With Smash Bros Ultimate around a month away from launch, today saw the final Smash-focused Nintendo Direct. It was 40 minutes long and, my goodness, it was a mixed bag. I certainly wouldn't recommend watching it but, luckily for you, here's everything that happened, and why it was... a bit weird.
The Direct kicked off with with the reveal of two new characters for Smash Ultimate: Ken and Incineroar. Ken is, as many expected, an echo fighter of Ryu, with a few minor gameplay tweaks. Some of his attacks are redesigned to look more like Ken's moves while being functionally identical, with things like the shape of his Hadoken differing. He's based on his design from Street Fighter 2 Turbo, though uses many moves from later entries, and moves a tiny bit faster than Ryu. Nice enough!
Incineroar was the second character revealed, and a much more exciting reveal. The beefy fire cat is a high-damage wrestling character, with moves that risk him self-destructing, and moves that require him to take damage in order to increase the damage of his next attack. Many of his attacks are timing based, such as one where he throws a character against ropes, and as they spring back the correct timing results in a hefty clothesline. His combat style is distinct from anyone else in the roster, which is a relief after so many sword fighting characters in recent years. He felt like a proper new character.
At this point in the Direct, Sakurai stated that this was the full roster for the game, which added up to 74 fighters. While further characters were announced during the presentation, this is what will be playable at launch.
We also got confirmation that all fighters in the game will be getting Amiibo, with the first wave arriving the same day as the game, and later waves releasing in 2019. Not surprising – this is very much the Nintendo way of handling things.
After this, Sakurai dedicated a lot of time to describing spirits mode, an option that had been pixellated on the menu during E3 but that many Smash fans had already speculated would be connected to the deaths of characters in various reveal trailers. You can read more about spirits mode here.
I found it a little disappointing, because basically it replaces trophies from past entries. Pretty much every character who would previously have been a trophy or sticker in Smash Bros. is now a ghost, who can be collected and used to power up characters when battling in a custom combat mode. Spirits come in various strength categories, in active and support versions, and basically act like perks that give your character unique abilities and gimmicks. You can equip one primary spirit, then that will have slots you can pop support spirits into, then you fight in goofy Smash matches.
In order to unlock all these spirits there are custom gimmick-centric fights against existing Smash Bros. fighters that are either connected to, or themed to look and behave like, the spirit you're collecting. Spirits can also be levelled up and even evolved in same cases.
This mode... I might be wrong and it might turn out cool. The idea of custom challenge matches is pretty nifty. But the section about it went on so long that it hurt the Direct's pace.
In terms of online play, for Fun and For Glory mode are no longer separate options, replaced instead with a single ranked battle system. Each online player picks the rules they'd like to use in battle, before being paired with players who as closely as possible match your online ranking, the rules you've picked, and are geographically close. Then the game randomly selects the ruleset of one of the players from matchmaking to use.
This feels like a step backwards for the series, in that it's restricting the number of options available to players online, but the proof will be in the pudding. Random selection of rulesets seems an odd choice for ranked gameplay. The direct also showed that online players can be disqualified and penalised for things like excessive deliberate deaths in-game (trying to game the rankings), a nice idea in theory though everything depends on the quality of the detection.
At a set ranking players will be invited to take part in a new online mode called Elite Battle, which Nintendo will apparently keep some kind of eye on. Nothing more was said about this, though it may be as simple as this being the 'true' ranked mode for the game.
Defeating players also gets you their tags, which can be sold for in-game money which can be used to buy music or spirits. You can play certain modes while waiting for matchmaking to happen, and spectator mode is back. All nice enough, but nothing groundbreaking.
After this came confirmation of a bunch of new assist trophies, which at this point feel more like confirmation of characters we'll never see in Ultimate. Of particular note were Isaac from Golden Sun, Spring Man from Arms, and Guile from Street Fighter.
We learned at E3 that some assist trophies could be destroyed in order to score a point against the player that activated them, and now it turns out that the summoning player can destroy the assist trophy themselves to prevent that happening, which introduces a risk-reward element to the more overpowered assists.
Unlike past Smash games, you can now play All Star mode without having to unlock the full roster. Instead, you'll just cycle through however many characters you have unlocked until the mode ends.
Smash Ultimate supports languages for multiple regions, including different voice recordings and names varied by language. Additionally there were some QoL additions shown: the radar that shows the position of other players can be shrunk or removed, and allies can be turned transparent in co-op battles. Players can also customise the strength of various fighters to balance combat themselves, but only in local co-op.
For the Mii fighter there's a bunch of new outfits available, many of which seem to be in place of making them playable fighters: you can dress up and play as a Yiga clan assassin from Breath of the Wild, Chibi Robo, Ribbon Girl from Arms, the Labo robot kit, and Splatoon 2 characters (which feels a bit odd when there are actual Inklings on the roster).
Seriously though, it feels so weird that there's no Arms characters in Smash Ultimate, they would have fit perfectly.
Oh, and Nintendo reminded everyone that to play online you need a stable internet connection. Erm... thanks?
This was when we found out Sakurai had told a little fib! The 'full roster' at the start of the direct was, in fact, not the final roster. Part of that is that Smash Bros. Ultimate is getting paid DLC post-launch, and the other part is a pre-order bonus character.
The DLC's structure was outlined without any detail of the contents: there will be five DLC fighters, none of which will be echo fighters. They'll be sold as individual sets containing one fighter, stage, and some music tracks for £5.99 each, or you can buy all five upfront via the 'fighters pass' for £24.99. So this pass is available from when the game launches, but good luck knowing what you're buying.
Buying the fighters pass does net you one known reward: a Rex outfit from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for your Mii Fighter.
Sakurai claimed this is because they've not decided any of the characters yet, and added that it'll probably be at least a year after launch before the new fighters are all in-game. Still, he really does want you to buy it at launch. It felt really weird and odd seeing Nintendo push pre-launch DLC in this way.
After the DLC was out the way, turns out there's yet another character. If you buy Smash Ultimate before January 31st 2019, you'll get Piranha Plant as a 'free' additional fighter - but it won't be ready until a few months after launch. Which frankly feels like a bit of a raw deal for anyone that buys the game after that date. Is Nintendo going to start selling the character come February? Piranha Plant looks unique in its moveset, but again this felt like an odd kind of pressure tactic from Nintendo.
The direct ended with a look at World of Light, the story content adventure mode for Ultimate. It's not meant to be as focused as Subspace Emmissary, but we did see a video of a god coming down from space with thousands of Master Hand enemies, before apparently annihalating every Smash character at once with a volley of lasers. Only Kirby (creator: Masuhiro Sakurai) survives. Kirby then has to fight evil versions of the fighters, to unlock them as fighters, exploring a simple overworld map and building towards a fight with this universe killer god.
Also, you can ride a rathalos, which looks pretty cool.
Nintendo's E3 presentation was too Smash-focused, and that's probably why this direct felt like one too many for Smash Ultimate. This is a game people are hyped about, for sure, but it's also one that — however you slice it — will also be familiar in many ways. After all the obvious reveals are done we're left with a spectacle like this, watching a great developer talk us through menus and help options and subsidiary modes, before having to push post-launch DLC with as few details as possible (so that each of these can later be its own little media 'hit').
At this point I feel like Smash Ultimate has been over-exposed. I'm still excited about it. But I don't want to know any more, I don't even know if there is anything else worth knowing: let's just get to playing the damn thing already.