Shattering Expectations: A Reaction to the Super Smash Bros Ultimate Direct (8.8.18)

I do my best to be wary of hype and how it impacts expectations. Often, the belief that something will be incredible leads ultimately to disappointment – when your high expectations aren’t met, it’s easy to feel that you’ve been denied something you were owed (even when most of the time that’s not the case at all). Whenever I’m excited for something I do my best to manage expectations. If I’m wrong and what I’m looking forward to turns out to be incredible, I’ll be pleasantly surprised – if I’m right and it’s a bit of a let down, I’ll have already prepared myself for the worst.

With the Super Smash Bros Ultimate Direct posted on Wednesday of last week, I had done a pretty good job of managing expectations. I posted my predictions on Twitter and I really expected only three things: three characters reveals (one new, two echoes), confirmation of the single player game mode, and a reveal of the Smash Test Demo that I imagined must be brewing behind the scenes. Now if you’ve seen the Direct already, you know I was wrong – Nintendo and Sakurai went above and beyond to show us way more about the game than I ever anticipated!

Today I’ll be sharing my reactions to all of news revealed as part of the Direct. We have new characters to see, stages to discuss, items and assist trophies galore, and other game details like rules and music. I plan to follow the order of the Direct, so if you watched the event then you’ll have a pretty good idea of this reaction’s structure. So let’s jump right in and talk Smash!

Luigi in Castlevania

As soon as I saw what turned out to be Dracula’s Castle, I immediately expected Castlevania. Earlier that morning I saw a tweet warning fans that there had been a leak – I immediately logged off social media so I didn’t see what had been revealed, but I assumed it was a character and assumed that character was Simon Belmont. Simon is someone who has been discussed at length as a Smash newcomer and has appeared on nearly all of the prediction lists and fake leaks I have seen. The second that castle pierced the darkness and the cloaked figure approached the doors, I had a strong feeling of what we were getting.

Still, there’s a big difference between knowing something is coming and then actually experiencing it. Starting off the trailer with Luigi wandering the halls of Dracula’s Castle, Poltergust in hand, was brilliant. Super Smash Bros is the ultimate crossover for Nintendo fans, and Sakurai is an expert at seizing opportunities to have characters interact in fun ways. Having poor Luigi trying desperately to escape the various Castlevania monsters is exactly the sort of shenanigans I come to these Directs for!

If you’ve seen the Direct, then you know that poor Luigi does not make it out of Dracula’s Castle alive. That moment really surprised me! Even after the brutality of the Ridley trailer, I didn’t think Luigi was in any real danger. I expected Simon to intervene in the encounter before the plumber’s soul was ripped out of his body, but I guess I got that prediction wrong too! The whole scenario was an excellent reveal for Simon Belmont, the first new character revealed in the Direct.

Simon Lashes Out!

Now this is the point where I make a confession – I actually don’t know a ton of things about Castlevania. I am aware of its influence on game design what with the whole Metroidvania genre, and I watched maybe two episodes of the anime on Netflix to see what all the fuss was about with that. But my only real experiences with Castlevania were on an emulator when I was a kid. That along with Ghouls and Ghosts and maybe one other similarly-structured horror game succeeded in giving me vivid nightmares that ultimately got me “grounded” from playing anything scary for awhile, since it started affecting my mother’s sleep as well!

So knowing as little as I do about the franchise, all I could do at this point was nod with mild interest as Simon’s various abilities were shown. I love how each game pushes the boundaries of exactly how far a standard attack can reach – maybe next time around we’ll get an ARMS character who can literally just reach across the entire screen! What’s been interesting to me is seeing the reactions of other folks where they show comparisons of Simon’s movements to the original games – the way Sakurai’s team recreated the movements in HD are spot on. Simon’s reveal didn’t catch me off guard, but I had no idea about what was coming next – an echo of the newly-revealed fighter!

Richter Crosses Over!

