I’m going to nerd out about the new Smash Bros. game for a bit. Let’s go!
First and foremost, I’m really glad it isn’t just a port of Smash 4. Oh? It’s “an enhanced port” you say? “It’s just Smash 4 with some new characters thrown in” you say? No, it is not. That’s not my opinion, it’s a matter of fact. According to the developers, this game was created from the ground up, and while it may seem very similar to the Wii U game at first glance, there’s really quite a bit more going on.
Ultimate is as much a leap from Smash 4 as Smash 4 was from Brawl. Every fighter seems to have a new character model, with many of them pulling from completely different art directions. And while we’re here, this is something I love quite a bit, especially with the Zelda characters. Link is from Breath of the Wild, Toon Link is from Wind Waker, Young Link is from Majora’s Mask, Zelda is from A Link Between Worlds, Ganondorf is from Ocarina of Time, and Sheik is from… well her outfit is based on the stealth armor from Breath of the Wild. So that’s cool. In previous games they’ve always tried to make the characters look like they’re from the same game, and going this multi-game route just feels like it’s adding more variety to the roster. It’s also doing fun stuff to make said characters feel more diverse. Ganondorf has always been a Captain Falcon clone and that’s always bugged the crap out of me. They’ve gradually changed him up to have more unique attributes over the years, but at the end of the day he was still just Falcon. Now he busts out his sword for his smash attacks. His specials still bear similarities to Falcon’s, but they’re much more his own. He looks like he plays like his own character now, and I couldn’t be more happy about it.
This also seems to be a big boost to the Star Fox characters. For everything Star Fox Zero got wrong, the art direction for the characters was pretty good looking, and that’s what we have here in Ultimate. Falco looks largely the same, but Fox and especially Wolf are really big steps up from their previous incarnations.
Then we have the echo characters. I love this. They still have folks like Dark Pit and Lucina, but they’re labelled as variations instead of given roster slots like full characters. I don’t know why that little label makes such a big difference to me, but it makes it feel less like they’re trying to pass off clones as their own thing. Yes, we have Link, Toon Link, and Young Link with VERY similar movesets, and Pikachu and Pichu, and Mario and Dr. Mario, but those characters feel more or less different enough. According to an interview with Bill Trinen, these characters have all been given their own weight, speed, and attributes. That’s another cool thing about this, they’re tweaked EVERYBODY in some way, and I can’t wait to see how much all those differences affect the overall game. Recognizing echo characters with subtle differences makes me think they put the effort in to making every character in the roster feel unique, and that’s every flavor of exciting.
Speaking of feeling unique, they’ve also given most characters new Final Smashes. If that right there doesn’t seal the deal on this not being a port, I don’t know what will. That kind of overhaul is a bit beyond “enhanced port” status, and I really love what they’ve done. Some Final Smashes really felt overpowered and/or cheesy. They all seem to be more even this time around. Super Sonic doesn’t appear to be able to hang out on screen long enough to get more than one kill. Donkey Kong’s is actually useful. King Dedede’s is… well that’s pretty weird. Anyway, I love how they made it so these take up less time but still look really cool. They also added these cool background effects that go off when a Final Smash is used (and some items, too) that gives it an almost Marvel vs. Capcom vibe. The cool close ups of the character faces appear too.
Piggybacking off that, one of the biggest changes in Smash Ultimate is the overall presentation, which I think looks spectacular. If this was a port, there wouldn’t be brand new character art for every character, and there certainly wouldn’t be all these changes to the way stuff is displayed. The character selection screen is much more dynamic now, with the number of character slots changing size to fit the screen instead of there always being 4 slots there whether or not there are 4 people playing.
Another thing I’ve noticed about the presentation is the smoke trail that follows you after you get smashed. I know it’s a small thing, but it seems to add a lot to the visual flare of the game, as well as helping you keep track of where you are in the battlefield. In a game as hectic as Smash, it’s super easy to get lost, and these new smoke trails look like they’ll help keep track of the chaos nicely.
There are a ton of other little touches too that add even more to the intensity. I haven’t figured out the exact math on them yet, but there seem to be these dramatic finish moves where if the game knows you’ve just delivered a blow that’s going to end the match, that hit will get zoomed in on and highlighted for a quick second. Wow, this effect is REALLY cool. It doesn’t add anything substantial to the actual gameplay, but man it adds something extremely fun. Similarly, we have a gigantic score counter that shows up now in 1v1 matches. Every time someone takes another's stock, a full screen score counter pops up to make sure everyone is well aware of what’s going on. This isn’t just nice to not have to look down and count the tiny little stock icons in high number stock matches, but also for spectators. I love watching competitive Smash, and this is going to be great for keeping track of those crazy matches.
Then there’s the little map thingy that shows up when a character goes off screen. I love this. The actual borders in Smash stages have always felt a little ambiguous to me because you can’t really see them. Now, if any character gets booted past where the camera can see, a little map shows up in the corner of the screen that shows where you are in relation to where the screen ends and the actual stage ends. Again, it’s a little thing, but it’s also kind of a big thing. Knowing exactly where those borders are is going to be really nice.
