The NTSC vs PAL Debate: What You Need To Know

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Super Smash Bros. Melee was released in North America and Japan for the 2001 holiday season, while it didn’t hit European and Australian shelves until May 2002. What was Nintendo doing in this intervening time, and why is this relevant today? Here’s some things you might not know about how some of Nintendo’s choices around Melee’s release still affect the game today.

Among analog television standards, there are two main systems, NTSC and PAL. NTSC stands for the National Television Systems Committee, which was the body that created the standard in 1941. The NTSC video standard, used in North America and Japan, calls for a 29.97 frames per second interlaced video signal made up of 525 lines. Double this, and you get 59.94, Melee’s framerate. The PAL standard, used in Europe, Australia, and many other places, works differently. PAL calls for a 25 frames per second interlaced video signal made up of 625 lines. Although these standards no longer play a big role in modern television broadcasting, they mattered back in the GameCube days. Nintendo and other game companies have had a complicated relationship with PAL titles over the years. Games like Sonic the Hedgehog were just slowed down from 59.94 to 50 frames per second, making them feel slow. For Melee, holding B on startup allows the player to choose between the 60hz mode used for tournaments as well as a 50hz mode, replacing the progressive scan toggle in NTSC. Nintendo needed to put in extra time to code the PAL version of Melee.

The HAL Laboratories development team made an interesting choice, though. Instead of porting the game to PAL exactly as is, they made balance changes to the game, many of which directly impact competitive play.

The most noticeable difference right away is the stock icons, which are smaller than in NTSC. If you’re ever unsure as to whether a Melee match is PAL or NTSC, this is a good starting point. Some highlights: Fox’s upsmash is weaker and his up-B doesn’t go as far. Falco’s late dair is no longer a spike. Marth gets knocked down by Fox’s shine and his dair is able to be meteor cancelled. Falcon’s weak knee does less knockback and his gentleman gets easier to perform. Some other characters receive minor changes. Most of all, Sheik is nerfed significantly. Her downthrow angle is changed to not allow for consistent follow-ups or chain grabs, and her upair is no longer an effective kill move.

Until recently, PAL was the version of Melee that was played in Europe and Australia. However, an important development in Melee hacking changed this: the memory card buffer exploit. I’ll skip over the details, but in short, with 20XXTE, UCF, and other memory card mods becoming available, the sky’s the limit in terms of the modifications you can make to Melee which will run on any unmodified GameCube or Wii. One of these new mods is a memory card mod which will turn any PAL copy of the game into NTSC.

Why is this on the table? The reason is that most Melee majors are in North America, where NTSC is played. This presents a unique issue for European players, who won’t be as familiar with NTSC and could be at a disadvantage when they travel to a major overseas. As well, switching to NTSC could motivate more players to travel to Europe for majors, as PAL is often perceived negatively in North America. A notable example would be Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, who has never travelled to Europe. Finally, for new players, most guides for the game and footage of top players are for NTSC, so it can be harder for PAL players to learn about the game.

The choice between PAL and NTSC is extremely controversial within European Melee communities. There are three main viewpoints. First, there are those that think NTSC is a better game and the switch is needed for that reason alone. Second, there are those who think that while PAL is the better version of the game, it’s more important to have a unified version across the world. Lastly, there are those who think that PAL is the better version of the game and that Europe is better off playing it.

It’s hard to be unbiased and make everyone happy. Sheik mains might want NTSC and Peach mains might want PAL simply because it benefits them. Some players have threatened to quit if Europe switches to NTSC, because the game will no longer be fun to them. It’s also possible that Melee in Europe is losing potential players because the version of Melee they play isn’t the same one they watch on Twitch. There’s no concrete data to support either viewpoint, so it’s hard to know what’s really the case.

There is precedent for a switch to NTSC. In 2018, Australia and New Zealand both switched to NTSC, without the aid of a memory card mod. Over there, it’s common for TVs to accept a NTSC video signal, so the community hacked many Wiis to output NTSC Melee under the PAL video standard to use for their tournaments. Europe wouldn’t have to do this, but would face its own problems. The Australia and New Zealand scenes are concentrated around the few major cities in both countries. Europe is a lot more densely packed with smaller locals and smashfests all over the place.

