By Jeffrey Mizrahi
Not only is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate the best Smash Bros. ever made, it is an essential game in every Nintendo Switch owners library.
On a surface level, Super Smash Bros. is a party fighting game. Two to eight players load up into a level and duke it out until a winner is crowned. In this way, Smash is unlike many fighting games that we’ve come to expect from the genre. Yet it’s also way more complex than a traditional party game. It blends both the fighting and party game genres ever so seamlessly, allowing the series to be played at both high level competitions as well as pre-teen sleepovers. That is the beauty of Smash Bros. and what has allowed it to remain consistently relevant over the past two decades. But this description can be used to talk about any of the six iterations of the game. What makes the new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so… ultimate?
The answer begins to unfold when you read a quote directly from the back of the box – “EVERYONE IS HERE.” It’s not hype.
For a series that has added, and dropped, many characters over the course of its lifespan, this is a very meaningful tagline. When Ultimate was first announced, I was worried which characters from the Wii U and 3DS versions would get the ax. 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl omitted five players that were in 2001’s Super Smash Bros. Melee, and 2014’s Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS missed out on eight series veterans. As the rosters grew and grew from game to game, it would go in line with tradition for Ultimate to leave out a dozen characters that players have grown to love. But it didn’t. Instead they brought everyone back and even added a dozen new characters to boot.
The importance of including everyone is simple. Super Smash Bros. is a celebration of videogames. Not just a specific series or subset of games, it celebrates all games. In the N64 years, the roster included entirely top Nintendo mascots, but since then the series has expanded much larger. You can literally play a match consisting of entirely non-Nintendo owned characters. A free-for-all with Snake vs. Sonic vs. Megaman vs. Ryu. Smash has had characters from the world beyond Nintendo included since 2008. Yet the novelty of seeing these crossover match-ups is never lost on me. Especially as the list of franchises grow, Ultimate adds characters from the Castlevania series, truly fulfilling an old school NES gamer’s wildest dreams.
Everyone on the nearly 70 character roster is just so perfectly realized. It happens so often, but I’m always blown away at how the developers manage to make them all feel right at home in a fighting game. Ridley, that bony, winged Metroid creep that has been memed about for being too big to be in Smash, finally sees his day on the battlefield and just works so well with the likes of Mario and company. But there’s eclecticism throughout; one character that always shocks friends the first time they see her is Wii Fit Trainer. This digital athlete from a fitness game manages to seamlessly fit in a fighting game, while still feeling grounded to the series she came from. It’s a truly remarkable feat.
Ultimate continues to show love to videogames through its stages. With over 100 stages being pulled from 40 different game series, each one manages to feel so unique and lively. While at a core level, they may all just be different combinations of platforms and hazards, the detail in the backgrounds for some of these levels is notable. The different Pokemon that can spawn in the background of every match on Spear Pillar, the ghoulish enemies from Castlevania on Dracula’s Castle, even the old man soaring in to watch the battle on Great Plateau Tower. These things didn’t have to be there, and honestly, Smash would still be a fantastic game without them. But they are there, and they help turn the stage design up to eleven with their inclusion.
Lastly, what ties this motif of videogame celebration together is the music. If you just wanted to listen to some sweet tunes, Ultimate is worth the $60 alone for its sheer musical library. With roughly 900 tracks, the developers even included a mode where you can put the screen to sleep and just listen to any of the songs as you would on any other music device. After playing several hours on a recent plane ride, I was too tired to continue smashing. So I clicked on over to the Music menu, made a quick playlist of my favorite Zelda tracks and dozed off to that. I was completely dumbfounded by how easy this feature was to use and how much it adds to the overall package of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
If the characters, stages, and music aren’t enough, Ultimate adds a brand new single player mode called World of Light. It begins with a very cinematic cutscene where an evil force and horde of Master Hands decimate the entire Smash Bros. cast except for Kirby. The lovable pink puffball flies to safety and lands on a top-down game board of sorts where he must fight to save his lost friends. The story is nearly paper thin, culminating in a cheesy fight between literal dark and light. But what World of Light lacks in narrative, it makes up for in gameplay.
The map the player traverses is filled with Spirits, essentially art from various game series with stat boosts that you can equip to your character. Each Spirit can be unlocked by beating its corresponding challenge. For example, to unlock the Cranky Kong Spirit, players must fight against a white Donkey Kong while the floor is sleep inducing. Or to unlock Baby Mario, you must fight a tiny Mario with a bunch of Yoshi’s protecting him, referencing the Yoshi’s Island series. These battles are, for the most part, engaging and diverse enough to keep me coming back for more over the 20-hour lifespan of the campaign.
This mode blends the story mode of Brawl’s Subspace Emissary with previous iterations’ Event mode. World of Light is a great replacement for both of these modes because it makes the tailored challenges of Event more meaningful. Although I wish World of Light was more cutscene heavy, what they did with the Spirit challenges makes up for that loss. Even after the credits rolled, there are still so many more things to do in World of Light that was not present in previous single player outings.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is overflowing with content. After playing on all the stages, unlocking all the characters, and conquering the story mode, there’s still more. The Classic mode returns, yet its quality is a mixed bag. Each character has his or her own micro-story that takes them through six fighters all under a specific theme. If you choose Link, his story is called “A Quest to Seal the Darkness” where you fight six dark themed enemies like Ganondorf, Dark Link, etc., culminating in a final boss. Whereas Peach’s version of Classic mode is called “No Damsel in Distress!” – pitting her against a group of videogame kidnappers like Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Ganondorf.
These micro-stories are a blast and very fun to quickly run through when you’re short on time, but my biggest issue is the bonus stage. After the six fighters and before the final boss, players must run rapidly through a platform level outrunning a dark void while collecting glowing orbs. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was different every time, but it’s not. It’s the same level, same glowing orb placement, same everything, each time you play Classic Mode. This gets tedious and slightly lowers the enjoyment of an otherwise stellar mode.
Other returning modes include Century Smash, in which you defeat an army of 100 enemies as fast as you can. There’s All-Star Smash, an all out brawl against every fighter in the game and Cruel Smash, a series of fights against the most difficult enemies the game has to offer. These are solid distractions from the main smash modes.
However, Smashdown might be my favorite new party mode to play with friends. In Smashdown, players progressively choose new fighters, while eliminating the fighters they last chose, whittling the character select screen to zero before crowning the player with the most wins. This mode allows for players to play as fighters they would normally avoid. It’s a simple idea but is a new go-to whenever I’m feeling bored with the traditional Smash set up.
The diversity, flexibility, and replayability of Super Smash Bros. really shines in Ultimate. Whether with two friends, five friends, or alone, Ultimate has a game mode ready for the situation. The game has a pick up and play feel akin to a Mario Kart or Guitar Hero that just attracts onlookers. Bringing every character back from all previous games makes this one of the most complete packages in the entirety of gaming, and wholly deserving of a place in every Switch owner’s library.
Jeffrey Mizrahi is a contributing writer for the New York Videogame Critics Circle. You can find more of his musings pretty much anywhere on the internet @MrBrawl96