Review: Super Smash Brothers Ultimate

Introduction

Super Smash Brothers Ultimate (SSBU) is the culmination of two decades of work by Game Director Mashahiro Sakurai. It features every character and stage from previous Smash Brothers games to create the series’ largest character total, stage total and song total. Long time fighters such as King K. Rool and Ridley have also been added to create the…Ultimate Smash Brothers experience.

My history with Smash goes back to the release of the original for the Nintendo 64. The minimal roster and stage selection was incredible at the time and I remember my excitement when I unlocked Ness, not even knowing he was in the game. The series really took off with Melee though, and it quickly became one of my most played games, especially with friends considering this was before online really became a staple. Brawl was okay, and I ended up skipping out on Smash Wii U. SSBU would be my first Smash game in ten years and I was incredibly excited for it. That being said, lets jump in…

 

World of Light

Super Smash Brothers has an interesting history with trying to delve into full single player experiences, from Melee’s Adventure Mode to Brawl’s Subspace Emissary. Players generally agree that the single player modes are always fun and serviceable, but not great. In SSBU, the greatest attempt yet has been made to create a full-fledged single player experience within Super Smash Brothers.

Starting off the World of Light, we see a nifty cut scene revealing that all of our heroes, save Kirby, have been possessed by this force of light, Galeem and sent to the World of Light. It’s up to Kirby and yourself as the player to traverse the World of Light, unlocking characters, shops, expeditions, gyms and much more.

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The savior Kirby. Coincidence Sakurai made him the hero since he is Kirby’s creator?

That being said, the World of Light is a massive single player experience spanning hundreds of different battles and will take a casual play through a few dozen hours to fully complete.

Expeditions: You can unlock a few expeditions throughout the World of Light which allow you to send your spirits off on timed events to bring back resources. This is a fine addition, but I feel it could do well with an auto-fill option for spirits to keeps things moving a bit faster. It can be cumbersome and time consuming to go through all of the dialogue and spirit selections once you have an increased number of expeditions.

Gym: There is an unlockable gym for you to find where you’re able to leave your spirits to level up on their own for free. Food resources may seem excessive once you get a few dozen battles into the World of Light, but you’ll be starving for more later on when you want to set up custom teams with a lot of different level 99 spirits. The gym is a great addition to just set and forget your spirits until they are maxed out.

Dojo’s: Probably the most interesting aspect of what you’ll find in the World of Light, Dojo’s allow you to customize the strengths of your spirits. For example, you can train your spirit to be ‘Land Style’ which increases their ground power and move speed, but decreases your air power and jump. It gives the player a lot of options when they encounter a battle that’s giving them trouble. You can always remove the specialization from a spirit as well and try others depending on the battle you’re preparing for.

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Examples of some of the Dojo’s you will encounter in the World of Light.

I don’t want to say much more about the World of Light. There are lots of surprises and things you may not expect. On a few occasions I laughed at what was happening because my expectations were subverted. Out of the series’ single player attempts, the World of Light exceeds in effort, scale and fun.

 

Spirits

One of the biggest shifts in Super Smash Brothers’ history is moving from the trophy system, to spirits. In past games, you won or obtained trophies from games represented in the Smash Brothers series. It was always fun or exciting to grab a new trophy and aim for getting 100% of them. Not to mention the detail that went into trophy descriptions. Each trophy had a few sentences describing an origin for the trophy, or fun facts about the game they came from.

Spirits differ in a lot of ways. They feel and look more like a card game than the previous trophy system. You can equip a primary spirit, and then add on support spirits provided you have open support slots on your chosen primary spirit. This creates a ridiculous amount of customization when it comes to choosing your spirits for particular battles.

That can be great, but also overwhelming. For the large majority of the World of Light when unlocking spirits, I largely stuck to the same three teams and only had to switch out spirits for a handful of them. I may have had a greater difficulty in some battles because of it, but once I had over a few hundred spirits, I didn’t really feel like spending all that time sifting through and trying to come up with the perfect combination.

With the World of Light being the primary location to unlock spirits, we also have the Spirit Board. The beginning of this concept is fine. You have a board of cards with varying difficulty and limited time to enter those matches and complete them. You then go into that battle which you’ll either gain victory, or suffer defeat.

Winning the match should be enough to get that specific spirit card. Instead, you have to then go into this mini-game with a rotating opening. You have to time and shoot through the opening at the correct time in order to actually win the spirit. It seems unnecessary and out of place for a Smash Brothers game.

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Mini-game that I felt should have been left out after defeating spirits on the Spirit Board.

On multiple occasions, I’ve won a legendary fight only to be met with this fast rotating circle and failed the mini-game to get the spirit. I will mention there are two items you can use to either slow down the rotations or create a bigger opening, but for difficult spirits like legendaries, it doesn’t decrease the difficulty of the mini-game by that much. I’ve also noticed that those two items are fairly rare to come by in my experience so far.

