Review by mikecullerne

"A nice evolution of the original, but could it have been better?"

After waiting for what seemed an eternity, it is here and it is good. Very, very good. In fact Super Smash Bros. Melee (SSB:M) is quite possibly the best GameCube game out at this very moment bringing together almost every character that has helped Nintendo to success over the last 25 years. This is the ultimate showcase game, featuring such greats as Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Zelda, Pikachu and Samus – many making their first appearance on the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo being Nintendo didn’t just rely on their characters to full sales through, instead they completely revamped the original Nintendo 64 version making huge changes evolving the game beyond recognition into possibly the greatest party game ever made.

The gameplay premise is simple – throw or smash your opponent off the level more times than they do to you. Simple? Yes. Easy to master? God no. You see on top of this rather plain objective are plenty of gameplay aspects that can be learned and then exploited for ultimate success. For a start every player on screen has a percentage, the more damage you take the higher your percentage gets. When your percentage is higher you fly back more after being hit and are therefore a lot easier to hit off the stage. Every character has various kicks, punches, throws and smash attacks all unique to them each doing different levels of damage, generally the more damage the can do in an attack the slower they can move round the level. These individualities between each character add an incredible amount of depth to the game. Samus is great at long range attacks with homing rockets and charge up shot but can suffer at the hands of Donkey Kong when he gets up close. Understanding each characters unique attributes will go a long way to increasing your success in SSB:M.

One factor that sets SSB:M apart from other fighting games is the items. With well over forty different items falling from the sky randomly a battle can quickly turn. One of the most lethal items in the game is the pokeball. Throwing a pokeball will release a Pokemon at random and it will attack the other opponents on the level and sometimes even you! The Pokemon that can be summoned in battle range from the legendary Zapdos and Moltres to the not so legendary Goldeen and other weaker Pokemon. Nintendo 64 SSB fans will be pleased (or not so pleased) to know that while the hammer is back it is not as effective and is no longer a certain match winner. One item that is certainly a match winner is the return of the baseball bat item, one smash swing of this baby and it’s an instant knock out!

The biggest complaint from the original was that the multiplayer mode was too short. This was a very valid comment and HAL Laboratories (the genius team who designed this game) took it on board and made the one-player mode for SSB:M with ten times as much depth (if not more). There are three areas of gameplay to immerse yourself in – regular match, event match and stadium.

Regular match has three modes within it – classic, adventure and a special secret mode which I will not spoil for you (because you are about to run out and buy it anyway). Classic is essentially the same as the original. You must pick a character and go through a series of matches. However this time opponents are randomly selected and can appear at anytime. There are also matches against giant opponents and teams to keep the battles interesting. Adventure mode is more of a mix between the fighting game that SSB:M is and the platformers that so many of the characters in SSB:M have come from. Players must battle through the Mushroom Kingdom, a Hyrule Dungeon, race (on foot) in a F-Zero race, and there are many more levels for players to enjoy. This is the true heart of the one-player mode and it is great fun.

Event match also provides some fairly good entertainment too I might add. In this mode there are fifty preset scenarios that players must beat in order to gain access to new levels and characters. The first event match gives you control of Mario and you must defeat evil Bowser in a classic good vs. evil brawl. The event matches are great fun and are also very challenging giving even the most experienced SSB:M campaigner a fairly tough fight.

Stadium has three modes to play – target test, home run contest and multi-man melee. Target test is a returning gameplay mode from the original in which each character has to break 10 targets, in their own specially designed levels. Some of the levels are relatively easy while others can be very tough, even if it is only one elusive target you can’t quite hit. Home run contest is a delightful new mode where you must smash a sack as far as you can with a baseball bat. You have 10 seconds to attack it and get its damage percentage as high as possible then wind up with the supplied bat and hit it as far as you can! The final mode, multi-man melee is where players must survive against enemies for as long as they can before certain goals are reached. These goals include 10 KO’s, 100 KO’s, last 3 minutes, last 15 minutes or no limit! There is also cruel melee where it is almost impossible to get a single KO! All the stadium modes are great fun and are definitely a nice side challenge away from the regular matches.

While one player was lack luster in the Nintendo 64 original, the multiplayer was a cut above most games on the system and SSB:M takes the multiplayer fun even further on the GameCube. With new modes, more levels and a greater number of customizable options SSB:M is better in every way but of course, this was to be expected. However some of the gameplay modes are very nice indeed, including the all new coin mode. In a battle players throw out coins when an opponent hits them. These can then be collected and the winner is the player with the most coins at the end. This mode is great fun and very intense as players can’t just sit back and defend, they must go in and attack to collect coins. Also new to SSB:M is bonus mode where the winner is determined on how many bonus’s a player collected by performing certain feats – certainly proves the men from the boys. Overall multiplayer is the heart of this title again as it was in the original, nothing beats pitting Mario vs. Link or Peach vs. Zelda with a group of mates. May the big talking resume!

When players turn on SSB:M for the first time the first thing they will notice is the incredible graphic upgrade from the original. Sure the intro is in FMV but the gameplay graphics are almost have the same high level of detail. The trade-off of framerate against detail that Nintendo 64 developers suffered though is long gone and HAL have exploited the GameCube hardware so that even in the most intense action sequences there is no slow down from the electric 60 frame-per-second-framerate. Level lighting is stunning, the shimmering crystal and the radiant reflections distract even the finest player from the game the first time this level is played. Another impressive aspect are the characters – every single one of them has never looked this good. The mixture of great level design, stunning characters and incredible fighting animations make this game a formidable opponent for all others on the market on any system.

Sound and music is stunning. Words fail to describe just how good SSB:M is in the audio department, this is possibly the biggest step up from the original. The music is fully remixed and sounds absolutely stunning. The original Zelda theme, classical Mario tunes certainly lift the game to another level! On the other side of the musical sphere are the haunting Metroid and Starfox, and the racy electric guitar theme that has been ever present in previous F Zero games. Along with the great musical score are top sound effects. Characters cry as the fly out of the level, taunt each other with humorous comments and Pokemon roar into life as they are released from their pokeball enclosure.

This game is very hard to flaw. In places I have found myself saying, “well why didn’t you include that Nintendo?” only to find minutes later that they had actually made the part of the game and that it was better than I originally imagined that feature would be. Such depth of gameplay is rarely found in such a simple game, especially in the fighting genre. Only fools would mock this title for its simplistic style because, for the most part, the intense action on screen is anything but. With so much to do and so many gameplay options many will never finish this game in its entirety, ever. In the end however that is not a fault of the game, it just keeps the player wanting more and more and Super Smash Bros. Melee delivers on every count.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/15/02, Updated 10/15/02


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