So far in its lifespan, Nintendo Switch has gone a long way towards righting the wrongs of its predecessor, the ill-fated Wii U. For one thing, Switch has been amply supported by third-party developers (there’s room for improvement in that area still, granted, but by and large), and for another… well, people are actually buying the darn thing.
It’s not been an easy ride, though. Since its release in March 2017, the system has been characterized by having huge, barnstorming releases with long, quiet gaps in between them (one of those gaps being most of freaking 2018 up to this point, for instance).
Sales success is one thing (it’s a huge deal, too, of course), but maintaining that momentum is a different matter entirely. What Nintendo needs to do is finish out this year on as great a high as possible. Which is where Super Smash Bros. Ultimate comes in.
Alongside Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, there’s no doubt that this is the biggest Switch game of the year. As we speak, players are battling to unlock characters and Smash their way to victory online in their millions, all around the world.
Smash Bros. Ultimate was hyped beyond belief prior to release, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed. The big question is, does it live up to all that? It’s not infallible, after all, as no game ever can be. Let’s take the rough with the smooth, then, and dive into some of the very best and very worst things about Nintendo’s latest blockbuster.
30 WORST: It’s Not My Fault, It’s The Lag
Ah, yes. Of course, this little gripe was going to come up. If you’ve had any experience with the Nintendo Switch Online service, you’ll know that it leaves a lot to be desired. There were fears that Ultimate, a super fast-paced title that relies on a smooth connection, wouldn’t function too well online (as with previous Smash entries).
Sure enough, many players have been complaining of janky, stalling matches. It’s early days still, and there’s certainly time for things to improve in that area, but it’s very, very frustrating.
29 BEST: There Are *How* Many Characters?
Now, you can question the game’s ‘Ultimate’ moniker (spoiler: I’m going to, later in this rundown). One thing you can’t deny is that this is one incredible ambitious cast of fighters: over 75 of them. While some of these are distinctly odd choices for some (you cannot please everybody), this is a huge achievement, and an exciting prospect for players.
Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite Smasher as you give the cast a try?
28 WORST: Wait, A Piranha Plant!?
You’ve got to admire Sakurai’s chutzpah here. With all the fan-clamoring on the internet, all the Waluigi memes, the rampant speculation, and demands for such-and-such a character, who does he go and ahead and announce? Piranha Plant, that’s who. Not an actually relatively well-known and popular one like Petey, either, but Generic Piranha Plant No. 78942.
It was a move that reeks of an April fool’s joke, but it totally happened. As we reported last month, Sakurai has offered his reasoning for picking such a quirky character (too many typical heroes and heroines makes things boring, he stated), and it certainly does look like a whole heckola of a lot of fun to play as, but that’s no excuse.
27 BEST: My, Grandma, What A Big World of Light You Have
Now, the Smash Bros. franchise’s tenuous status as a fighting game has been debated for years. Sure, you’re technically fighting, but there’s a manic party game sort of sense to proceedings too (just set all items to ‘high’ and watch the absurd pandemonium unfold). It’s a grey area, for certain.
Generally, as with most fighters, we’re not leaping into Smash for its single-player content. Regardless, we want something substantial to play while we’re going it alone.
That’s where the loving-presented and quite substantial World of Light comes in, essentially the game’s campaign mode.
26 WORST: The World Of Light’s A Little… Light
Having enthused about the World of Light mode and the campaign experience it offers, I’m now sadly going to have to take a super soaker to those hype-tastic flames. Just a little bit.
The fact is, as hard as Sakurai and the team tried to make the experience seem big and expansive (and there’s a good amount of skills and spirits to unlock, customization to mess with, branching paths to take, excellent cutscenes to enjoy and so forth), it still largely boils down to a series of battles.
The hook is that each encounter has a set of specific conditions attached to it (perhaps the opponent will have permanent super armor, increased defense or speed or such), but some are far more memorable than others.
25 BEST: Come On, Get Into The Spirit
While I’m a huge fan of the Smash Bros. series, I could never quite get fully invested in the trophy/sticker aspect of it all. They were neat, sure, and I enjoyed reading the little snippets of information and learning a little more about Nintendo’s rich history, but this was the only purpose they served.
Ultimate introduced Spirits, and this system I find much more engaging. These items are still neat little nods to a huge range of characters (from the famous to the most obscure) from gaming’s past, but they also serve a practical in-game purpose. They serve as equipment, giving your fighter various bonuses (passive and active), and can be used in more than just the campaign mode itself (depending on the settings you prefer).
