"Not only the best fighting game ever made, but one of the best games ever made outright."

Back in 1999, HAL Laboratories and Nintendo decided that the fighting genre needed a paradigm shift in the way of an entirely new formula to freshen things up a bit. After some brainstorming, Nintendo decided to take twelve Nintendo characters, throw them in a fighting game and create some random insanity.

The end result was lightning in a bottle entitled Super Smash Brothers. The boring old days of health bars and fancy control schemes were replaced with percentage damage ratios that increased knockback potential exponentially and a simplistic control scheme that caused the challenge not to come from mastering the game's unique scheme, but of pure player skill and timeliness. Multiple Nintendo-based arenas were used in the game, and each was unique in their own way -- and the main idea was not to get the other player's health down to zero, but to knock them off of the level. To do this, one had to build the opponent's damage total up; the higher the damage, the farther back they flew upon taking a hit. One's character of choice could fall off the stage by getting knocked too high, too far to the left or right, or by simply failing to make a proper recovery and falling to their death in one of multiple bottomless pits.

It was a simple formula, but it was one that was utterly adored. Even those who didn't care much for Nintendo loved Smash Brothers, and the fighting formula that it created was only the beginning of what made the game great. Multiple play modes and features existed in both single and multiplayer, to the point where the original Super Smash Brothers was infinitely replayable. For those who wished to become better than everyone they knew, continuously advancing their skill and becoming a tournament player to test it added even more dimensions.

The game was so good that fans were literally begging to get a sequel out of Nintendo. They didn't have to wait long, as the anticipated Super Smash Brothers Melee came out all of two weeks after the launch of the Gamecube in 2001. When the treasured sequel to Smash Brothers was finally released, gamers didn't know what to make of it at first. Several physics and attacks were changed, everything was much more fast-paced and some fans were even a bit upset that the game wasn't more of a direct extension from the old title. The reality however is that Super Smash Brothers Melee improved upon the original in virtually every facet, and is one of gaming's all-time great titles.

The basic formula invented in Super Smash Brothers remains in tact in that the general idea is to knock your opponent off of the stage. The easiest way to do this is by getting their damage up as high as you can, which causes their knockback potential to rise exponentially. The game supports up to four players, and the sheer madness that comes from four people blasting away at one another on the grand stage will lead to endless hours of fun for everyone. Few things are as fun as getting a large group of friends together and going SSBM on them. But what truly makes SSBM great is the sheer size of the game, and the fact that one can never run out of things to do. There being 25 total characters (as opposed to only 12 in SSB) barely scratches the surface when it comes to how mammoth SSBM is.

The classic single player mode from SSB returns, but it's been given an overhaul. The characters you fight are now entirely random, including who you fight in the Giant and Team matches! Master Hand is still the final boss, but taking down half his health in under 30 seconds will yield the bonus of Crazy Hand being added into the mix. New to the series are the Adventure and All Star single player modes. Adventure mode is a gauntlet-like series of challenges and fights that will cause you to have to take your character of choice through the home world of all of the main characters of SSBM. It can take awhile, but it's so fun that you'll barely notice time going by. Said challenges include going through a Super Mario Brothers-themed 2D platformer stage, escaping from Zebes before it explodes, and climbing Icicle Mountain. As for All Star mode, it's an unlockable single player mode in which you take your character of choice through a gauntlet of battles that will pit you against all of the other characters of SSBM. It begins with a fairly simple one on one duel, but the difficulty grows until you're facing a three on one against some damn tough AI. Damage carries over from one fight to the next, and you're allotted only three Heart Containers for strategic healing. But much like FF7's Battle Arena, deciding between when to stop and rest or how to move forth can mean the difference between winning and losing.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to single player. The old Smash Brothers only had Board the Platforms and Break the Targets as extra single player modes, and both were fairly easy. SSBM however has a bigger, better Break the Targets, a Home Run Contest in which you smash a sandbag as far as you can, a Multi-Man Melee in which you take on various types of fights against Wire Frames, and 51 Event Mode scenarios in which you must complete special tasks in special situations. There are also an absolute ton of things to unlock in the game. There are 25 total characters, 29 total battle stages, 51 total Event Mode scenarios, and a whopping 290 trophies that can only be collected by near-mastery of the game. To get all of those trophies, you'll have to do damn near everything in the game. You're still reading this review and not getting to the unlocking because...?

