Posted By Robert H. about 11 months, 3 weeks ago
Despite being one of the most clearly evident parts of the genre, stages in fighting games don’t tend to be much more than a simple background to fight before. The look can vary greatly and there can sometimes be different sections to a fighting stage that you can knock your opponent into, but on the whole, there isn’t much to them besides aesthetics. However, some games manage to completely subvert that expectation and rely on their stages to vary the gameplay nearly as much as the fighting system itself. While there are many such instances across gaming, the most well-known of the bunch is probably the Super Smash Bros. series. From the gravity changing and screen flipping insanity of Spear Pillar to the constantly moving Rainbow Road, the stages always change how the game is played. Although there are many good stages across the series, I find one of the best to be one of the simplest: Hyrule Castle from the original entry.
As opposed to a good number of Smash Bros. stages, there aren’t really any oddities or tricks to Hyrule Castle. Aside from a tornado that can appear from time to time and deal damage if touched, what you see is what you get. Although the tornado does add some much-appreciated dynamics to the stage, the lack of a constantly-present gimmick means that the focus of the level is on the terrain. To go along with that focus, the platforms present allow for any kind of fighting style to be used well. Fighting on flat ground, bashing enemies against a wall to build up a great string of attacks, and using high platforms for air moves are all perfectly viable methods thanks to that design.
Despite actually being located on the roof of Hyrule Castle, the stage can still be easily split into three distinct sections: the slanted rooftop on the left, the thatched covering and lowered ground on the right, and the flat ground with suspended platforms in the middle. Each section allows for different types of fighting in order to coincide with the aforementioned focus on the terrain. For example, the slanted rooftop is a great location for knocking opponents off the stage and ensuring that they can’t get back on. The large drop off the side and angled slope meant that it was very easy to jump off, attack the recovering opponent if necessary, and then get back on without falling alongside them. Also, while knocking enemies off was rather simple on that side, it was still completely valid and simple to smash them off other sides as well. This is important as the design doesn’t bottleneck players into using one singular, surefire tactic.
The lowered right side, on the opposite hand, was a tad more difficult to bash opponents away from. Thanks to a spire that could be walked through and the cliff made from the meeting of higher and lower ground, enemies would often get knocked into obstacles as opposed to rocketing off the stage. However, due to the mechanics of the fighting system, this allowed for a constant damage buildup because whenever an enemy hit an obstacle, they could be hit once again. That fact, combined with the close-quarters, meant enemies could be hit repeatedly until the knockback from damage simply became too large to easily follow-up. At the same time, it prevented significant abuse of the system because trying to KO foes became difficult thanks to the walls catching the outward momentum. The opposite end of the stage fittingly made for a completely separate standard of fighting.
The center naturally serves as a more balanced fighting section compared to the two extremes on either side. Aside from a series of platforms along the height of a spire in the middle of the stage, the middle is just flat ground, aside from the intervention of the aforementioned random tornado. As such, fighting in that area is generally standard fare for the game, alongside significant air potential given by the higher platforms. While the platforms are a seemingly minor addition, they really give a lot more opportunities in a fight considering how most ground-based moves can’t easily hit higher vantage points. Although the conditions are completely dependent on how the opposing player battles, the options are still always present and the relatively high platform also offers a dangerous place to fight due to how simple it is to be knocked off. It’s a slight mix up of standard fare and the three sections combined make for a very complete stage.
Although the relative normality of Hyrule Castle can seem like a negative in a game as inherently silly as Super Smash Bros., it serves as an important standard that most stages branch out of. At that comment, I imagine most players of the series are thinking that the comment is a bit odd considering the extreme simplicity of the perfectly flat Final Destination and standard platform setup of Battlefield. However, I really do consider Hyrule Castle the true benchmark stage because, unlike the aforementioned choices, it offers options for most normal playstyles. Final Destination may be flat, but it doesn’t offer much for players who appear to be above their opponents. Battlefield may offer those options, but the small size can really hinder certain characters. Hyrule Castle, in my eyes, strikes that perfect balance of catering to every character equally.
Also worth noting is the actual visual design and music choices for the stage. The visual design is reminiscent of a simplified version of the Hyrule Castle seen in Ocarina of Time. There’s nothing flashy to be seen, but that basic design only fits the overall idea of the stage. In addition, the backdrop of Hyrule is a good choice and little touches like being able to see both Kakariko Village and Death Mountain only adds to the mood. In a similar vein, the music is yet another remix of the classic main Zelda theme with the instrumentation slightly changed to fit with an actual fight. While not the best remix I’ve heard of the theme, it’s definitely good and the slight energetic tone to the song is effective in getting players pumped up to actually fight.
Whenever a new Super Smash Bros. gets released, I don’t often play the older entries after getting used to the small differences in the speed and range of the different characters. However, whenever I do play or see someone playing the original entry, the stage chosen for the fight almost always seems to be Hyrule Castle and I don’t think it’s hard to see why. Hyrule Castle served as the great balancing aspect for how most people played their characters and was greatly loved for performing its duty well. Even with the additions of so many unique and interesting stages to the series, I still look back to Hyrule Castle as the one I enjoy playing on the most.
Awesome Area Analysis is a bi-weekly column by Robert Heck that talks about great levels from all walks of gaming, exploring how and why they work so well. Look for a new AAA to be posted every other Thursday. Comments, constructive criticisms, and suggestions for other levels to look over are always welcome and always appreciated.