Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review: Hands-on
Nintendo’s E3 this year was all about one game: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest incarnation of the company’s long running fighting mega franchise, now for the Nintendo Switch.
Smash Bros. Ultimate is set to be the biggest version of the game yet, featuring every single character and stage the series has ever included, along with a few new ones, and some wide-ranging tweaks to how the game plays.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate release date
The next Smash Bros. game is coming out exclusively on Nintendo Switch on 7 December 2018.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate preview
Prior to its reveal, most of the discussion and debate around Smash Bros. for Switch would be whether we should expect a brand new game built for the console from the ground up, or a simpler port of the most recent Wii U and 3DS versions of the game.
The answer, in predictable Nintendo fashion, is a bit of both. It’s clear that Ultimate hasn’t been built entirely from scratch, and has instead taken the Wii U game’s engine as a starting point.
It’s not totally unchanged though, with a few graphical boosts to make the most of the Switch hardware. Textures are more detailed, especially on character models, while take a close look at most of the stages and you’ll spot a lot more going on in the background than before.
But equally, this isn’t simply a straight-up Wii U port - or if it is, it’s also a port of the 3DS, Wii, Gamecube, and N64 versions. Ultimate really does live up to its name in that sense, including every single fighter and stage ever featured in the series - with various alternate costumes and stage versions - to satisfy Smash fans of every generation.
That means for the first time you get three Links at once (adult, young, and toon), that Ice Climbers and Snake make a return after sitting out the last version of the game, and that you get the full array of Star Fox characters: Fox, Falco, and Wolf.
Still, it wouldn’t be Smash without at least a couple of new faces. The big additions this time around (so far at least) are the Inklings from Splatoon and the towering Ridley from Metroid, though there’s one other new fighter: Daisy, an ‘Echo Fighter’ of Peach - Nintendo’s new term for characters that have essentially identical movesets to pre-existing ones.
Ridley is hulking and monstrous, one of the biggest characters in the game, but he’s quicker to play than that suggests, best of all in his Forward-B attack, which basically drags opponents across the stage face first.
As a diehard Splatoon devotee, the Inkling feels like a more interesting addition. It’s an easy character to do quick damage with, thanks to a Splat Roller attack that steamrolls across the stage. Like Splatoon itself though, the Inkling feels trickier to master: you’ve got to plan your game around the fact that you deal extra damage the more you cover an opponent with ink, but that said ink is itself a limited resource, which you’ll have to top up manually while you shield.
That ink level pops up as a visible bar above your character icon, a friendly UI tweak reflected in a few other characters too. Final Fantasy 7’s Cloud gets a Limit gauge, while Fire Emblem’s Robin has a bar to display how much Magic she has left.
Those kind of small quality of life tweaks run through the game. The Nintendo Direct including an exhaustive (and exhausting) list of changes to individual characters’ moves and costumes, but there are broader changes too, most to make the game faster to play. Final Smashes have quicker animations and activation times to stop them disrupting games, charging attacks can be charged in mid-air, and movement and attack speeds have been upped slightly across the board.
Other changes feel designed for the serious esports community Nintendo is clearly hoping to attract. New directional dodges in mid-air make it easier to land during dodges, while excessive dodging on the spot is being discouraged by shortening the intangibility window. You even pick your stage before your fighter now, so you can optimise your character to match the setting.
These are changes that the average player likely won’t even notice, but drive the subtle shifts in gameplay that crippled esports adoption of the Wii’s Brawl, while winning over the same community on the Wii U.
Equally, this isn’t all about competitive play. Once again there’s a multitude of control options to help ease in new players, and the usual array of mad items and assist trophies to keep things fun and chaotic - not to mention the option for 8-player fights, when most notions of tactics and skill tend to fall by the wayside no matter what.
SHOULD I BUY SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE?
So, back to that very first question. Is Smash Bros. Ultimate a port or a whole new game? When you sit down and play, it feels closer to the former: mechanically it feels closest to the Wii U game (arguably the series’ peak), with subtle changes to game feel to keep things fast.
But with the depth of the stage and character rosters, not to mention the introduction of Inkling and Ridley, there’s enough here that’s new to save Nintendo from accusations of throwing out a lazy port. This is Smash Bros. amped up to the nth degree, and there’s a very real chance that it will actually live up to its name.