Grabbing a Gamecube controller and jumping into Super Smash Bros Ultimate feels both familiar and accessible, and new and challenging at the same time.
Right away, the most apparent thing about Ultimate is that it’s the Wii U version mashed with Melee, enhanced and tweaked with some of the adjustments from the 3DS version. It really is the “complete” Super Smash Bros game, and though it doesn’t mesmerize me visually with 4K and polygonal depth, the 60 FPS on screen is smooth and buttery, which is most important.
We were given the option to play with a Gamecube controller or a Pro Controller, and all of us chose the Cube. This is how Smash is meant to be controlled, to be honest.
Nintendo’s E3 2018 hands-on demo of the new Smash let us take command of a few dozen of the SEVERAL dozen characters that are in the game, including the new Inklings and Ridley, and two of the new arenas. I’m not a great Smash player, but I’m consistently mediocre, which is enough to let me experience wins and loses at an equal pace. The demo, set up into a sort of competitive tournament where four of us play two matches to have two winners move on, is designed to let us experience those new additions while giving us the option to see old fan favorites.
The first match was a close one. As I’ve been knee deep in Splatoon 2 multiplayer lately, my instinct immediately had me select the Inklings, which are available in eight different gender, ink color and clothing variations. It’s a lot of variety and personality, reminiscent of the game that they’re from, and a testament to the Splatoon developers to have their characters join the main Smash squad. The Inklings play very differently than other fighters. They’re a tad bit smaller, and a tad bit faster, but whipping out the roller to cover the ground with ink requires a tad bit of precision to not launch oneself off of the edge. I nearly did, several times, so making sure I jump back onto the Battlefield arena we played became a regular occurence early on. The Inkling weapons mix up the play nicely (I became a fan of that roller and the Splattershot); because they function like they do in Splatoon 2, someone who is good in the shooter will actually have an easier jump into controlling their fighter than I’d have thought.
Pitted against a Mario, a Ridley and a Donkey Kong, the battle was heated. One of my opponents was clearly a Smash aficionado, so he spammed his Mario’s movesets over and over again. Ridley takes up a good chunk of the screen size, so getting around him was proving to be difficult. Donkey Kong isn’t as big as Ridley, but the close range combat meant that I had to keep my distance. Ridley’s Final Smash is pretty amazing, popping up towards the end of our match and being the knockout punch to me. He was able to pin two of us to Samus’s ship at the same time. I managed to forget that the Inklings need to recharge their paint for maximum damage, and my attacks were constantly weakened. The Mario spamming won out, though, and I ended up third place.
On to Round Two.
We opted to go with one of the newer arenas, a Breath of the Wild themed tower, and so I selected Link as my fighter. My main in Smash Wii U, Link starts off outfitted with his BOTW digs, and so I stick with that for game consistency sake. Link’s outfit looks really good on the screen, and, though it’s hard to explain, he stands out from the tower’s muted stone flooring enough to let me see and control him better than if I was on a different stage. My Mario-loving opponent chose the character again, as did one other challenger, so I knew I was in better shape. For some reason, Link felt better in battles against Mario on Wii U, so I was hoping to see if that would hold up here. Hint: It did. Launching arrows countered both Marios’ fireballs, and swinging my master sword felt just right and quick. A different challenger chose Samus, but didn’t seem to click well with her. She kept falling off of the ledges, which I consider to be player inability and not game design issues. I was brilliant with Link, though, and managed to take the round. The fake Smash Ball is a nice touch, as it caused a flurry to get to it but chaos for the person who did. This left openings for the rest of us to pummel away.
The two of us winners advanced to the next round of the competitive tournament, and this is where I realized what trap I had fallen into. My Mario loving opponent lost the prior match not because I was better, but because he was teaching himself about the new Smash’s tweaks. Having won that first round, he was automatically advancing and didn’t need to care about Round Two, so he wisely spent that time trying to figure out the mechanics of the new game. And boy did he whoop me in that next match. My Link was no where close to his Mario control. I’d try to get away and set up for a ranged attack, but by the time I did he had already grabbed an item or repositioned himself.
He was smart. He came prepared. He deserved to advance.
I can’t tell which aspects of Super Smash Bros Ultimate are carried over from the Wii U version or wholly new, but they all felt right at home in the new(ish) game. The game is fast and fluid and requires understanding of precision controls, per Melee, and that alone may push it to the forefront of the series. But the new characters (and those from the Wii and Wii U versions) provide a sort of accessible approach that lets even less experienced players have a good time.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate lands on Nintendo Switch in December.