Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review

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Super Smash Bros. Melee was the first game in the series I played and I fell in love with it immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t own a GameCube at the time but I would play it at my friend’s house quite often. We would play for hours. Over the years, I’ve acquired all the games in the series and have played each of them extensively and I’ve only come close to completing two of them. “Complete” meaning obtain everything. I’m only missing less than five stickers in Brawl and two or three trophies in Smash 3DS. Anyway, when Ultimate was announced, I was ecstatic and pre-ordered it immediately. Developed by Bandai Namco Studios and Sora Ltd. and published by Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was released for the Nintendo Switch in December, 2018. Once again, characters from various Nintendo IP’s along with some others come together to battle it out because seeing all these iconic characters destroy each other is fun. I want to make it very clear that I am not a Melee elitist. I love Melee and I still play it from time to time but I’m not into the competitive scene. I play these games for fun. If you are into the competitive scene, there’s plenty of resources out there that cover everything from animation frames to damage percentages.

The Adventure mode is the story mode or campaign if you will known as the World of Light. A force known as Galeem crushes the universe and light consumes all fighters except Kirby. Galeem copies the fallen fighters, creating empty puppets in their likeness. This army of puppets spread themselves across what’s left of the remaining world and it’s your job to free the Spirits from Galeem’s control. The Adventure mode is actually quite long, it took me around twenty six hours to complete. It’s not really hard to figure out what’s going on and there are some cut scenes that cover major events. Freeing the fighter spirits will unlock those fighters in the adventure and other game modes. After beating the adventure for the first time, you’ll unlock New Game + where you can run through it again with everything you’ve already acquired.

You progress through the adventure mode by battling spirits. The map screen is where you navigate from battle to battle. Ultimate does away with trophies in favor of Spirits. And the Spirits provide benefits to your fighters. The map is filled with plenty of battles, bosses, some environmental puzzles, shortcuts to unlock, and obstacles to overcome. To overcome obstacles, you need to acquire the appropriate spirit like one that can break through rocks or drive a bus or repair a bridge. The map also contains various shops, dojos, and a gym. Shops are where you can spend spirit points to buy new spirits, spirit snacks, and skill spheres. Sometimes items go on sale and the shops do restock over time. Dojos and the gym are where you can train your spirits. At dojos, they can improve certain attributes while forgetting others and each dojo specializes in something different. On you’re journey, you’ll come across locations that can be explored by spirits and they’ll come back with rewards. Exploration, dojos, and the gym all require the Spirits to do something for specific amounts of time to obtain the best rewards but you can pull them out early if you want. Now the map is quite large and you can use pipes to quickly get around but I think a better fast travel system is needed. That and a way to quickly see what battles you still have to win and where they are. If you decide to skip a battle and want to come back to it later, you’ll need to remember where it is or you could be running all over the map for a while.

Every time you win a battle in the adventure mode, you’ll earn rewards. Every battle rewards you with a spirit but you can also earn snacks, skill spheres, gold, spirit points, and battle and board items for the Spirit Board which is a separate game mode. Spirits come in different types – primary and support. Primary spirits can raise your fighter’s attack and defense stats and there are multiple types of primary spirits – neutral, attack, grab, and defense. The types can be stronger or weaker against other types so it’s got this whole rock, paper, scissor thing going on. Many primary spirits contain slots for support spirits. Supports have special skills like granting you an item at the start of a battle, increasing your attack power, granting you resistance or immunity to various hazards, and other stuff. You will want to experiment with different spirit combinations to see what works best in certain battles. The correct Spirit combination or spirit team can give you a big advantage. However, the weaker you are or the weaker your spirit team is, the better rewards you will earn if you win. That also applies to the difficulty which can be changed at any time. The higher the difficulty, the more rewards you earn for winning battles. Before each battle begins, you can select your fighter and pick and choose your spirit team. There’s is an autopick option which will automatically select the best spirit team for the particular battle.

Each battle in the adventure mode has different conditions which is why choosing your spirit team is so important. These conditions include enemy reinforcements, hostile assist trophies, the enemy favors certain types of attacks, different types of environmental hazards, and other things of that nature. Considering how long the adventure mode is, things can feel a bit repetitive after a while. You just go from battle to battle and many of the conditions are repeated throughout the adventure. Luckily, unlocking new fighters and the all the spirits you can acquire do keep things interesting as do the boss battles. One thing to note is that the harder the battle, the higher the rank of the spirit. Many of the battles are extremely difficult, sometimes just downright frustrating. The difficulty spikes can be a bit much and even dropping the difficulty down to easy doesn’t always make the battles feel any easier. You will probably want to leave some of the harder battles for later and return when you have more powerful or appropriate spirits. I don’t mind a challenge but some of these battles are just infuriating and may force you to exploit specific fighter moves to win. The ones with hostile assist trophies can be a real bitch.

