Is this going to be forever?

Let’s talk about me.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was­n’t released at a very good time for me. I was in col­lege, away from home and most of my gam­ing friends. Also, it was released for the Nin­ten­do Game­Cube, which his­to­ry has shown us was­n’t a ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful con­sole. In fact, I don’t think any of my clos­est friends back then owned a GameCube.

But because I know peo­ple who know peo­ple, there was a hand­ful of oppor­tu­ni­ties to play Melee over the next few years.

I’d be at peo­ple’s hous­es and find mostly-young, mostly-male groups gath­ered around the TV trad­ing smash attacks between sig­na­ture Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters in the most won­der­ful­ly whim­si­cal car­toon fight­ing game imag­in­able. Mor­tal Kom­bat this is not. Up to four play­ers at a time would spend a few min­utes at a time bat­tling Links, Mar­ios, Kir­bys, Pikachus1 (and many oth­ers) in lev­els pulled from famil­iar Nin­ten­do games. They’d be talk­ing trash and throw­ing flow­ers and bombs and base­ball bats at each oth­er… much as my clos­est friends and I had spent lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of hours doing a few years ear­li­er in the Nin­ten­do 64 Super Smash Bros., the orig­i­nal game in the series.

smash-bros-melee2001’s Melee, how­ev­er, was a very dif­fer­ent beast from ‘64,’ and is still held in high regard by many, and still a tournament-favorite — despite new install­ments of the series being released in 2008 and 2014.

Gosh, I’ve always hat­ed Melee.

Even today it’s still the fastest-paced and most bru­tal game of the series — the speed each game runs at is a design deci­sion made by the devel­op­ers — but Melee felt espe­cial­ly amped-up com­ing from the down­right glacially-paced 64, even today still the slowest-paced game in the series. That alone made it tough to get into Melee—imag­ine pick­ing up the con­troller and being mer­ci­less­ly pound­ed by up to three oth­er play­ers (who prob­a­bly play this all damn day), while you strug­gle to fig­ure out how to not acci­den­tal­ly fall off the edge of the level.

Seri­ous­ly you guys, when you’re ready to play a real game, I’ll kick your ass with Link in 64!” is a thing I prob­a­bly said every time I played Melee.

Speed was one prob­lem for me in Melee, but my oth­er one was the Game­Cube con­troller. Yeah, I know: the design is still held up as one of the best con­trollers ever, believed by many to rep­re­sent Nin­ten­do at their peak, right before their Wii-era fol­ly of appeal­ing to the dread­ed “casu­al” mar­ket with the waggle-motion-centric Wiimote. The clas­sic Game­Cube con­troller is still sup­port­ed in new­er Smash titles, and is still the choice among the hard­core Smash crowd… despite the half-dozen oth­er con­troller options that are also sup­port­ed at this point. How could I pos­si­bly not see what an amaz­ing gift Nin­ten­do had bestowed upon us with the Game­Cube controller?

gamecube-controller-smash-brosYeah, so I nev­er real­ly “got” the Game­Cube con­troller. I nev­er learned how to effec­tive­ly use the soft ana­log ‘shoul­der’ but­tons, nev­er became com­fy with the lay­out of the right-side ‘fire’ but­tons (X, Y, A, B) — the real meat of any con­troller. Com­ing from 64, I knew what the C‑stick was for, but it just was­n’t the same as the four yel­low but­tons of old. And I’m sor­ry, but the Z but­ton is just wrong—it goes on the bot­tom, you jerks.

With a decade-plus of hind­sight, it’s clear now that my prob­lems with Super Smash Bros. Melee, and with the Game­Cube con­troller in gen­er­al, were most­ly due to a lack of famil­iar­i­ty. I did­n’t have the chance to spend time alone learn­ing Melee at my own pace… or bar­ring that, hav­ing hours upon hours to spend com­pet­ing with close friends to sharp­en my skills, like I did in high school. And I’ve always felt a lit­tle hand­i­capped when it comes to pick­ing up steam at new games that favor play­ers with, you know, reflex­es. I did­n’t real­ly grow up with games at home when I was young — I def­i­nite­ly missed a lot of the for­ma­tive stuff that oth­er 1980s babies grew up on.

