In case you missed it, Super Smash Bros.’ Masahiro Sakurai has a fantastic YouTube channel now where he shares all kinds of cool ideas and stories about games development. Example: in his latest video, he has shown off footage of Dragon King: The Fighting Game, a prototype fighting game that would pave the way for great things.
While news of the game’s existence is nothing new—it’s been reported on a few times, is known among serious Nintendo and Smash Bros. historians and some blurry old screenshots have circulated—we’ve never actually seen it in action before, so getting such a good look at it here (and from the source, no less!) is amazing.
Dragon King’s prototype—which dates back to 1996—was worked on by both Sakurai and Satoru Iwata while both were at HAL Laboratory, and as the video explains was pitched to Nintendo as a standalone game before eventually becoming the catalogue-spanning Smash Bros. series we know today.
You can instantly see how Smash evolved from this pitch for a “four-player free-for-all fighting game with no health bars”; while these are just blank coloured characters, not the Nintendo cameos we’re used to, almost everything else is Smash Bros. to the core, from the camera movements to the number of players to the damage percentage.
Perhaps most interesting, though, are his recollections about how the series came to be known for those cameos. Sakurai says that the idea of starting a new fighting game from scratch, and having to come up with 8-12 characters that would be unfamiliar to players, wasn’t great, so he managed to convince Nintendo to let him “borrow their most popular characters” instead, even if this move was wildly unpopular with the company’s suits at the time, who strongly opposed “the idea of having Nintendo’s characters beat each other up”.
You can check out Sakurai’s story, and the footage of Dragon King, below.