Then we have the stages themselves. Holy cow, these stages. I know they said this game features every Smash character ever, but it’s looking like it’s inching ever-closer to including every stage ever too. Thanks to the eagle-eyed folks over at GameXplain, I’ve learned that there appears to be over 83 stages in Smash Bros. Ultimate. That’s freaking bananas. My buddy Alex put together this list of confirmed stages and unconfirmed stages. Have a look.
Mushroom Kingdom II
Princess Peach's Castle
Bridge of Eldin
Flat Zone 2
Green Hill Zone
New Pork City
Pokémon Stadium 2
Port Town Aero Dive
Shadow Moses Island
Super Mario Maker
Umbra Clock Tower
Reset Bomb Forest
Unova Pokémon League
Garden of Hope
Kalos Pokémon League
Mushroom Kingdom U
The Great Cave Offensive
Town and City
Wii Fit Studio
Great Plateau Tower
New Donk City
Currently Unconfirmed Stages
Fountain of Dreams
Flat Zone X
Orbital Gate Assault
Windy Hill Zone
That’s absolutely nuts, and I can’t wait to hear more about stages leading up to Ultimate’s release. Every stage in the game will have Battlefield and Omega forms too, so even if you’re playing super hardcore mode you can still enjoy the awesome tributes and music while you play.
Speaking of music, I’m beside myself with anticipation. Smash Bros. music is some of the very best in all of gaming, and while I expect the soundtrack to be comprised largely of previously used tunes in the series, there’s already 4 brand new tracks up on the game’s official website and they’re fantastic. Not only that, but there’s a few new tunes playing in the background of some of the character videos, so there’s definitely going to be some great original music for me to enjoy. And enjoy it I shall.
Really, I could do this all day. I’m beyond thrilled about Ridley. The Inklings look fantastic. The fake Smash Ball is great. I love how Link’s Master Sword shoots lasers when he has 0% damage. Seriously, just go watch the videos. If you’re still convinced that this “really isn’t a new game” just look at what it has on offer. The Switch isn’t that much more powerful than the WiiU, so a crazy change in overall graphics isn’t a reasonable thing to expect. But I will say that this game to my eyes looks like as much of an improvement over Smash 4 as Street Fighter V did to Street Fighter IV, which is to say that it’s not a massively noticeable improvement at first glance, but the devil’s in the details, and there’s a TON of details. Instead of continuing to gush about what’s there, I want to hit on a few things I’m still crossing my fingers for.
Sakurai said not to expect too many more characters, and that’s fair. The roster is already freaking gigantic. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for 5 new characters and maybe a few more echos added into the mix. We already have Inklings and Ridley as new characters, so that leaves 3 slots (in my imaginary world where dreams come true) for totally new characters being added. First and foremost I’m voting for some flavor of Belmont. Castlevania is pretty much the only giant classic NES IP that isn’t represented in Smash, and that needs to change. Castlevania is so perfect for this universe, it just has to happen. Second, I’m really pulling for Ribbon Girl/Spring Man from ARMS. It wasn’t exactly the huge runaway success Splatoon was, but the game seems to have carved out a pretty nice niche for itself, and those characters could be soooo cool in Smash. And the rest of the roster would make for some awesome assist trophies. Finally, my guess for the last slot is Crash Bandicoot. Crash vs. Nintendo is a classic rivalry. Those old commercials were hilarious with Crash standing outside Nintendo headquarters calling Mario out. Well, those original Crash games are on Switch now, so now is absolutely the time to “settle it in Smash” as they say. Sure, I’d love to see Banjo and Kazooie join the fight, and Bomberman is already confirmed as an assist trophy, so really, Crash makes the most sense.
I want all of the trophies, and I want them to be super-interesting. All the museum type stuff is some of my favorite content in Smash games, and trophies are the best of the best. Fresh 3D renderings of characters from all over gaming history with in-depth descriptions of who they all are is something I’ve spent way too much time drooling over, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to do it again. And while we’re on the subject of trophies, I want to see more crazy assist trophies. Commander Video had a trophy in Smash 4, I want him to run by and do some damage as an assist. Shovel Knight probably isn’t joining the playable roster, but he’s make for one heck of an assist! Oh, and Isaac from Golden Sun. He was removed from Smash 4 for some reason, and I want him to see a glorious return. People love Golden Sun, and that series deserves more representation, even if it is just an assist trophy.
Single Player Content.
This one feels like a longshot to me, but I really want there to be a ton of fun stuff to do solo. For whatever reason, the “Ultimate” label is making me feel like they’re focusing on making the best multiplayer experience possible, and while that’s easily the most important thing about Smash, having some cool single player stuff is pretty important too. I’m not necessarily saying they need to bring back Subspace Emissary, but some sort of adventure most that incorporates all these crazy characters working together for some stupid reason would be so much fun. And since everyone’s basically revealed already, a cool adventure mode would make for an excellent excuse to have some of those cool pre-rendered cutscenes exist without them being character reveals. But barring an adventure mode, I’d be perfectly happy with mission mode, targets, race to the finish, all that jazz. Give me all of your ridiculous bells and whistles, Sakurai. I love single player Smash, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Okay, I’m going to stop now and ask what you all think. How did Smash Ultimate look to you? Do you still think it’s just a port? What modes and characters are you hoping for? I’m so excited