Super Smash Bros. appeared out of nowhere and quickly became one of the most beloved multi-player games on the Nintendo 64, joining the high ranks of Mario Kart and Goldeneye. Players were drawn to its simple play mechanics, fast action, and the chance to kick the living crap out of that little bitch Pikachu. So it’s no wonder that the follow-up game, Super Smash Bros. Melee (or Super Smash Bros. DX as it’s called in Japan) has become one of the most highly anticipated titles for the newly released Gamecube. The good news is, the game improves upon its predecessor in every respect; the bad news is, your thumbs are going to get very sore from playing this game so much. The Facts Play as your favorite Nintendo heroes and villains Arenas themed in various classic Nintendo settings dating back to the 8-bit era Improved A.I. will challenge even the best SSB veterans Greatly expanded one-player mode offers more replay value Many more multi-player options and scenarios 2-D gameplay set in beautifully detailed 3-D worlds A symphonic score recreates many favorite Nintendo theme songs including the Mario theme, the Zelda theme, and many more that you wouldn’t expect Gameplay and Control Super Smash Bros. Melee (SSBM) is a fighting game, but not in the typical sense. Whereas, most fighting games require you to simply beat your opponent until his or her health meter falls to zero, Smash Bros. feels more like a Nintendofied version of King of the Hill. The battle arenas sit atop various platforms in the sky, which happened to be themed to specific Nintendo game. Instead of a health bar, characters get a damage reading at the bottom of the screen that displays how much the characters are damaged. If they meet with another player’s fists (or whatever they have), the percentage of damage increases. As the damage increases, direct blows will propel them outward until they can no longer stay on the board and fall off. At that point the one who sent them flying is awarded a point, the fallen characters re-spawn with 0% damage, and the battle continues. Whoever has the most points at the end of the match wins. You can also play a stock match in which each player is granted a certain number of lives. Every time you fall off the board, you lose one life. The last remaining character on the board wins the match. Further separating SSBM from its fighting game brethren, is its control scheme, whose roots stem more from the old-school 2-D platformers of yesteryear than from classic fighting games. Simply using a combination of the A or B along with the control stick can perform the most basic moves and even some of the more exotic ones. Thankfully, the same button/control stick combos can be used to activate moves for different characters. So when you’re learning how to use someone new, it only takes a short while to figure out what he or she can do. For those of you familiar with the first game, the controls for this one will seem very familiar. As you might expect, the control stick moves your character. The A button activates the standard punch attack, while the B button handles special moves for each character. For instance, hitting B with Mario causes him to spit fireballs while pressing it with Link makes him shoot arrows. The X and Y button jump (as does pushing the control stick up) and the L and R buttons use your character’s shields. The Z button can be used as a standard punch button, or it can be used to grab onto an opponent. I won’t go into any more detail since doing so would not only be boring and redundant but would also ruin some of the surprises to be found in the game. The controls may not sound like much, but they manage to fit it a large number of moves for each character that can respond to pretty much any situation imaginable. In other words, there’s a great deal of depth to be found in these controls. Easy to learn, impossible to master. That’s the Nintendo way. The original Smash Bros. featured two main modes of play: single player and multi-player. As you can expect both of those modes exist on this game as well, but you will find that your options under each category greatly expanded. Let’s start with the single player mode. In the original Smash Bros., the single-player mode consisted entirely of a battle circuit in which players faced a lineup of challengers in order to meet and defeat a supreme foe at the end. This game certainly features this option (called the “Classic” play mode) but there are now several other options that should occupy gamers for a long time: Adventure Mode This mode truly blurs the boundaries between 2-D platformer and fighting game. In it, you must navigate through several side-scrolling levels in order to reach battle arenas where they face appropriate challengers who fill the role of the big bad boss. In fact, the very first level in this mode resembles a classic Super Mario Bros. game so well, that it made me ache for an old-school platformer like this. Event Match This is a series of 30 battles, each with a unique objective and scenario. The idea is to complete the objective and move on to the next battle. For instance, one level asks you to defeat Captain Falco with 7 seconds. Another pits you against Link and Samus on a level covered in bombs. These battles offer unique and interesting challenges and become more difficult as you advance. Stadium This option gives you three more choices: Target Test, Home Run Contest, and Multi-Man Melee. The Target Test places each character on a unique board occupied by 10 targets. Your job is to break each target without falling over the edge. The Home Run Contest gives you a homerun bat, a sandbag, and 10 seconds to smack that sandbag as far as it will go. Finally, the Multi-Man Melee acts as an endurance test, seeing how many enemies you can defeat in a certain period of time. Training It’s just what you would expect. This mode teaches you the basics. Team up with a sparring partner and learn what your character can do in a non-competitive format. Hal Laboratories has also added several new options to the multi-player mode. In addition to the traditional Melee Mode—a free-for-all, fight-for-your-life mode—the game now features a formal tournament mode for