Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. This time, contributing writer Alan Lopez breaks down some of the key changes that are being made to the new Smash Bros and how they'll fundamentally change how we all play the game for the better...
Collectively, everybody has asked for all previous Smash fighters to reappear at some point or another. Updated graphics? Look closely; the new character models and fancy stages of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate all have tiny details that are an absolute joy to discover for yourself.
And of course, there’s that GameCube controller support that Nintendo would have been crazy to not implement. All of that stuff we asked for. But like any smart creator, series director Masahiro Sakurai didn’t direct his team to only throw in whatever feedback was the loudest, for better or worse. We've even asked the pros what they want before the game comes out. Now that we’ve played it, we can see what actually happened.
And it turns out there are many subtle changes between Smash for Wii U/3DS (often referred to as 'Smash 4') and Nintendo’s showcase game of E3 2018. These changes are not to be confused with the individual character changes, which Nintendo went to great lengths to detail during their E3 showcase. Here, I’m looking exclusively at how the game engine works differently, as compared to previous Smash games.
Changes may not necessarily be obvious at a glance, or even quickly understandable after playing the game yourself, but they’re there, so I want to take a look under the hood of some of the most important ones. It's also important to note that many of us have played an E3 build of Smash Bros.- development is not finished yet. Things can and will change, especially when you’re talking things as small as frame-specific stuff. But the more broad differences say an absolute ton about the design direction Sakurai wants the series to go in.
This game is just faster
Okay, a lot of people have asked for this, but how it was accomplished isn’t necessarily how the fans, especially the pros, would have necessarily approached it. In Smash Bros. Ultimate, it appears dashing speed - not running speed - has been increased. This is the quick animation that a character has between their walk and their run animations, and it absolutely matters, given how often characters both pivot, as well as begin running after landing on a platform during a game. This is especially true of a professional match.
This small change makes dash-grabs all the more dangerous, and makes character placement more hyper-focused as compared to in Smash 4. In turn, it makes any character more dangerous to be around. No, we aren’t approaching Super Smash Bros. Melee levels of speed here, and from a design standpoint, that is very intentional. But it’s a big change, and its importance is very amplified by the next big difference.
Dodging has been nerfed
Dodges aren’t going away any time soon, but it’s clear from this build: rolling too much on the ground, specifically backwards, will come back to bite you. As was highlighted during Nintendo’s E3 Direct, repeated dodging both on the ground and in the air (directional air dodging also being a huge change to the game) gets you diminished results. How? Your character will be vulnerable for more frames, and you will cover less space the more you use it. (A quick note on directional air dodging: this is a big change, but we didn’t see a ton of it at the Invitational, likely due to how punishable it seems right out of the gate. Much more is to be determined.)
Changing how rolling works doesn’t just impact dodging, but rather the philosophy of Smash Bros. itself. It fundamentally rewards being more aggressive. Previously, most notably in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii, Sakurai wanted to discourage spamming the same move over and over again, so Nintendo introduced the 'stale' mechanic. Use your move too much and it won’t hit as hard. (We’re looking at you, Marth’s sword.) But with stale now being applied so aggressively to defensive mechanics, the message is clear: don’t roll so much, it’s boring.
This addresses not only brand new players who quickly learn to only travel by rolling, but high-skill matches that put a huge emphasis on character placement. Need to be a character model to the side? A dash (where you are fully vulnerable) may now often be a better option than the previously safe dodge (which now has diminished results). It’s a smart change to make the game more kinetic.
Short hopping/jumpsquats are different, and that matters
As the name suggests, a short hop is simply when you don’t use all your character’s force to jump, and it previously was done with a more subtle button press or joystick flick. Shorthops can now be done by the combination of pressing the 'A' button alongside however you jump. This change seems like only a logical iteration, but it may also have something to do with the fact that it appears 'jumpsquat' frames are possibly uniform across all characters in Ultimate.
Okay, what the heck is a jumpsquat? All characters technically crouch before they jump, and how long they crouch for has a lot to do with their weight, and consequently, character balance. (If Pichu and Bowser both jumped around at exactly the same rate, things wouldn’t be balanced, right?) Although much more testing definitely needs to be done, it appears as though all characters now jumpsquat at or very near to three frames, regardless of their weight. What does that mean? More action. Keep an eye on this potential change for sure.
The logic of 'perfect shielding' is reversed
Here’s a quick shielding 101: the way shielding works in Smash Bros. is that a coloured orb covers your character when you press the button to activate it. Hold your shield for too long or take too much damage and that shiny orb protecting you shrinks, leaving you more open to attack before potentially breaking altogether.
However, time your shield press at exactly the impact of an attack and you’ll 'perfect shield' (previously called 'powershielding'), giving you the full breadth of your character’s shield and, critically, the ability to counter attack while the other character is stuck in a stunned animation. You could even reflect projectiles back with it in some games. That was the general flow to Smash Bros. martial arts. It looks to have been tweaked.
Now to get the benefits of a perfect shield, you have to let go of the shield button at the right time, not press it. Think about how that might impact super quick, multi-hit moves or even just big, dramatic ones. This is yet another way the game wants you to win by avoiding defensive techniques, and I really think it will have a notable impact.
The optics are way better
Nintendo wants you to think of this game as the ultimate Smash Bros. experience not just in name, but in feel. Some of the shiny, new touches make you wonder why they haven’t been there all along. Here’s one: in a stock match, the screen quickly flashes the life count over the entire screen after someone dies. Here’s another: damage percentages now have decimal points.
Playing a free-for-all? The player in the lead will sometimes flash, giving everyone a much more obvious signal for who to go after. And whenever you fly off the screen, a tiny, minimalist mini-map stuck in the corner nearest the action now displays exactly how close you are to death. And maybe this is the smallest change with the biggest impact: you now pick the stage before you pick your character, which can majorly reframe even a novice player’s mentality regarding how they play.
All of this stuff makes Smash on Switch really feel like a fully refined, almost 'director’s cut' edition of the Smash experience. It feels like its emulating that 'extra' feel of ultimate editions many other fighter games eventually get. There’s still a lot of questions regarding things like longer charging to Smash attacks, the 'rage' mechanic, 1-on-1 damage amplifying (it appears to be a 20% increase right now), and more. But in large part, the stuff I outlined above are changes that a lot of people weren’t outright asking for, but taken collectively, they're a means of making the game faster while retaining the game’s mass accessibility.
So that's Alan's take on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's changes. Want to add your observations? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments below...