Super Smash Bros is a franchise pretty much everyone gets hype over. During the week since it released, it seems like everywhere I go I overhear bits of conversation about the latest in the series, Super Smash Bros Ultimate. It’s no big surprise. Smash Bros is probably the most accessible fighting series ever and contains characters that everyone loves.
Ultimate is the biggest Smash to date and contains almost every character and stage ever to grace the series in addition to new fighters and locales. In addition to the return of a single-player adventure mode, trophies have been replaced by almost 1,300 spirits which represent characters from across the gaming universe, and virtually any issue fans had with Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS has been rectified in Smash Ultimate.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Review – Look and Feel
At its core Smash Ultimate is just a refinement of the games that came before it. The base gameplay still centers around the same twitch fighting that made the original Smash Bros so famous. There have been minuscule adjustments along the way, but it again comes down to pummeling the other fighters until they blast off the side of the stage.
Smash has never looked better than it does in Ultimate, and the familiar fighters and stages you’ll encounter, as well as the new ones, all look great, especially considering the Switch’s hardware specs. The action on-screen is fast and smooth, at least offline, and no matter what stupendous acts of destruction were occurring on-screen, I never noticed any slowdown.
The controls are still tight and straightforward, though, you’ll likely prefer one control method over the others. I found the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller was much easier to pick up and play with than the Joy-Cons. The Joy-Cons, when detached and placed in their controller holder for TV mode, had an awkward feel in the hand when trying to fight in Smash. Though some swear by it, I also found playing in handheld mode to be subpar in comparison to the Pro Controller.
If you’re an old school Smash fan, you can also play using a GameCube-style controller. There are adapters that allow you to use the original GC pads and PowerA has put out both wired and wireless updates of the pad for Switch. I grabbed one of the wireless ones, and that quickly superseded the Pro Controller as my preferred way to play. Something about using a GameCube pad with Smash just feels right, but all of the methods were serviceable, except for using the individual Joy-Cons. You can technically use one Joy-Con per player, which is convenient if you’re bringing the system to a friend’s house or playing at a gathering, but it’s not ideal, and it’ll likely throw you off your game.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Review – Fighting Spirit
Arguably the most significant addition to Smash that comes with Ultimate is the Spirit system. There are two types of spirits you can collect: Primary and Support. You can equip one Primary Spirit and up to three Support Spirits to augments your fighter’s abilities and give them certain buffs. While Spirits are available to use in regular Smash Mode, they take center stage in Spirit Mode, the centerpiece of which is a new single-player adventure called World of Light.
The story in World of Light is simple. A force of Master Hands led by a big winged orb named Galeem descends upon the Smash universe and imprisons all its inhabitants, save for Kirby who manages to slip away. Galeem turns all the non-fighters of the universe into Spirits who then control puppet fighters constructed in the image of the playable characters in the game.
As World of Light starts, you only have access to Kirby and must traverse a vast map fighting battles to rescue spirits and break the Smash cast free from Galeem’s control. At certain points in the map, you’ll find spaces where you take on a Smash fighter, which plays out like Challenger Approaching battles. If you win, you can then select them to play as at any time.
There are a ton of fights you’ll have to take on in your quest to take down Galeem, and you’d think the whole thing would get repetitive. However, each match has its own theme that centers around the Spirit you’re fighting’s identity. The Boss from MGS3, for example, is repped by a silver-suited Zero Suit Samus and you compete in a version of Final Destination filled with flowers which brings to mind her final battle with Naked Snake.
Stage hazards also make things more interesting. Some fights might make a sharp wind blow, or make the stage turn upside down and the controls reverse. Fortunately, you can equip spirits that even the odds a bit. Support Spirits can give you buffs like starting battles with a particular item equipped, or nullifying specific stage effects.
There are tons of different branching paths on the World of Light map, and part of getting through it is making sure you have the Spirits that will give you a fair chance at winning. You may go down one path and hit a level filled with a poisonous cloud, in which case you may have to backtrack and take a different branch until you win a Spirit that can nullify poison. This makes the whole experience feel a lot more dynamic than just fighting battle after battle down a linear path.
Primary Spirits have a rock-paper-scissors relationship with each other that make them either stronger, weaker, or neutral to each other. This keeps you switching your Spirit team up since you can’t just stick with one powerful group the whole game without running into an enemy Spirit that has a type advantage over you. Luckily, for those who just want to fight, there’s also an auto-fill function that will choose a team “best-suited” to the fight you’re about to get into. However, you’ll want to double-check your team composition before you start the battle because sometimes it makes weird choices.
Aside from defeating them in World of Light, you can get Spirits in numerous other ways in Smash Ultimate. You can buy them from the World of Light stores or the in-game store, get them for completing achievements, defeating classic mode, and for pretty much anything else you do in-game. With around 1,300 Spirits available the game is very liberal with handing them out, though for the higher level Ace and Legend spirits you’ll have to put in some work.
