This year marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of my favorite video game of all time, Super Smash Bros. Melee. To commemorate this milestone, I’m reflecting on the game, and a certain friendship I’ll never forget.
As we pulled up to my parents’ house, Andy and I knew we’d arrived; we’d reached the final moment of our friendship. Once I stepped out of his car, I’d be on my way to university, and we’d scarcely meet again. I didn’t want to pull that door handle.
While our relationship would end in a vehicle, as chance would have it, it also began in one. Smash Bros. would be involved in both occasions.
A New Frenemy has Appeared!
A few years earlier, we met on the school bus. I was chatting with a friend when a kid, one year my junior, piped up from the seat behind us, “Are you guys talking about Super Smash Bros?” he asked. We were indeed. Andy was an unassuming-looking teen with messy hair and deep, relaxed eyes. He was bright, and fun, and never raised his voice. He would also tell you that he was irredeemably lazy. To quote Red from The Shawshank Redemption, also speaking about an Andy, “I think it would be fair to say I liked Andy from the start.”
From there, Andy and I would commonly talk games on bus rides, and it wasn’t long before we started spending our after-school hours in each other’s basements, our hands seemingly glued to the controllers. We played Super Smash Bros. for N64, we teamed up for Mario Kart Double Dash, and for a time we were hopelessly addicted to Animal Crossing. We had one copy and traded it back and forth every couple days.
But the game I think of most, when thinking of Andy, will always be Super Smash Bros. Melee. It was the sequel to one of our favorite games, bigger, better, and more intricate. Anyone could pick it up and play, but there seemed to be no limit to heights we could scale while attempting to master it. There was always another plateau to ascend to.
In those days, I played Falco, an artifact of being Fox player in the original game. Andy played Sheik. One day, on a lark, I tried Peach, and Andy told me he had trouble beating me, so I switched and mained Peach from that day on. We dueled each other in single combat, in multiplayer mayhem with our friends, and we even held tournaments. Small ones, 8 people or fewer. These were the days of sleepovers with pizza, long afternoons with popcorn, and Saturday mornings with, well, pop-tarts probably. But camaraderie and competition were the through line. It seemed that the fun would never end.
Eventually Andy learned that there were tournaments being held downtown at a place called AdrenaLAN. We drove down there one Saturday morning. It was a dumpy building and almost windowless inside, but windowlessness was a desirable feature, as the space was lined wall-to-wall with PCs and big screen TVs. Windows would only cause glares. We paid the entry fee with cautious optimism, and were ushered into the dingy space. Soon we found ourselves engaged in Melee with other young men who had been willing to part with money to play Smash competitively. We met our friend Anthony there, or as he’s known in the Smash community, Dmac.
After a couple of games, I remember Dmac and his pal making friends with us. I’m sure they were complimentary of Andy’s skills, but of course all I remember is that they dug the way I wielded Princess Peach. “That was some crazy princess shit,” they told me. We fell in with them, joining what would become the Lawrence/KC crew.
The crew era of my Smash Bros. career is something totally different from the casual competitions I facilitated among my friend group. We talked character weight, kill percentages, animation frames. The Dans—we had two of them—were like scientists, researching information and spouting off figures. When the crew got together we practiced technical skills like wavedashing, L-canceling, and teching. Darkrain and Jimi would drive in from KC, and if you don’t know who Darkrain is let me explain it this way:
- I was good at Smash Bros
- Andy could beat me two-thirds of the time
- Darkrain, playing a low-tier character and using only one hand, could beat Andy
I remember it being less fun than casual play, but it was where the road had led for me and Andy, and it was nice to be respected, and feel a part of a community.
That fateful night
Okay, now that the foundation is laid, we can return to that fateful night. You know, the one with the car and the end of my friendship with Andy? There we are on the side of the road. It’s late. I’m not ready to step out of the car; in that final moment together, we're frozen—freeze there. Rewind. Andy drives backwards, in the dark to Anthony’s house. The cold outside is such a relief compared to the sweltering heat we're about to feel reversing into that house full of bodies and TVs. We step backwards up the steps and into the front door. The explosive finale of a huge Melee tournament implodes into a singular moment at it’s start: Anthony divides dozens of combatants into pools—that is, groups of players that must compete with each other in round-robin fashion to generate seeds for the tournament. Seeds. That’s right. Stop here. The seeds are planted, let’s move forward again.
The seeds grow. My round-robin pool is sent into the kitchen where we find our TV waiting. I win my first game. Then the next. I’m sweating. I’m not pleased. The only thing that will bring relief is if I can eke out a win against each player in my pool. I want to prove myself. I’m doubtful. Most of these guys are from out of town, some from out of state. I don’t think I deserve the 1-seed, but I need it. I scratch and claw, and somehow, to my shock—and I think to the shock of many others—I accomplish my goal. Through sheer willpower I concurred my pool of eight players. I’m one of only four that will be named a 1-seed.
The seeds are cast, and we move on to the main tournament. I climb the hierarchy of the tournament, each win bringing me closer to the final.
I don’t remember all my games but I remember going up against Phatgamer. He played Peach too, and displayed more technical prowess than I. His float-cancel recovery mystified me. I was intimidated. I watched his Peach carefully, and I played scrappy. I pulled as many turnips as I could to establish control, and to disrupt him from playing his way. Since he was also a master at Peach, I tried to play in a way that would be unpredictable; I butt-bombed him, a move that was rarely, if ever, optimal. It worked. He was as vexed by me as I was him, and maybe more, because soon I was declared the winner of our set.
Duel of the Fates
I make it. The finale lays before me. The final set of the tournament will be the first time I’ll play in the main room, on the biggest TV. I come into the room to face him, my ultimate adversary, in the last match I will play in my high school career. It’s Andy.
There he was, sitting on the couch, holding a GameCube controller, looking unassuming. It was the same as ever. I sat down next to him, just like always. He picked Sheik, and I picked Peach, just like we did every day after school for years preceeding this moment. I’d like to say I won that match, but the truth is better. Andy won. As the elder between the two of us, I had the honor of losing, and fading from the Smash scene, with confidence that I had left it in good hands.
After it was all over I congratulated him, we wound the cables around our controllers and stepped outside into that cool night air. We hopped in the car, and drove back to our neighborhood.
When I think back on 20 years with Super Smash Bros. Melee, what strikes me most is how much I enjoyed it socially. The game itself is fun, but what makes it my favorite game of all time is the memories I have of playing with my friends. Especially with Andy. Melee was in our origin, it was in our conclusion, and it defined much of what was in-between.
There we were, parked in his vehicle for the last time.
“You’ve made the last few years awesome,” he said.
“You too,” I replied.
It was the end of an era. I stepped out of the car.