This past 2018 Holiday season, several million Switch units were sold and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a huge part of this sales victory for Nintendo. This major crossover features an enormous cast of characters from Nintendo and beyond, some of the tightest controls you'll see in a fighting game, and combat that is easy to learn, yet challenging to master. You combine all these pros and the fact that the series has been successful in the past, it's no wonder the game is doing so well! Even though I'm not the best at it, the game is both fun and satisfying for players of all skill levels.
So I can't help but look back with fondness at another Holiday season. 17 years prior. A specific date, really. December 3rd 2001. A month after the GameCube launch, on this day, Super Smash Bros. Melee was released (Pikmin, too!). The timing of this sequel couldn't have been more perfect. 2 years had passed since the original Super Smash Bros. came out, and we were already getting a new one? This is the only time in the series history where we wouldn't have to wait FOREVER for the next one.
As much as I like the GameCube, I feel like the actual launch titles were more of the okay side. Luigi's Mansion is fine, but I never saw that as a game you'd want to rush to the store to buy. Wave Race Blue Storm I had a lot of fun with, but it is very difficult and will not appeal to the average gamer, and I could even say the same thing about Pikmin. But Melee? I don't remember anybody who wanted a Gamecube who DIDN'T want Melee!
I was pretty hyped for the game. This would be the first Smash game I would physically own. I was reading what I could about it in the game magazines and seeing the low quality Quicktime trailers online; digging for whatever information I could get. The T rating was also mildly shocking to my 11 year old self. What's this, were we gonna get some kind of Mortal Kombat style affair? The game wasn't bloody at all, but it certainly was more explosive.
During my teen years, I had said that Melee is twice the game that the original Super Smash Bros. was. I still believe that there is some truth to that statement. It might even not give Melee enough credit. It featured more than double the cast and double the stages of the original Super Smash Bros. But more than that, the game is extraordinarily well polished considering its relatively short development cycle.
When you pop in the Melee disc you're greeted to this kickass intro wherein the cinematic is perfectly timed to this bombastic orchestral music and the characters are doing their thing. It is one of my favorite intros in any game and gets me pumped up to play! The pre-rendered cutscenes, few that there are, are a blast to watch and the ones made in the game engine are cleverly put together!
A lot of the music in the game was performed by an orchestra (credited in game and on the Nintendo Power soundtrack as "Orchestra Melee") and this one touch makes everything more dramatic and exciting! The Gourmet Race from Kirby sounds very silly in the original games, but the Melee arrangement is surprisingly somber. The orchestral arrangement of the Star Fox music in Corneria sounds like it could fit naturally in an epic space opera film.
But I haven't even gotten into the game modes or the actual feel of the game! One of the keys to the original Smash Bros' success was the simplicity of the combat and the moves, especially compared to that of it's peers like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Melee makes things a little bit more complex by adding side-B moves, allowing you to charge your Smash attacks and putting more of an emphasis on dodging, rolling, evasion, aerial combat and the like. This added complexity allowed for Smash Bros. Melee to create its competitive community which still thrives to this day and is maintained by some of the most hardcore and enthusiastic gamers out there. Simply put, Melee MAXIMIZED the unconventional design of the GameCube controller and even many years later, players raised on Melee will not want to play Smash Bros without one. So, no wonder Nintendo made peripherals years later that allow you to use one in Smash 4 and Smash Ultimate, and even rolled out new GameCube controllers.
Even though Melee can be adjusted to play as a serious and competitive game, at it's heart, it's very silly. This is a game where you can have a serious, intense duel on Final Destination with Fox and Marth -- NO ITEMS-- and then two minutes later try to blow up your friend over the Kanto skies with a bunch of Pokemon, or have a Giant Melee as Bowser and Donkey Kong on top of Fourside like you're making you're own Kaiju film.
Everything got expanded upon from the original. The classic mode was a nice update of the original Smash Bros. single player mode, but that was not all, folks! The Event Match challenges, Target Tests and Adventure Mode were also there to keep us busy! I got the most joy out of the Adventure mode. Adventure Mode was essentially like playing through all the old Nintendo games, except it's Smash. Super Mario Bros with more punching, a Zelda dungeon to explore, a Metroid escape sequence and we even got to be an unfortunate pedestrian stuck on an F-Zero racetrack!
During in-game downtime, I spent an irresponsible amount of time collecting the in-game trophies and reading them. I loved the trophies! Some of them had misinformation but they gave a look into Nintendo's long and complicated history. Because of the trophies, I learned about so many different games I had never heard of before like Panel de Pon, Card Hero, Donbe and Hikari, Doshin the Giant, Animal Crossing, Famicom Detective Club and Devil World. Besides being a fun action game, Smash Bros Melee is educational!
And speaking of games people never heard of before, Melee largely introduced Fire Emblem to a Western audience with the inclusion of Marth and Roy, and the Fire Emblem theme. I only knew of Marth because his sword makes a cameo in Kirby's Dreamland 3 and I read in a magazine somewhere that "the Falchion is a sword the belongs to Mars (Oh, the joys of Romanization), the protagonist of Japan-only RPG Fire Emblem". Melee raised a lot of intrigue about Fire Emblem and slowly but surely it would become one of Nintendo's bigger international franchises.
Melee was Roy's first appearance in a video game as a special preview for Fire Emblem 6. And, you could even argue that Melee introduced Mr. Game and Watch who wasn't really a distinct person before Melee. He's more like an embodiment of every single Game and Watch title. So the game introduced at least one new character, helped show some new faces who hadn't officially been seen outside of Japan and even made characters like Zelda and Ganon playable for the first time in a game! CD-i Zelda doesn't count.
After about a month of playing Melee nearly non-stop (at least 4 or 5 hours every day), I had unlocked just about every stage and character minus Final Destination. That would have to wait until March. And I guess if there's one complaint I could make about Melee, is that it takes too long to unlock everything. I'm pretty sure that in order to get Mewtwo, you have to have the game on for at least 20 hours. That's... a lot. Getting everything in the game is certainly a commitment and I didn't have the time off from middle school. I have no idea how I could have unlocked everything in a month's time.
The other issue I had with the game is more of a personal problem. I read online that Game and Watch was the last character to unlock in the game. And once I got him, this feeling of emptiness set in. There were so many other Nintendo characters I wanted to see in a Smash Bros game! Wario, Pit, King Deedee, Meta Knight, King K Rool, Dixie Kong, Paper Mario, Isaac from Golden Sun, Balloon Fighter, Ryota Hiyami, Samurai Goroh, Skull Kid.... I had ZERO expectations for Melee's roster, but once I had played the game and obtained all of the characters, it wet an appetite for more! I thought to myself "well, maybe they'll make another Smash in 2 or 3 years and I'll see some of those guys". Though a lot of my wishes were granted, I would have to wait close to 7 years for more Smashing.
So that's my very biased, very nostalgic take on Super Smash Bros. Melee as someone who was there during the pre-release hype and the Dawn of Melee. I don't think we all would have been so hyped for Ultimate if Melee didn't set the bar so high in the first place! Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d have a game with 70+ characters and that Mario would be doing fisticuffs with the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Solid Snake and Cloud from FF7! Happy New Year and Good Smashing to y'all!