Wow. I remember first getting Super Smash Bros. Melee and when you boot up the game and that amazing cinematic opening plays, that blew me off my socks. As great as the Nintendo 64 original was, it was small in scale and didn’t actually have much content to it. Heck, what goes for a story mode was padded out by having you fight untextured polygon models. Melee was big and, to many, it remains the definitive Super Smash Bros. experience to this day.
Set speed to 120% GOOOOO!
Melee is everything its predecessor was and bigger, but most prominently, this game is fast. Gone are the floaty, simple controls of the last game. While Melee retains the simple button-combinations to pull off every move, the moveset is now expanded and very responsive. Skill and timing are now much more essential, which is reflected in tournament tier lists where fast, agile characters rank highly, while sluggish powerhouses like Bowser rank at the bottom.
Bowser? Darn right we got Bowser. Melee expands the character roster to a respectable 26 heroes, 11 of which have to be unlocked before they become available. All the characters from the first game return with upgraded movesets and many new faces are added. Among these are Zelda, The Ice Climbers, Peach, and Bowser, all of which have interesting and fitting playstyles. Zelda is my favorite, as she can transform into Sheik to switch her magic-based moves for the high-speed ninja tricks of Sheik.
And the stages are also fantastic. While I miss nostalgic battlegrounds like the roof of Silph Co., the new stages are just plain better and much more dynamic. The Kirby stage with the tree, for example, can now blow winds in two directions and has blocks falling in a semi-random pattern to form a wall at the sides. Mute City is a fight taking place on a race track where players must dodge cars, The Great Bay has all sorts of Zelda-related antics going on, and the Ice Climber level forces players to move by scrolling upwards. I don’t like all stages, but most of the ones I am mixed on are unlockables.
While this game has endless multiplayer appeal and is still the go-to Smash game for professional gamers, it also has a lot more singleplayer content packed in. There is still a mode where you fight a series of enemies concluding with a final boss, but this time the encounters are semi-random. There is now also an “adventure” mode, in which you do several challenge stages between battles. For example, you’ll be navigating a small labyrinth filled with Zelda monsters before fighting Zelda herself, or platforming around the Mushroom Kingdom before the fight with Mario. This adventure mode is fun, but also really long and tough in a number of places; definitely not something you want to just fire up for a quick round of Melee.
There are also bonus games like the Break The Target challenges, a Homerun Contest to see how far you can hit a bag, and 50-something event matches that offer special challenges. Not only is it a whole lot of extra stuff to do in case you are alone and tired of regular matches with bots, these also have a steady difficulty curve that can help you find playstyles and improve your skills.
Like I said, Melee is everything the first game was, but with more of everything. More items, more stages, more characters, more singleplayer content. I do have to say, however, that the improved controls have made Melee a more hardcore game. Playing it right after I finished the previous game felt like stepping into a Formula 1 car right after getting your license. Even on normal the AI was wiping the floor with me, as poor timing is punished harshly and even the computer can make great use of the improved potential for devastating combos. I admit that I was getting pretty darn frustrated when I would keep dying in the final stages of classic or adventure mode.
Gameplay score: 9/10
In my review, I said that Super Smash Bros. was a loving homage to Nintendo’s rich history. That remains true with Melee, which adds franchises like Ice Climbers, Fire Emblem, and even the old Game & Watch pocket games to the roster. At the same time, Melee is a prime example of how powerful the Nintendo GameCube was and how capable its game designers were.
It has the visual upgrades you’d expect. Of course, all the models are now vastly improved and look more refined than the polygonal early days of 3D. Of course, there is more visual flair and music sounds so much better than it did before. Those were certainties to begin with. Melee goes so much further and you feel that it’s going to be special the moment that fantastic intro video starts playing.
There is such an atmosphere to this game, with Fountain of Dreams being my absolute favorite stage in the entire game, despite not being that special from a mechanical viewpoint. It’s a flat space with 3 platforms that kind of change height every now and then, but it looks and sounds so beautiful. Places like Brinstar and Mute City don’t just remind you of Nintendo’s history, they are nostalgic to fight in. It’s a game bursting with personality and thanks to the animated art-style, it remains good-looking to this very day.
Presentation score: 10/10
Show your moves!
As I said before, the game has 11 unlockable characters and a number of secret stages, which is an exciting upgrade over the original game. However, it also has to be said that not every character is as unique. Firstly, some of the secret characters from the first game return as secret characters here, which lessens the surprise somewhat. On top of that, some of the characters play very similarly to others and some of the unlockable stages aren’t that great either.
The unlock criteria is also all-over-the-place, with some characters being easy to get, whereas others require feats like completing classic mode with every single fighter or beating some of the hardest challenges available. A great alternative, however, is that you also unlock these characters through regular matches. If you and your friends play often enough, you can neglect the tougher criteria and just get these heroes by doing enough matches.
A cool new feature are the trophies, which are collectible statues of characters, items, and places belonging to Nintendo franchises. These are found during adventure mode or can be gambled for with the in-game coins you earn from playing. Each statue is accompanied with a bit of lore, turning them into a collectible museum with a bunch of nostalgia worked into it.
Extras score: 7/10
Melee is a favorite for many and for good reasons. It’s a more competitive game that both demands and rewards skill. While this can lead to some frustration as you are getting into it, those who persevere will find Melee to be nostalgic, entertaining, and filled to the brim with content.
- More and improved singleplayer content.
- Pays respect to all the games it draws elements from.
- Beautiful visuals and music, despite its age.
- Tight controls with a high skill ceiling.
- More characters, more items, more stages, more everything.
- Not all the unlockables feel worth it.
- Adventure mode is lengthy and not randomized.