up to 64 players, so you can finally see who’s the best player of all your friends, family and neighbors. There are also several “Special Melee” scenarios that offer interesting gameplay opportunities you can’t recreate yourself. For instance in one scenario, Super Sudden Death, everyone always re-spawns with 300% damage (which is quite a bit for those of you who don’t know), meaning that one good hit will send you and everyone else flying. One mode gives everyone 150 health points; the last one standing wins. And another conducts the battle in slow motion. There are more, but I think you get the point. Another critical area of the game that has been improved is the AI of the computer opponents. Now, I hate to brag, but I played a fair amount of the original Super Smash Bros. in my time, and I had mastered the art of dealing with computer opponents. Even at 9, their highest difficulty level, I could consistently win match after match after match. Yet, when I picked up this game, I found myself struggling to keep up with some of the better CPU players. Granted, part of that had to do with learning the game on a new controller and the slightly different feel from one game to the next, but even after several days of play, I find myself losing to any CPU player with a difficulty level of 7 or higher. I must give props to Hal Laboratories for giving even the most seasoned veterans a challenge. If the game has any faults at all, it may be in the fact that some of the opponents are too difficult. Sometimes, you’ll deliver a severe blow to an opponent with well over 200% damage (the most powerful punch you can throw) and still they will not fall off the board. This can be very frustrating, especially if you want to clear an Event Match level. I guess the best thing I can do to solve this problem is to just practice any more. Another problem with the game lies with one oversight in its control scheme. Specifically the use of the Z button to grab enemies proves troublesome, since your right index finger does not naturally fall over that space. If you want to grab onto someone to throw them, you must move your finger to the appropriate spot to do so. I believe that this function should have been assigned to the X button, which serves as a jump button along with the Y button and the up direction on the control stick. Really, do we need that many buttons just to jump? Graphics With wide selection of happy, bright colors and cartoon characters, this game is a nightmare for anyone only plays “mature” games. For the rest of us, we are treated to a delightful palette of eye-candy. To say that the graphics have improved over the original would be like saying that God is kind of powerful. In order to accommodate four-player action on the N64, Hal Laboratories had to restrict the game’s visuals with simple, low-polygon levels and poorly detailed characters. With the Gamecube... not a problem. Not only do the arenas look more interesting, but also the character models are rendered with stunning detail. The female fighters may not make you horny, but that’s all right. You’ll still appreciate the quality of the visuals. I promise. Let me also add that the game runs at a consistent 60fps without any slowdown at all. That’s right... none. If it’s happened, I haven’t seen it. Also the game outputs a progressive scan signal, so if you have a TV capable of producing 480p, prepare for an added boost in visual quality. Sadly though, the game lacks a 16:9 mode. Sound Perhaps SSBM’s most surprising attribute is its music score. As in SSB, this one borrows themes and other songs from various games throughout Nintendo’s catalogue of titles. However, the quality of the tunes has been boosted mostly thanks to a score that is surprisingly symphonic. Even though it was great to hear some of those classic songs updated for the 64-bit era, they still sounded like midi files from a videogame. In SSBM, the songs sound like a full orchestra is performing them. The results are sweet indeed. In fact, the orchestrations in this game best what Factor 5 did with Rogue Leader. At any rate, all I can say is I hope I unlock the music test mode soon, because I want to be able to just listen to these tunes without the mayhem of battle getting in the way. The sound effects and voice samples in the game also sound very good. Fortunately, the all the voice samples sound as if they game from the first game, which is very good since I do not care to hear Mario with a strikingly different voice. I cannot verify whether the game supports Dolby Pro-Logic or not, but I do play the game in DPL mode and the sound spreads across the front soundstage very nicely. I have not noticed much coming from the surrounds though. Final Thoughts I loved Super Smash Bros. on the N64. Now that I have this game, I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to play it again. Basically, Super Smash Bros. Melee has forced the original into obsolescence. Seriously, there is no need to have the original anymore if you buy this game. And buy it you should. If you loved the original, there’s no way you can possibly dislike this game. It has everything you can find in the first one, plus more characters, more arenas, better graphics, better sound, the same great control scheme, and dozens of multiplayer and single-player options to keep you occupied for a long while. For those of you who never played the original, know that it is indeed a great multiplayer game as well as a great single-player game. It may also be the best fighter on the console for quite some time. So if fighting games are your thing, definitely get a copy. I think it’s too early to say that this is the best game so far for the Gamecube, but I will say that it is the only game I have sat down and played for almost 8 hours straight. That’s saying a lot for a guy who can usually only sit down and play a game for an hour-and-a-half at most. Here’s a special note to anyone who imported a Japanese Gamecube: The Japanese version contains a language switch that turns all of the menus and text in the game (with the exception of the main title screen) into English. So if you can and want to import it and get a head start on everyone else, feel free.