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Smash Ultimate – An Analysis from the Casual to Competitive Fan

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    Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

    Rating: 5.0 – Flawless

    Smash Ultimate – An Analysis from the Casual to Competitive Fan

    Smash Ultimate is Here

    The purpose of video game reviews is to make readers better informed about whether or not to buy a game. But who are we kidding here? I love Smash. You love Smash. Ultimate is latest version from the series, contains an insane amount of AAA content for the price tag, and even pro players are loving it. The vast majority of people who are reading this now already have or will get Smash Ultimate, but for those of you still on the fence, let me provide an analysis for the casual fan, hardcore gamer, and those who are looking to be the next Evo champion.

    Casual Fans

    I grew up on Melee, but honestly, some of my best memories were dragging my Wii to friends’ houses to play Brawl. My friends, like most casuals, loved spamming the special moves and seeing all the different final smashes. There was a ton of laughter and screaming, myself included, and Brawl was a significant upgrade as a party game. And while Subspace Emissary was, in my opinion, not executed well, I still admire the ambition and intention behind the concept ¨C to create an epic single-player story and large platforming levels to match.

    Smash Ultimate is weakest when you look at its appeal for casuals, which is a very frustrating thing for me to say. Smash Ultimate mechanically is much better than Smash 4 and the best we’ve seen since Melee (Project M included) and from a content perspective is amazing.

    If you told someone that Nintendo was going to release a $60 DLC season pass for Smash Wii U that included upgraded graphics, new 20 hour single-player campaign, 11 new characters, 7 returning characters, 48 more stages, and god knows how many more music tracks, Nintendo would be lauded as DLC content king.

    The thing though is that most casuals aren’t looking for something ¡°better¡± or ¡°more¡±, casuals are looking for something ¡°different¡±. Different, Smash Ultimate is not.

    At its core, Smash Ultimate remains the same; your character must knock another off the stage with each connecting attack doing damage that makes it easier to do so. Final smashes now have an option to build a meter instead of relying on getting a Smash ball, and there’s a new squad strike mode that allows you to pick multiple characters to use in one game round, but that’s about it for casual players. It definitely doesn’t live up to the final smash mechanic introduced in Brawl and eight-player battles in Wii U.

    The art direction is based off Smash 4 (although the graphics are definitely much improved, go watch the Digital Foundry video to see for yourself), and no one is going to be surprised by what they see.

    World of Light, which initially looks like a new Subspace Emissary, is instead, a prettier and expanded version of event matches from Melee, which is incredibly awesome for me, but I could see how that might disappoint fans who were looking for more platforming-related activities.

    The side events like home-run stadium, target test, and all-star mode are gone as well. I didn’t mind this so much except for the target test mode, as the individual target test for each character was one of the best parts about Melee.

    Smash Ultimate was not intended to experiment with new content, but rather address the problem with underlying mechanics and balance among fighters that have been a noticeable issue since Brawl. While that was absolutely the right call to make as this was the number one concern for most Smash fans, this doesn’t excuse the game for lacking variety in single-player content.

    In this regard, Ultimate could have done a couple things: a target test creator and video game history quiz mode.

    I understand that expecting the developers to create individual target challenges is a lot to ask, but I think it would have been awesome if they made a simplified stage creator where users could create their own target challenges for a character and upload it online for others to play. The creativity and user testing would then fall to the players who I’m sure would be more than happy to take on the responsibility.

    Second, with the addition of Spirits, it would have been a nice surprise to see a new mode where players would be given questions about video game franchises based on said Spirits. The black shadow of the Spirit would be in the corner of the screen, and once the spirit is collected would appear in the question screen. I’m sure single player-focused gamers would enjoy the interplay between collecting spirits to understand the context behind the question and then doing a little internet research to learn some video game history.

    Overall, in terms of experimentation with Smash Ultimate, the game tends to play it safe. That being said, make no mistake that this is a quality Smash game and a very comfortable upgrade from Smash 4.

    Hardcore Smashers

    I consider myself in the middle of the Smash player extremes. I prefer playing Smash with no items and enjoy taking off stocks based on technical gameplay, but also am not the kind of person that ever wants to go to Evo. I take comfort in getting hype for unreleased characters, compete in locals, and watch streams from the major tournaments.

