Super Smash Brothers is a franchise that has been synonomous with the Nintendo brand since its birth on the Nintendo 64. Over the course of the years, we’ve seen additions to the franchise that have both gratified and infuriated fans. From the newest iteration on Wii U, Smash Bros for Wii U, or back to its humble beginnings, Super Smash Brothers has been an intense ride. On November 18, 2016, Super Smash Bros Melee celebrated its 15th birthday. Widely considered the best in the series, I thought it would be fun to examine the game piece by piece, to see what makes it work so well. Before we get too deep, let’s have a brief overview for those unfamiliar.
Smash Bros. Melee Overview
Super Smash Brothers is a crazy mix of both party fun and competitive gaming. It is a unique take on the fighting game genre; one aimed at being fun regardless of skill or ability. The game revolves around taking your favorite Nintendo character and battling your friends until one person remains. There are variations of course, but the overall aim is for general mayhem.
Although the roster has leaned a bit in favor of the Fire Emblem series lately, Super Smash Brothers: Melee had a great selection of characters. From Nintendo staples like Mario, Luigi, and Donkey Kong, all the way to lesser known characters such as Mr. Game & Watch, Ness, and Captain Falcon. While most of the more interesting characters needed to be unlocked, Melee provided a great roster from the get-go.
If there’s one thing that Melee does well, it’s offering customization to players. Interestingly enough, the default mode of Melee is not the most popular. The default mode is a two-minute fight for points, wheras competitive play revolves around “stock” battles. In this variation, characters have a set amount of lives that they lose by being knocked off the screen. The most common Melee rules are usually three stock, no items. Speaking of items…
In the hayday of competitive Melee, there was a big battle in one key area: whether or not to use items. Items are one of the biggest factors of Super Smash Brothers, regardless of which game you’re playing. Items fall onto the screen in a (somewhat) random order, providing the character who is lucky to pick them up with a power up. Some of these can turn the tide of battle, and some of them are absolutely useless. Regardless of competitive advantage, items are fun. There’s a certain satisfaction to clobbering your friend with a “Home-Run Bat”, or chucking a PokeBall while imbued with the power of a Super Mushroom.
However, these items can sometimes tip the fight in an unfair way, so I can relate to their general exclusion in most competitions. While newer entries have included crazier and more obnoxious items, Melee finds a good ground between functional and overtly outrageous. It’s a comfortable mix of crazy and useful, and it offers the best item set in the series.
Single Player Modes
Here is where Melee shines, in my opinion. There are multiple modes here, but the focus is on “Event Match”. When selecting the “1-P Mode” option on the main menu, you’re given a few choices. There is a regular match, an event match, Stadium, and training. Training is what you would expect, and Regular Match equates to an arcade mode. There are some variations in here as well, between “Classic” and “Adventure” (as well as a sillier “All-Star” mode), so there’s depth even within classic bot matches.
Stadium provides you with three different mini-game modes, two of which are my favorite parts of Melee. There’s “Target Test”, which is essentially an obstacle course tailored to each particular character. In this mode, you jump around a level attempting to break targets within a time limit. There’s a certain attention to detail in the level designs that make you think of interesting ways to utilize each character. It’s a definite treat, and one of the highlights of the game.
Home-Run Contest is a simple mini-game in which you attempt to deal as much damage as possible in a single combo. This equates to damage against a punching bag, which flies off screen. You’re measured in distance that you smashed the bag, and it’s a fun way to learn high-damage combos. While it’s pretty shallow in terms of options, it’s fun to challenge your friends to.
There’s also “Multi-Man Melee”, which is Smash’s version of Survival Mode. Within Multi-Man ther is 10-Man Melee, 100-Man Melee, as well as timed versions and a “Cruel Melee”. Cruel Melee is a great learning tool as well, providing some insanely challenging bots to fight.
Finally, there’s Event Match. This is a collection of 51 themed fights, all revolving around a small storyline or gimmick. For example, you might fight Ganondorf with Link and Zelda, battle giant versions of Donkey Kong and Bowser, or even defend yourself against a wave of Yoshis. Each match takes a few minutes, and you’re onto the next one. It’s a great mix of variation and pure fun that I love more than anything else.
The reason VS. Mode is good is the same reason Goldeneye 007’s multiplayer was good. There a certain unexplainable combination of joy and competitiveness that Smash pulls out of its players. Melee has provided me with some of the craziest gaming moments I’ve had, and the same can be said for tons of other gamers.
Surprisingly enough, this Nintendo party game has a super deep fighting system. I won’t try and waste time explaining them here, but there is a ton of crazy technical inputs that can be done to give yourself the edge over your opponent. If you’re curious, go watch Mew2King fight with Fox, and you’ll immediately see what I mean.
Besides the insane depth that Melee has, it also has some quirky casual modes as well. “Special Melee” is a list of silly modes that are meant to be enjoyed in the party setting that Smash is great for. Modes like “Giant Melee”, “Single-Button Mode”, and “Lightning Melee” mix up the overall mechanics and make for a good distraction.
In general, Melee has one of the best fighting systems I’ve seen. It’s both super easy to learn and simultaneously incredibly hard to master (SHFFL Lasers!). Those who take the patience (and have the skill) are rewarded handsomely; those who understand the mechanics will win every time.
“Super Smash Brothers: Melee” is one of the best fighting games you will ever have the pleasure of playing. If you’ve never have, I highly recommend booting up a Gamecube or Wii and indulging. Celebrate its 15th birthday! My favorite part about Smash is its ability to bring friends together and have a great time, all while beating the snot out of each other. It’s a weird mix that only Nintendo could have managed, and a product that could’ve only originated in the 90’s. As a child, Super Smash Brothers on the N64 was an excellent reason to beat up my brothers with Link. In 2016, I would gladly knock my siblings out with a Smash attack if given the chance. What a beautiful knock out it would be.