Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review — World of Fight
With a massive roster, tons of customization, and more fan service than you can ever imagine, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the series in near-perfect form.
When I think back on the original Super Smash Bros., I reflect back to when I was a kid, roughly around elementary/middle school age, and when I would play that Nintendo 64 classic endlessly. Those where the days when after getting home from school, I would spend hours in a bean bag chair in the basement, N64 controller in hand, and continue battling it out match-after-match against the Nintendo characters that I knew and loved. Whether I played as my favorite characters like Link or Ness, or spent hours mastering the art of perfectly landing a Falcon Punch or Jigglypuff’s Rest, Super Smash Bros. and its 12-character roster, at the time, felt like a Nintendo fan’s dream come true…or at the very least my own.
In the span of almost two decades, it’s incredible to look back and think of where the series started and where it compares now with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fifth installment in Nintendo’s massive fighting game franchise that draws nearly all of its characters together, along with plenty of new challengers that have appeared. While I think back on the fact that I’m now far closer to adulthood than I am from my childhood and when I first played the N64 original, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate recaptures that same sensation that I had as a kid of seeing my favorite characters duke it out and then some.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, like its name implies, is anything and everything that a Nintendo fan could want not only from the series as a whole, but from its meticulous details and features that are drawn from across the entire Nintendo catalog of characters, places, and memories. While a few nagging features hold it back from perfection, Ultimate comes pretty darn close to being the perfect Smash Bros. game, and at the very least is a game that I can’t imagine any Switch owner going without adding to their roster of games to play with friends for years to come.
Coming just about four years after the release of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U, the focus of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is placed on the fact that “everyone is here,” with the game bringing together every playable character that has ever appeared in a Smash Bros. game alongside a small (but notable) collection of characters that are brand new to the series, including several long-requested fan favorites. From series’ veterans like Mario and Link, to third-party characters like Snake and Cloud, to the roster of newcomers such as the Inklings, King K. Rool, and Ridley, there’s no denying that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has a little bit of something for everyone, whether this is your first game in the series or (like me) you’ve been playing them all since the series’ humble beginnings.
As far as the core gameplay of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate goes, little has changed surrounding the basic idea that you and a group of friends (or CPUs) gather together on the battlefield and try to knock your other opponents off the stage to be the last one standing (or rack up the most KOs). However, while Ultimate doesn’t make any drastic changes to the gameplay formula that has kept players smashing for nearly two decades, the experience feels even deeper thanks to the game’s massive roster (and as a result, the many different fighting styles) that players have at their disposal.
With a total of 70+ characters currently in the game — not counting the upcoming arrival of Piranha Plant and DLC characters like Persona 5‘s Joker — Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a feast of different combat styles for players to experiment with. While plenty of characters like Mario, Link, and Pit offer playstyles that are a bit more well-rounded and versatile, playing as each and every character to discover their strengths, weaknesses, and very particular movesets feels incredibly rewarding, especially once you land on your “mains” that you might favor over other fighters.
A large part of that sense of discovery can be drawn from the brand new fighters that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate introduces, many of whom I think are some of the most varied and enjoyable fighters to play as yet. Characters like King K. Rool and Ridley not only have been long-requested by the Smash Bros. fan community, but add some welcome variety to the class of heavyweight characters. The Inklings from Splatoon bring one of the most unique fighting styles to the table centered around the use of their paint-based weaponry, while Castlevania‘s Simon Belmont (and his Echo Fighter, Richter) utilizes a combination of powerful projectiles and deadly ranged weapons to make him formidable at a distance, at the expense of mobility and recovery.
While the new fighters in Ultimate bring plenty of variety to the roster, many of the series’ veteran characters have also gotten some mechanical tweaks and changes that almost make them feel new again and worth replaying for longtime fans of the series. Link, for example, donning his appearance from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, now has remote bombs in place of his explosives from previous titles, along with his grapple hook being removed for a more traditional grab. Ganondorf has also gotten some new abilities to distance him a bit more from Captain Falcon’s moveset, while characters that have been away from the fight for a while, such as Metal Gear Solid‘s Snake, have been welcomed back to Ultimate with a few new tweaks and changes from when we last saw them.
Though the roster now encompasses an intimidating number of characters, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hasn’t forgotten that the heart of the experience is simply about the fun of seeing these characters duke it out together in fantastical settings. As the series has ebbed and flowed from the more competitive, fast-paced experience of Melee to the slowed-down, more accessible gameplay of Brawl, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has found just the right balance of gameplay that gives the series’ most devoted fans what they want from a Smash Bros. title, while not straying away from those that simply just want to play the game with friends without the stress of competition at higher-level play.
