(In the spirit of the multiplayer crossover, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be evaluated by not just one GT critic, but a triumvirate of Smash enthusiasts. This critique will be split across the game’s core pillars, each tackled by a different voice: In order of appearance, Sean Anthony, Elisha Deogracias, and Abram Buehner. So, kick back and drink in more Smash discussion than is necessary, as we evaluate Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s greatest strengths and its occasional pitfalls.)
This is it folks; Nintendo’s 2018 rallying cry. After an agonizing nine months of anticipation (and four years since the last game), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is upon us. Chock full of more Nintendo characters than you can wave a Master Sword at, and enough third-party reps to leave PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale green in the face, this title may just be the most ambitious crossover of all time (Avengers? Haven’t heard of ‘em). With this title, Masahiro Sakurai and his team have accomplished a great duality, achieving an incredible breadth of content while also maintaining a high attention to detail and an omni-present creative spark. I mean, the raw stats speak for themselves. With seventy-four fighters, over one hundred stages, and over a thousand spirits interspersed across myriad modes, there is a lot of ground to cover here.
We came to smash — Smash modes (Sean Anthony)
The heart of Super Smash Bros. always been its multiplayer content. There’s a reason Super Smash Bros. Melee is still played around the country at tournaments such as EVO, and it’s due large in part to its unique mechanics and fast-paced gameplay. Beginning with 2006’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl, fans of the competitive side of Super Smash Bros. have been disappointed in each entry, stating that it’s still not quite fast enough or in-depth enough to form a true meta-game. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has apparently broken that streak and evolved the formula greatly, at least, so far.
While it appears that the game merely builds upon Super Smash Bros. Wii U, its competitive edge is definitely more present. Characters are faster, there are more movement options, and offensive play is finally encouraged again. Combos are more common, as I found myself decimated by a Richter combo that had him throw holy water at me, afterwards he jumped and threw his cross, landed and hit my character still trapped in the fire to hit me upward into the path of said cross, and finally one last hit afterwards to finish off the combo. It seemed difficulty to pull off, but is was very rewarding for my opponent. And Pichu. Don’t get me started on this harbinger of doom disguised as an adorable baby electric mouse.
But, this is Super Smash Bros, and while the competitive scene could potentially be huge, its casual gameplay is where the game shines brightest. The addition of a final smash meter that increases as you play is great for casual play, as it adds more on-your-toes moments that the appearance of a powerful item can create. That said, this will never be seen in competitive as some final smashes are much more powerful that others, such as Daisy and Peach’s ability to put other fighters to sleep.
After years of me secretly hoping for this to be a feature, stamina battles are no longer under the “special smash” category and can be given their own ruleset. Aside from setting the stamina, you can adjust how many stocks each player has as well. This means that if you run out of HP, you will respawn with the maximum amount of HP. It leads to some interesting fights, though they may favor “zoning” characters with projectiles like Yoshi.
Tournaments are finally something you can do locally, but there isn’t anything too exciting about them this time around. You can set best of sets for matches, but you can’t set anything like a loser’s bracket, and it’s not something that’ll be entirely useful for a real tournament, but it’s a fun way to have all of your friends play a quick tournament.
Special Smash returns, but hasn’t changed much when compared to its previous incarnations. You can still mix different conditions, such as speed or the ability to have everyone metal, but it doesn’t do much to change the system over the past few years. However, one of the best nuggets of gameplay is hidden within the Special Smash menu, and that’s Smashdown.
Smashdown is a new mode where you and several others (up to eight, even!) choose a character, use them for one battle, and that character is then locked out until the session is over. These battles keep going until either it’s not possible for everyone to pick a character, or a winner is declared (if that’s how you want the rules to be). It’s an exciting mode, and the look of betrayal on my friend’s face when I picked their main is something that has helped me get out of bed this week. This mode forces you to use other characters against other players, placing you firmly out of your comfort zone. Smashdown is exactly what it needed to be.
