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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: 5 big changes that will dramatically alter the game

From stage select to assist trophies, things are different

Chelsea Stark (she/her), executive editor, has been covering video games for more than a decade.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Nintendo Switch may already drop jaws for the sheer size of its roster — with every single character returning from every other game — but some of the gameplay changes we saw will fundamentally change how all players of all levels approach the game.

While we may not have all the answers of what’s to come, we saw more than 25 minutes of information in Nintendo’s E3 2018 Direct presentation, and Polygon was able to get additional details at a behind-closed-doors event earlier this week.

Le’t run through some of the changes that will affect how fans will play.

Stage select screens come first

If you’ve ever made the mistake of choosing a big, lumbering character for one of Smash’s more perilous stages — Big Blue quickly comes to mind — you know it’s an exercise in frustration. But Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lets players choose the stage before even selecting their characters. The losing character will also get to select the stage.

In practice, this meant I snagged Kirby (cheap, I know) for a stage I knew had very little land mass to keep me safe, and I could pick a character with a lot of speed for one of the more cavernous stages. This is something that will definitely change how all players approach matches, especially in competitive play.

It’s easier to see what matters in battle

There have been lots of small user interface touches made to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to make information easier to see during hectic matches. In a one-on-one battle, the total number of each character’s knock-outs flashes onto the screen every time a character is killed. During a timed match, the player with the most kills occasionally will flash with light (which also quickly makes them a target).

Characters with consumable powers, like ROB’s hover ability and Robin’s tomes, will have visible gauges to show you (and your opponents) how much longer they can be used. Villager also has an indicator to show what they have pocketed, and the new Inkling fighters will give you a sense of how much ink they have left at their disposal.

Assist trophies do more

Smash’s assist trophies are a random item that usually can dramatically effect play for a few seconds and cause a nice, big advantage for whoever threw them. They run the gamut from a giant Nintendog that takes over the screen, or a Metroid that chases players down and latches on to them. But now, certain assist trophies can be damaged, and even knocked out. If your assist trophy is defeated, could give your opponent a KO edge, because they managed to knock one out of the ring; doing so adds a kill to their overall score.

Final smashes are shorter

Sometimes a final smash can derail momentum from a match, especially when you’re taken out of the action for a few seconds while a long animation plays out. The Nintendo presentation confirmed these would be much quicker and more streamlined in Ultimate, so you can return to the action faster. This makes them feel less jarring in the middle of a match. Certain characters’ final smashes have been completely altered to minimize the amount of time they take away from standard play. (Example: The classic Star Fox Landmaster, one of the most cumbersome final smash attacks, is totally gone.)

It’s easier to execute technical moves

Experienced Smash players are able to make playing in tournaments look easy, especially in Super Smash Bros. Melee, a game where movement has become an art over the last 15-plus years. Now it will be easier to execute some of the moves often utilized by pros with simple button presses.

Short hops: That hop, a shorter leap than Smash’s standard jump, and is essentially if you want to connect an aerial attack with an opponent that’s standing on the ground. Now it can be executed by hitting the A button along with your jump, a much more elegant solution than in previous games.

Directional air dashes: Super Smash Bros. Melee had option to dash in the air in any direction, and it’s something players have missed in later versions. Now the air dash is returning to its roots, allowing players to quickly avoid attacks and projectiles. Players can even chain their dodges, though they’ll eventually lose their effectiveness as your duration of intangibility grows shorter.

All these changes feel like they’re being addressed more directly towards the competitive set — or will help others get to that level. The amount of detail Nintendo mentioned about any of them seems to imply an interest in appealing to players who love the nitty-gritty, granular nature of high-level play, it it could mean a lot for the direction of Ultimate.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is out Dec. 7 for Nintendo Switch.

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