Super Smash Bros. has always been my favourite Nintendo franchise. As a fighting game series, it’s at once incredibly accessible to casual players and well-designed for robust competitive play.
Now, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is poised to offer an even greater fighting experience than ever before, if my nearly three hours of hands-on time with the game at Fan Expo Canada is any indication.
Given the lengthy demo opportunity, I took the time try out each of the demo’s 20-plus characters and many of the new and returning stages to see how they all play this time around.
To start, Ultimate‘s biggest change to the core gameplay (outside of the fact that all previous Smash fighters are coming back) comes from how air dodge function. While previous games included the maneuver in some form, Ultimate features directional air dodges that offer enough momentum to help with recovery or dodging.
While it took some getting used to, I eventually found the ability invaluable, helping me zip out of otherwise sticky situations with style. If you can’t get out of the way, Ultimate‘s revamped perfect shield mechanic will reward you for releasing your block at the last second of an attack, leaving your opponent open for speedy counter.
In terms of gameplay feel, Ultimate should also please returning players and newcomers alike. Originally, some fans weren’t fond of the heavier, slower gameplay of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which led Nintendo to speed up combat in Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS. Ultimate, thankfully, is like the wonderful love child of Melee and Smash 4, with a speedy feel that lends to fast-paced, high-intensity matches.
To further maintain the higher battle speed, Nintendo has also shortened the duration of many of the Final Smash attacks. In some cases, this means a slight alteration. For example, Snake’s Final Smash now has players aiming a target reticle at enemies to have rockets automatically home in on them, as opposed to the slower-paced free shooting of individual shells in Brawl.
Others, however, have a completely reworked Final Smash, like Little Mac, whose Giga-Mac transformation and attack are brief and no longer controllable. While it’s initially disappointing to see some of these moves undergo significant alterations, it’s ultimately a necessary trade-off to keep matches going at a solid pace.
As with any Smash Bros. game, though, it’s the attention to detail with each character, item and stage that really makes the experience come to life. Each fighter feels as good to use as you remember, particularly returning characters that weren’t in the last Super Smash Bros. game, like Snake and the Ice Climbers. Meanwhile, small quality-of-life changes make them feel even better than ever.
For instance, Cloud’s Limit Break gauge now displays over his character icon, letting all players keep track of when he’s ready to pull off his super powerful moves. This time around, those using the Pokémon Trainer won’t need to worry about penalties for sticking with one of his three pocket monsters for too long. As a nice touch, Link — who is styled after his Breath of the Wild appearance — also has bombs that are inspired by the runes from that game, allowing for strategic remote detonation.
Each character has small new quirks that feel well-conceived and implemented, and I’m eager to see the full list of changes in the game’s final 60-plus character roster.
The demo also featured two of Ultimate‘s newcomers, Ridley (Metroid) and Inkling (Splatoon). There have been long-running concerns that Ridley would be too big to be a playable fighter, but I was quickly impressed with how well Nintendo fitted him for the Smash Bros. experience. While you might think he’d be a slow, lumbering dragon, Ridley was surprisingly quite nimble, even on the ground. His claw and tail attacks provide solid low- to mid-range options, while his ability to breathe fire lets you hit more distant enemies.
The Inkling, meanwhile, has been designed to emulate the Splatoon experience as much as possible. As in those colourful multiplayer games, the Smash Bros. Inkling is able to blast enemies with his ink gun and ink grenades with great range and precision. Seeing even the most fearsome characters get painted in colourful ink is particularly amusing. Once the ink gun is depleted, you’ll need to dive into the puddles on the stage to replenish your tank, just as you would in the Splatoon games.
There are still some elements of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that remain to be seen, particularly if Nintendo will indeed add a story mode to the game, as some rumours have suggested. However, with the current massive amount of content that’s already been confirmed for the game, along with whatever may be revealed in the future, Ultimate is undoubtedly shaping up to be the quintessential Smash Bros. experience.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will launch exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on December 7th.