Super Smash Bros Brawl 1
Image: Nintendo

Well blimey, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is celebrating its 15th anniversary in Japan today! That's right, the third entry in what is one of the most iconic Nintendo franchises launched on 31st January 2008, and for many — even with how huge Melee was — this is what created some of the most iconic Smash things.

Final Smashes. Character introduction videos. Huge casts of fighters. Epic, sprawling musical scores and arrangements. Sonic. Snake. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was an event that capitalised on the success of its GameCube predecessor. It's one of the best-selling games on the Wii for a reason.

And while we're here to celebrate Brawl, we're looking back at one particular aspect of the game — The Subspace Emissary. This is Brawl's version of an 'Adventure Mode', a hybrid beat 'em up platformer with boss fights, a Metroid-like section, and tons and tons of enemies, trophies, and CDs to collect. Smash has never really returned to this style of Adventure Mode before, and it's got us thinking — should Subspace Emissary return in some way? And what do we want to see in the next Smash game's Adventure Mode, if there is one?

Three of our talented Smash-lovin' writers got together to discuss the highs and lows of Smash's Adventure Mode journey, and speculate on what might be next for the series' single-player content...

Brawl back

Alana Hagues, Staff Writer: Somehow, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is 15 years old today! It’s safe to say that Brawl isn’t the most fondly looked upon Smash game in the community. But I think it’s worth looking back at what is probably the most unique part of the game – The Subspace Emissary.

Jim Norman, Staff Writer: It’s funny that you should say about the reception to Brawl — I personally think that speaks more to the high quality of the other games than it does to the quality of the Wii entry. And on this note, I think that The Subspace Emissary was a belter!

I really miss good single-player modes in Fighting games, and SSE was something I spent ages on.

Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer: Ah… I’m glad you like it, Jim, because I thought it was a bit poo! Now, this is coming from someone who spent literal days-at-a-time playing Super Smash Bros. Melee, and the Subspace Emissary felt like somewhat of an evolution of its predecessor, but a rather bloated one. It was just unnecessarily sprawling, whereas Melee’s Adventure Mode felt a lot more focused. Maybe I’m just old and set in my ways!

AH: I come from the same place as Jim. I think The Subspace Emissary is so fun, but it’s definitely bloated. It’s a weird mish-mash of ideas. But I really miss good single-player modes in Fighting games, and SSE was something I spent ages on.

JN: Yeahhh…I should probably get this out in the open: for the longest time, I thought that the Subspace Emissary mode was Smash Bros. Like, that was the game. Brawl was my first Smash Bros. title and my brother was too young to be getting into that level of gaming with me at the time, so I had to fall back on the single-player mode.

OR: Ahh, to be young…

JN: That being said, let’s not pretend that SSE does things by halves! I mean, the story starts with an entire smash arena getting blown up…

Lighting the way

Super Smash Bros Brawl 2
Image: Nintendo

AH: So we’re all coming at SSE from slightly different places, so that makes me curious – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Adventure Mode, World of Light, is very different from SSE. What did we think of that? I promise there’s a reason I’m asking this!

JN: I really enjoyed World of Light! It combined the story-driven element of SSE (very lightly) with the fact that you actually had to learn how to get good at Smash. There was no use in just running away from your enemies in this one.

Surely you remember such classic levels as ‘The Plain’, ‘The Lake’, and uh, ‘The Forest’...

OR: I did prefer World of Light, but it also left a lot of room for improvement. What really bugged me about SSE was the distinct lack of detail in the ‘exploration’ stages; they almost looked like they were procedurally generated, in a weird way. World of Light went way off in the opposite direction to avoid doing this, which also introduced a boatload of other issues, but ones that personally don’t grind my gears quite so much. I like its focus on the battles first and foremost; the overworld felt like an afterthought which, for a Smash Bros. game, is kind of the point, in my eyes.

AH: I definitely agree on the battle focus in World of Light – and I think it made really good use of the Spirits. The exploration sections in SSE definitely don’t inspire – like, where’s my Kid Icarus level, or Yoshi section where I’m going through a picture book? There are some sections inspired by the character’s games, but they don’t have the flavour of that character.

JN: Come on now guys! Surely you remember such classic levels as ‘The Plain’, ‘The Lake’, and uh, ‘The Forest’...

AH: The one thing I remember about The Lake is fighting Rayquaza next to it – now that is why I love SSE. And probably why the Monster Hunter fight with Rathalos is in Ultimate. I prefer SSE to World of Light, honestly, warts and all, but it has lessons to learn.

Adventure on

AH: Let’s get thinking, then; if the next Smash game gave us an Adventure Mode, what would you want it to do?

OR: Oh my goodness, the next Smash… I’m not sure that’ll ever happen, but for the purposes of this, I think I’d quite like Adventure Mode to be a kind of hybrid of everything that’s been done up until now. I love the idea of moving through an expanded space and exploring every nook and cranny, but SSE was a bit too bland for my liking after Melee did such a good job of using levels that were clearly based on other IPs. I’d also like to see the Spirits mechanic utilised again because I did have a lot of fun with that, but honestly, I’d love to see trophies return even more, so if sacrifices have to be made, then… yeah.

JN: I’m going to have to agree with you on this one. I am more optimistic about the prospect of another Smash — look at all of those new Fire Emblem characters that we have to play with now! The level designs will definitely need some tweaks, but I really liked the platformer-style that they went for with SSE and surely there is enough promise there to make something bigger and better which can stand alongside the ‘Smash’ mode as a must-play for the game.

I love the idea of moving through an expanded space and exploring every nook and cranny

AH: This has just come to me now: a strategy-style Smash Bros. story mode, just to hammer home that Fire Emblem love…

JN: Take my money.

