Everyone is Here!
What better word is there than “ultimate” to describe a massive video game crossover that includes every single character and then some from the long-running Super Smash Bros. series? It’s hard to imagine that we have a franchise where so many iconic gaming characters duke it out. Here we are with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a game that celebrates Nintendo and other major video game publishers that have brought joy to many people around the world.
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
The gameplay is identical to previous iterations: fight as a character from a massive roster of classic gaming mascots, use simple button combos to rack up damage on your opponents, and knock them off the stage with powerful attacks. This hybrid of party and fighting has endured for years. Ultimate offers something for every type of Smash player. If you enjoy chaotic four-player brawls with random items, the sheer amount of content allows more variability than ever. If you prefer a competitive 1v1 melee, not only is Ultimate a quicker game than the Wii U version, but it has options to foster that, including new Battlefield versions of every stage and hazard removal. Or perhaps you simply love to revel in the glorious nostalgia. The new World of Light and Classic modes are among the most entertaining and referential solo adventures to date.
Customization is expanded with the ability to save preset rules. So whether you wish to play with a Stock of three fighters, enforce a time limit for score-based battles, or use an HP meter, you can create your own rulesets. Just as important is the ability to customize your controls. While I’m not a fan of the limited buttons on a single Joy-Con, I actually find the Switch Pro Controller’s grip and button placement just as comfortable as the GameCube controller.
One of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s biggest draws is: Everyone. Is. Here. This is the largest Smash roster to date with over 70 characters, including everyone from prior games. I’m excited to see Ice Climbers and Snake back. Not every fighter is balanced, but the essence of a complete cast lends true to the moniker of “ultimate.” Eleven new challengers join the fight, but five of them are “Echo Fighters” – clones of other characters. Essentially, there are only six newcomers, not including DLC. It’s a fairly low number, but it’s hard to complain with the impressive quality.
I’m pleased with the additions of some of my most anticipated fighters, Metroid’s Ridley, Donkey Kong Country’s King K. Rool, and Castlevania’s Simon Belmont. Ridley is surprisingly fast and hard-hitting, while K. Rool’s powerful moveset hilariously incorporates his different personas. The Belmonts utilize their whips and arsenal of projectiles, though move fairly slow. I’ve grown to love the Pokémon Incineroar, a showboating wrestler with strong Smashes but weak recovery when knocked off the stage. Although I adore Animal Crossing’s Isabelle, her fighting style is too reminiscent of the original Villager. But I do appreciate that a cute dog wins fights by “accidentally” knocking everyone out. Finally, Splatoon’s Inkling quickly became one of my favorites, with the unique skill to splat ink onto foes to lower their defense.
It was a drag unlocking most of them, though. I’m usually a fan of unlockables, but with only eight characters at the start, it’s a grind to obtain everyone through increasingly difficult bouts. Luckily, it’s a one-time process. Just make sure that you allot time to unlock characters if you plan to play multiplayer the same day you get the game.
All 100+ stages are available from the get-go. Unlike characters, not every classic stage is returning. But most fan favorites are back. I could have done without the autoscrollers and overly large stages, but I liked the new Stage Morph feature that transforms the arena midbattle. There are only a few new stages, but they hail from some of Nintendo’s latest hits such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, as well as third-party arrival Castlevania. The new stages are mostly simple with few gimmicks, with Splatoon’s Moray Towers as the most interesting, albeit challenging, with its sprawling vertical ramp structure.
Everything comes together in the game’s numerous modes. The main single-player attraction is the World of Light – a full adventure. The entire cast is destroyed by a powerful force, and the sole survivor Kirby must travel through a large map, rescuing other fighters. World of Light focuses on numerous condition-based fights resembling a glorified Event Mode as opposed to the platformer-like gameplay of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary.
You travel through a massive overworld map that lovingly mashes every gaming world into a beautiful potpourri. Standing in your way are Spirits, representing different characters from Nintendo’s past, ranging from popular to obscure. What makes these battles shine is that every match pays tribute to the Spirit character. For instance, the robotic Guardian from Breath of the Wild is represented by a giant R.O.B robot who only fires lasers, and three Simon Belmonts spamming axe throws evoke three axe users from Fire Emblem. This mode is entirely composed of one themed event after another, which is admittedly repetitive, and yet I was hooked to see the next ingenious homage.
