Developed By: Bandai Namco Studios, Sora Ltd
Published By: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
*Disclaimer: This reviewer has no prior experience to Smash Games*
I’ll just get this straight out of my head, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is amazing.
Not exactly how I would start a game review but I just can’t stop feeling good about this game. It is just simply phenomenal. I have never been this addicted to a fighting game for such a long time. I have experience playing a number of well-established fighting game franchises but the Smash series is one I have no prior experience in. When Ultimate was announced for the Switch, I knew this was the chance for me to get a taste of Nintendo’s most lauded fighting game. The word Ultimate isn’t just a fancy title, it is a reflection of what the scope this game wants to show and they certainly have achieved it.
Massive and nothing but massive
The first thing that anyone would notice is definitely the massive roster. Ultimate boasts 74 playable characters at launch. That is huge for any fighting game standards. All of the characters from previous Smash games make a return with the exception of 6 of them that are brand new. If you have past experience with Smash games, then many of your favourites are back and looking better than ever. That said, while there are a plethora of options to choose from, you only have 8 to select when you boot up the game. It is worth noting that the starting 8 is the exact same roster for the first Smash game that was released in 1999. While the huge roster can be intimidating at first that amount is bloated due to the introduction of Echo Fighters. These are fighters that are notable enough to earn a spot in the roster but share the same moveset with another character, for example, Ryu and Ken, Samus and Dark Samus. In addition to the existing roster, Assist Trophies while not playable do add up to the massive number of characters that are involved in Ultimate. These characters act like summons which once picked up during a fight will assist you in fighting off your opponents.
While the roster is huge, not many characters made the cut and so many would appear in the form of Spirits which you can equip to gain benefits such as extra attacks with weapons or add more weight to the character which will slow the movement speed but makes you less vulnerable of getting launched. Nonetheless, you will only make use of Spirits through Ultimate’s adventure mode called Spirits Mode which is a brand new.
Accompanying the huge roster is the massive amount of stages that are available. There are a total of 103 playable stages and each with its own unique design and special mechanics. For instance, in Midgard, you can pick up a Materia which can call forth a Summon and rain destruction on the stage or in Summit where the frozen over stage will melt over time with a giant fish underneath ready to gobble you up. These mechanics or Stage Hazards, while they seem awesome to see does not add much to the experience as it can break up the fun during a fight. Thankfully the option to turn them off is included. Along with the stages comes the huge library of music from various franchises that are part of the Smash universe ranging from the Guile theme to Snake Eater. There are a total of 1034 and many of them are remixed of tracks from previous Smash titles. For those that love to listen to those notable ones from these franchises will be thrilled with the list.
World of Light and more
Ultimate’s new mode, Spirits Mode acts as the game’s single-player story mode. The narrative is pretty light though. You have a boss that is the embodiment of light and decides to capture and imprison all of the characters and clone an army out of them save Kirby as the sole survivor. It is from there that your journey in World of Light begins as you traverse through an overworld map where you will free the aforementioned Spirits as well as awaken the rest of the captured characters. This also one of the few ways that you will unlock some of the characters to be available to play in other modes.
The fights in World of Light are diverse ranging from differently set parameters which range from fun and challenging to downright frustrating and unfair (unless you turn down the difficulty through the options menu). Some challenges have you fighting with a bunch of Snakes and a Dr.Mario while trying to dodge a laser cannon that will be shot by a ship in the background. It is truly a world of frustration especially when you have little to no knowledge on how to actually make use of the moveset or tools for a selected character. Took me numerous tries before I overcame that fight. Nonetheless, the challenge itself actually gave me the opportunity to understand the strengths of my chosen character and make use of it during the fight. The beauty of World of Light is that it provides enough story for players to be engaged in and understand as it is not overcomplicated and made accessible to everyone especially newcomers to the series.
Other modes that are present are Smash which is where you can set up 1 vs 1 or tourney style matches. The mode also provides a variety of options and rules which can be tweaked to your liking such as changing damage handicap to enabling the use of Spirits and many more. While Spirits Mode and Smash Modes would provide much entertainment, there are other two modes that are oddly tucked away under a different submenu. Classic Mode is pretty much Smash’s own Arcade mode with its own twist whereas Mob Smash has you battling waves of opponents.
