While I’d like to review an actual old Game and Watch game, and I’m sure there’s probably some way of doing that, every other series that debuted in Melee has an easier-to-play game to represent them in this countdown, so rather than skip Melee, here we are! Super Smash Bros. Melee was when the series properly clicked with me and my friends. Countless hours playing against each other with two A.I.s, unlocking characters and trophies, or just playing Home Run Contest… Let’s have a look at it then!
I was going write “Falcoooon Punch!” but I just realised it’s the uppercut move… Oh well…
Super Smash Bros. Melee was released in Japan on November 21st 2001, with a US release the following month. Those of us here in Europe on the other hand had to wait until May 2002 to get our hands on it…
Along with the 12 characters from the original, Melee added Bowser, Peach and… *sigh* Dr. Mario from Mario Bros., Zelda (with a Sheik transformation) Ganondorf, and Young Link from Legend of Zelda, Mewtwo and Pichu from Pokemon, Marth and Roy from Fire Emblem, Falco from Star Fox, the Ice Climbers from Ice Climber, and finally Mr. Game and Watch, representing the character-less Game and Watch series of early Nintendo gadgets.
Famously (within gaming circles) Marth and Roy’s inclusion in Melee was most English-speaking people’s first exposure to the Fire Emblem series, and lead to eventual English language ports of the series.
I couldn’t find a good screenshot of Adventure Mode, so I took a screengrab of a Youtube video (hence why it’s a different ratio to the other ones) … Maybe one day I’ll be able to capture screenshots from 6th and 7th Gen consoles…
The gameplay remains pretty similar to Smash 64, though adds a few new things, like a side Special attack for one. For the uninitiated, it up to four characters on-screen, instead of health bars characters have damage percentages that as they get higher the easier it will be to knock them off the screen, which is how you defeat people in the game. You can use regular attacks (which can be charged while holding a certain direction, known as “Smash Attacks”) and Special Attacks, as well as jump, block and dodge. Most commonly it’s either each character has a limited amount of lives (or “Stocks”) and it’s last man standing, or it’s a timed match and whoever has got the biggest score at the end wins (defeating an opponent nets you a point, getting K.O’d loses you a point).
There are also items that can drop during play that you can use, from iconic items like the Super Mushroom and the Hammer from Donkey Kong, to more obscure items like Lip’s Stick from Panel de Pon or the “Motion Censor Bomb”, which is clearly the proximity mine from Perfect Dark… You can also use Pokeballs, which when thrown will make a random Pokemon appear and help you during the match for a minute or two. A lot of stages have hazards and gimmicks as well, from holes to the entire stage auto-scrolling. It all combines to create an extremely fun and unique atmosphere.
The single play modes have been greatly expanded. Not only in there still Classic Mode (which can now feature “Crazy Hand” alongside “Master Hand” as a final boss) and Break the Targets (renamed “Target Test”), but there is now All-Star Mode, where you have to fight every character in the game with only three healing items able to be used in between rounds, Adventure Mode, which is a bunch of side-scrolling levels based on various Nintendo franchises, complete with easy grunt enemies to defeat, and finally “Home Run Contest”, which has also been a personal favourite of mine (and my nephews back in the day…) where you have to damage a sandbag and then hit it with the Home Run Bat, the more damage it had the further it will go, along with some other factors.
Multi-player-wise there are the two classic rule sets I outlined in the opening paragraph, but you can also change the rules from simple things like amount of lives and the like, but also rules like “Coin Mode”, where different strengths of hit makes characters drop different amounts of coins, and the person with the most coins wins. You can customise right down to how frequently certain items will appear, or if they appear at all.
You can also collect up to 290 different trophies over the course of the game, featuring characters and items from all over the Nintendo world, and read a paragraph about them. It’s good fun.
Graphics and Sound:
Pikachu delights in the screams of his enemies.
The graphics are still good, even now. Obviously they lack the detail of modern games, and the stage backgrounds and lighting are far worse, but it’s not in any way bad enough to make you notice, and it was certainly great back in the day.
There are close to 40 tracks that can play during stages, ranging from obvious choices to more obscure (as this game does with most things!), including remixed tracks from franchises not featured in the game, like Balloon Fight and Mach Rider. Sound-effects and voice work remains excellent, very satisfying when you get that thudding final hit that send people flying off into the distance.
Final Thoughts (Then):
The endless amount of time I saw this bloody screen…
As I mentioned, or will mention in my Smash 64 review (doing this Smash game reviews in release order when they’ll be going up on the blog in reverse order is doing my head in…) I played the original over a rental period and for a short time before this game, but Melee was when the series became a massive hit with me, and indeed friends and family. It came out when I was fresh from education but it before I had any kind of long-hours job, so me and friends played it TO DEATH. There is no question in my mind what score this got back then…
Final Thoughts (Now):
Kirby devours one Ice Climber in front of the other… heartless pink bastard.
I’m not into the competitive Smash scene, where this game is still played 1v1 with no weapons (boo!) but I can at least say that the game is indeed still very fun to play. I love the chaos the game brings, so I’m very much in the “series got better with each entry” group, but Melee is where the formula was perfected just enough that it’s still extremely fun to play now…