24 WORST: Dude, Where’s My For Glory?
Now, this one’s going to be a great big steaming gripe for lots of Ultimate players. When it comes to Smash Bros., of course, there tend to be two distinct ways to play: items everywhere pandemonium, and Fox only, final destination competitiveness.
The last entry in the series catered very well to this, with the For Glory and For Fun modes. It was a very simple, definitive solution, and both camps were happy. Sadly, there’s no For Glory mode this time around, which may harm the game competitively if it isn’t implemented later. Not that there aren’t ways to play 1-on-1s online, though, as we’ll see.
23 BEST: It’s Darn Pretty
Now, we all know that Nintendo Switch isn’t the big boy on the block, tech specs-wise. That’s never really been a focus of Nintendo’s, and while the Switch continues that trend, it does an admirable job at making games look super slick. It does provide a true home console experience on the go, and that’s not something to sniff at.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for my money, is the best-looking game on the system.
Comparing some of those familiar environments to their counterparts in the Wii U edition, as well as admiring all-new fighters and stages in their first 3D HD outing, really shows what this machine is capable of.
22 WORST: Grinding Me Down
So, yes. One of the game’s major selling points is its incredible list of characters. 75+ combatants represents a real labor of love for Sakurai and the team, there’s no doubt about that. You’re sure to find somebody you like among them. Heck, maybe veteran Smashers will find a new favorite Main among them all.
The thing is, though, the team took a unique approach with them all that has divided fans. When you first boot up the game, you only have a small selection (it’s a throwback to the original Super Smash Bros.). the rest must be unlocked. New characters pop up very frequently, depending on the mode you’re playing, but it’s quite a grind.
21 BEST: Clones? What Clones?
Speaking of long-time fans of the Smash Bros. titles, there’s something else that has become deeply entrenched in the series: the idea of clones. While the sheer number of different selectable characters has increased and increased with each outing, the fact remains that some of them are very similar. With regards to special moves and such, they’re more like palette swaps of each other.
Ultimate, however, changed things up a little here. We now have Echo Fighters, the official term the game uses for these characters (Daisy is Peach’s Echo Fighter, for instance, while Dark Samus is Samus’). the idea was to make them very similar, as before, but still a little more distinct.
20 WORST: You’ve Got One Heck Of A Leak There
Now, sure, this isn’t the game’s fault. It’s a fact of the industry that hackers, leakers, lurkers and other assorted ‘ers’ exist, ready to opportunistically dive in and blow a game’s secrets wide open before release.
It’s a shame, though, with a title as hotly anticipated Smash Ultimate. In the weeks prior to release, suspect copies found their way out into the wild. Nintendo waded in with their band of rabid winged lawyer monkeys, distributing copyright strikes far and wide like that Oprah meme, but the damage had been done.
19 BEST: Recording Your Finest Moments Of Smash Glory
When it comes to games to hop in with when friends are over and have some silly fun, Nintendo rule the roost. The likes of Mario Party and Mario Kart are just perfect for that, and the same applies to Smash Bros.
Naturally, in that context, ridiculous things are going to happen, and you’re going to want to record them for posterity. The good news is, in Ultimate, match replays can be saved as MP4s, meaning that they won’t be erased from existence by updates and the like (well, the copy on your system still will, hence the mp4).
This seems to be limited to matches with a results screen (regular versus matches), though.
18 WORST: Have We Smashed Our Last?
Oh, heckola. I’ve opened the can now, and there are worms darn everywhere.
Let’s get to it, though. When the latest Smash installment was officially announced, the rumor mill went into instant overdrive in response to one thing: its subtitle, Ultimate.
Along with the fact that Sakurai has sold his Earthly soul to Beelzebub in exchange for the years of sleepless life needed to make these games (and not age even the slightest bit in the process), that title has led many to believe that this may be the last Smash Bros. game. They did make a huge fuss of the fact that 'EVERYONE IS HERE,' after all, and went all out with the newcomers to boot.
Could this be Sakurai’s last Smash game? Could it be the last, period? Only time will really tell.
17 BEST: It’s A GameCube Controller Or Nuthin’
For a lot of Smash Bros. veterans, particularly those who take the whole thing to the next level and compete in tournaments, there’s only one weapon of choice: the GameCube controller. Of course, it was Super Smash Bros. Melee that kicked off the competitive scene, which was a GameCube title itself.
