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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is playable at E3 – here’s what it’s like to play it

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Nintendo’s Digital Event may have contained other games, but the spotlight was almost squarely put on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest iteration of the game that’s coming to Nintendo Switch on December 7.

While we were afraid it might not be playable at the show this year, Nintendo opened its doors to some of the game’s elite players at its Super Smash Bros. Invitational tournament where Ultimate was playable for the first time.

Lucky enough to snag a ticket to the coveted VIP area, we were able to test our mettle against some of the best fighting game players and Twitch streamers – and while we expected to walk away ashamed, the results were surprising.

In case you don’t make it to the Smash Bros Invitational for yourself, here’s what it’s like to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. 

Setting the stage

One of the big announcements made about Super Smash Bros Ultimate is that it will bring every character ever featured in a Super Smash Bros game under one roof. Perhaps just as importantly, though, Nintendo will also bring back some of the series’ most beloved stages from previous entries as well. Stages that were available to demo included Saffron City from the original Smash Bros on N64, alongside a dozen others from the last two decades.

Each of the classic stages retain their original mechanics and quirks – Electrode still pops out from Silph co. on the roof in Saffron City, for example – but all of them have been given a fresh coat of paint to match the game’s more detailed aesthetic.

In the demo provided to the VIP area (and we assume the general show floor), the number of selectable stages was staggering – far too many to play in one sitting, especially in a room chock full of fighting game fans.

Stage selection echoes the character selection screen in that the options for selectable characters easily hovered close to two dozen. In that group you could find the Smash Bros staples (Mario, Link, Fox, Kirby, etc…), returning favorites like Ike, Snake and R.O.B. and the DLC characters from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U / 3DS: Ryu, Cloud and Bayonetta. 

It’s a family affair

Of course, this showcase demo was also the first place we could check out Ridley and Inkling, two new characters that will appear in Super Smash Bros for the first time when Ultimate comes out later this year.

While Ridley is a powerhouse that can toss players around the stage like it’s nothing, Inkling is a tactician’s dream as you carefully manage your inkbar by using specials and periodically refilling by pressing shield and ‘B’.

Like Super Smash Bros on Wii U, combat feels fast and impactful. Smash moves land with satisfying crunches and there’s a definite sense of gravity weighing on the characters. That means the tough-to-master-but-highly-effective meteor smashes are tougher to land but they are significantly more effective.

In order to keep gameplay moving, the demo was locked to two-minute timed battles – either in a free-for-all or team battle mode. (Whether stock mode will be featured in the final version remains to be seen, but given the fan service we’ve already seen it seems likely.)

The first battle was fought on a Battlefield version of a classic stage (I.e. three platforms and a flat surface formed the primary arena) and it was fought as a team battle. We picked Fox – a staple character from the beginnings of the franchise – while our partner and frenemies picked fan-favorite Snake and Ridley. 

What ensued was the fastest two minutes of our lives. We caught glimpses of the new assist trophies and items but in the midst of battle it was hard to focus on anything other than staying alive. In the end of that first bout, we walked away victorious but it came at the cost of stopping to smell the roses.

Demoers lucky enough to go hands-on for themselves at E3 either at the Super Smash Bros Invitational or on the show floor itself can expect two two-minute battles before seeing a “thank you for playing” message, signaling the next players to step up. 

While we didn’t get long with the game we walked away just as giddy as we were the first day we played Smash on N64 – it’s fast, frenetic and just plain fun to beat (and be beat by) friends new and old. December 7 can’t get here soon enough.

  • E3 is the world’s largest exhibition for the games industry, stuffed full of the latest and greatest games, consoles, and gaming hardware. TechRadar is reporting live from Los Angeles all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated E3 2018 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar’s world-class analysis and buying advice about the next year in gaming.