Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is largely more of the same, but when more of the same is more Smash Bros., that’s a fantastic thing.
The latest version of Nintendo’s beloved mascot brawler brings together every fighter who's ever been in the series, while introducing new characters, new stages and subtle but important gameplay tweaks. The result in a package that’s somewhat fresh, somewhat familiar and still a ton of fun.
I played a good chunk of Smash Ultimate (due Dec. 7) at Nintendo’s E3 2018 booth, and, well, it’s definitely still Smash Bros. The game will feel instantly familiar to anyone who played 2014’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. It takes that game’s core roster, stages and overall look and feel and adds a ton more.
As a huge Splatoon fan, I immediately flocked to the Inkling, one of two confirmed new characters in the game. The character seems surprisingly technical, as you’ll have to hold a button to refill your ink tank whenever you’ve spent too much time inking the floor to slow your opponents – just as in Splatoon.
Otherwise, Inkling packs a mix of long-range splattershot and close range inkbrush attacks, and each of the character’s eight costumes offers a distinct, stylish look for both the boy and girl variations.
I also spent some time with Smash newcomer Ridley, a big, mobile bruiser who first debuted as the villain of the Metroid series. Ridley can shoot fireballs out of his mouth, rapidly whip his tail and perform powerful grab attacks, and feels surprisingly nimble for his size.
I played most of my Smash mainstays including Link, Ryu, Bayonetta and Mega Man, and they all feel pretty much exactly how I remembered them from the Wii U game, though some of them have gotten some small tweaks. Link can now detonate his bombs remotely (a la Breath of the Wild) and no longer has the hookshot grab, while Ryu will now always face his opponent in 1-on-1 matches, making his special move inputs easier to pull off.
There are also a good amount of system-wide changes. The cinematic Final Smash attacks now go by more quickly. You can perform directional air dodges (a la Super Smash Bros. Melee) and you can hold the A button instead of mashing it to perform rapid attacks.
There’s also a mini-map that appears when your characters end up near the edge of a stage, making it easy to keep track of where you are.
I have to give a special shout-out to Smash Ultimate’s new stages, which look great and introduce some cool new gameplay possibilities. The Great Plateau Tower from Breath of the Wild is a beautiful, narrow platform where death is frequent and the ceiling can be destroyed, while Moray Towers from Splatoon introduces a ton of verticality to the action.
There’s also just a ton of fan service here. Link now has outfits that pay homage to both Breath of the Wild and the original NES game, and I was delighted to see that Mario has costumes from both Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Odyssey.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate feels more like an all-star compilation than a dramatically revamped sequel, and if you were expecting the latter, you might be disappointed. But whether you’re a hardcore tournament player eager to master the new gameplay changes, or a causal fan who just wants to play as Solid Snake again, you should find plenty to love when Ultimate hits the Switch on Dec. 7.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.