At the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Nintendo provided fans with a first glimpse of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fifth game in the popular arena-fighter series, while simultaneously hosting an invitational tournament featuring the series’ top players.
The major takeaway with the new game is the reintroduction of all characters from previous Smash games, like Solid Snake, and some fan-wanted additions like Ridley from the Metroid series. But in the Nintendo Direct, the online prerecorded presentation that unveiled the new game, series director Masahiro Sakurai went in-depth on the changes the production team had made to the game.
First off, the game is not a port, but a brand new game built for the Nintendo Switch. It’s pulling in the same development team that worked on the previous iteration and utilizing many of the assets. That’s why the game looks very similar to the last installment, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, referred to as Smash 4 by fans.
Some mechanics were brought back, like the directional air-dodge, albeit, it’s not as smooth as it was in the second iteration, Melee. Along with the directional air-dodge, the mechanic of being able to dodge an infinite amount of times from Brawl and Smash 4 has been removed altogether.
“So by air-dodging as much as you want, you’re increasing the amount of time that you’re invincible, and there’s no risk involved,” Sakurai said in an interview with The Washington Post. “So there’s this discussion about having the advantage and disadvantage in trying to balance that out.”
A new mechanic that aids in that risk-reward gameplay is the introduction of the perfect shield. If a player turns a shield on-and-off at the exact moment of an opponent’s attack, they’ll enter an invincibility state with the option to counter. But if they miss that window, they’ll take the full brunt of their opponents attack.
At the invitational, professional Melee and Smash 4 players were getting as much hands-on time with the game as they could. And overall, the reaction seemed positive.
“I am very happy that Nintendo has listened to so much of the fan requests and given so much of the fan service we have been asking for,” said Team Liquid’s Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma. “When I was first playing it, it wasn’t quite my thing. After watching the invitational and seeing what it’s meant to be played like, I can definitely see how exciting and how hype the games can be.”
While the games were fun to watch, the constant refrain that was reiterated by all the players was the half-step Mr. Sakurai took with implementing the directional air-dodge. In Melee, players would use a mechanic called wavedashing, which, when a player air-dodged into the ground, it would create a sliding animation. It gave the game a unique fluidness and speed.
“I’m confused why he brought back directional air-dodging because the only reason people like directional air-dodging in Melee is so that you can wavedash and waveland,” beastcoast’s Ramin “Mr.R” Delshad said. “I get that he’s trying to find a middle ground for casual players and Melee players. But I would rather have him, like, not put that mechanic in if he were not add the good parts of that mechanic.”
But it’s a double-edged sword. While wavedashing does add movement options, it comes with increased button presses that require fast precision.
“I think a lot of players on the other hand gave up on Melee because it’s too technical, because they can’t keep up with it,” Sakurai said. “And I know there were players who got tendinitis from playing, and messing with the controller so much, and that really is hard on the player.”
But players do appreciate that Nintendo is paying attention to the community and listening to feedback. Nintendo of America has a dedicated representative that does listen to player feedback and feeds that information to the development team back in Japan.
“I really don’t think a few extra techniques hurts the bottom line of casual [players] playing with items and such,” said Team SoloMid’s William “Leffen” Hjelte. “The thing I always say — Melee is kind of what really kick-started Smash into this multimillion dollar franchise, and people play it casually! Almost all Melee players that are pro today started as casual fans.”
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is set to release Dec. 7 for the Nintendo Switch.
Imad Khan is a freelance esports, video game, tech and automotive reporter based in Manhattan. He received his graduate degree from CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism and has written for sites like ESPN, Polygon, Digital Trends and Vice.