Super Smash Bros. has been a game series that’s drawn quite a lot of attention ever since its impressive commercials back in the 90’s. While the song, “So Happy Together” may no longer be representative of the tone of Smash Bros, the latest iteration, Super Smash Bros: Ultimate, attempts to revisit everything that made the series great, and then add even more on top of it. So, does Saffron City returning and the Belmont’s inclusion make this game the pinnacle in the franchise? Let’s find out.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a 2D fighting game that features the ability for players to smack Mario with Peach, only for her to get blown up by a Bob-Omb tossed by Sonic, who in turn gets hit by a baseball bat from Bayonetta. The concept, even back in 1999, was absurd, and featured items, characters, and stages from gaming’s most beloved franchises all in one package. Over the years, this package became more and more bloated, to the point where characters that were seemingly superfluous at the time, such as Young Link or Pichu, were cut. Smash Bros. Ultimate stands to rectify all of those misgivings; mains of Young Link, rejoice! Your boy has returned, alongside Ice Climbers, Solid Snake, Pokemon Trainer, and more! Featuring a staggering 73 characters (or only 69 if you don’t count Echo Fighters, who are essentially clones with few differences), 103 stages, and over 800 music tracks, Smash Bros Ultimate definitely crams a lot onto a tiny Switch cartridge.
A standout from other 2D fighting games, Super Smash Bros., as a series, largely plays like a party game, what with its stage hazards, items, and the ability for up to 8 people to play simultaneously. Players don’t attempt to deplete an opponent’s HP or health bar in order to win. Instead, you rack up damage by attacking and using throws, and accumulated damage makes characters more easily launched. A character with high damage can be thrown or hit off of the stage until they fly off-screen, KO’ing them and causing them to lose points or a stock (think of stocks as extra lives. If you run out, you lose).
This system of building up percent damage makes the dynamic of Smash Bros. unlike any other fighting game out there- you can still do combos and rack up damage by applying pressure, but stage control, what players will call neutral, and edge-guarding are inextricably linked to Smash play. Sheik may have a hard time KO’ing foes outright, but she can more easily knock an opponent off the stage and then skillfully prevent them from climbing back onto the platform, securing KO’s in that fashion. Other characters may be extremely difficult to edge guard with, such as Chrom, who has a very hard time chasing horizontally off the platform, so with that character you’ll prefer to get your kills on stage or right off the ledge, rather than venturing out into the abyss to secure a kill.
The playable modes in Smash Bros. Ultimate consist of Smash mode, which is essentially versus mode, where you can play against computer controller opponents, or your friends. Time battles are won by the player who attains the most KO’s by the time limit, while stock battles are won by the last player standing, who didn’t lose his or her last stock. Stamina battles play out more like your traditional fighting game, with a set amount of HP that players drain, rather than entirely focusing on pushing each other off the stage for the win. There’s a variety of other, special modes that can be toggled in Special Smash, such as making a battle where everyone is giant and begins with flowers on their heads that inflict damage at a constant rate. Classic Mode makes a return, but now with special paths for each character- such as Luigi fighting characters that would give him nightmares culminating in a boss fight with Dracula. Classic mode is full of creatively flavorful stuff, and it’s especially nice now that it isn’t each character playing through the exact same battles.
One of the main draws of Smash Ultimate, however, is World of Light mode, which takes the place of the Adventure mode. World of Light has far fewer cutscenes than Subspace Emissary (Brawl’s Adventure mode), but has substantially more content: A single run of World of Light will clock you somewhere between 30 and 35 hours, which is unheard of for a fighting game. The mode plays very similarly to Event mode from previous Smash games, just with tons of more content. You initially start off only controlling Kirby, who ventures through a strange, new world releasing the other fighters from the evil Galeem’s control.
Battles will have a variety of different conditions, and you can equip spirits to increase your overall ‘power’ level or to combat negative effects such as lava floors, turbulent winds, and reversing controls. Primary spirits have an overall power level that can increase your attack and defense, plus slots that let you carry additional effects into battle with you. Later in the mode, you’ll be able to create adorable synergies such as starting off with a Star Rod each combat, as well as 2 boosts to your battering items damage. Or, if you just want to brute force everything, use a spirit that makes you Giant with Super Armor or Unflinching Charged Smashes and spam your way to victory.
