For more than 16 years, the competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee scene has held strong. The GameCube controllers used to play Melee, however, aren’t holding up nearly as well as the competitive scene is.
In an extensive report published Tuesday, Kotaku outlined the current state of GameCube controllers — as the years drag on, optimal controllers are becoming increasingly rare. With no stand-out alternative to the standard-issue GameCube controller, the competitive Melee scene is finding itself in a desperate spot.
There are two moves performed regularly by top-level Melee players that require extremely precise inputs: the back-dash and the shield drop. Even if players perform the joystick-flicking moves perfectly, not every GameCube controller reacts the same way, so players seek out specific controllers that read those moves well.
With use and repeated stress over time, even these optimal controllers ultimately get worn down. With no public plan for Nintendo to manufacture more, we inch closer to GameCube controller extinction.
Kotaku points out that some players pay to modify controllers in order to make these inputs more feasible on sub-optimal controllers, but that requires time and money, and not every controller can be physically modified to work how players want them to.
There are also software modifications for GameCube consoles that make Melee more likely to read these precise inputs even if the controller isn’t perfect, but this messes with the “purity” of Melee competition and can lead to potential errors from tournament organizers, Kotaku pointed out.
While many other fighting game scenes — say Street Fighter‘s — are cool with using alternative controllers like arcade-style fight sticks, the Melee scene hasn’t landed on an across-the-board ruling for alternative controllers.
It’s easy for tournament organizers to tell players they need to stick to standard GameCube controllers so the playing field is fair, but this year the top-ranked Melee player Adam “Armada” Lindgren had to drop out of a tournament because his controller wasn’t performing correctly.
A competitive player in any other esport would have just purchased a new controller, but good GameCube controllers are hard to come by. Without a wider adoption of alternative controllers, competitive Melee may look like a completely different scene in a few years.
One player, Aziz “Hax” Al-Yami, has been advocating for arcade-style fight pads for over a year. His inspiration came from a devastating hand injury that has affected his ability to hold a normal controller, but it also comes at a time when other people may be finding it hard to get their hands on a controller for other reasons.
At the upcoming tournament Smash Summit 5, the tournament organizers have agreed to let Hax play on a custom fight pad if he is voted in by fans. Although Smash Summit isn’t a standard tournament — it’s much more relaxed and much less serious than other tournaments — Hax playing with his fight pad could be a step toward wider adoption of alternative controllers by other players and tournament organizers.
If the Melee scene doesn’t reach a consensus on alternative controllers, players without access to optimal GameCube controllers will have to sacrifice crucial moves to play, changing the meta for top-level Melee, and potentially ending the competitive scene as we currently know it.