Finally, and perhaps my favorite addition, is Squad Strike. This mode is given its own spot on the main Smash menu and it rightfully deserves it. While only played in matches of 1v1, there are three different ways to play Squad Strike: Tag Team, Elimination, and Best Of. Tag Team is a single match with each character in your squad popping in as soon as the other one is knocked out. Before the match, you choose either 3 or 5 characters to go into your match, and these characters are then picked in an order blind from the other player through a series of direction inputs. This is to prevent any character advantages. What follows is a wild ride, with only one stock for each character. There are plenty of strategies, and throwing out your best character first may not be the best course of action.
Best Of and Elimination are more friendly with more than two players. In our group, we had six players, which was perfect for a 3v3 match. At the beginning of the game, our “team captains” choose who would be on whose team, we picked our characters, our names, and decided to try Elimination first. In this mode, the order is picked like in Tag Team, but the way the matches play out is different. The top two players will go against each other, and whoever wins will go on to the next match, while the next player that won keeps only heals 30% of their damage. This keeps going until an entire side is wiped out.
Best Of is a little different. In this ruleset, each side is matches against the opposite side’s player, and the winning side is whichever one receives the most victories. This mode was a little more fun, because everyone got to play instead of the one good person on one side. The biggest problem with Squad Strike is how it handles its controllers. You can’t assign a controller to a player, so you have to hit “X” after each match on the active controllers and have another play hit any button to take over that spot. This lead to a fair bit of confusion, and I wish they would have done what they did for tournaments and had an overlay that gave players a chance to assign the next match’s combatants different controllers.. Other than that, Squad Strike is an overlooked mode that definitely deserves your time, especially in a group setting.
Lastly, there’s Online mode. This is, shocker a disappointment. Smash 4’s infrastructure may not have been amazing, but allowing players to choose either For Glory or For Fun kept the competitive and casual camps separate, and this seemed to make most people happy. In Ultimate, you can choose to create a lobby to host specific matches or play with friends, or use quickplay to find a match with your preferred settings, be it solo or with a friend on the same system.
That is, IF you can get a match with your preferred settings. Since the game was released, players that have been searching for 1v1 matches have ended up in 4 player free-for-alls with items on. At least Nintendo is working to address these issues. As of the 1.2 update, these mismatches have been showing up less frequently, but they have warned player to expect to wait longer for a match they desire.
Instead of For Glory, we have Elite Smash. If one of your characters earns enough Global Smash Power (the score for each character that shows how much better you are with the character than a large amount of people) through winning matches, they will enter a special Elite Smash lobby where they will only be matched against other Elite Smash players. This is considered the “best of the best,” but it honestly feels like just a reskin for normal Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online. It’s not a perfect system yet, and it needs work, but at least they’re trying to address some of the issues quickly. Now if only they could tell use what exactly has been changed with each character whenever there’s an update.
Online blight aside, the gameplay aspect of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best in the series. Every character is back, most of them feel unique from each other in some way (except for certain echoes for obvious reasons), there’s an insane amount of stages to choose from, and you can even choose a specific song to play on that stage instead of leaving it up to a gamble. Last thing I want to mention is how fun it is to pick a Battlefield version of every stage. While Smash 4’s Omega versions of the stages were welcome addition, it was sort of boring seeing the same flat stage layout every time and this only benefited players like Little Mac. With some gameplay tweaks, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate could survive the tourney scene for years to come.
Spirited Away — World of Light and spirits (Elisha Deogracias)
A couple of new things introduced in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are spirits and World of Light. Having played through Melee’s Adventure Mode and Brawl’s Subspace Emissary more times than I wish to count, I was pretty excited to hear that we’d be getting some sort of story mode in Ultimate. Considering the last Smash entry omitted that mode entirely, World of Light is the first Smash-centered campaign we’ve seen in nearly a decade. While it’s pretty light on overall narrative, the main gameplay is compelling and a love letter to the oft-forgotten Nintendo properties.