Any­way, although I essen­tial­ly sat out the entire Game­Cube era, busy with col­lege and oth­er life stuff, my inter­est in gam­ing was rein­vig­o­rat­ed with the release of the Nin­ten­do DS and lat­er the Wii. (Yes seri­ous­ly, the Wii.2) When the Wii-era Smash game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, came out a cou­ple of years lat­er, there was no stop­ping me from pick­ing it up.

I enjoyed Brawl and played a lot of it. Hav­ing my own copy at home put me in a good posi­tion to get fair­ly good at it. It was very dif­fer­ent from 64—way more char­ac­ters and way more every­thing — and as a lot of the hard­core com­plain, way, way dif­fer­ent than Melee. “It’s so slow!” “It’s for noobs!” What­ev­er; the slow­er pace and the not-GameCube con­trols are prob­a­bly what I liked most about Brawl. Thank good­ness they cor­rect­ed their Melee mis­step, I thought.

My new­found enthu­si­asm for con­sole gam­ing died down a few years lat­er. I haven’t real­ly been keep­ing up with the new Nin­ten­do Wii U or 3DS stuff at all. But my orig­i­nal Wii remains below the TV, and I turn it on every cou­ple of months, usu­al­ly to play an old-timey 8- or 16-bit clas­sic.3

Some­thing hap­pened last week. An Ars Tech­ni­ca arti­cle about com­pet­i­tive Smash, and the endur­ing tour­na­ment lega­cy of Melee, showed up in my RSS. Before I had even fin­ished the arti­cle, I’d already been to Ama­zon and ‘Prime’d myself a Game­Cube con­troller and mem­o­ry card… and an over­priced used copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee.

My girl­friend was going to be out of town for the rest of the week. The time was right to dive in headfirst.

What hap­pened to me?

Look, I devel­oped this atti­tude as I grew clos­er to 30 a few years back. It goes a lit­tle like this:

So… is that it? Is this real­ly how it’s gonna be for the rest of your life?

As I read the Ars arti­cle through these attitude-tinted lens­es, I decid­ed that my hat­ing Melee was based on shaky rea­son­ing at best. The way I felt about it after my few tries may have been a gen­uine and rea­son­able reac­tion to get­ting pum­meled while flail­ing use­less­ly with this weird-ass con­troller, but let’s be hon­est: I nev­er gave the game a fair shot.

That, paired with the fact that Melee’s still so wide­ly held in such high regard almost 14 years lat­er — it’s def­i­nite­ly not just mind­less fan­boys trum­pet­ing the new hot thing — made me think hey-why-not? I essen­tial­ly have a Game­Cube just sit­ting there — it’s actu­al­ly built into the hard­ware of the orig­i­nal Wii.

A cou­ple of days lat­er, my lit­tle care pack­age from the past arrived. Pre­dictably, I still fuck­ing suck.

But I think it’s going to be fun this time.

  1. By the way — just sayin’ — f Pikachu.
  2. The con­sole was cheap enough, the motion con­trols seemed inter­est­ing enough, and the poten­tial for amaz­ing first-party Nin­ten­do games (Mario, Zel­da, etc.) made me take the plunge. I camped out on release night in 2006. Also, I had a job, some mon­ey, etc. And despite the tons of shov­el­ware, there were more than enough good Wii games.
  3. There’s a good chance it’s Dusty Dia­mond’s All-Star Soft­ball. Got­ta stay sharp.

Compromise and Nexus 5: a review

I know a thing or two about com­pro­mise — I bought a Nexus 5 a few months ago. It’s not the phone I want, but it’ll do. For now.

