Su­per Smash Bros. Ul­ti­mate

Hands-on with nin­tendo’s big­gest brawler ever

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

It has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to shake the feel­ing that we’ve seen all of this be­fore. No, wait. That isn’t quite right… you know what, we change our mind; it isn’t all that dif­fi­cult be­cause, well, we have seen all of this be­fore. In fact, we’ve seen it time and time again. Su­per Smash Bros. is quickly ap­proach­ing its 20th an­niver­sary and, to cel­e­brate, Nin­tendo is go­ing all in for the se­ries’ de­but on Switch – the ros­ter ex­pand­ing in such a way that long-time Nin­tendo fans are likely to feel a lit­tle dizzy in the head – though it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily do­ing so in the way that we had once an­tic­i­pated.

Where we’ve seen Nin­tendo strive for in­no­va­tion in the past two years, al­low­ing The Leg­end Of Zelda to fully lean into a mod­ern open-world de­sign model and Su­per Mario to whole­heart­edly em­brace its in­her­ent weird­ness, we were ad­mit­tedly a lit­tle taken aback to find that the pub­lisher’s crossover brawler feels so damned fa­mil­iar. In an en­vi­ron­ment where Nin­tendo is striv­ing for in­ge­nious makeovers of its flag­ship fran­chises, Su­per Smash Bros. Ul­ti­mate just feels a lit­tle safe – de­signed to pla­cate large swaths of the player base.

Given the frac­tured na­ture of the Smash Bros com­mu­nity, that state­ment is likely to draw a de­gree of ire from cer­tain camps. There’s al­ways been a sug­ges­tion that Smash Bros could be a ma­jor player in the com­pet­i­tive/es­ports scenes, were it not for the fact that its play­ers con­tinue to squab­ble over which ver­sion should be stan­dard­ised for tour­na­ment play. So, let’s at­tempt to break all of this down be­fore all hell breaks loose; Ul­ti­mate is ef­fec­tively a deluxe ver­sion of Su­per Smash Bros. for Wii U, al­beit an it­er­a­tion with enough tweaks un­der the hood to make it lean a lit­tle closer to Melee, with re­spect to game speed, ad­vanced me­chan­ics and gen­eral flow.

On a broader level, that means you should ex­pect yet an­other com­pet­i­tive brawler that at­tempts to strike an un­holy bal­ance be­tween com­plex­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity, packed with so much fan ser­vice that your eyes will strug­gle to set­tle on any one de­tail in amongst the chaos that is the Smash Bros. tra­di­tional com­bat loop. The ques­tion of whether Nin­tendo would take the launch of new hard­ware as an op­por­tu­nity to usher in some se­ri­ous me­chan­i­cal and sys­tem-end changes to Smash Bros. has been an­swered with a metaphor­i­cal shrug from co-de­vel­op­ers Sora Ltd and Bandai Namco Stu­dios. This par­tic­u­lar stu­dio col­lab­o­ra­tion, the one that brought us Su­per Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS – re­unit­ing un­der the stew­ard­ship of long-time di­rec­tor Masahiro Saku­rai – has in­stead de­cided to de­liver the ul­ti­mate ver­sion of that old fa­mil­iar for­mula.

That’s meant lit­er­ally, rather than fig­u­ra­tively by the way. Re­gard­less of where it is that your loy­alty lies in the Smash Bros. com­mu­nity, you’ll be hard pressed to find any­thing to rally against here on a sur­face level. Su­per Smash Bros. Ul­ti­mate plays smoothly, looks gor­geous and, yes, it fea­tures ev­ery sin­gle char­ac­ter that has ap­peared in a Smash game to date, along with pretty much ev­ery stage worth car­ing about in­cluded from day one too.

That means we are see­ing the re­turn of fan-favourite third-party char­ac­ters, such as Bay­o­netta, Cloud Strife, Ryu, Solid Snake and Sonic – a le­gal wran­gling that sounds as if it has pushed Saku­rai to the brink. With the prom­ise of so many char­ac­ters stretch­ing the pan­theon of Nin­tendo fran­chises we’re also see­ing a ton of over­lap, with mul­ti­ple vari­ants of cer­tain char­ac­ters wad­ing into the fray.

There are, for ex­am­ple, three ver­sions of Link avail­able, draw­ing from Breath Of The Wild, A Link Be­tween Worlds (Toon Link) and Oca­rina Of Time (Young Link), while the rowdy bunch from Fire Em­blem have seen their vi­su­als up­dated to bet­ter re­flect their most re­cent ap­pear­ances on Wii U. We’re also see­ing Nin­tendo in­tro­duce a hand­ful of harm­less palette swaps, with Daisy echo­ing the moveset of Peach with a few mild al­ter­ations in­tro­duced to change up play in sub­tle ways.

What we are look­ing at here is 65 playable char­ac­ters. For us to re­ceive a ridicu­lous ros­ter such as this, per­haps it should be ex­pected that cer­tain el­e­ments of the game would have to stay the same. Nin­tendo is reusing as many an­i­ma­tions and char­ac­ter mod­els as it pos­si­bly can, with the art style it­self al­most iden­ti­cal to Smash Bros. on Wii U – save for some tweaks made to bet­ter sup­port the up­dated tex­tures and stage light­ing thanks to the tech­nol­ogy avail­able in the Switch.

