The most epic Super Smash Bros. match EVER proves the game isn’t just for button-mashers
With the new Super Smash Bros. game making an appearance at E3, many in the SSB competitive community began reminiscing about their favorite games in the series, and their favorite matches of all-time. One match in particular emerged as the favorite, with some considering it the Smash Bros community's equivalent of the famous Justin Wong vs Daigo Umehara Street Fighter III match. Although it should be clear to anyone why the match is so well-loved, we got in touch with a SSBM expert to break down the complex strategy that uninitiated players might not see.
It was to be their last hurrah. Super Smash Bros. Brawl had just released, and the community around Super Smash Bros. Melee was slowly dying.
The group of players and tournament organizers that comprised the Melee community had just been through what they called their Golden Age. They were competing at MLG tournaments, and one of their top players, PC Chris, had just won $10,000 at one of those events, a hefty sum even compared to some modern fighting game purses.
“After Brawl was released, many competitive players moved toward that game in the series,” said Wynton “Prog” Smith, a SSBM commentator and co-host of the Melee it on Me podcast who calls himself 'the Professor X of the SSBM community.' “Tournament numbers were dwindling nationwide, and it looked very grim for the future of the game.”
Not content to die a quiet death, the major players in the east coast community got together to throw one last major tournament called Revival of Melee.
“Three tournament organizers (Alukard from NY, Scar from PA, JFox from NJ) decided to gather the entire Northeast for one last hurrah,” said Prog. “Slowly it snowballed as many of the Atlantic North's old titans came out of retirement to say they'd attend. Then southern up and comers also began saying they'd show. The final straw was when Mango, arguably the best in the world at the time (and still in the argument now) and a few other West Coast players decided they'd come as well.”
The main event
When I sent Prog an email about the most famous match that came out of Revival of Melee he replied to me with a nearly 2000 word essay just about this one single match. This is obviously a game that gets the community's blood running, and it's considered by many to be the greatest match in Melee's long history.
The stage was already set for a classic. The two players that were fighting, Shiz (DaShizWiz) and M2K (Mew2King) were among the best in the world at the time. “Mew2King was defending the East Coast, Shiz was looking for redemption from a previous set, another Grand Finals set that went to the very last game and made these two look like equals.”
And the character matchup of Falco vs Marth was a classic setup as well. “Falco became arguably the second best character and Marth settled around third or fourth,” said Prog. “Gameplay wise, the matchup between these two characters was arguably the most even, Falco with a superb combo game and Marth with a stellar punish game, especially against Falco. In this game's long history, many of the main rivalries, and hence, most important sets have had these two characters being played.”
From the very start of the game, Shiz's Falco looked dominant. He danced back and forth elegantly and unleashed huge combos.
“There's a lot of emphasis on spacing,” said Prog. “Early in the match, M2K's Marth approaches Shiz's Falco and Falco immediately retreats, wanting to force his will on the spacing in this game. Marth has a disjointed hitbox (his sword deals damage, his body doesn't; if you hit his sword's hitbox, he won't take damage, you have to directly connect with him) so Shiz is attempting to get in properly.”
If you watch closely, Shiz is using Falco's laser constantly. In a flurry, he unleashes five or six of them trying to catch M2K's Marth off-guard. The laser does next to no damage, but does have a short stun which eventually allows Falco to get in to start a long combo that tilts the early game in his favor.
Greed vs Zen calm
But Shiz starts getting greedy. After the first kill, Shiz's Falco goes on another tear and almost goes up on a 2:0 kill lead, but at 1:23 he gets overeager and attempts to force a kill on Marth with a risky off-the-ledge engagement. Marth dodges and scores a hit, and Falco is unable to recover.
The best part about this moment is if you watch closely, you can see Marth pause for a moment on the cloud and stand still while falling off the side of the cliff, totally calm, as if to say “come get it.”
From there we see Marth go into a turtle-style “edge-hogging” strategy. The idea is to hang below the edge to prevent your opponent from using it, and here it seems like M2K's Marth is trying to bait Falco into a situation that would be less-than-optimal for that character.
“The off-the-stage game is very important,” said Prog. “Falco is sort of a glass cannon character. His recovery is predictable, linear, and when Marth gets him off the stage, he has to make all of the right choices and be perfect with his recovery to ensure making it back.”
“Shiz (Falco) is an extremely offensive player,” Prog continued. “He's one of the best the game has seen at rushing down and keeping pressure on. He has extended combos and setups, and tries to go in when he's ready and has a positional advantage; however, the first stock (1:25) and last stock he loses (3:14) are all because he wants to get Mew2King (Marth) off the ledge and ensure the stock being lost. Mew2King takes advantage of his greed/overaggression and punishes accordingly. It nearly happened four times during the set, but M2K faltered.”
After his first kill, Marth starts to fall apart a little bit. Falco goes on a tear and takes two straight lives (or stocks, as they're known in SSB) in dominating fashion with near endless combos and juggling.
“Comboing in Melee is different from any other game,” said Prog. “Most games are like classical music, sheet music sitting ahead of you. You know what you can do for max damage and its a matter of execution. Melee is a bit more like Jazz. There's a lot more improvisation because of the stage (using the platforms to continue combos), reading the opponent's [falling arch], and choosing moves based on how you want to continue the combo.”
By this point, Shiz/Falco is up by 2 stocks, and is in a commanding lead. But the action has been so frenetic that the commentators are already talking about this being the best match ever.
M2K/Marth seems to know at this point that he can't win in a straight fight. He's been picked apart by Shiz/Falco's hyperaggression for the entire match, so he reverts to his baiting style, trying to force Falco off the ledge. It doesn't work the first time, but after a brutal chain of grab attacks, Marth is able to combo Falco off the ledge perfectly.
When Falco comes back he's clearly shaken up, and he wants to end the match immediately before M2K can get momentum. But he plays directly into M2K/Marth's hand and tries to attack him while he's on the ledge. A few skillful movements later and Marth is able to force a quick kill to take the victory after being down 3 stocks to 1.
And the crowd goes wild.
“M2K made the comeback at the end because Shiz wanted to end it quickly and keep momentum going,” said Prog. “M2K goes for everything looking to take that [last] stock, neutralizes' Shiz's second jump and secures the game. However, it isn't the first time Shiz makes a bad decision with M2K at/near the ledge (1:24). Nothing changed, Shiz's over aggression that put him in the lead was his undoing. Defense doesn't win games, it just stops you from losing them.”
The tournament wasn't over, and M2K went on the fight another good match against Mango in the Grand Finals, but it says a lot that the YouTube upload of the Grand Finals match (the more important match of the day) has only one quarter of the views that the semi-final had (Shiz/Falco vs M2K/Marth). That was the match that Revival of Melee will always be remembered for.
Revival of Melee wasn't the end of the Super Smash Bros. Melee community. Far from it. In November 2012 they held Revival of Melee 5. You can't credit this lone match, no matter how great, for resurrecting the community, but you can certainly credit a great fighting game that still managed to surprise and thrill spectators after eight years on the market.