For some, this makes perfect sense, while others just don’t understand the fascination with this controller. Right from the off, though, Nintendo were quick to make clear that Ultimate would be compatible with them, and there’d be an official Switch adaptor for them (pro tip: the Wii U one works perfectly well with the Switch, if you still have one of those). Plus a new line of official ‘GameCube’ controllers.
16 WORST: Break The Targets? Not In My House, You Don’t
Here’s the other issue with labeling a new entry in any series as ‘Ultimate.’ The weight of expectation that sort of talk creates is just phenomenal. The ultimate Smash Bros. game? Them’s fighting words, friend.
Considering that ambitious moniker, some have expected this to be an enormous compilation of absolutely everything that’s ever been in a Smash game before, along with a great wealth of entirely new content. In many ways, that’s what we’re looking at here, but a few features didn’t make the cut. The Home Run Contest is missing, as is Break The Targets! Naturally, fans of those modes are not amused.
15 BEST: It’s A Huge, Huge Game
So, yes. There are little niggles, omissions and that sort of thing. Poor old Sakurai was in sthat lamentable position of being unable to get everything exactly right, and knew that he’d feel the full force of the internet’s bile and rage whatever he did with the game’s modes.
In the grand scheme of things, it's not much to complain about, but still: target-breaking and pummelling the sandbag with a bat are iconic Smash minigames (like busting up the car in Street Fighter II), and it’s a real shame they’re gone.
Perhaps they’ll be implemented later, though? If not, we can take solace in the fact that this one huge package of a game.
If you’re up for collecting Spirits, say, do you know how many there are? Over 1,200 with more on the way, that’s how many.
14 WORST: All On Your Lonesome
As we’ve seen, then, there’s a huge amount of content here, in terms of collectibles. Hundreds of hours of Smashing awaits, perhaps even thousands for those who really commit to competing. After all, Smash Bros. is one of those franchises that, for the faithful, keep us going for years until the next installment.
Naturally, though, the mileage you get from it is going to vary. It’s got decently substantial single-player offerings, with the likes of World of Light and Classic mode, but it’s clear that Smash has always been intended as a multiplayer experience. If you don’t have anybody to play with and you’re not into the whole online scene, you won’t get the very best from Smash Bros. Ultimate.
13 BEST: Are You Globally Smashing?
It’s a common criticism that the Smash series isn’t as competitive as most dedicated fighters out there.
This is entirely valid, of course. In Smash, you’ll see Pikachu running at Donkey Kong, about to wang a ridiculously OP Bob-omb (which the electric rodent got purely by chance) at the ape, only to randomly trip out of nowhere. There’s something about this chain of events that just doesn’t scream super competitive to me.
Regardless, with modes like For Glory (which is sadly absent here as of right now, as I say) the games are trying to cater to the more competitive crowd. Ultimate also features the Global Smash Power ranking from the previous entry, as well as a new system that sees you claiming Smash Tags (dog tags) from every opponent you defeat. It all goes towards ensuring you strive to improve, to claim trophies from other skilled players.
12 WORST: I’d Really ‘Prefer’ This Not To Be A Thing
As I say, there’s a definite shonkiness to the way that online play operates in Smash Ultimate. Not in terms of the way the game runs (there’s some very questionable lag in quite a lot of matches, as I and many other players have been finding), because it is quite difficult to judge a brand-new game in those terms.
The other issue is matchmaking itself, particularly with regards to the ‘preferred rules’ system. When you’re looking only for 1-on-1 matches, you’ll often be thrown into a free-for-all regardless. It’s less than ideal, as you can imagine.
11 BEST: We Who Are About To Smash Salute You
So, yes. There’s no For Glory/For Fun divide in the game. When you’re using the preferred rules system, there’s no real way of actually being sure you’ll get the rules you want (we’re taking the term ‘preferred’ just a tad too literally here).
The closest we can get to this system, as things stand, is the battle arena. In this mode, you can set the rules you want to play with and start a lobby, or search for one already using the rules you want.
It’s a little hit and miss, and the rotation system can be a pain, but it’s the closest approximation the game has to offer for now.
10 WORST: The Lack Of Darn Honour In Battle Arenas
Speaking of which, Battle Arena can be a darn pain too. I mean, granted, it’s an easier way of playing those itemless 1-on-1 matches you’ve been wanting, but you’ve got to take care to fix all of the settings accordingly.
A maximum of two players in the lobby, for instance. Random players online, in a lobby of 4 or so, don’t want to wait around for their next turn to play on being defeated (the loser generally goes to the back of the line). As it stands, if the host leaves the room, it’s immediately disbanded and everyone is kicked. Even for those whose match is currently in progress.
