One of the main attractions of E3 this year is the Switch’s upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Lines to get hands on with the latest entry in the popular brawler series wrapped around Nintendo’s massive installation on the West Hall show floor, but EW was able to secure an hour of play (okay, fine, 50 minutes. I couldn’t resist the temptation to dip into the delightfully silly Overcooked 2 during my Switch session).
If you’ve played a Smash Bros. game before, Ultimate will feel familiar in all the right ways. It’s still Smash Bros., just more of it, which is really all anyone could ask for from a series that’s basically capitalized on the same winning formula since its N64 days.
On that note of continuity, Nintendo’s decision to include GameCube controller support was a smart move to please purists who can’t imagine playing any other way. I personally have been a bit of a GC controller snob since Melee, but the Switch’s Pro Controller, which was the only input device available to try at E3, may finally work as a worthy successor to the trusty standard. For hands trained on years of the GC’s very particular button layout, it may take some getting used to, but overall, the Pro Controller feels like a good fit for the game. Hopefully the Joy-Cons will hold up when they become available to try, because this would be a great title to be able to share on the fly with fellow gamers.
The final version of Ultimate will include every Smash Bros. character from the franchise’s history, but the demo build at E3 only included a couple dozen. Since my true avian loves Captain Falcon and Falco were missing from the E3 version, my strongest match was with Ike, who I’m happy to report still hits like a freight truck.
But with great power, I’m ashamed to say, comes great irresponsibility. Even playing with two very nice strangers whose job it was to allow me to enjoy the game, and who were probably letting me win, I succumbed to the temptation of some light trash talk. After a particularly satisfying double K.O. with an upward smash attack, I asked the Nintendo demonstrators if Ultimate still has a taunt button (it does). It was not my finest moment, and I apologize sincerely to everyone at Nintendo and their families. My only excuse is that trash-talk has always been one of Smash’s core gameplay mechanics.
Luckily, my hubris was shattered in a catastrophic round as Snake, who is making his first Smash Bros. appearance since 2008’s Brawl, albeit with a significantly toned down hind end. Snake’s moveset feels very similar to how it played in Brawl, which is to say I am still very bad at aiming his missiles and placing his remote mines, and I got absolutely dunked into the dumpster, swiftly and repeatedly.
Newcomers to the series Ridley and Inkling Girl were also available to play. Ridley is a fairly standard heavy bruiser, but he can use his wings for multiple jumps, he has a powerful dash attack, and he has a tricky tail swipe that can deal high damage if executed at just the right distance from his opponent. Inkling Girl and Inkling Boy are a bit more on the technical side, pairing some interesting squid-form mobility options with an array of weapons and devices from the Splatoon series. The Inklings can ink their opponents to make them more susceptible to damage, but they will occasionally need to recharge their ink reserves by holding block and B for a few seconds.
As for the new maps on display, Breath of the Wild’s Great Plateau Tower is a small-ish map with a destructible dome that will eventually fall when it’s taken enough punishment. Splatoon’s Moray Towers is a tall, multi-leveled arena with plenty of ramps.
Smash Bros. Ultimate was exactly what I expected — and everything I hoped for. Without having played any Smash title extensively since Brawl, I was immediately and seamlessly sucked back into the fun by Ultimate. I can’t wait for Dec. 7, when I can play it in a space where my verbal thorns will be directed at my friends and loved ones instead of the poor Nintendo employees who were just trying to help me have a good time.