There was one thing that bugged me throughout World of Light, which isn’t as prevalent in other modes. For some reason, the AI just seems unable to cope with elevation changes in some stages. Flat areas like Final Destination are fine, but on stages like Port Town Aero Dive and Halberd, sometimes the AI seems to just not get that the stage is changing. Tough fights against Legend spirits that took me multiple tries would abruptly end as the AI just kinda fell off the edge of the level before the match even really got going.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Review – Respect the Classics
The other major single-player mode is oddly listed under the “Games and More” menu. Classic Mode follows the familiar pattern of past games with each character having seven stages (including one bonus stage) to fight through capped with a boss at the end. Each character’s path is based on the games they star in or an aspect of their personality. So, Simon Belmont, for example, has fights reminiscent of the Castlevania series, with Dracula serving as his final boss.
A new introduction in Classic Mode is the Intensity Meter. When you start, you can choose how high you want to set the meter, and the higher you place it, the greater the rewards you’ll reap by fighting your way through it. However, the AI gets harder the higher the meter is set, so the challenge is in finding the sweet spot so you can maximize your rewards without getting your butt kicked.
After each fight, the intensity meter raises a bit, which makes each battle a little harder than the last. If you lose, you can use an item or spend a little gold to get back in the fight. When you use a continue, though, your score is reset, and the intensity lowers a bit, which reduces your possible rewards.
The adaptive difficulty of Classic Mode makes it a great place to test your mettle, and the rewards you reap make it worth playing. To get each characters Spirit, you have to play through Classic Mode, and it’s a bit faster to unlock characters through this mode than it is in World of Light. This mode’s simple approach of each character having a linear path makes it a great choice when you just want to jump in for some single-player action.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Review – Missed Connections
Nintendo has lagged behind the competition when it comes to online functionality, and it was hoped with the launch of the recent Nintendo Online paid service that would be a thing of the past. However, from my experience with Smash, Nintendo still has a long way to go.
To play online in Smash, you have to subscribe to the $20 a year Nintendo Online service. Otherwise, you’re barred from cloud saving and online multiplayer. The online options themselves are adequate. You can set a preferred ruleset and hit Quick Play, and the matchmaking will try and pair you with players who desire a similar approach, in which case you’ll end up in a game fitting your preferences. Getting you in a game quick is the matchmaking’s priority, though, so sometimes you’ll find yourself in a match with rules completely counter to the ones you’ve set as your preferred. If you want to get in a match that’s entirely to your liking, you can create a public arena and wait for players to join. You also can set an arena to private, so just those you invite can join.
Where online falls apart, though, isn’t in the presentation, it’s in the performance. Smash Bros Ultimate uses a peer-to-peer system for matches, so you’re pretty much at the mercy of each player’s internet connection. P2P multiplayer is never preferred, but it wouldn’t be absolutely terrible if not for the Switch’s hardware. The Switch’s onboard Wi-Fi stinks, this is a well-known aspect of the system. For turn-based games or those where player input timing isn’t crucial, this is more annoying than anything. However, for a fighting game like Smash Ultimate, input lag and stutter is game-breaking.
At this point, whether or not you’ll get into a functional match is a crapshoot. Sometimes, I’ll find a game where everything is smooth as butter. Other times, the game will become a stuttering mess or the whole match will start acting like it’s in slow-mo. Using a USB-to-Ethernet adapter seems to help somewhat, but since most Switch players are likely unaware that you can use an adapter, or play in handheld mode where Wi-Fi is the only option, you never know how performance is going to be during a match.
I’m not sure why Nintendo cheaped out and went with P2P networking for this game. You’d think that some of the profit from charging for Nintendo Online would go towards building out some sort of server infrastructure to allow for dedicated hosting. Even under the best circumstances, peer-to-peer wouldn’t be ideal for a game like Smash Ultimate, and with how unreliable the Switch’s Wi-Fi hardware is, it’s a catastrophic choice.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Review – Ultimate Smash Hit
Super Smash Bros Ultimate rectifies the issues I had with the relatively content bare Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS. I haven’t been a huge fan of the games since Melee, and Ultimate has definitely won me back by the combination of awesome fighting and having a ton of things to do. I miss the trophies, but the Spirits make up for it by having such variety and actual in-game applications.
The only things that mar the release of Smash Ultimate are the wholly inadequate network infrastructure Nintendo has provided for the game, which makes playing online an exercise in frustration, and the at times subpar AI. Fortunately, the fundamentals of the game are rock solid, so hopefully, Nintendo will rectify these issues in future patches. However, right now, I’d hold off if you planned on spending most of your time with the game online. It’s the best single-player Smash to date, and still retains the fantastic couch co-op the series is known for, but only time will tell if online functionality catches up to the rest of the game.