There’s nothing quite like Super Smash Brothers. The hugely successful franchise has seen itself grace most of Nintendo’s recent consoles since the original launched on Nintendo 64 back in 1999, continuing to iterate and elevate itself throughout the years. And this, if anything, is more noticeable than ever in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Smash Ultimate feels like a celebration of everything the series has managed to conjure up over all these years, in turn making for an experience that is almost perfect in every way I could have hoped.
Starting with the original eight characters that headlined the Nintendo 64 version of Smash, Ultimate has you unlocking the remaining 65+ fighters through the variety of game modes on offer. Classic Mode — which has you taking on themed fights with each character in pursuit of besting high scores — was my preferred method for both getting to grips with the gameplay and guaranteeing a fight with a new fighter at the end of each run.
I particularly loved running through classic mode with each character, as the six to seven matches come quick and fast, and allow you to get a good feel for how each fighter plays. And while Classic Mode itself is not a new addition to the series, the themed fights — which pit the likes of Link against Ganon and Simon and Richter Belmont against Dracula, for example, are a welcome change to the fairly repetitive nature of how the mode played out in previous entries.
"It may sound a little complicated, but it’s a fantastic system that keeps things interesting for budding Smashers — no fight ever feels the same..."
Kicking into the game’s ‘Smash’ mode (which is basically your Versus mode in a normal fighter) and taking on mates in local play will also earn you new fighter challenges, too. New modes within Smash, like Squad Strike — which allows you to create a team of three or five fighters and take on another team — and Tourney, which facilitates a proper tournament setup without the need for complex bracket planning and the like, are great little inclusions to keep things interesting.
The big new addition to Ultimate, though, is Spirits, which more or less replaces trophies from previous Smash Bros. games. Spirits, which are characters from a range of games spanning almost every console generation, are unlockable, upgradeable and are ranked depending on their strength and abilities. Each spirit gives fighters a boost or some sort of perk, like starting with a specific weapon or being able to deal more damage when at a certain percentage of health. Some also counter terrain obstructions in certain match ups, like allowing you to see through fog or not being affected by lava on a stage’s floor. Spirits also come in two forms: primary spirits and support spirits, with the former being the main ‘overall’ spirit for a fighter while the others add extra effects and boosts. It may sound a little complicated, but it’s a fantastic system that keeps things interesting for budding Smashers — no fight ever feels the same while you’re working through this mode.
Spirits plays a big role in Smash Ultimate’s adventure mode, too. Dubbed World of Light, the 20 to 30-hour story has you attempting to claim back the lost spirits of many fighters sprawled across the world. With most of the universe wiped out Thanos-style, Kirby’s the only one left standing and is tasked to free the spirits trapped within their evil counterparts. The cause of all of this chaos, Galeem, also needs to be taken down too — but the main focus in World of Light more or less comes down to collecting spirits and obtaining more fighters to use. Fighters unlocked in the main game aren’t available here, either, so there’s an extra set of unlocking to be done.
Throughout the adventure you’ll face different types of match conditions that can affect how matches play out, which spices things up quite a bit when compared to normal play. Some spirits you face will cause the map to flip after some time, while others might have the entire ground covered in poison for the duration of the fight.
"Everything about Ultimate’s movement style feels relatively fine tuned to favour a fast match with quick movement options available for the player, and that's something I’m largely appreciative of..."
This is also seen in the Spirits Board mode, too, which is a collection-based side note to World of Light. You’re free to use any of the characters you’ve unlocked in the main game here, while also being able to choose the type of spirit you want to take on. The board continuously swaps out characters after a certain amount of time passes, and if you lose against a spirit you don’t have a chance to have another go until they come back around on the board — so there is an element of risk and reward here, which I found to be really enjoyable.
When a match kicks off, players coming over from Smash Bros. for Wii U will no doubt notice a big change in the way the game plays — and that’s for the better. Fighters feel lighter — almost like Super Smash Bros. Melee, in a way — and can move at a much quicker pace than Ultimate’s predecessor. This is seen especially in light characters like Wolf and Falco, but also in the way heavy characters like King K Rool and Donkey Kong move across the 100+ stages available. Everything about Ultimate’s movement style feels relatively fine tuned to favour a fast match with quick movement options available for the player, and that's something I’m largely appreciative of. After what was a relatively slow game in Smash 4, Ultimate changes that up and makes you more receptive to reactionary movement and dashing away from attacks rather than just straight up shielding — and I absolutely love it.
Stages across all of Ultimate are great, too, even if there aren’t that many newcomers to the fray. While there are over 100 stages to choose from, most are from older Smash games. And for the most part this is okay, as having that many stages unlocked from the get-go to choose from helps keep every fight feeling fresh. Moray Towers and Dracula’s Castle — from Splatoon and Castlevania, respectively — are awesome new additions that feel every bit as unique as their fighters, and are the big standouts for me.
"Starting off with the original eight from Smash 64 and unlocking characters as you go allows players to come to grips with how Smash works at a tolerable pace..."
Having such a huge roster can be an imposing gauntlet to run for a newcomer, however, the way Smash plays makes it one of the easiest fighting games to pick up and play. Starting off with the original eight from Smash 64 and unlocking characters as you go allows players to come to grips with how Smash works at a tolerable pace. Yet beneath that casual, fun experience is also an insanely deep and dedicated competitive scene that is frothing at the teeth to deep-dive into every character the game has to offer. Ledge grabbing, up smashes, and nairs are all likely to be heard at the local Smash Ultimate competition down the road, but you don’t have to know any of that to have fun with the game. And that’s what it comes down to — whether you’re in for a casual night with mates trying to best each other or competing for top honours at a local competition, Ultimate allows for all of that no matter what kind of player you are.
The one major issue I have with Ultimate is a fairly fundamental piece of the puzzle, and that’s the game’s online component. The constant latency issues have been hard to endure, and hurt the experience quite a bit. However, some matches I played were almost picture-perfect in terms of lag, so to say it was hit and miss would be a bit of an understatement. It’s the worst I’ve seen a first-party Nintendo game perform online in some time, though, I’m hopeful we’ll eventually get some sort of fix down the line. As it stands right now, playing competitively online can be a torturous task.
"Further to this, Smash Ultimate is easily the best package ever put together by the development team by some distance..."
In the offline space, Smash Ultimate is a brilliant celebration of everything the series has managed to accomplish over the years. It’s chock full of things to do, collect, unlock and complete, and is absolutely fantastic for anyone wanting something new to play or, alternatively, for a returning veteran of the series seeking new pastures — it’s got it all. Further to this, Smash Ultimate is easily the best package ever put together by the development team by some distance — it’s absolutely brimming with content to venture through, and I absolutely adore its core gameplay.
So yes, I believe this is quite easily the best Smash game of all time. It’s got it all, and the Switch only helps compliment what makes Smash Bros. so damn fun. It’s the perfect console for the fighter, and is one of the best value for money propositions I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking on. It’s been an arduous wait, but it’s been well worth it — Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is absolutely brilliant.