Review by matt91486

"I cannot believe that Nintendo’s marketing wizards would ever let Nana kick Mario’s butt from here to Brinstar"

OPENING STATEMENT
You know this was the reason why you bought a GameCube. Do not deny it. When Nintendo announced that Super Smash Brothers Melee would not make launch, you got pissy and through your keys out the door, and then kicked it down in the process of retrieving them. Getting past this denial is simply the first step to overcoming your addiction of kicking Jigglypuff’s sorry butt daily.

GAMEPLAY--10
The original Super Smash Brothers was considered by many to be a simplistic fighting game, the anti-hardcore game, scorned by legions of the diehard SNK and Capcom fans. The open minded members of that group were treated to an all-star brawl which brought many exciting new ideas into the tournament fighting genre, adding some life to a type of games that many felt was becoming quite stagnant, and not really being developed at all. While the game did not shock the gaming world quite like Street Fighter II did back in the day, it was still one of the most monumental releases of 1999.

Super Smash Brothers Melee has the same gameplay premises, but Nintendo goes about it in an entirely different way. The first Super Smash Brothers game was thought up as a way to use some valuable characters in some new and different ways. Super Smash Brothers Melee has been taken, and turned into a Nintendo Textbook, the be all and end all of their existence. It may not be the best game that the company has ever published, but it is certainly the most defining. Anything and everything that made Nintendo great over the years is featured somewhere in this title, and boy did they want you to know that.

The most obvious way that these characters have been integrated into the gameplay is as playable characters. This time around you start with fourteen of Nintendo’s all-stars, and the number grows quite a bit by the time that you are done. (Here is a major hint: Even though there are only five boxes for hidden characters, that does not mean that a few more cannot magically appear.) Nintendo has also exhibited a subtlety that few knew that they had. Trophies have been scattered about levels, piled in with objectives, been platforms in Event Battles, given away in glorified lotteries, and distributed in any other way that you could possibly think up. And if they are a remotely important character in the history of Nintendo, they are here somewhere. (The only exceptions to this are the characters from Super Mario RPG, such as Mallow, Geno, Booster, and the like, due to licensing conflicts with Square. Hopefully these will be resolved quickly, so we can at least get trophies, and maybe even a playable character out of that crew for the next sequel.)

Perhaps an even better way of making newer gamers familiar with their storied past is the all-new Adventure Mode. In this exciting portion of the ‘Arcade Mode type stuff’ in Super Smash Brothers Melee, classic fighting battles are separated with some of the most exciting levels in classic games published by Nintendo. You get to reenact the first level in Super Mario Brothers. Take Samus Aran on a journey attempting to escape a location that is about to blow up into a thousand pieces. Outpace the F-Zero racers on the Mute City track. Navigate the treacherous mazes of castles in Hyrule. And take on some of the most memorable video game characters in existence in fierce battles between them. Now try and tell me that this is not one of the greatest ideas ever.

For the gamers who would rather block out the past of Nintendo, Classic Mode provides a classic tournament fighting path to the final battle with the Master Hand, with a couple of mini-game interludes along the way. These stopovers are nothing like Adventure Mode, though, as there is simply a maze, one of Super Smash Brother’s famous ‘Break the Targets’ levels, and another trophy snagging opportunity. Classic Mode is significantly easier, and easier to finish, than the Adventure Mode, so play it if you are in a hurry.

Nintendo knew that to make their fighting game have more mass market appeal, they had to pull a ‘Soul Calibur’ and give Super Smash Brothers Melee some added aspects, modes, and features that make the game different from the rest. The aforementioned trophies are only the tip of this iceberg. The developers at HAL Laboratories cooked up fifty event matches for you to play, with different circumstances about them, and different objectives required to complete each and every one. In some levels you have to survive for a certain period of time, while in one of my personal favorites, you have to defeat two evil entities living within Link, controlling his mind.