World of Light begins with everyone dying. Yep, Nintendo went there, and like many others, I was pretty impressed that Nintendo had the balls to kill literally everyone except for Kirby, who is your initial fighter for this experience. That being said, campaign antagonist Galeem uses the other fighters as molds to create puppet fighters that roam the story’s amalgamated setting, with each of these puppets controlled by a spirit. (They aren’t dead, they’re sleeping, see?) These spirits represent tons of different characters from Nintendo and third party IPs, from the usual Mario baddies to niche franchises like Sega’s Culdcept series and Fatal Frame’s Yuri Kozukata. With over a thousand spirits to obtain, there is a wealth of different series represented here, even if they aren’t playable characters or assist trophies.
While technically an adventure mode, World of Light is functionally an expanded event battle mode. During the campaign, you’ll control your fighter as they run around an obscured map, fighting different spirits under various conditions. Each spirit and puppet fighter has an element, rank (novice, advanced, ace, and legend), and power level, which are shown before you decide to take on the battle. There are four elements: Attack, shield, and grab, which are weak and strong against one of the other elements (in a little rock-paper-scissors elemental triangle). A fourth element, neutral, receives no buffs or debuffs from other spirit elements, so you’ll need to pick which spirit to go with before each fight. Beating a spirit battle will put said spirit into your inventory, where you can equip them whenever you’d like.
Spirit battles can range from fighting a stamina battle with the opponent spamming a certain attack to having earthquakes occur on a stage every few seconds to having a fighter always taunting. Each battle feels unique and fresh, though there were times that the game can be a bit unfair. The legend battles are especially grueling, with some battles like Pauline (where you’ll have to defeat a Peach who keeps running) and Dr. Wily (where you’ll have to defeat a bunch of hardy Mega Man clones plus Dr. Mario), being a bit on the cheap side of difficulty. While this encourages you to stop and go around the board finding the right spirit to counter the enemy, it sometimes comes off as a way to add some cheap longevity to the game.
Also peppered in are awakening battles (where you’ll unlock a character if you are successful in beating them), and boss battles (all of which were fought in classic mode). As an alternative method of unlocking characters, I really thought it was a great way to do this; opponents are easier than later-stage “Challenger approaching” unlocks, and you can beat different bosses with other fighters. This mode is actually pretty lengthy too, clocking in at a couple dozen of hours should you want to grab each and every spirit. In addition to these battles, there are places where you can train your spirits, learn different styles for battle (like increasing defense while decreasing attack), and even explore to get treasure. It’s these little experiences that really flesh out the whole World of Light experience, and I just wanted to explore every nook and cranny with different spirit combinations. You can also level up spirits by feeding them snacks, or release them in order to get cores that you can use in order to summon even stronger spirits. If you’re looking for a deep story experience, you won’t find it here (aside from a few gorgeous cutscenes), but you will find a ton of fanservice with the characters shown.
An alternative to obtaining spirits (and necessary if you want to grab duplicate spirits to summon stronger ones) is the spirit board, which is a condensed version of the adventure mode. You’ll get a handful of different spirit battles, and if you’re successful in winning the respective match, you can play a minigame to get the spirit. While you can easily fail this minigame, any progress towards winning will go to the next attempt at obtaining the spirit. It’s here where I unfortunately found that the minor flaw of unfair battles become more of a nuisance. With these battles, you only get one shot at fighting for a spirit (though you can rematch through an uncommon spirit board item); mess up, and the spirit disappears until you encounter them again. I wish there was an option to pay in-game currency (coins or Spirit Points) to rematch immediately, as you won’t quite know what to expect in Legend-rank battles. Other than that, the overall inclusion of spirits and the World of Light mode are a great addition to a Smash package that’s already stuffed to the gills with content.
