An unlockable character (also referred to as a secret character or hidden character, and in-game as challengers) is one that is not available at the start of the game (unlike a starter character), but instead must be received in-game (unlike downloadable characters) through other means.
A unique criterion must be met in order to unlock a certain character, as outlined below. Once the player has met this criteria in-game, a message will display; in all cases, the player is given this screen after completely finishing gameplay.
As with most fighting games, in all four games if the player fails to defeat the character in the Vs. Match to unlock them after the criteria has been met, playing another Vs. Match or mode will allow for a second attempt.
In Super Smash Bros., the character select screen displayed placeholders for not yet unlocked characters. This was changed in Melee, where some characters didn't have placeholders prior to unlocking, with their portraits simply appearing afterward. The placeholder slots were completely removed in Brawl and 3DS/Wii U.
"Challenger Approaching!" screen
The "Challenger Approaching!" (挑戦者が現れました！, A Challenger has Appeared!) screen is a message that will be displayed after the player has met a criteria required to unlock any of the available characters. Every game has its unique screen.
Western versions of the game had a silhouette of the character merely displayed in a blue box in front of a black background, with an exclamation point in a red circle on the top of the screen, and the phrase "Challenger Approaching" next to it. Japanese versions had the approaching challenger fully revealed. The original game also uses similar music to the 1P-Game's intro, with the only difference being the absence of drums for the "challenger approaching" tune. Melee added the phrase "A new foe has appeared!," and also had a silhouette of the approaching challenger. The poses for the challengers were silhouettes of their renders when selected on the Character Select screen (some, however, like Ganondorf's and Luigi's, were their renders from inside the boxes). The game also added animations to the screens, with an undulating matrix effect in the background, while the exclamation point, text and silhouette would be eased in. Original music was also provided solely for the screen, which took the sound of a slow, ominous siren. Brawl returned to the plain black background (there would be a silhouette of an unlockable character the player would face), but still had animations that would ease in, and when the player pressed any button, the images would fade to black, while the "Challenger Approaching!" text would scatter all over the screen; the siren is also considerably faster and more panicky in its sound than how it sounds in Melee. Smash 4 reused Brawl's warning siren, but added in considerably more colours, including hues of green, black, and violet; the screen also says "A challenger approaches!" instead of its previous quotations. However, the Wii U version kept the previous quotations.
After the "Challenger Approaching!" screen, the unlockable character will then be fought in an ordinary one stock match with no time limit, on a pre-determined stage and pre-determined music. The player uses the last character played as, as well as the same palette swap; in the case of multiplayer battles, the player who won the match will fight the challenger for the first three games, though if a CPU won the match, then the players are not given the opportunity to unlock the character. Super Smash Bros. 4 changed this formula, and it is no longer necessary to win a multiplayer battle in order to fight the challenger; if a CPU wins the match, then the human-controlled player with the highest rank will fight.
By defeating the opponent, the character becomes playable. If the player fails, however, they will not unlock the character, but in the next battle they win, they are guaranteed to meet with the challenger again.
The "Challenger Approaching!" screen has become somewhat of a meme in the Smash community. Many digitally manipulated versions of these screens have appeared, often featuring characters who do not appear in the games, mostly using artwork of the character from another game instead of original artwork (which gives away its falseness). The screens became so popular that they were featured as part of the DOJO!!; in earlier updates, whenever a new character was introduced, a banner that said "Warning! Challenger Approaching!" would appear above the entry.