Not all of these added bonuses involve fighting. Break the Targets has returned, and it features more levels, movement patterns, and depth than ever. Ness’s favorite weapon comes into play in the Home-Run Contest, in which the characters need to hit Mr. Sandbag as far as they possibly can. It is safe to say that most of these extra modes fit in well with the core of the game, and that is why the Multi-Man Melee is really the showcase of these three moves. In the Multi-Man Melee, there are various settings and types of melees from you to choose from. And some of the hidden characters and arenas are plugged into successfully completing the Multi-Man Melee categories as well, furthering the notion that Super Smash Brothers Melee is one of the games on the GameCube that require you to really do everything to master the game.

I have given you the background on the modes, and the gameplay concept itself, but I still have yet to tell you about what makes Super Smash Brothers Melee’s fighting engine different from any other one on the earth: the power-ups. Weaponry, healing items, and various other objects from Nintendo games past fall down from the sky, and into the playing field. If you can get the hang of each object’s nuances, and learn which items are better than the normal attacks, and which ones you should just ignore, you will have truly mastered Super Smash Brothers Melee.

GRAPHICS--8
The graphics in Super Smash Brothers Melee are quite good, but they pale in comparison to some of the more visually stunning GameCube games, such as Wave Race: Blue Storm and Star Wars: Rogue Leader. There is only so much detail that Nintendo could put in a two-dimensional game with three-dimensional characters based off previous licenses. In other words, their creativity was limited by their past greatness. Everyone would know if they changed even the tiniest aspect of any of their characters, with the possible exception of the Ice Climbers, so they really could not do a lot to alter them. The environments are also pilfered straight from the older games, so no environments could be made that really took advantage of the GameCube’s added power. Most of the backgrounds could have been taken care of by a Nintendo 64 with an Expansion Pak.

Still, even though Super Smash Brothers Melee is not as polished visually as some of its competition, this is still the first appearance of almost all of this cast on their new console, and that is always exciting, even with only minor enhancements to their designs. The only problem I had with any of the character designs was the lack of animation changes between Mario and Dr. Mario. Mario has a cape that he swings at his opponents, and the animation remained unchanged for the character of Dr. Mario, even though he was swinging the back of a suit coat. Yes, I know this is nitpicking, but attention to detail is what makes the difference between a game that will captivate for a while, and a game that will captivate for all time.

More environment detail would have been a very welcome addition to this instant classic. In many of the levels, I think that Nintendo plopped another recognizable face in the background just to get out of actually having to develop any more into the level. For example, take the addition of Kraid into the background of the Brinstar level. He blocks off everything that would be there without him, so I am thinking that HAL Laboratories just threw him in there to keep from having to actually work at developing a background for the level. There are numerous other occasions that fit in with this pattern as well. Laziness is not a virtue.

It is also quite interesting to see some of Nintendo’s more cartoonish characters in the same level as the more realistic ones. Take Pikachu and Zelda together for instance. Zelda is probably the most realistic character in all of Nintendo’s repertoire, while Pikachu is a yellow rat that shoots lightning bolts out of its cheeks. And the developers did a great job dumbing down the realistic characters just enough to make these styles meld together. But when you see Samus Bouncing around with the fluffy puffballs and Ness in Onett it still takes a while to get used to. But blending the cartoonish and being able to meld it with the realistic is a great accomplishment in and of itself, but to be able to alter the coloring just enough so it fits in a spectrum of middle ground is even more impressive.

Nintendo thought better of including the more lifelike coloring of the Zelda series, and they went all out wacky for Super Smash Brothers Melee. In Hyrule Castle, the flora is bright green, and it stands out against an eternally pink sky. In the Mario Brothers levels, the arenas are drawn out in the same sixteen color palette that the Nintendo Entertainment System was capable of using. Sure, it may not be as realistic as the Soul Caliburs and the Dead or Alives of the world, but HAL Laboratories sure did a great job of paying homage to the glorious past of one of the most storied companies in this industry.

