Super Smash Bros. Melee is a game that has grown in popularity since its release in North America in 2001. Almost 15 years later, the game has surpassed many people’s expectations by becoming one of the most popular competitive fighting games in the world. The miracle of a 15-year-old game continuing to grow its fan base can be attributed to a dedicated, enthusiastic, and welcoming community, as well as, the game’s unique and eye catching game mechanics.
A Spectator’s Paradise
While the fan base originally consisted of avid players, the community has continued to expand to include people who simply just love to watch Melee, a.k.a. spectators. There are many reasons why you might want to start spectating Melee, and for whichever reason, this section will aim to get you up to speed.
Christopher Kovalik from the blog “Five Sentences or Less” and Wavedash Games summarized Melee perfectly by comparing it to tennis.
“Games are played 1v1 (singles) or 2v2 (doubles) where the objective is to score 4 points (stocks) on each enemy to win a game point and, typically, two to three game points are needed to win a match.
On each exchange (volley – for tennis) the objective is to catch your opponent off guard to score a point (knock you opponent off-screen for Smash) so mix-ups, fake-outs and other tactics to throw off your opponents are needed while predictability is a death sentence.
The professional scene is very similar with three major annual tournaments (CEO, EVO, and Apex / Genesis for Smash and US Open, French Open, Wimbeldon for Tennis).” –Christopher Kovalik
While the breath and complexity of Melee and its game mechanics is so deep, the main goal is rather simple. It can be thought of as playing “King of the Hill” where the objective is to stay on the stage despite your opponent trying to knock you off of it. This can be done by knocking them past the top, side, or bottom edges of the stage, a.k.a. “Blast zones.”
In this image, the blue inner line is how far the camera can cover while the yellow lines are the blast zones.
This basic idea is the foundation in which competitive Melee is built on. A character’s movement/recovery options, hitboxes, and weight/fall speed all dictate how strong on paper one character is versus another. Below is the NTSC tier list from ssbwiki.com from December 10th, 2015. Please note, that some characters on the tier list may have gone up or down since that point in time and those opinions of tier list differ between players.
Unlike other fighting games, stage choice plays a pivotal role in a player’s success in a set because each stage has different characteristics and sizes. In fact, Melee matches start out with a game of rock, paper, scissors to decided which stage they start on. The winner of RPS bans a stage, then the loser bans two more, and finally the winner chooses from the remaining two stages. That means that there are 5 starting stages. In addition, there is a “counter-pick stage: stage” (Pokemon Stadium) that can only be picked after Game 1, adding up to a total of 6 legal stages in competitive Melee. These 6 stages are, Battlefield, Final Destination, Fountain of Dreams, Yoshi’s Story, Dreamland 64, and Pokemon Stadium. Below is a chart of their varying sizes. Every stage has its own unique characteristics that can give one character an advantage over another character. For example on Final Destination, there is a technique called “chain grabbing” that is extremely useful because your opponent has no platforms to escape the potential zero to death combo.
Example of “Chain Grabbing”
This is the most basic information needed to be able to start watching and understanding Melee, however, I would just like to reiterate that Melee is a very complex game that grants players a lot of freedom to express themselves and play mind games on each other. Therefore, no two players usually play their character (main) the same way. With this is mind, I wish whoever is reading this the best of luck in entering the Melee scene. Below is a brief list of very common terms often heard in Melee commentary and some of my personal favorite Melee sets. Lastly, I would like to stress that while watching Melee is fun and exciting, learning to play the game will give you an amazing understanding and appreciation towards the sets that you will watch.
Main: The character a player chooses to play ie. A Fox main.
Wavedash: A unique game mechanic where one character air dodges into the ground to move forward or backwards
Dash Dancing: A unique game mechanic where one character is running back and forth to either bait the opponent or to hide their intentions to approach
Lag or L-Cancelling: A unique game mechanic where a player can decrease the cool down of an aerial attack upon landing.
DI (Directional Influence): A unique game mechanic that allows one to change their trajectory (flight path) after getting hit by an opponents attack. This is one of the most important and basics skills needed for a competitive player as it allows them to survive kill moves or to escape devastating combos.
SDI (Smash DI): A unique game mechanic that allows a person to slightly change the position of their character while they are being hit. A common use is to escape Fox’s up-throw à up-air combo
Crouch-Cancelling: A unique game mechanic that reduces the knockback of an opponent’s attack when your character is in a crouching position.
The Five Gods: Refers to C9|Mango, [A]rmada, Liquid|Hungrybox, Fox MVG|Mew2King, and EG|PPMD. In the past these players were so far ahead of the metagame, they only lost to each other in tournaments.
