Review by antsmarching

"An instant classic that raises the bar for fighting games"

The fighting game genre received a jolt when the original Super Smash Bros. was released in the dying days of the Nintendo 64. Embraced by Nintendo fans and hated by fighting game traditionalists, the game divided critics with its combination of party and fighting game mechanics. The sequel was bound to do more of the same. While Super Smash Bros. Melee won’t win over gamers who passed on the original, it will blow away fans of the Nintendo 64 fighter. In fact, it will likely blow away any gamer who is looking for a game with endless multiplayer value and deep gameplay.

Unlike ordinary fighting games like Capcom’s 2D games and Namco’s 3D games, the goal of Super Smash Bros. Melee is to knock your opponent off the stage. A percentage meter at the bottom of the screen displays the amount of damage a character has received. The higher the damage, the more susceptible the character becomes to receiving a knockout. These knockouts come in three forms. The most common is the smash attack, which is done by “smashing” the control stick forward and pressing A. Some special moves, which are pulled off by pressing B with a certain direction on the analog stick, also contain the ability to smash the opponent to Melee heaven. Finally, certain items, such as bom-ombs, motion-sensor mines, and various Pokemon characters, can knock your opponents flying in dramatic fashion.

While it sounds simple, it becomes anything but easy when variables are taken into consideration. For example, heavier characters such as Bowser and Ganondorf need a higher damage percentage to be knocked off in comparison to lighter characters such as Pichu and Kirby. Yet their bigger size and power is compensated by the fact that they become an easier target to hit. This allows lighter and faster characters to zip around the stage, perform their attacks, and run away before they sustain damage. The different stages also play a big role in the outcome of a match. Characters are more susceptible to smash attacks when they are at the edge of a stage. While it is relatively easy to set up characters for smash attacks in small stages such as Mushroom Kingdom II, try doing it in the cavernous Hyrule Temple. Additionally, many stages become hazards in themselves and take a toll on your self-destruct total. The shifting platforms of Brinstar Depths will have you worrying as much about your position on the stage as inflicting damage on the opponent. Hence stage and item management become as important factors in deciding victory as the attacking and defending skills of the characters.

This is a big reason why the gameplay is so deep. To the casual observer, four player melees appear too chaotic to allow for any significant amount of strategy. But the game is anything except a button-masher. While the game relies on the reflexes of the player more than calculation, figuring out how to react in every game situation takes hours upon hours of practice. First of all, there are 25 total characters to work with, and 11 of these are hidden. Some may be very similar (like Falco and Fox or Roy and Marth) but they have their advantages and disadvantages (stronger and slower versus lighter and faster). The styles of the fighters vary more than one might think. A good Captain Falcon player will confuse their opponent with blinding speed and constant attacking; a good Samus player will keep their distance with lots of projectile attacks; a good Roy player will join the fray immediately and start hammering away with sword attacks. With all of the different fighting styles, it will take a while just to master a few of them, never mind most of them. The large amount of stages and items also broaden the depth of play. There are 25 total stages, with 12 of them hidden. All contain references to the games the characters are lifted from. The different layout of each stage makes fighting either fast and furious or long and slow. Add to this a truckload of items (including around 20 different Pokemon that can be released) and the game provides the player with a large amount of fluctuating situations to account for.

Of course, good gameplay alone would make Melee a great game. But HAL wanted it to be a classic. To do this, they included a list of features and options that is so large that it boggles the mind how they actually fitted everything into the tiny Gamecube disc. For single-player, there are Classic, Adventure, and Event modes. Classic is lifted straight from the original Super Smash Bros., complete with the team fights, bonus stages, and Crazy Hand battles at the end. Adventure combines side-scrolling action with Melee fights. While it is a great addition, it feels tacked on. Some stages, such as the Mario stage, are great the first time through. Others, such as the Donkey Kong and Kirby levels, don’t even receive a side-scrolling component. This is disappointing and makes the adventure mode simply a minor addition rather than a major improvement on the original game. The event mode will give the player more of a challenge. It contains 51 different events. The first few are ridiculously easy while the last few are insanely hard. There are also mini-games in the form of practice modes, target-tests, and a cool home-run contest that requires you to destroy and send a sandbag flying in only ten seconds. For multiplayer, there are the traditional Melees with the ability to customize any rule you want. Giant melees, coin matches, stock matches, fixed-camera melees, and others give the game an absurd amount of replay value. By now, you’ve probably heard that Melee is one of the greatest multiplayer experiences ever. This is the absolute truth. No other game since Goldeneye has been able to combine awesome single and multiplayer experiences like Melee.

