Review | Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
At almost 20 years old, it’s pretty impressive that the Super Smash Bros. series has gone on the way it has. While it isn’t unusual for a popular series to go on for a long time, the fact Masahiro Sakurai has been so involved with each entry is just astounding. Treating each one like it was his last since Melee, Sakurai has devoted a good chunk of time to this series. So much so, that it’s amazing that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate actually exists. With over 70 playable characters, including every single past fighter, Ultimate feels like a true miracle in gaming crossovers. Given the content alone, it’s arguable that it may be the best entry of the entire franchise.
In case you’re new to Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. is a crossover fighting game, featuring Nintendo’s iconic characters in a battle for supremacy. The likes of Mario, Kirby, Pikachu and more have been staples to the series since the N64 days. When Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake were added to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the doors were open for even more gaming history to be included. Pac-Man, Ryu, Bayonetta, even Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, this crossover is beyond what most could possibly imagine outside of parody.
This series wouldn’t be where it is without its continually growing roster, and Ultimate doesn’t disappoint in that regard. It’s pretty amazing that with such a selection, the majority of the characters can still feel unique. With the official introduction of echo fighters, some characters share near identical traits with others, but now they have their own voice, animations and more. Characters like Princess Daisy or even Ken from Street Fighter can be added just to bring a different flavor. With more fighters than ever, it would be hard not to find several characters to suit your play style.
When players start out, they only have the original eight fighters from the N64 starting roster to choose from. Some might dislike this choice, but others will likely find it refreshing. There will always be a split on this decision, but it’s nice to start small and build up from there. Having so many choices from the start can be pretty overwhelming, so this choice allows a gradual build up. How players decide to unlock characters from there is up to them, as there are multiple ways to do it.
With so many characters to unlock, players will always have a surprise behind every corner. It’s a grand undertaking, but one well worth spending the time to do. While unlocking characters, players may take the time to try characters they may have otherwise ignored. It’s really encouraged to leave your comfort zone to try new fighters or even ones from games past. One thing of note is how often Ultimate tries to utilize different fighters. The game even tries to keep variety with the random selection, preferring to make every character different. That means choosing random on the selection screen will likely mean you won’t play as the same character as anyone else.
Not only does the game have over 70 characters, but it also has over 100 stages. With worlds than span across decades of gaming, there is a lot of history on display with this game. Want to be The Legend of Zelda’s Link in Dracula’s castle from the Castlevania series? How about the Duck Hunt dog in Splatoon’s Moray Towers? Perhaps you would even like to visit Pokemon’s Saffron City from the N64 Super Smash Bros. game? The development team took the time to remake almost each and every one of these stages for the new game, enhancing the visuals while maintaining their original charm. With so many stages, there is plenty of variety for players of all kinds.
Gameplay is more or less the same, with directional inputs combined with a standard or special attack button, as well as a dodge/shield button. Holding down the standard attack button or using a second stick can activate the iconic “smash attack”. It’s a solid formula, and it still works here just as well as previous entries, if not better. One thing of note here is that there are a lot more advanced techniques now. Dodging is more directional, allowing players to move in a specific direction when they dodge in the air. Shielding at the right moment could perform a perfect shield, allowing a chance for a counter attack. While it was possible in previous games, the timing window has been tweaked to make it easier to pull off.
The game is loaded with dozens of items, with returning fan favorites as well as many new ones. Beam swords, laser guns of all kinds, turtle shells and more, there are now over 80 items. When considering assist trophies or Poke Balls, then there are even more possibilities. Some of the assist trophies even branch out to more game properties like Bomberman or Shovel Knight, which is a real treat. The Pokemon themselves offer a lot of cool new changes too, like Alolan Exeggutor acting as a tall wall. If you happen to be the kind of player that wants items off, they can be turned off in regular play too.
One of the biggest changes to gameplay is the option of having a Final Smash meter. When playing traditional Smash, it is something that can be turned off, but for many of the games modes, it will be on. This works like a typical fighting game revenge meter, where taking and dealing damage builds it up. It changes up the game quite a bit, especially when playing with friends, though I find it most useful in the single player modes where it can help finish a difficult battle. This is especially the case for the new adventure mode, World of Light.
World of Light is a new mode sharing elements of Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, but focused on the new Spirit Battles. The story is that the Lord of Light, Galeem, has basically decimated all life, turning them into spirits. With his control of the spirits, he forces them to use puppets of our fighters to gain rule of the world. With Kirby as the only survivor, it’s up to him to start restoring the world and save everyone. Players will guide Kirby (or any other unlocked fighters) across an overworld map to different battles based on the spirits.
This new adventure mode does have a lot to offer, but it does go on a bit too long. The overworld map is deceptive in the beginning, leading players to think that it will be the only area to explore. It’s only a matter of time before discovering the first portal, showing new areas (usually based on a specific franchise) to traverse. At least it’s a nice touch seeing all the different Spirit Battles, showing the team’s creativity. Fighting a team based on Sonic Heroes’ Team Chaotix or even Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE’s Tsubasa is pretty fun. The overworld map even has some nice references to Nintendo’s history, be it hardware or games. Granted, there are also a handful of frustrating puzzles, sometimes requiring the use of a certain spirit to solve.