|Super Smash Bros. challenger alarm.|
|Melee's challenger alarm.|
|Brawl and SSBWU/3DS's challenger alarm.|
|Character||How to Unlock|
|Captain Falcon||Clear 1P Game with any character on any difficulty level in less than 20 minutes.|
|Jigglypuff||Clear 1P Game with any character on any difficulty level.|
|Luigi||Complete the Bonus 1 (Break the Targets!) stage with all 8 starting characters.|
|Ness||Clear 1P Game on normal difficulty or higher with three stocks or less and without continuing.|
|Character||How to Unlock||Vs. Matches Required||Unlock Stage|
|Jigglypuff ||Clear Classic or Adventure Mode on any stock or difficulty.||50||Pokémon Stadium|
|Dr. Mario ||As Mario, clear Classic or Adventure on any difficulty without continuing.||100||Princess Peach's Castle|
|Pichu||Clear the "Legendary Pokémon" event.||200||Pokémon Stadium|
|Falco||Clear 100-Man Melee.||300||Battlefield|
|Marth||Clear or fail Classic Mode or Adventure Mode with all 14 starter characters, or use them all in Vs. Mode.||400||Fountain of Dreams|
|Young Link||Clear Classic Mode with 10 different characters.||500||Great Bay|
|Ganondorf||Clear the "Triforce Gathering" event.||600||Final Destination|
|Mewtwo ||Play Vs. Mode for a combined total of 20 hours.||700||Final Destination|
|Luigi||Clear the first level of Adventure Mode with time ending in a "2" as the second digit of the seconds portion of the clock (Example: XX:X2XX). After that, defeat Luigi and Peach in less than a minute and then complete the Adventure Mode.||800||Mushroom Kingdom II|
|Roy ||As Marth, clear either Classic or Adventure Mode without continuing.||900||Temple|
|Mr. Game & Watch ||Clear Classic Mode, Adventure Mode, or Target Test with all other 24 characters.||1000||Flat Zone|
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 If the player had previously used the Erase Data > Hidden Characters option in the Options menu, these characters can be unlocked again if All-Star Mode is cleared under the established conditions.
- ↑ The time required is calculated in "player-hours" (e.g. 2 human players gives 2 hours for every hour of game-time, 3 human players give 3, and four players give 4).
Masahiro Sakurai once stated that he feels that it would be appropriate that third-party, or "guest" characters, like Solid Snake or Sonic the Hedgehog, would be unlockable. This became true when Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out on March 9, 2008.
Also, all unlockable characters can be unlocked by playing through The Subspace Emissary, some just by playing through, while others involve completing the mode and returning to specific zones and going through previously absent doors to a playable stage where, after a short cutscene, the player will be able to fight and unlock the character. Once a character joins a group of playable characters, the character will be instantly unlocked for normal play, without requiring a "Challenger Approaching" battle. However, some characters, as per the SSE's story, must be battled to before they will join the party.
|Character||How to Unlock||Subspace Emissary Method||Vs. Matches Required|
|Ness||Reflect 10 projectiles.||Clear Subspace (Part I).||5|
|Marth||Clear Classic Mode.||Clear Battlefield Fortress.||10|
|Luigi||Clear Classic Mode without using any continues.||Clear Subspace (Part I).||22|
|Falco||Clear 100-Man Brawl.||Clear The Swamp.||50|
|Captain Falcon||Play through Classic Mode on Normal difficulty or higher and clear it in 12 minutes or less.||Clear Outside the Ancient Ruins.||70|
|Lucario||Clear all five levels of Target Smash!! with any single character.||Clear Glacial Peak.||100|
|Snake||Play 15 Vs. Mode matches on Shadow Moses Island.||Clear Battleship Halberd Interior.||130|
|R.O.B.||Collect 250 different trophies.||Clear Subspace Bomb Factory (Part II).||160|
|Ganondorf||Clear Classic Mode on Hard difficulty with Link or Zelda/Sheik.||Collect both Link and Zelda's trophies in Subspace (Part II).||200|
|Mr. Game & Watch||Clear Target Smash!! with 30 different characters on any single difficulty level.||Clear Battleship Halberd Bridge.||250|
|Sonic ||Clear Classic Mode with 10 different characters.||Clear The Great Maze.||300|
|Play Vs. Mode for 10 combined total hours.|
|Jigglypuff ||Clear 20 or more events after beating the Subspace Emissary.||After completing The Great Maze, defeat it in a secret room in The Swamp.||350|
|Toon Link ||Clear Classic Mode after beating the Subspace Emissary.||After completing The Great Maze, defeat him in a secret room in The Forest.||400|
|Wolf ||Clear Boss Battles mode with either Fox or Falco.||After completing The Great Maze, defeat him in a secret room in The Ruins.||450|
- ↑ Sonic is the only character who can be unlocked 4 different ways.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Because Toon Link, Jigglypuff and Wolf are not part of the main plot of Subspace Emissary, players must beat the main story first, then revisit certain stages to find them.
