Hands-on with Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Recently a few of our writers headed along to an event hosted by Nintendo Australia in a little bar hidden in Richmond. We went to have a look at the E3 build of Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
We say the E3 build so you know that we didn’t get the chance to try Simon Belmont, King K.Rool or learn what that secret, hidden mode is on the main menu. So quit asking!
We did however, get to try out a really decent selection of old and returning characters, test out 23 different maps and generally run amok in four-player brawls.
Our initial impressions are that Super Smash Bros Ultimate really is a game for fans of the series. It takes characters from the Smash Bros on Nintendo 64 and pits them against characters from Smash Bros Wii U in maps from Smash Bros Brawl.
At the same time, it’s both a look back at the series as well as an evolution of the formula that fans have come to love. With that comes a complexity that might turn off some new players from higher-level play, but as always, Smash is easy to pick up and have a go.
With that out of the way, let’s look at what Nathanael and Luke thought of some of the specifics.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Characters
Nathanael: There was a decent selection of characters to choose from in our build, but certainly not the whole roster. A few standouts were, of course, Mario, Link Cloud, as well as returning favourites like Snake and Ice Climbers.
I was ecstatic when I finally got to play Ice Climbers in glorious HD. The moves were instantly familiar and the controls felt far more fluid than they ever did back in the Nintendo 64 days.
With this nostalgia, came a surprise – even though I knew Ice Climbers back and forth, I didn’t know how to use them against Bayonetta, or Little Mac, or Ryu.
It’s an odd feeling to be both familiar and thrown into the deep end at the same time.
Luke: These days I’m one of those players that loves to just hit the random button and see what character I get stuck with. I was happy to be given Pikachu for my first match and that little yellow lightning rat plays just as fast and responsively as I could have wanted.
Bayonetta, Ryu and Snake were all good fun and relatively easy to adapt to as well.
Ridley was an interesting experience with a kind of slow momentum but seemed quite powerful once you got the hang of him.
Nathanael: The build we played included 23 different maps, plenty of returning and a number of new ones. There were a few that stuck in my mind following the playthrough, firstly the new Breath of the Wild Great Plateau Tower map that as you might expect – takes place on top of the Great Plateau Tower.
As Smash Bros maps go, this felt relatively small. It has a central platform with a second level that you can jump to. The elevated spire in the centre is also destructible, which I didn’t really expect.
So the first time it happened I was playing as Samus and charging my energy ball on the left side of the tower, Pit did his ‘Power of Flight’ (Up + B) move, which sent him hurtling into the sky and out of the way of my attack.
He hit the top of the tower which cracked, then splintered into hundreds of pieces and crumbled away, leaving just the platform to stand on.
Frankly, I was stunned, and quickly got tossed off the tower by Ganondorf. Another point to this map, the elevated platform and the tower itself only take up a relatively small central section of the level, while there’s a whole load of open space around the outside.
This means that aerial characters like Pit, Kirby and Metaknight will be right at home on the outside of this level, happily baiting and sending opponents hurtling the long way down to the ground.
The other new map that stuck with me was the Splatoon map called Moray Towers. It takes place on the outside of a building in the Inkling city. But unlike other city maps like Saffron City or Onnett, this one is really, really vertical.
It’s built on eight different platforms with ramps snaking back and forth up the tower. This means you’ll be doing a lot of aerial attacks and powering your way up the ramps.
As you’d expect, most of the fighting took place near the top of the tower, because if you were thrown off from there you’d have far more time to recover than if you fell from further down.
Because of this, and because of how skinny the map is, characters with big directional attacks like Ganondorf’s Warlock Punch have some pretty great opportunities to knock opponents outside of their decent recovery zone and sending them plummeting.
Luke: I also really enjoyed the Breath of the Wild map with its destructible tower.
It adds a strong tactical element to matches with the ability to eliminate cover or to exploit it when the tower reforms. Similarly, in the Sonic level, you can remove the centre portion of the map leaving only two smaller ramped sections on either side.