The mode offers a lot of cool bosses to fight and even offers RPG elements like skill trees and the previously mentioned spirits. Acting much like stickers from Brawl, spirits are utilized in Ultimate in a more unique way. Players can equip a primary spirit of one of four types, giving them a stat boost and an occasional perk. Once equipped, players can then equip secondary spirits, giving even more perks, though sometimes offering a trade-off. As you play the game, these spirits will level up and grow stronger, possibly even capable of enhancement to the next rank. It’s a good idea to get a collection of legend spirits for the tougher battles ahead, as there will be many. With almost 1,300 spirits, there are plenty to collect.
This mode should take quite a bit of time to complete, offering well over 20 hours of gameplay. If going for full completion, then be prepared for a few more hours on top of that. It has hundreds of Spirit Battles and even fights where players will have to awaken the other playable fighters. While it does offer plenty to do for single player, the mode feels like it drags on toward the end. It makes a player feel more fatigued than accomplished at this point and it may even leave many players without finishing it. That isn’t to say there isn’t a satisfying pay off close to the end. One battle in particular feels like a real reward for fans of the franchise. Overall, it’s nice to see a return of a full adventure mode, and it will last a long time for those that are dedicated.
One of the biggest surprises in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the Classic Mode. In previous games, Classic was often randomized for each playthrough, but with Ultimate, they gave each character a unique path. Pikachu for example will fight every Pokemon in the game while Link fights his way to a showdown with one of the games new bosses. It really makes each path worth exploring and gives a fun experience for up to two players. Starting at an low to mid difficulty, doing well will increase the “intensity” as well as the rewards. If players want to take it easy, they can start lower and the game will cater more to struggling players. Classic mode is also a fun way to unlock more specific characters.
Multiplayer in Ultimate is still going to be a big draw to the game. Maintaining a lot of features from the previous games, Ultimate offers ways to make things more accessible. Every stage now has a Final Destination or Battlefield mode, giving standardized designs for each stage. They can also all be host to 8-player battles, which is now easier than ever to add or remove players from play. There are a variety of modes as well, with Tourney mode, Special mode, and Squad Strike, there’s something for everyone. Even the options within the game allow for interesting changes like spirits being on or using the final smash meter.
Just to make it clear now, playing on only one Switch is the ideal scenario. While the game offers LAN play and online, the performance does often have issues, from input delay to lag. It’s nice that the game can support up to eight Switch systems for LAN play, and it is still playable, but the best experience by far is getting everyone on one TV together. Online doesn’t seem to be very extensive at this time, offering the ability to play with preferred settings. It doesn’t always cater to your preferences, but it does give you a chance to try something new from time to time. Lag can be problematic, but you’ll still run into smooth matches here and there.
Diving deeper into the online, players will basically have the option to fight or spectate. It’s a little disappointing that spectate didn’t bring back the wager system from the previous game. It gave a little reward for guessing the winner, and now spectate is just simply watching random players. Going to the fighting side, players will try to claim victory to increase their Global Smash Power. This acts as a sort of ranking for each fighter, but it can even be affected by their score in Classic mode. It’s alright for bragging rights, but it’s a far cry from a traditional ranking mode. Hopefully the online experience continue to improve as Sora Ltd. continues to support the game.
Even though it’s amazing that this game exists with the amount of content it has, that isn’t to say everything makes a return. Home-run contest, break the targets, the stage builder and more are entirely absent. One of the biggest staples of the franchise, trophies, are no longer present in favor of spirits, which sadly don’t offer any descriptions. It makes sense to not have some of these things, but it might make one wonder if the game would be better with them. At least some of the other modes like All-Star are still present.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also offers incentive to play more of the modes with a Challenge Board. This offers special missions that will unlock music, Mii outfits, resources, and even a fun little image in the gallery. It’s similar to the ones in the previous games, but the missions seem a bit more obtainable just by playing regularly. There’s also a Spirit Board that offers a rotating list of Spirit Battles to increase your collection.
Graphically, the game is easily the best looking in the franchise, which is no surprise. All the characters are more expressive than ever and animate with incredible personality. The visuals are consistent and the art direction clearly keeps it all together in an impressive way. Several of the characters have a unique alternate costume too, so the game has more variety in models too. Performance is solid 99% of the time, only showing slow-down in the most ridiculous of moments. There are nice little visual presentation touches too, like zooming in on a fatal blow during a one-on-one match.
Speaking of presentation, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may have the biggest soundtrack of any game ever. With well over 800 songs and dozens of composers, it may also be the best soundtrack ever. It’s a little upsetting that Square-Enix only allowed for two Final Fantasy tracks, but it still uses two of the best fight songs from Final Fantasy VII. Either way, each franchise more than makes up for it, with several great songs from all over the industry. The new theme song for the game even offers a few flavors, including one with lyrics. Adjusting what music plays for the stages is still a feature and players can even listen to their playlist in sleep mode.
Despite having a tediously long adventure mode and some lacking online, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a fantastic package overall. With an incredible roster and a great presentation, it’s easy to overlook these issues. The game plays great and offers plenty of options for players to have the best Super Smash Bros. experience yet. It truly is an ultimate entry in this franchise, earning a rightful place in the Switch’s expanding library of games. We also know at least six more fighters will join the roster too, including Joker from Persona 5. There’s a little something for everyone, so whether you play Ultimate by yourself or with a group of friends, it’ll be a good time.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10