By Alex Irish / December 21st, 2018
|Title||Super Smash Bros. Ultimate|
|Developer||Bandai Namco/Sora Ltd.|
|Release Date||December 7th, 2018|
|Age Rating||Everyone 10+|
For nearly 20 years, the Super Smash Bros. series has established itself as one of Nintendo’s premier gaming experiences. Whether for fun or for glorious competitive play, fans can’t get enough of pitting their favorite characters from Nintendo history and beating the snot out of each other till one person remains. Developers Bandai Namco and Sora, under the vision of series creator Masahiro Sakurai, have made lofty promises with Nintendo Switch’s most anticipated game of 2018, the self-proclaimed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. From bringing back every fighter ever and a dizzying amount of things to do in one smashing good game, is this well and truly the ultimate game in Super Smash Bros. history?
The appeal of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is immediate: it’s fast, furious fun that looks and sounds great, and controls like a lucid dream. With directional physical and special attacks, and a bevy of complimentary items to toss around, it’s the perfect kind of easy to learn, hard to master fighting game that also functions as a party experience. And with its numerous references to video game history, it doubles as a living museum for Nintendo and more.
Ever as before, the Smash Bros. controls are smooth and responsive as milk, allowing any newcomers to quickly learn the basics enough to get confident in their Smash skills. A lot about Ultimate feels like Mr. Sakurai was kowtowing to the requests of hardcore, competitive fans. The action feels much faster than on Wii U, if ever that was possible. New advanced techniques, like an updated shield parry and the return of the famous wave dash, will take a good deal of practice to master. I also applaud the return of directional air dodges, a move missing since Super Smash Bros. Melee, because it gives you one extra recovery option. And the ability to use a Final Smash meter has the potential to make matches more exciting and unpredictable.
The real star of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are the 74 playable characters, from Mario to Incineroar. With this many characters in the cast, there is someone to please everybody with even a moderate interest in video game history. Starting off with just the original 8 from the first game is a clever gambit that motivated me to start growing out the collection. It doubles as a call-back to the days and humble roots of the original Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64.
Like it or lump it, all the returning characters have been changed in some form, whether exhaustively (Link now sports a Breath of the Wild influence) or subtly (the various buffs and nerfs spread across less-evolved characters). A long-time absentee like Pichu has been made surprisingly more viable as a competitive character, while Bayonetta, while still strong, has been assuredly nerfed from her Smash Bros. debut on Wii U and 3DS.
All of the seven new characters feel like worthy additions to the cast, diverse in style and whom bring fresh tricks to the table that are faithful to their source material. Like in Splatoon, Inkling has a limited ink meter that determines the strength of her attacks, and Incineroar references heel wrestling, playing with a grappling style that’s different from any other pugilist in Smash history. The newcomer King K Rool is a personal favorite of mine out of the newcomers. He’s fast and powerful, and easy to get a grips on (at least until they change the balance in a patch, and you know they will).
Even if the new clone fighters (now dubbed Echoes) aren’t actually new, it’s nice to see characters like Ken, Daisy, and Dark Samus get playable representation. And having fan-favorite requests like Ridley and Chrom finally playable in the series is fulfilling. Then again, seeing other fan-favorites like Bomberman and Shovel Knight turn up, but only as Assist Trophies, reminds me of what could have been.
While single playing is completely doable, the heart of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is multiplayer, and two key new modes ably shake up the formula in new ways. Squad Strike was not the Marvel Vs Capcom-style mode I was expecting. Instead of on-the-fly character switches in battle, if you’re familiar with Pokken Tournament DX, you’ll recognize Squad Strike as a set of elimination matches where you pick fighters to see who can hold out the longest. Smashdown, meanwhile, makes for a good way to battle as you’re forced to adapt to a new character each match.
I was impressed by the huge swath of customization options available for mutliplayer, with endlessly changeable (and savable) rule sets, Omega and Alpha versions of stages, and eight player Smash on every stage possible. Throw in the varied and wild Custom Smash battles and Tournament mode on top of the new Smashdown and Squad Strike modes and you’ve got the deepest multiplayer in Smash Bros. history.
For many, a major draw from the top will be Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s major new single-player mode, World of Light. Following an epic opening cutscene, where Kirby is the sole survivor of a devastating purge of video game characters, so begins a slew of battles to free the “spirits” of these lost souls. What World of Light really is, in practice, is a glorified collection of themed Event Matches, its menus a top-down world map. While not as clumsy to play through as Subspace Emissary, World of Light lacks that mode’s ambitions (and has way fewer cutscenes).
The Spirits themselves are a new take on the Sticker or Custom Equipment idea seen in past games. Mechanically, they function the same, augmenting your fighter with extra buffs and abilities to make fights more adaptable. Given World of Light, the Spirit Board, and a specialized Shop, collecting them all (over 1000) will be much more manageable than those Stickers or Custom Equipment pieces ever were.
Despite pre-release concerns about the quality of World of Light, I don’t think it’s a limited, mobile-style game anymore than Subspace Emissary is a platformer. Yes, there’s a similar vibe that I’d imagine would fit in a free-to-play mobile game to farming currencies and Spirits from each victory.
The construction of World of Light matches are clever by half, thematically related to the characters and Spirits. With the collectible Spirits not playable, the actual fighters are imbued with traits of said spirit character, with some references to past games being subtle to all but the super-niche crowd.
In spite of it’s larger-than-expected, 30-odd hour campaign, I found World of Light to be oddly engaging. Despite the elongated pacing from one major event to the next, there’s an addicting feedback loop. The world map is larger and more sprawling than you would think, which lends to a discovery aspect of what kinds of areas and fights would be found next.
For the rest of those single-player modes, Classic mode feels like a mix of old and new traits. Every fighter has a uniquely constructed, albeit linear, path to the final boss at the end. The new take on Race to the Finish is the mode’s weak link, simplistic and repetitive. Returning bosses Master and Crazy Hand have some surprising new tricks up their sleeves. Having newcomer bosses like Ganon, Dracula, and a Ratholos are good start, and having their battles set in appropriate custom arenas is impressive attention to detail. With this presence of titans at the end of Classic mode, I do wish there was a greater diversity of boss fights than there actually are.
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