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"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" Review

Joey Nasser has been playing and discussing video games for about as long as he's existed. Recently enamored with Animal Crossing and Doom.

"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" Cover Art

"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" Cover Art

Smash Bros. has long been one of gaming’s biggest franchises. It’s become just as much of a celebration as it is a video game, bringing characters from all walks of gaming under one roof to duke it out in satisfying, accessible brawls. With this latest entry, Smash seeks to further refine its core gameplay, resulting in an entry that feels distinctly more like an evolution than a revolution. Does that lead to a game that feels too samey, or do the new additions and tweaks make this the best playing Smash yet?

Game Information

Developed By: Bandai Namco Studios and Sora Ltd.

Published By: Nintendo

Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Rating: E10+

Release Date: December 7th 2018 in NA

Concept/Story

Smash Bros. is a series about fighters from franchises all throughout gaming coming together to beat the tar out of each other. What initially started as a collection of Nintendo’s best and brightest has expanded to include third party reps like Sonic the Hedgehog, Solid Snake, Mega Man, and more. While the focus here is squarely on multiplayer battles, there’s a brand-new mode specifically catering to those who’d rather play through a campaign by their lonesome—World of Light.

World of Light kicks off with a bang. A cataclysmic event sees every fighter dissolve into nothingness. Every fighter, that is, save for Kirby. Now the lone warrior left standing, it’s up to Kirby to explore the expansive map, rescue the other fighters, and face the forces of light and darkness in a climactic final showdown.

A squishy boy in dire straits.

A squishy boy in dire straits.

If that all sounds exciting, the actual way it unfolds is considerably less so. You sprint around a large painting of a map, fighting innumerable "spirit battles" to power up your fighter or to unlock others.

"Spirit battles" consist of fights themed around a character who didn’t make the cut as a standard fighter. An example would be a fight against Mega Man’s Dr. Wily, here represented by a fight against eight metal copies of Mega Man before culminating in a fight with Dr. Mario. It’s a clever use of assets, and seeing the creative ways the developers represented different characters was a real treat, but the fights lose their luster fast. Even with minor additions like being able to equip defeated spirits for stat-boosts and simple overworld puzzles to break things up, World of Light far outstays its welcome.

The map is expansive, but ungodly tedious to explore.

The map is expansive, but ungodly tedious to explore.

The campaign clocks in at around 30 hours if you spend some time exploring, and it feels like an eight hour experience spread ludicrously thin. Every time the campaign seems like it’s wrapping up, a new section of map opens up, filled with dozens and dozens of battles virtually indistinguishable from the last 40 you completed. It might seem strange to complain about an overabundance of content, but in this case it’s more that the only meaningful content in World of Light is spaced out with unacceptable amounts of filler.

Make no mistake, there is meaningful content to be found in World of Light. Exploring the original map from Donkey Kong Country, flying continent to continent to face combatants from Street Fighter II, and a tense finale full of fanservice are all highlights worth experiencing, but the act of slogging through the rest of the game to get there just isn’t worth it. If you’re considering picking up Super Smash. Bros. Ultimate for its single-player campaign, I’d highly advise against it.

One of the rare inspired moments during "World of Light" sees you trekking across the map from "Donkey Kong Country."

One of the rare inspired moments during "World of Light" sees you trekking across the map from "Donkey Kong Country."

Graphics

Smash Bros. games have a long history of being some of the best looking games on their console, and Ultimate is no exception. An unwavering 60 frames per second ensures the game looks smooth throughout, and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 while docked and 1280 x 720 in handheld keep everything looking nice and crisp. Lighting has seen dramatic improvement over the Wii U entry, and effects are all stylishly hand-drawn and animate wonderfully. Stages, especially new entries and those that have been heavily reworked from prior titles look absolutely phenomenal. They’ve received a big boost in polygon count and overall detail, and are stunning showcases for just how far Smash has come since the Wii U.

The new stylized effects really pop.

The new stylized effects really pop.

Not everything is perfect, of course—models look great overall, but a few can look a bit simple up close. Shadows can sometimes appear so jagged that they look like they’ve been constructed out of Lego, and there are a fair number of low resolution textures adorning both the characters and the environments. The biggest issue is that, just by virtue of Ultimate being a ‘greatest-hits’ like compilation of prior Smash content, not everything got the same amount of love. It’s clear which stages and characters got the bulk of the attention, and a few of those less fortunate assets can look virtually unchanged from prior entries. The visual quality can be a bit inconsistent at times, but the overall result is a game that’s sharp, blazingly fast, and immaculately detailed.

