Review: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Posted 10 Jan 2019 at 19:00 by Dennis Tummers
Calling your game Ultimate, now that is a tricky thing. It insinuates that this is the most complete version of the game you can make. The game that has it all and does everything right. It’s a brave decision from Smash’s spiritual father Masahiro Sakurai! Does Super Smash Bros. Ultimate deserve the title Ultimate, or do we need to request a name change to Smash 5 instead? Well let’s find out now shall we!
Smash Bros.: An Introduction
Although this is the fifth instalment in the popular Super Smash Bros. series, it may just be the case that you've never played one before. So let’s start out with a small rundown of what Smash is about. In essence Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game, with a twist. In regular fighting games the goal is to pummel your opponent until their HP reaches zero. In the Smash Bros. series your main goal is to launch you foe off the stage. Players with more damage are easier to launch and fly farther. So it’s up to you to throw in a combination of punches, throws and special attacks to hurt your opponent as much as necessary to send them flying over the edge and off the stage.
Mama Mia! Watch out Mario, Zelda isn't messing around.
You can pick up some help on the way with a plethora of items. Food that heals you, weapons inspired by Nintendo’s franchises, Pokéballs that summon one of the critters to your aid and Assist Trophies which are NPCs like Waluigi or Bomberman that lend you a helping hand in battle. The icing on the cake is the Smash Ball because whoever breaks this ball can execute their characters Final Smash. This devastating move will regularly blast one or more enemies off the playing field, providing they are within striking distance.
Everyone is here!
During E3 2018 Nintendo gave Super Smash Bros. Ultimate a lot (maybe too much?) spotlight during their presentation. Nothing that strange, as it is a title that a lot Switch owners (and Nintendo and videogame fans in general) were waiting for at the time. I mean, how often does one get the chance to play a game with characters from so many different series? And during the presentation that one sentence popped up: Everyone is here! All fighters from the previous Super Smash Bros. games enter the fray in Ultimate. On top of that a bunch of new characters have been added as well, such as Inkling from Splatoon, Simon Belmont from Castlevania and fan favourites Ridley and King K. Rool. The stat counter reads 74 playable characters, and at least 6 more will be added through paid DLC, including Piranha Plant and Persona 5’s Joker.
Everyone is here! No really... the roster couldn't really be any bigger...DLC? Oh go on then!
There’s also plenty to choose from regarding stages. There are 103 to choose from, all with a Normal form and an Omega form. The normal form usually contains a bunch of hazards and moving platforms, while the Omega form of the stage is just a single platform, but in the style of the original level. Sadly missing is the level editor, that we saw in the two previous versions.
Although Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is strongest as a multiplayer game, there is plenty to do for the solo gamer. There is a meaty single player campaign, and a fine-tuned Classic Mode for all characters. Some modes from previous games have been scrapped unfortunately, such as Target Smash and the Home Run Contest but in this day and age who knows whether or not we might see these modes added in a future software update.
World Of Light
World Of Light is the single player campaign in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. In a rather dramatic intro cinematic we see how all Fighters are wiped out by the evil Galeem, except for one: Kirby survives with a bit of help from his Warp Star. All game characters in the world have been changed into Spirits, and all Fighters bar Kirby are under the spell of Galeem and it is up to the player to break the curse. You start out with only the pink puffball as a selectable Fighter, but you will soon unlock more Fighters if you can beat them in battle. The story progresses via a world map, where you will find more Fighters and a whole lot of Spirits. These Spirits have taken possession of the Fighters, resulting in battles with special events.
For example, fighting the Boo Spirit means taking on a Kirby possessed by Boo. This makes the opposing Kirby invisible during the game. There are hundreds and hundreds of Spirits that you can take on. Some of these are really clever and show the creativity of the makers, with the special events of that game matching the idea behind the Spirit. Others are not so apparent or creative, and with so many Spirits there is quite a bit of repetition.
Captain Falcon's Punch Out!! It could catch on you know.
It’s a shame that there is no way to get more information about the Spirits as well. There are a lot of rather obscure ones, or characters from less familiar games, but there is no info or background about them. This is something that was the case with the collectible trophies from previous games as you were given an extensive write-up for each trophy which was fascinating to read. But it is understandable that this wasn't the case this time around due to the sheer amount of available spirits, even though it is a treat to even see some of them featured so you're sure to see some of them which will bring a smile to your face regardless.
Spirits are not just for collection though. After beating a Spirit you can use and equip it, changing the skills of your character. There are for example Spirits that let you start the game with a certain item in hand, or that make you immune to electric floors.
The Spirit system adds quite some depth to World Of Light, and it is fun to mess around with them. You can go the easy road and let the game pick the best option for every round if you cannot be bothered. The choice is yours. The campaign itself is quite meaty, and clocks around 10-15 hours just to reach the end. Going 100% means you can easily double that time. I personally enjoyed playing it in short bursts, as it does tend to get quite repetitive after a couple of battles.
