Though the concept seemed just a little ridiculous when the series launched for the N64, Super Smash Bros. has been a fighting mainstay over nearly 20 years. Developer HAL Laboratory nailed the underlying concept out of the gate with Smash Bros.’ 1999 debut, but most would agree things really came together for the sequel. 2001’s Super Smash Bros. Melee not only gave Smash Bros. a much needed graphical overhaul; it also refined the fighting mechanics and introduced features still present in the series today. Read on to discover why Super Smash Bros. Melee’s 15th birthday deserves a celebration.
Those Controls, That Controller
While Nintendo engineers arguably designed the GameCube controller with Pikmin on the brain, this chunk of molded plastic amounts to the perfect way to play Smash Bros. The big A button for normal attacks, the smaller B button for special ones, and the undersized C-stick for smash moves; all of these varying shapes and sizes mean you never have to look down at the controller to reorient your thumbs.
Every Smash player has their own preference, but Nintendo hasn’t been shy about making the GameCube controller a viable option for every sequel since the release of Melee. The Wii was a cinch, seeing as Nintendo built GameCube controller ports right into the console. But for the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Nintendo produced an adaptor so you can play with their faithful recreations of GameCube controllers. This support didn’t find its way to the 3DS version, but savvy hackers still found a way to make their dreams come true.
A Massive Roster with Inspired Selections
The original Smash Bros. featured a few surprising fighters—like Ness from EarthBound—but it mostly stuck to Nintendo’s core characters. With Nintendo leaving cartridges behind, though, HAL Laboratory had plenty of extra room for some inspired selections in the GameCube sequel. After all, Super Smash Bros. Melee made many people aware of Fire Emblem’s Roy and Marth for the first time. While many Japanese Nintendo fans knew these characters by name, we wouldn’t actually get a Fire Emblem game in America for two more years. These days, the series ranks up there as one of the most critically acclaimed and popular RPG series on the 3DS.
Super Smash Bros. Melee also dove pretty deep into Nintendo history with some of its unlockable characters. No one had any particularly fond memories of Ice Climber back in 2001, yet its stars Popo and Nana amount to one of Melee’s more interesting characters—at least, in terms of how they control in unison. And Melee can be credited for teaching most of the world about Mr. Game and Watch, the star of Nintendo’s pre-NES portable game series. That big-nosed, 2D Renaissance man stole all of our hearts during the 2001 holiday season.
Celebrating Nintendo History Through Trophies
Trophies have become such an essential part of the Smash Bros. experience, it’s hard to believe the series didn’t include them until the first sequel. Even if they don’t add up to much more than a pleasant distraction, Smash Bros.’ trophies give players something to shoot for outside of simply winning matches. Plus, this plethora of polygonal models does a fine job of teaching Nintendo history. Even if you think a character could be too obscure to be accounted for, odds are, at least one Smash Bros. game features them in digital collectable form.
In retrospect, the original Smash Bros. focused its efforts on proving the central concept could work. With this basic task out of the way, sequels could then tinker with the idea of Nintendo characters locked in mortal combat. Melee started the trend by adding alternate gameplay modes, with one of the most interesting additions taking the form of “Adventure.” HAL built this variation on the traditional side-scrolling action game with bits and pieces from Smash Bros., and peppered the experience with some of the expected fighting action.
Since then, each sequel has built off of what Melee started with Adventure. The Wii’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl contains the most expanded take on this idea with The Subspace Emissary. This alternate mode attempts to tell an epic crossover story with lavishly produced CG videos, and its story comes from the pen (or keyboard) of Final Fantasy’s Kagushige Nojima. While the Wii U version would instead opt for a digital board game, the 3DS Smash Bros.’ take on “Adventure” exists in the form of side-scrolling dungeon exploration capped off by a boss fight. Without the experiments found in Melee, who knows if these successors would even exist?
A Legacy of Accessibility
It’s been 15 years since the Japanese launch of Super Smash Bros. Melee, and for the most part, not much has changed. Sure, each additional sequel boasts even more content, but the rock-solid and refined fighting mechanics found in Melee have barely been touched. While most series would stagnate with this lack of progress, Smash Bros. thrives as a fighting game experience enjoyable by veterans and newbies alike. While the games have certainly grown prettier over time, HAL knows better than to fix what ain’t broke.