It’s finally here! Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fifth entry in the mega-popular crossover franchise officially launched on 12/7/18. With every single Smash Bros. fighter that has ever appeared in the series and a handful of newcomers, along with over 100 stages, hundreds of music tracks, and almost 1,300 spirits in the game’s new Spirits mode, this is possibly the most content rich and complete game released this year. Gamers hard pressed to find titles worth spending $60 dollars on can rest easy knowing that Smash Ultimate is worth every penny. But is it everything fans hoped it would be? Let’s dive in and find out!
Spiritual Content: The game’s story mode, called World of Light, features lone survivor Kirby working to free all of his friends who have been killed and cloned by new villain, Galeem. There is a darkness vs. light dynamic at play here, and while it may seem like Galeem represents an angel or god there is a lot more to the character than what it at first seems. A neat twist later in the story really balances out the “light vs. dark” aspect. Players will primarily venture out collecting “spirits” of those killed in Galeem’s initial attack by defeating their opponents in battle.
Violence: While Super Smash Bros. has always been a family-friendly fighter, it is still a fighting game and violence is at its core. Characters get stabbed, shot, blown up, and generally have the stuffing knocked out of them as players work to build up damage and KO one another for any easy victory. However, with this being a Nintendo game, there is no blood, gore, or anything that should otherwise upset parents who may be thinking about picking this up for their kids this Christmas.
Language: There is absolutely no foul language in this game
Drug Use: Other than some spirits that represent the Metal Gear Solid franchise having cigars or cigarettes in their mouths, there is no drug use in the game, either direct or implied.
Sexual Content: Well, aside from the obvious inclusion of returning fighter, Bayonetta, whose entire character is built on the idea of sexual empowerment, there are some other characters, shown via spirits or assist trophies that are scantily clad or practically naked, save for a conveniently placed bikini and this may be the area where some parents will undoubtedly have problems with their children playing the game. However, most of this content is rare and really only an issue if players are seeking it out. Most of the spirits are just a still, unchanging image and don’t even have to be used if players choose not to. Bayonetta’s sexuality has been toned down a good bit from her mainline games and most of her “Wicked Weave” attacks essentially leave her in a one-piece bathing suit as opposed to practically nude like in her mainline games.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the Smash Bros. game fans have been clamoring for. Every single fighter ever included in the series is here. When Kirby creator and Smash Bros. developer Masahiro Sakurai and his team at Bandai-Namco announced back in November that this game would include every fighter that has ever been in Smash Bros., admittedly I didn’t think they would be able to pull it off. I am glad I was wrong. This is a crossover on the level of Avengers: Infinity War and like Marvel, Nintendo has managed to make it work. In a nod to the original Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64, the one that started it all, players begin with just 8 fighters (11 if you include the 3 customizable Mii Fighters). From there, players have access to World of Light, SSBU’s new Adventure mode, and a host of other modes including Classic and the standard Smash Versus modes. That leaves another 63 fighters for players to unlock over the course of the game. From the get go, players will have access to over 100 stages and hundreds of music tracks.
This time around, instead of trophies to collect, players will collect spirits. There are 1,297 spirits in all to collect in Smash Bros. Ultimate and these can be used in any mode thanks to the new ability to create custom rule sets for versus battles. Where spirits really shine though is the new adventure mode, World of Light. This is the story mode shown off in the trailer for Smash Bros. Ultimate that debuted during the November Nintendo Direct. The game’s opening cutscene is really the only cutscene where we get to hear characters speak, but there are other cutscenes that appear during World of Light and at the time of this writing I have already put in dozens of hours into this story and still have more to do. There is even a skill tree shared among all characters that can be upgraded as the story progresses.
