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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Our First Impressions

Logo of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch is the latest addition to the prestigious Smash Bros. platform fighter franchise. Although Professional Rakeback is mostly geared toward online poker, we enjoy taking a break from the tables from time to time and partaking in video gaming fun. As one of the biggest titles of the year, the new Smash Bros. game has certainly caught our eye.

Developed in tandem by Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco, the game was directed by the creator of the Smash series, Masahiro Sakurai, formerly of HAL Laboratory and now head of Sora Ltd. He is also known as the creator of the Kirby series for classic Nintendo platforms. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate made a worldwide release Dec. 7, 2018 priced at $59.99.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

What Is Smash Bros.?

Information

Super Smash Bros. is considered by most to be a platform fighting game series. There have been four previous Smash titles with Ultimate now coming on the scene as the fifth.

Unlike most similar games where you whittle down your opponent's health to zero, in Smash, players instead deal damage to move the opponent's percentage or damage meter up from zero. The higher the percentage, the further a player flies when they get hit.

With this concept in play, your goal is to hit your opponent far enough for them to be knocked off of the platform you're fighting on. Because the amount of damage you deal over the course of the fight influences the distance that the other player is knocked back when hit, damage does play an important role in the game although not directly as in most fighting titles that feature life meters, hit points, or similar mechanisms. When you are successful in dispatching your adversary from the stage, you are rewarded with a satisfying explosion as your opponent hits the blast zone.

Throughout most of the series, you were able to play up to four players at one time using your favorite Nintendo characters. With the latest iteration of Smash, up to eight players can compete simultaneously! The competitive format likes to stick to one player versus one player and also doubles, which is two versus two. All types of play offer a dynamic way to get in the fray.

Four-Player Smash Ultimate GameFour-Player Free-for-All in Smash Bros. Ultimate

Smash Bros. in the Esports World

Globe

Debate on whether Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game aside, it is no stranger to the esports competitive scene with Melee being the oldest and most successful installment of the series. It recently provided 1,354 competitors from all over the world to the prestigious Evo (Evolution Championship Series) of 2018.

Smash Bros. Melee TournamentSuper Smash Bros. Melee at Evo 2016

Premiere competitive events are held year-round alongside other traditional fighting games. Other than Evo, you can find Smash tournaments hosted by DreamHack, Summit, and Smash.gg. There are also Smash-specific tournaments and even a convention where you can expect to see Smash games as the highlight events. This past year, major events known as Genesis, Smash'N'Splash, and The Big House have all been staples in the Smash competitive scene.

Most events we have listed were well attended and offered lucrative cash prizes. The size of the prize is usually attendance-dependent with some events offering an add pot bonus to the first place winner. Smash Summit 5, held November 2017 in Los Angeles, CA, currently holds the record for payouts. $83k was split amongst the top 16 players with first place winner “Hungrybox” taking $29,315.30.

New Elements in Smash Ultimate

Magnifying Glass

With Ultimate now out, it does have some big shoes to fill, but every Smash iteration has seen great product sales with each release. What separates each game from the others are usually their character rosters, gameplay mechanics, and also in-game features, like story modes, traditional arcade-style single-player modes, multiplayer modes, and stage lists.

For starters, we'll talk about the new gameplay mechanics. Compared to all earlier iterations of the series, you can tell the pace of the game is much faster, offering a great deal of movement options as well as some new defensive options. Players find themselves nearly free of movement restrictions by being able to act almost instantly out of dashing. For defensive tools, a new kind of parry and a directional airdodge have been added.

The character roster itself has been expanded to 74 playable characters with six announced downloadable characters available at a later date. Every character that has existed throughout the course of the Smash series is now playable in one game. This includes third-party characters, such as Megaman, Ryu, and Ken from Capcom Co., Solid Snake of Metal Gear fame, and classics like Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Newcomers have also been added to the game. To name a few: Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series, King K. Rool from Donkey Kong Adventure, and Daisy, the counterpart of Princess Peach.

Selecting a Character in Smash Bros. UltimateThe Massive Character List in Smash Ultimate

As we said before, the pace of the game has increased. More movement options can lead to many micro-interactions in neutral and can add more approach options. Although we do acknowledge the numerous new movement possibilities implemented in the game, there is one being taken away for the first time in Smash history. That mechanic is the ability to walk through your opponent. Many speculate on what this could mean for the dynamic of movement and what kind of consistency it will display.

Movement options seem to encourage a more offensive style rather than a defensive or turtle style of play. This is due to being able to act more offensively out of dashing, the pinnacle of movement. Instead of only being able to commit with a dash-attack, you are also able to use attacks that were once only available to use while standing. With this in mind, you can now threaten more space with combo starters and an even deadlier follow-up.

The defensive side of the game is seen by many as having been nerfed. Shields that are used to block have less durability, meaning that they will take fewer hits and regenerate at a slower rate while not in use. Directional air dodges are also making a return, having last been seen in Melee. This time in Ultimate, they are more defensive in nature rather than being used to launch a wavedash like in Melee. Being able to dodge in the air and in any direction, even in place, gives the opportunity to combo break or avoid a potential combo.

Shield in Super Smash UltimateA Shield Being Used in Smash Ultimate

There is a ton of new content that we could go on about but for now, we'll move on to a discussion of how we think Ultimate will impact the competitive gaming scene.

How Will the Competitive Environment Change?

Change With Arrows

There's no doubt that Smash Ultimate will be welcomed into the esports competitive scene with open arms. Given the surplus of gameplay changes, it's a certainty that this will induce a shift in the meta.