MUSIC--10
SOUND--4

When you begin the first level in Adventure Mode, a tear will come to your eye. As you play through the first level of the first game on the NES, you can hear the theme song, reproduced and touched up to full DVD quality glory. And the further that you progress, the more levels that you unlock, the more classic tunes you will be privileged enough to here. The song of the Ice Climbers is one that I have not heard in more than a dozen years, and there it was, playing in the background cleaner than I had ever dreamed possible as I shot Nana with Fox McCloud’s Ray Gun.

If you enjoy playing classic games, Super Smash Brothers Melee is worth the purchase of a GameCube just to hear the music. The songs from Metroid, the original Zelda, Earthbound, and even Dr. Mario make triumphant returns to the audio limelight, like they did in the past, when they were the best of the best. These melodies are simplistic by today’s standards, but one cannot deny how finely crafted they all are. HAL Laboratories has organized all of the tunes so that when you are playing on the Mute City battle field, a theme from F-Zero will be heard, and so on. Even better is the extended theme that you can hear during the credits when you beat the game. You get a two minute playing of some of the catchiest songs in history.

The sound effects are the weakest aspect of Super Smash Brothers Melee, which is quite disappointing when you look at how spectacular that the audio is. The biggest problem with this is the voice acting. Not only are many of the voice actors here far inferior to the originals, the phrases that they say are absolutely horribly thought out. For example, take the battle in Adventure Mode where Slippy flies in in an Arwing to help out Fox McCloud. It is blatantly obvious that this is not the same voice actor who voiced the frog in Star Fox 64. Besides, Slippy had an annoying voice then, and now the voice has gotten even worse. There is a possibility of Link, Mario, Pikachu, and Donkey Kong sharing voice actors from past games, but it is doubtful that any of the other characters do.

The item effects are quite annoying too. Being forced to listen to the Star Rod ‘ping’ and ‘ping’ again and again is quite frustrating. And when attacks connect, they sound about the same no matter the strength of an attack. Even the Smash Attacks sound equal to a simple strike with a flower. And sadly this problem is not an isolated incident in the land of Tournament Fighting games. SNK and Namco are really the only two companies that ever mastered physical sound effects completely, and now the great SNK has gone out of business. Namco must now bear the torch and teach Tecmo, Sega, Nintendo, and Capcom the art, to preserve all of our hearing.

At least the announcer has gotten significantly less annoying over the last two years. His catch phrases are more varied, and there is more time between them than before. He has also learned to articulate better. Herb Carneal did not just announce Kirby Puckett. He came on the public address system and said “Now batting, Kirb-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e P-u-u-u-ck-e-e-e-tt.” Pikachu has been morphed into “Pi-k-a-a-chu,” with a little accent on the ‘A’ and it is a nice little flair that I kind of like. It makes him sound much more human and quite a bit less of a robot. Now Midway, about the creepy, robotic fellow that does the announcing for the Mortal Kombat games . . .

CONTROL--7
I never want to hear any of you complaining about the Dreamcast controller being used on tournament fighting games again. If ever a system needed an arcade stick for use, it is the Nintendo GameCube. In fact, with my Christmas money, I will be buying a pair for use with this game. Sure, the character’s response time is better than the police in a town with only three buildings, all right next door to the station, but what good is that if you can never find the button that you need to press?

The GameCube controller is passable as long as you do not play the game at a difficulty higher than ‘Normal.’ On difficulties lower than that you will have enough time to feel around for the button that you need to use. The enemies are not relentless enough to require you to be entirely instinctive. Still, when ‘B’ attacks are stronger than ‘A’ attacks, it does not make a lot of sense to have them be using the smaller button. More over, jumping with ‘Y’ is a horrible set up, and numerous times I have pressed ‘X’ and ended up dying because then I got bull-rushed by a Bowser or a Ganondorf.