The God-Slayer: RB TSM|Leffen is the only player who has ever beaten all five of the Gods ever, and only player to beat four of them in one tournament.
Blast Zones: The very edge of the stage where if your character goes fully past it, the system will register it as a death
Ledgedash: A wavedash from ledge, some characters such as Fox can be invincible during this action.
Tomahawk Grab: An empty jump grab, a useful mix up option
Frame-perfect: A player had only 1 frame to execute an input or move. Melee runs at 60 frames per second so 1 frame is 1/60th of a second
20XX: A hypothetical prediction for the future of the Super Smash Bros Melee community, in which all players have mastered the character Fox and winners by whoever wins RPS
G.O.A.T.: Stands for “Greatest of All Time” and is usually used to describe C9|Mango
Notable Players: Here is a list of the Top 100 Melee players from 2015. Please note that this is a community ranking based on votes from panelist. http://www.meleeitonme.com/ssbmrank2015/
Personal Favorite Sets:
- TSM|Leffen vs. PG|Plup at Evo 2015
- EG|PPMD vs. Leffen at Apex 2015
- C9|Mango vs. Hungrybox at DreamHack Austin (2016)
- TMPO|Westballz vs. PG|Wobbles at Forte 3 (2015)
- TSM|Leffen vs. DruggedFox at Evo 2015
- S2J vs. Abate at Big House 5 (2015)
- Axe vs. Silent Wolf at Evo 2014
- CT|Mew2King vs. VGBC|Amsa at Kings of Cali 4 (2014)
- [A]rmada vs. C9|Mango at Genesis 3 (2016)
- Mango vs. Lucky at Big House 4 (2014)
Notable Mentions or Historic Matches:
Shiz vs. Mew2King at ROM (2009)
Armada vs. Mango at Genesis 1 (2009)
Hax$ vs. CT|Mew2King at Zenith 2014
Leffen vs. [A]rmada at B.E.A.S.T. 5 (2015)
Leffen vs. [A]rmada at Paragon Orlando (2015)
mYi.Ice vs. Overtriforce at DreamHack London 2015
Lucky vs. MIOM|S2J at UCI 16 (2016)
S2J vs. Lord at The Next Episode (2014)
Becoming a competitive player
Choosing to play Melee competitively is both an extremely rewarding and frustrating adventure. There are only a few things you need to get started. First, you will need a CRT. These clunky TVs allow Melee to be played without lag. This is important because Melee is a very fast pace and input-heavy game and the input delay cause by HD TVs will make it hard to practice any tech skill properly. Most CRTs can be found on the streets, craigslist, or a Goodwill for $0-$20.
Däumling and mYi.Ice play in grand finals of Avalon VIII, a Dutch national. Photo by Vincent Samaco and Seya
Next, you will need a Gamecube controller. These controllers can be bought on Ebay or Amazon. There is some debate regarding old controllers and the new Smash 4 one, but if you are starting out, any should be fine. Lastly, you will need a copy of Melee. This is the trickiest to find because most Gamecubes and Melee disks are fairly expensive. I personally would suggest buying a Wii that you could hack to install the 20XX Training Pack. The Wii disk player could even be broken since you will want to use a SD card or USB stick to load Melee. This mod of Melee is great because it also has special features installed that allow players to practice certain techniques (such as shield pressure) even more efficiently. Below is a link of where/how to download the 20XX Training Pack.
Once you have this all set up, it is time to finally learning more about the game. Remember that there is a high technical learning curve to Melee but skill will definitely come with enough practice. The ultimate goal is to be able to execute whatever tech you want to do without having to consciously think about it. This is important because eventually you want to be able to use your mental energy to play mind games on your opponent. The resources available to improve in Melee are practically endless. New guides, articles, and YouTube clips are being churned out faster than ever before. So, below is a plethora of links for your disposal that should help you on your journey to becoming a better player.
SSBM Tutorials Channel:
Advance How to Play series:
Spacing and Reading Tutorials by TheWaffle77
Top 10’s/Entertaining Smash Highlights:
For the written guides, someone graciously already compiled a word document containing some of the best written work, character guides, and other useful links that will help you constantly improve in Melee.
I personally have only been in the scene competitively for a year and a half and with so many more experience players giving out resources, I feel that I am not qualified to really give advice but rather just push you in the right direction. Just remember that becoming good at Melee is a journey that will last for years or decades, so you will hit some difficult walls whether that is in execution, spacing, or mentality. Just remember that there is always a way to improve your game and the better you get, the more fun the game becomes.