Review: Super Smash Bros. Melee (Nintendo Gamecube)

Super Smash Bros. Melee
Developer: HAL Labs
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Fighter
Release Date: 12/02/01

It’s hard to believe it has been Six years and change since this game came out. You can still find it for sale at $29.99 NEW at places like Best Buy. How often do you see a game will selling power like this?

SSBM is the oldest title I have still for my Game Cube. The launch titles I bought were Luigi’s Mansion, Super Monkey Ball, and Tony Hawk 4. None of them remain in my collection, although SMB is because I upgraded to the two pack for the Xbox…and found it was decidedly worse on Microsoft’s system of doom.

I thought it would be fun to boot this back up and play it again as we wait for the all new Super Smash Bros. Brawl. After all SSBB is the most hyped game in YEARS and dear god, even if it sucks it will sell millions and millions of copies and be a GOTY contender.

When I first popped the disc in I checked records and noticed I hadn’t played the game since March, 2003. That means it’s been half a decade since I’ve played this game. I’ll be honest that I found both this and the original to be pretty easy/dull compared to the SNK/Capcom fighters I’ve always preferred, but that multiplayer was always amusing, if only to see people get pisses at losing to a Pokemon.

So how does SSBM hold up? We know it’s the highest selling GCN game ever (6 million copies and STILL GOING), but is it a game popular simply because it’s a fanboy mashup, or because it’s a quality fighter deserving of its reputation?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

At first glance, you say “Okay. It’s a fighter. I can play against myself, or I can play against the computer. Seems pretty straight forward.” Really though? It’s not. There is so much to do, I could write an entire review just on the modes. You’ve got 1P Classic modes where you just run through a series of battles until you face a giant hand. You’ve got 1P Adventure where you do battle with CPU opponents while also engaging in a Platformer type levels.

You can also play in multiplayer games, featuring either just you or up to three of your friends. You can customize the battles in some many different ways, setting sizes, items that appear and if the winner is based on Coins, Time, Ko’s, and more. It’s mind-boggling how many different options SSBM gives you. You can have team battles, handicapped matches, or every man for himself.

There’s still more. You can engage in 51 different event challenges, where you have to fulfill specific criteria to win your battle. There’s the Multi-Man Melee where you can take on 100 opponents. Oy. There’s the Home Run Contest, where you try to smash Sandbag as far as you can.

If that isn’t enough for you, there’s also a training mode, a records mode where you can view every statistic possible for the game, a trophy room where you can view trophies that you have won and also unlock new ones via a lottery system, and there’s still more that you’ll eventually unlock.

Hal has packed so many options into this game that it’s embarrassing to look at what other fighters offer you. What Super Smash Bros. Melee lacks in difficulty and gameplay, it more than makes up with a variety of options that is arguably more than every other fighter that came before it – COMBINED.

Modes Rating: 10/10

2. Graphics

SSBM is a cute game, but it’s by no means the best looking game on the Cube. Perhaps this is because it was an almost launch title and the years gave way to much better looking games, but within six months of SSBM’s release, there were still better looking games. Eternal Darkness for example. Even without comparing it to what came after the game, I find Luigi’s Mansion and Super Monkey Ball to be prettier games, in terms of color, animation, and overall design.

What’s here is nice. It’s the best most of the characters had looked up to this point. However there are some noticeable standouts. The entire Pokemon cast looks like they were ripped from the N64 games, and a few actually look worse. That’s kind of sad. The same holds true for the Zelda cast. Of course, SSBM is a faster paced game than any of the Zelda games, or some turn based RPG goodness, so I can understand that the graphics took a step back to ensure a lack of slowdown/lag, Still, the characters are merely decent looking to me.

What saves the game graphically are the backgrounds and level design. Everything here is pretty solid and entertaining visually. I think my favorite is the rotating rock world of Brimstar Depths. There’s a lot of attention to fine detail and texture, so I’m pretty happy with the game in that regard.

There’s only two areas I’d say SSBM isn’t really well done compared to other fighting games, be it 2-D or 3-D: gameplay and graphics. SSBM obviously looks better than a lot of SNK fighters, but in terms of visual appeal, ever Dreamcast games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 look better to me in terms of animation, color, character design, and so on.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

On one hand I feel like I should give the sound of SSBM top marks simply because it’s a collection of the best known Nintendo tracks ever. The DK Rap, the LoZ theme that gets stuck in everyone’s head, the SMB theme (thankfully without Lou Albano singing) and several classic Pokemon tunes no longer in MIDI form.

On the other hand, does a “Greatest Hits” album really deserve more praise than the individual collections? I think not. Especially when the original music for the game that wasn’t spawned from previous games is merely…adequate.

