Super Smash Brothers Melee, or simply Melee (as I'll call it for simplicity) is HAL Laboratories' GameCube followup to the successful Nintendo 64 game, Super Smash Brothers. Melee was originally released in 2001, and a Wii sequel, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, is on the way.
The premise is simple. Take Nintendo's big franchise characters, and have them fight. 25 characters from throughout Nintendo's history are together in the arena, spanning 25+ years of video games.
Characters have a wide variety of moves, but one of the major things separating Smash from other fighting games is the simplicity of the controls. No more quarter-circle clockwise, up-down-up heavy punch; (most) moves are activated by a single button, and possible aiming with the control stick. Because of this, it's much easier to leap into the game and start playing without researching move lists. Despite this, the technical game is very complex, and there are several advanced moves that require a great deal of practice to perfect.
Another novel concept is that characters do not have a life meter that drains (except in a specialty mode of play), but instead, their damage is represented by a percentage. Being hurt raises this percentage, and the higher it gets, the further you fly when damaged, the weaker your attacks get, and generally speaking, the easier it is to beat you. Characters are killed by leaving the sides of the screen. Strong upward and sideways attacks can knock a character off, and failing to recover from being knocked off the side will make a character fall out the bottom. At around 100%, characters can be killed by a well-timed strong attack, although this is mitigated by character choice and advanced play techniques.
Rather than moving back and forth along a platform, as in many other fighting games, characters in Smash Bros. are free to move around a 2-dimensional arena. Because winning involves knocking your opponents out of the arena, and characters have a great deal of horizontal and vertical freedom, Smash aficionados will go on about how good technique involves more complex spatial reasoning than in Street Fighter-style games.
The game features a number of ways to play, including single-player Classic and Adventure modes, which pit you against other characters in a number of different arenas, some special modes testing your abilities with individual characters, Event Matches, which are unusual scenarios with specific objectives, and, of course, VS Mode, where the bulk of play occurs. VS Mode is for two to four human or computer players, and can be configured out the wazoo. Play alone or on a team; play for time, for life stocks, for your ability to win awards; make all the characters huge, tiny, invisible, or super-speedy, double the damage dealt, use a self-adjusting handicap, and a whole lot more.
How did Major General Panic learn all this crap?
I took a class in it. (I majored in Kirby, Ice Climbers, and Sheik, if you wondered.) If you want to be able to take crazy classes, I suggest that you, too, go to Oberlin. Anyway, if there’s anything I missed (and I will miss plenty), you can find help on the inimitable Smash World Forums at www.smashboards.com.
- The joystick
Press the joystick left or right to walk. If you "smash" the joystick by moving it quickly to the side (it'll make an audible click noise at the right speed), you'll dash instead. Up on the joystick makes you jump, but there is a better way to do this. Down on the joystick makes your character duck, which is useful because (a) you can avoid some attacks and (b) if you do get hit, you won't fly quite as far. More on this when we get to Directional Influence. When in the air, moving the joystick to the down position will make you fall faster, good for tricking opponents and being somewhere they don't expect.
When you grab the edge of a ledge, you can push up on the joystick to climb back on, down to release your grip and fall down, or move the joystick away from the ledge to gently release backwards.
- A button
The A button represents your basic physical attacks. "Neutral A" refers to pressing the A button while you're on the ground, without moving the joystick. This is a weak attack, which for most characters is part of a short combo activated by pushing A several times in a row. The advantage of this attack is that it's speedy and unexpected, and can interrupt more powerful moves.
Tilting the joystick in one of the four cardinal directions while pressing A makes your character do a "tilt attack," which is more powerful than the neutral attack, as well as being aimed in a direction. Characters have three tilts, since left and right tilts do the same move.
Smashing the joystick while pressing A activates a Smash Attack. These are your most powerful A moves, and will frequently be your move of choice for defeating opponents. As with tilts, you have three smash attacks. Unlike tilts, if you hold the A button down after activating a Smash, you'll begin to charge it up. Release A to perform a Smash made more powerful proportionate to how long you charged it.
While in the air, you have five different A moves, a neutral and four directional attacks. Because you can't change direction in midair except by jumping (and under some special circumstances), you have forward and backward aerial attacks. Some characters' most powerful moves are aerial, so don't discount these useful, adaptive attacks.