As with Moray Towers, these levels can be very deadly for characters who struggle to recover from falls.
Nathanael: Smash always had a really specific set of sounds for me, and over a while, you really learn the cues without having to see what’s happening on the screen. So you might hear Pikachu power up a Thunderbolt and know it’s coming before you see it.
From that perspective, Ultimate didn’t disappoint. The soundtrack was suitably epic but always made way for the more diegetic sounds that act as markers for the gameplay. The trade-off was that yes, we were playing in a crowded bar with a bunch of rowdy Aussie journos, so it was a far more relaxed than competitive environment and that made it hard to tell one game from the next.
Luke: With consoles running the game all in close proximity it was pretty hard to get a clear idea of the audio. Having said that, even through the cacophony, important audio cues for attacks and items were still crisp, clear and intelligible.
Nathanael: The four-player brawls we had were chaotic, exciting, jump-up-and-down sort of affairs. Not what you’d call esports material, but manic fun nonetheless.
For this build, I’m sure the Nintendo reps had boosted the item drop rates because on top of regular and smash attacks, we had mines, bumpers, stars, hammers and Smash Balls coming at us all the time.
I think the standout moment for me was when a Smash Ball and a fake Smash ball arrive at the same time. All four players looked at each other, then split out across the map, two got to one ball and two to the other. As each ball broke, the fake one exploded and Sonic and Kirby were sent hurtling off the screen.
The real Smash Ball on my side went to Cloud, and I (playing as Link) tried to get out of the way as quickly as I could. Let’s just say all the Rupees in Hyrule couldn’t save me that time.
Luke: In the mode we were able to play, items were prolific. As well as the classic items such as the Fire flower and the Hammer, Pokeballs and assist trophies were abundant providing all manner of helpers and adding to the general chaos that is a 4-player match.
The feel of the game
Nathanael: I can’t tell if Smash has gotten faster, or I’ve gotten slower, but damn, Ultimate feels fast.
That’s not really a criticism, just a feeling that I couldn’t shake as I played it. So for newcomers, I feel like there’s going to be a bit to get your head around, because as always, Smash is a technical fighter wrapped in an adorable package.
On top of that, the visual effects are spectacular, especially Smash Attacks, which feel more detailed than ever as the camera sweeps in to focus on the attacker as they power up and let loose. Overall the visuals feel like they’ve had a really solid bump.
Even though it can be hard to see what’s going on when the camera is either pulled in close or out too far, it does move quickly enough and focus on the action smoothly enough that I was never really lost for long. We did have the chance to try the game on both the Switch Pro Controller as well as the new Smash branded GameCube controller.
The Gamecube controller is basically exactly what you’d expect, it’s just like the Gamecube controller you remember, except with a Smash Bros logo stamped on it, and an extra long cord to run it to your Switch (no mention of a wireless version at this time).
Between the two controllers, I thought the Pro Controller suited my playstyle more fluidly, and for most newcomers, this will probably be the easiest way to pick up and play.
Luke: This was a very slick gaming experience. The game was sharp and smooth at all times and there was no noticeable frame drop even in most hectic moments.
There were a lot of hectic moments and I think in 4-player versus, we are seeing the most fast-paced and frantic version of Smash Bros yet.
I don’t think this is because the gameplay itself is any faster than recent Smash Bros titles, just that the number of effects and moving objects on screen at any given time is very intense.
It’s lucky that the controls, especially the new Gamecube controllers, feel very responsive and allow you to react quickly to the chaos on screen.
There you have it. After a few hours with the upcoming Super Smash Bros Ultimate, we can safely say it’s a new Smash game.
For returning fans this feels like a celebration of everything that’s come before it and there’s going to be a lot of variety to keep people coming back.
For those new to the series, Ultimate might have a learning curve, but it’ll be worth coming along for the ride.
PowerUp! writers attended a Super Smash Bros Ultimate preview event organised by Nintendo Australia.