Everyone loves Super Smash Bros. From hardcore competitive players to casual Nintendo fans who only jump in now and then with friends, Smash Bros. has a way of bringing people in that few games ever find. Games that achieve that level of success tend to stagnate. Why mess with a good thing, right?
That may explain why, after so much hype, Nintendo’s next Smash Bros. game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, feels more like a Switch-era expansion than a sequel.
Ultimate is more than a next-gen port of the Wii U game, but not by much. Like Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, a 1995 Mortal Kombat Arcade sequel, Smash Bros Ultimate achieves sequel status by compiling every character from all four Smash games, adding a handful of new ones, and putting them in a single, modern package in the style of Super Smash Bros for Wii U (A.K.A. “Smash 4”).
Though that doesn’t amount to exciting new features, it’s still a mighty undertaking. To create a game that meets the high standards of the fighting game community, and the competitive Smash Bros. community specifically, every character will need to be rebalanced. Some older characters that weren’t in Smash 4 need “final smash” moves to achieve parity with newer fighters. The rest will need to be rebalanced to account for new scenarios among characters that they’ve never had to fight.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, feels more like a Switch-era expansion than an actual sequel.
Fighting game fans have always been a fickle bunch, and Smash fans seem to be especially picky — there is a contingent of pro players who will only play Super Smash Bros. Melee, the 2001 Gamecube version. I have friends at home who grumble unless we’re playing the original on a Nintendo 64. Ultimate and its focus on smaller, nitty gritty changes, feels like an attempt to bring all those communities together with a single game, on a single console.
The biggest changes we saw seem geared to competitive players. Arguably the largest change is to character and level select. In Ultimate, you now choose your stage before your character, allowing you consider a level’s eccentricities when picking your fighter. To a lot of people, this will be a minor swap, but for competitive play, adjusting your character choice for specific levels could push players to mix up their choices more.
Once you’re in a match, though, most players will not be able to distinguish Smash Bros Ultimate from Smash 4. The game looks and feels identical to the untrained eye. Every tactic you used should still work, assuming it isn’t contingent on minute balancing details.
We’ve been told by players with specific character preferences that some characters do feel a little different. One rep from Nintendo, for example, lamented that Solid Snake felt a little slower than the original Smash Bros Brawl character. (He was also quick to point out that the game is still being balanced).
In our time with Ultimate, we focused on two of the game’s completely new characters, the Splatoon Inkling, and Ridley from Metroid. Inkling is a quick character, with a focus on horizontal movement. She (or he) has a paint-roller special attack that can clear a path across wide platforms, and create a path for her to later quickly swim across. She seems like a good introductory character, though we could see how creative painting could lead to some interesting maneuvers.
Ridley was a little harder to figure out. Ridley’s moves slightly faster than the average heavy character but felt substantially less powerful. Not being a Smash expert, and only having played two matches, I can’t say I have a good read on how Ridley will “fit” in the game, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find a niche.
Looking back to even a few days ago, I’m not sure what the expectations were for the new Super Smash Bros. game. For players who love this series, it seems there will be a ton of new information to unpack, and new tricks to learn. For the rest of us, it’s simply a chance to dive back into the series.