Childhood relationships were formed and broken over cartoon characters flying across a suspended castle in the sky. Yelling became deafening during a four-way melee punctuated by Italians and Hyrulians bouncing off an underground chamber like pinballs. The brawl continued with a pink blob putting three swordsmen into a huge pot of boiling stew and spitting them into oblivion. Then, we were thrown into fights with eight water frogs where you could barely see what was happening. Now, we have all that and more.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is undoubtedly the most complete game package I’ve ever sunk my time into. With a total of 74 playable fighters and over 100 stages (with three versions each) to fight on (among all the other dozen or so modes, hundreds of collectibles, songs, etc.), this game basically never ends. You’ll be playing this for the next five years, or however long it takes until the inevitable next Super Smash Bros. launches (it’s not like they’re gonna let the series die. It makes too much money).
So let’s get into the gritty details of what makes Smash Ultimate so incredible and damn satisfying. Ready?
I’ll address a question lots of people will be asking before they jump into the fray: “Is it as fast as Melee?” My answer is that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the perfect balance of weightiness and speed. The gameplay is fast-paced, precise, and encourages adrenaline-filled shouting when you add more players. I thought Brawl strayed way too much into floaty territory while Smash for Wii U struck up a great balance between Melee and Brawl. In my passionate opinion, this is the best Smash Bros. has ever been, gameplay-wise. Yes, even better than Melee. There’s a weight to this game that Melee didn’t have that I welcome. The familiar Smash formula of building up damage on your opponents before knocking them off the stage is back, so don’t expect any huge changes, but there are enough small evolutions to the gameplay that Ultimate feels fresher than same-day-picked-produce.
Let’s start off with smash attacks. You can now hold them several seconds longer than you could in the previous entry. At first, I thought it was indefinite but there is a limit of about seven seconds or so. If you hold the smash too long, another player can surprise you before you’re able to follow through with the attack, so you need to be careful and time your smashes well.
Dodging has been completely revamped for Ultimate. Air dodges exhaust your fighter, preventing them from using another dodge, up special, or attack right after. You can do air dodges in any direction, but keep in mind that you’ll be basically useless after one. Additionally, multiple ground dodges will slow down your player the more you do them in a row, leaving you open to attack. You won’t be able to spam infinite dodges and instead have to use them strategically. Using your shield at the split second an attack connects will cancel out attacks. This “perfect shield” can be used to knock even the savviest of player off-guard. It’s a brilliant addition and adds even more strategy to this game.
As for the rest of your moveset, you have standard A attacks and your four special B moves: standard B, side B, up B, and down B. It’ll take you a long time to master every character’s moves, whether it’s using them yourself or fighting against them.
The amount of variety in the fighters (even with the included echo fighters) is staggering. The fact that every previous fighter in the Smash Bros. catalog is back is crazy talk. They even found the time to add a total of eleven new fighters and a future six paid DLC characters (including the soon-to-be-released Pirahna Plant). I think my favorite of the new fighters have to be Ridley and Inkling. Ridley (who was widely requested for years) is a terrifying powerhouse reminiscent of a sloppy Charizard, while the Inkling is one of the most unique fighters the series has ever seen. Fans of Splatoon will be pleased with how much attention was given to Inkling; down B launches a paint bomb while side B will trigger a paint roller rush attack that plants enemies in the ground and leaves a trail of paint behind. Actually, let’s talk about how much detail went into this game. Every returning fighter has been tampered with in some way, even if it’s just in how they’re animated. Squirtle is back (as part of the Pokemon Trainer fighter) from Brawl and now surfs across the stage when he dashes. Link now has remotely detonated bombs from Breath of the Wild and no longer has his grappling hook grab. Ganondorf finally uses his signature sword as an actual attack and Samus has new timing with her missiles. Mario has a Cappy taunt from Super Mario Odyssey and even dons Odyssey and Super Mario Maker-inspired alternate outfits. Those are just a sampling of the game-specific-details that went into the cast.
You start the game with the original eight playable fighters from the original Nintendo 64 Smash Bros. I won’t go into the specifics of how to unlock fighters but I will say that the classic unlock method will be circumvented if you go straight into Adventure Mode. If you want to unlock fighters like in previous games, you’ll have to stay away from Adventure Mode, where it’s possible to unlock all 66 “secret” fighters.
If you run into an unlockable character outside of Adventure Mode, you’ll have to fight and defeat them in a one stock battle. If you lose, you’ll have to wait until you run into them again.
Fighters are unlocked pretty quickly if you play the other game types. It will take quite a while to get the whole cast, whatever method you use to unlock them. I personally enjoyed Ultimate’s take on unlocking fighters. It felt as if you’re always being rewarded and constantly looking forward to something new. That being said, you may have to wait a while before you unlock some of your favorite fighters. If you lose to a secret fighter, you can go to a mode called “Challenger’s Approach” where you fight them again for a chance to unlock them.
