Sakurai has suggested that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will have fewer newcomers than previous entries, but there are some franchises that are practically guaranteed to have new representatives. One of the most likely franchises is Pokémon, which has played a big role in Super Smash Bros. throughout the series' history. With a new Pokémon generation slated to come to Nintendo Switch in 2019, it seems like a good time to examine how these two franchises have worked closely together, ever since the beginning.
Super Smash Bros. (1999)
- Pokemon Red Version and Pokemon Green Version released in 1996
- Two playable Pokémon: Pikachu and Jigglypuff
- One stage: Saffron City
- Five Pokémon appear as stage elements
- Introduction of Poké ball item, featuring 13 Pokémon
- Total number of Pokémon: 20
With two fighters on the original Super Smash Bros. roster, Pokémon is tied with the Super Mario series for most represented franchise. Additionally, Mewtwo was planned as a third Pokémon representative, but was ultimately left out. This is particularly impressive considering that Pokémon was one of the newest franchises present in Smash, having released only three years before Super Smash Bros.’ launch. With Super Smash Bros. having had only 10 series-specific items, it's also noteworthy that 13 original Pokémon sprites and functions were developed in order to include them in this new series through the fan-favorite Poké ball item.
Super Smash. Bros. Melee (2001)
- Pokémon Gold Version and Pokémon Silver Version released in 1999
- Four playable Pokémon: Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Pichu, and Mewtwo
- Two stages: Pokémon Stadium and Poké Floats
- 18 Pokémon appear as stage elements
- Poké ball item features 29 Pokémon
- Total number of Pokémon: 51
Melee was the most quickly-developed Smash game, with a production period of around 13 months. While the release gap between the first and second Pokémon generations appears rather sizable compared to that of the Smash games, there was a playable beta version of Pokémon Gold available in 1997. This suggests that both games were developed very quickly as a result of their predecessors’ success. Thanks to Pokémon’s continued popularity, its playable-character representation in Smash doubled, adding newcomers Mewtwo and Pichu to the roster. This means that Pokémon was tied with The Legend of Zelda for the second most represented franchise. Melee is also the first Smash Bros. game to feature full 3D models for every Pokémon in the Poké ball item, a feat that is particularly impressive considering that the number of Pokémon more than doubled from what was present in the original Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)
- Pokémon Diamond Version and Pokémon Pearl Version released in 2006
- Six playable Pokémon: Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Squirtle, Ivysaur, Charizard, and Lucario
- Three stages: Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Stadium 2, and Spear Pillar
- 15 Pokémon appear as stage elements
- Poké ball item features 30 Pokémon
- Rayquaza featured as a boss battle
- Total number of Pokémon: 52
There was a seven year gap between Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and in that time Pokémon had introduced its third and fourth generations. This meant that the pool from which Sakurai and his team could pull new characters was much deeper than before. The number of playable Pokémon jumped to six, despite Mewtwo and Pichu not returning from Melee. There is leftover data for Mewtwo in the final game that suggests he was cut very late into development, however. In any case, more Pokémon on the roster turned out to not mean much for playable character diversity, as only Lucario is from a generation after the first.
This was the first instance of an apparent trend for the Smash Bros. roster to focus on the original Pokémon games, while simultaneously promoting the latest Pokémon generation through a hand-picked representative. After all, while Lucario was well-liked by fans by the time Brawl came out, he was clearly popular within the Pokémon development team as well. In fact, he was featured in a Pokémon movie released in July of 2005, which was more than a full year ahead of his debut in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. More evidence of The Pokémon Company’s role in Smash comes from a 2008 GDC talk where Sakurai stated that roster selection for Brawl was "essentially completed" on July 7th 2005. This suggests that Sakurai was granted early access in order to include Lucario, despite the fact that the newest Pokémon games were still in development.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U (2014)
- Pokémon X and Pokémon Y released in 2013
- Six playable Pokémon: Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Charizard, Lucario, Greninja, and Mewtwo
- Four stages: Pokémon Stadium 2, Kalos Pokémon League, Prism Tower, and Unova Pokémon League
- 23 Pokémon featured as stage elements
- Poké ball item features 41 Pokémon
- Five Pokémon featured as enemies in Smash Run
- Total number of Pokémon: 75
Thanks to another large gap between Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, Pokémon once again had the opportunity to release two generations of games from which Sakurai could pull. Yet for the first time in Smash history, the number of Pokémon representatives did not increase. In fact, due to a number of cuts, the roster of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U had fewer Pokémon representatives than Brawl’s until Mewtwo was added back in as DLC. The only newcomer from the franchise this time was generation six starter, Greninja. Confirming what might have been suspected about Lucario, Sakurai stated in an interview with Nintendo Dream that Greninja was designed based on little more than concept illustrations. Additionally, he said that the roster was decided by the time the new Smash project was proposed in May of 2012, well ahead of Greninja's official release in Pokémon X and Y.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate reveal trailer confirmed that every previous playable Pokémon will return. Additionally, the E3 demo shows that the newest Pokémon games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, are being represented via several Poké ball Pokémon, such as Alolan Raichu, Lunala, and Bewear. Fans have yet to hear about a newcomer, however. Considering that Pokémon has never gone without a new fighter, it seems more a matter of “when” rather than “if.” And more importantly, "who?" While popular opinion seems to call for Decidueye or another Sun and Moon starter, one has to wonder if The Pokémon Company would use the new Smash to promote games that will soon be old news.
This is the first time in series history that Smash Bros. will launch ahead of an upcoming Pokémon title. Given The Pokémon Company's apparent habit of granting Sakurai early access to a Pokémon they plan to heavily promote, is it possible that an unreleased generation’s Pokémon is waiting for us in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? It may seem unprecedented, but Pokémon and Smash Bros. have a long history together, and if any series would take that kind of a gamble on Super Smash Bros., it would certainly be Pokémon.
Author's Note: While the possibility of a next-gen Pokémon is probably unlikely, it seems like DLC at the very least could be a good bet. Whether it's available at launch or not, it sure would be a good way to get Switch owners excited about the brand new Pokémon games. Who do you think makes the most sense as a newcomer? Or, who would you most want?