Remember the good old days of video gaming when you didn't need a clear-cut story to enjoy yourself? Where everything that wasn't you needed to die? Yeah, I miss those days.
That said, programmers keep on dragging us back, so it's hard to miss 'em too much. Say hello to Melee Man!
Melee Man has about as simplistic a concept as you can imagine in a game. You're a little dude with a gun. You shoot stuff with that gun while avoiding traps and pits and other dangers... usually more traps and more pits. You find a key, you run to an opened door, you go to the next level.
And... again. And again, and again, and again!
Melee Man is the ultimate in distillation. It gets rid of everything you don't need to enjoy a side-scroller and provides you with pure, simple, frustrating action.
Since Melee Man is all about not dying, the controls are pretty damn important. Fortunately, this game is smoothly responsive in every way, and if you die it's usually because you messed up and jumped too far, not because the controls are glitchy. They're also extremely easy to learn, making the small tutorial in the beginning of the game almost superfluous... but such things can't really hurt if they take up almost no time anyway.
According to Newgrounds, Melee Man was designed at the Gameboy Colour's graphical resolution. I don't personally remember my Gameboy Colour ever looking so good, but the point stands: this game is retro as hell. You'll zip back to the days of sprite-heavy games the moment Melee Man starts, and in my mind, that's a very good thing.
That said, I do have one problem with Melee Man: the backgrounds sometimes blend in with the foreground. This can make navigation, ah, tricky... and given the sheer number of pitfalls in the game, you really want to know where you're going.
I should also point out that, though this game is retro to the extreme, it's still firmly rooted in the Internet age when it comes to easter eggs:
Yes, you find a 'mushroom' sign further down the path. And the game's boss?
You get the idea. (I do wish they'd included other bosses, though the smiley is aggravating enough to prove a formidable adversary.)
For the first five minutes, Melee Man's sound is awesome. The background music is superb, on par with the best midi tunes straight out of Capcom's extensive vault of tunes. Unfortunately there are only a couple songs in the game, and hearing them over and over gets a teensy bit bland after a while. Still great, but a little more variety might have been nice.
Melee Man is not a long game, as its levels are on the short side and there aren't a ton of them. That said, they get damn difficult near the end, and you'll probably see this screen a lot:
I have no doubt at all that some players simply won't be able to beat Melee Man. (Don't be offended, y'all. I'm one of them. I had to give up on the second boss battle - was getting close to beating the bastard, but, uh, had to get back to working eventually.) Because the levels are so short getting beaten and starting over isn't a huge pain, however, and Melee Man shouldn't cause too many computer-related 'accidents'.
Melee Man is fun. A lot of fun. It won't last long, and it could use a little more variety in the graphics, but the average gamer should still love it to bits. If you enjoy old NES, SNES, Gameboy, Sega, etc. titles, try this one.
(One niggling point, though - you don't really, ah, 'melee' in this game. Getting close to enemies is bad, unless you count jumping on their heads. DOES that count? I seldom see Mario-style fisticuffs in real life.)
PLAY MELEE MAN