A game that allows you to launch a green dinosaur from a moving spacecraft with a hammer, playing as a pink marshmallow has no right to be a real game. But it is a real game, and we should all be thankful. Our latest gift from Masahiro Sakurai and co. is gleaming with polish, flair, and cold hard quality. No, they haven’t reinvented the wheel, but that by no means holds back the experience.
“The fastest selling game in Nintendo’s history”
The first thing to notice about Smash Ultimate is just how much of it there is. I feel comfortable calling this game the greatest crossover in gaming. A veritable Yellow Pages worth of 74 playable characters make an appearance from 32 franchises. More than 100 unique stages, complete with their individual hazards and an assortment of items falling from the sky. Almost 1300 collectible Spirits (more on that later). No wonder it’s the fastest selling game in Nintendo’s history.
“The greatest crossover in gaming”
Most established fighting games stick to their winning formula to some degree with each iteration, but the Smash Bros. series’ way of doing things sets it apart from the rest. The game focuses more heavily on your ability to move effectively, with each match being more than just 1/2/3 combos. It is instead a precarious dance through the air on a multi-levelled stage floating above a fatal drop. K.O.s in a Smash Bros title come uniquely from getting knocked out of the stage, rather than your health dropping to zero – although there is an option to play things that way if you so wish.
“Part of the magic of Ultimate is the insane amount you can do with the simple tools given to you”
It is also one of the most accessible fighting games I have played: its controls consist of just 6 important buttons (you could get by on three). Don’t let the beautiful, cartoonish aesthetic fool you into thinking that its simple, though. Smash Bros Ultimate’s competitive following is testament to just how good it’s possible to get at this game. Part of the magic of Ultimate is the insane amount you can do with the simple tools given to you. There’s always something more that you can learn, some new skill to develop. There is no ‘max level’ waiting to bring your enjoyment to an end. The fun only stops when you do.
There are some welcomed additions for those returning to the franchise, such as the new directional air dodge, which does what it says on the tin. Most notably, though, I present you with the new Spirits system. Spirits are collectable non-playable characters from across the game’s franchises that provide your fighter with various buffs and bonuses when you equip them. The two main ways to grab them are travelling around a game world in adventure mode and visiting the rotating spirit board. As I mentioned before, there are an impressive amount of them but, regardless, I’m not particularly thrilled with this new mechanic. Spirits do not amount to much more than simple stat buffs or modifiers, hidden behind a static image. Collecting them involves fighting a character from the playable roster that they are ‘trapped’ in, which to me seems a little cheap. Essentially, it’s a passable extra thing to do on top of the existing shed-load.
“I was faced with a time-consuming process of setting up a battle arena”
Online play has never been a strong suit of Nintendo’s; just look at the hilarious ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ app for proof of that. Things aren’t terrible in Smash Bros Ultimate, but there are some definite oversights that do not belong in a game of this scale. Simply playing against somebody online is not difficult, with matchmaking being a few flashy buttons away. Neither are setting custom rules, which can be done in ‘battle arenas’: rooms where a group of players can join, spectate, and play each other quite smoothly. The problems I found were when I tried to play online with friends. If I wanted to play against them, I was faced with a time-consuming process of setting up a battle arena just for the two of us.
“The clumsiness is more evidence that Nintendo still cares a lot more about having players physically together to enjoy their games”
What’s more, there is no option to add CPU players to the match anywhere online, and no option to play co-operatively online with a friend. All of this is especially annoying considering that playing locally works perfectly well, including playing co-op from the same Switch online against other teams. The clumsiness is more evidence that Nintendo still cares a lot more about having players physically together to enjoy their games, so I do appreciate the rare options open to me when my friend and I are in the same room.
“It refines the core concepts the series has been known for since its inception”
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a solid game, but was anybody expecting anything less? It refines the core concepts the series has been known for since its inception, provides more characters and stages than any fighting game I can think of, and remains a deep yet accessible title for solo players and groups of friends. Even the new additions that fall somewhat flat are not outright bad. The Spirits mode is adequate, and it says a lot for the quality of the rest of the game that it stands out for simply not being stellar. In true Nintendo fashion, Smash Ultimate offers something for everyone without having to make sacrifices. There’s no reason for anybody not to pick it up.
Featured Image courtesy of Super Smash Bros. Official Facebook Page.