If you enjoy collecting Spirits, but don’t feel like going through the campaign you can go to the Spirit Board. In this game mode you select a Spirit from a list. This triggers a battle with special conditions just like in World Of Light. If you win the fight you get a chance to obtain that Spirit in a shoot-out. The list of Spirits changes every few minutes, and there are themed events now and then that make certain Spirits available.
There's always a varied selection of spirits on the board... Oh, Shine Get!
Classic Mode is back, with a vengeance! In Classic Mode you go through a fixed set of opponents. This set is fine-tuned per Fighter, meaning every Classic Mode is a little different for every character. In Pikachu’s Classic Mode you will encounter mostly other Pokémon, while Yoshi’s route pits you against prehistoric beasts and dragons. Every path ends with a boss battle, with some great surprises! You can make the Classic Mode as tough as you want, with a difficulty between 0 and 9.9, and it scales as well. The higher the difficulty, the more rewards you get though.
Relive that epic battle at the end of Ocarina... Whoops, 20 year old spoilers.
One of the greatest things about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that (almost) everyone can pick up this game and play it. Especially with a multitude of items and handicaps everyone has a fighting chance, even without experience. Veteran players always have an advantage, because there is more to this game than meets the eye. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is a saying created to describe two things: Chess and Smash! It takes time to learn how each character plays, and what are the best ways to recover when you get launched off the stage. Furthermore there is the Smash triangle: punches beat grabs, grabs beat shields and shields beat punches. If you can master this (and more) you can join the big league. If not, then Super Smash Bros Ultimate is a very fun party game, that can result in hilarious sessions, especially in local multiplayer.
That iconic moment where Charizard casts the Wii U into the fires of Mt Wuhu.
The best bit of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in my opinion is local multiplayer. This game mode is chock-full of options and customization, giving you the chance to create the ultimate Smash Bros. experience. Almost everything can be adjusted to your wishes and whims. Of course you can adjust the standard options, such as fighting a stock, timed, or HP battle. You can fight free-for-all, in teams or set up tournaments. Local multiplayer supports up to 8 players, so prepare for a (quite chaotic) mayhem.
A pre-emptive strike against Yoshi for Crafted World? But it might be good!
But there’s more. You can personalize your soundtrack (a soundtrack that is a museum of its own, with a track collection from a great list of games spanning more than a day of listening content), the levels you want to play on, which items can appear, and so on. There are special game modes such as Smashdown (pick a different Fighter every round) or Squad Strike (pick your team of 3 or 5 Fighters). All of these options give a serious longevity to the multiplayer and to the title. Naturally, you can just as well take on bots instead of real players, making this mode interesting for singleplayer as well.
Ah yes, online, the Achilles heel of Nintendo. It’s too bad that this game is not the perfect online Smash experience many of us have hoped for. First of all, online is limited to a maximum of 4 players, while local supports 8. Every player has their own preferences regarding rules and settings. You can set up your preferred set and the system tries to match you with players who have the same preferences. In practice though you will often get matched with players with different rulesets. This is when you jump into quick play.
Luckily there is also the option to set up your own lobby (arena), or search for an arena that appeals to your taste. In an arena you will be joined by a number of other players, and you can choose to join the queue for a match or to sit on the stand and spectate. These arenas can be set up for everyone, for Friends only or for people with the arena ID. This last option is useful if you want to set up a game but don’t want every participant to be in your Friends list.
Why is there no Super Mario Maker on the Switch yet?! Exclaimed Link...
There are some downsides to the arena system as well. For example, voice chat is limited to private arenas, and only works through the Nintendo Switch Online app on a smartphone. If you want to change the rules in your arena you can’t, instead you have to create a new arena. There’s also no easy way of seeing if any of your Friends are playing online or are interested in doing so. And then there is the occasional lag, seriously slowing down the game, something you don’t want in a fast-paced fighter like this. Here’s hoping some of these issues will be addressed in a future update!
New Challengers Approaching!
While I can't say that I've had the chance to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as much as many of my fellow staff members, given the chance to express my views on the game and contribute to this landmark review is something I am very grateful for as Smash is a series which I have always loved, so I hope to offer a few insights, some brief commentary on technical aspects of the game running in both modes plus the various control methods and then hand over to our newest staff member Glen O'Brien for a brief summary just to round everything off.
Sam C Gittins - N-Europe Reviewer
Docked or Undocked?
In the previous generation we had two titles in the Super Smash Bros. series, one was for the Wii U, while the other graced the 3DS and although this was a technical achievement at the time, it also felt to me like it was a huge compromise. Personally I found myself with two Smash games, all of the action either on the big screen or on the go and yet... I probably put in the least amount of time into both of these versions.
This latest release on the Switch feels like the fully realised culmination of having a Super Smash Bros. title which you can play on the big screen while also having the option to take it with you but with hardly any compromise; that in itself is nothing short of revolutionary.