When you grab the edge of a ledge, pressing the A button causes you to climb on and do a weak attack. It’s more advisable to let go of the edge and follow up with an aerial attack, though.
Finally, while dashing, the A button triggers a dash attack, a running attack towards your opponent. Against some foes, this is not recommended, as they can shield against it, grab you, and ruin your evening. More on this later.
- B button
The B button is for your special moves. These vary wildly character to character, so you should experiment with them. Each character has four B moves: neutral, tilt up, tilt down, and tilt to the side. These are the same in the air as they are on the ground, although some of the moves may act differently in the air. For nearly every character, up + B is a recovery move, used as a "third jump" to help get back to the stage. For several characters, there are other B recovery moves, but again, you're best served by experimenting.
- X/Y buttons
X and Y make you jump. More useful than the joystick, since you can jump with X and Y while holding the joystick in a different direction. A second jump can be activated at any time while you're in the air, although you won't be able to get another midair jump except under special circumstances.
When grabbing the edge of a ledge, the X and Y buttons cause you to leap back onto the platform.
- Z button
Z makes you attempt to grab your opponent. Once you're holding them, you can whack them a couple of times with the A button, and throw them by moving the joystick to any of the four cardinal directions. Some characters can "chain throw" an opponent by cleverly throwing them, and grabbing them again before they can recover. The more an opponent is damaged, the longer you can whack them with A before throwing. But miscalculate this, and they will escape from your grip and want some revenge.
- L/R buttons
Two of the most useful buttons in the game. On the ground, holding either will make you put up a shield. The further in the button is pressed, the smaller this shield will be. A perfectly "light shield" is large, protecting your entire body, but if you're attacked while you're light shielding, you will slide further than otherwise. Shields also drain as you hold them in and get attacked. When a shield is fully drained, and shrinks in towards you completely, it will shatter and you will be incapacitated. So use it wisely.
While shielding, you can press the joystick left or right to roll. You'll be invincible while rolling, but if your roll is slow (for example, Samus'), a good opponent will be waiting for you to come out of it. Pressing the joystick down will make you do a quick dodge into the background, excellent for avoiding an attack unexpectedly. And pressing A will make you attempt a grab.
When used in the air, the L and R buttons trigger a midair dodge. With no joystick interference, this simply make you hover for a second and become invincible while hovering. If the joystick is anywhere but neutral, you'll move in that direction as you dodge. Although useful, midair dodges prevent you from using any other moves until you hit the ground or get attacked.
When grabbing the edge of a ledge, the L and R buttons cause you to roll back on to the ledge.
- C Stick
On the ground, moving the C stick triggers a Smash Attack in that direction. In the air, it triggers an aerial attack in that direction. Useful because you can aim your attack independently of how you're holding the main joystick, so you can move in one direction and attack in the other. In additions, items can be aimed and thrown with the C stick.
- Directional pad
Pressing up on the D-pad will taunt your opponent. Some advanced techniques are possible using other buttons on the D-pad, but these are very character specific, and won't be addressed here.
- Start button
Pauses the game.
Smash Melee has 25 characters, 14 of whom are available from the beginning and 11 of whom must be unlocked. All come from Nintendo games, some more obscure than others. Characters have wide variations in their playing and movement styles, enough to fit the tastes of most anybody. Despite the best efforts of the developers, “tiers” eventually emerged, ranking the characters into four levels. These tiers represent how well the characters perform in tournament settings, which is to say in 1v1 and 2v2 stock games.
Although some are quite similar to others, having the same basic moves but variations in speed, strength, and weight, after playing the game for a while you will discover that a very different playing style is required for each character, and that the "redundant" characters aren't so redundant after all.
Here's an alphabetical list of everybody. (I’ve separated Sheik and Zelda since they are pretty much two different characters.)
Melee features 29 stages, 18 of which are available from the outset. Of the unlockable stages, 3 are exact replicas of stages from the original Smash Brothers. These stages vary wildly, from being a single platform with a couple of smaller ones floating above, to levels with no bottom, to rotating levels, even to forced-scrolling levels. Because they’re so different, many levels lend themselves to certain characters’ playing styles, and not others. When choosing a level, try to pick one that fits your chosen character the best.