Again, these options alone would have made the game a classic Gamecube title. But HAL decided to increase the replay value even more by adding trophies. These trophies are won either by completing specific tasks or earning enough coins to feed the Melee slot machine. In all, there are around 290 trophies. Long-time Nintendo fans will be amazed because it seems that every character, item, and stage from every first party title has been included. A skeptic might see this as shameless self-promotion but it is anything but. Rarely do gaming companies reward loyal customers with games that acknowledge past gaming experiences, but Melee does this better than any other game ever created. It is impossible to not feel a sense of nostalgia while playing Melee, and this gives the game most of its charm. If you want to take a break from fighting, then enter the trophy gallery and take a trip down memory lane. It’s one of the best ideas ever in a video game, and it’s impossible to stop wanting trophies until you’ve collected them all. Luckily, this will take you a very long time, thus shooting the lasting appeal of the game through the roof.
Despite all of these positive gameplay aspects, there are a few minor flaws. The game sometimes moves a bit too fast, which means that suicides happen more frequently than they should. Many projectile attacks do so little damage that they seem worthless. And the computer AI becomes very cheap at the higher difficulty levels. But these are small quibbles. It’s the equivalent of finding a tiny dent on the bottom of a brand-new Ferrari – barely noticeable and doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the experience.

The excellent graphics mirror the near flawless gameplay. Melee is a 2D fighter with a pseduo-3D look. Often the game moves so fast that it’s hard to notice the character animations or models. It’s highly recommended that you pause it from time to time to appreciate how beautiful the game is up close. Classic characters such as Link and Samus look exactly like how gamers envisioned them while playing the classic 8-bit Zelda and Metroid games. The backgrounds are more of a mixed bag. Some are truly amazing, such as the hallucinogenic Final Destination. Watching Kraid rotate the stage in Brinstar Depths is breathtaking. Others, such as Onett and Hyrule Temple, look like first generation Gamecube titles. This isn’t really a knock, because Melee is a first generation title. But the game is so masterfully crafted that it plays and looks for the most part like a late generation game.

The one aspect of the game that HAL nailed to perfection is the sound. While it takes a player who has played Nintendo games through the years to appreciate the soundtrack, the music is so powerful that even a casual gamer can enjoy it. Most of the music has been modernized, such as the music from Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Super Metroid, The Adventure of Link, and Earthbound. Others have been left alone, such as Super Mario 1 and 2 as well as – get this – Balloon Fight and Mach Rider! Playing the Ice Climber stage to pounding bass of Balloon Fight is a surreal experience and is not to be missed. Sound effects are equally perfect. Princess Zelda’s transformation into Sheik gives the traditional Zelda discovery sound, while getting the invincibility star produces the appropriate Mario music. In all, this is the best sound package ever in a video game. Period.

Super Smash Bros. Melee takes the traditional fighting game system, instills party game aspects and Nintendo mascots, and creates a unique hybrid game that takes its place among the classic video games of the past ten years. It delivers in the two most important categories of a video game: gameplay and replay value. Added to this are some of the prettiest graphics around and the best soundtrack in the history of video games. If you have played any Nintendo games throughout the company’s history, whether on an NES, SNES, or N64, then you owe it to yourself to buy this game regardless of what system you own. It is worth buying a Gamecube just for the experience of playing this game. It will give you a sense of nostalgia that is rare in an age of cutting-edge technology. Put it this way: if aliens were to land on this planet and ask for the best available example of a fun video game, then this would be the sacrifice.

Graphics: 9/10
+ Some of the best animation and detailed character models ever witnessed
– A few backgrounds could use a little work

Sound: 10/10
+ The best in-game soundtrack ever
+ Sound effects are nostalgic and varied enough to avoid being annoying

Gameplay: 10/10
+ Deceptively deep fighting engine
+ One of the fastest fighters around that relies more on reflexes than combos

Replay Value: 10/10
+ 25 characters, 25 stages, 51 events, and 290 different trophies
+ If you want to accomplish everything, then you’ll get 100 hours of gameplay

Fun: 10/10
+ Multiplayer battles in Melee are now the stuff of legends
+ It’s hard to imagine a game that could be more fun to play

Final Score: 10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/19/02, Updated 07/19/02

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