It’s been years since I bought some­thing that was­n’t the lat­est and great­est Nexus mod­el, but this time I think it was the right call. Like oth­er Android fans, I await­ed the announce­ment of the Nexus 6 with every bit as much excite­ment as the entire world does when it’s new-iPhone-time. (Yes, this is a thing peo­ple actu­al­ly do for Nexus devices.)

I found myself utter­ly under­whelmed by Nexus 6. Price, size, bor­ing, etc. But I knew I need­ed a new phone, so I imme­di­ate­ly ordered the fan-favorite Nexus 5.

It’s fast. My Galaxy Nexus — a phone from 2011 — did­n’t seem that slow, even towards the end, but I’m blown away at how flu­id­ly this thing runs just about every­thing. (That’s prob­a­bly the extra RAM talk­ing.) Anoth­er RAM-based plus is that it’s awe­some to switch between apps — and even brows­er tabs — with­out my see­ing per­sis­tent back­ground process­es dying and restart­ing. I could have avoid­ed this frus­tra­tion by sim­ply doing less with my device, but why would I?

Hav­ing 32 GB of stor­age should­n’t be such a big deal in 2015, but after deal­ing with two phones that maxed out at 16-ridiculous-gigabytes, it feels amaz­ing to not have to think about space, at least for now. Of course it’s still only 32 GB, so I’m not sig­nif­i­cant­ly chang­ing the way I use the device to make use of the extra space.

Ick: I find it a lit­tle hard to believe that I own a phone with a not-user-swappable bat­tery.1 After all, I thought that I object to these on prin­ci­ple. In the end, sigh, the Nexus plus­es won out over the oth­er devices I con­sid­ered. But I feel as if the device comes with a built-in expi­ra­tion date.

Speak­ing of pow­er, I did­n’t expect to pick up a wire­less Qi charg­er for this phone, but I did. (Um, two, actu­al­ly — cheap ones.) I love it. Wire­less charg­ing is not only the future of mobile devices, but for those on the Android side of the prover­bial aisle, it’s the present.

Well, no shit there’s no phys­i­cal key­board. I imme­di­ate­ly missed hav­ing one when I got my first candybar-style device in 2010. You’re get­ting on well with tap­ping, swip­ing, voice, auto­cor­rect, what­ev­er? That’s won­der­ful and I’m so hap­py for you. I miss hav­ing a real key­board no less today than I did four years ago.

Months after its gen­er­al avail­abil­i­ty, I’m still con­tin­u­ing to hold off on apply­ing the Nexus 5 Lol­lipop upgrade. The same UI flash that got Apple-enamored design blog­gers sali­vat­ing actu­al­ly sad­dens me. Exact­ly why is prob­a­bly worth a ded­i­cat­ed post, but after months of using Lol­lipop on sec­ondary devices, I still can’t see myself putting it on my pri­ma­ry phone (read: the only device that mat­ters to me).

Nexus 5 feels like more of a stop­gap than any­thing else… at least it was pret­ty inex­pen­sive. It’s clear that the world isn’t turn­ing back to the good stuff from the past (top want: badass Sidekick-style slid­er) but there is hope for the future — Nexus 5 just needs to last me until Project Ara is a thing I can actu­al­ly use.

Some­one will make an Ara key­board mod­ule. I can feel it in my hands now.

  1. I know. There are dis­as­sem­bly guides that show you how to crack open the phone and replace the bat­tery. But that is not the same as hav­ing a tru­ly remov­able bat­tery. For one thing, I can’t just casu­al­ly car­ry a sec­ond bat­tery to pop in for an instant top-up. And also, I imag­ine this com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor lim­its the mar­ket demand for replace­ment bat­ter­ies, which I fear will lim­it the bat­tery sup­ply when, down the road, the day comes that I final­ly need a replace­ment. Sealed phones are a shit­ty, dis­re­spect­ful design deci­sion by which this dude can­not abide.