Super Smash Bros. Ultimate First Impressions

I know I write mostly about MMOs here, but there is one other game genre that I love as much if not more: platform fighters. I think most people aren’t aware that Super Smash Bros. spawned a genre, but, like anything, they span from kind of bad (Brawlout) to mediocre (Icons: Combat Arena, though I still thought that one had potential if it had just kept going) to great (Rivals of Aether). Really, though, Super Smash Bros. is still the undisputed king. It invented the genre, and while many would say that no subsequent game has recaptured the glory days of Melee (it certainly is the most fun to watch, if not the most fun to play), I am personally always excited for each new release. This is the first game in years that I’ve taken the day off work for (and attended the midnight release for), and I ended up playing it pretty much all day. I unlocked all of the roster in that first weekend, and now, a week in, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the unique things about this game.

The biggest change for me in this iteration has been the new physics. Sure, every release messes with the physics, but I think it’s safe to say that Ultimate has had the biggest changes yet. It does this weird thing where characters fly away fast at first, then slow down. As a long time player (and just as a casual observer how physics works in the real world), it really messes with my head sometimes. I’ve been reading comments from players since the earliest demos about how you think for sure that hit killed, but actually your opponent stalled out off screen and managed to get back to stage, and I can now confirm that this is true. The idea is to keep people from being comboed and juggled too much, giving them more control over their own fate, and making player work more for their kills. I haven’t decided yet if I like that. Stringing together combos is one of the things that makes fighters, especially platform fighters, look and feel good when played well. It’s not like you can’t combo things, it’s just very different, especially at high percent. Then again, it’s better than metaknight just pushing you off the top every thirty seconds.

The other exciting thing about a new game release is the addition of new characters and tweaks to old ones. Nintendo traditionally doesn’t believe in supporting games over the long haul, so once those first few DLCs and updates have dried up, the game balance is pretty much set for the next few years–a far cry from what I’m used to in MMOs, with their constant poking and prodding at classes. In terms of new characters, I’ve had a lot of fun playing Ridley, who has been a long-requested character that many (myself included) thought would never be playable. I’m not really sure he’s tournament viable or anything, but that doesn’t stop him from being a lot of fun to mess around with. That tail stab move is devastating if it hits… the operative word being “if.” It’s like Jigglypuff’s rest, but even harder to hit with. I’ve also been spending a lot of time playing Chrom. The Marth-like characters have always been fun, but there’s something about his balance of power and agility that is refreshing. His recovery is a little wonky, but it can be used as a sacrificial KO, so there’s that. The two Castlevania characters are also interesting. I’m still learning how to best use their weird long, narrow chain-whip hitboxes, but I think with some practice they could be really good. I gravitate toward Richter’s longer smash attacks rather than Simon’s longer specials, but it could go either way.

As far as tweaks to older characters, I’ve been a Link fan since ’99, so I’m very happy with the changes he’s gotten this time around. He is much faster, and that remote bomb has some great potential. I also like what they’ve done to Sonic. He was one of those characters that I liked in Brawl and didn’t like in Smash 4, and I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on why. It’s the same character and moveset, but sometimes small tweaks make me not like a character, even if he was ranked higher by the pros in Smash 4. Ultimate’s Sonic seems like a nice compromise. Shulk has also gotten some nice tweaks. When Smash 4 first came out, I thought he could have been a really good character, with great range and good aerials, but in the end he was just kind of mediocre, and his self-buff Monado Arts system was unwieldy. They’ve made some nice improvements to him in Ultimate, including making those buffs more friendly, so I’ll definitely be giving him another shot. He still might be more complicated than he’s worth, though. I’m also happy that Cloud and Bayonetta got some nerfs. It always bothered me that they threw these two characters in the last round of DLCs and they immediately jumped to the top tier. They’re not unplayable or anything, just not overpowered like they were before, which is all I ask.

The biggest disappointment is Ultimate’s online play. Lag is nothing new, mainly because players don’t realize wifi, even with a strong signal, is the culprit (and it has been handled better by other platform fighters, but that’s a discussion that’s more technical than you’re probably interested in), but the worst part is that there isn’t really a 1v1 option. Nintendo has never understood that, while Smash is a nice enough 4+ player party game, it really shines in 1v1. Previous iterations allowed players to pick from 1v1 or free-for-all. This game lets you set “preferred” rules, but doesn’t guarantee you that you’ll get anything close. My preferred ruleset is 1v1 with a 7 minute time limit, no items, any stage type, but I’d say that easily two thirds of my matches have been 4 player free-for-alls with at least some form of items. More than anything else in this game, I really hope this gets changed in a future update.

But this is, and always has been, mainly a couch multiplayer game, so, as disappointing as it is, bad online play doesn’t take away from the fact that this is shaping up to be my favorite entry in the series. Better balance, new and different physics, the most stages and characters of any game (and more to come!), all in a format that I can play either on the big screen or on the go. I really can’t complain. This will be something I’ll definitely be playing for years to come!