The conditions of World of Light are what make it fun, as you can find a variety of battles while going from area to area, unlocking new fighters to play as. While it can be frustrating to encounter extremely difficult battles without the character you may be best with, most of the harder fights are actually optional and you can easily go around them instead of being a requirement for progression, so you can just come back once you get better spirits (but for those of you who absolutely have to beat the hardest obstacles the first time you encounter them, Bowser’s Down Special attack works against almost everything. Fiora, Wily, almost everything. Just a tip). The mode does come dangerously close to overstaying its welcome, even with someone who enjoyed it, though- by the time I unlocked the True Ending challenge, I was quite relieved to see the end credits because the last area had been a pretty big chore as I had my favorite character and spirit combination set in stone for hours already.
Beyond World of Light, spirits are also used in the Spirit Board mode. On this board, a variety of challenges exist that may not even be featured in World of Light- some may even be more challenging than what the aforementioned Adventure mode has! This mode is essentially a replacement for Smash 4’s Master and Crazy Orders mode, just with an RPG-lite mechanic of the spirits thrown in. Spirits can also be used in regular Smash bouts in versus mode, which can be fun even if messily balanced, though a strong spirit can be used as a decent handicap for a new player at the game, as spirit levels can influence damage dealt and received. There are also Challenges that players can complete which provide an additional thing for completionists to do (as well as an excuse to try out a character you otherwise wouldn’t have touched).
With the majority of the modes out of the way, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room: The Online mode. Players can choose to play online or in local wireless battles, and players can play with randoms or friends. To play with friends, you’ll be using the strangely obfuscated Battle Arena system which makes a continuous lobby for you and your friends to join. You set your rules, and people searching for arenas can find yours if your visible is set properly. To battle against anyone and everyone, you set what you want your rules to be, then select Quick Play. After an update, it’s much easier to get the rule set you wanted- if you searched for 1v1, no items, and specific stages, you will get 1v1, no items, and stages will be a compromise between both parties (so don’t expect to get Final Destination every single time, Little Mac and Chrom players, as it will likely alternate). Searching 4 player free for all with no items oddly has a reasonable number of players specifically searching for that as well, free for alls with all items and scrolling stages only, you name it, there’s tons of people playing practically everything.
Connectivity is… well, it’s fine if you have a LAN adapter. You’ll always have people playing with potato Internet, but the input lag is actually fairly low when you and your opponent use a wired connection for Switch online play- which makes it more of a shame that a LAN adapter didn’t come right out of the box. Playing undocked on 5GHz wireless isn’t terrible either, but nothing is going to help if your opponent is dropping packets like crazy because they’re using 2.4GHz through four walls, though it’s a lot easier to find people with reasonable connections in 1v1 play.
The visuals for Smash Ultimate are some of the best looking on the Switch. Many of the stages have a new coat of paint to make them presentable for the HD era and the fighters look superb in the new lighting engine, even if colors are a bit more subdued in this iteration than in previous Smashes. The music in Super Smash Bros only gets better in each iteration, and Ultimate retains tons of tracks from previous games and introduces many new- reading a new soundtrack size of over 800 songs. With a plethora of songs from 3rd party franchises (except Final Fantasy, for some reason), and tons of excellent remixes from Vampire Killer to the new Gangplank Galleon remix from Donkey Kong Country, there’s a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in one little Switch cartridge.
Overall: This is the ultimate edition of Smash Bros. No joke, there’s basically everything that every person has ever loved about the series- all of the characters, almost all of the stages, and almost all of the musical tracks from each iteration of Smash is present in one package. Combat focuses on being faster than previous iterations, with reduced end lag on aerials, punishments for rampant rolling and air dodging, all pushing toward faster, more frenetic gameplay. If you’ve enjoyed a past Smash iteration, enjoy fighting games, or maybe just want an entertaining party game, Super Smash Bros Ultimate has plenty to keep you busy even without including online play into the mix. This game is a strong recommendation for anyone with a Nintendo Switch.