Review: Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN)

Better than Brawl?

We live in a world of advanced communication. We can be sitting in our living room in Columbus, Ohio and play a game of Call of Duty with our friends in Vietnam. We could even put a headset on and have a conversation with them while we do so. We can whip out our Nintendo DS consoles and play a game of Mario Kart against complete strangers across the planet, and after we're done, we can hop back online and invade our buddy's town on Animal Crossing: Wild World and pluck all his hybrid flowers.

This is incredible stuff. And it's become so deeply integrated into our lives that we hardly even notice it all anymore.

But there are some games that are just better with a friend — and not some random Welshman with six zeroes in his screen name who you friend requested while playing Halo. We mean a living, breathing friend (because how do we really know that the Welshman isn't just a robot trying to hack into your system?), sitting in the same room as you, on the same couch, who you can punch in the arm when he or she cheats and talk smack to when you finally beat their sorry behind after hours of defeat. We may live in a world of advanced communication, but some games are just more fun the old fashioned way.

Super Smash Bros. Melee is one of those games. Since they unveiled that the Nintendo 64 would have not two but four controller slots, Nintendo has consistently focused on facilitating gamers with some of the best local multiplayer experiences money can buy, and Melee is no exception. It capitalised on everything that worked about its flawed predecessor while fixing everything that didn't, and even though its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, would expand upon everything even further, Melee is still a single- and multiplayer gem that's well worth experiencing even in the face of its successor.

For the three of you out there who are uninitiated, the Super Smash Bros. series is essentially a big excuse for Nintendo to bask in its glory — and for Nintendo fanboys to drool uncontrollably. With a roster packed full of classic and obscure Nintendo characters, a huge selection of stages based on locations from Nintendo games, and a soundtrack made up of remixed and remastered Nintendo tunes, the Smash Bros. games practically explode with wonderful self-indulgence.

But it's the gameplay that makes it all so much fun. Combining the fighting basics of Street Fighter II with the accessibility and frantic nature of Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. is easily the most unique and user-friendly fighting series on the market. The object of the game essentially comes down knocking your opponent off the screen. The more you hit your opponent, the more damage they'll take; and the higher their damage is, the easier it will be to knock them out. Its accessibility doesn't make this a mindless button masher, either — there's a surprising amount of depth and nuance to the seemingly simple system, meaning the games are easy to enjoy both for casual newcomers and seasoned veterans.

If there was one problem with the original Super Smash Bros. it was the distinct lack of... well, stuff. It essentially consisted of a weak, repetitive single player campaign, a multiplayer mode, and two fairly boring challenges. To rectify the situation, HAL Laboratory has packed Melee with so much stuff that it's genuinely shocking that the little GameCube disc doesn't spontaneously combust.

Whereas the original had but one short and relatively unchallenging single player campaign, Melee sports three, the two new ones being Adventure Mode and All-Star Mode. Adventure Mode is essentially a platforming/ fighting hybrid not unlike Brawl's Subspace Emissary, albeit much shorter and with a heavier emphasis on fighting. The unlockable All Star Mode is by far the most challenging, and pits the player against every fighter in the game, one after the other, with limited health pickups. But despite these worthwhile additions, Melee's rendition of the original game's campaign is actually the most fun. Here titled Classic Mode, the player dukes it out against a series of increasingly difficult fighters in the attempts of getting at the end boss, Master Hand, while participating in a number of fun little events along the way. The difference here is that all the fighters you encounter (not to mention their sizes and abilities) are completely random, meaning you'll never play the same way twice.

The single player options don't stop there, though. A ruthless series of challenges are available in, well, Challenge Mode, and some fun diversions like the technique-testing Home Run Contest and endurance-focusing Multi-Man Melee have been thrown in for good measure.

Obviously, though, the main attraction here is the extraordinary multiplayer, and Nintendo has included a wealth of options to make sure you never run out of new and exciting ways to play. Everything can be customised, from the length of the match and number of lives to the amount of damage with which the players start. Individual items can be turned on and off, and the frequency with which they appear can be altered; this proves to be quite a blessing, as a number of the items, such as the hammer and the baseball bat, come across as rather unfair.

With 25 fighters, dozens of stages, and nearly 300 trophies to collect, this is one game of which you won't soon grow tired. But as if that wasn't enough, in addition to the standard time/ stock/ team matches, Melee introduced an entirely new way to play — Coin Matches. In this mode, players drop coins whenever they are hit; the harder you're hit, the bigger and more valuable the coins are. This put an interesting new twist on the classic formula, since the emphasis here is not on dying and getting kills but on collecting the most coins. In addition to this mode, there are a number of other things that Melee set the foundation for, the most fun of them being Special Melees. These riotous matches allow the player to put ridiculous twists — like fast-motion, low gravity, or making all the players invisible — on the already frantic gameplay.

Even if you're playing by yourself you can still get in on the multiplayer madness by substituting friends for computer players. While obviously not as much fun, it can prove to be quite a meaty challenge — you can customise the difficulty of the AI, and the upper level comps are noticeably more brutal than in the series' other entries.

Brawl may be bigger and prettier, but as far as gameplay is concerned, Melee still comes out on top as the most balanced fighting game in the series. The physics, for one thing, are distinctly less floaty than those of Brawl; this not only helps add to the fast paced nature of the game, but it also keeps the random-chance factor down to a minimum when it comes to deaths and KO's.

Unfortunately, the game's visuals haven't aged quite as well as its gameplay. While the character models are generally solid, many of the backgrounds and secondary characters are a bit low polygon, at times to the point of being N64-like in quality. The soundtrack, however, while not as beautifully orchestrated as its successor, is still a real treat for Nintendorks everywhere. It's hard not to grin while hearing Melee's epic rendition of the hilariously bad DK Monkey Rap, and its arrangement of the Fountain of Dreams theme is undeniably powerful.

Conclusion

Even in light of its critically acclaimed sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee still comes highly recommended, with its relentlessly addictive, well-balanced multiplayer and impressive amount of content. The physics are different enough that even those who mastered Brawl yet missed out on Melee will still have plenty to learn, and its various challenges and single player campaigns are still a blast to play through nine years later. Furthermore, it's a nice reminder that even in a world where online multiplayer often takes the front seat, playing with your buddies in the same room, on the same couch, will always be more rewarding.

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