This moment surprised me. Given just how much speculation there was about Simon, I’d never heard Richter’s name mentioned once. As far as I know, none of the rumors or leaks mentioned this guy. So while Simon was a confirmation of something I felt like I knew, his echo was brand new information. It also raises questions for me about what the heck an echo fighter is, exactly. In an interview with Nate Bihldorff and Bill Trinen on GameXplain, it was explained that an echo fighter is a character who has one significant difference from the main fighter. So Dr. Mario, for example, wouldn’t be an echo because he has multiple differences from Mario, from the behavior of his specials to his weight class and hitting power. Conversely, Lucina compared to Marth is only a slight difference in weight and speed.

Here’s the thing, though – this Direct described Richter’s differences as being his aesthetic. Isn’t aesthetic the only difference between Olimar and Alph? Or any of the eight Koopalings? What makes them skins and Richter an echo? It’s a question that might be answered later down the line, but it feels at this point like the criteria for an echo character is “whatever Sakurai labels you is what you’ll be, and you’ll like it!” Still, it’s cool to get two Castlevania reps, as I’m sure fans of that series are happy to see it thoroughly present in Smash Bros.

Dracula’s Castle is another good indication of just how far they are going to write a love letter to Castlevania. A number of bosses from the series were revealed as background elements or stage hazards, the candlesticks in the stage generate items just like the ones in the original games, and the music team completed 34 different tracks! Apparently they particularly enjoyed working with the music from Castlevania. That’s really cool to me – I love stories about the developers getting so into their work that they keep making certain content just because it’s exciting and fun. If the music in the trailer was any indication of what we can expect, I am very excited to hear the rest of those tunes!

Chrom and Dark Samus Reveal

Now at this point we’re already pretty close to my character prediction goal – I only expected one more echo fighter and that to be it. So imagine my surprise when not one but TWO new echo fighters were announced after Richter’s portion of the presentation was done. I knew immediately from the forts and flags in the background that a Fire Emblem character was coming, but golly did I never expect Chrom. I guess maybe fan demand for him was high at some point, but I would have much rather seen Celica as a Robin echo. Still, I’m happy for those who have been asking for Chrom! As far as who he echoes, it took me a minute to work it all out but I am pretty sure that he’s based on Roy, but was given Ike’s Aether as his recovery since Aether is an ability that Chrom is known for as well.

I was much more excited to see Dark Samus revealed as an echo. Dark Samus is the next logical choice in my mind for a Metroid representative, and golly does she look cool fully realized here. The way she hovers when she’s stationary, the alternate look to her weapons and lasers – I imagine we’re seeing a faster, floatier Samus with this echo, and I for one would be glad to give that sort of character a try. More female representation in Smash is always a good thing, and the fact that she’s also a villain is doubly great!

We also got a look at how echo fighters will be represented on the character select screen. They can either be represented as separate characters, or they can be nested within the portrait of the character that they echo. That sounds like the better option to me personally, but I suppose that there are folks out there who would rather have all of the characters spread out. And its cool that no matter which option you prefer, you can run with it. This Direct has shown all sorts of small quality-of-life changes like that, and we’ll get into some more of them in a bit.

Fountain of Dreams

Stages were shown off next, and boy are there a ton of returning stages in this game! I didn’t get all that hyped during this section just because confirming returning stages isn’t particularly intriguing for me, but there were some highlights. Seeing Fountain of Dreams in Ultimate compared to Melee was amazing – it really shows how far we’ve come technologically since the GameCube era, and they didn’t just visually update the stages; Sakurai also mentions that they’ve been balanced more as well, so I imagine this means that platform height and length and such have been adjusted to a degree. I also love that the original N64 stages were left the same – Sakurai has a talent for knowing when its better to prioritize nostalgia.