Thankfully there is absolutely no lag between the controller and the game, as there is in some games. The characters jump exactly when you tell them to, so sometimes that instinctive behavior that you have developed with more hardcore tournament fighting games can be a curse, because you may end up jumping too early, so that your foes will have a chance to alter their plans, and head you off at your destination. Timing your movements is the key to avoiding attacks in Super Smash Brothers Melee. Sure, the shields with ‘L’ and ‘R’ help a little bit, but they are not particularly reliable. The best defense is to run away, and find a stronghold from which to attack from.

FUN--10
Despite the bad sound effects, and controller that was obviously not designed with tournament fighting games in mind, Super Smash Brothers Melee manages to be by far and away the most fun game on the Nintendo GameCube. You will find yourself playing the single player Classic and Adventure Modes quite a bit more than in the previous game, to try and get all of the trophies and characters. The diversion modes, like the Home-Run Contest and the Multi-Man Melee will garner play time for the same reason. With each trophy that you get (after the first fifty, which are insanely easy because the lottery percentages still remain quite high) you will get a sense of accomplishment that you rarely will find for such seemingly trivial tasks in any video game.

Sure, substantial single player modes are nice, but if anyone out there bought Super Smash Brothers Melee as a solo game, they are officially certifiably insane. It is common knowledge that the original Super Smash Brothers was among the greatest party games ever created, and helped bring the Nintendo 64 to the party game limelight, along with other hits like Mario Party and Goldeneye. Its sequel certainly builds on that reputation by adding an overwhelming amount of new options, characters, items, and arenas into the fray. All of your favorites from the first game have returned too, as Nintendo is not one to simply throw away anything from the past. You can customize your battles like ever before. Want to make a Star Wars-esque fight? Set up your battle so that Beam Swords are the only item that can appear in play. Want to have a massive Poke-Battle? Choose the four Pokemon that are eventually available as characters, and set Poke-Balls as the only item, and then choose a Pokemon-themed arena. There has not been this much customization and thought put into multiplayer battles since Perfect Dark.

CHALLENGE--MEDIUM
On the ‘Very Easy’ difficulty level, even the most inexperienced gamer should be able to plow through the Classic and Adventure Modes without fail. However, once you bump it up to ‘Very Hard,’ even people who have been playing games for their whole life can have some trouble. The artificial intelligence was programmed with this in mind, and HAL Laboratories did an excellent job with setting up the difficulty curve, which was a major problem with the original Super Smash Brothers.

If you are out to get all of the characters and trophies, Super Smash Brothers Melee takes on added challenge. The diversion modes can be very challenging to completely master. I find it quite difficult to even defeat ten enemies in Cruel Mode. So even if you can beat Adventure Mode and Classic Mode with your eyes closed, there are still modes like Break the Targets for you to have fun with, and a very interesting hidden mode for you to struggle through if you have the skills to unlock it.

REPLAY VALUE--HIGH
Super Smash Brothers Melee will instantly be put into heavy multiplayer rotation on your console, for certain until a sequel to the game comes out. Since I bought this game on December 4, it is rare that a day has gone by that I have not played the game for a substantial amount of time. I realize that this is only a period of about two weeks, but I can never before recall playing a game every day for that long. And with the depth of the multiplayer capabilities, the wide variety of modes, and the seemingly endless number of trophies to collect, I cannot see that streak ending any time soon.

PROS
*Enough multiplayer capabilities to make you pass out.
*Classic music from Nintendo hits past.
*The first appearance of the Ice Climbers in more than fifteen years!

CONS
*The graphics are not up to par with some of the other Nintendo GameCube games.
*The sound effects are quite obnoxious.
*The GameCube controller was clearly not designed for tournament fighting games.

CLOSING STATEMENT
Sure, the graphics could have been improved, the sound is mediocre at best, and the controller does not work with a game in this genre. We maybe would have liked to see more classic characters appear as playable characters, or at least trophies. Some more classic levels from unfeatured games like Star Tropics and Banjo-Kazooie would have been nice. But despite the flaws, you cannot dispute the fact that Super Smash Brothers Melee is one of the greatest games to be released in 2001, and in a long time.

OVERALL--10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/16/01, Updated 12/16/01


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