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!

Advertisements

Monthly Gaming Check-In: October

During my blogging hiatus (see previous post), I plan to give at least monthly check-ins about what I’ve been playing lately. Here’s the first, catching you up on what I did in October.

I know this is probably news to you all, but there’s this little-known company called BioWare that makes really good games. What? You knew that already? Well apparently I didn’t. I’ve owned Mass Effect for a while now–I got it and its sequel free for filling out some survey about Origin (summary: Steam is better, don’t bother trying)–but never played it past the opening level. Ever pick up an older game go “holy crap, why didn’t I play this years ago”? That’s what I just did with Mass Effect. I’ve been hearing for years about how it’s the crowning achievement of humanity, but I’ve been told that about a variety of games that I’ve been unimpressed by (Skyrim, I’m looking at you). But a few weeks ago I was bored and looking for something new and different, so I figured I’d give it a shot, and I was blown away. The depth of the story, the quality of the graphics (MoCap!), the voice acting… it all blends together into one incredibly immersive package. Better yet is that they’ve done a masterful job of keeping the gameplay and story feeling fluid, thanks in large part to the conversation wheel. I don’t feel like I’m stopping to watch a cutscene, I feel like I’m there helping make the decisions that determine how the story plays out. And many of the decisions aren’t easy, either; I’ve had to stop and think about what to do, and I’ve even found myself reloading because things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I also love the idea that your save from the previous game loads into the next one to continue your story and relationships with your teammates.

Speaking of BioWare, Mass Effect reminded me of how much I missed Star Wars: The Old Republic. I played it a lot when it first came out in late 2011. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever actually paid a subscription fee to, and it’s probably the most excited I’ve been for a new MMO launch. Sadly, though, a few months after release, the new content dropped off, and so did I. I’ve never been back since, mostly due to the rather overly restrictive F2P. But there’s been an expansion since then (plus the starfighter and housing updates, both of which sound pretty cool), and another one on the way next month, so I figured I’d give life as an F2P a try. As I mentioned, free game is pretty restrictive, even compared to F2P early adopters like LotRO. Here’s my breakdown of restrictions:

Kind of terrible:

  • A few of the raids must be purchased.
  • The raids that are available are restricted to a few plays per week, as are PvP arenas, unless you buy a weekly pass.
  • Restrictive gold cap with no way to unlock other than subscribe (seriously, I’d gladly pay $5-$10 for this, but apparently you don’t want my money).
  • Must purchase the right to wear purple gear. This one probably bothers me the most. Worth the $20ish to remove it for all characters? I haven’t decided yet.

Not so bad:

  • Can only play as the three most boring races, namely Humans, Cyborg Humans, and Zabrak (aka horned Humans with face tats).
  • Small inventory and bank. Expansions must be purchased.
  • Several cosmetic options must be purchased (hide head piece, unify colors to match chest, etc.).
  • Must pay to unlock hotbars. This one is just silly. Sure, as a preferred player I can have four, which is all I ever used four when I subscribed, but it’s still ridiculous that they expect to make money off of adding a box to the interface.
  • Only two crafting skill slots. You really only need two to craft gear, but to craft augments (not unlike gems in WoW), you need a third.

Note that I’m a former subscriber; many of the restrictions on people who haven’t payed a dime are worse. BioWare will tell you that a lot of these restrictions (most notably the gold cap) are to cut down on gold farmers/sellers/spammers, but it just feels like I’m being punished for not paying the game tax. But F2P isn’t completely without merit; I can play the story to my heart’s content, and that’s where the game really shines anyway.

I had a few Cartel Coins (premium currency) lying around as a reward for subscribing prior to the F2P transition, and, rather than doing something sensible like saving for the epic gear unlock, I bought the Cathar species, because why wouldn’t I want to play as a cat person? I’ve rolled an Imperial Operative, because it’s almost universally regarded as the best story and I never got very far with my sniper last time around, and a Jedi Sage, because I miss wielding a lightsaber (even if I’m mostly a caster, it still looks cool). Yes, both of those are healer classes. Apparently Guild Wars 2’s “everyone is a healer, therefore no one is” policy made me really miss healing. Both are still pretty low level, but I’m having a lot of fun.

Speaking of recent expansions to licensed sci-fi MMOs, Star Trek Online just released its Delta Rising expansion. I was excited about this one, but somehow it isn’t pulling me in the way I thought it would. I was playing it for about a month before the expansion hit (during the bonus XP time), and sadly I think I got just enough of a taste of the game before the expansion hit for the fun to wear off and remind me of the frustrations that caused me to drift away the last time. Star Trek Online is one of those games I can’t seem to get away from for too long, despite its faults, so I’m sure I’ll be back to play the new content eventually, just not right now.

October also saw the release of Super Smash Bros 3DS. My excitement for this game warrants an entire post for itself, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a long time Super Smash Bros. fan, and I’m absolutely in love with this game. It feels so much more well-balanced than any previous game, and the online play actually works most of the time (as long as the person you’re playing isn’t on the other side of the ocean and/or have really bad Wi-Fi reception). Playing the game on the 3DS’s circle slider and tiny buttons is no substitute for the almighty Gamecube Controller, but it took surprisingly little adjustment. Can’t wait to play the Wii U version in a couple weeks!