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Photos of Team Liquid's Smash Brothers Melee and Street Fighter players

Super Smash Brothers Ultimate First Impressions

Aug 312018

Our pros give you their thoughts on Smash Ultimate!

Certain titles with a strong history attract massive scrutiny whenever a new installment is announced. Chief among these is the beloved Super Smash Brothers series. Now in its 19th year of life, Smash is approaching the release of its fifth edition: Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. With players now getting access to the game for dozens of hours at various events such as E3 and CEO, the cogs are already turning in many players’ heads as to how they can best take advantage of this version’s quirks and features.

Along with the invited professionals, dozens of other VIPs were given the opportunity to play the game at E3, generating hundreds of hours of play of the title already. Players have gone back and scrutinized every second and every frame of the footage, identifying specific technical details and breaking down the overall playstyle of the game.


It was after CEO that we were able to sit down with several top Smash players and pick their brains about Smash Ultimate, its inner workings, and if it can live up to the hype of installments past. Several players we talked to, like much of the competitive scene, were impressed at the scope of the game, but also wondered whether the title could come close to the long lasting beauty of Melee or accessibility of Smash 4.


Dissection of the demo footage revealed that several advanced techniques had been carried over from past titles and opinions were split about their usefulness and viability.


Overall, speed was a major point of concern for players. With many coming from a Melee background, the desire for an amped up game was clear and palpable. 2016 EVO champion and current #1 ranked Melee player, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, reflected on the overall design, stating, “The changes in knockback and your ability to act more quickly after hits makes me think aggression will be more instated. But I don't think it will ever match the options of aggression that Melee, for instance, provides.” While it is true that knockback and hitstun were increased, whereas landing lag and shield stun were decreased, the times still pale in comparison to the lightning fast blitz of Melee confrontations. Three-time Genesis champion Adam “Armada” Lindgren was more blunt in his appraisal. “Currently [Smash Ultimate] is very very far away from Melee in terms of movement options and speed around that.” In contrast, former Apex Brawl champion and Smash 4 player, Salem, was critical of the increased pace. “The overall speed is okay, but it feels forced. [... It] feels like someone had gauged the speed of Smash off of a Melee stream and tried to make it similar.”

“I'm sure many top players will discover never-before-seen tech with dash cancelling. it's only a matter of time before it gets optimized and some crazy broken strategies with it are discovered.” However, others were more critical of the selected techs. Salem stated, “It kinda just makes Smash more random in my opinion. Because the use of movement options is to make many linear options more possible through increments and pixels of spacing. Smash 4 had done it right with movement options. Making it not entirely a universal mechanic and more focused on the characters individuality”


Though Ultimate posts the largest roster in Smash history - even utilizing the tagline “Everyone is Back” - there were few concerns about the ability of the design team to make a balanced game. Hungrybox opined, “I think Nintendo proved they're able to balance large rosters in Smash 4. With the exception of Bayonetta and a few of the bottom tiers, it felt like every character had some sort of upset potential — a way for a rising player who mains an obscure character to topple a top-ranked player. This version of the game is attempting the largest roster yet, so I am almost certain they will take the groundwork of balance philosophy from Smash 4, apply it to the newly returning and echo fighters, and patch the game a dozen or so times before getting it really good.”


Armada took a more measured view, stating “Personally, if it’s pros and cons with such a huge roster, one of the pros of it is that every character is someone’s favorite character. With everyone included, that means that everyone gets their favorite character. [...] From a competitive standpoint, a more balanced game overall will mean that people won’t have optimized as many matchups like in Melee. That also depends on what you want, though. Less matchups, but people are better at them on average — or more viable matchups but people are worse at them.”


Despite some positive reactions, it’s impossible to overlook that with a roster of this size, every player will have to learn an exceedingly large number of matchups. If one third of the cast is competitively viable, that means that players will have to learn 20 matchups — to put that in perspective, that number is nearly the same amount of characters Melee has in its entire roster. The overwhelming amount of technical information could prove to be a serious barrier to new players in the competitive scene.

Ultimately, it seems as though Smash Ultimate finds itself in the same place as Smash 4. While the speedier gameplay will drawer a higher number of fans and players, the lightning in a bottle that was Melee is nearly impossible to match. We can expect the majority of Melee players to prioritize that game until the ends of the Earth. However, there is still hope for a more unified Smash scene. With more and more players expressing interest in Ultimate, and the promise of Nintendo involvement, many pros from all games are eyeing Ultimate as an eventual target.


The biggest question around Smash Ultimate is one which cannot be answered until after release day. After almost two decades of waiting, it seems that the Smash community has finally been embraced by Nintendo. Players at the Invitational and subsequent demos have reported that Nintendo developers were receptive to feedback and in fact requested opinions from professional players. In stark contrast to Melee’s lack of change and the long-lamented Bayonetta dominance seen in Smash 4, it appears that Ultimate MAY receive constant attention and aftercare from the men upstairs. However, even now, there are questions about the methods with which Nintendo will tend to the title. “I do think that Nintendo will patch the game. They didn’t have the ability to do that in Melee or Brawl, but with Smash 4 they have.” said famed Melee Sheik player, Android. “But they need to be very careful. I hope that they will choose to buff characters, rather than nerf characters that people complain about being OP. The game gets more fun, the more characters that are strong and viable. They seem to be listening now and I hope they keep listening.”


No matter the eventual state of balance, all Smash players can currently do is hope. With only a few months left until the launch of the game, there are still more questions than answers in regards to balance, character design, available tech, and developer involvement. What we do know is that Smash Ultimate is an exciting game, already well-liked by players from varied Smash backgrounds. The future is bright for the newest entry to the franchise, and it seems sure to be a hit in the dorm and on the stage.