- Battlefield — complete All-Star Mode
A small, neutral stage with three platforms.
- Big Blue — play 200 VS Matches in a row. Every 50, one of Big Blue, Brinstar Depths, Fourside and Poke Floats will be unlocked.
Leap from car to car, but if you hit the ground, jump quickly or be flung off the stage.
Lava rises and falls — avoid it. Parts of the stage can be attacked and destroyed to temporarily alter the stage’s layout.
- Brinstar Depths — see Big Blue
A rotating stage that causes nightmares for poor jumpers.
Fight on top of Great Fox, and avoid potshots from Team Star Fox. Fox and Falco can activate a special secret taunt in this level, though I don’t know how.
- Dream Land (N64) — hit Sandbag more than 1300 feet in Home Run Contest
A perfect replica of a stage from N64 Smash Brothers. Three platforms and occasional wind spice up an otherwise neutral level.
- Final Destination — complete all 51 Event Matches
A wide, flat stage with no obstacles or platforms. About as neutral as it gets.
- Flat Zone — complete Classic Mode with Mr. Game and Watch
A small stage with no pits, but the proximity of the sides, dis/reappearing platforms, and the occasional tool storm make for a disconcerting level indeed.
- Fountain of Dreams
A small neutral stage with three platforms, two of which move up and down (sometimes disappearing).
- Fourside — see Big Blue
Several tall buildings make this the perfect stage for a wall jumper. A UFO shows up from time to time.
- Great Bay
Two platforms near the water make it easy to kill people by whacking them against the underside of a larger platform. A turtle appears every now and again, and Tingle flies up and down on his balloon.
- Green Greens
Similar to Dream Land, but with additional platforms, destructible and explosive blocks, and occasionally, a whole bunch of apples.
- Hyrule Temple
The largest level in the game. Stay underground and use techs to stay alive for an unreasonable amount of time.
- Icicle Mountain
A vertical forced-scrolling level with CPU enemies and some destructible platforms.
- Jungle Japes
Several distanced platforms with a fast-moving river make it easy to kill yourself. You can jump back out of the river if you fall in, though.
- Kongo Jungle
A small level with lots of platforms and a permanent barrel cannon. Avoid the small platform on the right — it makes an easy target of inexperienced players.
- Kongo Jungle (N64) — beat 15-Minute Melee
A perfect replica of an N64 stage, featuring central platform with five ledges above it (three moving) and a permanent barrle cannon.
- Mushroom Kingdom I
Lots of destructible blocks. The “?” blocks contain items.
- Mushroom Kingdom II — find a Birdo trophy
A small level with high and low ground. Birdo emerges sometimes to spit eggs.
- Mute City
The main platform flies above a track, sometimes lowering when it stops moving. Watch out for oncoming cars.
An unusual level with lots of platforms and no pit.
- Poké Floats — see Big Blue
Leap from balloon to balloon in a forced-scrolling level.
- Pokémon Stadium
The stadium cycles between four different arenas, each representing a different sort of terrain.
- Peach’s Castle
Buttons on the stage activate platforms and item blocks. Every so often a huge Bullet Bill will fly into the castle and explode.
- Rainbow Cruise
Hop between platforms and ships in a forced-scrolling stage. Remember that donut blocks will fall if you stay on them.
Fight aboard Great Fox, but with a different perspective than on Corneria. Cavern walls will sometimes rescue players who are knocked off the stage.
- Yoshi’s Island
A U-shaped level with some destructible blocks. You can sometimes trick aerial-heavy attackers into committing suicide with the central blocks.
- Yoshi’s Story
A small stage with three platforms. Cloud blocks move in and out of the sides, but are tricky to land on. Shy Guys fly by now and again, holding food.
- Yoshi’s Story (N64) — complete the Target Tests for all 25 characters
Identical to the N64 version. A mainly vertical central area, with some clouds off to the side. Clouds disappear if you stay on one too long.
