Real Talk By Zombie Zac
Let’s get right to it: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most refined, feature rich and polished version of Smash ever released. This was the expectation I had going in and Nintendo did not disappoint. There are now over 70 characters to choose from, over 100 stages with multiple forms, and a buffet of single player and multiplayer modes to consume every waking moment of your life. Nintendo has gone all out with this one and in many ways it is both the biggest celebration of the franchise and it’s natural conclusion.
With all previous characters returning all Smash fans can find their favorite and jump in. Because of this, Ultimate is the most inclusive the series has been. Nintendo has also gone out of their way to refine character movesets, tweaking even the smallest of details, to ensure that everything is as balanced as possible. Of course, Nintendo will be listening to the community and releasing patches as players find exploits. Nintendo has already patched Ultimate once within the first week of the release, which shows promise for a responsive relationship with the player base.
The stages are a massive undertaking, essentially incorporating everything old (and a few brand new) and updating them with the power of the Switch. The most significant upgrades are the 3DS levels, which not only have a massive resolution jump, but whole new textures, background objects and increased level geometry. While most stages are updated with new lighting systems, higher detail and a further refined art style, Nintendo kept a couple oldies very similar to their original presentation for a heart-warming nostalgic trip. As you would hope, Ultimate has a rock solid 60fps in 1080p docked and 720p in portable mode, giving the fluidity and clarity the series deserves.
Smash Bros. has always been a great party game and Ultimate is no exception. You can play with every controller you can literally think of. Single Joy Cons? Check. Two Joy Cons in a grip? Check. Pro Controller? Check. Gamecube Controller? With an adaptor, check. Third party Smash specific controllers from fight stick makers like Hori? Check. However you want to Smash, you can. Something to take note, the Switch sees a single Joy Con as 1 controller, so if you’re using two in a Grip it will see it as 2 controllers. This doesn’t matter unless you’re trying to play 8 player Smash, where you may need to break apart those Joy Cons to not go over the Switch’s wireless connection limit.
If you’re playing two player with another friend on your Switch you can both co-op through the Classic mode, team up online or duke it out in custom Smash battles. The Classic mode is the best way to unlock fighters. Yes, this time around the characters need to be unlocked, and it is one of the most satisfying things about the game. What’s great is when a challenger appears, the player who won the match is put up to the fight. These battles can be really challenging and my friend and I failed at them often on our first try. Thankfully there is a way to fight them again, found in the menus, so fear not if you do something stupid like roll off the stage in the first second (guilty).
Online co-op with a friend on the same Switch is a blast. You team up and take on random challengers who are also in co-op teams. In my 200+ online battles since launch I have seen a very mixed bag with online connections. The Nintendo Switch Online service is $20 a year so I don’t expect much— I know there won’t be many bells and whistles— but I do expect one of the biggest Nintendo franchises to, at the very least, play well. At launch, it did not. It was a slideshow, a nightmare to connect, and at times a completely shameful showing from Nintendo. Then, a few days later, a patch came out and massively improved my experience. Online has been mostly stable since then for me, with some stuttering here or there. I can accept some lag, but when the game pauses and everyone is frozen for multiple seconds, it kills the joy found in the frantic action.
Online play is divided into Quickplay and Arenas. Quickplay is as it sounds, the fastest way to get into a fight. You can set your ‘preferred’ rule set, but you’re not guaranteed to get those rules every round. Some may find that frustrating, but I think it’s a nice way of generally getting what you want with some curve ball surprises thrown in. If you really want to play Smash 1v1 or with no items consistently, you have to go into Arenas. You can create your own and make it friends only or public, or join others from a list that you can refresh. What is frustrating is if you want to play with your friend who is also online and playing Smash, there is no way to join their game, or to send an invite. You have to communicate with them outside of the Nintendo ecosystem and coordinate on what room to join, and that is just a ridiculous pain. That being said, I have had good luck in general with finding rooms and staying in them and playing. Up to four players can Smash, and then you can have the losers sit out the next round and spectate, and everyone takes turns. It’s surprisingly fun to spectate, so much so that Nintendo even included a Spectate only mode where you can watch battles from around the world and just leave Smash on your TV even when you’re not playing. Eat. Dream. Smash.
Online frustrations aside, there is no denying how incredible this game is. Nintendo might be behind the times with their online infrastructure and matchmaking, but it’s one of those things where the game is so fantastic you put up with it anyway. I guess such has always been the story with Nintendo with online, and somehow Nintendo continues to make up for these shortcomings by making games that transcend whole genres. That being said, it’s my hope that Nintendo continues to be vigilant and listens to player feedback to make the experience better over time. If you’re not playing online, none of this will ever matter to you and you can completely ignore these points. Regardless, there’s no denying that the Smash series has and will always be the best in the same room with with your friends, screaming, swearing and drinking… age appropriate beverages.
Thankfully, Ultimate presents a wholly engrossing single player mode called World of Light, alongside multiple challenge modes to fill your time when not playing with friends. World of Light has a massive world map and strings together a ton of small battles that are emulating different characters and scenarios from classic games of the past. It really is impressive how much the Smash rules can be stretched to create unique battle scenarios, and Nintendo have thought of it all. As you defeat enemies you collect their spirits, and those spirits will augment your character in ways to give an advantage for future fights. You can combine spirits, break down spirits, grind for spirits, buy spirits and sell spirits— There are over a thousand spirits and it is a crazy in-depth system. You can even set up load outs where you start with a laser gun and are extra fast, and use them in Smash battles with friends! This adds a whole other crazy level of depth not only just to World of Light but to main Smash battles themselves.
Besides spirits, there is also gold that is earned from battles and smash tickets– yes we’re talking multiple forms of in-game currency. Here’s when it starts to feel like Ultimate is bracing you for a redirect to the eShop and to suggest you to pay actual money for unlocks… but it never comes. That’s right, every single thing in the game can only be purchased from playing the game. In 2018, this is a defiant middle finger to how most all other publishers are adding more and more free to play monetization elements to full-priced $60 console games. Nintendo, as stubborn as they are sometimes, has a level of integrity and responsibility that reminds you how special they really are in today’s gaming landscape.
To round all this out, Nintendo has included tons of challenges, costumes, and music to unlock along the way. Speaking of music, there’s something like 900 songs spanning all the different franchises, and you can set up your own playlists and customize what songs play and at what frequency on what stage. You can even adjust the mix, adding more bass or treble. It is an astounding achievement to think about all the music in this game— Smash is not just an incredible fighter, or party game, or even a top-tier Nintendo game, but a timeless testament to videogame history. Unlocking that Symphony of the Night music was a particular highlight for me.
No matter how many words I type, I’m sure I’ll be leaving something out about about this game because even after 60 hours of playtime, I’m still finding new things to mess around with and do. That’s not even including trying to skill up with different fighters and explore the deeper fighting mechanics, or to get my global smash points up in Online. Even playing around in the menus is fun somehow. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate brings forward Nintendo’s vision of the Switch— play anywhere, with anyone, however you want— to complete fruition. The only question is where does series creator Masahiro Sakurai go from here? How can you out-ultimate, ultimate? If anybody knows how, it’s Nintendo.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate gets
5 out of 5
+Insane amount of content for single player and multiplayer
+Superb graphical and audio presentation
+Gameplay is refined to perfection
+Incredible homages to videogame history
-Online play and matchmaking can be frustrating, inconsistent