Currently, most scenes in Europe are undergoing an NTSC trial period, or will start one soon. In April, there was a meeting between many of Europe’s TOs with a representative from each country. According to Jim Morrison, who organized the meeting, the general feeling among the group was that Europe is on its way to switching to NTSC, but there would need to be another meeting after the UK and Sweden’s trial periods. Sweden’s trial period started March 31st and will run until June 30th, while the UK’s trial period starts May 13th and ends July 15th. Some countries have had votes within themselves already, or at least opened the matter to discussion. The Netherlands had an organized vote in which 72.8% of 136 people voted to switch to NTSC. Switzerland’s vote was less successful, with 81% of the 11 participants voting to switch to NTSC. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have Germany, which had an unofficial vote, and Spain, which simply discussed it in a TO backroom with no public input.

Nobody has the answers for what will happen to EU Melee in the coming months. One way or another, expect a shakeup this year as this issue is sorted out. One thing is for sure: it says something about the longevity of Melee that we’re continuing to have these debates in the year 2019.

Author’s Note: Should Europe switch to NTSC? Let me know in the comments!

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Australian Melee community imported many NTSC Wii consoles for their tournaments. Actually, they hacked PAL Wiis to play the NTSC version of Melee.
 
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Laren “Happens” Spear

Comments

#2
For the record, literally nobody has actually imported a wii in AU or NZ to my knowledge, wiis are just super easy to mod and thus getting NTSC through Nintendont is easy as pie, as well as forcing PAL video output. It's literally unfeasible to have everyone switch to NTSC wiis and gamecubes.
 
#3
I'm also from Aus like Jet and can confirm that we pretty much just mod PAL wiis instead since 95% of them were modded for PM anyway.
Love the article tho
 
#4
PAL is easily the superiour version, with better balance thus therefore better for the long run of the game. It won't be dominated by the spacies and Marth just alone, Sheik becomes a basically new character (only Amsah played PAL Sheik to full potential), it respects the Peach of Armada more (who is likely one of the people who will quit Melee if it switches to NTSC) and even if Fox and Falco will be less dominant, they are still gonna be Top Tiers.

It's a shame to force European Smashers into a lesser balanced version of the game. And it's also a shame that this is one of the first times since 2002 that this issue is presented.
 
#5
PAL is easily the superiour version, with better balance thus therefore better for the long run of the game. It won't be dominated by the spacies and Marth just alone, Sheik becomes a basically new character (only Amsah played PAL Sheik to full potential), it respects the Peach of Armada more (who is likely one of the people who will quit Melee if it switches to NTSC) and even if Fox and Falco will be less dominant, they are still gonna be Top Tiers.

It's a shame to force European Smashers into a lesser balanced version of the game. And it's also a shame that this is one of the first times since 2002 that this issue is presented.
I don't think anyone's arguing that PAL is less balanced than NTSC, they're arguing that it's better and more fun to play on and watch, which is easily to debate about. In fact, the main balance issues the community is talking about right are about now puff and ICs, not spacies. I doubt you actually know much about the game and community as you implied Armada would be likely to quit if they switch to NTSC, despite the fact that he is already retired.
EDIT:
last part felt like an ******* thing to do, I'm just doubting how deep your knowledge is if you didn't know about an incredibly important recent event.
 
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#6
For the record, literally nobody has actually imported a wii in AU or NZ to my knowledge, wiis are just super easy to mod and thus getting NTSC through Nintendont is easy as pie, as well as forcing PAL video output. It's literally unfeasible to have everyone switch to NTSC wiis and gamecubes.
I'm also from Aus like Jet and can confirm that we pretty much just mod PAL wiis instead since 95% of them were modded for PM anyway.
Love the article tho
I took care of this after some further research. Thank you for bringing this mistake to my attention.
 
#7
PAL is easily the superiour version, with better balance thus therefore better for the long run of the game. It won't be dominated by the spacies and Marth just alone, Sheik becomes a basically new character (only Amsah played PAL Sheik to full potential), it respects the Peach of Armada more (who is likely one of the people who will quit Melee if it switches to NTSC) and even if Fox and Falco will be less dominant, they are still gonna be Top Tiers.

It's a shame to force European Smashers into a lesser balanced version of the game. And it's also a shame that this is one of the first times since 2002 that this issue is presented.
Whether or not PAL is the best video output is very arguable and debatable. The main competitive scene is in North America and Japan, where NTSC is the norm.

My point is that no matter if PAL is balanced or not (which is, again, a subjective and debatable overview of the situation), video output must be the same all across the Melee community because it divide the competitive scene between European smashers and the rest. The game has an already exceptional lifespan and at this point things that were trivial or considered unimportant (i.e the video output debate) before are now a threat to the survival of Melee.

