More than any other game played recently, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” truly earned its name. Even from a franchise novice, navigating through the colorful menus on the Nintendo Switch was clearly impressive. With the vast, combined fanbase of the fighting series and Nintendo, it’s 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 combining 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, the countless possibilities of “Ultimate” — with its 103 stages, 74 fighters, 1297 spirits and 850 songs — is quite the contrary. The enormous undertaking ensures many reasons for the newest iteration to be enjoyed by newcomers and long-time fans alike.
Simply put, “Ultimate” is a gaming paradox. The controls are straightforward enough that a beginner could pick up a controller and be immediately entertained by jabbing, kicking and grabbing opponents during its rapid, energic gameplay. But conversely, experienced competitors and intelligent CPUs are itching to air dodge, utilize dash and special attacks to turn their game of checkers into chess. Throw in random item drops and dynamic stages and anything can ensue in an “Ultimate” fight.
The flexible philosophy applies to the roster as well. Comprised of every character from franchise history, the diverse cast features play styles for everyone. For several personal matches, the wonderful Yoshi was a popular pick, a dinosaur who morphs into an adorable egg and produces wanton mayhem by steamrolling over his unfortunate foes. Pikachu was also delightful as he dazzled the battlefield with his devastating electricity-based attacks. From the 11 new additions, Inking from “Splatoon” 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, “Ultimate” can be overwhelming for some players. Luckily there are numerous tools to hone their craft. The vanilla Smash Mode allows practice against up to seven 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 players 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 players with competitors based on preferences and skill. The many modes of “Ultimate” 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 players face. A victory merits a Spirit, which is a crossover character that changes stats and abilities, acting as 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 the story mode, it works perfectly for its music collection. The nostalgic 850 song selection encompasses gaming history spanning from classics like “Tetris” and “Pac-Man” to 2017’s “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” Due to the size of the music selection, joyful familiarity is ensured for any Nintendo fan, new or old, adding a layer of enjoyment to the fierce fights.
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 the game’s relationship with the Switch. Several minutes per fight means “Ultimate” is perfect for taking advantage of the console’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 the controls. Parties looking for more comfortable gaming sessions can sync up their Switch Pro or old-school GameCube controllers, guaranteeing “Ultimate” is controlled the preferred way for each player.
After spending enough time with “Ultimate,” it’s apparent a simple approach was taken in development: give the fans what they want. It’s a decision that paid off beautifully since “Ultimate” is an excellent celebration of gaming history 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 “Ultimate,” topping it will be difficult.