Single Player Modes
Most people play Super Smash Bros. for the multiplayer battles, but the series has always been known for having plenty of single player content as well. Ultimate has a meaty Adventure Mode for players wanting a long solo experience. The mode is about ten hours long, with both Easy and Normal difficulties available (Hard is added with the day one patch). I picked Normal and expected to breeze through it, but lost quite a few battles.
You start out with Kirby as the only playable character, the rest of the cast having been captured by Galeem, a weird entity with wings for days. You fight across a world map shrouded in mist. The mist will disperse slowly as you work your way across the map, winning fights.
A huge feature in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is Spirits, which basically amount to drawings of mostly non-playable characters from video game history. You can equip these Spirits to your fighter to power them up in a sort of rock-paper-scissors type system. Depending on what Spirit is equipped to the fighter you’re up against, certain conditions will be implemented in the match. Sub-Spirits can be equipped to the main Spirit, granting special abilities.
The enemy fighter may start out made of metal, or might launch your fighter further with attacks. In the same way, you might start out with a Hammer or do 30% more damage than usual. You’ll have to check the Spirits before you equip them, and if you think you can get away with equipping whatever and blazing through the game, you’re going have a bad time.
I will admit I was slightly disappointed when the visual style of Ultimate was revealed. It didn’t look like much of a step up from Smash for Wii U and strayed further from the semi-realistic style of Brawl. Now that I’ve spent a great deal of time with Ultimate, I can say that the game is beautiful, smooth, and flashy. The effects are clean and animations are gorgeous. Retro stages have been given a new coat of paint; even the Nintendo 64 stages are great to look at.
As I stated earlier, animations for every character have been fine-tuned or even revamped in some cases. This game is gorgeous on either handheld or TV mode.
When you’ve got a game with almost 1000 music tracks, most of them being remade for the Super Smash Bros. series, where do you even begin? You’ve got some of the best composers in the game industry arranging some of the most memorable melodies in video game history. If that isn’t enough, they somehow make some of the songs better than the originals.
Characters’ voice acting is just what you’d expect from a Smash title. There are improvements and additions as well, like Marth finally having an English-speaking voice actor. Hearing Young Link’s shouts and exclamations as he beats down on his opponents brought me a particular flavor of nostalgia. I will say that the sound effects were turned up way too high for me initially. I turned them down to 75% or so in options and the outcome was more favorable. I’m so glad that changing music, sound effect, and character voice volumes is an option.
Replay and Online Matches
Super Smash Bros. is one of those few series where replay value is unlimited, even with what’s included from the outset. There are so many ways to play that you and your friends and family will never get bored.
Online is one of those modes that you will be playing for a long time as well. Smash has had a bad history with online modes: dropped connections, poor performance, and horrible matchmaking haven’t been kind to the series. In my fifty plus matches online, I’ve only had about four laggy matches. Matchmaking is quick and doesn’t usually take me more than half a minute to find an opponent/s.
There are a handful of match types online. You can either play against random people in Quickplay or Battle Arenas. You can set up your preferences for rules before you start matchmaking in Quickplay and it will favor what you’ve selected when finding opponents. This may sound bad, but it will find you matches really quickly. In Battle Arenas, you either create or join an arena with set rules where you will spectate matchups when you’re not fighting. Here, you set up matches of up to four players with friends. You can also join your friends’ Arenas if they’ve been set up already. A password can be set up to prevent specific people from joining if you want that extra security.
For Quickplay, you are matched with opponents with a similar Global Smash Power. What is that? It’s a number that builds as you win matches and decreases as you lose them. The higher the GSP, the harder the opponents will be, in theory. If your GSP reaches a high enough level, you will be entered into Elite Smash. This mode basically pits you against the highest performing players. The catch is that each fighter on the roster has individual GSP, so you’ll be restricted on who you can use in Elite Smash. Overall, online in Ultimate is the best it’s ever been for the Smash series.
If it wasn’t obvious from the first few sentences of this review, I’m a huge fan of this game. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has basically everything you could ever want in a Smash game (discounting whatever random character people wanted in the game). It’s the most exciting, well-designed, fully realized fighting game on the market and my favorite multiplayer game of all time. You can pre-purchase the Fighter Pass For another five characters and stages and additional songs for $25. Even then, $85 for the complete version of this game is a steal when you think about all the content that is and will be included. I can’t even go into everything that’s in this game because there’s so much content.
This review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
There aren't enough points on the scale to accurately score Smash Ultimate; it’s almost a disservice to score a game like this. There’s nothing like it on the market, nothing that dominates the genre so completely. This game is as near to perfect as any game will ever be. There may never be another entry in the Super Smash Bros. franchise like this, so savor it as long as you can.
Word player, note manipulator, and logic breaker. My favorite game is The Last of Us. I’ll argue with you about it all day. Try me. “To the edge of the universe and back, endure and survive…”