But wait There’s — Games & more (Abram Buehner)
World of Light and versus matches may be the focus of offline Smash gameplay, but those are not the only ways to enjoy Smash Bros. without heading online. The series staple, Classic Mode, has returned once again and is in its peak form, offering excellent single-player and co-op fun. Here in Ultimate, classic mode shirks the randomization that has marked recent classic modes, instead creating a tailored route for each character in the roster. Yes, that means there are a total of 74 different instances of classic mode, each with their own series of fights.
The routes truly feel unique as well–these aren’t simply copy and paste jobs with mild tweaks. Take, for instance, King K Rool’s route. Here, you’ll fight only heavy-weight opponents before facing off against Galleom at the mode’s climax. Juxtapose that with Toon Link’s trial, which sees the cartoon hero of time fight team battles alongside two fellow links against a group of opponents, culminating in a showdown against Ganon. And yes, no need to find your glasses, you read that right: Master Hand and Crazy Hand aren’t the only classic mode bosses. While I won’t spoil them here, there is a good range of final baddies to take on, which is a welcome change for classic mode.
The only place that Ultimate’s classic mode stumbles is with its bonus stage. There is no board the platforms or break the targets here, but there is a new platforming stage to take on. However, it isn’t that engaging due to the fact that it only has one permutation. The past bonus games were so fun because they were tailored to each characters’ moveset, so having only one path here undermines that. Yet, that barely registers as a ding against the mode here, because classic is just so damn fun in Ultimate. Typically, I run classic mode with a few of my favorite characters for a change of pace, and then drop the mode. However, here I’ve found myself returning over and over with different characters to see what fun routes and bosses await me.
This feeling of hand-crafted design in classic mode extends to the way in which it handles difficulty, which is a revelation for the mode. Like in previous games, you pick a starting difficulty. However, in here Ultimate, as you proceed through the mode and win or lose various challenges, the difficulty will dynamically scale up or down, always making the challenge seem fair. All of these changes (and a fun credits game to boot!) converge in one of Ultimate’s best modes, and one that I hope to complete with every character some day.
All-Star mode returns in Ultimate as well, however, it is drastically different from its previous incarnations. Here, it operates far closer in execution to the multi-man Smash challenges fans have come to expect from the series. You begin the mode by selecting a stage and a character, and then fight the entire roster until you either triumph, or are defeated. No healing items, no respites, a constant four enemies on screen with you at a time. When I realized this, I was split. In the past, All-Star mode never quite felt like the gauntlet it should’ve, due to the generous breaks you were allowed in-between beatdowns. However, I also appreciated how the mode felt like an ordeal, with finite healing items, different stages, particularly grouped characters, and an always gorgeous break area. There used to be a sense of grandeur to All-Star which unfortunately isn’t present in this title. Ultimate’s All-Star mode definitely captures the gauntlet essence that past All-Star modes failed to achieve, which is great to see. However, because you’re merely fighting all the characters on one stage with no rhyme or reason to the fisticuffs, I doubt I’ll return to this mode often. I respect the feeling it captures, but I do wish it was lovingly assembled the way past All-Star modes were. That said, even with all my attempts at the mode, I’ve only gotten through 35 of the fighters in one go. So, I’ll have to hop back in at least a few more times because I just can’t let this mode beat me–my ego just can’t take it!
Mob Smash and Training are just about par for the course, not requiring too much discussion. The former is far more streamlined than before, whereas the latter is filled with information that the most competitive Smash players in the room will appreciate. However, for the average player, training really won’t eat up much time, nor will Mob Smash. Both serve their purposes extremely well, and like classic mode, are perhaps the best permutations of their respective offerings. Mob Smash doesn’t make many changes from its past iterations, but not much needed to be changed there to be frank.
In addition to these various modes, Games & More houses Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s customization options. Firstly, like in Smash 4, the ability to create a custom Mii fighter has returned. This offering is much more fleshed out than it was before, with a variety of special moves to pick from (no longer tied to arbitrary custom move unlocks) and a cornucopia of costumes. Really, there are just a ton of aesthetic customizations here, not only generic looks (think pirate or knight-theming) but also classic character outfits. Mad that Isaac or Chibi-Robo aren’t playable fighters? No worries, just dress up your Mii’s to look like them. It isn’t a perfect solution, but with the wide range of appearances, it is worth dolling up a fighter in all three classics: Brawler, Gunner, and Swordfighter. In Smash 4, I paid this aspect of the game very little mind, but here in Ultimate, between the varying special moves and well-designed costumes, I fully intend on making some Miis and taking them to the battlefield.