Mechanically speaking, Ultimate definitely feels like a bump up from the last installments of the series on Wii U and 3DS in terms of technique and the range of combat options at players’ disposals. While it still doesn’t quite stack up to the momentum of a match in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Ultimate feels like a solid middle ground between that game and the recent Smash Bros. titles by reintroducing some of the more technical components of the series like directional air-dodging, perfect shielding, and more. Even aside from these mechanical changes and tweaks, presentation-wise Ultimate adds a number of small (but appreciated) new details to the gameplay mix. This includes a new (optional) window that pops up when a fighter is knocked off-stage that shows their character’s distance in relation to the stage, while an awesome new slo-mo, zoom-in effect occurs when a player lands a finishing KO on another combatant, giving a nice sense of feedback to finally besting a tough opponent.
Outside of the enhanced character roster and bevy of new features and options, one of the biggest additions for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the new “Spirits Mode,” which brings players into a massive RPG-esque mode that is focused around the collection of “Spirits” representing different characters from across the Nintendo universe (and beyond). In a similar vein to the Subspace Emissary campaign from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the centerpiece of Spirits Mode is the World of Light story campaign, where players start out as Kirby (clearly the GOAT in the Smash Bros. universe) and traverse a massive world map to take on a variety of battles, free the captive Spirits of other fighters, and even engage with several climactic boss battles.
The core experience of World of Light in a lot of ways feels like a blend of Adventure Mode and Events Mode in past Smash Bros. titles, with the idea being that players engage in battles with dozens of different characters from Nintendo franchises (and other outside gaming franchises as well), whether that’s well-known faces like Rayman, Bomberman, or Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, to far more obscure characters pulled from the deepest cuts of Nintendo’s history. Each of these characters is represented by a Spirit, which essentially takes the place of the collectible Trophies from past titles, but adds the ability for players to level them up and enhance their powers over time.
Given that most of these characters don’t actually appear as playable fighters (or even as Assist Trophies), the Spirits that you are fighting against are instead represented in clever ways through the playable fighters, Assist Trophies, items, and stages available in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This makes each fight in World of Light incredibly unpredictable, but a lot of fun to discover how each character is represented in-game. For example, a fight against Pokemon‘s Latios & Latias has players taking on a red and blue Charizard at once, while the Bomberman fight puts players to the test against Young Link, the Bomberman Assist Trophy, and a ton of different bomb items constantly spewing across the map. Likewise, the fight against Metal Gear Solid‘s Otacon tests your abilities against a black-suited Dr. Mario and a sleek grey R.O.B., among the dozens of other battles that World of Light will put you through against its dizzying number of Spirit Battles.
While World of Light is a lengthy endeavor that will take players upwards of 15-20 hours (or more) to complete, the creativity of each fight makes its slightly repetitive nature worth your while, especially for the sheer delight of seeing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate draw from the deepest wells of Nintendo fandom. Many of the characters referenced in World of Light are the kinds that only the hardest of hardcore fans of Nintendo’s numerous franchises would recognize, and while some of the fights can feel a little cheap or unnecessarily difficult (especially the 1v4 battles), World of Light at least offers a welcome change of pace from the core multiplayer focus of Smash Bros.
Outside of Spirits Mode, Classic Mode also returns to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with a bit of a remixed formula. While the basic structure remains where players go through a series of matches against opposing fighters, this time around Classic Mode is curated a bit more to each specific character with themed matches and encounters, making it less of a slog if you’re trying to get through Classic Mode with every single character. Likewise, other mainstay modes like All-Star Smash and Cruel Smash also return with some welcome changes but are no less of a challenge than when they first made their appearance in the series.
That isn’t to say that Ultimate has run out of ideas for new gameplay modes though, as the game introduces some welcome new modes with interesting twists to the traditional Smash Bros. format. Squad Strike is among the new multiplayer modes that effectively blends Smash Bros. with a Marvel vs. Capcom-like experience, giving players the option of either 3v3 or 5v5 battles with tag-team-style gameplay. The Smashdown Mode, in particular, is one that I think Smash Bros. players should regularly put into rotation, as it gradually eliminates characters from the roster after each round, forcing players to get outside of their comfort zones and having to select new characters to challenge their opponents with.
Alongside the larger changes and new modes and features that have been added in Ultimate, there are also dozens of smaller quality-of-life adjustments and tweaks the game makes that will especially be appreciated by longtime series’ fans. One of the most notable is the fact that Smash Mode now offers the ability for players to create their own own custom rule presets, making it a breeze to select a game type — whether that’s timed matches, stock matches, or otherwise — and hop into battles right away without fumbling through the menus to change options.
