Review by Xboxlover2

"While not quite as innovative as the first game, Melee manages to outclass it in every other way possible."

Back in January 1999, a game known as Super Smash Bros. in the Western world was released in Japan. HAL Laboratories (a second-party developer affiliated with Nintendo), had been given a tight budget to work with and it's safe to say that there was not much faith in the game being a success. Nintendo wasn't even planning to bring the game overseas. However, much to everyone's surprise, the game went onto become a smash hit. The game was later released in North America and Europe, further contributing to its success.

The game was praised for its numerous innovations and unique concepts: a simplified control scheme that made the game ideal for casual players; a percentage-based damage meter that took the place of traditional health bars; and the usage of items to aid you during battle. However, there were several flaws with the game, the most glaring of them being its very weak single-player mode. Nonetheless, the game went on to sell over three million copies, providing one last breath of fresh air for the floundering Nintendo 64.

Realizing they had a massive success in their possession, HAL quickly acknowledged this by getting back to developing a new game. This time, focus shifted to the then-upcoming Nintendo console, the GameCube. This would allow HAL to get past all of the boundaries that hindered their developmental process with the original game, making for a higher quality product. When a sequel to the game was announced during 2001's E3 Expo, fans were far from being surprised; after all, a sequel should've been expected if you employed a bit of common sense. Gamers were far more concerned with whether or not the sequel would be "more of the same" or if it would be just as innovative as the original.

After months of teasers, screenshots, information, trailers, and wild anticipation, Super Smash Bros. Melee was released on November 21st, 2001, only a short while after the release of the GameCube. Critics were blown aback by the game: it followed the same basic formula used in the original, but expanded and improved on every aspect. All stops were pulled this time; the developers were working on a much larger budget, allowing for a better game. Every single issue that detracted from the quality of the first game, such as the predictable, unexciting single-player mode and the poor graphics, was addressed in the form of improvements and additions.

As expected, the game did extremely well: to date, over seven million copies have been sold, making Super Smash Bros. Melee (herein referred to as "Melee") not only more than twice as successful as the original, but also the GameCube's best-selling game ever. It's not unreasonable to assume that the vast majority of GameCube owners own or have owned a copy of the game. It's one of few games that has achieved status as a "system-seller", i.e. a game that is so popular that people will buy a video game console for the sole purpose of playing said game – and with good reason.

As suggested earlier, Melee is largely the same as Super Smash Bros.: the point of the game is not to deplete your opponent's life bar, but to send them out of the arena. You accomplish this by calling on your character's moveset and continuously attacking, ending with a final blow that is impossible to recover from. The simple control scheme found in the original is present: all moves require no more than a press of a button and possibly a flick of the Control Stick to be performed. This can attract newcomers and casual players (those who don't have buckets of time to devote towards strengthening their gaming skills) to the game. One benefit of the game is that it has mass appeal; while it doesn't take much to become acquainted with Melee, you'll need to put in a fair amount of effort if you're serious about mastering it, so the more hardcore amongst us aren't alienated by an overly-simple game. Shielding has been made more in-depth, with players being offered of using a so-called "power shield", a temporary shield that is much larger than normal, but more susceptible to damage. Dodging (on both the ground and in the air) has been implemented, allowing players to simple sidestep an oncoming attack. There are several other advanced techniques which you will discover as you play.

Every character has a moveset consisting of standard (standing and aerial) attacks pressed by tilting the Control Stick and pressing the A button. These attacks are generally used to build up your opponent's damage meter. "Smash attacks," which are more powerful moves, are performed by simultaneously "smashing" (tapping) the Control Stick in a certain direction and pressing the A button. These attacks are what you'll be using to knock your opponent out most of the time. Melee introduces the ability to hold your smash attacks: by holding onto the Control Stick and releasing it a short time later, your smash attack will be even more powerful. Each character also has a set of special moves, accessed by tapping the Control Stick and pressing the B button. These moves are generally the signature moves and traits you associate with each character. For example, Mario's B move is his fire ball, while Pikachu's B moves are almost all centered around his ability to produce thunder. In a welcome change from the original, all characters now have four special moves, rather than three, adding just a *bit* more variety to the gameplay.

Once again, the game lacks a coherent storyline; basically, the most that is known is that the characters in the game are trophies. While others may see the missing story as a drawback, I personally see this as an easily-overlookable minor imperfection in an otherwise-high quality game. Honestly, when you consider how improved the 1P mode is this time around, one of the last things you should be worrying about is the (lack of a) story.

The game features 14 default characters, more than the entire roster of the original game: Mario, Link, Kirby, Samus Aran, Fox McCloud, Pikachu, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong all return for a second melee. Captain Falcon and Ness, both of whom were unlockable in Super Smash Bros., also return, this time around as regular characters. Joining the fray are Princess Peach, Bowser, the Ice Climbers (of 1980's fame; the Ice Climbers are unique in that they are are dual characters controlled simultaneously), and Princess Zelda, who has the unique ability of being able to transform into Sheik, a character with a completely different moveset, effectively making Zelda two characters in one. The unlockable roster of 11 characters is comprised of Luigi and Jigglypuff, veterans of the series, as well as newcomers Falco, Marth and Roy (of Fire Emblem), Dr. Mario, Mewtwo, Ganondorf, Pichu, and Mr. Game & Watch, Nintendo's first video game creation and the sole 2-D character in the game. In total, there are 25 characters (26, if Sheik is counted as a separate character), making for more than twice the number of characters in the original.

