With the most comprehensive character lineup in Smash history, does Nintendo's newest Switch game live up to the hype? Let's find out...
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Nintendo has made Super Smash Bros. Ultimate its key focal point for several Nintendo Direct streams, including its E3 Direct, which was nothing but Smash (much to some people’s dismay). The importance of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to Nintendo’s fiscal year is unquestionable. The company is sticking to its target of 20 million Switch units for the fiscal year ending next March, and its holiday sales are likely to be propelled by Smash. But is Ultimate good enough?
In short, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. But as our friends at Shacknews have pointed out, all the reviews published right now don’t address the critical component of online play -- made even more important by the fact that Nintendo now charges for online play. That said, with Ultimate already garnering an average score in the mid-90s, the typical Nintendo polish that players have come to expect from the company’s greatest franchises is clearly there.
With 74 fighters, over 100 stages, new assist trophies, movesets, and a large single-player mode, the game has plenty to offer even before diving into online. Unlike a Mario Kart, which is instantly approachable for anyone, the Smash series requires a deeper understanding (as any fighting title would). But it’s not too complex, notes The Verge.
“There’s a lot going on, but somehow it never feels like too much,” said Andrew Webster in his glowing review. “Instead, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exactly what the title implies: it’s the ultimate version of the game, offering just about everything a typical player could want from a new Smash game. After spending a week with it, I’m not sure why I’d ever want to play a different Smash Bros.”
Ultimate doesn’t change the Smash formula much, and why should it? Nintendo knows it’s got a good thing going, and with Ultimate, the company is playing to its base like never before. There’s something for everyone, with new additions like Metroid’s Ridley, Castlevania’s Simon Belmont, Donkey Kong’s King K Rool, to name just a few. The best part, though? According to Webster, it’s simply the fact that this game is on Switch, and is therefore completely portable. Unlocking so many characters can take a very long time, but “carrying a Switch around in your bag now means there’s always a possible impromptu Smash battle on the horizon.”
Kotaku had equally complimentary things to say about Ultimate. Cecilia D'Anastasio proclaimed that it’s the “very best” in the series in her detailed review.
With such a huge and varied cast, Ultimate certainly presents some weird match-up possibilities, considering different character’s abilities and styles. D’Anastasio worried at first that this might make some matches feel “alien or haphazard,” but it was more satisfying than anything.
“At the end of the day, after playing dozens of hours of the game, I simply do not care about that. So many of the game’s fighters are so powerfully enjoyable and unique that, in the end, it’s worth it to me to trade off knowable match-ups for an endless bounty of mechanics to learn and master,” she noted.
With a growing esports presence and nostalgia at an all-time high thanks to fast-selling systems like the NES Classic, Nintendo’s cultural status is palpable. This will no doubt help fuel Ultimate sales too.
“I kid you not when I say that I encountered a guy on the subway who, when I asked what Smash Ultimate fighter he was most excited for, silently tilted his ball cap to show the phrase “MEWTWO #150,’” D’Anastasio observed.
The game’s versus mode is where most will spend their time, but the single-player in Ultimate was actually one of the few things D’Anastasio did criticize. The classic mode in single-player is just fine, but the World of Light adventure mode was “next to no fun,” she said.
“World of Light feels like a forced march through a Nintendo product catalog,” D’Anastasio wrote. “It failed to elicit an iota of nostalgia in me. Mostly, I was frustrated. I did not have fun cheesing my way through battles in which my button inputs were reversed. I did not have fun chasing Peach across an enormous, hazard-packed stage while, as she evaded me, other Smash fighters wielding hammers and flame swords attempted to ruin my life.”
She did not enjoy the new Spirits implementation in Ultimate, either. These are essentially character emblems or stickers that can be unlocked for additional support or abilities, but she found the whole system “insipid and unnecessarily involved.”
While the Spirits system may feel tedious for some, the overall refinements that Nintendo made to the core gameplay in Ultimate will be appreciated by Smash veterans, GameSpot said in its 9-out-of-10 review in progress.
“On a more technical level, Ultimate makes a number of under-the-hood alterations that, at this early stage, seem like positive changes that make Smash feel noticeably faster and more exciting to both watch and play,” wrote Edmond Tran. “Characters take more damage in one-on-one fights; continuous dodging is punished with increased vulnerability; fighters can perform any ground-based attack, including smash moves, immediately out of a running state; and short-hop aerial attacks (previously a moderately demanding technique) can be easily performed by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Refinements like these might go unnoticed by most, but they help define Ultimate's core gameplay as a tangible evolution of the series' core mechanics.”
Unlike The Verge, which lauded Ultimate on the go, GameSpot wasn’t very pleased with the portable experience.
“Playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the Switch's handheld mode is simply not a great experience,” Tran pointed out. “In situations where there are more than two characters on screen, the view of the action often becomes too wide, making the fighters too small to see properly, and it can be difficult to tell what you or your opponent is doing. The game's penchant for flashy special effects and busy, colorful stages doesn't help things at all, and unless you're playing a one-on-one match, you'll likely suffer some blameless losses.”
For a game that’s so highly polished, it’s a little strange to also see that its menu screens didn’t receive the same attention. It may sound nitpicky, but Polygon noted that, “It’s all too complex, favoring Nintendo fan service over accessibility.” Ironic, given that Nintendo’s eshop feels overly crowded as well, with discoverability getting worse.
Chelsea Stark explained, “I do wish the simplicity of rule management translated to the level select screen. Ultimate has 103 playable stages, and they’re all jammed on one crowded grid. Nintendo hasn’t included basic options, like sorting by franchise or level type.”
And while Kotaku felt that Ultimate’s World of Light adventure mode was mostly a chore, Stark was pleasantly surprised.
“World of Light’s journey has the narrative oomph of a pro wrestling royal rumble from a WWE knockoff,” she said. “All creatures in the unnamed Smash land have been captured by an unknown villain, and he’s puppeteering their bodies for his own ends. By traversing a sprawling overworld map, you’ll slowly save these spirits, and harness them to raise your attack or defense during your own travels. The matches are diverse and challenging enough that I enjoyed the 12 hours I’ve spent with Spirits’ modes — by no means enough to see the whole thing.”
Final verdicts on the game will have to wait for a thorough online gameplay review once Ultimate launches tomorrow, but for now it certainly appears that Nintendo has managed to apply its magic touch yet again.
“Ultimate is the most enjoyable entry since Super Smash Bros. Melee devoured the free time of my social circle through most of college. Because I can fine-tune the options I want, and pick the characters and stages I love from the franchise’s whole history, I’m almost guaranteed to be able to craft a fun match with whomever I’m playing with. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s gameplay is so snappy and fluid, its characters so rewarding in their variety, that it feels destined to dominate living rooms once again,” Stark concluded.
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