Win or lose, spirits will gain experience and when they gain enough, they level up which makes them more powerful. Some spirits can be enhanced when they reach level ninety nine. Enhancing a spirit will increase its strength limit and add skills, but it will return to level one. You can feed spirits snacks which will also level them up. You can dismiss spirits to obtain their cores. You can combine cores to summon new spirits. Furthermore, you can level up spirits with cores. Anyway, raising a spirit’s level can make a difference and you can further improve your fighters through the skill tree. The skill spheres you earn from winning battles can be spent on various passive skills. These include things like increased power of neutral attacks, increased power of tilt attacks, resistances to environmental hazards, and many others. Needless to say, there’s plenty to see and do in the adventure mode and you’ll always feel like you’re progressing.

The adventure mode is just a portion of the game. Another mode you’ll want to check out is the Spirit Board. The Spirit Board is where you battle possessed fighters for a chance to free their spirits. It’s a lot like the adventure mode except there’s no map screen. The board contains multiple spirits and you choose the one you want to battle. After winning the battle, you have to play a little mini game where you need to shoot the spirit which is protected by a rotating shield. If you lose the battle, you lose the spirit but new spirits will populate the board over time. Now Nintendo will be announcing in-game, limited-time events and during these events, certain spirits become more readily available. So if you’re a spirit collector, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for events. The spirits you earn on your adventure or from the board can be used in both modes and the board and battle items you’ve acquired can be used in the Spirit Board mode. These items, also known as support items, can also be sold for spirit points, abbreviated as SP. The board items will do things like reshuffle the spirits, fill open spaces, or restore a spirit that disappeared from the board. The battle items can be used to make the battles easier like slowing the opponent’s final smash charge, slowly draining the opponent’s health, weakening minions, disabling items, and causing the opponents to start with fifty percent damage.

If you’ve played any other game in this series, you should have a general idea of how the fights work. The goal to knock out your opponents by launching them off screen. You first weaken them or in other words, raise their damage percentage, and the weaker they are, the easier they are to launch. Ultimate includes a radar that will display the location of launched fighters and it can be turned off. Each fighter can move freely around the stages, jump, attack, grab, activate a shield, dodge, and taunt. The fighters can perform basic attacks, smash attacks, special attacks, and some can counter. You’ll want to master all the moves at your disposal to be truly successful. You can practice with any unlocked fighter in the Training mode and the game does provide a move list for each fighter. Each fighter has a final smash which is a unique and devastating attack. To activate a final smash, you need to wait for the Final Smash meter to fill or destroy the Smash Ball that appears in the stage. Now what makes Smash so great is how accessible it is. It really is easy to pick up and play but hard to master. Most fighters are different from each other and some are simply clones of others with minor differences. But at least this time the developers have acknowledged these clones as Echo Fighters. Before each battle, you can change the color and/or appearance of your fighter and the fighters can be separated on the fighter selection screen individually or you can set it so the Echo Fighters are stacked. Through the options menu, you can configure the balance for each fighter, making them stronger or weaker. One of the best things about Ultimate is that every single fighter from previous games is here. Every single one. New to the roster is Inkling from Splatoon, Simon from Castlevania, King K. Roole from Donkey Kong, Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Inceneroar from Pokemon, and my favorite new addition, Ridley from Metroid. The other new ones are Echo Fighters. These include Daisy from Mario, Dark Samus from Metroid, Richter from Castlevania, and Ken from Street Fighter. I always check out all the fighters at least once but usually stick with Bowser when playing solo since he’s my favorite Mario character. On the rare occasions I battle other people, I like to select faster fighters like Fox. You can create Mii Fighters using the various Mii’s you have created on your Switch. You can name them, choose their headgear and outfits, and set their voice. You can also select their special moves. You can spend gold at the shop in the menu to purchase new Mii headgear and outfits but you can also earn these items as rewards.