We do get to see an exciting new stage in the form of New Donk City’s City Hall. I fully expected a stage like this to make an appearance in the game for one specific reason: Jump Up, Superstar! Naturally, that song is featured during this part of the trailer and it still makes me grin from ear to ear every time I hear it. I wonder, if other music is playing on this stage, if Pauline and her band are still playing the music live? It’s an interesting touch and adds some personality to the level.

Sakurai also showed the final stage count of all the titles throughout the series to compare just how many stages we have here versus in the previous games. Smash Ultimate has just shy of twice the number of stages as Smash Wii U, but of course when you factor in the fact that every stage has an omega form and a battlefield form it turns out to be significantly more than that. The final count settles at 103 – interestingly, they didn’t bring back every stage the way they brought back every character, but it’s still a huge selection of classic stages as well as having some new ones added in. And there’s one more trick up their sleeve when it comes to stages…

Stage Morph

One of my favorite features of Playstation All Stars Battle Royale – the only feature that I felt did better than Smash Bros – was the way that the stages exemplified the crossover theme. Seeing giant robots tear through Master Onion’s dojo or having happy singing interrupt the vicious brutality of God of War further emphasized the contrast between the kinds of characters who appeared in the game. Smash Bros hasn’t quite taken that idea – instead, during your fights a stage can transform into one of the other stages in the game. This can happen randomly or at set intervals, and you choose which two stages are flipped back and forth (unless you select at random, of course). This is a really exciting option that seems like it would enhance the chaos of battles – particularly since every stage in the game is now compatible with eight player smash (though its possible you may not be able to play in both modes simultaneously).

When it comes to quality of life changes for stages, we see that now you’re going to be able to choose every single stage right from the beginning – no worries about having to unlock your old favorites! Additionally, there is a stage hazard toggle which turns off “environment changes [and] enemy appearances.” Now I think this might meet with a bit of controversy, because I know some folks specifically wanted a toggle for turning off bosses but maintaining moving platforms and the like. It looks like with this toggle, you’ll also turn off any platforms that move around, maintaining the unique shape of the stage but without anything rotating, sliding, or disappearing to deal with. I suppose it’s a good compromise, and given all of the other features we’re getting, it’s difficult to complain!

Smash Ultimate My Music

The next topic of discussion was music, and some cool changes have happened here too. As before, you can set the frequency of particular songs, turning up the ones you want to hear most often while increasing the rarity of those you’d prefer to avoid. Songs are no longer organized by stage, but by franchise – so any Mario stage could play any of the songs from the Mario series. This is a cool choice that gives you a greater variety of music on any given stage – I’m curious for those songs which come from games with no stage representation what the conditions are to make them appear, or if its possible to have those kinds of miscellaneous songs on stages connected to a major franchise.

The 34 Castlevania songs should be an indicator of just how much music we’re looking at here, and sure enough there’s a total of over 800 music tracks (not counting menu music and fanfares and whatnot). Altogether it makes up 28 hours of music, organized into playlists by series or organized into custom playlists that you design. Will making Smash Ultimate playlists become the “sending her a mixed tape” of 2019? I think so! The interesting thing about having such an expansive selection of music is that you can listen to it on the go – the Switch can play these tunes while the screen is turned off. Not that it’s a particularly convenient size as far as portable music players go, and I personally would want to be way more careful with my Switch, but for those who want this feature it’s a cool one to include! Sakurai also confirmed that we’ll continue to get track samples on the Smash blog leading up to release, so I recommend checking out that website if you’re interested in getting a preview of the songs.

The Direct then dove in to discuss the rules available for multiplayer matches, and this was honestly my favorite section of the Direct. Maybe it’s not as cool as character reveals for a lot of people, but for me any new characters we get are just toppings on an already-delicious sundae. I’m way more excited about the new modes we can experience these characters in, and golly did Nintendo deliver in this regard.

