An image of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Smash’s top players react to playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

© Nintendo

It’s barely been a day since Smash Bros. Ultimate was announced and a bunch of pros have already played it. We spoke to a number of them to get their early thoughts on the game's competitive future.

The VIP lounge at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles was absolutely buzzing ahead of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Invitational tournament. Prominent players from all over the world were present to both compete and dissect the new game, long before most Nintendo Switch owners even get to play it (it releases in December).
“It feels like it’s 75 percent there at this point; it’s so close to being great” said Daniel ‘Tafokints’ Lee, a prominent Smash Bros. analyst and commentator. “Just like Smash 4, at this point the visuals and roster are probably finalised but there’s still plenty of time for tweaks to the mechanics.”
Lee and a number of other well known community members like Jestise ‘MVD’ Negron, James ‘VoID’ Makekau-Tyson, and Jason ‘ANTi’ Bates wasted no time mincing words in expressing a combination of excitement and hesitation over the new game. While we’re barely in the honeymoon phase of our relationship with Ultimate, it only took a handful of matches for them to start developing impressions.
“It’s certainly different and I’m just not sold on it yet,” Bates said, eager to play more. “It feels similar to Smash 4, every move has a lot of knockback, so that could make everything slower but it's hard to tell from only playing free-for-all.”
Nintendo had setups with both the Switch Pro Controller and the classic GameCube controller – which is nearly 17 years old – and while all consoles had people waiting to play, the GameCube controller setups were more sought after. Each session consisted of two timed matches, with free-for-all only. The list of characters and stages was limited, but provided enough context to give players a feeling for how much damage moves dealt and how fast everything felt.
Available characters included a lot of Smash Bros. staples like Mario, Link and Fox as well as the two newcomers with Inkling Girl and Ridley. Everyone took the new characters for a spin, but were a little more focused on what old mechanics remained and how new mechanics change up the game.
An image of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
The Ice Climbers are finally making a return

Rolling through the roster

The most anticipated aspect of every new Smash Bros. release is the reveal of each new character, as well as the initial roster, and that’s no different for competitive players. “I cried when they announced Snake,” Negron said. “He feels almost completely the same as he did in Brawl except for his down-Smash, which is OK.”
Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Super Smash Bros., announced that every character from the franchise would be coming to Ultimate, including fan favourites like Snake, the Ice Climbers, and Wolf. Each character has a slightly altered moveset, as showcased in the full length Nintendo Direct. Negron had the chance to sit down with Snake and it felt like just like his old favourite character, although it’s not clear if he’ll be ranked as low as he was in the Brawl tier list.
Nintendo’s inclusion of more than 60 known characters as well as a couple new ones, bringing the grand total to 65, shows that the development team is listening to the community. “They’re certainly doing a lot to try and please everyone,” Negron added. “They’re adding all these old characters that no one expected, as well as these new ones. I mean Ridley had been rumoured for so long.”
But just because a character or stage has been around in previous games doesn’t mean it’s the same in Ultimate, and it’s far too early to judge most of those perceived changes. “It’s just so much to take in. There’s so much that’s new,” said Makekau-Tyson. “I played on an old stage with an old character and there was still so much that was different.”
Other playable characters had various degrees of change: Bayonetta felt mostly unaltered, while most of Ganondorf’s attacks were sword based. Link now uses his hands as a grab instead of his hookshot, and a lot of characters including Sonic, Ice Climbers, and Samus all had small changes that will alter gameplay styles.
An image of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Nintendo highlighted a handful of new mechanics

Messing with mechanics, new and old

Even as they were bashing each others’ virtual heads in, every once in a while someone would attempt to stop the action to try a shield grab or edge guard to see if Nintendo have changed something. They also tried their best to mess around with new mechanics that were introduced, like perfect shield and ladder attacks.
“It’s really hard to test a lot of these things, I didn’t even see a ladder on any of the stages I had. So I couldn’t try to attack from it,” Lee said. “And the few extra frames of movement that a perfect shield would give you doesn’t apply in free-for-all, so I haven’t seen anyone judge how important that could be.”
Even with the less-than-ideal situation, players still dived into wavedashing and shield breaking and found that a lot had changed. Wavedashing, a technique often foreign to newcomers, is still present but it’s not completely clear how it’s changed; some players confirmed its existence, while others said it was a bit different this time around.
It's clear that the community will need more than an afternoon to play around with the game and really see what's been altered. A full understanding probably won’t come until after release, especially since more tweaks will be made behind the scenes before the game’s release on December 7, 2018.
“This is Sakurai and Nintendo listening to us,” Jacob ‘Alpharad’ Rabon said. “It’s balancing things incredibly well between casual and competitive, as well as trying to bring all the different communities together.”
No one is sure if Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will succeed in bringing Melee players over to a new game, but it’s apparent that Nintendo are trying to bring that speed into their new game. They’re also doing more to make those for-glory matches more intense. “It’s huge that they are scaling damage between free-for-all and 1v1,” Rabon added. “It’s a small change that has big implications in tournaments and will make the modes pretty different.”
Overall, the reaction to Ultimate has been ultimately positive with a few asterisks. Players have been hesitant to pass judgement after a handful of matches, especially since the very idea of a new game is exciting all on it’s own. Watch this space.