As said earlier, numerous "PAL countries" representative seems to have the support from their own community to switch to NTSC. Additionally, NTSC seems to have a greater pool of players than PAL.

Thus, I consider that the current PAL players should switch to NTSC in order to stimulate the vitality of the competitive scene between Europe and America.

I understand that numerous European smashers would be upset by the changes and this is why I want the transition to be as smooth as possible. As already done in some places, test runs should be done across Europe. The transition should be completed in a year or two in order to let time to the players to adapt themselves to the NTSC playstyle.

- Lucian
 
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#8
Whether or not PAL is the best video output is very arguable and debatable. The main competitive scene is in North America and Japan, where NTSC is the norm.

My point is that no matter if PAL is balanced or not (which is, again, a subjective and debatable overview of the situation), video output must be the same all across the Melee community because it divide the competitive scene between European smashers and the rest. The game has an already exceptional lifespan and at this point things that were trivial or considered unimportant (i.e the video output debate) before are now a threat to the survival of Melee.

As said earlier, numerous "PAL countries" representative seems to have the support from their own community to switch to NTSC. Additionally, NTSC seems to have a greater pool of players than PAL.

Thus, I consider that the current PAL players should switch to NTSC in order to stimulate the vitality of the competitive scene between Europe and America.

I understand that numerous European smashers would be upset by the changes and this is why I want the transition to be as smooth as possible. As already done in some places, test runs should be done across Europe. The transition should be completed in a year or two in order to let time to the players to adapt themselves to the NTSC playstyle.

- Lucian
I get that, of course NTSC enjoys the most players in the competitive scene. Many of the top players in Europe are probably already more familiar with NTSC Melee because of travelling to the USA for tournaments. But that's not my point, I got that from the beginning.

It's just that I legitimately feel the PAL version is way more balanced. It's only the Top Tiers who are behaving different in the PAL region, outside of slight weight differences with Low Tiers (Bowser, DK, Yoshi and Mewtwo being heavier is an example). But I always felt the Melee Top Tiers, especially in NTSC, are way too OP. The meta hasn't really evolved despite Melee lifespan, yes of course there's the occasional surprise of people playing a Low Tier really, really, really well, but majors are almost always space animals and Marth. One notorious Jiggyluff, and one notorious Peach are not exactly the norm, rather the exception.

PAL would just allow for a more balanced game. Fox is ridiculous in NTSC honestly...
 
#9
I'll get out of the way all the arguments on one version over another, especially considering my stance about Melee is basically "just let this damn broken game die already and move on" comments out of the way and propose a middle ground: Since the PAL version can be modified at will, have a modded version of it be the stantard instead of choosing either of them:

Keep some of the PAL changes (all of the bugfixes (I can confidently say that NO ONE misses the freeze glitch), gentleman, and the nerfs to Marth, Fox and Falco), revert some others (give Sheik Uair back), and even do some brand new changes (remove all remaining chaingrabs, remove or at least significantly nerf wobbling, fix Roy's hitboxes, make Kirby's trows harder/impossible to escape, etc.).
 
#13
i kinda hate this idea that you're not allowed to enjoy older smash games, even though all of them play completely different from each other, and it's entirely reasonable to enjoy one more than the others. saying you enjoy brawl or smash 4 is some sort of thought crime, and melee players are under a similar level of scrutiny as when brawl was still fresh. let people enjoy their video games
 
#14
i kinda hate this idea that you're not allowed to enjoy older smash games, even though all of them play completely different from each other, and it's entirely reasonable to enjoy one more than the others. saying you enjoy brawl or smash 4 is some sort of thought crime, and melee players are under a similar level of scrutiny as when brawl was still fresh. let people enjoy their video games
lol I'm just saying the longer competitive Melee exists, the more toxic it gets.
 
#15
lol I'm just saying the longer competitive Melee exists, the more toxic it gets.
It's not really toxic, it's really pushing Smash to it's absolute max. It's almost a sort of art, if you choose to look at it that way. The crowds are also really hype, and it's a blast to watch. You can't say that the gradual sped up engine ever since Smash 4 wasn't because of the Melee competitive scene? It's being kept alive for a reason, and it's because people love it. Both to watch, and to play.
 