 

Unlocking Characters

This is an area that I see a lot of dissension on. SSBU begins by having eight of the original fighters including Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby and Link. Unlocking new characters differs here than in previous games.

In Super Smash Brothers Melee for example, there were certain criteria that had to be met which including things like ‘Play Vs. Mode for 20 Hours’ and ‘Complete Classic Mode with 10 Characters’. With the first example, you can just leave your game on in a match overnight to cheese unlocking Mewtwo in Melee to get him quicker when the intended route was to just actually play the game for 20 hours. In SSBU, it looks like unlocking characters may be tied to things like button inputs, so the game knows you’re actually playing.

That being said, unlocking characters happens quickly. If you’re delving into the World of Light and working your way around the board unlocking fighters, you can just exit back to the main menu every ten minutes or so to see the ‘New Challenger Approaching’ screen.

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The classic challenger screens as well as the above appear in Ultimate just as they did in previous games.

For myself, this was one of the more exciting aspects of SSBU. It felt good playing the game and being surprised with a New Challenger screen. And with so many different characters in this game, it can take quite a long time to get a full roster. It is a shame that character unlocks aren’t directly tied to certain challenges, as that gives an incentive to fill out challenge boards, or complete specific individual challenges that otherwise are just notches on your belt more than anything.

My one regret here is the lack of surprises. With the way the internet is nowadays and what happens with leaks during development, we aren’t left with any real surprises in terms of fighters. How exciting would it have been to out of nowhere, with no indication they were included, to run into Simon Belmont or King K. Rool? Sakurai even made it a point during the last Smash Brothers Direct to say there were no other characters in the game until DLC characters begin to get released.

 

Smash

After all the work you’ve done unlocking characters is over, Smash will likely be where you spend the most time here on out. Jumping in it all feels familiar with virtually the same character and stage selection setups as in past Smash iterations. We have a highly customizable rule setting system where specific settings can be saved as well. You can choose everything from what type of battle, damage handicaps, which items appear, if spirits are active and more. Eight player battles are also featured again for maximum chaos.

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Two of the newcomers below a fully unlocked character screen.

Tournament Mode returns for those huge Smash parties that you have with friends and other custom smash mode such as 300% Super Sudden Death and Smashdown are included to keep you engaged.

 

Online

Just for disclosure purposes and because I know it’s a big aspect of fighting games like Smash, I didn’t play any online before writing this. I haven’t subscribed to Nintendo Online yet, and I have a hard time with it. Nintendo is really far behind Microsoft and Sony when it comes to providing a good online experience. Friend codes should have been ditched last generation, there should be a functional Virtual Console allowing me to download games I’ve already downloaded on my Wii/Wii U and better games should be offered monthly than the same old NES classics. I will likely grab it to play Smash with some friends eventually, but online has always been a real weakness for Nintendo, and unfortunately I don’t see that changing.

 

Other Aspects

Classic Mode: This mode returns as a staple in the Super Smash Brothers series. In its current form, each character plays through five battles, a mini-game then a boss fight to complete. Sakurai and crew do their best to keep this mode fresh for returning players by having a lot more themed battles around the character that you are playing as. Boss fights also differ than the typical Master Hand fight that we are accustomed to. The one downside for me is that the mini-game doesn’t change, and it’s largely boring and uneventful.

Challenges: Each of the main areas of the game receives a challenge board that requires specific actions to be taken to unlock those challenges. For example, on the Smash board; ‘As Incineroar, deal 40% or more damage to an opponent with a single attack.’ There are 124 total challenges spread out throughout eight different challenge boards.

Mob Smash: Three different difficulties based around 100x opponents fighting you one after another. This was fun filler, but nothing ground breaking.

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Just a few of the options you’re able to customize when setting up your battles.

Handheld Mode: Since this is the Nintendo Switch, I feel it’s worth mentioning how handheld mode feels. In terms of visuals, speed and comfort, it’s great. I didn’t really notice any slowdowns or lag, even with 8-player battles with items on high, stage switching and final smashes firing off constantly.

I will say however, that maybe it’s my age, but it feels incredibly difficult to wade through the chaos and see what’s going on in handheld mode. It was fine for smaller scaled battles and most of the World of Light challenges, but there were some that I had to just save for the big screen and my pro controller.

 

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to SSBU than is in this review. It really is the culmination of every past Super Smash Brothers game, and really feels like a celebration of all the games represented on the roster. I would make a few changes regarding the Spirit Board, and I believe something is lost by not having trophy descriptions for each spirit like in past games in the series, but it’s hard to deny the lasting appeal of SSBU. There’s 76 playable characters with another six on the way including more stages and songs for each of the DLC releases. It’s too early to tell if this will de-throne Melee for me in terms of experience and impact, but the past week of playing has set it well on its way.

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