In previous games, when someone unlocks a character, a unique text appears saying that the player has unlocked a character. However, when the player unlocks a character in this game, it will only say the name of the character unlocked followed by "Joins the Battle!".
|Character||How to Unlock||Vs. Matches Required|
|Ness||Clear Classic Mode on any difficulty.||10|
|Falco||Clear Classic Mode without using any continues.||20|
|Wario||Complete 100-Man Smash.||30|
|Lucina||Clear Classic Mode as Marth without using any continues.||40|
|Dark Pit||Clear Classic Mode with three or more characters.||50|
|Dr. Mario||Clear Classic Mode as Mario on intensity 4.0 or higher.||60|
|R.O.B.||Collect at least 200 different trophies.||70|
|Ganondorf||Beat Classic Mode with Link or Zelda on intensity 5.0 or higher.||80|
|Mr. Game & Watch||Clear Classic Mode with 10 or more characters.||90|
|Bowser Jr.||Clear Classic Mode with Bowser on intensity 6.0 or higher.||100|
|Duck Hunt||Clear classic Mode with 8 or more characters.||110|
|Jigglypuff||Collect at least 30 different Equipment items.||120|
Unlike the 3DS version, Ness, Jigglypuff, Ganondorf & Bowser Jr. are starter characters. Like the 3DS version, a character is unlocked for every 10 versus matches played. Two exceptions to this are Mr. Game & Watch and Duck Hunt, which they need 20 more versus matches than R.O.B. and Mr. Game & Watch, respectively.
|Character||How to Unlock||Vs. Matches Required|
|Falco||Clear Classic Mode.||20|
|Wario||Clear 100-Man Smash.||30|
|Lucina||Clear Classic Mode on intensity 5.5 or higher.||40|
|Dark Pit||Clear All-Star Mode on Normal difficulty or higher.||50|
|Dr. Mario||Clear a Master Orders ticket on Hard or higher.||60|
|R.O.B.||Clear Crazy Orders after playing 8 rounds or higher.||70|
|Mr. Game & Watch||Beat Classic Mode on intensity 2.0 or higher with 5 or more characters.||90|
|Duck Hunt||KO one opponent in Cruel Smash.||110|
- The AI level of unlockable character fights increases with each consecutive character, though the opposite is the case in Melee.
- In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the AI level for all eight characters is high, no matter what order they're fought in.
- Super Smash Bros. is the only game not to use silhouettes of the characters before fighting them, it shows them as they full color models instead.
- In Brawl, whenever the player fights a hidden character, his/her character always uses their default palette swap, even if another costume was selected.
- Luigi, Captain Falcon, Ness, Jigglypuff, Marth, Ganondorf, Wario, Lucario, Toon Link, and Sonic are the only non-DLC characters to have their availability status change in future Super Smash Bros. installments.
- Wario is the only character debuting as a starter before becoming unlockable.
- In Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, some unlockable characters in the 3DS version are starter characters in the Wii U version. This was a personal choice of Masahiro Sakurai, who opted with his team to make said characters starters as they were unlockable in the 3DS to save players who already had this version to take extra time to unlock all, but still have fun unlocking hidden content.
- Additionally, because of this, Sakurai's original plan was to make all characters available from the start in both versions; meaning there would be no hidden fighters. This idea was abandoned given the fact he acknowledged players enjoy the idea of the expectation of finding hidden content, as well fighting a secret fighter in order to unlock him/her. To balance this with his original idea of making all characters available, he toned down the unlocking difficulty, meaning characters both in the Wii U / 3DS versions are easier to unlock than previous titles.
- Falco, Mr Game & Watch, Dr. Mario, and R.O.B. are the only four unlockable characters to remain unlockable in every game they appear in, and have also appeared in more than one game.