Nintendo incites a "teddy bear" complex for me. I started playing video games with the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Fifteen years later my matured taste in games led me to buy a Playstation 2. However, I keep coming back to Nintendo. I have an attachment to it, much like people are attached to their old teddy bears.
The teddy bear is commonly associated with youth. Nintendo, whether the company has intended it or not, has also been tagged as the more youth-oriented medium for video games, with cartoony characters like the Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong and Pikachu. Child-like or not, the characters have worked well for the company, and older gamers shouldn't be ashamed to still enjoy them. Like the teddy bear, you may be too old to carry it around, but you're not likely to throw it away.
Nintendo definitely doesn't throw anything away. It recycles, revamps and repackages all its past successes into a game called Super Smash Bros. Melee, which ends up being part game and part museum of all things Nintendo.
The premise behind the game is summed up in the title—"Smash." The whole point is to use a well-known Nintendo mascot to knock around another well-known Nintendo mascot. Melee is essentially a fighting game, with a touch of the side-scrolling platform games from yesteryear. A title like this probably wouldn't gain much attention if Nintendo didn't use its popular characters, some of which have been around nearly twenty years. It's more than a little obvious the company is proud of its past successes. Melee throws everything Nintendo has right in the player's face, with characters, stages and trophies, representing characters ripped straight from the pages of video game history.
However, it's not fair to say Melee is a mere self-congratulatory, money-maker for Nintendo. It has a good deal of actual gameplay value, though the game loses points in originality, as it seems to mainly be an update of the Nintendo 64 Smash Bros. released a few years ago.
Melee does answer the question long-time Nintendo fans remember asking themselves at some point: Who would win in a fight between Mario and Link? But, the game doesn't give any further adventures of all our Nintendo buddies. There isn't a story at all, unless a player decides to pull out a lute and spin poetic yarns in between rounds. Video games, though, don't have to be about telling compelling stories. Nintendo isn't known for putting heart-wrenching drama in games anyway. The company does exceed in producing titles that are fun to play, and it hits the mark again with Melee.
One aspect that puts Melee above the standard fighting game, comes from the sheer enjoyment a player experiences while doing battle. I, personally, am not a fan of most fighting games. Most of the time they put a player in a rather constricted environment, with little freedom of movement. Melee, as a fighting game, relaxes this feeling. The battle arenas are huge, giving players more room to leap, bound, flip, shimmy and hurl objects at the opponents.
The fighting, itself, takes a comical approach, which Nintendo always seems to favor. The graphical power of the GameCube presents this approach well. It's been a few years since I played a new game featuring Mario or Link, and I was pleased to see them looking better than ever. The attention to detail on the character models is impressive. Even more impressing is the fact that the detail isn't a cheap trick or an illusion. Zooming in on the screen during gameplay, I saw that Mario's denim overalls relay the texture of denim. Bowser, King of the Koopas, looks scaly. Link's Master Sword comes etched with various markings, from the tip of the blade to the hilt. Fox McCloud and Donkey Kong look fuzzy enough to pet. My only minor gripe is that a few of the backgrounds and levels lack the same amount of detail in comparison. This issue doesn't detract from the overall experience, though. The game still looks good.
An important ingredient to add to a good-looking game is a decent soundtrack. Nintendo has gone above decent for Melee, rearranging all the themes from its past games into full orchestral scores. The music, like much of the game, isn't original, but Nintendo fans, like me, definitely appreciate the extra effort put into the compositions. My personal favorite is the staccatoed Star Fox score. It screams of grand space adventure and sounds nothing short of what one would hear in a movie theater. It's nice to know the GameCube supports such excellent sound, as Nintendo, before, has always fallen behind other game systems in quality soundtracks.
Overall, Melee is every bit as good as its Nintendo 64 predecessor. The game doesn't expand much past that point, though. In short, if you've played the original Smash Bros., you have a more than adequate idea of what to expect from the GameCube incarnation. Yet, with so many classic Nintendo characters in one place, there's always room for one more round. Consider Melee to be the teddy bear, after it's been cleaned and had the eye sewn back on. It still isn't the coolest toy in the closet, but it does represent something special to gamers willing to admit it.