Super Smash Bros Melee is, quite simply, one of the stand-out titles on the Gamecube (a very underrated console in my opinion). It’s a single-screen cartoon-style brawler with a simple, but addictive gameplay mechanism: playing as one of dozens of popular Nintendo characters, you must fight against up to 3 other opponents and try and bounce them out of the arena.
Melee is designed as a multi-player game. Although there is a single player Quest option, I’ve never found this to be much fun, so it needn’t detain us here. As a multiplayer game though, it is transformed. There’s no online mode, but that works in the game’s favour as getting everyone crowded around the TV in the same room makes for a far better atmosphere. It’s massively satisfying to watch your opponent’s face as you give their on-screen avatar a right good smacking hear them groan in frustration. It’s a real part game where and you can guarantee that there will be lots of banter going to and fro as you gloat, moan and remonstrate with your opponents.
Multi-player mode brings out the competitive instinct in even the most placid of people. If you win a battle, you instantly offer your opponent a rematch in the hope of further rubbing their face in it; lose and you demand a rematch to exact your revenge. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sat down with this game intending to play for half an hour, only to realise my entire night has gone!
Graphics are very, very good; big, bright and colourful and instantly appealing to gamers of all ages. The various Nintendo characters are all instantly recognisable, full of life and have real individual character. The arenas in which the battles take place are similarly impressive. Taken from locations used in other Nintendo Games they provide both a huge amount of variety and will bring a blast of nostalgia for Nintendo fans.
Sound, too, is fantastic. An over-the-top, bombastic tune plays over the title screen and each location has its own catchy little tune which you’ll soon find yourself humming along to. Loud explosions, meaty thumps or slaps and various other quirky sound effects add to the atmosphere, whilst speech is used sparingly, but effectively and the shout of “MELEEEEE!” at the start of each bout still sends a shiver up my spine.
Ultimately, though, Melee succeeds because of its beautifully balanced gameplay and wide character roster, with individual players soon developing an attachment to a particular one. I refuse to play as anyone other than Donkey Kong. I’m not the most subtle of people, so DK’s Gorilla-in-a-China-Shop approach appeals to me. However, no single player can gain an unfair advantage based on the character they choose, because each has particular strengths and weaknesses. Donkey Kong, for example is quite slow, but is also stronger and can inflict (and sustain) more damage; Pikachu, on the other hand is comparatively weaker, but much faster and harder to catch, meaning he can dart in and out, inflicting quick hits on slower players. As such, you need to adapt your defensive and offensive strategy according to the character chosen by the other combatants and the arena in which you are playing.
This is all combined with a massive range of power-ups, from weapons to temporary powers such as invincibility, which further add to the frantic pace of the game. Effective use of these can really swing a battle in your favour, so when they appear, they prompt a massive scramble to be the first to reach it. This increases the already intense competitive element and introduces another random, but strategically important aspect which means that each battle plays out very differently from the previous one.
All these elements combine to create a game which is accessible and appealing even to those who don’t normally enjoy computer games. The well-balanced gameplay, ability to choose a character that suits your style, well-balanced controls and skill-levelling use of power-ups means that it doesn’t matter whether you are an experienced gamer or a newbie; you can still have a fair(ish) fight in which you have a reasonable chance of winning.
The game also features a whole series of unlockable features to discover, including new characters, trophies and even mini-games (before such things were fashionable). These are unlocked via achieving various milestones such as playing a certain number of games or winning a set number of battles etc. Some of these are a lot of fun and give you an extra incentive to keep on playing. Not that you really need it – Super Smash Bros. Melee is one of the most addictive multi-player games I’ve ever come across.
Pick it up and kiss goodbye to your weekend!