There are a total of 29 stages available, with 18 being playable from the start. Every returning franchise has twice the number of stages as in the original. The arenas are all brand new, but fans of the original games need not worry: you may unlock three stages from the original. The stages range from direct locales seen within certain games, such as the Rainbow Cruise stage from Super Mario 64,, to arenas inspired by a franchise. Donkey Kong's Kongo Jungle is reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong Country game: the setting is a dark, heavily-forested jungle, pictured as the sun is setting in the background, making for a beautiful environment. One feature introduced in Melee is the concept of moving stages – that is, stages in which the camera scrolls. If you are caught off-screen, it is considered a knock-out, so you'll have to be aware at all times when playing on one of these stages, making matches all the more exciting.

The weakest aspect of Super Smash Bros. is almost universally-agreed upon to be the 1P mode. The order in which you battled characters was fixed, making for a predictable and easily-forgettable experience. HAL realized that fans viewed the single-player game as more of a burden than a blessing, so they completely revamped it: the main 1P mode (known as "Classic") is now completely randomized. In the same vein as the original, mini-games are available after completing a few matches, providing some extra variety. The boss from the original, a disembodied hand by the name of "Master Hand", returns, this time with a few new tricks up his sleeves. The single-player experience doesn't end there, however. A side-scrolling platformer/party fighter hybrid is available in the form of Adventure mode. You progress through a series of stages inspired by various Nintendo franchises, such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, with each round culminating in a battle. There are also various other single-player modes available, such as Event matches in which you attempt to complete a string of predetermined scenarios, and the Stadium matches, all of which are tests of your skill.

Even though the 1P mode is actually worthwhile this time around, one cannot overlook the fact that most people are drawn to the Super Smash Bros. series because of its incredibly fun VS. mode. Just as with the single-player game, HAL fleshed out the multiplayer side of Melee, allowing for even more customization. The frequency with which items appear on the stage during a battle can be adjusted to your liking. It is possible to adjust whether or not you want a specific item to spawn at all during a match and it is even possible to turn items off completely, making for a more traditional-style brawl. It is still possible to have a free-for-all match or team battle; however, you are no longer restricted to either a timed or limited stock match. You can partake in a coin battle, in which the goal is to gain as many coins as possible by attacking your opponent and collecting the coins that they drop; or a bonus battle, in which you attempt to gain the most points by performing certain attacks and gaining style points. There are also several gimmick modes, styled as "Special Melees" in-game, available: slow-motion battles, stamina matches (each player has a damage meter that decreases with each blow they suffer), melees in which only use of the A button is permitted, as well as many others.

Another criticism of the first game was that the graphics were quite underwhelming: the characters (Donkey Kong in particular) suffered from blurry, jagged textures and the special effects left much to be desired. Melee, on the other hand, still looks like a masterpiece – 7 years after its debut. Characters are crisp and the details on each are apparent. Donkey Kong now actually resembles the ape we recognize him as. The stages are equally well-designed: backgrounds are bright and vivid and you can see that much effort went into the creation of each stage. Every stage has minor intricacies that only add to the experience. For a game that was released back in 2001, Melee is easily one of the most beautiful games ever released.

While the sounds and music in Super Smash Bros. were far from being poor, they weren't anything to be praised, either. Melee changes that in a way that is almost incomprehensible. Every single theme used for the stages in the first game returns. Most have been remixed while a lucky few received the privilege of being performed by a live orchestra. The music used on the Fountain of Dreams stage is quite possibly the most exquisite of them all in the entire game; you'll easily find yourself being distracted by the music while playing on the stage.

Replay value is something that Melee lacks none of; in fact, some might consider the amount of unlockables to be excessive. As mentioned earlier, there are 11 characters and stages (each, not in total) to be unlocked. Extra game modes and features can also be opened by completing certain tasks, as well as nearly 300 trophies. There are three trophies for each character in the game, as well as each items and signature Nintendo icons that may not have necessarily appeared in the game. Each trophy contains a description, providing a bit of knowledge for the younger generation that may not be familiar with Nintendo's history. The trophy collection process serves as a great source of information and also pride as it is quite a feat to manage to collect every single trophy.

Getting back to an issue mentioned earlier in the review, the main point of concern when Melee was announced was if the game was going to be a "rehash" (more of the same) or an innovative experience. As it turned out, Melee falls somewhere in between the two extremes: it's not quite as groundbreaking or unique as the first game, but it's by no means a "rehash." Melee appears to be everything that the first game wasn't; the game that HAL had wanted to make while developing the original, but had been unable to due to several reasons. Quite honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way. Without straying from the genius premise of the series, Melee manages to be a truly refreshing experience. Keeping everything that worked in the first game and addressing every point of criticism that was made against it in a positive manner, logic dictates that the game can only be better than what we've seen before. Since Super Smash Bros. was a must-have, obviously Melee must be even more so.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/11/07, Updated 07/12/07

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