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Bob Muir avatar 5:45 PM on 03.09.2008  (server time)
Rantoid: Longevity - seven years, to be exact

Necros Says: I obviously missed updating Rantoid last week, but not because I ran out of time to write it. At the moment, I had no opinions to strongly express. Luckily, I was able to find my muse and come up with a topic, though somewhat obvious, to write about this week.

Though not every game needs multiplayer, and some games are better for it, those that have it must take into consideration special concerns. For a game to have longevity is even more important; how many people still play Shadowrun online? But once a game succeeds in finding a fun gameplay formula, it can become a timeless classic. Just look at how long Phantasy Star Online lasted, and how many ports and small updates it received before it finally became obsolete. Even now, the game still has loyal fans who refuse to play Phantasy Star Universe and create their own private servers to play the Dreamcast classic. So it is with this topic of longevity in mind that I ask: what made Super Smash Bros. Melee stay popular for over seven years when most other games become quickly abandoned?

The more cynical-minded gamer would quickly state the fact that there was no newer version to make it obsolete, such as the replacement of Xbox Live's most popular game, Halo 2, after a "mere" three years by Halo 3. The Nintendo-centric gamer might believe that it simply took a long time to consider how they could improve the series without jumping the shark. The impatient gamer could remark that Melee remained a gaming staple out of simple necessity; due to the Gamecube's decline in the "console wars, the late start of Brawl's production, and numerous delays, we had to be content with Melee, as it was the only option we had. And while I'm sure these reasons contributed to the popularity of Melee, they certainly were not the primary reasons for its continued success.

One of the biggest draws for me and the friends I played with was the wide variety present in the game. While Super Smash Bros. on N64 was a great game, after a while, the limited characters and stages began to repeat themselves a bit too much. Melee's 25 characters and 29 stages, on the other hand, offer an amazing amount of diversity. Even taking into account character similarities in clones, which are really tweaks to make boring characters like Mario into fun characters like Dr. Mario, you still had 19 characters who all played incredibly different. And what was amazing was that, in this multiplayer platform game, every character who had been in a platforming game before felt just like they usually were. Compare the way Samus jumps to the way she jumps in Super Metroid, and you'll notice how well this is captured, and how well it contrasts with, say, Mario's jumping. Even non-platforming characters like Link maintain a familiar weight constant from their games.

But it wasn't just the core gameplay that amazed us. Compared to the original game, which only had one singleplayer mode, a multiplayer mode, and a few minigames, Melee was a virtual smorgasbord of options. I remember playing singleplayer dedicatedly for the first two years the game was out, trying to beat harder difficulties with harder characters and get high scores in the numerous minigames and event challenges. When the singleplayer finally grew old (simply from playing it so much), there was an incredible multiplayer experience to fall back on. What amazed me about it was this: when playing with four friends, it was amazingly versatile. Sure, we experimented with one-on-one matches from time to time, mostly to settle disputes about skill, but four-player action was where it was at. Rules quickly sprung up: random characters, random stage, you can reselect if you got that character last time, two players who got the characters would unofficially "team up" in what as called an "outsider match." One of my friends even came up with an elaborate card/board game to go along with the game to determine rules and settings and add some overall strategy to the game. As rigid as it sounds, the game was malleable enough to allow for numerous nuances, and even silly "special" matches, in which everyone's giant and the only items are super mushrooms to make you bigger - on Fountain of Dreams, the smallest stage in the game.

But if that was just it, the game would have lasted long, but not this long. Somehow, though, the game allowed for the creation of meta-games, where new rules were player enforced, similar to an Infection gametype, which was player-enforced in Halo 2 until it was added in Halo 3. I found the best stage in Melee to be Hyrule Temple, because not only was it great for regular matches, but because you could come up with new types of games on it. One meta-game I've played on it involved a race around the course, three laps, with the ability to attack other players as you go to screw them up. Recently, we've created our own "juggernaut" gametype, in which a level 9 computer (usually Bowser) got a handicap of 9, while everyone else got a handicap of 1 and teamed up to take him out. We debated between which character was most effective before settling on a Samus team. When we surpassed that, we brought in a human player, usually the weakest player, so as to give us a fighting chance. When we surpassed that, we let them choose something Pichu. Soon, we advanced to using melee-based characters. Just as this gametype evolved over time, so too did many meta-games evolve from Melee.

I still think it's hard to pin down exactly why Melee continued to be a multiplayer staple for over seven years, and I know a lot of people who have never gotten into the Smash Bros. series wonder why the game is so popular. Some elements were only discovered recently. I remember only two years ago that a friend told me some tourneyfags discovered that Bowser could suck a lot less using some crouch-cancel technique. Myself, I only discovered a week ago that Captain Falcon carries a gun on his character model and could, theoretically, have had some ranged attacks. (I somehow missed this for seven years, even though Captain Falcon is my primary character.) But likely, it's a combination of all the things I've tried to touch upon. Of course, now, it's time to lay this amazing game to rest. However, from my brief time with Brawl, I am confident that, just as Melee provided years of enjoyment and discovery, so too will Brawl endure.

The king is dead. Long live the king.

Necros despises tourneyfags almost as much as furries and routinely calls them out on their bullshit at Syracuse University, where he is a student. A quick check of any Smash Bros. discussion on Failcast, where he is a regular, will easily reveal this. Seriously, fuck you, tourneyfags.

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