When Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was first revealed back in March of this year, a tidal wave of excitement spread across the globe amongst Nintendo fans.
You only have to watch the countless reaction videos of the first reveal trailer to truly understand just how hyped everyone was to see Smash return.
And return it did.
From its beginnings on the N64 with Super Smash Bros., right up to Super Smash Bros on the Wii U, and every game in between, Smash has become one of Nintendo’s hallmark series.
But, more than that, it's also one giant love letter to all franchises Nintendo has put out over the years as well as many other beloved series. And this feeling comes across tenfold in Ultimate.
Having grown up on a healthy dose of Smash, booting up Ultimate for the first time struck my Nintendo-loving-heart with childhood nostalgia, and it’s a feeling that hasn’t left me as I’ve played.
It’s a big reunion and EVERYONE’s invited (sorry Waluigi)
It’s really no surprise this version of Smash is aptly named Ultimate. With its frankly gargantuan roster of characters, which includes every Smash fighter from all the past iterations, and 11 new additions, you have 74 playable fighters to try out in total.
Yeah, that’s a lot of smashing.
The roster does include some clones which are now known as Echo Fighters; these essentially have the same skill sets as other fighters.
More characters are set to be added, too. Piranha Plant will be playable in February 2019, and Joker from Persona 5 will the first DLC character to be added afterwards.
The fighters are also more balanced and some have been given a bit of refresh with tweaks and buffs here and there. So even though you’re playing some old faces, they’re not identical to their previous versions.
You start out with a solid selection of classic fighters, including the likes of my favourite pink blob Kirby, along with Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, StarFox and Link with his new Breath of the Wild skin.
The variety of fighters keeps the gameplay fresh and interesting, and it’s very easy to stay invested when you’re continuously unlocking new fighters to try out.
As in previous games, you get challenged by a new fighter every so often, who will then be available to play once you defeat them.
The new challengers seemed to appear every 10 minutes or so, or after I’d played a few rounds of a mode. Whoever you were fighting with prior to the challenge will be the fighter you have to try and defeat them with.
A rather nice new feature is the ‘Challenger's Approach’, which pops up once in awhile in the corner of the ‘Games & More’ selection menu. This lets you challenge fighters you lost to previously, so you can have another stab at unlocking them with the fighter of your choice.
Every character is of course true to form, with their little quirks, unique abilities and trademark style. There’s someone for everyone.
The only downside to having such a huge roster is it may take a while to unlock the character you’re excited to try out. But since you’re challenged frequently it’s not the worst thing in the world, and it feels rewarding to see your roster build up.
A smashing time
Many of the usual suspects are back in Ultimate, too.
As many of you will know, Smash is a slightly different kind of fighting game where your goal is to knock your opponent off the screen in order to win.
Instead of a health bar, the damage you take is measured with a percentage. As your percentage rises, your opponents blows will have more of impact and you're more likely to get knocked out.
Smash mode is of course a mainstay. You can still customise your matches and face opponents in any map of your choosing. It’s a great place to start off with to get back into the groove if you’ve been out of the Smash play for a while like me.
Special Smash modes make a comeback, with Custom Smash where you customise your Smash matches to mix things up a bit, Smashdown where you work your way through the roster of fighters, and 300% Super Sudden Death.
You can also once again test your mettle in a squad strike with 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 matches, where you choose 3 or 5 fighters and battle with them one by one against opponents, and you can also steel yourself up to conquer a Tourney.
There’s also a Mob Smash mode which brings back Century Smash, All-Star Smash and Cruel Smash.
Everything is back and nicely polished - there’s plenty here to keep you entertained and its especially great for veterans of the series who enjoyed these modes in previous iterations.
The World of Light
The biggest new addition in Ultimate is its new ‘Spirit mode’, which is essentially an adventure mode.
There’s a story attached to the mode where all the fighters have been taken over by spirits and become puppet fighters. Kirby, being the hero that he is, manages to get away using his trademark star, so he becomes the only playable fighter to start with.
The mode has a massive hub world which you navigate through as Kirby, with several different paths, battles and little puzzles to complete. The map is covered by fog which you clear away by completing battles you encounter on the beaten track.
In order to unlock characters, you have to get through a series of fights on the map until you reach a character fighter.
Once you’ve defeated them, you essentially banish the spirit and they then join your team as a playable fighter who can take on the map with you.
