Review by MSuskie

"Nintendo took a great concept and nearly perfected it. Smashing."

I have fond memories of the original Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64. For a console that had plenty of great multiplayer games, SSB was one of the best in that category, and I remember many wonderful multiplayer sessions with it. So, probably my most anticipated GameCube title before the console actually came out (with the obvious exceptions of Metroid and Zelda) was probably Super Smash Bros. Melee, the sequel to the N64 hit. Although it's not quite a “launch title” since it was released only shortly after the GameCube's launch, it was easily my favorite GCN game of 2001.

For those of you who never played Super Smash Bros. on the N64, it's a fighter/platformer hybrid that features all of Nintendo's biggest mascots (Mario, Link, Samus, Pikachu, etc.) fighting in levels themed after famous scenes and areas from Nintendo games. Each character has an arsenal of moves based on the moves and weapons that they use in their respective games, and the players also have the ability to use various weapons that, like the rest of the game, are based on items from famous Nintendo games. It's not like a traditional fighting game, however, instead of having the player memorize certain button combos to pull of powerful moves, Smash Bros. gives you an arsenal of one-pronged moves and leaves it up to the player to create their own combos. The object is not to knock your opponent's hit points to zero like most fighting games, but rather to knock them off of the arena that you're battling on.

So that's just an overview of what Super Smash Bros. was like (check out my separate review for it to get more details). It was a great multiplayer game as I already said, but it was a sadly lacking single-player game, with questionable enemy A.I. and a repetitive, boring one-player mode. Super Smash Bros. Melee acts as an improvement over the original in nearly every way. It keeps the same basic blueprint, but helps to level out areas of the game that were previously mediocre, while at the same time perfecting areas that I previously thought didn't need any help. It's a fantastic experience that no GameCube owner should be without.

Melee, as I said, keep the same basic blueprint of the original: The objective in every match is to ultimately knock your opponent off of the arena by beating the hell out of them. Basic moves, like punches, kicks, slaps, and headbutts are mapped to the A button, and special attacks (which strongly vary per character) are set to B. As with before, which attack your character pulls of depends on the direction of the analog stick in conjunction with the successive button. Your character can still jump (Y or X), grab other characters and throw them (Z) or use a rechargeable shield (R or L). There are some little improvements, such as four special moves per character instead of three, the ability to grab your opponents and them hit them before throwing them, “sidestep” dodge moves and the ability to charge Smash attacks, but it's mostly the same thing.

At first, it seems like a rehash: More characters, more levels, more items and a slightly more diverse fighting system. However, the core additions are towards the single-player game. I said before that the original's single-player mode was boring. In Melee, it's fantastic. In the first game, the one-player mode had you playing through several matches in a row, with a few mini-games in between and the final boss at the end. This mode returns in Melee, but it's nowhere near as dull as before, thanks to more variety and a few hidden goodies.

However, that's nothing compared to the new Adventure mode, which is quite possibly the coolest new mode on this disk. In Adventure mode, you'll trek through familiar Nintendo environments and do things related to that particular theme. In the Super Mario Bros. level, you'll stomp on Goombas and Koopas. In the Legend of Zelda stage, you'll explore and underground maze fighting zombies and Octoroks. In the Metroid mission, you'll attempt to escape the planet before it explodes. There's a familiar location for just about every major Nintendo game franchise, and N-freaks are sure to get plenty of lovin' here. The mode is the same for every character so there's not much variety, but it's still a fun mode that rarely gets old.

Another new biggie is Event Match, which places you in over fifty goal-based matches. Some of them are easy, some of them are damn tough. A few examples include racing to the end of an F-Zero track as Captain Falcon, battling Zelda II's Shadow Link in the temple from the same game, or competing against another player to be the first to KO Bowser. They're incredibly varied and will give you a junkload of entertainment. The familiar Target Test mini-game returns in full force, but the “Board the Platforms” mini-game from the original Smash Bros. is mysteriously missing. Still, there are plenty of other single-player challenges, including a clever subgame that has players trying to knock a sandbag as far as they can with a baseball bat, as well as an assortment of challenges that have players battling “wireframes” under different circumstances.

