Super Smash Bros. has always been the most magical Nintendo franchise in my eyes since 1999. And I don’t use the word magical lightly; it seems like a perfectly fitting way to describe a series that manages to culminate the majority of Nintendo’s greatest assets in history. I’ve been an avid fan of Super Smash Bros. since the first game debuted back in the day on Nintendo 64. Some of my fondest memories in gaming is attributed to the fighting classic and the sequels that followed, notably Super Smash Bros. Melee, which – to this day – is still widely recognized as the best entry in the series. Not only did it introduce a slew of new characters for the first time, it was accompanied by precise gameplay mechanics that gave you full control of your favorite characters.
It was also the definitive Super Smash Bros. title in terms of having all available playable characters, some of which started being MIA when Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out. Super Smash Bros. 4 (Wii U and Nintendo 3DS) took a similar approach when it excluded certain characters due to hardware limitations. But that all changed with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. No character is left behind in the latest installment, which also implements several newcomers to make up a robust lineup that consists of more than 70 playable fighters.
This massive roster is easily the game’s main selling point. It gives players a plethora of different options when choosing who to duke it out as. With so many choices presented to you, you’re going to be keeping busy for a very long time. Sometimes experimenting with characters is the funnest aspect in the game. With every new installment, existing characters are even tweaked and refined. This makes trying veteran fighters feel like new, or at the very least updated. When necessary, the developers also change the appearance, animations and sound effects of many characters.
By default, Link is now rocking his Champion’s Tunic from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. On the other hand, Princess Zelda is now resembling her art style from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, giving her a more charismatic personality. There’s also a soft-textured rendition of Yoshi available as an alternate color from Yoshi’s Crafted World, Mario with his wedding outfit from Super Mario Odyssey, two different iterations of Ike from Fire Emblem, etc. These examples are just naming a few; you’ll notice many other neat references throughout that were well thought-out and make you appreciate Nintendo’s attention to detail. Movesets have also been altered; sometimes significant changes are put into effect depending on the character.
For the first time, Link is missing his Hookshot/Clawshot. This change was influenced by his latest adventure, but it’s definitely a controversial one. But at least Link fans have both Toon Link and Young Link to fall back on if they can’t go without the handy grabbing/recovery tool. However, this makes me wonder why Mario’s jaded F.L.U.D.D. wasn’t swapped for a fresh new move inspired by Cappy. Speaking of fresh, the newcomers this time around are all welcome additions, particularly Inkling. Akin to Splatoon, you can play as a male or female Inkling depending on the costume and color you select. Every single one of their attributes is a faithful representation of how they’re supposed to behave. They’re another example of how Nintendo is so meticulous about getting things right in this regard.
There are multiple modes in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but there’s only one chief goal they all share: do everything possible to smash your opponents out of the stage. World of Light isn’t any different. There are intertwining paths you could take on the world map, but they all lead to smash battles that test your skills as a fighter. The new adventure mode could be viewed as a glorified training session that starts off easy and gradually increases in intensity, leading to the ultimate battle of an all-powerful nemesis and his minions. The story is entertaining enough to suck you right in, but it’s all about the gameplay in the end. Unlike normal smash battles, fights in World of Light are influenced by spirits, which are essentially game characters with abilities that can give your fighters an advantage in battle. There are two types of spirits; primary spirits boost your fighter’s physical abilities, whereas support spirits offer new skills. For example, activating the Balloon Fight spirit enhances your jumping ability; the Piantas spirit from Super Mario Sunshine equips you with a Banana Gun; the Stork spirit from Yoshi’s Island grants you Strong-Wind Immunity; and so on.
More than 1,000 spirits are scattered for you to collect, the mass of which can be obtained by coming out on top in a fight. Due to the staggering amount of spirits, the replay value is significantly increased if you’re planning to collect them all. Another way to acquire spirits, classic mode is essentially the same in that you choose your fighter and smash your way through increasingly difficult enemies for great rewards. But they feel more personalised compared to previous entries, by tailoring the enemies you face based on the character you select. No doubt, spirits are a clever concept and effectively add variety to mix things up, but it wouldn’t be accurate if I say trophies aren’t missed.
