If you’ve been playing Super Smash Bros. since the series’ debut on the Nintendo 64 in 1999 then you were probably tipped off to the loose narrative of the games thus far – and if you haven’t then Master Hand probably seems like one of the most bizarre bosses in gaming. But I digress, as the opening to that first game sets the scene perfectly for what each character really is: a toy.
Master Hand can be seen dropping characters onto a desk before setting the various books and trinkets up as the impending battleground. With a quick countdown and a snap of its fingers, the characters spring to life in an effort to batter each other. Super Smash Bros. Melee played into this even more by showcasing a hand throwing a Mario statue into an arena in the game’s opening cinematic before the iconic Italian sprung to life through the presumed power of imagination.
This mythos of the characters being play things seemed evident enough, but was officially confirmed in 2015 when the late President and CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, stated in an interview to TIME that this is indeed the story surrounding the Super Smash Bros. franchise and its various crossover matchups.
“What’s interesting about the Smash Bros. games, is that the Smash Bros. games do not represent the Nintendo characters fighting against one another, they actually represent toys of Nintendo characters getting into an imaginary battle amongst themselves,” explains Iwata. “And frankly that has to do with a very serious debate that we had within the company back then, which was, ‘Is it really okay for Nintendo characters to be hitting other Nintendo characters? Is it okay for Mario to be hitting Pikachu?’”
The gravity of the real Donkey Kong windmill punching Samus aside, this comment from Iwata officially made the narrative canon.
This also is exactly why trophies are such prominent collectibles in the main series. Still, who or what is Master Hand then? Well, it’s you. Master Hand is the creator and it brings these characters to life by giving them purpose. That’s why after the Master Hand has been defeated, the fighter returns to their original toy forms. The play session has come to a close.
On the other hand (awful pun entirely intended), the counterpart to this is Crazy Hand who is the destroyer. It’s that side of the creator that’s reckless, sporadic and wants to knock over the metaphorical tower of blocks that the other hand has just spent so much time setting up. They make up the right and left hands, respectively, and round out the idea of a real-world play session with figurines of these gaming mascots.
Brawl changed things up though, introducing a new character known only as Taboo through the title’s Subspace Emissary mode. For those that haven’t played through the campaign, spoilers lay ahead, but it turns out that this being is controlling Master Hand in a bid to have some of Nintendo’s most popular heroes permanently retired with the help of the company’s more villainous characters.
The name Taboo says it all, as the Cambridge Dictionary states that the word is defined as “an action or word that is avoided for religious or social reasons.” Playing with toys as we get older is often viewed negatively by society, which is why this “Taboo” is controlling Master Hand. It’s attempting to sideline the creator’s ability to play with their favourite toys because it’s not what those around them want from it.
Ultimately, the player is able to overcome Taboo and free Master Hand, but it’s a rather sad story when gamers sit down and truly look at it. Given the themes at hand, the narrative is comparable to that of Andy’s toys in Toy Story; albeit entirely video game focused.
Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS then built upon the mythos with Master Core, which there are several major theories already floating around about – although nothing definitive has been revealed about the newfound overseer of Master Hand. Here’s hoping that plot is touched upon again in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrives exclusively for Nintendo Switch on December 7, 2018.
You can find Riley on Twitter at @TheRileyLittle if you wanna chat Smash with him. He tweets about that game a fair bit. It’s “on brand” some may say.