Hands On With Smash Ultimate

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By Phil Myth

Following the in-depth analysis during Nintendo's E3 presentation, I got to take a trip down to Nintendo's UK headquarters in Windsor to check out the upcoming Super Smash Bros Ultimate for Nintendo Switch. 

The big takeaway from the presentation is that this is a Smash title designed to replace Melee at the top of everyone's rankings, with the returning characters and tweaks to the mechanics geared specifically towards those eSports players that adore the Gamecube classic.

The surprise inclusion of Ridley too, was a direct appeasement of the franchise's rabid fanbase. And, from my brief time with the game, this challenge to Melee's supremacy is just as apparent from the gameplay.

Inkredibly fast

The first thing I noticed when jumping into a match was just how quick the combat is. Coming off the back of Smash Wii U/3DS the change in pace is palpable. It took me a minute or so to adapt to the sheer intensity of what was happening on-screen, but it wasn't long before those old Gamecube muscles started kicking in.

I've personally never been a Melee purist, and while it was probably the Smash title that I spent the most time on, I felt like Smash Wii U / 3DS was perfectly constructed. That said I have to admit, Ultimate definitely felt more ferocious, more precise, and as a result, even more enjoyable than it's predecessor. 

For the initial bout I took control of an Inkling, and, as with all Smash characters, the attention paid to the source material is incredible. Blasting opponents with ink using the standard B move not only does damage, but covers your foe in ink too, making subsequent attacks more potent. Numerous weapons are assigned to various directional smash attacks, and the side B breaks out the roller. Just offset from your damage meter, is an ink tank.

Yes, your ink depletes as you attack, and you've got replenish it just as you do in Splatoon. Hitting B whilst you're shielding will cause you to dive into a puddle to replenish your ink (don't worry, you don't need to be on a previously inked section to do so). The match I was in was pretty hectic, so retreating at the right time to refill added an interesting strategic element to the fight. It'll be interesting to see how players cope with that in a one-on-one situation.

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Naturally, playing as Inkling, it was only right to check out the Moray Towers stage whilst I was at it. Truth be told, the criss-crossing platforms felt in the way more than anything else. Once or twice my Inkling ran up a ramp, rather than down one like I wanted. Of course this may have just been me not angling the stick right in the heat of battle, but it could be a bit frustrating. If you were in the thick of the action though, the close quarter nature of the stage made for some incredibly hectic exchanges. 

I found myself dodging and rolling at speeds I've not employed since the Melee days, breaking out every trick in the book to get kills. Fortunately I managed to get hold of the Smash Ball at one point, allowing me to utilise the Inkling's Killer Wail Final Smash. It works in much the same way as Samus' Final Smash attack, blasting a wide beam of energy across the screen, almost guaranteeing the death of anyone who gets trapped in it.

The Inklings feel really good to play with, and they come in 8 different guises, all rocking their own hairstyles, outfits, genders and skin colours. The moveset is a really interesting one, and they add yet another unique combatant to the fight. One match obviously wasn't anything like enough to properly get to grips with it, but they feel like a solid all-rounder and it's clear that their little idiosyncrasies will make them rather dangerous in the right hands.


Ridley's, Believe It Or Not

As you would expect, the biggest new character is also rather dangerous. Ridley feels very akin to Bowser, a somewhat lumbering powerhouse who really packs a punch. His side-B move in particular was devastating, and I found myself spamming it rather a lot.

He lunges at an opponent, and if he manages to latch on, then proceeds to continue the lunge before using the momentum to send them flying. It's a great attack, though if you miss with the initial lunge you are left rather exposed, so timing is crucial.

Despite being a heavier character he is more nimble in the air than your DKs and Dededes. Naturally his wings give him extra jumps in the air, though his are limited to three unlike the five that Kirby or Jigglypuff enjoy. His up-B recovery move fires him skywards too, so I was able to make some crucial last ditch edge grabs to save myself.

If you do find yourself pitched off the screen, a new box shows up in the top right hand corner. The entire rectangle shows the kill zone, whilst the border within it indicates the viewable play area. This helps give you some idea of just how far away from the stage you've been launched (or how close to death you are), allowing you to adjust your recovery jumps to maximise their effectiveness. It's a clever addition that could come in rather handy.

As Samus' nemesis, I was blasting fireballs across the Great Plateau Tower stage, which is going to make for some insanely furious matches when the game launches. It's essentially Final Destination with a roof (at least until the upper part gets destroyed), and getting caught underneath in shots, kicks and explosions can ramp up your damage percentage in no time at all.

Double Charizards?

In between bouts, I took the opportunity to try and clear up something that's been puzzling me since the E3 trailer. Will Charizard be playable on his own, or is he only included as part of Pokémon Trainer's team? The impression I got (though admittedly the answer was somewhat ambiguous), was that the formidable fire pokémon won't be a standalone character a la Smash Wii U. There's no penalty for not switching out your team with Pokemon Trainer this time, so if you do just want to play as Charizard, you can do. Still, it will be interesting to see what his moveset is like if this is the only way he's playable.

On the same topic, I asked if my Charizard amiibo would essentially become a Pokémon Trainer amiibo if that were the case, but the Nintendo rep simply told me that more information would be revealed at a later date. Truth be told, I'm not sure they knew one way or another themselves, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on. I'd certainly love a dedicated Pokémon Trainer amiibo at some point.

Melee Killer

It was obvious from the intricate analysis in Nintendo's E3 presentation that Super Smash Bros Ultimate is a game pitched directly and wholeheartedly at the series' most die-hard fans. The inclusion of Ridley, despite Sakurai's past reticence, is just one of many ways in which Ultimate is a game built entirely around giving those people exactly what they want. They're even releasing Gamecube controllers for the hardcore community, though, despite feeling instantly familiar - like slipping on an old pair of slippers - they did feel light and a little cheap compared to the satisfying heft of the Switch Pro controller.

But the gameplay is where it's most obvious that this is a game looking to bury Melee once and for all. The sheer pace of battle is several notches above the excellent Smash Wii U/3DS, and lightning fast reflexes are set to be rewarded as handsomely as they were in Smash's sophomore outing. It remains to be seen if the community at large - and competitive Smash players in particular - start to move away from Melee once Ultimate drops. But with a roster and mechanics this impressive, Ultimate is poised to be the perfect culmination of nearly 20 years of videogame mascots kicking tar out of each other, distilling everything we love from the four previous games into one Pikachu-stomping, Yoshi-pounding, Olimar-kicking package.