I’m watching Logan Foster stream development of his as-of-Thursday-successfully-Kickstartered 2D platformer WaveLand when, all of a sudden, he switches to Super Smash Bros. Melee. Gone are the lines of multicolored GameMaker code, as Foster dons the knee-high golden boots of one Captain D. J. Falcon and proceeds to unleash a can of unmitigated whoop-ass on a computerized Dr. Mario. The impromptu beatdown’s purpose is research, not recreation: despite its protagonist being an austere white square, WaveLand is so closely modeled after the movement mechanics of Melee—it’s even intended to be played with a GameCube controller—that you could almost say it’s more remake than homage.
It’s more remake than homage.
A quick recap seems appropriate for those unfamiliar with Melee’s history. As released, the second Smash Bros. game was infested with glitches and bugs. Rather than undermining the quality of the experience, however, these quirks were harnessed by players to enable feats of swift movement and stylish combat beyond the developers’ wildest dreams (nightmares?). Of these glitches, the wavedash is perhaps the most famous: put simply, jump-dodging into the ground causes your character to slide across the stage. Wavedashing, wavelanding, dashdancing, L-canceling, crouch-canceling, and SDI, to name a few, are essential tools in the competitive Melee player’s utility belt. Nintendo intentionally removed many of these quirks from later games, but the emergent gameplay of the Japanese studio’s 2001 classic lives on through projects like WaveLand, which molds Melee movement into a challenging 2D platformer in the tradition of Super Meat Boy.
WaveLand is not the first appropriation of Melee movement techs—Rivals of Aether, a Smash-style 2D fighter, includes wavedashes, and a game studio promising to build “the next esports-ready, genre-defining platform fighter” blatantly named itself Wavedash Games—but it might be one of the first to base its entire gameplay around them.
“I would often find myself trying to wavedash in other games” said Foster in an interview with Digital Trends. “I love the movement in Smash and always wanted to see how it could work in a single-player game.”
He’s not the only one. WaveLand generated $8,000 in 24 hours after making it to the front page of r/smashbros last week. It was aided by attention from popular community members like Smash content creator Alpharad, who posted an enthusiastic gameplay video that racked up 138,000 views in 4 days.
WaveLand might actually make you better at Melee.
What’s interesting about WaveLand is its potential for a symbiotic relationship with Melee. By which I mean: not only are the mechanics so similar that being good at Melee makes you naturally good at WaveLand, but it’s possible that practicing WaveLand might actually make you better at Melee. If its gamefeel winds up similar enough, Foster’s project could even become a third-party tool for competitive Melee players to drill their movement. As it stands, learning to waveland and airdodge and wavedash in Melee is a matter of practicing on empty stages for hours on end; that gets pretty tedious after a while. I would guess that part of the average community member’s enthusiasm for WaveLand is imagining how much better it’ll make them at Melee movement techs. And while games that borrow from Melee are increasingly commonplace, those that enable you to specifically drill for it are something new entirely. The closest comparison is the rhythm/clicking game Osu, used by Dota 2 and StarCraft II competitors to hone basic mouse mechanics—but Osu was developed totally separate from the esports for which it now serves as a warm-up. As competitive videogames continue to grow, it’s likely that projects like WaveLand will proliferate, giving players a way to practice specific mechanics in fresh, efficient, and colorful third-party environments.