More fighters and stages are coming via DLC and with the sheer size of the roster as is, unlocking all the fighters will take some time. Unlocking them through the adventure mode will unlock them for all modes. However, you can unlock fighters for the modes outside of the adventure. Every so often, you’ll be challenged by a new fighter and if you win the fight, you unlock them. If you lose, you can re-fight them through the Challenger’s Approach mode, accessed from the main menu. At the time I played the game for this review, you could exploit when challengers appear by switching the language. I guess there’s a timer behind the scenes so the game will send challengers your way in intervals. If you change the language through the options menu, it will reset your game and apparently the timer, and if you play quick match of Smash, a new challenger will approach. They may patch this at some point.

The Classic Mode returns and this time each fighter sets off on a unique adventure. At least that’s how the game puts it. What this means is each fighter has their own set battles or routes. They must win six battles and defeat a boss and this can be completed cooperatively with a friend. There’s also a bonus game where you have to run from a black hole. The intensity is the difficulty and the higher it is, the greater the challenge and reward. If you die, you can spend gold to lower the intensity and continue or you can spend a ticket to continue without lowering the intensity. You can also spend a ticket before a starting a route which will increase the rewards you earn. A Classic Ticket can be earned as a reward or bought from the shop. The traditional All-Star mode is not present here but there is an All-Star Smash mode which is categorized under Mob Smash. Mob Smash is where you’ll find all the multi-man smash modes. These include Century Smash, All-Star Smash, and Cruel Smash. In Century Smash, you need to defeat one hundred opponents. In All-Star Smash, you need to defeat every fighter in the game. And in Cruel Smash, you need to try to defeat as many opponents as possible. They’re extremely tough. The Mob Smash modes are all about being overwhelmed and with the exception of Cruel Smash, all opponents are easy to launch.

Smash Mode is where you’ll want to go for a quick battle against the AI or friends. In standard Smash, up to eight fighters can battle under any conditions or rules set for the match. You can choose to battle in any of the stages and you can set up a solo or team battle. I like the fact that rulesets can now be saved. You can define if you want play a stock, timed, or stamina match, if you want to fight with spirits, you can enable or disable the Final Smash meter, set the CPU level, enable a damage handicap, turn items on or off, choose how stages are selected, enable or disable stage morph and hazards, and other various properties to customize matches to your liking. You can set the stage selection to random and decide what stages the game can select from. I really like that. I’ve always enjoyed the customization aspects of the Smash Bros. series and Ultimate gives you a lot of control. However, you can’t configure a match quickly and just go. You have to create or edit a ruleset whenever you want to change something significant. It’s not a huge problem but it is kind of annoying that you can’t quickly change certain rules. You can set the CPU level of the CPU fighters, the handicaps, and spirits at the fighter selection screen but if you want to quickly change something like the match style, you have to go back and change the ruleset and then save it. In addition to the traditional Smash mode is the Tourney, Squad Strike, and Special Smash modes. And you can set up and customize rules for each. Tourney is a competition with up to thirty two players. You must defeat your rivals to become the tournament champion. You select how many participants, how many bots if any, and the format of the tournament. Squad Strike is a five-on-five or three-on-three competition where team members take turns fighting. Players select their fighters and their order and then they fight. Special Smash includes three modes – Custom Smash, Smashdown, and 300% Super Sudden Death. Custom Smash allows you to adjust the size and status of your fighter for what the game refers to as a “quirky battle”. In Smashdown, you keep battling until all available fighters have fought and the number of fighters available will decrease each round. In 300% Super Sudden Death, all fighters start with three hundred percent damage.

