Home run already: Hands on with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Adam Mathew 31 August 2018 NEWS

Honest impressions from a local meet 'n' beat.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a showdown of sorts in Sydney. Not only was it a chance to rub shoulders with local games media and content creators, it was an opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff via the medium of smash. Yep, nothing but two hours of pummelling strangers and contemporaries alike in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch, the next must-own on the horizon.

That night, the worthy held their ground. The pretenders were belted off into the distance with a well placed thwack of a Home Run baseball bat (or a devastating thwomp of the DK hammer). The experience was, in a word, glorious.

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As far as preview events go it was the perfect atmosphere to consume what is one of the best party series in all of gaming. Nearly a dozen screens, an overabundance of controllers – be they JoyCons, Pro Controllers or ye olde faithful Gamecube controllers – and just a lot of good old fashioned chaos with a hint of obligatory post and pre-match trash-talk. I can happily confirm to you now that this latest Smash Bros. delivers on all fronts as the best party-enhancer this side of karaoke, Twister or shots of pure grenadine. Ultimate is at once a familiar beast but also an evolved entry in what is now a four-game franchise started nearly 20 years ago on the beloved Nintendo 64.

Obviously, it looks incredibly sharper than its WiiU predecessor and has been greatly expanded upon, thanks to having more than 100 stages in and over 70 characters and counting (sadly, our code did not have the recently announced King K. Rool available). But, more importantly, Ultimate has also been iterated on in terms of fisticuffs and legacy cheese tactics tweaks.

During my slightly boozy play session I got to sample a slew of new power-up items based on Nintendo's newer (or “newish”) franchise properties. I delighted in spotting the Super Mario Galaxy Launch Stars that flung people across stages, and there's so much more fan-service to be had in the assist items that spawn beloved characters to have your back. I geeked right the hell out when the Rathalos from Capcom's Monster Hunter series strafed my oppressors or Bomberman exploded my foes. I was less ecstatic when Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight spaded me off the screen. Great cameo, bad time to have it.

On the topic of stages, I'm happy to give my pre-release seal of approval to the Moray Tower offering that's inspired by Splatoon 2. It's all about verticality and unbroken, diagonal platforms that zig-zag up into the sky. This was probably my most favourite stage of the evening. Using trusty old Link (though in this game he's in his Breath of the Wild form) I took pleasure in keeping a higher ramp at shoulder height for tactical sneakery. This allowed me to nip at the heels of anybody foolish enough to be above and any downward attack coming my way could be mitigated with a quick dodge underneath said ramp. I can see this tower of power being a longtime fave of mine.

Speaking of towers, the new Breath of the Wild “Great Plateau Tower” stage was also a pleasure to pummel people in. Not only does it look authentic but the draw distance in the background was beautiful to the point of distraction for me (I more or less lost a round because I was gawping at the great forests off on the horizon).

All that said, it's not hugely interesting in terms of mechanics and altering moment-to-moment strategies of a match. The tower roof itself crumbles and rebuilds during any heated bout, alternatively opening vertical space and then cramming every fighting fish underneath into one big barrel again. I took pleasure in obscuring my fighter behind the struts so I could surreptitiously wind up larger hits against anybody moving towards me. It's a nice little stealth tactic which may also annoy the heck out of anybody on the receiving end.

Unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity to test out one of the coolest new features being added: Stage Morph. What's this when it's at home? It allows you to effectively cross-breed two of your favourite stages into an unholy union. Once the match begins, the battlefield will basically swap at a fixed or random interval. Longevity-wise, that's quite the shot in the arm for epic multiplayer sessions.

And really how could you ever tire of this game? The roster is huge – you can always step away from your “main” to learn how to bash heads with one of 67 (and counting) characters. I'll not list them all here, suffice to say that it's a who's who of gaming which is increasingly looking more inclusive and platform-agnostic than a crowd scene from Wreck-It Ralph.

I can't wait to sample the martial skills of newcomers Kling (Splatoon), Ridley (Metroid) and Simon (Castlevania). Throw in the utterly spectacular return of eight-player battles and this Nintendo Switch outing really does have (Super) smash-hit written all over it.

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