On an island, two electric rodents, a solitary beam sword and only one can survive.
On the big screen everything about the game looks and sounds phenomenally good, I've yet to tire from watching the beautiful intro plus all of the small details really do come across better than I ever could have imagined, especially when you decide to check out the characters close up in photo mode to get that perfect shot which can almost be as fun as the fighting.
But even in portable mode, it's really hard to fault the game, everything scales to the Switch screen beautifully and aside from having to use the Joy-Cons attached to the console (unless you're playing in table top mode) there really isn't much of a downside. I found that using a professionally manufactured grip like the one made by Satisfye really helped to make the Switch a lot more comfortable to play when in portable mode, even the thumb grips made a huge difference for me; however you choose to play though, the core gameplay remains fast, fluid and fun.
There are many different ways in which you can choose to control your fighters, the most obvious being the Joy-Cons being that they come with every Switch console, you can choose to use them as a pair, or attached to a grip, attached to the console itself in portable mode or just using a single Joy-Con on its side if you're handing the second one to another player; this can be handy for table top mode for some quick games on the go.
But if you're planning on playing on the big screen then I would say that you really can't go wrong with Nintendo's official Pro Controller as it really is an excellent option offering an almost unparalleled level of control, comfort and responsiveness especially if you choose to play using the USB C cable connected to the console. Of course if you really like that wireless freedom then you can opt to play wirelessly with the Pro Controller or one of several third-party controllers on the market from manufacturers such as Power A, Hori or even 8BitDo which will offer you a more pocket-friendly price with very little in the way of trade-off.
There is of course another option though and it is perhaps the preferred controller of choice for playing Super Smash Bros. ever since the days when Melee was first released some sixteen years or so ago, I am of course talking about the Nintendo GameCube controller. Now granted, you do need to buy an adapter in order for your classic controllers to work but once you have one of those beauties with four GC ports connected up via two USB connectors, you can use any of your original GameCube controllers with ease, even including any WaveBird controllers you might have, or even the Super Smash Bros. edition controller if you can pick one up; availability is key here however so I can only hope that Nintendo manage to get more stock of the GC Controller adapter out there so that many more Switch owners can experience one of the best control methods available. (Don't just take my work for it though, check out the SSBU thread on our forum where many of our members have gone back to their trusty GC pads, even getting them repaired as well)
Just chilling out with the great Captain Falcon. Forever he will be my hero.
Whichever control method you choose though, rest assured that this is the most refined entry in the series to date which manages to strike that perfect balance of being closer to the twitch-reflexes of Melee while still retaining all of the improvements which the subsequent games have carefully introduced over the years. The core mechanics are the same as they have ever been, except here everything behaves exactly as you'd expect if you're a veteran and exactly as you might imagine it to if you're a newcomer; just about everyone can pick up a controller, choose one of their favourite videogame characters and form an instant connection with the game world without having to worry about any barriers to entry... that's pretty special.
Easily the most playable version of Super Smash Bros. to date, definitely worthy of the Ultimate title and my only regret is that I haven't been able to put all the time I wanted into the game yet, partly because I can't help but want to say my piece about how much I love it and even now as I'm assisting with piecing together this small part of the very review you are reading, I'm listening to just the Castlevania music alone contained within the game which in itself amounts to over two hours of listening pleasure; so I'm still connected to the game even now when I haven't had the chance to play it.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn't just a mere game but an ongoing source of entertainment which lives on beside you and thanks to the Switch you can choose to have it with you almost all the time if you so desire; what a time to be alive as a gamer.
Final Smash Summary
Smash Ultimate takes the brilliant base that the previous Smash for WiiU made and takes things to a whole new level. The bonkers amount of characters and stages are sure to keep those local multiplayer sessions going throughout all of the Switch's life and it deserves all the credit it gets for that. While I do wish there were a few more side modes such as All-Star and Home Run contest, it's a really small price to pay for arguably the best multiplayer experience the Switch will ever see. And let's face it, you haven't lived unless you've played 8 Player Smash with all items on and 7 other people howling with laughter.
Glen O'Brien - N-Europe Reviewer
N-Europe Final Verdict
Calling your game Ultimate, now that requires some nerve. But in the case of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it is hard-earned. This is the most complete game in the series, and a celebration of everything Nintendo (and video gaming in general). The character roster is insane, there is a meaty single player and a customisable multiplayer, both online and offline. It may not be perfect, as online especially needs some work. But due to the sheer amount of content in the form of characters, levels, music etc; Super Smash Bros. comes pretty darn close to the title of ultimate fighting game. It is definitely the Ultimate Smash Bros. and that's a statement which really shouldn't be under any doubt!
An insane amount of fighters, stages
An amazing soundtrack
Easy to learn, hard to master
A lot of options and customization possible
Meaty singleplayer campaign…
...that does get repetitive though.
Online options limited and sometimes laggy
Target Smash and Home Run Contest are missing.