there is usually at least one hazard, telegraphed or not hazards serve to make the matches between players more interesting and another thing for them to keep their mind on while playing. Hazards can be as simple as platforms appearing and disappearing or an elemental hazard spreading across the stage to as complicated as changing the entire layout of the stage.
Secondly, stages that aren’t original try to replicate a location or specific event from a game the best they can, if not they try to replicate what if feels like to be in the game’s world. For some stages this can be literally pulling a location from a game and making it into a stage like Delfino Plaza from Mario Sunshine or this means getting creative and loosely basing a Jungle area of off Donkey Kong, or for the Yoshi Woolly World stage which isn’t based of any location from the game but just has the stage made out of wool to represent the games art style.
Thirdly, most stages follow the layout of being an object in the sky with two ledges on either side with one to three platforms above. This is the absolute most common stage design layout in the series, naturally a few stages deviate from this by either having no ledges where the ground of the stage extends to the death barrier and these types of stages are referred to as walk offs. However, the common layout follows the aforementioned design because it meshes the best with the gameplay of needing to recover back to the stage when knocked off by an opponent.
With all these reasons listed Pirate Ships does every aspect perfectly.
For starts Pirate Ship was first introduced in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Brawl has the grittiest realistic art style in the entire Smash Bros series, the even went as far to embroidered Mario’s overalls. This gives the game a much darker tone and often leaves the colours to be muddy and washed out with a lot of browns.
As mentioned, Super Smash Bros. as a series intended to best represent video games the best it can so that would imply replicating a character or stages art style and dropping it into to smash.
However, this is not the case, most characters and especially the stages change to fit to match the smash games art style, previously mentioned Mario is a good example but so does the rest of the cast.
Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong and Bowser usually have human voice actors do cartoonish exaggerations of their respective animal voices, but in Brawl they all use realistic animal grunts for their sound effects, Toon Link who usually has very little detail has his cloths covered in wrinkles and texture. Even Kirby who normally has a bright hard pink colour has had his colour washed out and is closer to white than his usual colour. In all the characters all adjust to the game’s art style.
The same rule applies to the stages, they all with a few exceptions change to fit the more realistic art style of Brawl. There is a stage based of the first level of Super Mario Bros, where it’s expected that would be colorful and bright, it’s turned into a baron, dry, dusty dessert.
When content comes to smash it loses its art style and therefore doesn’t represent the source game faithfully. Except for Pirate Ship. Pirate Ship from the Wind Waker has a bright, cartoonish, cel shaded art style much like its source game. There are little details like gentle waves pushing off the front of the ship or animated gusts of winds breezing by in the sky. It’s fair to say that a stage that retains its source game’s art style represents that game better than a stage that doesn’t. Pirate Ship perfectly translates the art style of the Wind Waker.
Most games only get one stage to represent them in Super Smash Bros, if at all. So, it’d be vital that what’s chosen to serve as a fill in for the whole game. The stage must represent a crucial, memorable moment or location from the game or a general adaptation the world.
The more significant a moment or location is the better, this often leaves stages being based off the first area of a game for instance the earlier mentioned remake of the first level of Super Mario Bros, The Great Plateau is the first area of the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and the Garden of Hope is the first area of Pikmin 3. The first area is of course an important area in any game, but it does become cliché and predictable to see stage after stage based of the starting area. If the Wind Waker stage were to also be based on the first area that would have it set on Outset Island, however this isn’t what I would consider the most major part of the game. 80% of the time playing Wind Waker is spent on the ocean, so the best stage to represent the game would be one on the water. Naturally for a stage on water you need a boat, and the Pirate Ship is a very important boat and memorable part of Wind Waker, it’s also the boat of one of the game’s main characters, Tetra.
Some stages in Smash Bros are what some call “travelling stages.” Essentially the stage will start in one location and a platform will come and take the players to another location. This isn’t inherently a flaw; it allows one stage to represent multiple locations in a game’s world. Pirate Ship could also be classified as a travelling stage as it’s a pirate ship that travels over the sea. The difference between Pirate Ship and other travelling stages is that most of the time there is no explanation for the travelling, after a certain amount of time a flying platform will appear and carry the players to another location of the game world. When the stage is the travelling platform, it makes more sense than a magical platform that appears.
The stage layout of Pirate Ship while following the most typical format does the format the most distinctive way, and it physically makes sense. The boat itself slightly curves downward and the two additional platforms are stacked vertically on the mast of the ship. Normally a stage sacrifices a plat form layout that matches the physical terrain of the stage in order to make the stage more fun, Pirate Ship doesn’t make that sacrifice and still manages to have one of the best layouts.
Hazards in the Super Smash Bros. series are often used poorly, hazards often change the tides of battle to much and are often far out of the players’ control. Hazards often appear spontaneously and leave to much of an impact and disappear. Hazards often don’t make sense from the game they’re based of off, most of the time they’re there for the sake of being hazards. It took years of begging from fans for a stage hazard toggle to finally be added to the game. The best types of Hazards would be the ones that leave just enough of an impact on the match to keep players engaged but not to much of an effect to make players frustrated, as if the hazards will determine the outcome of the match. The Hazards must be telegraphed to the players and make thematic sense to the game world of the stage.
Most stages only have 2-3 hazards, but Pirate Ship has five and they’re some of the best hazards in the series.
The first hazard is a smaller boat called the King of Red Lions that pulls up behind the Pirate Ship, the King of Red Lions is a vital character/boat to Wind Waker so it’s a good cameo and he only serves as another platform so it’s a tame hazard all things considered. When characters cameo in Stages they often just stand in the background so it’s better to have the King of Red Lions as apart of the stage.
The second hazard is a enemy pirate outpost the ship sails by and gets shot at by canons, of the five hazards on the stage it’s the most deadly, however it’s made clear when and where the canon balls are going to hit and while a similar hazard on another stage might be an instant knock out here it does around thirty damage, the structure of the outposts also mimic the lookout points in the game.
The third hazard is a catapult that launches a player unfortunate enough to be standing on it when it does so, this isn’t completely random, the catapult rises up from below the deck before it’s ready to fire, the catapult itself isn’t that deadly it launches whoever is on it across the stage and likely into combat. The catapult references a moment from the game when the main character gets launched by a catapult on the pirate ship to land.
The fourth Hazard is a tornado that can easily be seen coming from background that picks up the boat and launches it into the sky, the effect is has only limited to making everyone briefly lighter and it’s a reference to the Ballad of Gales an area from the original game.
The fifth hazard is a boulder that the ship crashes into causing it to sink before carrying along sailing. This is the only hazard that isn’t naturally telegraphed but still telegraphed non the less by a flashing exclamation mark before the ship crashes.
Pirate Ship is decently sized as well. Super Smash Bros is a game that can have 2-8 characters on screen at a time. Stages are either too small for the max of Eight players or too big for the minimum of two, most stages are designed for specific amounts of players yet they are all playable by any amount, non the less very few stages are designed for all amounts of players, Pirate Ship is one of the few stages that manages to work for all amounts of fighters.
Following Pirate Ship’s inclusion, Smash Bros stages began to follow a similar design philosophy to Pirate Ship showing the effect it’s had on the series as whole.
Pirate Ship is the perfect stage in the Super Smash Bros Series because of how naturally and cohesively it manages to reference the game it’s based off and keep the gameplay engaging without sacrificing any aspect quality other stages fall into and influenced the design of future stages.
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