With Smash Bros Brawl showing up to smother our Wiis in a few months, I've been thinking about how long it has been since Smash Melee came out... December 2001. Almost a GameCube launch game, but not quite. I was there. One of the features that made Melee seem like such an advancement over the previous generation was its expansiveness. There was a ton of characters and venues to unlock, an unbelievable stats system, more gameplay modes than you would ever need (or master; stupid Target Test!), and, of course, the interactive Nintendo history of the collectible trophies.
The entire game was one concentrated nostalgia wave, and Brawl will be no different. In fact, it's going to be bigger, thanks to the possibilities of opening up the doors to classic characters outside of Nintendo's extended family. One of the reasons floated for the game's delay was to perhaps integrate other non-Nintendo fighters into the game. That would be a nice surprise since they've already revealed Snake and Sonic, but I would doubt that two months is enough time to make something like happen. The move to February feels more like a political move, to allow Mario Galaxy and other titles room to breathe for the holidays and fill a hole in the Wii's dance card next year. Prior to the Smash switch, what was Nintendo's big competition for Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, and GTA IV? Wii Fit and Endless Ocean?
Anyway, I was thinking about how much Nintendo has changed since December 2001, and what this means for Smash Brawl.
People care about Metroid. Let's face it: Metroid was dead and buried in December of '01. Sure, you had your inconsolable wags who always mentioned Super Metroid SNES as one of best games of all time, but that was 199-frickin-4. Aside from Samus's appearance in the first Smash Bros game (and even that was in 1999), she was a forgotten relic.
But thanks to the Metroid Prime series, Samus stepped back into the spotlight. Although the momentum cooled with Prime 2, the latest installment - the Wii's Prime 3 - has jump-started its Q-score, thanks largely to the game proving that the Wii Remote can handle first-person shooter controls.
Pokemon is bigger than ever. Pokemon accelerated so fast that the first Smash Bros included it, and the Poke-elements are huge in Melee (only the biggest franchises get TWO levels). When Melee came out, Pokemon had not yet made the jump to the then six-month-old Game Boy Advance hardware, so the newest Pokemon game was 2000's Gold/Silver duo.
Ruby/Sapphire came out in 2001, and then the franchise kinda went south for a few years until 2006's Diamond/Pearl. Before the DS generation, Pokemon remained a solid performer but the heat was definitely off. Thanks to the advances of Diamond/Pearl, the series catapulted into even higher heights.
Admit it, you thought Pokemon would have stopped by now.
Sonic is a joke. Sega announced the end of the Dreamcast in early 2001, so by Melee's release we already had experienced the cultural oddity of seeing Sega games on other systems. Up until that point, Sonic himself was still well-respected, most recently appearing in the Dreamcast's two Sonic Adventure games.
However, since then Sega has ground the blue blur to levels akin to Gex or Spyro. Horrible game after horrible game kept appearing, promising to be better, and then sucking canal water. His games sell just because of his pretty face. The only bright spots in his miserable recent history are a couple of DS games and the Wii exclusive Secret Rings (which reviewers still couched their compliments in the caveat that it was "the best Sonic game in years.")
Still, the timing is good for Sonic's addition to Smash Bros. Had Nintendo hustled to get him into Melee (as a famous EGM April Fool's Joke showed), the character's career popularity would have demanded that he take over more of the game... probably arriving with at least half a dozen other Sonic Universe characters, making the title more "Mario vs. Sonic" than "Super Smash Bros Melee." Now, with so many other fighters in the stable, and the luster gone, Sonic won't commandeer the entire game.
Starfox is dying. Starfox 64, the definitive Starfox game, was four years old was Melee came out, and anticipation was high for a new one. Then we got it. Or rather, we got a weird fetch quest with dinosaurs and no flying. The second GameCube era Starfox game, Assault, had flying but did nothing to move the needle. Then a DS game arrived with a nifty secondary game function (a turn-based strategy minigame) and that old 64 flavor, but a bizarrely constricted glass box flying setup.
So Starfox isn't as dead as Sonic yet, but he's getting there.
The new class. Fun fact: Melee was the American audience's introduction to Animal Crossing. Three of the game's characters showed up as trophies, almost a year before AC was released in the States. It's a similar story with Fire Emblem, but who gives a crap about Fire Emblem.
Some other new Nintendo IPs that have arrived on our shores in the years since Melee: WarioWare, Brain Age, Nintendogs, Elite Beat Agents, Chibi-Robo... not to mention the entire Wii/Mii paradigm. Then there's the Wind Waker look to Zelda, a couple of revamps that added elements to the Marioverse (Sunshine and New), and the aforementioned Metroid Prime series.
Some of these have already been announced as key components of Brawl, but no doubt every one will show up in some form. (Give me WW Link as an alternate costume to Twilight Princess Link!)
Has anybody predicted a Mii-styled fighter who, naturally, is YOUR Mii? Seems like a natural to me.
Online play. Not even a reasonable consideration in 2001. This was a full year before Xbox Live debuted, even.
There were a lot of great rumors - I remember one gleeful rumor circa 2002 that suggested Nintendo was going to shortly announce that all the GameCube versions of the classic N64 party games (Mario Kart, Mario Party, Mario Tennis) would all be online and all take the moniker "Smash" as Nintendo's new online brand. IE, Mario Smash Kart, Mario Smash Party, and Mario Smash Tennis. I always kinda liked the sound of that.
Of course, that didn't happen. It took a couple more years of nothing (thanks for that GameCube Broadband Adapter, Nintendo!), then a few spare efforts on the DS front, then the release of the Wii... and only in this calendar year have we seen some real online functionality. And happily, Nintendo being Nintendo, it's not all just on a simple Deathmatch FPS front... it's the faux-community of Animal Crossing Wild World, trading credit vouchers in Metroid Prime 3, sending Miis and photos on the Wii, and the pocket monster husbandry of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl.
If Nintendo had shipped Smash Brawl without online play, there would have been riots in the streets.
Back on top. The biggest change is that Nintendo, a punchline in video gaming circles for a decade, is the market leader. Thanks to Sony completely sputtering their PS2 power, thanks to Microsoft continuing to stay inside their own little poorly built box, and thanks to Nintendo striking unexpected gold with a stupidly crazy controller strategy that we're still surprised actually works.
And don't forget about their continued dominance in the handheld world since 2001... first with the GBA SP and then with the DS.
From the other side of the street... Here's the games that were big news in the fall of 2001: Ico, GTA III, Final Fantasy X, MGS2, Silent Hill 2, SSX Tricky, and the first editions of Jak & Daxter, Halo, and Devil May Cry. We had barely heard of things like Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet & Clank, or Splinter Cell. What's a Katamari Damacy?
That's how old Melee is. And it should give you an idea how long we'll have to live with Brawl.