Spirits come in two varieties: Primary and Support. Primary spirits buff a fighter’s base attack (red), defense (blue), or grab (green) stats. This complements an underlying rock-paper-scissors system for the spirits as players have to consider what type of spirit to use against their opponent in each Word of Light (WoL) battle. Grab spirits are weak to attack spirits, attack spirits are weak to shield spirits and shield spirits are weak to grab spirits. There is even the Spirit Board which allows players to battle tough 4-star difficulty or higher spirits which can really give players the edge in a tough fight.
After defeating these opponents in combat, players will also have to play a mini-game where they have to shoot through an opening in a rotating wheel to hit the spirit in order to actually equip it. Missing and hitting any part of the spinning circle will cause players to have to fight the spirit and win for another shot at the minigame. A slightly less grindy way of earning top-tier spirits is by combining and releasing certain spirits to create new, more powerful ones. There is thankfully a handy list of what spirits are needed to create new ones.
The max level for spirits is 99, but some can be trained in dojos and gyms to learn new skills, buffs and can even be upgraded beyond the max level if certain conditions are met. Before each battle, the game will recommend spirits for players to use in the fight and players can save up to 99 of their favorite Spirit load outs. There is a fourth type of spirit, Neutral (purple/gray), that has a more even spread of buffs and stat enhancements to equip to fighters. Support spirits add an extra layer of planning and strategy as they might offer benefits such as making the player immune to screen flipping, high winds, lava floors, and other stage hazards. Another support spirit might make it easier to destroy some of the more annoying assist trophies that make defeating some opponents in World of Light an absolute nightmare.
This leads us to what may be Smash Bros. Ultimate’s only real fault: the extreme difficulty of most fights. This game might be the “Dark Souls” of Smash games. While excellent planning and a well-chosen team of spirits can help any player come out on top, the AI in this game is absolutely brutal. This is fine for someone like myself who has been playing videogames of all types since I was 6 years old. I just don’t know that 6 year olds today would have the patience to grind out a lot of these battles just to unlock their favorite fighter, or all 63 of them for that matter.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t knock a game for being difficult, but when the AI is able to effortlessly predict and counter ANY action that I take, every battle ends with me getting juggled into oblivion for what feels like forever. Should I try to air dash to a platform for a safe landing, or use Kirby’s down special to hit my opponent as I land? Doesn’t matter; they will have already read those inputs and moved to counter them. Another issue with this grueling difficulty it that for most fights, I simply spammed Kirby’s Up Special and/or down special until my opponent had so much damage I could’ve knocked them out by breathing on them. If your combined power total, with spirits equipped, is anywhere under your opponent’s power total, you can kiss a win goodbye unless you happen to have a high powered spirit of the type that your opponent is weak to. However, the one advantage to fighting an overpowered opponent is that you get much better rewards for winning the battle. There are also boss battles hidden around the WoL that are actually easy compared to some of the other spirit battles that players will encounter.
The only upside to Smash Ultimate being so darned difficult is that it helped me discover my new main, King K. Rool. While a newcomer to the series, King K. Rool is a long requested addition to the Smash roster. K Rool is perhaps one of the most versatile heavy characters that Smash has ever had. He has a blunderbuss attack that launches a cannonball at opponents but it comes with an added twist. Similar to Kirby’s vacuum attack, K. Rool can suck up opponents into his gun and launch them across the arena or at other opponents. He can also throw his crown like a boomerang but if an opponent picks it up and manages to keep it away from him, he is forced to go without it until that opponent is KO’d. His belly can also be used to deflect attacks and acts as a suit of armor, though it can be chipped at and destroyed with repeated use. Lastly, he can don a propeller hat that carries him high above the battlefield giving him excellent recovery should he be knocked outside of the arena. K. Rool is also effectively a tank as he can take massive amounts of damage and still survive most smash attacks that would send other opponents flying into the horizon.