In Classic Mode, you get to set the Intensity which changes the outcome of the challenge for each battle. There is also a side scrolling mini game after a boss fight which does add some nuances. Each character you choose has different paths that lead to its own personal boss fights. Considering the size of the roster, that’s a lot of paths for players to play through. Mob Smash has 3 modes namely Century, All-Star and Cruel. While they sound different in name, they’re essentially just a difference in difficulty. There is also a training mode which is pretty much of what you come to expect for such a mode. Personally, I felt running Mob Smash was a better training ground as I am able to test out each move for characters to see how effective they are in an actual battle scenario. Nonetheless, to each their own on how one should hone their skills for a specific character.
Simplicity with depth
Fighting games rarely feel accessible and welcoming to new players. They either have characters with a huge list of moves or mechanics that feel complex to grasp. Both of which can feel intimidating for new players to jump right into. Super Smash Brothers Ultimate has both things handled well. Firstly, you only have 3 buttons that correspond to attacks while the other 3 is meant for jumping, blocking and grabbing. Each button consists of a different move base on the directional movement that is pressed along. Example pressing the forward button with the attack button produces a different move compared to when pressing the attack button on neutral stance.
The simple button configuration coupled with an easy to grasp moveset allows players especially newcomers to ease in without worrying of the need to go into the intricate details of performing each move. Nonetheless, this does not mean the enthusiast or the veterans are ignored, the game is still a fighting game by heart and thus frame data and working combos can still be found in this game. Ultimate is built with parties in mind hence having fun casual matches can still be achieved without the need of knowing the technical aspects.
Smashing but not perfect
While I do sing praise towards Ultimate, it still has some rough edges which are prominent enough to be pointed out.
Firstly, when playing in a match that consists of 3 or more characters, the camera would start to zoom out with the intention of giving a better view of the whole battlefield. While this is fine in docked mode, playing through it in handheld can be difficult to adjust. Due to the size of the Switch screen, there is a good chance you would lose track of your character especially when the fighting gets real busy and fast. I do understand to compensate for that, there is an indicator on top of each character to tell which is which but still does not solve the issue completely as even the indicators get overlapped. While this may seem like a tiny issue which just needs time to get used to, it does produce some frustrating scenarios when you would see your character get smashed out of the arena before you even realized how it happened. Hence it’s best to be played in the docked mode when you are having a couple friends over for a play session.
Secondly, while the experience of playing the single player mode as well as the local multiplayer mode has been a blast, it is hard to say the same for the online portion. Online Multiplayer has often been the subject of criticism on many fighting games due to various issues on netcodes. Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is unfortunately not spared from the major criticism that it is currently receiving. Hours of trying out the Online mode was not pleasant as I have to endure constant issues with lag and when the connection is slightly better, I will be facing off with someone that is vastly more experienced in the game. There were no options to set the matchmaking based on the same connection quality or of the same skill level. It’s disappointing to see that the matchmaking options for the Online Mode were not expanded upon.
Even though there is a Battle Arena Mode which you can create a room or join a public one, there is no guarantee that you will be getting what you want. Setting up a room with the setup of Beginner’s Only skill level does not mean pro players cannot enter nor does it mean joining a public room would mean they have the set rules you prefer. What’s worse is if the matchmaking system could not find an appropriate match based on your Preferred Rules, you will be dumped into any rooms regardless of rules set. This still happens even after the latest 1.2.0 Update that was released.
On the subject of netcodes, Ultimate clearly suffers from this as well. Many of my matches can be best described as unevenly smooth. I would experience seconds or even up to a minute pauses as I pull off moves. Sometimes, I would be chaining combos together and on the offensive only to end up suddenly being on the receiving end of a trashing after the short pauses. The netcode clearly is struggling to catch up in each of the matches that I have played so far. It truly is a shame that the game is doing so well in many aspects but just downright bad in its Online Mode.
Final (Smashing) thoughts
Super Smash Brothers Ultimate clearly lives up to that Ultimate name. The game is a well packaged game that oozes polished gameplay and well thought out mechanics and content. It is indeed a greatest hits collection that encompasses what is the best the series has offered thus far and adding it even more here. If you have been playing Smash since the beginning then Ultimate is just more Smash goodness. However, for newcomers to the series, this is the best entry to start off.
Despite the shortcomings in the Online Mode and the handheld multiplayer fights, Ultimate clearly is the best Switch game if not the best fighting game to have come along in 2018.