What’s so wonderful about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that it really should not exist in its current state. As of this writing, there are eight core companies that have characters featured within the game as either Spirits or fighters, with even more providing must-follow input when you add in second parties that have partial rights to the characters (i.e. The Pokemon Company). It should go without saying that this is an absurd amount of work just to have a handful of characters to crossover into one fighting game, and the more it continues to grow the less likely it will ever be repeated.
There’s no way that appeasing this many companies in order to include gaming icons like Cloud, Solid Snake, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and Mega Man was an easy feat. The fact that Nintendo was even able to do it in the first place is a miracle. Still, not only was Nintendo and the development team working out of Namco Bandai capable of navigating this legal minefield, but they delivered the best iteration of the beloved Super Smash Bros. series to-date in doing so.
Featuring a whopping 74-character roster, with Piranha Plant arriving in Smash Bros. Ultimate as free DLC in February 2019, the finished product hosts every single fighter that has ever appeared in the franchise. Fan-favourite characters like Wolf, Ice Climbers, Pokemon Trainer, and Snake all make their return, while other axed veterans that many thought would never resurface (namely Pichu and Young Link) do a lot to justify their return to the franchise after last appearing in 2001’s Super Smash Bros. Melee on the Nintendo Gamecube.
Each character feels unique enough to stand alone on the roster, and that carries over to the newly-branded Echo Fighters (Lucina, Chrom, Dark Pit, Daisy, Dark Samus, Ken, and Richter) which are slightly altered copies of several other mascots on the character selection screen. Each has a unique way they strike a pose or deal damage that makes them feel like much more than what they really are – which are clones. This layout is brilliant from a marketing and gameplay perspective because it rounds out the roster by adding more fighters for less development time, and the end result is still just as satisfying for fans.
All of this is before even touching on the newcomers being introduced in Ultimate, and they are arguably the best in the franchise’s history. It’s hard to believe, but villainous characters like Metroid‘s Ridley and Donkey Kong‘s King K. Rool have been amongst the most highest requested characters for inclusion in the fight title for well over a decade – and they have now finally made their debut. Meanwhile, others like Castlevania‘s Simon Belmont, Animal Crossing‘s Isabelle, Splatoon‘s Inkling, and Pokemon‘s Incineroar are worthy additions that appeal to more general fans of Nintendo.
This branding of “everyone is here” may appear at first to be a marketing ploy, but the effort put into adding these combatants into the mayhem known as Smash Bros. Ultimate is admirable and, better yet, painstakingly true to their source material. The included single-player mode, World of Light, only broadens this scope of nostalgia in order to appeal to fans.
With plenty of references to franchises that do and don’t have playable representatives in the game, World of Light focuses on Ultimate‘s newest collectible, Spirits – which have completely replaced Trophies. These JPEGs are capable of powering up your chosen fighter in the story mode, which is essential as you traverse the Mario Party-esque board in the hopes of reclaiming the world and characters that had been lost in the opening cinematic.
Anyone expecting something akin to Super Smash Bros. Brawl‘s Subspace Emissary mode should scale their expectations, because World of Light is designed for players to spend hours grinding against Spirits to unlock them, earn new characters, and duking it out in spectacular boss fights. I spent upwards of 20 hours just trying to 100% the mode, which can admittedly be a little difficult when Spirits missed in the initial playthrough aren’t marked on the map.
Still, it’s worth noting that you’ll be able to launch a New Game + after you have wrapped up your initial trek through the loose narrative, allowing you to go back in and continue growing your collection of Spirits. Admittedly, Spirits are much less engaging and enjoyable to gather up than Trophies, but the tradeoff there has been in allocating resources dedicated to 3D model-building during development to expanding every other conceivable facet of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate experience.
In that (world of) light, it’s hard to do anything other than write it off as a nitpicking preference rather than a crippling flaw in the experience.
Finally, there’s the combat itself which is a wonderful progression of what was established in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U. The action is slightly faster than what was present in those games, which should help it establish a stronger competitive community – although Melee‘s staying power in the competitive scene has remained untouchable since its launch.
Even then, the online matchmaking for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a strong service so far. It’s noticeably better than previous instalments – barring a few technical hiccups or a friend joining a private session that has poor internet to begin with (way to go Kyle) – and it has kept me coming back to refine my gameplay style with friends and strangers alike time and time again. It’s still too soon to say that Nintendo has nailed the online experience, but in my opinion this is one of the most promising examples of online play in the company’s history.
With the exception of Nintendo’s voice chat options, which ensure that my friends and I simply use Discord rather than gamble with that network.
Still, all of this critique of the final experience pales in comparison to what Smash Bros. Ultimate is – and, frankly, it’s a miracle. If I may reference Greek Mythology for a moment (which is oddly appropriate given the inclusion of Kid Icarus‘s Pit in this game), every new entry in this franchise flies it closer and closer to the sun. What I mean by that is we’re now at a point where retaining all of the characters is not a possibility, and the future of the franchise is now unclear as a result.
Still, in all of the contractual hodgepodge surrounding this Nintendo fighting title is a spectacular party experience, a shockingly deep competitive fighting game, and a love letter to the medium known as gaming as a whole. A game like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate shouldn’t be a readily available commodity for consumers, but here it is.
All of the days, weeks, months, and years of labour put into the contract negotiations for crossover guests, the development of every returning character ever seen in the series, and a commitment to ensuring that the origins of each fighter are honoured is an impossible feat. Yet, here I am writing a quasi-review/hot take on the game because it exists.
Truth be told, we are all so much better off for it, too.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrived exclusively for Nintendo Switch on December 7, 2018. Nintendo provided Okay, Cool with a code for the game for coverage purposes.
You can find Riley on Twitter at @TheRileyLittle if you ever want to talk about Smash. He talks about it a lot… like an unhealthy amount.