It's hard to imagine Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being the final entry in Nintendo's ridiculously popular fighting series, but it's also hard to imagine what else Nintendo could now do to better it. Without any need to reinvent itself, what else can Smash do but simply get bigger?
The Wii U version of Smash righted many of the perceived gameplay wrongs from the series' unloved Wii entry Brawl, it was welcomed by the series' hardcore fan community, and is still played (alongside Melee) to huge audiences at tournaments like Evo. And so here we are, with Nintendo announcing today during its E3 2018 Direct broadcast that it would fill Ultimate's roster with every character ever playable, in order to create a seemingly definitive version of its series.
It's a dizzying sell for Ultimate's package. It means Ultimate will include no less than three Links, Pichu, the long-lost Wolf, the fan-favourite Ice Climbers, and the return of David Hayter as a playable Solid Snake. But there were the new character announcements, too: the Inklings, Daisy (an "echo" character of Peach) and the long, long requested Ridley. Further new additions would be thinner on the ground, series boss Masahiro Sakurai cautioned.
Hands-on today at E3, Ultimate feels like a combination of the series' 3DS and Wii U versions - it boasts the same items and many of the same stages - with a few changes and samples of that enormous roster. I played as Ice Climbers, who were still fiddly for a rusty player like me to master, but quickly switched to Ridley who feels extremely powerful, like a faster and meaner version of fellow dragon Charizard. His size has obviously been reduced versus his usual appearance in the Metroid series, but he's still a hulking presence on the battlefield, with a large damage radius. At the same time, he feels nimble for his bulk, with decent aerial survivability.
The new, previously-announced Inklings are fun, too - they feel as fast and slick as their paint-swimming forms should. My favourite move of theirs is the strong paint-roller attack which can sweep enemies off the stage, but the best thing about them is how they can completely cover levels and other players in fluorescent goo.
New levels include the Great Plateau Tower stage, which constructs and reconstructs as you fight, while sometimes Breath of the Wild's "Old Man" flies around on his glider. The Inklings also get a dedicated stage, Moray Towers, a cut-down version of the Splatoon map with multiple levels of gantries to fight along and switch between.
Gameplay tweaks are small but noticeable. Sudden death moments are now more dramatic and designed to wrap up faster - with the action zoomed in and the edges of the screen boxed off by flames. Should you fly off a stage and off-screen, a handy mini-map shows where you are positioned to aid your recovery. Nintendo has also added a perfect shield defence mechanic to reward exact shield timing, and once again let you dodge while in mid-air.
One particularly fun addition is the appearance of a second, fakeout Smash Ball item - which instead of unlocking your character's supercharged attack will explode in a huge cross of flames. As detailed in Nintendo's E3 2018 Direct, many Final Smash moves have been tweaked or reworked (I am delighted to see Fox's Landmaster sent to the scrapheap) while almost all of them feel faster. Ridley's Final Smash, which sends the poor recipient up into space, slamming them against Samus' gunship, is a new highlight. Oh, and for Pokémon fans, expect several new Sun and Moon Pokémon to spring out of Pokéballs, including Bewear, Alolan Vulpix and Alolan Raichu.
The only mode playable at E3 is the standard match setup. There are no eight-player battles to try, no GameCube controllers to play on, and also no mention of what else this Ultimate package might contain. Details of the game's single-player mode and other offerings will have to wait until we're closer to Ultimate's surprisingly late December release. If it's anything like the mode at E3, though, Ultimate is shaping up to be the definitive Smash package - albeit one with incremental changes to its winning formula.