OR: NO! Stop this madness.

AH: Haha… I don’t want that, at least in a Smash Bros. game. Although I kinda want to see some kind of a spin-off à la Project X Zone, now.

JN: One thing that we can all agree on is that if the next Smash game were to have a story mode, then it needs to focus on the fighting. That’s what makes Smash Smash, after all. It was sorely lacking in SSE, but there is the scope for those bigger-scale fights to play a part in the platforming setting, right?

AH: Definitely. I haven’t answered my own question yet, but you both pretty much sum up my feelings. But I've also been thinking of Ultimate’s Classic Mode, which very specifically caters to each character’s history – I think you could do something similar in Adventure Mode. Not making each character play through their own level, but like, a world map where you play through a slice of multiple characters’ history or something.

OR: Imagine the possibilities with this, too. If levels were based around these IPs, we could be running through Kamoshida’s Castle from Persona 5, Dracula’s castle from Castlevania, or Dr. Wily’s castle from Mega Man… ALL THE CASTLES!!

AH: I’m sure almost every franchise in Smash has a castle. Probably not Star Fox, or F-Zero… we can take liberties. I love this, though.

JN: You know, I think I would prefer that level of respect for the various franchises over ‘900+ new playable characters’. If the IPs became the Adventure Mode instead of the Adventure Mode trying to force the IPs in there, then it would have the chance to be a much more well-rounded ‘Nintendo experience’. Like come on, would we rather see a well-researched level based on, say, Norfair, or another variant of Samus to play as?

AH: It would definitely need to be tighter, and I think if there is a next Smash game, then I don’t think we’ll get “EVERYONE IS HERE” again. So that could help. We can but dream…

Smashing stories

Super Smash Bros Brawl 4
Image: Nintendo

AH: Okay, on a less serious note… how silly should they get with the story? I’ve always liked that Smash has acknowledged the Trophies in the game, but fighting game stories are always bonkers (looking at you, Tekken).

JN: After SSE begins with a giant Piranha Plant capturing Peach and Zelda in oversized cages, Wario shooting Peach with a literal gun, and an atomic bomb wiping out a packed arena, it would certainly have to go large to top that. What if Kirby inhales a little too hard after a sprint and, in an attempt to get his breath back, subsequently drags all of the fighters into his belly? The story mode is then a fight to escape, perhaps unknown to the fighters à la Link’s Awakening? Suitably bonkers?

AH: Jim, you’re just leaning into every single thing here! Embrace the chaos, Nintendo!

OR: Crikey, Jim… How ‘bout this one, then. Bowser kidnaps everyone except Peach, and Peach has to embark on the biggest and most dangerous quest KNOWN TO MANKIND. No? Fine, go with Jim…

What if Kirby inhales a little too hard after a sprint and, in an attempt to get his breath back, subsequently drags all of the fighters into his belly?

JN: If you’re reading this, Mr. Nintendo, my rates are very reasonable.

AH: Peach needs another starring role. I love the idea of her being the main character of a Smash Adventure Mode. You’re both way more creative than me! I was thinking of time travel — like, Ocarina of Time-esque, except you travel back and forward in time to visit games. Maybe someone has banned video games and we have to restore Nintendo's history?

OR: Here you go, I’ll give you this one for free. F.L.U.D.D. malfunctions and floods the world of every Nintendo IP in the fictional universe. Boom. 8/10, too much water.

Breaking the Tabuu

Super Smash Bros Brawl 3
Image: Nintendo

AH: Okay, last question before we wrap up Smash Adventure Mode talk – do we think Tabuu was hard? He had a pretty darn big reputation back in the day. And while I enjoyed the boss fights in SSE, Smash isn’t totally designed for boss fights, in my opinion.

JN: I agree that a boss fight’s attack patterns and Smash’s reading your opponent do not really go hand in hand, so while I struggled with Tabuu back in the day, maybe I wouldn’t so much now? Then again, there are very few boss fights that I get through without a struggle these days.

OR: Tabuu was great, not gonna lie. In terms of difficulty though, I’m not sure he presents much more of a threat than the one-two punch of Master Hand and Crazy Hand. Like Jim, maybe I’ve gotten better at games as I’ve gotten older, but I don’t think Tabuu would prove too difficult for me now.

Ultimately what we want from our Smash games and what we want from our franchise-spanning beat ‘em up platformers are slightly different things

AH: I think that’s where I’m at now, too. I beat Tabuu on the hardest difficulty eventually and it was rough, but it wasn’t any less rough than the two Hands like you say, Ollie. I really liked the step-up in difficulty on any mode, though. Maybe Tabuu will return one day. I would want boss fights to come back in a future Adventure mode, but perhaps a little more… fine-tuned to the Smash gameplay.

JN: I think that’s what it all comes down to. I would love to see an expanded adventure mode with big ol’ levels and quality battles, but perhaps that is a game which is better suited to stand on its own. It sounds great, yes, but is it really Smash Bros.? Ultimately what we want from our Smash games and what we want from our franchise-spanning beat ‘em up platformers are slightly different things.

AH: Just as long as we all forget about the Smash Wii U board game...

Well, we all feel suitably older now we've realised that Super Smash Bros. Brawl is 15 years old. Our reflections and our dreams still pale in comparison to the behemoth that is Smash Ultimate. Wherever Smash goes next, however, we just hope that The Subspace Emissary returns in some form... or at least inspires something.

What did you think of The Subspace Emissary in Brawl? And what's your preferred Adventure Mode in the Smash series? Let us know in the comments!