It continues to amaze me how well balanced the overall gameplay of Smash is. No character is too OP or cheap, despite the grueling and sometimes spammy AI combatants. For example, Inkling from Splatoon, is another new addition to the roster and is a very jumpy character. While he/she possesses great recovery and verticality, Inkling is also very small and lightweight and is easy to send flying out of bounds for a quick KO. Though Inkling makes up for this with the Ink Roller attack, which buries opponents caught in its path. This allows Inkling players to get in a quick combo or smash attack for significant damage. While the character balance is top notch, the way characters are unlocked across modes is a bit different in this installment.
Everything players do in Smash Ultimate helps to unlock fights against new challengers. Just like in all previous Smash titles, new challengers must be defeated when they appear before they can be added to the roster. Playing WoL for any length of time and exiting to the main menu will trigger a New Challenger appearance. So will playing versus mode, Online, Classic or anything else. Every 10-15 mins a new challenger will appear, however, the more characters that are unlocked the harder these fights become. Luckily, after every WoL session, Classic mode completion, or ten mins of versus mode play, a Challenger Door icon appears in the Games and More section of the main menu allowing players to rematch new challengers that they previously lost to. However, as challengers appear in a certain order, these rematches must occur in that same order. For example, if a player lost to Samus and then King K Rool, that player would first have to rematch and beat Samus before they could rematch K. Rool. While these battles can become infuriatingly difficult, the upside is that the game is always giving players something to strive for and there is always something else to unlock around the corner. Interestingly enough, characters unlocked in World of Light can be used across all other modes, but characters unlocked in other modes cannot be used in WoL until players have faced them in story mode.
The vault feature from the last Smash game on Wii U/3DS returns and like its predecessor features different challenges to complete to unlock additional items like Mii Fighter costume parts, music tracks, and one of two types of currency found in WoL that can be used to buy items for story mode, Spirits mode, and to unlock new spirits, music, or Mii costumes. Classic mode still features the same series of battles leading to a confrontation with Master Hand and the completion of that character’s individual Classic Mode story though there are no story panels or cutscenes when completing these. However, it is a quicker way to unlock challengers to add to the roster.
Online play was effectively broken at launch with most fights becoming a complete lag fest and many features, like spectating, simply did not work. Though surprisingly, a few of the matches I played with friends online were lag free, even with 4 players fighting at once as opposed to 1v1 fights which were nigh unplayable. The game’s most recent 1.2 update addressed most of these issues and tweaked some of the fighter’s move-sets for better overall balance. If Nintendo continues to balance this game with hotfixes and tweaks and the online community grows I can see Smash Ultimate replacing Melee as the pinnacle of Smash games and a mainstay for competitions and tournaments. While not as fast as Melee, nor as slow as Brawl, Smash Ultimate’s gameplay rests firmly in the middle bringing fans of both styles of play together in one title.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is by far the best value one can find in a fighting game today. There is enough here to keep even the staunchest Smash Bros. fan busy for months. With each new fighter feeling unique, even those that are echoes (copies) of other fighters, Smash Ultimate is instantly accessible to almost anyone with any preferred playstyle. Duck Hunt is still one of my favorite Smash characters just because of how completely different he is compared to other fighters. K. Rool adds a new layer of strategy when played effectively and Inkling and Incineroar can be downright brutal in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. Don’t let Isabelle’s cuteness fool you, either. She may be the Mayor’s Assistant in Animal Crossing but she is a cold blooded killer in the Smash Bros. series.
I wholeheartedly recommended Smash Bros. Ultimate to every Switch owner and Nintendo fan out there. If players can get past the grueling difficulty early on and find their main, then the game is one of the most enjoyable experiences to be found in gaming this year. Smash Ultimate is easily the best Smash Bros. since Melee and with six more DLC fighters bringing the total roster count to 80 fighters, it may just have the biggest roster of any fighter outside of a Dragon Ball Z game. What are you waiting for? Get Smashing!
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The Bottom Line
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best and most content rich Smash Bros. game that Nintendo has ever released. With more characters, stages, songs, and unlockables than ever before Smash Ultimate is every Nintendo fan's dream fighting game come to life.