It’s out of char­ac­ter for Nin­tendo to de­liver some­thing like Ul­ti­mate. The com­pany rarely pur­sues tra­di­tional se­quels, but that seems to have been a ne­ces­sity to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of such a large game. This isn’t a leap like we’ve tra­di­tion­ally seen be­tween some­thing like Melee and Brawl, but rather it’s more akin to the grad­ual lines of it­er­a­tion we see so com­monly from Cap­com – the Smash Bros. equiv­a­lent of a Su­per Street Fighter 2 Turbo to Street Fighter 2, if you will.

That’s not to say that Sora isn’t pur­su­ing any me­chan­i­cal changes to play. The di­rec­tional air dodge is mak­ing a re­turn, although it has been re­vamped for Ul­ti­mate. It is in essence a blend of the sys­tems seen in Melee and Brawl. Char­ac­ters will once again be able to dodge to the left or right while in the air in an ef­fort to gain a mo­men­tum boost (and tem­po­rary in­tan­gi­bil­ity), though re­stric­tions have been put in place to en­sure that it can’t be overused – us­ing any com­bi­na­tion of a dodge, air dodge or roll in quick suc­ces­sion will dras­ti­cally de­crease the amount of in­vin­ci­bil­ity frames gained. It means it’s a vi­able op­tion to get out of harm’s way in a pinch, but con­tin­ued sur­vival is more de­pen­dent on spac­ing and avoid­ing at­tacks with your ba­sic slate of move­ment me­chan­ics.

We can also con­firm, after get­ting our hands on an up­dated build, that the wavedash­ing tech­nique – a pop­u­lar com­pet­i­tive move in

Melee that al­lows play­ers to ef­fec­tively air dodge di­ag­o­nally from the ground to gain mo­men­tum and quickly cover ground – is not pos­si­ble in Ul­ti­mate. Wave­land­ing is still a pos­si­bil­ity – air dodg­ing down to a plat­form from the air to quickly slide across it – though the com­bi­na­tion of con­sid­er­able land­ing lag and the in­creased ar­ray of moves that can now be dash-can­celled call into

ques­tion its vi­a­bil­ity as a com­pet­i­tive tech­nique. Still, it’s early days yet and we are only just be­gin­ning to grasp what changes are be­ing made with re­spect to hit­stuns, knock­backs, shield­ing and smash at­tacks. One point worth not­ing is that the Fi­nal Smash su­per moves have been greatly im­proved, hav­ing much less im­pact on the flow of play with­out los­ing their cin­e­matic edge.

Our play ses­sion would also seem to in­di­cate that ran­dom stage haz­ards play a big­ger role than ever be­fore – ca­sual play­ers like noth­ing more than a big mess of chaos, ap­par­ently – although Nin­tendo has in­di­cated that the fi­nal game will in­deed come with the abil­ity to switch th­ese off and on at will, hope­fully mean­ing Ul­ti­mate has more stages in con­tention at a com­pet­i­tive level. It is, in fact, lit­tle tweaks such as this that would in­di­cate Nin­tendo is ready to pour more sup­port into Smash Bros. as a vi­able es­port – tak­ing the lessons it has learned from Spla­toon 2 and ap­ply­ing them here at a de­vel­op­ment level. The UI has been sub­tly over­hauled in or­der to more eas­ily (and cleanly) con­vey in­for­ma­tion to ob­servers, while the me­chan­i­cal changes we’ve al­ready got­ten our head around seem de­signed to give com­pet­i­tive play­ers plenty of room to ex­per­i­ment with what’s on of­fer here.

We said at the be­gin­ning that Ul­ti­mate feels and looks fa­mil­iar – and it does – but that state­ment al­most be­trays one ba­sic, ir­refutable fact: that it’s an ab­so­lute plea­sure to play. Jump­ing into a game with a hand­ful of play­ers is still a to­tal de­light, and it feels won­der­ful; the ac­tion is smooth and ki­netic, a vis­ually noisy game that still man­ages to re­tain clar­ity – it’s an im­pres­sive ac­com­plish­ment, as ever.

Does it mat­ter that Nin­tendo isn’t tak­ing any ma­jor steps to over­haul the brand? Given how en­ter­tain­ing the core play is and how re­spect­ful Ul­ti­mate is to ev­ery­thing that has come be­fore it, many will ar­gue that it doesn’t mat­ter at all. Ul­ti­mate could very well be the best party game on Switch, a com­pet­i­tive fight­ing game that will hold the at­ten­tion of the hard­core with­out keep­ing the ca­sual au­di­ences that just want to see Fox Mccloud fal­con punch Kirby in the face at bay. And re­ally, what more could you ask for from a

Su­per Smash Bros. game?

“JUMP­ING INTO A GAME WITH A HAND­FUL OF PLAY­ERS IS STILL A TO­TAL DE­LIGHT. UL­TI­MATE FEELS WON­DER­FUL TO PLAY”

we hope you like Poké­mon be­cause there are an ab­so­lute ton of them in the game, with sora and bandai namco clearly an­tic­i­pat­ing a lot of Poké­mon GO and Poké­mon: Let’s Go fans to be en­ticed into play­ing.

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