I’ve been absolutely loving Smash Ultimate thus far, and have been playing the heck out of it. The game has so many things going for it, but today I want to talk about Ultimate’s game engine, and the various changes made from Smash 4.
Note that I’m not a pro or expert player – these are my personal impressions guided by feedback I’ve seen in the community and information gleaned online.
For the uninitiated, here’s a basic overview of the various engines and key mechanics in the Smash series:
- Smash 64
- Huge amounts of hitstun. Hitstun refers to the period of time after your character is hit by the opponent where you can’t take any actions. In 64, due to how long it takes to recover from hitstun, it is much easier to follow up hits and create “true” (impossible to escape from) combos.
- Large amounts of shield stun. Shield stun is the period of time after your shield blocks an attack and you are unable to drop your shield or perform any action. This makes attacking on shield fairly safe in 64, as the attacker can often retreat or follow up after having their attack blocked by shield.
- Very strong grabs and throws
- Slow falling speed
- Few defensive options (no airdodging or sidestep dodges)
- Fewer movement options (no wavedashing)
- Mostly weak recoveries
- My “feel”: 64 feels on the slower end of the series, but the strong combo potential makes the game a bit more calculated, as following up on attacks is very important. Grabbing is also essential. The game feels a bit stiff compared to later titles.
- Fastest game in the series
- Varied movement options, including wavedashing (airdodging into the ground, sliding your character and allowing you to take many actions while moving) and true dashdancing (able to finely control the length of your dash and quickly change directions).
- Quick fall speed
- Generally weak recoveries
- Solid combo potential with moderate hitstun and quick follow up opportunities
- Above average shield stun length. Additionally opponents can be pushed while in shield off of ledges, giving attackers an advantage while the opponent is near the ledge
- Mostly weak recoveries (better than 64 though)
- Ledge hogging (hanging on the ledge prevents opponents from grabbing ledge)
- My “feel”: Melee is very fast compared to the other games in the series. Although it can be punishing to newcomers, Melee is probably my second-favorite engine in the series. The speed and skill ceiling makes it very entertaining to watch at a high-level.
- Slowest game in the series
- Floaty in the air: slow air speed and slow fall speed
- Few movement options: no wavedashing, nerfed dashdancing, tripping added
- I can’t completely remember, but IIRC shields were much stronger
- Air dodging strong (can repeatedly air dodge in place in the air, doesn’t send you into free fall after using like Melee)
- Overall, Brawl was much more defensive and allowed players to survive for much longer
- My “feel”: I really love Brawl, but the engine is not nearly as exciting as the other games. Floaty.
- Smash 4
- Speed between Brawl and Melee
- Strong defensive options. Shields are strong with little shield stun
- Low hit stun
- Grabs are strong
- Air dodging is very strong. You can use it multiple times and can act out of it very fast. Easy to avoid being edge guarded by air dodging
- Recoveries are very good
- No ledge hogging
- My “feel”: Smash 4 definitely feels sharper than Brawl, but the strong defensive options annoy me as I often like to play more aggressively (ala Melee). Grabbing and shielding are very important and often cause more boring matches.
This is my general read of the previous games’ engines, and how they’ve felt to me. Hopefully that was informative. And let me be clear, I do enjoy Brawl and Smash 4 even if I wasn’t as big a fan of their engines.
Ultimate is based on Smash 4’s engine but has been redesigned and enhanced in several areas. Overall, I love the majority of the changes made in Ultimate and I’d like to discuss some of them here.
Ultimate’s overall game speed falls in between Melee and Smash 4. Air speed, fall speed, landing lag, attack speed have all been made faster. Additionally, knockback mechanics have been changed to send opponents away faster. All of these changes make the game feel snappier and more fast-paced. It definitely feels more action-packed to me.
Dashing is Great
“Pseudo dashdancing” exists in Ultimate, where characters can dash back and forth with relatively little lag. This allows for mixing up your approaches and making quick reads on opponents. More detail can be found here.
The Ground Game Is Much Improved
Through much of the Smash series aerials (and grabs) have often been the fastest way to attack enemies. Ultimate improves ground-based attacks (jabs, tilt attacks, and smash attacks) by allowing you to use any of these attacks immediately after dashing. This allows you to run up to an enemy and instead of your only attacking option being a dash attack, which are often slow and predictable, you can use virtually any move.
In addition there is a technique called pivot cancelling that allows you to use tilt and smash attacks out of a dash while sliding, carrying some forward momentum. In addition to the defensive nerfs mentioned below, these enhancements benefit the ground game significantly.
Shields now take less damage to break. Strong smash attacks and multi-hit moves often break moves instantly. This prevents extended periods of just sitting in shields waiting out attacks.
It also takes longer to use moves out of shield. One of the most reliable moves in Smash 4, grabbing out of shield, takes longer – usually long enough to let enemies hit with a move of their own before the grab is executed.
Finally one of the only moves that cannot be immediately performed out of a dash is shielding. A common technique in Smash 4 was running up and shielding. This gave characters a lot of protection and flexibility especially combined with shield grabbing.
Why is it a good thing for shields to be nerfed? Overly-strong shields promote defensive play that, in many people’s opinions (including mine), is not as exciting as aggressive gameplay, and often promotes campy playstyles. Shields serve as protection against attacks but shouldn’t be the primary option. My brother hates the nerfs though ;).
Parrying is Hype
That being said, the Smash Devs did add a new defensive option. It is technically called “Perfect Shielding” (not the same as perfect shielding in previous games) but usually called “parrying” by the community. If a character drops their shield just before being attacked, the attack will be blocked and the attacker frozen in place for a few seconds, giving the defender the opportunity to counter.
The window to parry is small and must be anticipated to pull off, making it challenging to reliably perform. However, this kind of high-skill, exciting technique is the perfect addition, making defensive moves still useful but not as abusive.
Air dodging is weaker
You can now only air dodge once in the air. This prevents the Smash 4 strategy of repeatedly air dodging while recovering onto the stage from being so effective. It effectively buffs edge guarding (more on that later).
…but more versatile
Although only one air dodge can be used when in the air, it can now be performed directionally (like Melee), moving your character in the desired direction. This can allow you to escape from aggressive opponents as well as provide an additional way to recover to the stage and move around, though wavedashing is not an effective technique due to additional landing lag.
Edge guarding is a thing again
Due to a combination of mechanic changes, including single air dodges, faster fall speed, and weaker recoveries, most characters can now be edge guarded much more effectively than in any game since Melee. For clarity, edge guarding involves the attacking character attempting to prevent an opponent knocked off stage from recovering.
Edge guarding is an exciting phase of a match and can result in dramatic spikes as well as skin-of-your-teeth evasions to recover back to the stage. Melee’s edge guarding drama consistently entertains, and Ultimate’s does the same.
There are many more mechanics changes, but those are the most impactful that I’ve noticed. I feel that all of these changes give Ultimate a crisp, sharp, fun, and exciting engine that strikes a great balance between the speed and technicality of Melee’s engine and some of the modern sensibilities of Smash 4’s engine.
For all of the content in the game, including all those characters, stages, music, and an expansive Adventure mode, it’s the game engine that is the core of a Smash game and will keep players coming back for years. Thankfully, in my opinion, Ultimate has a fantastic one.
Thanks for reading! I’d like to come out with more articles about Ultimate in the future, but I wanted to touch on why I love this game’s engine so much. Thanks again!