Voice acting is fun and enjoyable, but there is very little of it. It does warm my heart to hear a crowd go “Pika Pika Pikachu!” though when everyone’s favorite electric lagomorph is kicking booty! Sound effects are also well done, when it’s the beam sword slash, the Master hand shooting lasers from its’ fingers, or an F-Zero racing colliding with your character in Adventure Mode.

In all what’s here is good, but I wish the game had also tried to develop quality background tracks instead of relying on the tried but true awesome pieces of music Nintendo has made over the decades.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I’m not a fan of the controls of this game. I never have been, I probably never will be. It’s probably because I’ve spent so much time playing SNK, Midway and Capcom fighters that the GCN controller is just alien to me. After a five year gap of playing, I had forgotten what did what and I had to retrain myself not only how to USE the controller, but also how to hold it. Having a button for jumping took a few battles to get used after the age old titling my joystick up routine in games like King of Fighters.

A good portion of the controls are based on how hard you hit the analog stick. I really hate this, because either I have no sense of touch or the joystick has a hard dime differentiating between a slight tilt and a full on smack. I also find that even though the manual TELLS you can jump just by pressing up, I rarely find this to be so. Even if it DID work properly, the fact the joystick would then mean Jump plus potential for one of three moves, means that the control scheme here was poorly thought out as well as implemented. Other fighting games easily avoid this problem even though it is a similar control style. I’ll have to chalk it up this only being HAL’s second attempt.

Another big problem with the controls is that Dodging/Rolling out of the way of an attack uses the same buttons at blocking. Either of the shoulder buttons will do, but once again, this is how you can tell SSBM was poorly designed control wise. Let’s say you want to dodge, which would be a shoulder button plus down. Oops! Your character has instead used its’ defensive shield and pointed it downwards. Too bad for you.

These are just a few of the concerns I have with the controls. Like with any fighting game, the more you play, the more you unconsciously learn the quirks of the engine of the game and the joystick you are using. Unlike other fighting games, the engine just isn’t very deep or developed. Most of the game is devoted towards giving you collectable knick-nacks rather than a solid and well balanced engine. What’s here is cute, but it’s definitely catering to “Baby’s First Fighter” crowd. There’s nothing wrong with that, and as SSBM sells better than most of the other fighters released over the past few years COMBINED, there’s no reason for HAL to shift gears and fix things.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10


With approximately two dozen characters to play with, and a nigh unlimited amount of options, it’s hard to think of a fighter that’s easier to come back to. There’s always new trophies or stages or characters to unlock. Some characters, like Mewtwo, are only unlocked if you play in Vs. Mode for twenty hours. Others like Mr. Game and Watch only show up after you’ve unlocked everyone else and then beat Classic AND Adventure mode with everyone else. This means you’ll have to play the game for a staggering amount of time just to get everything unlocked. I’ll admit I cheated and left my system on for a full day in an unlimited time battle to get Mewtwo. 20 hours on a single fighting game? Even with games like KoF or Street Fighter, that’s a long time for a genre that you can generally beat in 15 minutes. Thankfully there is an alt mode to unlocking things. Just play enough Vs. battles and the characters will approach you for a battle. Still, when you realize you need about 200 battles for a Pichu, maybe you should just bite the bullet and get good at Event #37.

If you’re a huge Nintendo fan, there’s not a game they’ve put out yet that offers the level of replayability this one has. Even if you’re not, you can spend more time on this than you would with an RPG and still has loads left to unlock.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

SSBM is the easiest fighter I have ever played. I can’t imagine that people have trouble with the IP or VS. mode. The computer has no AI whatsoever. Here’s an example. I just spent the night before I played this reviewing taking on Ness cranked up to max challenge (9). I was do a one fall match, and three seconds later…it was over. THREE SECONDS. And I didn’t do anything. Ness just ran across the screen and jumped down a hole. I was a bit bewildered by this, so I tried it again. He did the same damn thing. So I thought, “Well maybe it’s just the pairing of Yoshi/Ness.” So I tried it with every single character in the game. Same three second fight. Ness appears to have serious self-destructive tendencies. It turns out, through an entire evening of note taking, that characters will perform exactly the same regardless of you play as. There’s no AI at all, just predetermined actions depending on what freaking stage you decide to play on. Doubt me? I dare all of you to play against Ness with a Level 9 AI on Donkey Kong stage and watch for yourself how he consistently hurtles himself to his own grisly demise.

Honestly, if you play this game for more than a few hours, you’ll notice the patterns yourself. When it comes to a straight up one on one computer battle, if you somehow lose, it has to be because you chose to jump off the side of the level. Either that or you are severely mentally retarded.