With 74+ characters, there are a greater number of possible matchups as opposed to the current roster of Smash 4, which is 58. It seems that for every top-tier or optimal character to pick, there will likely be a hard counter pick. Thus, we might see veterans of the series excel with an arsenal of characters rather than stomping the meta with just a few.

The is now more depth involving matchup knowledge. Being aware of character traits simply won't cut it. The skill to adapt to your current opponent's play is a key factor to your success. This ability will always be a looming factor in gameplay because a growth of the player base due to the game's popularity is imminent. A potential 15+ stagelist is afoot for the competitive format. This will add more flowcharts and a wide variety of additional combos in competitors' arsenals. It is wise to keep in mind these ideas because options for each player and character are expanding so much.

King K. Rool in Smash UltimateKing K. Rool Performing a Counter Against Solid Snake

There are some new in-game multiplayer rule settings implemented as well. The rule settings are used for the multiplayer format to change up the combat experience and even provide entertaining chaos for the players involved and the spectators watching. A few noteworthy rule settings changes are up for discussion on whether they should be tournament legal or left to be used among casual players.

The ability to build a "final smash" or special move is a new concept brought in to this iteration of the series. A character's final smash is a devastating move that is more than likely to net you a kill to the dismay of your opponent. Some are easier to land than others as well as there being a power level difference.

The ability of "final smash" was actually introduced back in Brawl, but what makes this rule setting different is that now, you're able to build up a final smash as the match continues. Dealing out damage or taking damage can increase this meter, and it can accumulate over time as well. Although this offers a new dynamic to the 1v1 format in Super Smash Bros., some argue that this mechanic may be too game-breaking in the format due to balancing issues. Some characters' final smash moves are overpowered compared to others and offer too much of a comeback mechanic.

The next setting we'd like to bring to your attention is the ability to turn stage hazards off. This will be the first introduction of this rule setting in the series. As mentioned, some stages have hazards that include a wide variety of effects. Hazards in certain stages involve environment changes, the ability to deal damage, pushing or knocking a character back off stage, and even non-playable characters that pose threats to the players on stage.

One can see why this would be a problem in the competitive format of the game due to the randomness of how the hazard interactions work. With the launch of the new rule setting enabling these hazards to be deactivated, this could open up a lot of new stages that before were deemed not viable in tournament play.

History of Super Smash Bros.

Two Books

The Smash series was first playable on the Nintendo 64 console with the original Super Smash Bros. game and has since debuted a Smash game for each console generation. There is Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube, Brawl for the Wii, Smash 4 for the Wii U, and now the much-anticipated Ultimate for the Switch. Although the series was meant for a party-game environment in similar fashion to what Mario Kart and Mario Party have offered, this did not prevent players from pioneering a competitive format for each game.

In 2004, Melee was first recognized by Major League Gaming: an unorthodox pick surely due to MLG hosting FPS tournaments for Halo and Call of Duty at the time. Unfortunately, this was short-lived as Melee would have a three-year run in the MLG circuit before being dropped altogether in 2007 despite having an appearance at Evo that year. A decline in interest was expected since Super Smash Bros. Brawl was being released around that time. Melee was at risk of being permanently ousted by its successor, but it was given a second chance with its return to Evo 2013. Since Melee's release in 2001, attendance and interest in it has remained strong, and Melee events continue to the present day.

Brawl did attract a competitive scene and made a showing as an official game at Evo in 2008. Brawl has been recognized worldwide as a competitive game even with its lack of a dynamic metagame. It was welcomed and had a lifespan of five years within the competitive environment. Suffering a different fate than its predecessor with a new Smash game around the corner, Brawl has yet to see a revival in serious play since the release of Smash 4 in 2014.

Smash 4 was easily adopted into the competitive scene. By now Smash, the series as a whole, was a familiar face in important tournaments. Melee events at this time were consistent in viewership and player attendance with both Smash 4 and Melee hosted side-by-side in most if not all professional circuits. Events that exclusively hosted Smash 4 tournaments saw nothing but success as measured by spectator attendance and player turnout. Unfortunately, the game wasn't given a chance to play out its full life cycle before Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was announced for December 2018 release.

Reception

People Talking

Smash Bros. Ultimate has been one of the most highly anticipated titles of the year. As the developers revealed information about the game in the lead-up to its release, online forums buzzed with excitement. Check out a couple of the anticipatory posts from eager fans of the series:

Forum Post Looking Forward to New Smash Release
Post in Anticipation of Smash Ultimate

When the game finally hit store shelves on Dec. 7, purchasers were not disappointed:

Smash Bros. Ultimate Positive Post
User Pleased With New Smash Bros. Game

The critics were similarly impressed. The game currently has a score of 93 on Metacritic with several contributors rating it a perfect 100/100. Gamespot gave Smash Ultimate a 9/10 score, concluding, “Ultimate's diverse content is compelling, its strong mechanics are refined, and the encompassing collection is simply superb.”

Of course, there's always something to complain about if you look hard enough. The following forumite found fault with the fact that Smash Ultimate starts the user off with access to only the original eight characters from the first Super Smash Bros. game, and the others have to be unlocked by completing challenges:

Poster Dislikes Unlocking Characters Mechanism

So far, the release of Smash Ultimate has been nothing short of, well, a “Smash.” In its first 11 days on sale in the United States, the game sold more than 3 million copies. Given the increased pace of the gameplay, the possibility of more customizable ruleset formats for various events, the other changes made to enhance the Smash formula, and the acclaim it has received from critics and players, we predict that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will bring the franchise to unprecedented heights of popularity and replayability.