One of the most interesting additions to Melee is the trophy-collecting system. There are roughly 250 different trophies to collect in Melee, and they all contain info about Nintendo's past franchises and consoles. By collecting coins in the one-player game, you can try to win different random trophies through the lottery. There are also plenty of trophies that can also be won be achieving certain goals. What's interesting is that just about every Nintendo-related bit of memorabilia through the last twenty-five years appears in this game in the form of a trophy. Remember Mach Rider? Paper Mario? Love/Hate Giant? Balloon Fighter? They, and many other not-so-famous Nintendo characters are here as trophies. Each trophy gives information about the subject's background and the game that they appeared in. There's so much here that I guarantee you'll learn something new. It's a serious challenge to collect them all, and doing so gives you the same kind of pleasure that you got when you first scored all one hundred Gold Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time without using a strategy guide.

But enough about the single-player game. Let's get into the real meat and potatoes of Melee, its multiplayer mode. Although it's basically the same as the original, it's got the aforementioned deeper fighting system, the new characters (such as Bowser, Marth, Zelda, Ice Climbers and many more), the new levels (which are improved over the original) and some new items (as well as plenty of new Pokemon). Like I said, new additions, but still the same old thing – that's in no way bad. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? So, if you had any fun with the original's multiplayer mode, you can bet that you're going to have a lot of fun with this one. You can now go into a more detailed “custom rules” layout, and can choose between several different “modes,” such as Giant Mode (all characters are twice their normal size), Slo-Mo Melee (the game runs in slow motion) or One-Button Melee (in which attacks are restricted to the A button). Since the multiplayer mode is roughly the same with plenty of new additions, I'd recommend checking out my review for the original if you want more details on exactly how the multiplayer works. I will tell you, though, that this is quite possibly the best non-online multiplayer game on any console, ever.

As with the first game, Melee is all about mastering the one particular character you're good with to become a great player. Every player has a preference, and since there's such a wide variety in the characters, every player is better with a particular player. Do you want a fast but weak character like Fox, or a slow but powerful character like Bowser? A close-range specialist like Marth, or a distance freak like Samus? Every player will have a favorite character, and mastering that particular character is one of the steps to mastering the game.

From a technical standpoint, Melee is definitely very good. The graphics are a mixed bag. Character models are sweet, particles look great, and the game is incredibly smooth and running at a constant 60fps with no slowdown. Close-up visuals aren't as good, since the textures and 2D effects aren't nearly as impressive. Melee's graphics are decidedly average. On the audio side of things, I can't imagine Melee being any better. The soundtrack is fantastic – many of your favorite themes from Nintendo games return, completely orchestrated to perfection. The Kirby themes are played by an entire orchestra. The Metroid theme is loaded with guitars solos. The song on Ice Mountain is played by a jazz band. Everything sounds perfect, and clearly shows that HAL Laboratory did not fall asleep in this category.

Aside from the graphics, which I think of as a downfall, Melee definitely has some flaws. For one thing, play control is tough to get used to, especially for beginners. And even once you've gotten used to the control scheme it causes problems. For instance, some attacks are performed by tilting the analog stick up in conjunction with a button press. However, since tilting the analog stick up is also used to jump, sometimes you'll end up jumping instead of pulling off the attack you meant to. Also, the A.I. is pretty bad at times. It almost seems too smart and to dumb at the same time. On the highest difficulty, the computer has the ability to “predict” your moves, which means that they always block perfectly and always hit dead-on. But at the same time, you'll see them merrily walking into mines and traps. Although the multiplayer is the best part of the game, much more focus is put on the single-player mode than in the first, so it's a shame the A.I. wasn't better. Still, Melee is a wonderful play even with these flaws and works as one of GameCube's best games so far.

Pros

+ All of Nintendo's franchises wrapped up into one clean package.
+ New characters, levels, items and game options.
+ The single-player game is a massive update with fun new modes and mini-games.
+ Multiplayer is as fantastic as ever.
+ Plenty of replayability.
+ Trophy-collecting gimmick keeps you going and works great for Nintendo fanatics.
+ Deeper combat system than before.
+ A wide variety in characters.
+ Character models look great.
+ One of the best soundtracks… ever.

Cons

- Control is still pretty clunky at times.
- A.I. ranges from fairly good to terrible.
- The graphics are ultimately nothing special.
- Many hidden characters are “clones” (copies of other characters with slight changes).
- No online is a bummer.

Overall: 9/10

Melee is easily one of the best GameCube games out there. It's a major improvement over the first one in nearly every way, and the result is a must-have masterpiece that works as both a compelling single-player and multiplayer title. It definitely has its flaws, and it's a shame that Nintendo isn't a fan of online gaming, because I can only imagine the brilliant online mode that could've been concocted if Nintendo put more emphasis on this portion of the gaming world. But, that's what sequels are for. Let's hope that by the time the sequel rolls around, Nintendo will be steering in the right direction.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/25/04


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