Ultimate does come with an Online mode. Your Smash Tag is your identity online and you can set the icon and color of your tag. If you don’t have a way to chat with other players, you can do so through taunting. You can set different taunts to different directional buttons. Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. Now if you select the Backround Matchmaking option, you can play other modes while the game finds an online battle. You can set up the rules you want and the battle begins as soon as an opponent is found. There’s a Quickplay option where you can hopefully get into a online battle quickly. You can set up preferred rules and the game will attempt to match you with other players who have similar preferences. Then there’s the Battle Arena mode. Battle Arenas are specialized rooms where you can battle other players. You can set up your own arena with your own rules or join someone else’s arena. Last but not least, you can spectate battles. You can play online solo or with a friend. I played one battle through the Background Matchmaking and several Quickplay battles in order to complete some of the Online challenges. Jeremy, Matt, and I also played in some Battle Arena’s together. Online play has some issues. The amount of lag is ridiculous and for a game like this, you can’t have that. We also experienced lag through local wireless play. It’s not good. Now my Switch is connected to the internet via wireless. Jeremy has the LAN adapter and the results were better but there’s still some issues like lag and stuttering here and there. Thankfully, the offline component of the game offers plenty of content for solo play and local multiplayer.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U are the games that put me on a quest to collect amiibos. And after a while, I stopped because it got out of hand. There’s amiibos for everything now. So now I only go after Smash Bros. amiibos and any others I really want. I almost have all the Smash Bros. ones and they can be used in Ultimate. Just like in Smash for 3DS and Wii U, you can train and fight your amiibos which are referred to as Figure Players or FP. I think this is one of the coolest aspects of these latest installments, although I really don’t care for the fact the feature is locked behind purchased figures. But as a Nintendo fan, it’s cool to have figures of my favorite Nintendo characters. Anyway, any amiibos you’ve trained in the previous games can be carried over into Ultimate or you can wipe the data and start from scratch. You fight them to train them. This time, they can inherit spirit abilities. They’ll receive experience and learn new skills. And if you’re happy with their performance, you do have the option to stop them from learning. I just like the idea of training my very own AI since it can theoretically exceed the difficulty set in the game and these trained fighters are a cool way to challenge yourself while at the same time, they learn from you. You can scan in amiibos that aren’t fighters and they will grant you spirits. You will be rewarded with items or gifts for scanning an already trained amiibo. The amiibo training can get pretty deep, depending on how far you want to go with it. There’s a site called Amiibo Dojo that goes over amiibo training and mechanics, amiibo metagame stuff, and evidently there are amiibo tournaments out there. As of this review, there’s not much information on amiibo training for Ultimate but I’m sure they’ll have training guides up soon enough. Yes, I’m very fascinated with this amiibo concept and I just find the idea of training an AI to be very cool.

Almost every stage from the previous games makes a return in Ultimate. Yes, Saffron City is here. They are varied and come in different sizes. I have a lot of favorites that made appearances in the previous games so I’m very happy to see them included. Corneria is one of them but at this point, I would be shocked if a Smash game didn’t include it. It would have been nice to see Sector Z from the first game make a return but it’s almost the same as Corneria so I kind of understand its omission. I’ve always enjoyed Big Blue, Princess Peach’s Castle, Hyrule Castle, Fourside, Mario Circuit, Rainbow Cruise, Brinstar, and several others. They’re all here and many of the older ones have received a nice facelift. New stages include New Donk City Hall from Mario Odyssey, Great Plateau Tower from Zelda: Breath of the Wild,  Moray Towers from Splatoon, and Dracula’s Castle from Castlevania. You can configure each stage to resemble the Battlefield or Final Destination layouts which is pretty cool. You can still battle in the Battlefield and Final Destination stages as well. Since I usually play for fun, I enjoy the many hazards. They always keep you on your toes and moving. I find it exciting when multiple fighters are battling it out in frantic fights in hazardous stages where anything can happen at any time. You’ll jump across platforms, avoid Pokemon attacks, avoid rising lava, and follow the instructions dictated in the WarioWare stage, one of the few stages I really don’t care for.

If you play through the adventure and classic modes, you’ll be exposed to items. They can also be found in a typical Smash match if they’re turned on. I know several people who don’t like them on and quite frankly I find that to be insane but that’s just me. To me, they add an fun element to the game. A lot of people play these games competitively and prefer to rely on sheer skill rather than be aided by items. That I understand. You have the option to play with or without items which is great. When setting up a ruleset, you can disable items altogether or turn off specific ones. You can also change the rate of how often items will appear. I’ll admit, I don’t like all of them. I usually turn off the Smoke Ball and Smash Ball. Final Smashes usually pause the gameplay until the attack is finished. They’re neat and I like watching them but after a while, I get tired of them so I turn off the Smash Ball and Final Smash meter. All the items you know and love make a return and there are some new ones like a Fake Smash Ball that will explode. There’s a Banana Gun that shoots a banana. The Black Hole will suck fighters in allowing you to land attacks on them for a brief time. The Killing Edge is a sword and when it glows, the damage and launch power will be doubled. Then there’s the Death Scythe that can KO highly damaged opponents with a well placed smash attack. There are several others that can mix things up in interesting ways and if you never cared for items in the first place, you probably won’t like any of them.