While not as useful as spirits, collectible trophies felt more substantial and were attached to excerpts that told you a little about the character and/or item they were modeled after. It was thoroughly enjoyable spending time looking at collected trophies, reading their descriptions while listening to classic Nintendo music. They made the game seem like an interactive encyclopedia that you could view on your TV screen. With that being said, it’s understandable how Nintendo opted for spirits instead of the fully-rendered trophy models, which would have extended the development time by a considerable period.
Smash battles are extremely fast-paced – the fastest they’ve ever been in a Super Smash Bros. title. Nintendo did this to keep the action going to ensure that there’s never a dull moment. They can get very chaotic, especially when more characters and items pop up at the same time. There are also newly-added effects, such as visible smoke trails that linger behind a fighter, colorful confetti that scatters after a fighter gets knocked out, closeups of pulverizing attacks and burning flames that surround the entire stage during Sudden Death matches. While these special effects emit a sense of flare, they tend to be a little overboard at times. I mean… as if Sudden Death wasn’t heart-stopping enough. A noticeable change in the core gameplay is the directional air dodge, which could result in a number of accidental deaths until you get used to the technique. Other than that, the mechanics feel largely the same, but they have been fine-tuned to streamline the overall experience.
It goes without saying that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate features a stellar music selection; how could it not when it comprises of multiple game worlds from several different franchises with acclaimed soundtracks? Similarly, the vast amount of stages is absolutely staggering. There are over 100 of them, as well as the options to choose between Battlefield and Omega forms for each stage for those who want to avoid playing with stage hazards and morphs. If you count these substitute formations, you’ll have more than 300 total stages from the get-go. A bulk of the stages are remastered iterations from previous games and the developers have done a mighty fine job tweaking them. EarthBound’s Fourside, in particular, is stunning and is barely recognizable when in its Omega form, making it appear brand-new with its completely-visible, gorgeous skyline as the backdrop. The same can’t be said about many other stages, which are oftentimes plagued with protruding animations taking place in the background that tend to distract you. Regardless, you are bound to find several stages that suit your preference.
Following Super Smash Bros. Melee, a core part of the Smash experience includes online play in every installment. You’d think the online would be solid by now, but Nintendo hasn’t quite nailed it yet. Online in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS are by no means perfect, but Ultimate’s online portion is actually a step backward. Thanks to the sudden implementation of preferred rules, you are no longer guaranteed a battle exactly as desired. This new system allows you to set the rules for how you want to play, but when it comes down to it, pretty much anything goes. For Glory-style battles are a thing of the past, which means you can and will be thrown into random matchups that may consist of up to four players in a free-for-all battle, on a hazard-filled stage with items galore.
On top of that, you may be placed in matches that are timed or stock-based despite your desire. You also can no longer taunt online, which is a strange omission since people will always find ways to try triggering opponents… repeatedly crouching, anyone? Similarly, you can no longer change characters when attempting to rematch. Some would argue that this method is how a rematch should be, but it’s incredibly frustrating when you’re stuck with the same character when your opponents are spamming the same moves that could easily be deflected by someone else. Your only option is to leave and hope that you’re matched up with the same stranger again to exact revenge.
In addition to these questionable changes, there are technical issues that have been affecting players across the globe. Lagging matches are still prevalent and disconnections occasionally occur, kicking you out and sometimes temporarily banning you. Even if you have stable Internet connection, online battles can still be impacted outside your favor. To top it all off, you now have to pay to play online via Nintendo Switch Online. This wouldn’t be an issue if it provided a solid experience throughout, but it has failed to do so thus far. I’ve also heard numerous complaints about the Nintendo Switch Online app, which is currently the only official way to chat with your friends. People are still not used to having to simultaneously focus on multiple devices just to communicate with your friend. It’s not an ideal setup, especially for players who are relatively new to playing online on Nintendo platforms. As you can tell, there’s plenty of room for improvement in the online department, but hopefully future patches will address the hitches.
Despite striking setbacks with online, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is arguably the most addictive game on Nintendo Switch. Like its predecessors, its combat system is unrivaled with precise inputs that give you full control of your favorite characters. With an extensive roster of playable fighters and an impressive lineup of stages, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate can easily provide you with a varied sense of enjoyment for many years to come. Because future updates and improvements are in the pipeline, the potential is there and it may very well shape up to be the best entry in the series to date.
A review copy of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch was provided by Nintendo UK.