    For those who are like me, rejoice as Smash Ultimate was made for fans like us.

    One of the things fans are eager for in every new Smash games are the new characters. I have to say, I’m loving all these new characters.

    Inkling looks great, and I love all the alternate outfits. King K. Rool is a great amalgamation of his forms from Donkey Kong Country and just plain fun to use. The Belmonts were definitely a much-needed addition (the GBA Castlevanias were my jam) and although I would’ve liked to have seen an art design by Ayami Kojima, I get why Simon’s based on the NES incarnation.

    Having all the past fighters return is just cherry on top of the Smash sundae. The return of Snake and Wolf were particularly awesome as I still have great memories of watching Professor Pro and Chillin in action in Project M tournaments.

    And the stages, oh my gawd, the stages. The HD remakes of the Melee stages are life changing. They are so perfectly upgraded that I don’t know if I can even go back to Melee without wishing I was playing Ultimate.

    There’s no question Smash Ultimate is a beautiful game, but is it beautiful to watch as well?

    I’m going to be blunt here; it absolutely sucked watching Smash 4 matches. The game was plagued with major issues including stocks that lasted way too long, mechanics that strongly rewarded campy gameplay, and lack of consequences when a character was off stage, which is plain bad game design.

    Smash Ultimate is much much better. The developers understood they had to address these problems, so the tweaks with dash dancing, shield management, etc. encourage more aggressive gameplay and actually committing to actions. I cannot tell you how excited I get with shield management with this game. My heart races, I have to swallow my saliva ¨C it’s actually downright disturbing.

    With the addition of camera zoom on finishing blows, it’s also clear that the developers wanted to integrate hype into the design as well. These finishing blow shots are a cool addition that I can’t wait to see in tournament gameplay.

    Is Smash Ultimate more fun to watch than Melee? Honestly, no. But for the first time since Melee, we have an official Smash game that’s actually enjoyable to watch at a competitive level. So when the next tournament rolls around, when I have to pick between watching Melee v. Ultimate, it won’t be the game that factors in my decision, but the players competing in the tourney.

    The last thing I wanted to address for the hardcore fans is the roster. One of the best things about fighting games is the hype behind predicting characters that will be in the game. Even without buying Smash Ultimate, you got legit content with trailers that blew all our minds with the reveals of everyone coming back, the Castlevania representation, out-of-nowhere Piranha Plant, and of course, Joker from Persona 5 (Persona and Shin Megami Tensei forever!!!).

    With the DLC packs, the hype train is still going, which of course I’m happy about, but I also think it’s important to take a step back to appreciate the insane representation we already have. The character representation in Smash Ultimate is awesome.

    Is this a perfect roster? Well, that’s a difficult question as I don’t think any Smash game can have a perfect roster for everyone. Everyone has their own favorite games that they want representation from. For me, I would want characters from Advance Wars (Andy), Sin and Punishment (Isa), Baten Kaitos (Kalas), Elite Beat Agents (Agent), and No More Heroes (Travis Touchdown). However, we’re more likely to get representation from franchises that would make people go crazy like Halo, Kingdom Hearts/Final Fantasy, Half-Life/Portal, and Monster Hunter.

    Still the announcement trailers for the new DLC characters are going to be amazing, and I look forward to all the future enjoyment I get from both seeing the new trailers and competitive tournaments.

    Future Competitive Champions

    For those of you wanting to play the game at a competitive level and enter tournaments, I salute you. Competing in fighting games takes a substantial amount of time and practice, but Smash Ultimate is a great game for it.

    One of my big worries was that since Smash Ultimate was going to bring every character back that this game might end up like Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Mortal Kombat Armageddon or as I call them, Tag Tournament 2 ¨C Tekken edition and Mortal Kombat: I’d rather watch Bruce Willis’s Armageddon (no offense Harada-san and Boon-meister, I love Tekken 7 and Mortal Kombat X!).