As you play through the various game modes, you can complete challenges which reveal images on the Challenge boards and reward you with items. You’re also provided a certain number of hammers which can be used to unlock challenges and their rewards immediately minus a select few and you can acquire more hammers over time. Of course, the hardest challenges block the hammers which is very stupid in my opinion. Many challenges are easy, some are very specific, and others are very challenging. I question why some of them don’t stack. For example, there are multiple that require you to battle under the same specific conditions except maybe one is against a level five CPU and the other is a level nine CPU. If I complete the one against the level nine CPU, it doesn’t unlock the other one which is really dumb. As mentioned before, the Spirits are like a replacement for the trophies. The Classic Mode here does reward you with Spirits for each fighter but at least each fighter’s adventure is unique and not very long. You can view all the spirits you’ve collected from your spirits list and there is over one thousand so if you’re a completionist, you’ll be playing this for some time. The gold you earn from battles can be spent at the shop to buy Mii headgear and outfits, spirits, support items for the Spirit board, classic tickets, music, and other items. There’s over eight hundred songs in the game and you can decide what songs play in each stage and how often. You can also unlock songs by completing challenges and create your own music playlists. At this point, each Smash Bros. game is basically a nexus of media for all the different IP’s represented and that’s just one of the reasons why this series is so special.

One nice little feature is the ability to take snapshots. You pause the gameplay, adjust the camera, you can apply different filters, select from multiple frames, and enable or disable effects. You can also save replays of your battles for viewing later. However, if the game is updated, you won’t be able to watch replays made in previous versions but you can convert replays to videos if you want to save them. While viewing a replay, you can adjust the camera and when converting a replay to video, you can pick and choose what parts of the replay you want to record and save. You can also decide if you want the video to have music, sound effects, info, and you can decide on the quality. Now As expected, stat tracking is present and I absolutely love it. General statistics, milestones, battle data, smash tags you’ve acquired, and past opponents are all tracked. There is an app called Smash World coming to mobile devices at some point in 2019. Apparently, it’s going to let users watch gameplay videos and will be updated regularly. Hopefully, there will be more to it.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a very colorful and vibrant game. It definitely looks better than the previous entries. The texture work is well done and the characters and stages contain a good amount of detail. Fire and explosions look excellent as do many of the visual effects seen during battles and the cut scenes in the Adventure mode look fantastic. If you really look, you’ll notice jaggies but the visual presentation as a whole more than makes up for it. Now the music is phenomenal. The soundtrack contains songs from the various games from the IP’s represented and I honestly think Ultimate has the best selection of tracks in the series. I really want the official soundtrack. The sound effects are expected but good. The fighters will shout and groan during battles, you’ll often hear a crowd cheering, and the sounds of the impacts of hits are satisfying. On the technical side, the game runs great most of the time and that applies to when playing with the Switch docked and handheld. I did notice the frame rate dip here and there but it maintains a solid frame rate more often than not. Ultimate does support multiple control schemes including the GameCube controller. You will need the GameCube controller adapter and you can use the one that released for Smash for Wii U. Since Melee, I’ve played each game minus Smash for 3DS with a GameCube controller, including this one. But at a certain point, I decided to live on the edge and switched to the Pro Controller. Crazy, right? I wanted to know how it felt and it’s actually not bad. It feels comfortable and I had no issues.

I had an absolute blast with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and I think it’s the best game in the series. It retains the same charm as the previous entries, brings back every fighter and most stages, and it contains the same fast-paced and frantic fighting action we all know and love. I enjoy the fighting genre but when it comes to traditional fighting games, I can only play them for a brief time before I get bored and want to move on. But with Smash Bros., I can play these games all day. They’re fun to play solo and with friends and the amiibo stuff really adds a whole other layer to the single player experience in my opinion. These games are easy to pick up and play but skill is required to overcome tough challenges. You’re not really forced to play through any specific modes and you can unlock the large roster of fighters outside of the adventure mode. The difficulty spikes in the adventure mode and the online lag are my only real complaints. Some of the adventure battles are more frustrating than fun and the lag really makes battling online a less than enjoyable experience. But despite these issues, Ultimate is truly an incredible game and the World of Light is easily my favorite Smash campaign or exclusive single player mode, beating out the Subspace Emissary in Brawl, Smash Run in Smash 3DS, and the awful Smash Tour in Smash Wii U. The story is not very in-depth but the journey is a lot of fun. There’s plenty of content here for Smash and/or Nintendo fans to enjoy.

I would absolutely recommend Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to fans of fun and fighting games. If you never cared for the Smash Bros. games in the past, Ultimate won’t change you’re mind. As the name implies, this may just be the ultimate installment in the Smash Bros. series. The gameplay is a lot of fun and there’s plenty to see and do. Definitely check it out.

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