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Genre Analysis: SSB Melee
As I begin my journey here at Leviathyn, I question how I can best place myself into my first article. I’m an on-campus college student, so myself and my circle of friends have taken to habitualize intense, sweaty-palmed Melee tournaments in our off time. My friend Grant is an absolute master amongst our friends and is a steady contender on the campus. Grant and I like to analyze video game mechanics and things of that nature and one day we found ourselves in a conversation about Melee. He described it as a great fighting game. I looked at him, thought it over in my head and told him that I completely disagreed with him. He opened his eyes wide and seemed shocked by my response. I settled his tempered heart and troubled mind by making the contention that Melee was, not only not a great fighting game, but was indeed not a fighting game to begin with.
Fighting games have a generally consistent tone and shape which is certainly apparent, but as of yet unnamed. This is partially due to the lack of critical thinking in the video game journalism medium. Every legitimate fighting game has a time-tested, and immutable signal of victories in the battles and the wars of each match; the health bar. You see the little green bar file down as you and your opponent land powerful blows, and strive to best the other just one last time; you save that sliver of health with a block and land a deadly counter attack to steal the victory. This is inherent in all fighting games, it’s a conversation, as boxing is. A hit is taken, or countered. Another hit is attempted, whether it is successful is dependent on both parties, and the give and take continues. The chipping of your health bar is meaningful; every single sliver of health means the world as you are surely slipping closer and closer to a soul-crushing loss. Melee is unlike that. As a fighter you aren’t entirely sure when a hit is going to end your days, something could go wrong on your way back to the platform after you’re blasted into outer space by a thunder knee from Capt. Falcon. And then there’s the order of the fight. A conversation becomes a shouting match as the players try to layer attacks in a means to control the movement of their opponents. A fighting game like Tekken or Soul Calibur features combos. These are systematic button presses which activate several small attacks ending in a larger attack or even a single very powerful attack for all you who are unaware as to what combos are. They could also be tasty pizza-flavored snacks. The combos may be different, but they’re there all the same. Melee is devoid of combos or that conversational pattern. In their places are mixed and matched single button attacks used to subvert one’s opponent’s wishes and impose one’s wishes upon one’s opponent. Rather than the give and take it’s just the take and take. Despite what I might sound like, I don’t think that Melee not being a fighting game is a bad thing.
When Yoshi pads his way toward a barrage of missile fire from Samus, blocking all incoming fire with his own eggs, and Yoshi is able to snake his way into Samus’ defenses, the players see the strength of the game. Since the formulae is simple, creativity is fostered and improvisation is a necessary skill. I see Melee as a competitive, sandbox puzzle game. The sandbox may throw you off but give me a chance to convince you. Think of the moves available to the player as their puzzle pieces, victory is the end goal. You mix attacks, at varying angles and heights in order to get the better of your opponent. The reason I call it a sandbox is because within the simple attacks and basic controls the player is given, they can create effects beyond their intention. L canceling, wave dashing, and some of the saving tactics come to mind. You put a couple of kids in a sandbox with a bucket, most will make mounds of sand, but some will make castles. Either way, each bout is a struggle for power as each player tries to finish the puzzle. Melee is an innovative and intriguing game which breaks down every barrier set by traditional fighting games and transcends itself beyond the genre. The game was initially developed for casual entertainment, and whether the developers planned it or not, the competitive community has embraced Melee for its creative action.
This article is a reflection of what I think the industry ought to talk about, the complexity of reverse engineering by consumers and the connection, or dissonance, between what a game is and what a game does. I feel like the community is ready for lengthy, academic discussion. The game journalism industry ought to put forth literature which starts a meaningful conversation about the entirety of video game canon.
So what do you think? Should the industry continue its current path of video game discussions or should there be something to include academically-minded, hardcore gamers? If you do, and would like to see me continue doing so here, shoot me a message, or comment, or like, or share, or just do anything at all that gets my attention.
(If you find yourself scratching your head, wondering what game I was talking about, you need not worry. Melee is a Nintendo game in which an All-Star cast of Nintendo’s greatest characters battle for victory by knocking other players out of the ring. Up to four player may compete at a time. It’s also a little played game.)