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.

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