If there’s one thing that surprises me about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s how few new characters and levels and items there seems to be. Since the game’s inception, one of the most exciting parts of the experience has been unlocking the various homages to our favorite Nintendo games, and seeing what delightful part of their history would be brought officially into the fold. This time around, there are only a handful of new stages and fighters, the latter padded out with shadow versions that rehash the movesets of other popular characters on the roster. In other words, if you want to experience all the new content Smash Ultimate has to offer, it won’t take you very long.
For purposes of focusing on characters that are truly new to Smash, this list doesn’t include Echo Fighters, who essentially work as reskins of other fighters but obtain their own slot on the roster. So that’s why you won’t see Ken, Daisy or Chrom on this list. It’s also not yet time to include characters like Piranha Plant and Joker from Persona 5, who have yet to be played (but have a lot of cool factor on the basis of their existence alone). And of course, while it does take into consideration the entire movesets of each character, in the end, what I personally value about each will depend upon my own personal playstyle, and that varies wildly from person to person. To that end, I tried to focus on things like recovery moves and Final Smash attacks, which are relevant to almost all Smash players.
There are a few ways to unlock these characters, including through the World of Light mode, but it’s often fastest to simply play through VS. mode until you encounter the fighter you wish to unlock.
Isabelle was always gonna be a hard sell for me, seeing as how I’m not an Animal Crossing fan. But on top of that, her Final Smash (which pulls all the opposing fighters in a government building), is seriously underwhelming. Are they like…going to Town Hall or something? While yes, that would absolutely destroy me if I were, I dunno, Ron Swanson, in practice, it’s extremely anti-climatic given the mad scramble to destroy a Smash Ball. I like a Final Smash to feel absolutely devastating.
I’ll give Isabelle props for having a great recovery move, an Up Special called Balloon Trip that lets you float upward by balloon and both covers a lot of distance and lasts a long time. And for her fishing pole, which is great for grappling enemies or grabbing ledges. But most of what she offers as a fighter can be found in the Villager (with whom she shares a substantial amount of moves), and her attacks often include boring items like umbrellas and broomsticks. She’s not my least favorite Smash character, but she’s my least favorite of the new Smash Ultimate fighters.
Simon’s over the top musclebound visage is a nice homage to the era that birthed it, but as a character his moveset seems to be rehashed from a lot of others on the roster, with an Up Special called Uppercut that reminds me a bit too much of Mario’s Super Jump Punch, and a few other attacks highly reminiscent of Link and even Samus. While similar moves between characters show up a lot in Smash, for me it was noticeable with Simon in a way that was distracting and disappointing, even if I was a bit delighted with how well his moves were paired with details and tidbits from the Castlevania games.
That being said, while his projectiles and chain moves are familiar, they’re superb for establishing distance between you and an opponent, and his Final Smash is pretty badass, pulling other fighters into a spinning coffin with his Vampire Killer and issuing a cascade of magical crosses. The attack has a very poor range, though, putting a damper on Simon’s best feature.
One of the things I like about King K. Rool, besides his big gold belly, is that he has surprisingly good recovery moves for being such a heavy character. While some of his attacks aren’t particularly new, like his Forward Tilt Slap, reminiscent of Donkey Kong’s forward smash, he seems lighter than most of the other heavy characters, and makes up for his bulk by having an up special attack that gives him a propeller, allowing him to fly and float over the other characters for long distances while also dealing damage to whoever gets in its path.
Still, I’ve struggled to find an interesting routine set of dedicated attacks (read: cheese moves) that I like with King K. Rool, and his recovery move doesn’t necessarily make up for how labored his movement is in general.
As one of the larger fighters, Ridley is powerful but also a bit sluggish, which is a shame given his massive wingspan because it puts a bit of a drag on his recovery. His ability to float back onto the stage gives him an edge over many other characters, though, and his Final Smash attack is about as over-the-top as it gets, with Ridley plummeting his opponent into Samus’s airship and blasting them with lasers, followed by an earth shattering meteor.
I also like Ridley’s Down Smash attack, which reminds me of Link’s old Down Smash and can be particularly effective in anchoring your character back to the stage and dealing back some damage after being tossed into the air. It’s also very fun when, through a combination of other characters and assist trophies, there are several dragons on the screen at once—a trivial point in the scheme of things but still something I like about using Ridley.
This Fire and Dark type from Pokémon’s seventh generation is light on his feet, which makes for nimble footwork in combat—if you’re big on ducking, dodging and parrying, this is the fighter for you. I especially like using his Up Special, Cross Chop, which when angled correctly is a powerful way to get back into the fight with a big fiery bang and break up clusters of competing fighters.
I also love love love his Side Special, called Alolan Whip, which throws an opponent into the ropes, a delightful homage to his wrestling theme. Even better, sometimes in the heat of battle his championship belt looks like a fire diaper. All in all, he’s an immensely entertaining character.
I find it interesting but not surprising that the character from one of the newest IPs from Nintendo also happens to have some of the most innovative attacks in Super Smash Ultimate. Spraying each enemy with Ink through the Neutral Smash attack, appropriately named Splattershot, not only maintains distance and accumulates damage over time, it makes it easier to see who is who on the screen, giving a huge advantage in multiplayer matches. The Inkling’s Ink Tank also adds an intriguing new dimension to gameplay in that many of their attacks rely on having available Ink in order to execute any damage, a strategic consideration that’s generally not found in other fighters. Perhaps their best move is the Up Special, Super Jump, which turns the Inkling into a squid and has great recovery range. My personal favorite, though, is the Side Special, Flatroller, which steamrolls over the opponent with a paint roller. All their attacks are so creatively well suited to the Splatoon games, and they’re all as impressive as they are fresh and fun. Inkling is by far the best new fighter in the Smash series.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.