Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was one of the most hotly anticipated reveals of this E3, and the fact that every character ever in Smash is coming back was huge news. I’ve played Smash ever since the first game released on N64 years ago, mostly for fun, but also lightly dabbling in competitive play. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into Smash Ultimate, with such a huge roster and ambitious goals, but my hands-on time left me staggered at the scope and sheer ambition of the game. I managed to play 11 matches of Smash Ultimate and watched a handful of others as well.
First off, let’s dig right into the new stuff. I was able to play on two new stages, Moray Towers from Splatoon and a tower from Breath of the Wild. Like with many Smash stages, these two had an entirely unique feel and mechanics. The Breath of the Wild tower is claustrophobic almost, with a giant stone sitting in the middle of the stage and a small gap underneath. It’s easy to cause massive damage when fighting underneath the stone as knocking a character causes them to bounce repeatedly into the floor and ceiling. At times the stone will crack and be destroyed for a while, opening things up to a more regular fight. Meanwhile, Moray Towers is incredibly vertical, forcing you to fight on multiple levels. Items, including Smash Balls, will roll down the slopes of the tower and into the water.
On top of these two new stages I played a number of returning ones like Prism Tower and Spirit Train from the 3DS version, and Saffron City from the original Smash. Saffron City, in particular, was a big dose of nostalgia as the textures have certainly been updated, but all the Pokemon that pop out still look like those old sprites from the N64 version, and it’s super charming. The new additions also spread to items and assists as during my matches I spotted Crystal from Star Fox, Knuckles from Sonic, and Bomberman. In terms of items, a healing field reduced the damage of any character inside and a black hole sucked up all characters into its radius. There are so many items and assists in Smash Ultimate, even just with what we were able to see, that you’re constantly seeing new things pop up in battle.
Of course, the main event of additions are the new characters, Ridley and the Inkling. Both of these characters feel like completely natural additions to Smash’s roster. The Inkling is an agile character that can hop around the battlefield and has a host of unique moves with ink that can be great if you learn how to use them. Ridley on the other hand is a hulking beast of a character that has some absolutely savage attacks, but a big windup of some of his moves. What I found most interesting about the Inkling is that their move set feels like a natural extension of Splatoon, and if you’ve played that game you should immediately get how they work. Regular B shoots ink, Over-B uses the roller, Down-B throws a grenade, and Up-B launches the Inkling into the air in squid form. Inking enemies allows you to cause more damage, and if you run out of ink you’ll need to use the left trigger to set yourself in the ground and recover it. These moves make sense within the context of Smash, but also create a mental link to how they work in Splatoon. Ridley, on the other hand, almost functions as a much faster version of Bowser.
Of course, the most obvious thing to tackle with this massive roster of characters are the worries that pop up about balancing. To be perfectly honest, there are already balancing issues that exist. Bayonetta has been nerfed pretty hard, reducing her damage and abilities, and Ridley feels overpowered with the huge amount of damage he can cause, and his high speed. Still, the monumental list of changes already in the game show Nintendo’s dedication to fine-tuning everything, and even in just playing each character you can feel the care and thought put into each one, like boosting Link’s reach with his sword, or showing which item the villager is holding in their pocket. I have no doubt that Nintendo will continue to iterate and fine-tune Smash leading up to release, and long after as well.
The scope of Smash Ultimate truly is staggering, and the demo showed me that the focus is definitely on keeping things moving and smoothing out everything. Most characters’ Final Smashes have been changed to happen quickly and make it easier to cause damage, instead of requiring you to play out some gimmick like before. Loading times, at least in the build I played, were exceptional. In terms of the game’s speed itself, it felt somewhere between Melee and Smash 4 on Wii U, and it played smooth as butter in every occasion I had a controller.
With all of the changes and additions, Smash Ultimate is clearly a game built from the ground-up and not simply some kind of port of the Wii U game. Getting my hands on the game showed me how much thought has gone into its development, and the myriad of items, characters, stages, and more reminded me of the many years I’ve spent playing Smash. It’s incredible to see everything culminate in this epic entry, and the game almost feels like some kind of ridiculous greatest hits album of Smash, with everything fans loved thrown together with something brand new.
At this point there’s only one fear that I really have, and that’s that this focus on bringing everything together in one place is going to restrict Nintendo’s ability to add new content and characters in. Ridley and the Inkling are absolutely fantastic additions to the roster, and are crazy fun to play, but I just want more. Part of the Smash experience is getting excited over that crazy new challenger coming to the game, and I truly hope we don’t lose too much of that edge of excitement.
No matter what, though, I’m filled with anticipation for Smash Ultimate and all the possibilities it holds. As anyone that’s played a match of Super Smash Bros. knows, it was hard for me to put that controller down and walk away. I just wanted to play more.