And it goes beyond even that. To get all of those trophies, you'll have to earn every single post-battle award, including such annoyances as No Damage Clear and Lethal Weapon

Want more? SSBM certainly has it. You know those special messages that pop up after completing certain tasks, such as "Random Stage Select is now available in Additional Rules!" You'll have to play one million multiplayer matches and beat each single player mode on Very Hard with a stock of one, among other daunting tasks, if you want to see all 60 of them. For the less insane, but still hardcore completionist in you, you can't just not beat the 100 man melee with every character, unlock all the characters/stages, break 1000 feet in every character's Home Run Contest, find some insane way to score a combo in the thousands in Training Mode, beat all three single player modes on Very Hard with every character, or whatever other off-the-wall challenge you feel like giving yourself. You have to go the extra mile. After all, Super Smash Brothers Melee is the only game known to man that can withstand a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick and still work. Not putting such an awesome game's talents to good use would be a complete waste of your gaming career. And yet despite everything you can do in Melee, it never feels like it has too much to do or that it overstays its welcome. Unlocking and doing everything never feels like a chore. There's a true balance between quantity and fun here, which is a lesson lost upon future games. Two great examples are Brawl and Dissidia: Final Fantasy, which buy into the "throw as much crap in as we possibly can" theory and remove all the fun of doing every possible thing. They make completionism and gaming a chore -- a job. Melee is the absolute perfect level of balance and mass content, and it will likely never be replicated.

With all that out of the way, you still have a deceptively deep multiplayer universe to explore. Few games are as friendly to massive multiplayer parties as SSBM, and the loads of features contained within only make the experience that much better. Stock and Time matches are back, along with a ton of others. Team Battles, Giant Melee, Tiny Melee, Single Button Melee, Fixed Camera Melee, Coin Mode and more will keep the game's multiplayer fresh for hours. Be prepared to lose a ton of sleep, especially if you and your friends like to hold grudges. You'll also be able to control and manipulate every facet of a multiplayer fight, from how many players are in it to how many (and how often) items appear to the damage ratio to even an unlockable feature that allows you to pick and choose which stages can appear when randomizing them, plus so much more. Multiplayer also retains all of those little things that made the experience so wonderful in the original, such as handicaps and customizable AI for when you don't have any friends around to beat into a pulp. SSBM also retains that lovely little aura that causes the majority of its players to attempt to hone their skills to the highest level possible. Tournament-level SSBM has become a very popular pastime, and the massive number of intricacies in tournament-level play in the game is astounding.

The aforementioned simplistic control scheme in which every character has the same button combinations for their moves (a feature that fighting games have been sorely lacking in virtually every series outside of SSB) makes for an odd gameplay challenge in which challenge comes not from control mastery, but almost entirely from the players. This is never more apparent than in tournament level play, where pure mind games and the lightning-quick abuse of game physics make for some of the most entertaining gaming experiences a gamer could ever witness. And given that just about everyone who plays the game with any degree of regularity knows the controls inside and out, one has to go very deep into gameplay mechanics to get a notable edge on other players. This isn't like Guilty Gear where winning requires more technical knowledge of combo execution. Everyone in Melee starts out on fairly even ground, and you have to win based on player skill rather than technical know-how. Yes there's Wavedashing and related things, but none of it is overly difficult to learn. Some traditional 2D fighting abilities are flat-out unavailable to some gamers, which is not true in Melee.

This creates a very competitive, fairly even environment that forces many SSBM players to go quite insane in exploring every control trick known to the community in an effort to get an edge. This desire to improve paired with the level playing field and unique gameplay formula creates one of the most addictive fighting experiences of all time, which is in a nutshell why SSBM has aged so well. The SSB series came along and delivered just the right formula at just the right time, and SSBM nearly perfects it. Brawl might have been a sales success, but it missed out on Melee's magic. Brawl was an oversized, disappointing sequel. Melee was and continues to be lightning in a bottle.

Lost in all of the talk about SSBM's perfect gameplay is that the graphics and music are equally wonderful. The soundtrack in particular is outstanding, and nearly every track is worth putting on loop for hours. And make sure to spend some time admiring the backgrounds and graphics of the game, because it feels like HAL truly went all-out to make the visuals as stunning as everything else. Fine detail is given to nearly ever phase of every section of the game, and there are even a few easter eggs lying in wait for those who play close attention -- such as the Moon from Majora's Mask being in the background of the Great Bay battle stage.

SSBM is like Othello in that it takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master. And given that the game simply doesn't get old or boring, you may very well find yourself dedicating copious amounts of time into feeble attempts at mastering the game for life.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/24/06, Updated 02/08/10

Game Release: Super Smash Bros. Melee (US, 12/03/01)

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