Ken from "Street Fighter" has one of the more impressive models.

Ken from "Street Fighter" has one of the more impressive models.

Audio

Ultimate has got staggering quantity and quality on its side. Over 1,000 tracks pulled from dozens of gaming’s biggest franchises result in an impressively exhaustive collection. The original versions of songs are joined by wildly remixed versions composed by industry all-stars. No expense was spared, and the end product is a game whose soundtrack could cost as much as the game itself and nobody would bat an eye.

Songs are organized by series, and you can decide how often each one plays on any given stage.

Songs are organized by series, and you can decide how often each one plays on any given stage.

As fantastic as the overall song selection is, there are a few missteps. Final Fantasy fanatics hoping for some iconic tunes to accompany Cloud are going to be sorely disappointed, as the franchise was afforded a measly two songs. Otherwise, the biggest issue I can think of is how many different ways the game reuses its main theme. It’s a catchy song that works well as an opener, but throughout World of Light and other assorted modes and menus, the thing is remixed and replayed to death.

The game’s sound effects are similarly phenomenal. Hits have an impossibly crunchy, immensely satisfying quality that makes landing even the simplest blows feel weighty and powerful. Iconic sounds like Mega Man’s pea-shooter, Sonic’s jump, and Dr. Mario’s pills are all present and accounted for, lending each character an added air of authenticity. A wide gamut of wonderful voice actors lend their pipes to the massive roster of characters, imbuing them with a greater sense of personality. When it comes to the sound design of Ultimate, there’s precious little to complain about.

This sounds just as satisfying as it looks.

This sounds just as satisfying as it looks.

Gameplay

Smash Bros. games have traditionally been fighting/party game hybrids that see you trying to get your opponents offstage, and Ultimate is no different. The series has been struggling to find a middle ground between serious fighting game and chaotic party game for years, and while Ultimate may not go quite as far toward high level competition as Melee fans were hoping, it’s closer than many were expecting. Regular and well-considered balance patches have kept the majority of the roster competitively viable, and the tournament scene is flourishing. The base gameplay has been noticeably sped up since the series Wii U outing, and smart changes reward aggression and punish overly defensive play. All of this leads to a game that’s not only more fun to play, but more fun to watch as well. It’s still not quite as fast as Melee, but for my money it plays even better.

Value

There’s an obscene amount of game packed into Ultimate. Over 100 stages, a stage builder if you want even more, 74 fighters, thousands of songs, dozens of modes, and a ridiculously tweakable ruleset make this one you could conceivably play for years to come. The only minor thing hurting the game’s value is that everything boils down to a slightly different take on the game’s core combat. That might sound like a silly criticism, but past Smash titles have had modes that range from breaking a series of targets all the way to entire platforming adventures. For as good as Ultimate’s core gameplay is, and for as many variables as there are, it’s really all you’ll be doing.

There's an absurd number of fighters to choose from.

There's an absurd number of fighters to choose from.

Online play helps boost the title’s value even further, but it also has a few caveats. A cumbersome lobby system when playing with friends makes things like switching characters or changing rulesets a headache. This is especially odd seeing as how the prior game on the Wii U didn’t have these issues. Otherwise, online battling works about as well as you’d expect, which is to say reasonably well, but it never feels as smooth as it does with a local friend.

There’s also the matter of DLC to be considered. Should you want more than what the core package offers, packs of downloadable characters have been made available after release. At the time of writing, a total of 12 new fighters are expected, six of whom have been released. All but one of the new fighters are accompanied by a new stage, complete with new music. For the sake of this review, these aren’t being considered in the overall score, since you have to purchase them separately. That being said, they are exceedingly well made, and the stages they bring with them help bolster the otherwise lacking number of entirely new ones.

9 out of 10

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best all-around package in the Smash series yet. With a mind-boggling number of fighters and stages, smartly updated combat, and blistering speed, Ultimate lives up to its name.

The GoodThe Bad

Fantastic Core Combat

Almost No New Stages

A Ridiculous Number of Fighters

Weak Single Player Campaign

Almost Every Past Stage

Cumbersome Online Lobbies

© 2020 Joey Nasser

Comments

Joey Nasser (author) from brooklyn on March 31, 2020:

Thanks, that means a lot!

John Roberts from South Yorkshire, England. on March 30, 2020:

Fantastic review as ever! Though Smash has never really been my thing (except for one phase during Melee), I might have to pick this up and treat it as a collectathon, as the World of Light - however weak it may be - would probably be the only thing I'd enjoy about the game, as I'm not good enough for the online multiplayer.

Keep up the good work! ^^