More than any other game I have played recently, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly earns its name. Even as a Smash novice, I could appreciate how impressive the whole package is as I navigate the colorful menus on my Nintendo Switch. With the vast, combined fanbase of the fighting series and Nintendo, it is clear returning director Masahiro Sakurai needed to have high ambitions if he was going to meet their expectations.
Dating back to its debut in 1999, Super Smash Bros. is a mega-series that combines gaming characters from various franchises and generations under one roof. The objective of all five games: knock other fighters off the battlefield to achieve victory. While the premise is simple, Ultimate’s possibilities with its included 103 stages, 74 fighters, 1297 spirits, and 850 songs is quite the contrary. The enormous undertaking ensures many reasons for the newest iteration of Smash Bros. to be enjoyed by newcomers and long-time fans alike.
Ultimate is a gaming paradox. The controls are straightforward enough that a beginner like me could pick up a controller and be immediately entertained by jabbing, kicking, and grabbing opponents during Ultimate’s rapid, energic gameplay. But conversely, experienced competitors and intelligent CPUs are itching to perfect shield, air dodge, and utilize dash or special attacks to turn their game of checkers into chess. Throw in random item drops and dynamic stages and anything can ensue in a Smash fight.
The flexible philosophy applies to the roster as well. Comprised of every character from Smash’s history, the diverse cast features play styles for everyone. For many matches, my cursor-hand hovered over the wonderful Yoshi, who morphed into an adorable egg and produced wanton mayhem by steamrolling over his unfortunate foes. Pikachu also delighted me as he dazzled the battlefield with his devastating electricity-based attacks. From the 11 new additions, Splatoon’s Inking was a blast to play, and quite literally since her abilities sprayed damage-multiplying paint everywhere, giving an advantage to any Smasher who uses her.
With a giant cast and chaotic fights, it can be overwhelming for some players. Luckily there are numerous tools to hone their craft. The vanilla Smash Mode allows you to practice against up to 7 fighters with a deep selection of changeable preferences while Squad Strike serves as a thrilling 3-vs-3 or 5-vs-5 tag-team match. Classic Mode embarks you on a mini-adventure comprised of six fights-in-a-row before challenging a final boss, with each fighter having a unique gauntlet. Smashers up to the test can jump into Online Mode, which matches you with competitors based on your preferences and skill. Ultimate’s many modes keep the experience from going stale despite being solely centered around fighting.
Players hoping for a campaign must settle for the Adventure Mode, World of Light. The bouts here have unusual, sometimes frustrating rules relating to the “possessed” opponent you face. A victory merits a Spirit, which is a crossover character that changes stats and abilities, acting as your loadouts in the mode. World of Light certainly has amusing and exclusive fights, but its lengthy run-time and repetitiveness make it tough to recommend.
While the bigger-is-better approach is a detriment to Ultimate’s story mode, it works perfectly for its music collection. The nostalgic 850 song selection encompasses gaming history dating from Tetris and Pac-Man to 2017’s Breath of the Wild. Individual tracks like “Main Theme – Pokémon Red & Pokémon Blue” brought me back to my Game Boy Color days as I battled in Ultimate’s morphing arenas. Further digging through the menus warrants the Replay option, ready to be utilized by players hoping to improve their game or share their flashy highlights. There is also a Tips section, filled with game knowledge for gamers seeking enlightenment.
In addition to these features is Ultimate’s relationship with the Switch. Several minutes per fight means Ultimate is perfect for taking advantage of the Switch’s portability with sessions on-the-go. And like fellow Switch titles, single joy-cons can be used as controllers. While not ideal, it still provides adequate input for all of Smash’s controls. Parties looking for more comfortable Smash sessions can sync up their Switch Pro or old-school GameCube controllers, ensuring Ultimate is controlled the way you want.
After spending enough time with Ultimate, it is apparent that a simple approach was taken when developing this highly anticipated sequel: give the fans what they want. It’s a decision that paid off beautifully since Ultimate is an excellent celebration of its past and other series by including an abundance of everything. And while that path produced a grindy campaign, World of Light is only one way to experience the game. Ambitious director Sakurai offers better alternatives through diverse content, heavy customization, and entertaining gameplay. With that much possibility in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, topping it will be difficult.