This essay was submitted by Loopy. You can find Loopy on twitter @strangestloop.
How do I even begin to capture the thrill and the fervor and the joy that a 20-year old fighting game and its competitive scene stoke within me? It’s a fool’s errand, yet I am compelled to try.
Consider actual real-life rocket launches. The anticipation grows and grows over the course of the final checks, becomes nearly unbearable during the countdown, and hits a critical mass at “3… 2… 1…” as an unholy amount of fuel ignites: blast off. Catharsis and euphoria reign. It’s a sight to behold, as are the launches that occur in every Super Smash Bros. Melee match. As you deal damage to your opponent they’re knocked farther with every hit, until at last you deliver the critical blow, the knee of justice or the people’s elbow or the falcon punch that sends your sorry opponent rocketing off screen with a literal smoke trail in their wake. If you send them heavenward you see their pathetic visage flailing, falling in the distance and you hear their terrified yell. And then you do a taunt in the seconds before your opponent respawns because you’re just that toxic. Your chiseled speedster gives a two-finger salute and says, “show me your moves!” You’re absolutely filthy.
Defensive sieges are another thrilling thing that happens in the real world. Remember the Alamo? Yeah I wasn’t alive for it either but the Wikipedia page mentions some sick tactics. The defending Texians fired the Mexicans’ cannonballs back at them and they burned Mexican huts under the cover of night. Defensive struggles in Melee utilize their own set of interesting tactics. When you knock your opponent off of the stage, they have to get back or else they’ll fall to what I can only assume is a fiery hell just off screen. You stand near the edge where your opponent is trying to return. Do you jump out and fight them in the air? Do you try to predict the angle of their fire fox (not the browser) recovery move so you can knock them away once again? Do you hang from the ledge so they can’t grab it? You’re a savant. You leap out just as they prepare a horizontal burst of speed and execute them with a shine spike. They fall to hell and you jump back to safety. And then you taunt again, you savage. Your domineering space animal steps back, makes the come here gesture, and scoffs: “come on!”
“Sounds cool but I’m just not a gamer.” Sure, I get that. Are you interested in people though? Big personalities perhaps? The competitive Melee scene has them in spades. Feel free to stan the top player of your nationality or the Lebron of the scene, I won’t judge. Alternatively you can root for the real-life anime protagonist aMSa who uses a character widely regarded as non-viable in competitive play, except for the fact that aMSa consistently beats fellow top-level players. Or how about the mischievous Mango AKA The Kid AKA The Buster who uses a high-risk play style and once said that “Melee is up there for the best games ever made. I know it’s kind of an accident, but so are half of us, and we’re awesome.” Or maybe you love the suffering of others so much that you root for the oft-maligned Hungrybox who plays the world’s best Jigglypuff, a slow and floaty character, anathema to Melee’s ethos of quickfire moves and reactions.
And if I may wax for a bit, the aesthetics both in and out of the game are fire. Competitive Melee is a visual feast: characters dance around each other and leap from platform to platform at lightning speeds (Jigglypuffs notwithstanding). The soundtrack has banger after banger and the in-game announcer uses his booming soprano to announce character selections as well as “Game!” once someone deals the winning blow. Players lug heavy-ass CRT televisions around tournament venues because they have minimal input lag, essential for competitive play. The community has snappy names for advanced techniques: wavedash, short hop, dair and fair and bair, oh my!
What I’m getting at is that Melee and the surrounding competitive scene are fun as hell. There’s so much love for the game, deservedly so. It warms my heart.