Melee has a wide variety of items, which can heal, hurt, or just plain confuse. Some players don’t like items and turn them off, because their strength and randomness can make the outcome of a match less dependent on technical skill and more on luck of the draw. Items are picked up with the A button on the ground, or the Z button in the air, and are used with the A button. Some have different neutral and tilt attacks, and some
Items can be thrown with the Z button, L or R and the A button, or the C stick. With the Z/L+A/R+A methods, the joystick aims the throw; with C, the C stick aims. Thrown items can be caught using the A button on the ground or the Z button in the air, a crucial technique even if you play with items turned off (since Peach’s turnips and Link’s bombs follow the same rules).
Item containers (barrels, crates, capsules) are explosive 1/8 of the time, and more frequently if you attack them. So be wary of opening containers with attacks.
Contains items. Throw it at your enemies and it’ll roll along the ground until it hits something.
- Barrel Cannon
If somebody lands in it, they must push a button to be fired out in the direction the cannon faces.
- Beam Sword
A lightsaber. If your A attacks don’t have much range, this will help.
Explosive. Throw at somebody to do serious damage, but stay outside the blast radius. If a Bob-Omb isn’t picked up quickly enough, it will start wandering around, and blow itself up.
- Bunny Hood
Makes you run faster and jump higher. If you can control it, you’ll be unpredictable.
Contains items. Can also be thrown at enemies.
- Cloaking Device
Makes you nearly invisible for a while, although if you have a name activated, it’ll still display.
Contains items, and can be thrown. You can walk while carrying this or the barrel, albeit slowly (unless you’re playing as Donkey Kong or Mewtwo).
Doesn’t do much damage, but attacks quickly, interrupts attacks, sends your opponent flying, and does serious damage to shields.
- Fire Flower
Releases a steady stream of fire. Good for keeping people from getting back on the stage, or racking up damage if you can trap somebody against a wall.
Anybody (or thing) which hits this will be knocked away.
Freezes an opponent in a block of ice, allowing you to get in some free hits. Can kill people if they’re at high damage or struck while off the stage.
- Green Shell
Jump on it or throw it to set it in motion. Will hurt anybody it contacts.
You begin to swing the hammer back and forth, doing massive damage when you hit people, but losing all control except for left-right movement and a single jump. You are still vulnerable to projectiles.
- Heart Container
Restores 100% from your damage (although if you’re over 100%, this won’t completely heal you).
- Home-Run Bat
Similar to the Beam Sword, except that a tilt or smash attack will cause you to perform a slow attack that instantly kills anybody hit with it.
- Lip's Stick
Anybody struck with this flower will grow a flower and get damaged over time.
- Maxim Tomato
Restores 50% from your damage (although if you’re over 50%, this won’t completely heal you).
- Metal Box
Attack this item to be reforged in metal temporarily. You don’t get knocked back very far from attacks while metal, and fall speed is greatly increased.
- Motion-Sensor Bomb
Throw this, and it sticks to the first surface it touches and arms itself. It explodes if anything contacts it.
- Mr. Saturn
Mr. Saturns wander back and forth, and do minimal damage when thrown at opponents. However, if he contacts any unused item, he consumes it. So use him strategically!
Can be used to attack foes, but can also be deployed by pressing up on the control stick while in the air, or put away with down. Causes you to fall slowly while deployed.
- Party Ball
Full of items, but takes a few seconds after being thrown to activate and spill its contents.
- Poison Mushroom
Shrinks you temporarily.
- Poke Ball
Releases one of 29 Pokémon. Potentially the strongest item in the game; the computer is programmed to run straight for these when they appeared — as should you.
- Ray Gun
Fires laser beams. With good timing, you can seriously incapacitate or kill an opponent.
- Red Shell
When thrown, zips back and forth on the surface on which it lands, seeking out any players.
- Screw Ball
Makes you perform Samus’ Screw Attack when jumping.
- Star Rod
Can be used to whack opponents, and tilts and Smashes cause the wand to fire stars.
Makes you temporarily invincible.
- Super Mushroom
Makes you grow temporarily.
- Super Scope
Tap the A button for weak fire that can trap an opponent, or charge it up for a more powerful attack. To glitch a Super Scope into having infinite ammo, fire five bursts, two fully charged shots, then have an opponent attack you while charging a third.
- Warp Star
You fly up into the sky, then slam back down into the ground, causing huge damage. You can aim where you land with the Control Stick.
I've written up advanced techniques in a separate node, at Super Smash Bros. Melee: Advanced Techniques, since this writeup is getting long enough already.