Today, E3 attendants and invitees got to play the new Super Smash Bros. game in one of its earliest builds. As a long-time diehard player, tournament organizer, and commentator for the series, I’ve been studying the game pretty intensely for a while. I was fortunate enough to get a lot of game time today, both 1v1 and in free-for-alls. I played a different character in almost every single game, so I got my hands on most of the cast, and I was keeping a sharp eye out for the game mechanics in every match I watched or played, including the invitational.
Many went in anticipating a new version of Melee or Brawl, but I went in with no expectations for anything other than a brand new awesome game. Overall, the game is very, very good–in my opinion, it has the potential to be the biggest fighting game and eSport. Most notably, it’s absolutely gorgeous and features a fantastic blend of the most popular, recognizable gaming icons, and the execution barrier (controls and technical demand) is not outrageously high. Smash has always touted its accessibility, and thrived on its subtle yet seemingly infinite depth.
The game is close to perfect in my opinion, but there are a few simple changes I’d love to see that would really solidify it. Nearly all of the Smash Bros. invitational members and E3 floor testers who I’ve spoken to have agreed with my modest proposals, and many are also in agreement with why I think this game could really break ground.
1. The game is visually spectacular. Moves have lots of freeze frames upon connecting, which gives them a gritty and satisfying feeling. This is one of my favorite additions to the series. The “swipe” animation effect is also a sweet touch, and these features alone give every move a lot of heart.
2. THERE ARE COMBOS. Many moves easily link into each other. For example, Fox can do dash attack into up tilt at low to mid percents with almost no problem. Low percent hitstun seems to be similar to Brawl, where you can string most moves so long as they keep your opponent close enough to you. Toward the higher percents, moves gain a flashier knockback animation and what seems like disproportionally additional hitstun. For moves that don’t send you too far away to follow up, this seems to be a cue to combo into a finisher.
My first match with Link, I hit Fox with a down air at the top of Battlefield around 80%. While I normally thought this would have killed him, it actually popped him up a moderate distance in a lot of hitstun that looked possible to follow up from (I wasn’t expecting that to happen so I didn’t react in time to test it for myself). Other moves seem to have this effect as well.
3. The control is very smooth. The GameCube controller felt flawless, as if it were a native peripheral. Tap jump may be slightly more sensitive for some reason, as I found myself accidentally tap jumping in situations where I never would—unusual because I’ve played every iteration of Smash extensively with tap jump enabled, including Brawl, where you can disable it. Either way, I’m sure custom controls will return for those uncomfortable with tap jump, and this is a negligible factor that could have been my own error.
4. Every character is distinctly unique, especially the newcomers. Rosalina and Luma make for the first puppet/deployable turret character, Little Mac is a highly polarized ground fighter, Greninja teleports and can chase his charged Water Shuriken for followups, Mega Man can move while shooting his Mega Buster. Some veterans have been completely revamped, such as Zero Suit Samus gaining jet boosters on her boots and Olimar gaining the ability to fly—the list goes on, but I’ll get more into specifics on the characters after I’ve had another day or two of playing them at E3! Let’s just say they were certainly kind to characters who have been traditionally weak in Smash.
5. Standard Smash fundamentals and some advanced technology still apply. Jumping out of shield (and therefore up B/up smash/any aerials) is still possible. B-reversing/wavebouncing, a Brawl technique that allows you to shift your momentum and/or turn around when casting a B move on the ground or air, also returns.
6. There is new technology already being discovered with the certain possibility of more. A player named Fiction discovered that you can do tilt moves (and possibly more) out of the pivot animation, allowing you to run past or away from someone, turn around, then attack back in their direction. This may also serve as this game’s version of a dash cancel into attacks.
1. Aerials are really, really laggy when landing on the ground—slower than non-L-canceled Melee aerials by far. This is most noticeable with moves like Marth’s forward air (which has been nerfed heavily since previous iterations) and Pikachu’s neutral air. Because of this high cooldown, jump-in aerial approaches are hardly viable with any character, which massively hurts the game’s capacity for offensive gameplay. Air dodging into the ground also comes with serious end frames. A traditional strategy is to jump in with a low-lag aerial, spaced and timed well to avoid punishment in the event that the opponent blocks, and then to follow up on block or hit with another quick/safe move that links well after the initial move.
This is now significantly less effective because many aerials performed close to the ground will render characters stuck in cooldown for too long, making them punishable for trying to attack. The easy fix I propose is to heavily reduce landing lag on aerial A moves across the board for all characters. This will allow for exciting, aggressive gameplay and open the door to creative combos and block strings that are impossible in the game’s current engine. Casual and competitive players alike will enjoy this change, because it allows their characters to move more quickly and freely. The air dodge should also see a decent landing lag reduction, though not quite to the levels of its Brawl incarnation.
2. The initial dashing window is really short—even shorter than in Brawl. As a result, dashdancing is borderline impossible. I basically hurt my wrist trying to dashdance consisently in place with Marth because you have to flick the stick back and forth so quickly to do it, and this is coming from someone who routinely utilizes dashdancing even in Brawl. By moderately improving the window in which you can pivot, which is a very subtle and non-intrusive change, a bunch of possibilities could open for players. You can fake approaches and retreats, diversify tech-chase followups, throw off your opponent’s timing when reacting to your movement, and more with this simple option! Any sort of functions that allow players to cancel or have more options out of dash would be deeply appreciated by the competitive community—especially since jumping approaches are now very weak.
3. The stage boundaries are enormous, and/or many moves do not have properly scaled knockback. People were able to survive Fox’s up smash, a move that has always been a very powerful KO attack in the Smash series, at over 110% on Wily’s Castle. This means that either the move was nerfed, the stage has an outlandishly high ceiling, or both. From what I could tell, it was a bit of both, but mostly the stage. However, I also killed someone at 60% cleanly with Bowser’s forward smash, which isn’t terribly slow this time around either. Knockback seems to peter out a bit toward the end of hit trajectories, and the camera doesn’t zoom very far out to show surviving characters near the blast zones.
I’m fairly sure that character balance, especially in terms of simple things like KO and combo percents, will be modified before the final version of the game at Nintendo’s discretion. I don’t have many direct suggestions because it’s plausible to me that any blend of character statistics could end up coming out great—for example, Fox’s up smash does not need to be a strong KO move for me to enjoy the game.
4. Throws seem to be very difficult to combo out of, but this may be a design choice like it is in Smash 64. Still, many players would love to get some additional reward off of grabs, and allowing characters to follow up more easily after them would easily quell their complaints while not interfering significantly with the game’s design or accessibility.
Well, those are my early impressions of the game’s mechanics overall. It’s beautiful and extremely fun, and I think there’s definitely competitive potential—especially if they clean up some of the easy stuff I mentioned. I’m gonna be on the show floor playing all day today and tomorrow to get a better mastery of each character, so look out for my follow-up in which I dissect them all in detail!