Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nintendo unveiled Super Smash Bros. Melee at its E3 2001 press conference, to the collective awe of all the fans in attendance. The video reels displayed characters new and old to the series, several of which genuinely shocked the audience. What the footage alluded to, however, would become much more evident the following day, when the game was open for play to showgoers: that Super Smash Bros. Melee was a slightly updated version of its predecessor, one that had been given an extremely pleasing face-lift. Now that the game has been released, that much can be confirmed--aside from a few minor additions and alterations to the fighting system, Super Smash Bros. Melee plays exactly like its predecessor. But rest assured, this is certainly a good thing. Few games were able to match the maddening pace of its predecessor, while still remaining playable. Even fewer have been able to work that kind of feel successfully into a multiplayer mode, much less one that allows for four players. And when you consider the sheer amount of play modes, secrets, and extras packed into Melee, it becomes that much more enticing.

Super Smash Bros. has always been about extremely fast-paced multiplayer fighting, and Melee is no different. It's an experience that's at its best in the company of other humans. It's easily among the most inventive fighting games released in recent years, 2D or otherwise, and its accessible nature can often hide the reasonable bit of depth its fighting system offers. The game is very good at working wild cards, of sorts, into its matches, which can often change the tide of a battle in a moment's notice. The hammer item is a great example of this: A novice player could theoretically be getting pummeled by a trio of veterans, only to pick up the hammer and pound his or her way to victory within a span of a few seconds. The Smash Bros. system is very good at evening the odds in ways like this, and given the mad pace of the matches, you'll seldom notice until it's all over.

One of the original Smash Bros.' weaker areas was its single-player modes, or lack thereof. Aside from a halfhearted "story" mode, there really wasn't anything compelling, outside of the multiplayer game. Melee thankfully remedies this in many ways. The classic single-player mode is back, bonus stages and all, and the progression changes each time you play through it. The game is also pretty good at mixing things up by introducing several kinds of variations on the characters you'll fight. In one stage, for instance, you might encounter a giant-sized Yoshi, while another may pit you against a team of tiny Donkey Kongs, 15 deep. You can even add these kinds of parameters during multiplayer matches, but that's a whole other story.

The adventure mode is Melee's new variation on the single-player game. In it, you'll progress through a series of side-scrolling levels, all of which are based on or otherwise inspired by Nintendo's extensive and classic back catalogue. The first stage will take you through span of the Mushroom Kingdom that's inspired by the look and feel of the original Super Mario Bros., right down to the strolling goombas and patrolling koopa paratroopas. Another has you running down the lanes of F-Zero's Mute City, all the while avoiding the hazards of oncoming traffic traveling at 500mph. It's easy to let your heartstrings be pulled by these clever homages, but in the end, these adventure stages are really a hit-or-miss experience. Some, like the Super Mario stage, seem well thought-out and flawlessly executed, right down to the memorable Mario theme. Others don't fare so well and wind up feeling jury-rigged and shallow. Sadly, the adventure stage based on Zelda is a bit on the weak side--what could have been brilliant homage to Zelda II's side-scrolling dungeons turned out as an odd mishmash of the series' aesthetics. HAL at least got the classic dungeon theme right, though. Fans will no doubt miss a beat the first time they hear it, in all its remixed and rearranged glory. In the end, at any rate, you'll still play through the adventure mode several times--some of the game's hidden elements can only be unlocked through completion of it in some special way.

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