    Thankfully, the fighters here are actually balanced ¨C hold on while I wipe tears of joy from my eyes. I’m sure that many of you have seen tier lists from pro players, but with how good the balancing is right now, these tier lists don’t apply to the vast majority of you.

    it’s like two high school kids talking. One of the kids says, ¡°Man I’m going to be a millionaire when I grow up,¡± and the other kid says, ¡°Pssshh, a millionaire? That’s so low-tier, obviously you gotta be high-tier and be a billionaire when you grow up.¡± These two idiots won’t make $100 without putting in the work. The amount of work you need to put in to reach a level where Smash Ultimate tier lists make sense also would make you a legitimate contender in a major, and I’m very sure most Smashers are not that.

    Trust me when I say just pick a character you like and you’ll be able to take that character far, something that I could not say with the previous Smash titles.

    The mechanics overall, promote strong fundamentals: neutral gameplay and good reads. Unfortunately, because of the input delay and knockback, we’re not going to get Melee-level tech chases and combos. Time will tell if the Smash Ultimate philosophy of aggressive neutral and reads that lead to huge rewards will be more entertaining compared to the Melee emphasis of technical execution and punish game.

    A lot of people ask why Melee fans like Melee so much over other Smash titles including Ultimate. To put it simply, a round of Melee is like a scene from John Wick where the camera follows John Wick without cutting away for this tense prolonged sequence of awesome action. A round of Ultimate is like an action scene from a shounen anime like Hunter x Hunter, where there is a really cool fight sequence then everyone stops to talk and then another fight sequence follows.

    Both are cool to watch, but an uncut John Wick action scene is unquestionably more impressive. (For those wondering, Smash 4 is like old school DBZ where a month of episodes would pass and still nothing happened.)

    Regardless, Smash Ultimate while more accessible is still fun and has more than enough substance to be competitively interesting.

    Finally, I wanted to talk about online. it’s serviceable, but saying it’s serviceable is not a complement. There is lag in a decent number of matches, you’re often matched up in battles that are not part of your wanted ruleset, and overall, is not as good as offline play to practice for high level tournaments.

    That being said, people also need to back off when talking about how bad the online is because it’s clear they have very little clue about netcode. In online games, the game has to upload information from your game including your character position and action inputs in addition to download information to your game about the other player’s character position and action inputs.

    In online shooters and MMOs, the game can cheese actual positions when displaying information and have more room to maneuver to create a ¡°smooth¡± gameplay experience.

    In fighting games where each frame matters and needs to be shown accurately, netcode is extremely hard to pull off well. That’s why you hear all the time about fighting games like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur having lag problems with online matches and comparatively much less with games of other genres like Halo and Fortnite. Smash Ultimate being both a fighting and platforming game, makes creating smooth online gameplay one of the hardest, if not the hardest challenges to develop for.

    Essentially, Nintendo had a very hard problem to tackle and didn’t completely ace it. Playing matches online is still fun and good practice to get to a competitive level, but it doesn’t replace offline play.

    Smash Ultimate will Continue On

    Smash Ultimate is my favorite Smash game since Melee. This is a game catered towards competitive play. The game mechanics are well-tuned, characters fun to play, and presentation is top notch. Hopefully, the developers don’t rush out character nerfs and buffs and are careful with their adjustments as the game is working very well for now.

    It isn’t perfect though. While we knew ahead of time that the art direction wasn’t going to change, it was surprising to find that the variety in single-player content got gutted. Online matches are consistently playable, but significantly flawed, which hopefully improves with future patches.

    These flaws are mitigated by a bunch of positives. World of Light and classic mode are amazing love letters towards each of the fighters’ history. Having every past fighter and the concentration of hype new characters makes this one of the best cross-over titles ever. More than anything, with the current mixture of Nintendo’s support of esports, Twitch, seasoned and incoming pros, I’m very excited to see how the Smash Ultimate competitive scene evolves.

    When it comes time to rate a game, I keep things simple. If I think a game is a must own on the system then even if it has flaws, I’ll give it a 5 out of 5. Smash Ultimate is a definite must own and as such, gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

    Rating:   5.0 – Flawless

    Product Release: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (US, 12/07/18)

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