Smash Ultimate Rules Select

Sakurai starts us off with some more quality-of-life changes to the game flow. In Smash Ultimate, you first choose a ruleset to play, then the stage to battle on, and finally the characters you’ll play as. This way you can choose your character as a response to the rules and stage you’re playing on. Additionally, a list of your last five previously-used rules is available to select on the rules screen, so you can quickly jump back into the match style you prefer – thank you Sakurai for finally realizing that I will NEVER play a two-minute time match as my primary form of Smash Bros! You can also create your own presets and set them so that they’ll be selectable right away, in case it’s been awhile since you’ve played for favorite format.

Stamina mode has been added as one of the main forms of play – I wonder if that was a fan request? I rarely mess with stamina mode in Smash but it is a fun way to play, so perhaps featuring it as a main game mode will help me get back into it. More important to me is that stage selection now has a series of different options you can set! You can choose every stage like normal, but you can also use arrangements such as loser picks, random Omega form only, or playing through every stage in chronological order. Stage selection is something I generally gloss over, just picking random every time, so having the ability to make that a setting will be really nice. They also show off how sudden death works, for those who haven’t watched any of the tournaments or maybe missed some of the Nintendo Treehouse coverage. I like the improvements to sudden death, as it was annoying to be against an opponent who just ran away the whole time.

There’s now a mode where the Final Smash is dependent not on the Smash Ball, but on a meter that builds up as you deal and take damage. I’m a big fan of that idea and can see myself playing with this setting a lot more often than using the Smash Ball. Interestingly, they chose to make the Final Smashes weaker when playing in this mode, I guess since you’re guaranteed to get one eventually. It’s a good balance decision while at the same time adding a ton of chaos to the battle.

Smash Squad Strike

Now while all those quality-of-life rules changes made me very happy, my hype hit its peak during the battle modes section of the Direct! Sakurai led off with Squad Strike and this is a mode that I mentioned wanting in a previous Smash Five post: the ability to switch between different characters in the same match. This can be done in three vs three or five vs five, with one player picking all of the characters on one team or with multiple players each having a single character. In a game with over 70 characters, having the ability to enjoy more than one in a given match is a great option.

Tournament mode has returned and I’m happy to see it back. I’ll be particularly happy if we get confirmation that tournament mode is playable online – can you say Blogger Blitz: Smash Edition? This seems like the best option for playing with a large group of other people, but I don’t imagine that in person I’ll have a large enough group for that. The folks I anticipate myself playing with the most would be a group of six (including myself), so 3v3 Squad Strike would probably be our preferred method of all playing at once. Still, having a tournament mode that automatically generates brackets is likely very good for actual tournaments, so that’s great for the competitive scene!

The final battle mode they showed off is Smashdown, where each fighter selected no longer appears on the character select screen after they’ve been used in battle. This is kind of how I play anyway – I tend to jump from character to character and sometimes I’ll just pick random if I get bored of playing as my favorites. Having a mode where you slowly whittle down the number of options fits that style of play, and could be a good way to learn the newer characters or ones you just don’t have as much experience with. There’s a layer of strategy here too, because you have the ability to block an opponent from choosing some of their best characters by selecting them first!

Smash Ultimate Training

Training mode has gotten an upgrade in that you can now use it for legitimate competitive training. The grid layout allows you to measure movement speed (with a little math), projectile distance, and the knockback on your attacks at various percentages. This is the kind of thing that, as a casual player, I will probably never use, but for those who want to get into the competitive scene it’s a great way to learn your character’s capabilities and to test their matchups against specific opponents that you believe might be hard counters for you.

Classic mode has been confirmed as returning – not that anyone thought it wouldn’t – and what we know so far is that each character has a specific set of fights each time you play, similar to how classic mode worked in the original Smash Bros. What’s different is that any time you play through as the same character, they’ll always face the same opponents. In this way, classic has a more intentional structure than it did in other Smash installments and it will feel a bit different across characters, but there may not be much value to repeating classic mode as a character you’ve beaten it as before.

