Smash is back!
Super Smash Bros. is a beloved series of fighting games with both casual and competitive appeal, with the newest instalment Super Smash Bros. Ultimate coming out later this year. Taking all of the characters we know and love from Nintendo’s biggest games, this allows you to discover who would really win in a fight between Kirby and Pikachu. The games are accessible yet incredibly deep, allowing players of any skill level to enjoy them.
Super Smash Bros. Melee became an eSport due to the immense passion of the fans. Grassroots tournaments started up around the world, more and more players entered them until the events were scaled up. The number of spectators were also rising and this continued success has made Melee into one of the biggest eSports. The other games have also had their fair share of success in terms of eSports, but Melee has remained on top. As with any fandom, hardcore fans can be very critical of new iterations of a franchise they love so dearly. For this reason, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of the newest instalment, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, due for release on the 7th of December.
In the E3 Nintendo Direct, and the Super Smash Bros. E3 invitational that followed, we were shown an exhaustive list of changes that have been implemented in Ultimate. We already know about the roster and the new ultimates, but there are many other updates that may go over the head of the casual observer. These alterations can be broadly separated into 3 groups; cosmetic, mechanical and competitive-friendly. There are also new items, Pokémon and assist trophies, but Nintendo have not released full details of these aspects of the game as of yet.
Many characters have been given new costumes to reflect the most recent titles in their franchise. Mario has new outfits from Odyssey, Link wears the Champion’s Tunic from Breath of the Wild, Zelda’s new design is taken from A Link Between Worlds and Fox and Wolf’s outfits are based on Starfox Zero. Mr. Game and Watch was updated to look more like the original games and Kirby can turn into a chest from Breath of the Wild when using his Down Special.
Many characters have alternative outfits from different games they appeared in, like Ike, who has different outfits and voices from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and Path of Radiance. Bayonetta also has alternative outfits and voices taken from her first 2 games. There are options to play as a female Pikachu with a heart-shaped tail as well as a Pikachu Libre outfit. You can now play as a female Pokémon Trainer and Cloud now has his outfit from Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. Ganondorf has also been updated to better represent his design from Ocarina of Time.
Some characters received additional voice support; Marth now has a full English voice-over and the Mii characters have 12 voice options to choose from in customisation. There are other small updates: Olimar can have cracks in his helmets, many characters’ faces are more expressive and R.O.B has a visible fuel gauge for his Up Special.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has introduced a host of new mechanics to make the game even more skill expressive. This is incredibly evident with the new “perfect shield” mechanic. If you release your shield button just before taking a hit, you can perform a “perfect shield” which gives you an opportunity to quickly counterattack your opponent. The stronger an attack is, the more time you are given to riposte after a “perfect shield”. In competitive fighting games, it is very important to predict your opponent’s attacks and take advantage of what you can predict. In Ultimate, there is now a very high skill cap in doing this because, in theory, you can “perfect shield” every attack while on the ground.
You are now able to perform a directional air dodge. Before, you were only able to air dodge in place, but this new mechanic allows more options when it comes to recovery (getting back to the stage). It also makes your air dodge less predictable as you can change direction instead of continuing your current fall trajectory. There was another update to the dodging mechanic: excessive dodging makes you more vulnerable. If you dodge multiple times in a row, you will have fewer frames of invulnerability. This change encourages players to use their dodge more carefully without becoming overly reliant on it.
Other minor mechanical changes include the ability to use your shield to cancel your dash and every character now has a short hop attack (using the jump and normal attack buttons). You can also attack while on a ladder. Individual characters have had their own changes too. Link now has a remote bomb like in Breath of the Wild and Ryu always faces his opponent, as in Street Fighter. Charge moves can now be charged in mid-air, allowing for more opportunities to unleash their full power. Pokémon Trainer can switch freely between the 3 Pokémon without a penalty and Palutena’s Down Special now functions as a counter as well as a deflect. Finally, Shulk’s Monado Arts are easier to choose, only requiring a single button press with a directional input instead of mashing the special attack button.
There have been many new features added that cater specifically to Smash’s competitive eSports scene. One of the most notable changes is that every move does more damage in a 1v1 fight. This will make every move that lands more meaningful and can make matches quicker and more exciting. Similarly, strong moves that hit will play out in slow motion in 1v1 fights. This is to create a greater spectacle for the players and audience to enjoy. Final Smash has also been overhauled; now every character’s final smash is some sort of burst attack in order to keep the game going at a fast pace. A little window now appears on screen that shows the position of characters in relation to the bounds of the stage and the screen. This will help players and the audience understand how close a character is to death and whereabouts they are exactly.
There are also specific features that aim to bring greater clarity to the audience. In 1v1 matches, a big score board will appear after every knockout to show the current state of the game. Additionally, certain characters’ resources – Cloud’s Limit gauge, Robin’s Sword and Tomes remaining uses and what’s in Villager’s pocket will be visible next to their character portrait at all times.
In order to add variety to the battles, all stages have now have Battlefield forms as well as the Omega form introduced in Smash 4. This means that more stages can be used even when players want to play on the Battlefield-style stage (three static platforms over a long flat stage).
That’s a lot of changes, but what does it mean?
Many of the changes are routine, updating a character based on their most recent game, new items etc. but Ultimate has many more gameplay innovations. Many of the changes are specifically made to deepen the combat system and add new skills for competitive players to learn. After Super Smash Bros. Brawl introduced the possibility of tripping over, an unpredictable mechanic where sometimes your character would fall over uselessly, there was tremendous backlash. However after these recent additions to Ultimate, many of the prominent members of the community believe the new mechanics will affect the game positively. Armada, a professional Melee player who got to play in the Invitational Tournament, had a positive experience with the game and was especially impressed with the directional air dodge. He explains in his review video that he has hope for Ultimate after being very disappointed with Smash 4.
Following the immense growth of eSports over recent years, it seems that Nintendo are changing their stance on competitive gaming. Other fighting games have had trouble with adapting to the general eSports scene, with many of their communities separating themselves from mainstream eSports. This has left Nintendo a fantastic opportunity to capitalise on this modern phenomenon, with the ability to use their self-sufficient Smash community as a priceless resource. Nintendo have tried to turn other Switch titles like Arms and Splatoon 2 into competitive games, so could we see more eSport-ready titles in the future? Perhaps in a few years, we will see a serious attempt at a competitive Mario Kart title or a new Battle Royale IP.