"But why not the original, or Brawl?"
"Quite simply, I don't have those games, so this is the one I'm reviewing"
To answer a few similar questions over the last few months of "Why this and why not that?" I have to point people to the header of the website and the tagline, but most in particular "Leave disappointed" In which case, you got what was offered.
The premise of the game is an interesting one, take a whole bunch of Nintendo’s mascots, outfit them with platform game mechanics and give them a myriad of attacks and moves, then up the ante by giving them weapons, power-ups and other such pickups and let them go mental at each other until either the time runs out or the last one is left standing.
Nintendo certainly know how to milk a game these days, the initial starter roster featuring characters such as Mario, Fox, Pikachu, Link, Peach, Bowser, Kirby, Captain Falcon, Donkey Kong and a LOT more, with more becoming unlocked as the games continue and rounds are won and lost. The final roster has a lot to offer and plenty of variation between distinct characters, and variations of characters (Mario and Dr Mario, Fox and Falco).
The game presents as the ultimate party game, up to 4 players picking a character and systematically beating the shit out of each other in a variety of levels from various franchises. Paying homage to a lot of Nintendo’s history and structure of their games. Samus from Metroid appears and a few of her levels too, serving mainly as a nod and short trip down memory lane for the players that remember, or cared. The game can be customised fully to permit specific items appearing in matches, or none at all, or just Pokémon for a huge fight throwing god-knows-what at each other while creatures that fit in a pocket wreck havoc on almost interplanetary scales of damage.
Each char has the rudimentary move set of attacking in 4 directions, jumps, double jumps (sometimes more), blocking with a bubble that slowly fades, dodges in the air and along the ground, B-Moves in 4 directions for more specifically suited attacks to the character (Mario’s cape, Bowser’s flame throwing and shell spin etc), and 4 smash attacks where the player has to press the direction AND attack at the same time for a harder hitting attack that can be charged too. This is not counting moves that stack and build up, counter attack moves, catch moves and grab/throw moves which alone give the characters a huge variety of attacks and skills. Then they pick up a baseball bat...
The aim of each fight is to knock the opponent out of the area. You can beat on them, smack them around and slap the shit out of each other until the cows come home, but the damage only increases the height and distance they get knocked back. Hitting someone on 10% damage will knock them back a little, hitting someone on 250% damage will likely launch them into the stratosphere (though not always). Smash them off the sides, the top or the bottom and you score the kill/point. Person with the most points at the end of the timer, or if it's a life game, the last one standing, wins.
Some of the levels are static, while most of them are themed from various characters and having changing aspects to the level. A flying airship that travels across an arena, eternally looping Ice Mountains, lava filling death pits, fighting across a race track, the choices and hazards are huge for the game's possibilities, down to the final battle arena that's a simple flat area with no platforms for those that like combat to be decided upon fighting rather than avoiding unbiased hazards.
The single player mode gives people the choice to play the adventure, which is a series of levels themed on various games such as Mario with a level taken from the series with minor enemies within it, to the duels with other characters and making your way towards harder and harder challenges like Metal Characters, mazes to boost your collections and the final battle with a large Bowser (and maybe Giga Bowser) or the Master Hand (and Crazy Hand if you did fairly well), or even worse... a lot of the Game and Watch nutcase characters.
Collectors will find trophies dotted around the games to collect and unlock further things, other collectors will try to receive every battle award from "Switzerland" where you never attack or get hit, to the more elusive "No damage run" where you beat the whole game without being hit even once.
The game doesn't stop there, with the single player challenge mode, 50+ varying challenges that have players trying to fulfil specific criteria while either choosing their character, or being dictated by the computer/setup. Such as a Pokémon match where ONLY Pokémon moves will cause damage and nothing from actual melee will work. To one-on-one duels to try and unlock bonus characters.
Otherwise there's the sandbag that you have to launch within 10 seconds to send it the furthest after beating it up. Or play smash-the-ten targets.
The control system is incredibly responsive, reacting to each twitch and flick of the analogues and button presses, making the characters as nimble as your reactions. You rarely ever feel that the game has stitched you up, but more that a loss or failure is down to the player rather than the game's mechanics. (Except in sudden death... random bob-omb explosions). Some of the levels are better designed than others, with combat taking a back step while people JUST navigate the level and failure to do even that, will likely result in a loss of life (if the fight waits that long).
The game seems to borrow a lot from Power Stone 2, with the moving levels, 4 player chaos and multiple items, but like that game, it also suffers from over congestion. 4 players on screen, each throwing a pokeball, gives another 4 Pokémon on screen doing their moves and some of those moves smother the screen in special effects, it's very easy for people to lose track of their character and accidentally try to control the wrong one, and walk themselves off the edge of the level. (Throw in 4 ice-climbers, leading to 8 characters on screen at once...).
Musically, Smash Brothers Melee comes with a huge accompaniment of remixes from earlier titles tracks, be it from Metroid, F-Zero, Mario, Kirby, Donkey Kong Country and many others, enough to be significant of a change to warrant their inclusion, while also bringing a new flavour that will remind the older players while being upbeat enough to be interesting to the younger players.
Sadly, with the game's huge roster of characters, there's a tier of skill and ability falling in place. Some characters will constantly and consistently outshine and outperform other characters unless there's some heavy luck based pickups doing well for those characters. Though if the opponent is that high in tier, they should have no difficulty in navigating around the attacks and going on to win the battle regardless of the other character's ability and skills. It can get rather one-sided when you're competing faster characters against slower characters or fast-fall characters (gravity does what it wants here) with those that not only fall slowly, but can double, triple, quadruple jump and more. But then, it's not about balance but more about having fun and enjoying the game with the characters you like the most.
The game is the ultimate party game for platform enthusiasts, perhaps not for beat-em-up hardcore nuts. The combat is a little lacking in complexity when you compare it to games like Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive (ignoring the excessive tittage), or even the Street Fighter games, those looking for a more in-depth fighter will find this game coming short against the competition in that regard. Having said that, with the right people this game can become a huge boon to any gamers library of games, on its own though there's the challenge of getting through the single player modes with their difficulties, getting the fastest times but the game really comes into its own with 2-3 friends round and going silly with the fighting.
It's also a great game for settling those pointless playground fights of who'd win between Mario and Kirby, the answer is 'The Off Button'