Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review
The Ultimate Test
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Release Date: December 7th, 2018
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios/Sora Ltd.
Published on January 3, 2019
As Hideo Kojima is to Metal Gear Solid, and Tetsuya Nomura is to Kingdom Hearts, Masahiro Sakurai has been the face for Super Smash Bros. for almost 20 years. He has always been known for his perfectionist style, even putting his body at risk with previous titles. More than four years its last entry on the 3DS and Wii U, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate joins the fight to deliver the most comprehensive entry in the series. With a surprise announcement back in March of this year, it has been a whirlwind of character reveals, rumors, surprises, and twists to get to where we are today. With the game finally on the shelves, it’s time to put the latest entry to the ultimate test to see if it stands up to its claims.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an amalgamation of things that feel so familiar, yet new. The game starts with the original eight characters that players had access to in Super Smash Bros. on the N64, unlocking the rest of the 66 characters along the way. A list of more than 800 songs that come from more than 50 games makes up the soundtrack. Every single one of the stages from the previous games makes their return along with some new ones, with the selection screen filling up the TV with almost a mosaic-like image. Even the multi-man modes that have spent their time in the limelight in the past make their return, with Century Smash (100-man smash) and Cruel Smash making their return.
This is all rounded out by feature additions that help fill the gaps that many didn’t realize were needed. Squad strike is a team-based mode akin to Marvel vs. Capcom and other similar tag team games where players fight 1-on-1 to eliminate the fighters on the opposing team. Smashdown features a shrinking roster where players are only allowed to use each fighter once before they’re removed from the selection pool. Although these are not groundbreaking features that will be lauded, they are fun modes that player groups were implementing on their own in previous entries.
The most extensive new feature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is spirits. These are characters from a comprehensive range of games that function somewhat similar to stickers from Super Smash Bros. Brawl: equipping them to your fighter will provide additional boosts and stat upgrades during your battles. However, instead of having to cram in your stickers on the bottom of your trophy, the equip system has been streamlined fairly significantly. It’s worth noting that these spirits are not just constrained to games the fighting characters are from. Sakurai and his team have done a mind-blowing job to procure the spirits from a variety of different games, such as Isaac from Golden Sun, Dr. Crygor from WarioWare, and even Ezlo from The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap.
Spirits are broken down into two types: Primary and Support spirits. The former will provide an attack and defense boost for your fighter, something including a power-up, along with 1-3 slots that can house support spirits. They also acquire experience through various methods that allow them to level up and increase their boosts. Support Spirits provide a single power-up that takes up slots on the primary spirit depending on how powerful the ability they provide to the fighter.
These can be mixed and matched to create custom “spirit teams” for your fighter for both the single-player campaign and multiplayer battles. Although they add a fun twist on regular Smash battles that many have been used to, most of these power-ups can eventually be fine-tuned through the Custom Smash mode with enough finagling. Where the fun lies with spirits is the actual act of acquiring them.
There are two main methods of capture spirits: World of Light, which is the single-player campaign, and the Spirit Board. Although the flow and UI are different, the core of the acquisition remains the same: you will have to battle for them. Reminiscent of the event mode in Super Smash Bros. Melee, spirit battles provide a unique twist on gameplay. The variations on these battles are limitless: giant enemies, tiny enemies, stages that flip vertically, platforms that put you to sleep, etc. However, the clever part of these battles is that these additions are dependent on which spirit you are fighting to mimic fighting against the spirit character. For instance, fighting Absol pits you against Wolf who starts with the scythe item. Emulating Bombman is a Young Link who spams his bombs at you. All these battles feel familiar to the event matches that fans would create during the Melee days. With over 1300 spirits in the game, there is almost a match-up for every gamer.
When playing through the Spirit Board, up to 10 spirits populate a wanted board of sorts, with a timer indicating when they will flee. Winning a match will put you in a minigame that will provide a chance in capturing the spirit if you can accurately time your shot to hit the fighter, which is surrounded by a rotating energy shield. Missing will let the spirit escape, which will eventually return onto the Spirit Board at a random time.
For a more surefire way of acquiring spirits, World of Light not only provides a higher chance of rounding out your spirit team, but also a fun single player experience. Different from the Subspace Emissary from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the World of Light presents a fairly simple premise for players. Galeem, the Lord of Light, has captured all the fighters and spirits; posing a threat to the universe, and it’s up to Kirby to save it. As you make your way through the overworld map, you will face spirit and fighter battles blocking your way, where winning them will let them join your team.
