The Coming of Melee
When my friends and I first heard of the announcement that our favorite fighting game was going to be getting a sequel and on a more powerful console system to boot, we got very excited to say the least. The news got us instantly discussing our wishes and expectations for this new “Melee” edition of Smash. We wondered what kinds of new characters and stages would be added such as more stuff from the Zelda and Pokémon series, and later even from Golden Sun. There are so many Nintendo characters to choose from all of their series and any of them can make it in. Even Captain Falcon made the roster in the first game with no references to his moves at all since he was just a driver from a racing game. But like Sakurai, the director of the Smash series, showed us in the first game, he was willing to bring obscure characters to life in a whole new environment.
Nintendo made a website before Melee’s release detailing a lot of information about the game which helped curb our enthusiasm. Some of the new characters surprised us like Sheik and Mr. Game & Watch. There was also Marth and Roy who we never heard of before. Sheik looked awesome and had some cool special moves which made Chillin want to main her, especially since he was a big fan of the N64 Zeldas. As for me, Marth and Roy intrigued me since they looked like RPG or anime characters. I had not even heard of Fire Emblem before then. I merely saw that they had cool swords and thought they would have a fun fighting style like with Link so I wanted to play them.
Our Smash sessions continued to rise as the day of release inched closer. Excited for all the new content Melee would provide, we got in as much Smash as we could to prepare us for the second coming. When the day finally came, I convinced my mom to take Mild and I to the store as early as possible to get our destined copies. We were luckily able to get them without hassle then swiftly headed home. Alas, we had other obligations to attend to for the remainder of the day so we held off the Smashfest for another day.
My first impressions
The first thing I do with any new game is to peruse the box and manual. I like to get a better feel of what a game is about before playing it. Although I pretty much already knew what to expect due to all the research done beforehand, I still gave it a look-see in case there were any cool tidbits of information. Nowadays, manuals are a rarity and are often very short or in black and white, but I can understand why since most of the information is now given through the internet. Melee’s manual described controls for the new Gamecube controller, all the new modes, and the special moves for some of the characters.
After getting my fill of Melee’s descriptive and colorful booklet, I wanted to try out the new single-player modes. I started up the game in the Nintendo Gamecube, watched the epic and orchestrated intro, then immediately went into Adventure mode with my favorite character of the previous Smash game, Link. The first thing I notice is how much better the graphics are compared to the N64 version. For 3D console gaming, the jump from the 64 and PS to the GC and PS2 is huge. I’ve seen many still pictures on websites for Melee, but seeing the game in motion on my own TV made me appreciate the differences even more. I was in awe with how detailed Link’s model was. Everything about him, from the hylian shield to the master sword, was finely crafted. I was surprised with how well the developers created the characters to be as natural to their true forms even without any 3D references from the recently released Gamecube.
I then moved around the beginning of the level to test out all of Link’s moves and get a quick feel of the new physics system. The movement was noticeably faster, especially the aerial movement like with fast-falling now being possible during an aerial move. Cancelling aerials was still in, but it was nerfed quite a lot. Link’s down-aerial cancel for example compared to the first game was like night and day. The animations were also greatly improved. All of Link’s moves looked a lot more fluid. His projectiles saw a big upgrade as it was changed into 3D models instead of 2D sprites. His hookshot grab also looked much cooler and even fell to gravity after missing a shot. Melee certainly took full advantage of Nintendo’s new console at the time.
After messing around for a couple minutes, I finally started to progress the level. The first stage was like a classic Mario level with goombas, bricks, and pipes all over the place. I loved all the platforming stages in Adventure mode. It meshed very well with the freedom of Smash’s movement system. I went on to try out the other modes such as the new event mode and the home-run bat contest. Event mode was really fun with all the different scenarios and win conditions to fulfill. Home-run contest was an interesting concept, but it didn’t grab my attention very much until later. With all the cool new ways to play, I was sad to see board the platforms missing from the list since that was one of my favorite parts of the first Smash, but there were still plenty of new content to make up for it.
The new mechanics and content
The single-player aspects of Smash was greatly improved, but I was itching to play with my friends. Mild and Chillin was fortunately able to come over the next day for some Smash. We immediately started playing one-on-ones with a variety of characters on all of the new stages Melee had. The faster paced action was a welcome change that we enjoyed a lot. The characters were definitely less floaty than before and the attacks seemed faster though that could just be a placebo effect from the detailed animations. Throws were also changed a lot. They were heavily nerfed in strength which was cool since in 64 a good amount of our kills ended up being from throws. Mild jokingly complained his entire strategy was ruined because of that. The best change about them was that throws could now be done in four directions. We soon realized a lot of the up and down throws usually lead to other attacks, so there were much more combo possibilities out of throws than ever before.
As for the combo system, with all the changes to the physics of Smash, we felt that combos were much harder to perform now. Granted, it was just the first days of Melee, but we easily noticed old combos that used to work in 64 were a lot harder to land. Simple ones like spamming up-tilt attacks did not work consistently. That’s when I first felt the notion of directional-influence, though before that term became coined by the community we called it tilting. There was a noticeable difference in trajectories from the same attacks unlike in 64 where it was always the same. This new mechanic would later become crucial in choosing the right defensive options to survive longer.