After discussing rules and modes, Sakurai moved to items, Pokemon, and assist trophies. There were lots of cool little details to see here. When it comes to items, I particular enjoyed the banana gun (gonna be fun telling it apart from the regular bananas), Death’s Scythe (particularly useful for light characters who have trouble knocking out heavier fighters), and the staff (which deals higher damage the farther away your opponent is from you when you fire). We also saw the Killing Edge (because we need more swords in this game), the Bomber (a neat concept, but again, we already have plenty of bombs), and the Rage Blaster (doesn’t seem worthwhile – even at 146% damage Sheik could only do 23% with the blaster).

Banana Gun

The Pokemon shown off seemed to focus primarily on newcomers from seventh gen and classics from gen one. This makes sense, given that our last Pokemon game was a seventh gen game and the next one coming is a first gen remake of sorts. Alolan Exeggutor is a hilarious Pokemon who simply cuts the battlefield in half and is effectively impossible to jump over. Abra teleporting opponents to random parts of the stage is a great idea that’s particularly refreshing in its uniqueness compared to, say, the legendaries just shooting giant beams across the stage. Mimikyu is as adorable and deadly as ever, and getting caught up in its attack costs you a stock! Hard to say if that only happens at high damage percentages, but this is definitely a Pokemon to watch out for.

Assist trophies come next, and they start off with one I am pretty excited to see: Zero from Mega Man X! I’m not necessarily a huge fan of classic Mega Man, but some of the spin-offs have been my favorite games at different points in my life, so any increased representation for the Blue Bomber is good with me. Krystal from Star Fox was quite a surprise – after Star Fox Zero kind of rebooted the series, I expected them to just quietly sweep Krystal under the rug, but here she is in all of her blue fuzzy glory. Inevitably someone online will be disappointed that she isn’t a playable character, but I think assist trophy is a pretty solid compromise.

Smash Ultimate Kapp'n

The assist trophies, like many things about Smash Bros, run the gamut from funny to intense. I love the idea of the Kapp’n trophy, where he literally just scoops you into a bus and drives you off of the edge of the stage. The Moon from Majora’s Mask is also an assist trophy, moving in from the background to smash into the stage and send everyone flying. These two are my favorites that were shown off for different reasons – they represent the two sides of Smash quite well. We also got a Monster Hunter cameo here, and it’s interesting to see that Rathalos is appearing as both assist trophy and stage boss – though what kind of stage he’s the boss of still remains to be seen.

After showing off all of these details, Sakurai decided to play coy and hide the one thing that could have made one of my predictions correct – one of the most prominent icons on the main menu. They’re either teasing the single player experience…or single player is not a focus at all and the online options for this game will be greatly expanded. It’s possible that both are an option, since there is a smaller icon on the sidebar that could potentially be the online button, allowing the blurred green icon to still be a single player experience.

The final bit of news unveiled was one last character trailer – Sakurai just had to make my character predictions 100% wrong, I guess! This new character is one I have heard many fans demand and it represents another villain, so I’m quite happy to see King K Rool make an appearance in Smash Bros. It helps that they also put him in a totally hilarious trailer – having Dedede troll us for a minute was a great move! That brings us to a total of five characters added during this Direct, and the last act of the presentation was to fill them into the “Everyone is Here” image. A lot of folks wanted to start looking for blanks in the picture to see where more new fighters might fit in and make predictions, but Nintendo was careful – the original image doesn’t have the spaces that the newcomers were placed into, so we can’t use it as a method of predicting how many more characters we might see. Sakurai did say, though, that this isn’t the last of the newcomers, so speculation can continue for the time being.

King K Rool Comes Aboard!

Ultimately (ha!), I thought this Direct was excellent. It shattered my expectations as far as how much content we’d be getting and drastically increased my hype for the game. We got five new characters, more details about items and music, and a great overview of the new rules for the game! I’ve already said that I’m most excited about the rulesets, but I want to know what you’re most excited for, adventurers! Did you love the Direct as much as me? What do you think will be announced in the future? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to visit again the next time some Smash Bros news is announced!

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