The latest Nintendo Direct update hit at a strange time for those of us on the West Coast, at 7 a.m. It was a short conference this time around, because much as was the case during E3, Nintendo is all about hyping up the forthcoming Smash Brothers Ultimate. It isn’t all they’ve got going for them right now — the long-delayed Japanese RPG Octopath Traveler just came out, for one thing, and the Switch is still a thriving marketplace for indie games — but Ultimate can be reliably expected to be a system seller and tournament regular for at least the next few years. It’s not surprising that Nintendo would choose to focus on it to the exclusion of just about everything else.
The Direct opened with an announcement that almost wasn’t a surprise: Simon Belmont, the protagonist of the original 1986 Castlevania, is joining the fray in Ultimate, complete with his trademark axe, holy water, cross-shaped boomerang, and health-restoring pot roasts. He can twirl his whip in front of him, as he could in Super Castlevania IV, to deflect projectiles.
This got sort of leaked late last night, as fans on Reddit noticed that one of the songs on the official Smash blog had changed from a Galaga remix to a track named “Bloody Tears,” which is the name of one of the most famous pieces of music in the Castlevania franchise. That and a couple of extant rumors led a lot of fans to theorize that Simon might be the next guest fighter.
Simon’s joined in Smash by his descendant Richter — the protagonist of Castlevania: Dracula X on the SNES, which was a sort of simplified remake of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the Turbo Duo–as an “echo fighter.” Richter will share many of Simon’s moves, but has a few of his own–he shows off a couple of his acrobatic moves from Rondo in the trailer — and his trademark stilted voice acting from 1998’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Alucard from Symphony will also be available in Smash Ultimate as an assist trophy, and there’s a new, spooky stage based on Dracula’s Castle.
Other newly-announced echo fighters include Chrom, from Fire Emblem: Awakening, who will be Roy’s echo, and Dark Samus, the corrupted Phazon duplicate of Samus Aran from Metroid Prime 3. The series’s producer, Masahiro Sakurai, promised during the Direct that all of the game’s fighters would be announced well before Smash Ultimate‘s release.
A lot of characters have also been added to the game as assist trophies, which are considered as a sort of special guest appearance. This includes Sonic’s pal Knuckles the Echidna, Zero from Mega Man X, Metal Gear Solid‘s Gray Fox, Shovel Knight, Krystal the fox from Star Fox Adventures, and most notably, the dragon Rathalos from the Monster Hunter series. Rathalos is the first character in Smash history that can show up as both an assist trophy and a boss character in single-player modes.
The Direct also went into several new game modes that will be available for Smash Ultimate, such as Smashdown, a series of battles where each character selected by a player becomes unavailable for the next match; Squad Strike, 3v3 or 5v5 single-elimination battles; Classic Mode, a single-player “arcade” experience where each fighter goes up against a different assortment of CPU opponents; a Tourney mode, where the game automatically sets up a 32-player tournament bracket for you and your friends; and Sudden Death, where all players begin the round at critical damage levels and the camera slowly zooms in on them as the fight progresses.
Smash Brothers Ultimate will ship with 103 stages in total, each one of which is available from the moment you start the game, can be scaled up to 8 players at once, and can be transformed via various options. You can disable all stage hazards if you like, or select two stages before a match that will unpredictably “morph” into each other. If you consider all the options, Sakurai claimed, there are actually more than 300 stages in Ultimate, ranging from old classics (he says they’ve “prioritized nostalgia” when going back to polish up old stages from the earlier games) to a couple of brand-new backgrounds. One is based on New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey, complete with Mayor Pauline performing background music with her four-man band.
The Direct ended for the day with a final trailer, announcing the arrival of Donkey Kong’s arch-rival, King K. Rool. With his appearance, and counting echo fighters, this brings the known roster for Smash Brothers Ultimate to well over 70 characters.
The biggest mystery of the trailer, however, came from a brief glimpse of the game’s main menu, where a game mode was present, but carefully blurred out. The big question for the rest of the year, for Smash fans, is now going to be what that mode could possibly be. A story mode? A sequel to Subspace Emissary? Nobody knows, but a lot of ink will be spilled on speculation.