Super Smash Bros. Ultimate officially landed on the Nintendo Switch last Friday, giving folks just enough time to hold inaugural tournaments for the new game over this past weekend. Local event series Smash @ Xanadu hosted the first of many Ultimate competitions on Saturday, bringing in players from surrounding states to test their burgeoning skills. While it may be too early to start figuring out character rankings, the fact that Star Fox protagonist Fox McCloud won the whole thing has distressing parallels with the undying Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate means a complete reset for the competitive community. Players have new opportunities to make a name for themselves, and no one really knows which characters will excel. No gods, no kings—at least for now. Our first glimpse of serious Ultimate competition came during last weekend’s aptly-named Launch tournament, hosted at Xanadu Games in Maryland. The local location drew in notable players from the surrounding states and when registration closed, 166 players had signed up to compete just one day after Ultimate’s release.
One such player was Zack “ZD” Darby, a highly-regarded competitor from the Maryland/Virginia region. Due to having mained Fox in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, ZD used the space animal throughout much of the Ultimate bracket, backing him up with newcomer Incineroar from time to time. After losing to Chris “WaDi” Boston, another strong Wii U player, in the winners semi-finals, ZD fought through the losers bracket and earned his shot at a rematch in grand finals. WaDi, rocking his old Wii U main R.O.B., handily dispatched Incineroar, but soon found himself staring down ZD’s Fox. The two battled back and forth, but ZD would eventually reset the bracket and then finally defeat WaDi after eight grueling games.
It’s hard to infer much of anything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from one tournament. Fox looks good now, but does that have more to do with ZD’s experience in the previous game than any real improvement by the developers? Character rankings are born from months, sometimes years of competition, and are rarely formed or adjusted after just one tournament. But even with that in mind, I’m still a little worried about Ultimate’s future, should Fox become the overwhelming force he once was.
Fox is a common sight to anyone familiar with Super Smash Bros. competition thanks to his status as part of the original Nintendo 64 lineup and prominence in high-level Melee play. Over the course of the GameCube game’s lifespan, the anthropomorphic pilot has never fallen below third in official tier lists, and since 2015, he has been considered the roster’s best character. This, combined with the fact that relatively few Melee characters are viable in serious competition, means Fox has dominated both tournament results and screen time since Melee came out in 2001. The fact that the phrase “no items, Fox only, Final Destination” endures as a meme is a testament to how intrinsic he is to tournament-level Super Smash Bros.
Some players have argued that Super Smash Bros. Melee is a solved game, meaning that players have discovered all there is to be discovered within its digital confines, and that this can be seen in the characters that are used in competition. Fox has either won or been a part of grand finals at almost every major Melee tournament in 2018, and he’s a consistent fixture at events of all sizes and calibers. His bog-standard moveset makes him an excellent conduit through which to demonstrate the franchise’s fundamentals, but that doesn’t always make for a fascinating playing or viewing experience. Fox is essentially the Ryu of the Smash series (which is weird to say now that Ryu is actually a playable character). In the Street Fighter scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this day and age that likes using or watching Ryu for long stretches of time, apart from old heads still reliving his glory days in classic games. Fox occupies the same space for a lot of Smash fans.
Is Fox on track for another stretch of supremacy in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? I really can’t say, and anyone who thinks they can at this point in time is probably jumping the gun. But it’s certainly interesting to watch him be an early factor in competition almost two decades removed from his time as Melee’s supreme ruler. In some ways, the community feels ready to move on, but much like the game he dominated, Fox refuses to be left behind. ZD’s performance last weekend proves there’s still some life left in that fuzzy hero.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.