Welcome to the Character Column! Each week, I’ll be taking a look at a different character from Nintendo’s long and esteemed history, and I’ll analyze what makes them interesting, nuanced, or just plain memorable. Whether they’re heroes, villains or NPCs, I’ll explain why they deserve respect or love from the fanbase and a place in video game history.
Last week, I talked about Tom Nook, the shrewd tanuki, who was an interesting raccoon to study. Yet… we’ve had two somewhat sinister characters so far in this column. We need someone more… heroic. Dashing. One who inspires patriotic fervor. And there’s only one man I know who fits that bill – Captain Douglas Jay Falcon: racer, bounty hunter, and a man who knows how to punch.
The good Captain made his debut in 1991’s F-Zero as the pilot of his similarly named Blue Falcon machine, and ever since then he’s been the series’ mascot, offering a race car that was good for beginners. But Falcon didn’t really break into the gaming mainstream consciousness until he appeared as one of the original 12 fighters in 1999’s smash hit (heh) Super Smash Bros., where he appeared as a boisterous, flamboyant, fire-punching combatant who became legendarily memetic upon first sight. Even now, his catchphrases are iconic amongst not just the gaming world, but the populace at large – I’m pretty sure if you were to shout “Falcon Punch!” in public, most people would know what you’re talking about (even if they give you a side eye as you do).
But how does the Captain’s characterization differ by series? Let’s find out.
A Smashing good time
Captain Falcon may just be the most iconic character of Smash as a whole – even more so than Mario (Nintendo’s mascot), Fox (the competitive favorite), or Master Hand (the most significant original character), Falcon is what comes to mind when one thinks of Smash Bros. From his magnificent knee of justice to his smug “Show me your moves!”, there’s little about Falcon that isn’t memorable. Every little movement and attack is full of delicious vigor and muscle. Not to mention, he’s one of the most satisfying characters to play, able to both combo and stomp foes into oblivion. All this combined with his hammy mannerisms make him the epitome of style – trading proficiency of gameplay for pure satisfaction. I have a friend who often self-destructs as Falcon in his attempts to kill me offstage, and I have never seen him once regret it.
As we’ll come to see, however, this depiction of Falcon is fairly different from his F-Zero counterpart – so why does he play this way? Well, back when Smash Bros. was still “Dragon King” and just a random project Masahiro Sakurai worked on during weekends at HAL Laboratory, he created several movesets for characters. When he later got permission to use other Nintendo characters in the project, he was left with a moveset that seemed a tricky fit – which eventually went to Captain Falcon. Yes, Falcon was brought in to complement the moveset, rather than the other way around. These days, Sakurai treats most of the characters he chooses for the series with respect, giving them moves and abilities that complement their home series’ depiction – but that wasn’t the case with Captain Falcon. I’d argue, however, that this necessarily a bad thing; Captain Falcon has definitely become more prominent because of it.
So it’s clear that Falcon in Smash is cheesy, outspoken, and, to be frank, very handsome (particularly in Smash 4, where his musculature is… pronounced, to say the least). This is all helped by his voice actor, Ryō Horikawa, who is also the Japanese voice of Vegeta from Dragonball Z (which shows, given the penchant to yell from both characters). Heck, the Captain once Falcon Punched so hard that part of the galaxy exploded. But how does this fare against his F-Zero incarnation?
Comparatively speaking, F-Zero has a lot less characterization than Smash Bros. It’s simply the nature of the series – it’s a racing game, with more emphasis on the sport than the driver, after all. While the series does boast an impressive cast, most don’t have much to them besides a quick paragraph or two detailing their personality. But as the main character, Captain Falcon does receive more screen time, most of all in F-Zero GX, with a story mode detailing his quest to win the Grand Prix.
This Falcon is very, very different from his Smash counterpart. In the first cutscene in which he appears, he says absolutely nothing as he calmly trains for upcoming races. Throughout most of his journey, Falcon reacts to challenges with stoicism and confidence, casually dismissing rivals like Samurai Goroh, but he also springs into action upon seeing people in need. He’s basically Batman – never looking fearful or particularly distressed, with a heroic sort of voice to boot (though the voice acting in the game is… questionable, to say the least).
But make no mistake: Captain Falcon is still awesome. He refuses to fight with Black Shadow outside of the Grand Prix out of honor, and then manages to casually escape a deadly trap. And despite all that, and Black Shadow’s taunting, he still makes it in time to compete in the main event. He wins. He then gets challenged by the personification of death to race in the underworld for the true belt. He wins. Then, he gets challenged by the creators of the universe to one final race. He wins. And Falcon never shows a hint of doubt or fear along the way, instead incredulous at the idea that the gods of his world could beat him in a race.
That said, despite being a bounty hunter with a gun, Falcon never seems to do anything related to those things. Why is that? Besides an early SNES-era comic, he doesn’t seem to do much with his bounty hunting job, which could be an interesting area to explore in a future F-Zero game. Of course, that implies that F-Zero will get another title in its future…
While Douglas Jay Falcon may not be the most complex or deep character, he doesn’t need to be. Whether it’s his vigorous Smash self or his straight-laced F-Zero incarnation, the racer exudes pure awesomeness at every turn, making him one of the most electrifying characters in Nintendo’s catalogue. There was even that time where Falcon rescued a baby! Such an upstanding citizen. Truly a model to follow in everyday life.
That’s all for this week’s Character Column! Tune in next time, where we cover the King of the Penguins- er, Dees, King Dedede of Dreamland. Until then!
“When myopic confusion threatens your lunch
Falcon will be unleashing a Falcon Punch
Thank heaven he’s on the right side
Or else there’d be nowhere to hide
Captain Falcon will always be bound
Hot on the trail, tracking rogues down!”
– F-Zero GX Credits Song