This mode feels very heavily inspired by the gacha games that Nintendo has been embracing as of late. Leveling up your spirits, gathering loot, and summoning new spirits is part of the main gameplay loop. A sizable skill tree is also available to power up your character. As you make your way through the world, you will unlock different facilities and shops that will allow you to expedite your progress, and the ability to instantly level up via the in-game currency is always an option as well. Although none of these are as intricate as the mobile game alternatives, they offer a fun experience that doesn’t stretch into the grind category.
But the most interesting part of World of Light is the amount of creativity that has gone into building the different zones and areas you will be traversing through. Many of them take inspiration from the different series that the fighters originate from, with Kongo Jungle making a return complete with dotted paths or flying the globe in a plane to face off against the different Street Fighter characters. Although most of these zones don’t change the overworld gameplay significantly, it’s a fun addition that adds to the throwback and delightful factor of the game.
For a different single player or perhaps even a cooperative experience, classic mode has gotten a significant revamp in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Each character has their own “story,” with different variations and constraints that will affect the playthrough experience. Kirby’s, which is called “Gourmet Clash,” will have you and the enemy start with initial damage, with food spawning on the stage randomly. “The Teamwork of Courage” has Toon Link team up with two friendly versions of himself, akin to Triforce Heroes, and fighting off different squads of enemies. These storylines end with a bonus stage and a boss battle that tries its best to match up against your chosen hero, with some choices being Dracula from Castlevania, Marx from Kirby Super Star, or even a red Rathalos from the Monster Hunter series.
Although the single player functionalities are impressive and bring a fresh experience, the multiplayer component has been the most important aspect of Super Smash Bros. With Ultimate, Bandai Namco has managed to make tweaks that make the game feel better compared to its predecessor while making small changes to improve the quality of life.
The offline multiplayer has been largely untouched, with the biggest notable differences addressing smaller complaints that have built up over the years. Stage selection now comes before getting to the character selection screen. Rulesets make their first appearance, with the ability for players to create custom rulesets with detailed settings to ensure that players can jump into battle as soon as possible. Gone are the days of accidentally starting a time match the first time you boot up the game. 8-player Smash has been rolled into the default Smash mode, making hopping in and out of matches with large parties easier than ever before.
The online component has also seen a fair amount of changes, addressing some of the issues that Nintendo games have had in general when it comes to online play. The addition of the Battle Arena is the equivalent of lobbies from other fighting games, with the ability to create public or private arenas to play with up to 8 players. Matches are held in various fashions (1v1, team battle, free-for-all), with different rules to determine who will step out of the ring for the next match. Being able to choose a stage and fighter before stepping into a match makes for a smooth transition between matches with minimal wait time.
The inclusion of a background matchmaking mode allows players to do other tasks while the matchmaking system is at work. However, some questionable choices still leave a bad mark on the online functionality as a whole. With the folding of the casual and competitive modes into one, every online match could potentially become a stressful one, as losing or winning will affect your Global Smash Score which can be seen by everyone. Even when you are determined to delve into online multiplayer, the addition of too many options with respect to rulesets makes it almost impossible to guarantee that you will be playing the mode you requested for. This is rounded out by choppy and laggy netcode that makes it hard to enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game fully.
Outside of the smash battles themselves, the game does well to keep players interested for a long time with its collectables. Spirits are numerous, with over 1300 added to the game by default, and many exclusive ones are being added through special events that run for a limited time. Additional music for stages and outfit for Mii fighters round out the high number of things for players to keep track of and complete. Challenges also make a return to provide fun goals for players to strive for ranging from the redundant (“Turn on the game”) to completely ridiculous (“As Robin, use a flurry attack to KO a Li. 9 CPU in a 2-player battle. This must be done within 3 minutes, with spirits off, and without handicaps.”).
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate delivers on what it promises to the player: a complete package of all things Smash past and present. A lengthy and engaging single player campaign, reasonable gacha mechanics, and a refined multiplayer experience all come together to create the ultimate experience. Although it’s not certain if the series will continue or if Sakurai will be back at its helm, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate delivers more than enough to satisfy any gamer’s appetite.