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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

 

 

While Nintendo systems have never been known as bastions of the fighting game, a few standout titles have emerged. One of these has been the Super Smash Bros. series. Itís not the deepest or most complicated fighter ever made, but the ability to play as classic Nintendo characters has been a key to its appeal. As one of the most anticipated GameCube launch titles, Super Smash Bros. Melee offers fun multiplayer battles with a more cartoony sense of violence that makes for an excellent fighter thatís definitely not in the usual mold.

Even though the big fighting franchises like Virtua Fighter, Tekken and Soul Calibur always seemed to appear on other systems, the N64 still played host to several decent brawlers such as Killer Instinct Gold and Mortal Kombat Trilogy. When Nintendo announced their new system and its optical drive, gamers had good reason to hold hopes for an improvement in the dire software situation. While Tekken hasnít arrived yet, Nintendoís enormously popular N64 title Super Smash Bros. gets the GameCube treatment and has been upgraded substantially with better visuals, superior controls and some new multiplayer modes which add more depth to the fun. Players should find a lot to like in the addictive and enjoyable Super Smash Bros. Melee. The game allows you to battle it out as one of fifteen Nintendo characters including well-known mascots Mario, Link, Zelda and Donkey Kong plus lesser known characters such as the Ice Climbers (remember that game?) Captain Falcon (from F-Zero) and some oddball named Ness. There are also several hidden characters included that can only be unlocked once you beat the game all the way through. Of course, there are other rewards waiting for the player as well and these only add to the excitement and longevity of the title.

As stated before, the limited number of attacks means that this isnít the deepest fighting game, but itís not supposed to be. While there seems to be little depth, the combatants have close-in and projectile attacks plus shields. There are also power-ups to collect that can be used for special attacks or to gain extra energy. SSBMís fighting engine makes the game very easy to get into and the actual battles are manic and a lot of fun. Itís not a full-on 3D fighter, since most of the battles are rendered in 3D but take place on a strictly 2D plane. This doesnít make the gameplay any less enjoyable, and in fact allows gamers of different abilities to have a good shot at winning. This makes the game easy for all ages and makes it an excellent party title that should be enjoyed ideally in groups.

While controls are simple, they are responsive and allow for a good mix of offensive and defensive moves making the fighting experience loads of fun. Players have long-range and close in attacks as well as a shield that they can use to protect themselves from attack. There are also power-ups that can be collected on each battlefield and gaining these can be used to give yourself the upper-hand. These power-ups take different forms but include classic Nintendo icons such as the umbrella, a Pokemon Ball and barrels. Still, the main goal is fighting your opponents hand-to-hand who seem to come after you in a number of ways and configurations. The fighting system is decent and the characters are well-balanced, you can win the game with any character on the select screen and none seem to have serious disadvantages in doing so. This system gives Super Smash Bros. Melee a bit more depth than the original title, though not enough to be intimidating to those unfamiliar with the genre. As an added bonus, the mini-games also add some challenge to the game and the control systems here donít differ substantially. In addition to getting you to the final bout, these also allow you the best opportunity to collect bonus trophy items.

Its multi-tiered levels add to the challenge since you have to spend time locating your opponent, or you can also use these layouts defensively to try and gain some extra power-ups when your character gets low on energy. Of course, not every layout is the same and there is great variety in the complexity of their design and this makes SSBM more exciting and has more longevity. There are also different types of battles included where youíll face more than one opponent or are teamed with another character in an all-out battle. To keep things interesting, there are several different mini-games included where you can earn extra points or trophies, some of these are incredibly simple while others can be quite tricky. There are more than 300 trophies with classic Nintendo characters to collect including lesser known characters from the companyís vault. You can earn trophies in a number of ways, which adds to the fun. One of the real joys of the title comes in building up you library to include more than 300 icons, including some whoíve been hibernating in the Nintendo vaults for more than a decade. This is satisfying and can be done quickly, adding plenty of addictive replay value to the game. This is where the real fun lies, since exploring the many different modes and finding all the secrets hidden in SSBM is quite enjoyable and keeps you coming back again and again. This doesnít mean that the game is without problem, since there are some elements that could use some work.

Luckily, despite the simplistic action of the actual battles, thereís a good variety that adds a lot of replay value. The game is well balanced for either single or multiplayer action. SSBM offers several solo modes including versus which is just like the original and the adventure mode that mixes the original style of play with side scrolling episodes and mini-games, making for a much deeper and varied experience. Additional single-player modes include stadium mode where you battle in groups, single match which is good to warm up with your one-on-one fighting skills, practice and event modes where you can customize the type of battle you want to fight. Event modes are specialized and usually allow you to challenge another character or group of characters. Thereís a list of these events, and successfully completing all of them unlocks even more sub-games to play. These single modes are quite varied, and add to the replay value, making the game quite a bit deeper than initial impressions reveal. The real fun lies in SSBMís multiplayer action, where up to four players can battle it out at once in Melee mode. These modes can be customized into large battles with more than that in the Tournament mode. There are also several types of multiplayer modes which are similar to the single player options. Battling it out with human opponents is loads of fun, and since all the action takes place on a single screen, this makes the action more intense without undue eye-strain.

All these different modes are quite excellent, giving it a deep, satisfying taste of multiplayer gaming. The single player modes is addictive, thanks to the trophy system and the multi-player mode is fleshed out well. SSBM is an excellent party game which supports up to 8 players via rotating Tournaments. SSBMís intuitive controls make it highly accessible. Nintendo fans will enjoy the appearance of classic characters in the game, especially the more obscure ones. The graphics are excellent, with good backdrops and well-defined characters, it wonít win any awards for innovation but the production values are excellent. The classic Nintendo feel is highly evident throughout and is firmly based in the companyís history. Spotting the different characters in their cameo roles is a lot of fun. As an added bonus, the game also allows you to zoom in on the characters during the battles. Super Smash Brothers Melee is a cool game and while itís not going to break a lot of new ground, the abundance of different modes makes it another excellent GameCube launch title.