Things differ a bit with multiplayer against the CPU, but not by much. It’s still stone dumb. The only problem is keeping the computer from knocking the other non human characters off to the point where it gets ahead of you. It’s not very hard, but at least it’s a bit more of a challenge.

Event mode is the only place I’ve had a challenge. That’s mainly because you’re figuring out what the goal is, or the computer gives you enough of a handicap where you’re in for some fancy fingerwork.

If you want any sort of challenge, that’s where playing against other people comes in. The actual FIGHTERS themselves are balanced, so ANY character in the hands of someone who knows how to use them well, even little Pichu, can be dfficult. It’s just too bad the Computer can’t figure out how to play itself.

Poor marks here, and easily the worst area for the game.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

It’s quite novel to put all of one’s A-List characters into a fighter, even ones that haven’t been seen since the days of the NES like the Ice Climbers. A lot of the characters play quite differently from each other, and even Pichu/Pikachu, who are clones of each other play very differently due to subtle differences in their moves.

Factor in two different story modes, a ton of options for multiplayer combat and the best 4 person fighter experience since Power Stone, and you’ve got a lot of outside the box thinking. I may not be a fan of the gameplay or the lack of challenge, but SSBM was really what the fighting genre needed. It was something different combined with the biggest load of fan service EVER.

Home Run Contest, the 100 Man Melee, the 15 MINUTE Melee, and all the other options in the game really help to make SSBM stand out as an innovative and fresh experience, even though it’s the sequel to a N64 game.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

SSBM is amazingly addictive when you first start playing. You want to try all the characters and all the modes and create wacky battles like where everyone is a metal giant and you can only have Pokeballs and bunny ears for items. Then when you unlock something like a new stage or character, it gets even better and you find hours passing in the blink of an eye. It’s even crazier when you play with your friends.

However, the more you play, the less there really is to do. The trophy collection gets old fast, especially with the rate at which the lottery’s percentage of you getting a new trophy drops. You’ll be collecting coins forever, which means replaying the same story mode battles over and over again until you finally have enough coins for a CHANCE at a new trophy. Lame. Same with all the characters. It’s more fun to try out the entire roster here than you would in a game like say Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, but the one player experience just gets dull and repetitive because the computer can’t counter or predict your moves very well, if at all.

Multi-player always offers you something new, but only because of the human factor. It’d be better if there was online play for SSBM like it’s forthcoming sequel on the Wii, but the only game I can think of that did anything online with the Wii was the scoreboard for Ikaruga.

There’s a lot to do and it is easy to get sucked into SSBM, especially if you’re a big Nintendo fan, but a lack of AI prevents me from giving this anymore than a “decent” rating, unless you have severe OCD issues.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s the best selling game for the Game Cube, a certified system seller, and it’s sequel is the most eagerly awaited video game since well…it puts even Halo 3, Fable, and Final Fantasy hype to shame. I think it’s impossible for someone to NOT have fun with this game. Sure it might wear this after a bit for a decent chunk of gamers, but that first time you play, you’ll be laughing and grinning no matter who you are or what system you’re a fanboy for. SSBM has its’ issues, but its guaranteed fun.

Appeal Factor: 10/10

10. Miscellaneous

There are definitely better fighters out there, but when it comes to giving you the most bang for your buck, SSBM takes the gold medal. It’s accessible by any gamer, meaning you won’t be yelling “&*^(*^(*( GEESE HOWARD!” at any time. It has some of the most popular video game characters ever, meaning you finally get to have Pikachu beat Mario on battlefield instead of just the amount of money he brings to Nintendo’s coffers.

There’s all the trophies, stages, unlockable characters, and customizable battles as well.

Simply put, there’s no way I can’t give a perfect score to SSBM here. If a Capcom, SNK, Sammy, or whatever fighter offered even a tenth of the options and items this game has…well, we’d have Marvel vs. Capcom 3 probably.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Modes: 10
Graphics: 6
Sound: 7
Control and Gameplay: 5
Replayability: 7
Balance: 4
Originality: 7
Addictiveness: 6
Appeal Factor: 10
Miscellaneous: 10
Total Score: 72/100

The Inside Pulse

It’s not the best fighting game ever, but propelled into the ranks of a good game through character selection, customization and a fun multi-player experience. If you’re looking for a solid engine or something to challenge you, look elsewhere. SNK vs Capcom: MOTM and Marvel vs Capcom 2 give you almost the same amount of options and fan service, but with a better built engine, so hardcore fighting fans will do better with one of those. SSBM remains one of the best fighting games for people of all skill level and ages though, and it deserves its place as the most popular title on the Game Cube.



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