As I was sitting down and planning out this review, I scrapped so many intros. See, I wanted to express to you all how much I love the Super Smash Bros franchise — I played the original all the way back on the N64 and was a master of Melee. But everything I wrote came out dry, so I ended up abandoning the idea of talking at length about my history with this franchise.
I will say this: fewer of my memories are fonder than Melee tournaments on Fridays after school on the good ol' Gamecube. No gaming experience has ever been able to match that in my book — except maybe some of my Halo memories — and I look back at those times with great affection.
But here we are now, so many years later, and Smash has hit peak Smash-ness with Ultimate. It's got a massive roster of characters, the best and smoothest gameplay yet, and just a ton going on. It's all around the best Smash has ever been, and I absolutely love the game. Nintendo crushed it this time around, and I honestly don't see where we can go from here.
The best Smash yet
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Bottom line: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the culmination of years of brawling and crossovers, with all of Nintendo's efforts leading to this point. It's peak Smash, and it's hard to find any real fault with this game. It heavily rewards veterans while welcoming newcomers or people who have been gone a while. The gameplay is so close to perfect, the roster is staggeringly large, and the spirit system adds infinitely unique gameplay.
- Looks amazing
- Tons of new fighters
- Huge variety of stages
- Fun single-player campaign
- Great for any Smash fan
- Easily overwhelming even for Smash veterans
- Some stages and fighters feel iterative
- Solo play grows dull after a while
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: What I loved
Where do I even begin with this section? I loved so much about this game that it's hard to distill my thoughts down into something understandable. From the minute I loaded up the game, I was hooked. There's a cohesive, if predictable, story this time around; the gameplay is buttery smooth; the roster is massive; there's tons of nostalgia for long-time players, and there are many welcoming elements for new players.
We'll start with the superficial stuff. Ultimate looks incredible. The detail on each character model is incredible and shows just how far we've come since the original on the N64 or even Melee. Each stage has tiny elements that add a unique flair. Some you know and recognize, and some that contain well-hidden pieces. Granted, you're often too busy to notice them unless they directly affect gameplay, but still. They're there, and they add a ton of personality to Ultimate.
Chaotic yet precise
I think what gives Smash Bros its charm is the fact that anyone can pick it up, choose a fighter, and get playing. It isn't intimidating by any means. However, there is such a high skill ceiling (that's somewhat easy to achieve) that the franchise ends up catering to two wildly different audiences and doing so quite well. And with Ultimate, you don't even have to be a Nintendo fan because of how far the roster stretches. And if you are a Nintendo fan, there's something here for you to love.
Battles in Ultimate are extremely chaotic, especially when eight combatants are fighting for supremacy. But despite the utter destruction, which is easy to get lost in, Ultimate feels precise and rewards skillful attacks. Fully charged smash attacks inflict a lot of damage, rewarding you the player for timing things just right. And a perfect Falcon Punch is still ever so satisfying! That's part of what makes Smash so much fun, those moments when you land that attack and send an opponent flying to their death.
Anyone like min/maxing? Then Smash has something for you: the spirit system. Spirits tweak gameplay ever so slightly. There are primary spirits, which offer active bonuses, and support ones, which grant passive skills. Your primary spirits level up as you fight, gaining more power and strength as they go. They can give you the slight advantage you need in battle.
Spirits replace Brawl's stickers and the equipment system from Smash 4 to the disappointment of no one. They're a fun way to enhance your gameplay and truly expand your skillset. Plus, you get the awesome fan service by seeing some of your favorite characters, or even ones you'd forgotten about over the years. I'm ashamed to admit it took me a bit to recognize some of the F-Zero racers, despite the hundreds of hours I dumped into F-Zero GX back in the day.
What else is there?
I want to briefly talk about the sound design for a second. Each Smash game has steadily sounded better as the hardware has improved. While I found Brawl to be less inspired than Melee, the whole sound design was so much better. But Ultimate is really something else, even on the Switch's speakers. The character voices, sound effects, and music are all top-notch. Items sound great, too.
Before this review was published, I got a brief chance to try Ultimate online. While Brawl was a pure mess and a horrible user experience, Ultimate is much improved. One of the things that makes the online experience so much better, besides just the technical stuff, is that you can customize how you play.
Battle Arenas almost have the spark of multiplayer magic that made the tournaments of old so memorable.
Gone are the "For Fun" and "For Glory" options of old; instead, you get to choose between Quickplay, where you just hop into a match or set your preferred rules, and Battle Arenas, which are a bit more hardcore. The latter sort of acts like the local multiplayer tournaments of old, where you can spectate or join in line to try your hand against the other people in the lobby.
Though Quickplay is really fun, especially if you're strapped for time, I really enjoyed Battle Arenas. They almost had that spark of multiplayer magic that makes local Smash so memorable. The ruleset is more robust than Quickplay, allowing you to granularly tweak your match(es) to everyone's liking.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: What I didn't like
Ultimate has the same problem that every Smash before it has had: playing by yourself just isn't that interesting after a while. Sure, the campaign can be challenging, and you can throw yourself against the hardest CPU players, but in the end, playing Smash is a social affair for a lot of us, even if you don't subscribe to Switch Online.
Other than that, Smash has so much going on that even I, as a veteran of the franchise, felt overwhelmed. The campaign throws a lot at you with multiple branching paths, challenges (some of which are quite difficult), and unique battles to free spirits and fighters. There are many more systems in this game, and even though I played Smash 4 on the 3DS (I only recently got a Wii U exclusively for the Prime Trilogy), I still felt like I could barely keep my head above water.
I guess the only other complaint that I can leverage at Ultimate is that some of the fighters and stages feel iterative instead of unique. I don't like the Echoes, and I think that they bloat the game beyond what it could be and almost artificially boost the roster count. Do we really need Daisy, Richter, and Dark Samus? I honestly don't think so, but peak Smash comes at a cost. I think the overabundance of similar characters is to the detriment of this incredible game.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Should you buy it?
Considering the praise and lack of hard-hitting criticism that I just leveled at this game, this is a bit of a silly question. Whether you should buy Smash Ultimate comes down to whether you want to drop $60 or not. If that's in your budget, then by all means, Smash Ultimate should be in your Switch library, absolutely no question.
Whether you've grown up with the series or you're brand new, Ultimate has a ton to offer you regardless of your skill level. Though I was a Melee master in my youth, I'll admit that I'd grown rusty since I wasn't thrilled with Smash for 3DS several years back. I still have my platinum Gamecube, Melee, and my memory card with all of my data, though!
What I'm getting at is that Smash Ultimate is the best we've ever seen from this franchise, hands down. Where we go from here is up to Nintendo, but the bar has been set so high that I'm skeptical we'll get anything better in the future. Rather, I see Nintendo continue to support and expand upon Smash, even if the idea of turning one of my favorite franchises into something resembling a live service game makes my skin crawl.
Speaking of monetization, you thought I forgot about the DLC fighter packs, huh? Well, I left that for here because they're neither positive nor negative, in my opinion. I honestly expected this when Ultimate was announced. There are two fighter passes right now, one of which has been completed ($25) and the other ($30) that just started with Min Min.
You can pick up Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for yourself from the Nintendo eShop. I can't recommend this game enough.