The Spirits add an RPG element. You can equip collected Spirits, some of which bestow special abilities and can level up. In World of Light, challenge lies in choosing advantageous Spirits for specific stage hazards and battle conditions. Switching between Spirits constantly was a hassle at first. But as I got stronger abilities from the skill tree and obtained better Spirits, I became addicted to collecting more, even if it trivialized the difficulty. After the end of the campaign, which took me about 20 hours, I kept coming back to see everything the World of Light had to offer. You can also collect Spirits through a bounty hunt board for fun, though it’s annoying that you must also succeed at a silly minigame after battle. My only disappointment is how Spirits replace the previous games’ Trophies. Although there are over 1,000 Spirits, there is no flavor text. It’s a shame because I enjoyed reading the Trophies’ game lore in previous versions.
Classic Mode, comprised of six battles, a bonus stage, and a boss per character, is no slouch. Unlike previous games, where the fights were random, these predetermined battles dive into gaming fanservice, with a tailor-made adventure for each character. For example, Ryu’s Classic mode route involves going to every “country” and facing the other World Warriors from Street Fighter, represented by reskins of existing Smash characters. Mega Man undergoes a similar challenge against Smash’s version of Robot Masters. I’ve never been more motivated to beat everyone’s campaign.
The lasting value for Smash is playing with friends. Whether 1v1, a free-for-all 4-player match, or the borderline unplayable but hysterical 8-player Smash is your cup of tea, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a gold standard for couch multiplayer. There are quite a few modes besides standard Smash. I won’t go over them all, but the eSports friendly Tournament, the team-based Squad Strike that turns Smash into 3v3 Marvel vs. Capcom, and Smashdown, which tasks everyone to use different fighters in a dwindling roster, are all fun alternatives to vanilla Smash. Matches earn you coins that are used to purchase extras, and along with the achievement challenges, ensure ridiculously rewarding replay value.
Online play unfortunately leaves a sore spot. You’ll likely encounter at least one match with lag. At worst, the action slows to a halt. For a fast input-based fighting game, any lag is bad. Fighting in your ideal environment is sometimes troublesome. Although you can set rule preferences, the game tends to put you in matches as fast as possible, even during background matchmaking, so you may be stuck playing through free-for-alls despite preferring 1v1. As a counterpoint, if you play well enough, you’ll unlock Elite Smash, which is more likely to pair you with others in the same competitive mindset. Randoms may be an issue, but I had little to no problems in Battle Arenas. Generally, these are more regulated spaces where the host has control over the rules and participants. It’s also the only way to play with friends. Unfortunately, you can’t chat with or invite them to arenas without external methods, and you may have to wait between matches. But I’ve had some of the most fun online, hanging out with friends in Battle Arenas.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate doesn’t look too different from the Wii U version, but I’m impressed how every character looks natural together. I appreciated some of the visual touches, like Pikachu’s more expressive faces or Link’s Breath of the Wild costume. Offline, I had no issues with slowdown, even in 8-player battles. Playing in handheld mode takes away some of the smooth graphics, but experiencing portable Smash without the control issues of the 3DS version is a dream come true for me. The menu interface takes getting used to. It’s often difficult to find the various modes and even harder to locate particular characters and stages. They’re sorted by when they were added to the Smash franchise, and you can’t re-sort them by series or name. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack, which is always one of my favorite parts of any Smash Bros. game. New remixes and an epic vocal theme join older tracks in one blissful playlist of over 800 nostalgia-inducing songs.
If Super Smash Bros. Ultimate ends up being the finale for the series, then it’s certainly going out with a big bang. The new solo modes are fun meta challenges, and pure fights are as solid as ever, whether you’re playing for fun or glory. It isn’t perfect; beyond some of my nitpicks, online play is unreliable. And if you didn’t like Smash Bros. before or exclusively play Melee, this won’t change your mind. Nevertheless, this game is a glorious crossover that lovingly celebrates decades of video game magic, bringing everyone together for an experience that will be played for years to come. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an excellent embodiment of why I love Nintendo: its lovable characters, attention to detail, and a focus on the nostalgic memories that have defined my life. This truly is one of the most ultimate games on the Nintendo Switch.