#16
It's not really toxic, it's really pushing Smash to it's absolute max. It's almost a sort of art, if you choose to look at it that way. The crowds are also really hype, and it's a blast to watch. You can't say that the gradual sped up engine ever since Smash 4 wasn't because of the Melee competitive scene? It's being kept alive for a reason, and it's because people love it. Both to watch, and to play.
Yeah Melee is so much fun. Collecting the trophies was fun, playin Classic Mode and unlocking characters was fun. Ooh, you wanna know what's even more fun? Getting finger joint pains after playing the game for an HOUR when you can play Smash Ultimate and it takes about 4 hours. Not to mention you can play as whatever character you like and however you like when in Melee you have to play as top tiers and you have to have a lot of tech skill and there's a specific way that APPARENTLY you HAVE TO play as that particular character. Yeah it's fun to practice gaining tech skill 10 hours a day instead of spending 10 hours a day actually playing the game and practicing skills that ACTUALLY matter. "Years of Research" Also let's think about which game is at EVO and which game is not.
 
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#17
Yeah Melee is so much fun. Collecting the trophies was fun, playin Classic Mode and unlocking characters was fun. Ooh, you wanna know what's even more fun? Getting finger joint pains after playing the game for an HOUR when you can play Smash Ultimate and it takes about 4 hours. Not to mention you can play as whatever character you like and however you like when in Melee you have to play as top tiers and you have to have a lot of tech skill and there's a specific way that APPARENTLY you HAVE TO play as that particular character. Yeah it's fun to practice gaining tech skill 10 hours a day instead of spending 10 hours a day actually playing the game and practicing skills that ACTUALLY matter. "Years of Research" Also let's think about which game is at EVO and which game is not.
I prefer playing Ultimate myself. I would probably get finger joint pains if I would optimise my Melee as well. But these are pro-players. And my post was aimed at that. Why would you force to take their fun away? Hasn't life thought you already that everything doesn't always have to go your way, like you want it, and you're not always right or entitled to everything? I mean.. ****, it's basics for being a grown up.

If you don't like it, don't play it. I won't bother with playing it either, but I like watching it from time to time. And pros like to play it, so let them keep having their thing.
 
#18
I prefer playing Ultimate myself. I would probably get finger joint pains if I would optimise my Melee as well. But these are pro-players. And my post was aimed at that. Why would you force to take their fun away? Hasn't life thought you already that everything doesn't always have to go your way, like you want it, and you're not always right or entitled to everything? I mean.. ****, it's basics for being a grown up.

If you don't like it, don't play it. I won't bother with playing it either, but I like watching it from time to time. And pros like to play it, so let them keep having their thing.
So what you're saying is I should continue seeing everyone give **** to Hungrybox for playing Jigglypuff and **** to everyone who tries to slow down the gameplay even though they are trying to WIN and see people lose to the unfair and no skill tactic that is wobbling? I mean so long as I don't see any of this happening, I don't mind watching Melee, I love the gameplay but it's **** like this that is the reason why I can't stand it.
 
#19
So what you're saying is I should continue seeing everyone give **** to Hungrybox for playing Jigglypuff and **** to everyone who tries to slow down the gameplay even though they are trying to WIN and see people lose to the unfair and no skill tactic that is wobbling? I mean so long as I don't see any of this happening, I don't mind watching Melee, I love the gameplay but it's **** like this that is the reason why I can't stand it.
I would probably be a Jigglypuff main if I took this game up. Also if you read above comments, I was defending PAL Melee for it being more balanced, and not having space animals on crack and steroids featured half of the time.
 
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#20
I would probably be a Jigglypuff main if I took this game up. Also if you read above comments, I was defending PAL Melee for it being more balanced, and not having space animals on crack and steroids featured half of the time.
Yeah I actually like PAL more for that reason. The only thing I don't like is Marth's D-air is not a spike but that's it really.
 
#21
But maining Jigglypuff is the problem. People just don't like seeing Jigglypuff in braket and I'm just like "If you don't wanna see Puff in Grand Finals, how about you get good and take it out. Otherwise, shut up and accept that you suck." Same thing about Sm4sh Bayonetta. I did not like Bayo but I respect those who could use her and win and again I say "Get good, or shut up and sit down."
 
#24
Nice to see that even after 17 years of Melee, people still don't seem to understand that it's not going away anytime soon and that there's a good reason it's still played.
 
#25
Nice to see that even after 17 years of Melee, people still don't seem to understand that it's not going away anytime soon and that there's a good reason it's still played.
Yes becuase of viewership. Literally just viewership. You see, what Melee players (and viewers) don't understand is that you play to win, not entertain people. "Just put on a good show and don't worry about winning. Anything cheap, and you get a crab thrown at you." That quote is the Melee mindset. This is exactly why the FGC doesn't like the Melee community.
 
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