However, I wish the same could be said for the game’s assortment of maps, with the collection now spanning over 100 in total. This time around, players have the choice of playing Normal, Battlefield, and Omega (aka “Final Destination”) versions of each map, giving some welcome variety to where you choose to fight. In my many hours with Smash Mode however, I wish choosing maps before each match had a more elegant solution to picking them (such as organizing them by type or game franchise) than either scrolling through each small map tile in the hopes of finding the specific one that I wanted to play, or just giving up and choosing to play a random map.
Though Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is impressive in scope, detail, and the sheer breadth of options that it offers to players, a few nagging issues hold the game back from being a perfect culmination of the series as a whole. Notably, that is apparent from the beginning with the fact that the game’s roster starts out with just eight fighters: the series’ original characters of Mario, Link, Kirby, Pikachu, Samus, Fox, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi. After that, players will have to go through and unlock the remaining 60+ characters through a few different methods, whether that’s through playing the World of Light campaign, Classic Mode, or playing an abundance of Smash Mode matches.
The new character unlock system for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is one that I’m sure will be divisive among fans of the series, and one that I’ve been conflicted on myself. In the past, typically each Smash Bros. game offered a fairly sizable roster of characters to draw from and play with, while the remaining characters required more specific ways to unlock them across the various game modes. Generally speaking, this system gave players a decent enough stable of characters to start out with, while taking the time to then fill out the rest of the roster over time. This time around though, players in Ultimate will probably have to put in around 10 hours or so just to unlock the full roster, which may come as a disappointment to those looking to hop into the action with their friends right away.
However, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s method of character unlocks, as limiting as it may be at first, does carry with it a sense of reward and accomplishment over time. As I started to unlock new characters, it gave me the chance to really go back and see the major and minor changes that been made to long-standing vets like Mario or Link, and to hop back into matches with characters that I never really clicked with like Snake or Palutena. So while there is a give-and-take at play in having to unlock the majority of the game’s roster, there also comes with it a chance to really branch out and get a deeper appreciation of each character’s playstyle.
The other major component that fans will likely find hit or miss is the online experience of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Though the online components and matchmaking have come a long way from when the series first dabbled with online modes in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the integration of Nintendo Switch Online is a slightly better (but still not ideal) solution for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Notably, input lag is still very prevalent despite the shift to a paid online service on Nintendo’s part, and with a game like Smash Bros. that demands precision and fast reflexes, succumbing to network lag and delayed inputs is a major challenge if you’re looking to get competitive against others worldwide.
At its best, the online portion of Ultimate proves inconsistent in delivering a steady connection, with some matches having little lag in the way of victory, while others made it incredibly difficult just to get through a match. It’s still an improvement, for sure, over Brawl and the Wii U/3DS games’ online offerings, but not the monumental shift that I was hoping for from both more capable hardware and a newly-invigorated online system from Nintendo. The online functionality is serviceable and gets the job done, but local multiplayer is still where Smash shines the brightest and where (I think) Ultimate players will probably find the most enjoyment from the game.
Despite these few weak points in Ultimate‘s design, the game more than makes up for that in how it looks and plays. Combining the best of both worlds from the spectacle of the console Smash Bros. titles with the convenience and accessibility of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, having the ability to play Smash Bros. in any setting — and have it look as good as it does — is a marvel, thanks to Ultimate‘s wealth of playability and control options. Whether in handheld mode or surrounded by friends on a big-screen TV, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate looks incredible and has little in the way of visual impairments to slow it down with its smooth and precise gameplay. The character roster comes alive with tons of expression and impressive details, and the maps are all full of life from the series that they are based on.
Likewise, the controls and responsiveness in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate feel as tight as the series has ever felt, and with so many different control options available between the Switch Joy-Con, Pro Controller, and GameCube Controller support, players will easily be able to hop into the battle. While I had a preference for playing Ultimate with the Pro Controller on a bigger screen as opposed to using the Joy-Con, having the ability to play Smash on-the-go and throw down a match wherever you want — as I did just a week ago at a bar with friends — feels just as satisfying as playing on the big screen.
While the saying goes that “bigger” isn’t necessarily “better,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is one of those very few exceptions and is truly the complete package for Smash Bros. fans. As the culmination of a series that has been seen on nearly every Nintendo console for almost 20 years, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate successfully delivers a comprehensive Nintendo history lesson, one of the largest rosters ever built for a fighting game, a vast amount of content for players to dive into, and of course, the sheer delight of its endlessly playable multiplayer matches. Where the series goes from here is unknown, or if it will even continue given how exhaustively that Ultimate collects everything from Smash Bros.‘s past. However, there’s no denying that Super Smash Ultimate, despite its few flaws, truly earns its title.