Though fighting games are far from my preferred genre of gaming, Smash has become a highlight of a Nintendo console’s releases. Quick reflexes and a huge memory for combos and button presses aren’t as necessary as other fighting games, with Smash usually leaning more towards being a celebration of Nintendo’s history mixed with a chaotic and frantic party game.
And while the actual gameplay is more subject to minor tweaks than sweeping changes, the museum aspect of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is taken to the extreme, not just in roster size, but with the newest element to the series: Spirits.
As I said in the intro, Smash Bros. still feels like Smash Bros. here. The new characters do add some new mechanics and play styles to the game, but they all still revolve around the core identity of Smash. It’s hard to phrase it in a way that doesn’t sound dismissive, but Smash really does have a set of rules that aren’t challenged in a drastic way for each new character.
Inkling has a lot of various attacks that revolve around covering your opponents in ink, making them vulnerable to more damage. Ridley is slow, but still manoeuvrable with plenty of far reaching attacks. Simon has a whip that does much what you’d expect, feeling like you’re controlling him as if it were the original Castlevania games (from the tiny amount I’ve played at least).
In this sense, I’d say the most satisfying part of playing Smash, is experiencing how they’re all presented. Every move, alternate costume, stage and taunt is rich with the character or franchise’s history. Apart from some variations, a lot of the characters will control how you’d expect, and work in ways similar to the games they’re from. In this sense, it’s very accessible.
This is an odd topic to cover for a Smash game, but this time around we get another ‘fleshed out’ adventure mode! Why the quotes? Well, character interaction is not nearly on the same level as Brawl’s Subspace Emissary storyline. Apart from a few lines in the opening cutscene, there really isn’t any interaction at all.
Instead, a lot of the fun for World of Light comes from spirits. While previous games had trophies as the main form of representing characters that weren’t fighters, Ultimate has filtered down the 3D models down to 2D sprites, meaning there’s over a thousand of them. But being spirits, a lot of them ‘possess’ fighters that resemble them, and give them properties of the original character the spirit is from.
So World of Light is full of spirit battles, giving the illusion of fighting the actual character the spirit represents. There’s a series of Street Fighter fights that really display this idea, with each fight being a stamina fight instead of a typical Smash fight, and each spirit having a fighter that represents the spirit’s attributes. Chun Li is Zero Suit Samus, being focused on kicks, while Zangeif is Incineroar, being focused on grabs and wrestling moves. And there are so many fights that have this level of detail and attention to them that fans of each franchise in Smash are sure to feel smart for noticing.
I’m actually hoping that more spirits can be added like this in the future for cross-promotion for new releases. The very nature of Smash lends itself to this extremely well, and I’m amazed that it’s taken this long to come to this gameplay evolution that makes total sense for a museum-esque approach.
So while story is not the focus of Smash, even in its own ‘story’ mode, the characters are what make this what it is. The fighters, the spirits, making a whole load of fan service for multiple franchises at once.
I usually go on and on about music, and Smash is the epitome of music collections for me- but this time round, it feels like there aren’t too many stand out additions. The new Brinstar Depths remix is absolutely amazing, hitting you with two key changes within a few seconds.
But there just aren’t many other songs or remixes that stood out to me. While I love Splatoon music, the remixes here range from ‘meh’ to awful. But the majority of the music from previous games are still here, with stages drawing from a pool of songs relating to the franchise, instead of a small pool that has been decided beforehand.
Also 2 Final Fantasy songs? Come on.
Most of my multiplayer experiences with Smash Ultimate have been online via the Arena mode, basically a friends lobby. And in simple terms, it’s fun, but barebones. Offline multiplayer is toting several different modes, like tournaments and Squad Strike. I really like being able to control every aspect of a multiplayer game, and if you’re offline, holy crap you have so many options.
Once you hop online, you can choose a ruleset, and that’s it. I totally get why 8 player Smash isn’t online, when we’ve had dozens of laggy 4 player matches. But being able to play some of the more unique options with friends while on Discord would have been amazing to try out.
That said, the offline versatility is still absolutely amazing. Being able to match up humans with figure players (amiibo) and CPU players is really cool. I actually managed to make a tournament made up entirely of amiibo just to see if I could- and you can!
Other than Smash, online and adventure mode, there’s still a fair bit of content to chew through. My favourite being this new take on Classic Mode, where every character has a unique route with a theme. Donkey Kong makes his way to New Donk City along with Diddy Kong, Dark Samus fights various heroes alongside a corrupted protagonist from the same series, and Cloud struggles along a series of motion sickness inducing moving stages.
Each Classic Mode route feels like a mini-story mode for each character, adding to the overall theme of paying homage to all these different franchises. That said, there are two glaring problems I have with the mode- the bonus stage and the credits mini-game. The bonus stage is the same for each character, and feels like a hiccup in what could be a streamlined experience. And the shooting mini-game over the credits is fun the first few times, but gets old fast. Luckily you can skip with the + button, but you’ll miss out on the bonus rewards.
I also spent a lot of time in the Spirit Board section, but I felt this was more a means to the end of collecting all the spirits than anything else. While there are some fun moments, not having your skills cross over from Adventure Mode makes a lot of these fights hard and frustrating. While there are some items that are designed to give you an advantage, some fights feel so stacked against you that wanting to try more than once or twice is just not viable. I’m down to needing my last 23 spirits, and I’m considering the very real option of just grinding for currency and buying the spirits instead.
Sadly, a lot of the stadium based modes are gone. The biggest thing I miss is the home run contest, to see how far you could hit a sandbag target with a baseball bat. It’s not the end of the world, but it was a fun little time waster to play every now and then.
It’s very hard to sum up Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in a way that doesn’t sound diminishing. It really is the Ultimate version of Smash. The game you love is still there, with plenty of additions to make this feel like the most it could possibly be without completely changing the formula. And while it possibly means the next Smash could do with some bigger changes to its core gameplay, it definitely means that Ultimate will be hard to top.