There were other interesting additions to the mechanics too such as ground and air dodging. They felt weird at first, but eventually we started to see their usefulness. Now there were a variety of defensive options that could be utilized. Shields also got a buff from the significantly less shield stun from attacks and new light shielding ability. All these factors combined with our trouble landing combos made us think Smash’s offense was heavily nerfed at first, but as we adapted more to the mechanics over the weeks that thought soon faded away. We quickly grew addicted to the fun Melee brought to the table with all the new possibilities in gameplay. The more we learned about the game, the more intense our matches became.
Inbetween our Smashfests we were frequently having, I was working on unlocking all the characters and stages as fast as possible so we could enjoy all the content Melee has to offer. I really wanted to try out all the interesting new characters like Roy and Mewtwo too. I swiftly tested out each character as they were unlocked. I really liked the Fire Emblem characters. They were much more different than Link than I thought since they only used their swords in battle. Mewtwo also had a really cool and unique moveset that was fun to play. We all noticed that a lot of the new characters had very similar looking moves compared to the originals such as Ganondorf to Captain Falcon. I didn’t mind the similarities too much though since their playstyles were pretty different. Among the characters that were already available, Zelda/Sheik was very interesting since her down-b ability allowed her to switch forms mid-battle. You could play two very different characters in the same match which was pretty amazing. Having so many characters available to play made me very happy. I’ve always loved experiencing the many aspects of video games whether its the weapons, vehicles, or characters in whatever type of game. Melee presented many fun characters for me to play in all different kinds of ways.
There were a lot more stages to choose from now, especially after we eventually unlocked all of them. They came in a great variety, from the calm platforms of Battlefield to the crazy race tracks of Big Blue, it provided many more ways to have fun. We liked how there were more tame stages this time around since it allowed us to have intense face-to-face battles. Final Destination especially became a H2YL favorite for years to come. Some of the new items were fun to mess around with like the bunny hood and screw attack. And the big and little mushrooms created a lot of funny situations. The bumper item from 64 was replaced with the flipper which disappointed me since the bumper was my favorite item. Items weren’t really a big thing for us though, slowly overtime we played with less and less items until they were turned off completely.
All in all we agreed Melee to be an awesome sequel to the game we loved. And with how much fun we were having, it was clear that there will be even more Smashfests than ever before. We usually Smashed multiple times a week especially when Anden was able to come over on the weekends. As we were improving at this new iteration of Smash, the competition levels between us also started to rise. Mild and Chillin had always been extremely competitive towards each other since they were brothers, but now they were developing rivalries with Anden too. Things were heating up as we got better which in turn helped us improve at a faster rate.
As for myself, I don’t really get that same feeling of competition, or rather rivalries, like most people do. For me, I just simply enjoy having fun and having fun with friends who are also having fun is even more fun. A part of that fun though is mastering skills and finding ways to improve. So I naturally tend to get better at activities I enjoy; it doesn’t matter to me if I’m by myself or if others are involved. Even in single-player games I like to test my limits and come up with new strategies to see what I can do. Abstract things like winning or losing serves little to motivate me since I never truly cared about such things. All that matters to me in the end is having fun.
But I still enjoy watching or being a part of competition, I have great respect for anyone who tries to push the limits of themselves and their craft. Competition is just one way of bringing out desires of evolution that are otherwise hidden from people. So when I saw a growth in my friends vying to win it made me delighted. It meant they were having fun trying harder to improve and that in turn makes it more fun for me too. This made us proficient more quickly than the other games we played together especially since it kept us playing it often.
Early signs of potential
There was something special about Melee that seemed to stimulate our fervor of battle, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was. No other multiplayer game we’ve played together had nearly the same effect. It could be the momentum from an already fun game to a brand new sequel that’s even more fun. Maybe it’s because how learning a new game put us on a more even field, thus motivating us to learn quicker to gain the upper hand. Or it could be all the new offensive and defensive options which opened up a ton of possibilities letting our creativity run wild. Most likely it was combination of all of those factors and Melee was the only game that could invigorate our competitive spirits in such a way.
The level of competition inside H2YL continued to increase for many months. In the summer after the school-year ended, we noticed on Smashboards that there were fan-made tournaments being held in popular locations for Melee. This intrigued us greatly and we thought it would be cool if we could test our skills against others too. Those tournaments were happening in places like California and New York, but we lived in the relatively quiet place of Virginia. That didn’t stop us though as we started planning to host our own tournament. Little did we know that this venture would escalate to create more competition and spread our love of the game throughout the region.
Super Smash Bros. Melee ended up considerably upgrading almost every aspect of the original Super Smash Bros. Because of that my friends and I got instantly hooked on the new and improved platform fighter. Thanks to how fun it was, it even sparked an intense fire of competition within H2YL which was previously unseen in the first game. Even from day one, Melee showed great promise as a competitive game. And today, over 15 years later, Melee’s competitive scene is still growing ever stronger. Regardless of what intentions the developers may have had of the game, their hard work and love in creating the game resulted in a masterpiece.
The next chapter of the Melee saga will detail H2YL’s first tournaments, our crew’s inception, and how we met JTanic and Chu, the final two members of H2YL.