By Alex Irish / December 21st, 2018
The stages themselves didn’t get the exact courtesy of “every one ever” that the characters did, with some popular past ones left behind for reasons unknown. But with over 100 stages in the base game, it’s hard to complain through the sheer choice available. Disappointingly, there are only four genuinely new stages, including a stunning rendition of Breath of the Wild‘s Great Plateau Tower and the gothic Dracula’s Castle. They’re interesting, creative, and tap new worlds and franchises not seen in past Smash Bros. games but more new ones would be appreciated. It’s a shame not to see new interpretations of untapped game locales from other popular Nintendo franchises after all past Smash games gave at least one new stage for the likes of Pokémon and Metroid. The way that the older stages were remade from the ground up can be surmised as making up for this absence.
There’s no stages to unlock this time, in contrast to past games, but there are three ways you can unlock the vast array of 60+ characters beyond the starting roster. While you unlock the whole cast through multiplayer or (slowly) through World of Light, I found that playing Classic Mode was the most beneficial method of unlocking characters. Not only are you gaining the rest of the roster, you’re also farming new Spirits, coins, and more that will benefit you in World of Light.
Finally, there’s the online play. Traditionally, Smash Bros. online has been terrible, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate carries that sordid tradition forward. Super Smash Bros. is like a chess game and is treated as such with the online servers. As it tries to calculate every player’s input, the matches can grind into a slide show, which is no fun. At least in series tradition, you can take a co-op buddy in with you for the action.
There are no online tournaments as were patched into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but there are Smash Arenas, essentially boxing ring-inspired lobbies (and the only way to access voice chat online with Nintendo’s mobile app, mind) where you wait for your turn to fight friends or random players. The online performance overall can be improved as long as it’s patched in the months to come, and as of this writing, it looks to be that way.
Visually, Ultimate looks a lot better than Smash Bros. Wii U thanks to artistic direction and improved lighting. Thanks to not having to develop two games at one time, as was the case with Smash Wii U and Smash 3DS coming out on top of each other back in 2014, the developers could pour on more lavish attention and detail into a single Switch game. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate pops with color and clarity, where Smash Wii U falls flat by comparison.
The cast shines with realistic detail and incredible personality, all while maintaining the essence of their respective franchises. Virtually every returning veteran looks deceptively similar to their past incarnations, but most of them sport fresh new character models. The returning stages are drop-dead gorgeous remakes, not content to be simple port-overs as they tended to be before. I especially loved seeing the 3DS stages in HD, they look like all-new stages. If you thought Smash Wii U looked impressive, you haven’t seen Super Smash Bros. Ultimate yet.
The musical score, a hodgepodge of video gaming’s greatest hits, is, of course, classic. The composers of the music new and old are as famous as the music being covered, coming from Japan’s most famous composers too numerous to name drop. A lot of the new remixed tunes have a hurried, manic pace, more so than I remember from past games. Some definite highlight tracks come from a killer remix of “Bloody Tears” from Castlevania II, and a manic, energized vocal track for F-Zero from Daytona USA auteur Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. And in my opinion, the new musical theme for Smash Bros. Ultimate, “Lifelight”, is a massive step up from the Smash Wii U/3DS theme, whether it’s orchestrated or (a series first) with lyrics.
As you’d assume, with all the visual and mechanical complexity, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate runs like a dream. Whether on the TV or on the go, it maintains an essential 60 frames per second and never feels sluggish or unresponsive. That is, unless you’re battling with around 8 separate Ice Climbers in a stage. Those conditions are the only exception where the frame rate suddenly dips in a manner unheard of in the series before now. It makes sense why the poor Climbers were excluded from Smash 3DS: they do indeed raise performance problems under the right circumstances. Besides this technicality, having multiple players on the Switch in tabletop mode can lead to eye strain trying to keep track of the frenetic action on the 6″ screen.
For as well-rounded as the overall package is, longtime fans will equally notice what isn’t in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Long-time staple modes like Home Run Contest and Target Smash are not included, which is a shame as they served as creative training and high score tools. Nor is the stage builder, which looked like it was going to be a staple after two console games in a row. They’re not the only modes from the past left out (Smash Run, anyone?), but they feel curious in their absence. Without these extra curricular modes, you’re primarily left with battles and battling.
More glaringly, trophies were replaced with said Spirits. While trophies were lovingly modeled polygonal idols that included descriptive, sometimes clever trivia, Spirits are just glorified JPEGs of existing game art. While practical, Spirits aren’t quite as appealing as the trophies of yore. It’s almost a non-issue as the rest of the presentation, from improved menu design to numerous quality-of-life updates make up for their sordid loss.
Sometimes, for the greater good…sacrifices must be made. In order to bring back every character ever, some popular modes and familiar bits and pieces of past games went missing from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The cost was several staple modes, Trophies, and limited takes on some returning modes that fans have known for what seems like forever. It’s too bad they’re not back, but the fun factor of the gameplay almost negates that criticism. With six promised DLC characters and new stages coming in the future, including Joker from Persona 5, more surprises are sure to come in the coming year.
The new modes do their wonders to set Ultimate apart from the past, and they provide a fresh enough spin to ensure long threads of partying with buddies in all-nighters for years to come. I’ve already spent 40 hours across World of Light, the single-player content, and multiplayer so far. With all the sheer volume of content at $60, this Super Smash Bros. installment is a no-brainer deal.
I could go on, but the point remains: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is clearly an essential part of every Switch owner’s library. Complaints come down to mostly nitpicks, but the dazzling cast of characters, splendid stages, multitude of multiplayer modes, and much more are just as addicting as the core gameplay around them has been since the series’ genesis back in 1999.
Review copy was purchased by author
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