The final element of this sub-menu is the amiibo support. While it seems that Switch-era Nintendo has by and large forgotten this oft-maligned NFC figure line by integrating the toys in only the most cursory manner, Sakurai and his team have woven them into the fabric of Ultimate in a big way. As a large proponent of amiibo (hell, there are about forty-five staring at me from my desk shelf) it is great to see these figures get some use. In fact, I think that Ultimate utilizes more of these figures than just about any other amiibo-compatible game Nintendo has released. Just about any amiibo will work in some capacity or another. For the purposes of this review, I tested Animal Crossing amiibo figures, Animal Crossing amiibo cards, amiibo trained in Smash 4, the Metroid amiibo, the Toad amiibo, the Toon Zelda amiibo, as well as an untouched Smash Ultimate Ridley figure. Essentially, amiibo can be divided into three distinct groups: those that unlock Spirits, those that unlock extras within the game, and those that can be used as Figure Players.
The former two groups are fairly self-explanatory. Figures that don’t correlate to fighters, such as the Metroid, Toad, and the Animal Crossing figures like Celeste, will unlock their corresponding in-game Spirit. Some, though, like the Timmy & Tommy figure will unlock other goodies, in the case of this particular figure, it unlocks their Spirit shop. Unfortunately, the amiibo cards released alongside Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer don’t function at all here, which is a bit of a disappointment, although totally understandable. By far the most useful amiibo are the certainly those which correspond to fighters, though.
Carried over from Smash 4 is the Figure Player system, where amiibo can be trained to become personalized, highly-skilled fighters. Any amiibo that has a corresponding character in Ultimate will work, including non-Smash series figures. So, for example, any Splatoon Inkling figure can be used to train an Inkling in lieu of the Smash series Inkling. Keep in mind, though, if you trained up a myriad of characters in Smash 4, they can be transferred over, but their levels will be reduced to get on parity with the new Ultimate characters, requiring you to still level-up previous favorites. Regardless, once you’ve picked a fighter to train, you simply scan the figure in, assign it an owner, give it a nickname and you’re off to the races. These fighters can be trained in a few different manners.
Firstly, and less interestingly, these amiibo can be leveled up by feeding them Spirits. Now, unless the spirit is a duplicate, I wouldn’t suggest you use that method, as at least in my case, I love collecting spirits too much to sacrifice them for amiibo experience. The far more engaging way to level an amiibo is through simply fighting against it in versus matches. The more you fight against it, the more skilled the amiibo will become, gradually inheriting aspects of your play style as it improves. There is a real satisfaction to seeing your amiibo learn to fight the way you do. Seeing my Ridley gradually use more grabs and up-tilts as I do in my own gameplay is novel, and really brings these amiibo to life. Unfortunately, my one main issue with amiibo in Smash persists, though, as outside of versus matches, the figures have very limited usage. I would love to be able to play through classic alongside an amiibo, for example. Regardless, the process of training the amiibo is engaging enough to assuage this complaint almost entirely. Still, it would’ve been nice to utilize these fighters more outside of just versus play.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate
The sum of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s parts is nothing short of excellent. From single-player to local multiplayer, there are very few flaws with the experience. Whether you’re hoarding spirits in World of Light, spiking your friends in a versus match of Smashdown, or running through Classic mode with your favorite fighter, there is no shortage of smart, creative action to be had. That said, in a game so well assembled, its lackluster online portion stands out even more starkly. However, when taking Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as a whole, that one blight does little to diminish the overall mastery on display. This is not a game Nintendo Switch owners should be caught without.