What’s truly great about this mode are the spirits. There are primary spirits which raise your fighters attack and defence stats, and support spirits with special skills that attach to the primary ones.
This adds a new level of strategy and depth to the fighting, as different spirit combinations can help you in different fights.
For example, Sakura from Fire Emblem: Fates is a support spirit who has a poison immunity buff, so if you were to encounter a battle with a poison floor, she would be your best bet.
The spirits also come into play on the opposing team in a unique and challenging way. The opponent will take on the features, skills and movements of the spirit they have supporting them, which makes every fight very different.
You also need certain spirits in order to venture through particular parts of the map. So, say if you were to reach a river, you would need a gain spirit who can pilot a boat.
The mode can feel quite overwhelming at first, but once you start to unlock spirits and get the hang of putting together combinations that work in your favour, it’s a fantastically fun mode to get stuck into, with wide ranging fights that present a wealth of different challenges.
An instant classic
Classic mode is back and it’s better than ever. Every character has their own unique run of opponents and maps which are tailored to fit their own franchise or fighting style.
It’s comprised of around 5-6 stages, including one bonus map stage which is a side scrolling platformer, where you have to outrun a black hole and collect as many coins as possible along the way.
The final stage always has a boss fight, which varies based on the intensity level you set it at before beginning the mode.
The fact that every fighter has stages and opponents which are tailored to them means you’ll have very different experiences with each character, so it doesn't feel like a repetitive slog to get each character in the roster through the mode.
There’s also the fun added touch of a scrolling arcade-like level right at the end of the mode, where you essentially shoot the end credits up to get extra coins.
Once you’ve completed classic mode with a certain character, it unlocks them in spirit form, so you can use them to help buff out your fighters in Spirit mode.
Match made in heaven?
The weakest aspect of Ultimate so far is undoubtedly its online modes, which is such a shame given how strong the other modes are. It’s comprised of a Battle Arena mode and Quickplay, which is quite limited to begin with.
In Quickplay, you have the option to set preferred rules for the kinds of battles you want to face, which is a nice touch. It’s then supposed to find you a match with your preferred rules, but the matchmaking so far hasn’t been the best.
Since trying out Quickplay, I’ve rarely had to wait very long to be put into a battle, but it never seems to match up with my rule set.
For example, if I set that I don’t want any items to appear in battle, I’ll get chucked into battle with items galore. It does try to adhere to some of your preferences, but it seems to be a bit of a lottery as to which.
It makes this feature seem pretty pointless as most of the time it disregards your preferred ruleset and throws you into any match it can find.
Battle Arena lets you join online arena battles set up by other players. You’re taken to a lobby and you have to put your character in a queue and wait to join the match.
Wait times for this can run on quite long depending on the kind of arena set up you join, and this mode doesn’t have many options for players either.
Even when it comes to the online co-op aspect it’s quite limited at the moment. There’s no CUP support, so you can’t team up with a friend online to take on opposing CPUs like you could in past versions.
Compared to the other modes in the game, Online seems to be lacking the same oomph.
It is early days though, so hopefully with time it’ll see some improvements and additional options that make it on par with the rest of the game.
All round fun
Even though I’ve played Smash for years, I’ve admittedly never been very good at it. But that’s the great thing about Ultimate.
For players like me, it’s accessible enough to keep me coming back for more. The new Spirit mode has a difficulty settings to suit every player, so if you feel overwhelmed, there's always the option to take it down.
Arena battles can be set up for beginners or any player level, so you can easily avoid the pro folks if you just want to try out the online aspect without getting obliterated.
There's also the option to change the balance of any of the fighers in your roster, so you can make them more powerful to give yourself an advtange if you're struggling.
While I’ll probably never truly succeed at reaching pro levels, I can still have fun, and isn’t that what matters?
On the flip side, there’s so much for pro players to sink their teeth into that it truly is a nice allrounder in that sense.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Verdict
It’s no exaggeration to say Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is hands down the best Smash game yet.
There’s so much going on, with something for everyone to dip into. The huge roster of fighters certainly makes it feel like you’re getting your money’s worth and then some.
It’s a fantastic way to enter into the world of Smash if you haven’t before, and longtime fans of the series will not be disappointed.
With nice extras like its huge library of soundtracks from all the franchises in the game, and a store where you can use your in-game currency to buy fun extras, exploring everything Ultimate has to offer is like walking into a fit-to-bursting candy store that leaves a pleasant, nostalgic aftertaste in your mouth.