Super Smash Bros Ultimate Review

By Blair Nokes on January 8, 2019

Super Smash Bros is an incredibly popular fighting game, and has been for almost 20 years, since the release of the first game on the Nintendo 64. Back then, it featured 8 of Nintendo’s most popular mascots (4 additional characters were unlockable). Over the years, the series has greatly increased its roster, including more familiar Nintendo characters, and special appearances from other IPs. 2014 marked the 4th installment in the franchise with Super Smash Bros for the Wii U; it also received a port to the 3DS, as a first for Nitnendo’s handheld line. Toward the end of 2018, Nintendo launched the third iteration of the critically acclaimed 2014 classic, with Super Smash Bros Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. Its aim is to be the most complete edition of the game, and also a densely packed compendium of the Super Smash Bros. franchise over its 20-year history. Let’s take a look under the hood and see if it’s worth the triple-dip.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate contains over 70 playable characters, consisting of all the characters originally released for the Wii U and 3DS versions, including all DLC characters that weren't part of the retail editions. It also sought to include any characters that made an appearance in the previous 3 installments, as well as 12 new characters to the series, like Simon and Richter Belmont from the Castlevania series, and heavily requested characters like King K. Rule and Ridley. One of the biggest concerns raised with such a robust roster would be the sacrifice of quality in favour of quantity. Rest assured, each character seems to have the same loving care in design, and are all a blast to play with. Incineroar was one of the last revealed characters before the game launched, and took many by surprised. In an interview, series director Masahiro Sakurai mentioned that he had always planned on saving one character frame for a Pokémon, but waited until a new game released. With the release of Ultimate Sun and Ultimate Moon, the decision to use one of the starters - Incineroar - became a clear choice. Fans will appreciate that Incineroar is voiced by the late Unshō Ishizuka - narrator and voice of Professor Oak for the Japanese Pokémon anime.

Stages are an important component in any given Smash Bros installment. They serve as a static or dynamic level that takes place in a specific setting that pertains to any one of the franchises that the characters belong to, as well as unique creations like Final Destination. It's great to revisit areas like Shadow Moses (Metal Gear Solid), Great Plateau Tower (Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild), and goofier inclusions like Flat Zone X or a Kirby's Dream Land level complete with a Game Boy aesthetic. With Super Smash Bros Ultimate, they’ve beefed up the stage count to over 100 uniquely designed stages. On top of that, they’ve included a feature called Stage Morph, which allows players to select any two stages, and the game will automatically switch them during the battle. Each of the levels has an absurd amount of detail to them, and all have their own unique charm.

An interesting twist for the fighting game is that the majority of characters are locked, except for 8 of the 12 original characters, as a cute little nod to the very first Super Smash Bros. There are a myriad of ways in which you can unlock them, and it boils down to playing any mode; the more you play in any given mode, the greater the chance you unlock a new character. It seems to unlock based on game-time spent, which is measured as “Smash Bros Powered Time Count” and “Play Time” in the Stats section in the game’s Records. So for anyone thinking they can cheat the system by waiting idly in the menus – think again.

Players can participate in the World of Light Adventure mode, to organically unlock every character that way, however that will most likely take you the longest amount of time. The World of Light is an interesting story mode that begins players with Kirby as the sole survivor in a catastrophe that seemed to have wiped out the entire roster. Kirby is then tasked with recovering his fallen comrades (which unlocks them in the other modes). Because of the uniqueness of this story mode, unlocking characters in other modes will not unlock them here. The mode itself is fairly straight-forward, with Kirby traversing the isometric map, unlocking spirits and freeing combatants that you can then use permanently throughout the other modes.

Spirits are essentially support characters that grant boosts, buffs and can even provide items at the start of the match. There are two types of spirits: primary and support. Primary spirits can be leveled up to provide additional strength boosts, and have 4 different types ascribed to them: Shield, Attack, Grab and Neutral. With the exception of Neutral spirits, the other 3 operate under a rock, paper, scissors type of balancing. Shield beats Attack, Attack beats Grab, and Grab beats Shield. It’s useful to understand the spirit that you are going to encounter, so you can best counter its typing. Primary spirits also house secondary spirits, based on their allotted slots. Any primary spirit can have as few as 1 or as many as 3 support spirits. Each support spirit provides an added buff or pre-game item to use, to help boost your character. Some are used to fight the various weather conditions a game’s stage may have, like extreme winds that gradually push you off the stage, so it’s important to read each match’s conditions prior to entering.

One minor gripe with World of Light is that the difficulty curve is erratic at times. In some cases, the levels are an absolute breeze, and in other cases levels immediately following those easy matches are exceptionally difficult – with conditions set against you that may need you to revisit at a later time when you have the proper spirit to help you.

For anyone new to the series, Super Smash Bros is a crossover fighting game, that operates a little differently than traditional games of the genre. Rather than depleting a health bar, players accumulate damage which is represented by a percentage meter that can go up to 999%, and are eliminated from the stage by ring-outs or are knocked out of bounds. As a character’s damage percentage rises, the distance that character can be knocked by an opponent’s attack increases. Controls are a little more simplified than typical 4 or 6 button fighting games, however there is a considerable level of depth with regards to the game’s physics and how it’s incorporated into a character’s combo chain. What's great is that the Smash Bros formula is open enough to cater to any type of player, be it casual, competitive or anywhere in between.

All characters have a neutral attack, which is done by simply pressing A without any influencing directional input. A run attack is done as implied by pressing A while sprinting, and grants a benefit of being able to push an opponent farther, at the cost of lowering your guard. Tilt attacks incorporate the directional input of the left analog stick, and modify an attack based on that direction; while all characters have up, down left and right tilt attacks, some characters even have diagonal attacks. Smash attacks are typically the finisher, and is a move that hits an opponent so hard that they soar off-screen. The B button acts as a character’s special attack, which can also be modified depending on the directional input of the left analog stick. Pressing the ZL or ZR buttons are your way of blocking; while blocking, you can strafe to the left or right to quickly evade an attack, or position yourself behind your opponent. The Z buttons let you grab opponents, and you can control the direction of the throw with the analog stick.

The controls are tight, fluid and easy to pick up. It’s a blast to play with a group of friends, and like the Wii U version, Smash Bros Ultimate can be played with up to 8 players. The biggest change is that the Wii U version only had a few maps that could be played this way; with Super Smash Bros Ultimate, every stage can fit 8 players. For fans of the series, Super Smash Bros Ultimate also supports the Gamecube controller, provided you have the adaptor that was available with the Wii U version of the game.

The visuals are exceptionally detailed. A lot of care went into the design of each character, each support character, and each of the stages. The performance is flawless, never dropping from its 60 frames per second target. The sound is also masterfully done, with over 800 tracks spanning from generations worth of Nintendo titles, and sounds from the games theses characters are known from. Best of all, Nintendo has allowed players to even customize their own soundtrack using these songs at their disposal.

Final Thoughts

Everything seems to be tailored to give the penultimate Super Smash Bros experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll find with Super Smash Bros Ultimate. It’s a love letter to the fans of the series, a perfect way to spend time with friends both online and offline, and is crammed full of content to keep you entertained well past its launch period.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate was reviewed using a Switch Digital Copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
An incredible roster of characters, spanning the entirety of Super Smash Bros' history.
More than 100 stages, each wonderfully designed and with incredible detail.
Over 800 tracks, that can be completely customized to fit your own personal soundtrack to the game.
World of Light's difficulty is erratic at times.
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