February 5, 2023

Smash Melee: has it stood the test of time?

“Super Smash Bros. Melee” for the Nintendo GameCube, released in 2001, is one of the oldest and most popular esports games of all time.

“Melee” is a platform fighting game where characters from various video game series battle. Notable series represented in the game are “Mario,” “The Legend of Zelda” and “Pokemon,” creating a cast of diverse fighters. 

Within the 26 character cast, there are five characters that most of the user base primarily plays. 

Fox is a quick, rushdown character, but Falco is similar but is a little slower. Sheik is a rushdown combo oriented character. Marth uses a longsword to poke and combo enemies. Finally, Jigglypuff is a slow, aerial based fighter. 

Each of these characters have had decades of dedicated players that have developed the metagame tremendously. It is widely accepted that these characters are the strongest and most viable fighters in the game. There are other characters that can be successful, but they are also more challenging due to their weaknesses.

Since the release of the game, competitive players have discovered the strongest characters and specific difficult mechanics within the game. Players have had years to develop strong techniques that make it hard for new players to pick up the game. 

Many have had several years of experience playing newer titles in the series, such as “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” for the Nintendo Switch. “Ultimate” is a much more user friendly version of the game with many more characters and less hidden mechanics necessary to play at the top level. 

Luckily, there are many resources online and university students with experience in the game. There are a couple weekly tournaments such Rubesday, a “Melee” tournament every Tuesday at Ruby Tuesdays on Summit St. in Columbus. Attendees are very welcoming to new players.

These resources culminate into a plethora of guides to make learning characters, matchups, and techniques as easy as it can be. However, the need for so much extra research and time investment beyond just playing the game is frustrating and can turn off new players.

Another aspect that can turn new players away is that the techniques necessary for top level play are physically intensive, and other competitors have been practicing them for decades. Some techniques require genuine strain of the wrist and hands to pull off, and it takes a lot of practice to be consistent with them. 

Finally, the last obvious complaint about starting into a game with such a solidified metagame is the matchups between characters. Some moments of fights between characters feel miserable because of the strengths and weaknesses of each fighter. 

This phenomenon exists in all fighting games; however, in “Melee,” some combat is completely hopeless or unavoidable, which is a frustrating aspect in a game where skill expression is so important.

Gameplay screenshot from Super Smash Bros. Melee. Screenshot taken by Satch Garlock via nintendolife.

On the flip side, the gameplay in “Melee” helps to create a robust and satisfying combo game. Players still pull off new and interesting combos that lead to new discoveries. Learning the techniques and common combos for each character and putting these concepts together in strings can be the most satisfying gaming experience some have had in years. 

This game has an extremely dedicated community who have built tools to allow players to internationally play with each other at no risk of any connection issues. 

“Project Slippi,” the online version of “Melee,” created by Jas “Fizzi,” introduced “rollback netcode.” This feature essentially removes all laggy connections from games. Since the game is 21 years old, there was not an easy way for players to play against each other. With this tool, it is as simple as loading up any other multiplayer online game. 

Nintendo, for many years, despised the “Melee” community, as they wanted their consumers to buy their latest products in the series. But recently, they have begun to open up to major “Melee” tournaments and add funding to increase prize pools and production. These are giant steps into maintaining the life of the game, and new players are coming into the scene every day because of the foundation the massive community has built over the last 21 years.

Despite its dated graphics, sound design and sometimes questionable gameplay, “Melee” is still one of the most beautiful, complex and captivating fighting games around today.

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