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‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ review

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ is an ode to gaming that lives up to its name

Super Smash Bros Ultimate
‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’
MSRP $59.99
“‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ is a comprehensive fighting game designed with love.”
  • Includes every character in the series’ history
  • Awesome newcomers
  • Great stage selection
  • Creative single-player mode
  • Several controller options
  • Online matchmaking needs work
  • The campaign could use more cinematics

The Super Smash Bros. series has evolved dramatically since it made its debut on the Nintendo 64 back in 1999. What began as a party game soon morphed into a full-fledged competitive fighter, but Nintendo and director Masahiro Sakurai never forgot what made it so successful: fandom.

Whether you love Pokémon, Mario, Zelda, Splatoon, or even Final Fantasy, Super Smash Bros. has something to offer you, and in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the number of options you have is downright ludicrous. It certainly lives up to its Ultimate name, and it has instantly become one of the Switch’s must-have games.

Everyone really is here

Forget about checking a roster list to see if your favorite character made the cut – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has every single fighter in the series available to play, even if they share an identical move-set to someone else. There are more than 70 different fighters to choose from, and though it can be a little overwhelming to pick your main and start honing your skills, it’s impressive that the development team would even consider such a feat.

Prefer Young Link to his replacement, Toon Link, or want to use Mewtwo instead of Lucario? You won’t find much difference in their styles, but that comes secondary to just living out your fantasy of controlling your favorite character in a massive brawl.

super smash ultimate full roster
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like all other games in the series, you don’t start with all the characters right off the bat, and in Ultimate, you’re going to need to set aside quite a bit of time to unlock them all. Being limited to just a handful from the start does seem a little incompatible with Ultimate given its premise, but you don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get your favorites.

Playing the game as you normally would prompt random challenges from new fighters. When you finally get that one newcomer you’ve been itching to try out, it’s like opening a new present on Christmas morning, only its one you can beat you up and will leave you disappointed if you can’t win.

Forget about checking a roster list to see if your favorite character made the cut.

There are, however, likely to be some Nintendo fans annoyed by how far the roster skews towards a few key series. The number of Pokémon you can use is now at 10, if counting the Pokémon trainer as three, and there are seven Fire Emblem heroes. Of those seven, all use swords, and four have blue hair. Mixing in a few different types of heroes would have been welcome, though with the game’s design philosophy this means it would have likely ballooned the roster even more.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s kitchen sink approach extends to the stages, with more than 100 available at launch. All of them support special Battlefield and Omega variants, so competitive players don’t have to look at the same boring backgrounds for hours on end.

Among our favorite new stages are Great Plateau Tower from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Dracula’s Castle from Castlevania, both of which perfectly replicate the tone of their original games without sacrificing playability. The returning favorites are still more than welcome, with the Super Mario Maker and Final Fantasy VII stages particularly standing out.

Play it your way

If you’ve played Super Smash Bros. for Wii U or Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, you’ll be familiar with the basic flow of battles in Ultimate. It’s quick, but far from the lightning-fast pace of Melee, and the mix of characters vary wildly in their attack and movement speed.

Fox can still run circles around someone like Bowser, but with the moves available for even these heavy hitters, you never feel like you’re at a disadvantage. An optional Final Smash meter, which builds up over the course of a fight, also allows those struggling to unleash their best attack without needing to break the Smash Ball, though that is also an option.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s kitchen sink approach extends to the stages, as well.

Players used to the GameCube controller, which has been a staple of the series since Melee, still have the option to use it in Ultimate, but it’s far from your only choice this time around. The game supports the Switch Pro controller, though it feels a bit odd, and you can also play the game with the Switch in handheld mode or with one Joy-Con turned sideways.

None of them feel as perfect as using the tried-and-true option (or in our case, a close alternative) but you don’t absolutely need to rush out and spend extra cash for when your friends come over. Even the single Joy-Con option works well enough, and surprisingly more so than in other Switch games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Step into the light

Before you do battle your friends, however, there are beefy single-player options in Smash Ultimate, and they see the game at its most creative. The World of Light campaign mode isn’t exactly like Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, as there is no platforming and limited cinematics, but its world-colliding journey takes you to several series’ most iconic locations.

After a mysterious and powerful being transforms nearly all Nintendo characters into possessed slaves, it’s up to Kirby to free them and utilize spirits in order to power up the growing team and return balance to the universe. It’s not drastically different from the limited stories we’ve seen from Smash Bros. before, but through a mix of puzzles and stage design, World of Light truly feels like a comprehensive look at Nintendo history.

The spirits introduced in World of Light can also be used in other modes, and they essentially act like your leveling and power-up system. By battling enemies who aren’t part of the main roster, such as a legendary Pokémon or a minor Fire Emblem character, you gain the ability to use them as your Primary spirit, which determines your power level during battles. Other characters can be equipped as Support spirits, which give you immunity to certain stage effects, a starting weapon, or an extra bonus during fights.

Through a mix of puzzles and stage design, World of Light truly feels like a comprehensive look at Nintendo history.

It’s a clever system that isn’t particularly necessary outside of World of Light, but the single-player mode makes it interesting by how it presents the spirits to you in battle. For example, Rabbid Donkey Kong isn’t a playable hero in Ultimate, but you still have to battle him. The game mimics his look by turning Donkey Kong into a Rabbid, placing bunny ears on his head and all. It’s like Nintendo characters are playing dress-up in their backyard, and seeing which heroes Ultimate would use to replicate certain characters put a smile on our face for hours.

The shorter Classic mode returns, complete with more bosses than just Master Hand this time. There are also a couple of additional modes for those looking to mix things up. Smashdown forces you and your opponent to pick a new character each round, and requires mastery in more than just a few heroes.

You can also fight in an elimination-style three-on-three or five-on-five brawl in Squad Strike. None of these are likely to hold your attention for too long individually, but they do serve as great training tools before you take on other players.

Online falls short

Multiplayer is at the heart of the Smash Bros. experience, and this is still the case in Ultimate, though it’s also where the game could still use some work. Local battles work flawlessly, as you’d expect from Nintendo, but when things go online, the experience is more mixed. We used Wi-Fi rather than a LAN adapter and ran into a few hitching and disconnecting issues, as well as trouble getting our matchmaking preferences to consistently be honored.

Searching for a solo match often still results in getting a team battle instead, but the system does seem to pair players of similar skill level together. Nearly every fight we had was close, occasionally even going into overtime after neither side could get a definitive final kill.

These moments are when newcomers can understand why others love the series so much. As you struggle with an enemy you can’t defeat and the two of you size each other up, you begin reacting and adjusting on the fly, with quick dodges and hit-and-run attacks.

The final blow usually comes after one player makes a wrong move, and that feeling of being this close to winning means you’re inevitably going to play another match. One more turns into five more, and before you know it, it’s 3 a.m. and you’re struggling to stay awake. We wouldn’t want it any other way, and as more DLC characters are released in the future, it could become a recurring event.

DT Gameplay

Our Take

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a game so comprehensive and engaging that it’s difficult to see where Nintendo and Sakurai can take the series next. The sheer number of options and modes you have to choose from can keep you and your friends busy for hours or days at a time, and even those uninterested in fighting games will be impressed by the reverence and love that its developers showed to every included franchise. You can’t own a Switch without owning Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and for some, it might even be the only game you need on the system.

Is there a better alternative?

No. Even Melee might be on its way out.

How long will it last?

World of Light took us just under 19 hours to complete. Multiplayer will likely thrive for the rest of the Switch’s lifespan.

Should you buy it?

Yes, even if you lean more toward single-player games.

Editors' Recommendations

Gabe Gurwin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Gabe Gurwin has been playing games since 1997, beginning with the N64 and the Super Nintendo. He began his journalism career…
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