Darn it, Nintendo.
9 BEST: Staying On Your Feet
Needless to say, a lot of the competitive faithful were less than impressed by Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It arrived in the wake of Melee, the much-beloved entry that started the whole scene in the first place. Sadly, Brawl didn’t step into its teeny, GameCube disk-sized shoes a very well at all.
If there’s any one picky little mechanic that explains why, it would be tripping. This element of randomness was not welcomed by super-serious Smashers, and I’m pleased to say that it does not make a return here.
8 WORST: “What Have They Done To My Main?”
Ah, yes. The familiar rallying cry of Smash Bros. players the world over, as they dive into a new entry in the series.
Metagames are a fluid concept. As new tactics are discovered and familiar ones begin to fall out of fashion, the notion of who’s top tier and who isn’t can change.
Between series entries, especially, this will alter dramatically. Changes have been made to a lot of familiar characters in Ultimate, and it’s inevitable that they won’t all be for the better. That fighter you’ve been Smashing with for years? For better or worse, you’re going to have to get used to how different they are now.
7 BEST: A Cornucopia Of Customisation
Now, granted, this is something that the Smash Bros. games have always been known for. The depths of the customization. As Burger King like to say, have it your way.
Individual named players can tweak their control styles precisely. Remapping buttons, adjusting the sensitivity of performing smash attacks, all those options are here. As are those for defining the parameters of matches themselves.
With a robust dedicated tournament mode and the new Smashdown (in which players pick from the entire roster until all available characters have fought) and Squad Strike (tag-team matches, in a 3v3 or 5v5 format) modes, Ultimate provides players with more ways to play than ever before.
6 WORST: DLC Shenanigans
Because of course there were going to be DLC shenanigans. Nintendo were quite slow to catch on to the whole downloadable content thing, but now they’ve got a taste for it. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was a perfect candidate.
As we know, the game is going to receive five separate Challenger Packs, each containing a new character, stage, and five new music tracks. You can pre-purchase all of them with the Fighters Pass (naturally), and the first fighter is confirmed to be [check our report to find out, just in case you’ve avoided the reveal and don’t want to know].
Content being created after the fact, as DLC goes, isn’t as nefarious as cutting it to be sold separately later. It’s just a shame that the season pass was being hawked prior to the game even being launched.
5 BEST: Just One More Spirit Battle
I’ve got to admit, when we saw the first details of the spirit system in that Nintendo Direct, I wasn’t really a believer. They just looked like glorified trophies/stickers to me.
Having spent many hours with the game since its launch, though, I think they're a fantastic idea. The overarching concept of spirits ties in nicely with the World of Light mode and its themes, and it’s interesting that they’re relevant in battles too (you can enable them and their effects in regular smashes, if you wish). My favorite thing about them is the Spirit Board mode, which lets you take on a one-off battle for the spirit of your choosing.
This is perfect for when you want to collect one or two, but don’t have the time to dive into a session of the World of Light mode itself. Great for on-the-go bite-sized Switch play.
4 WORST: Some Of Those Spirit Board Battles, Though… Darn
There’s an important caveat to all of this Spirit Board enthusiasm, though. Some of them are a little tricky. Or, rather, they’ll make you want to roundhouse kick someone’s grandma in the dentures if you’re not prepared.
The thing is, like custom smashes, the harder matches (for the more coveted Spirits, at Ace or Legend ranking) impose all kinds of detrimental effects on you. Enemies will summon reinforcements, say, Bob-ombs will be raining down on you from the sky, or dangerous winds will be dragging you off the stage at all times. Or all three of these effects combined.
Yes, you can equip Spirits yourself that will negate some of these harmful effects (canceling out that wind, for instance), but if you don’t have them, you’re in for a rough time.
3 BEST: As Slick As A Greased Eel In A Lake Of Butter
Oh, yes indeed, friends. Every player has their favorite iteration of Smash Bros., and a lot of that comes down to how the game feels. Super Smash Bros. Brawl, for instance, has a reputation for being a little janky, control-wise (did I mention the tripping mechanic?). Melee has historically been a competitive favorite, for its speed and other qualities.
Where does Ultimate sit on that scale? It’s too early to say just yet, of course, but one thing’s for certain: it’s a very fast-paced, slick and smooth experience.
It’s very Melee-like in that regard, especially with the change to the air dodge mechanic.
2 WORST: When Is An Echo Fighter Not An Echo Fighter?
So, yes. I’ve praised the concept of Echo Fighters, and how it at least tries to meaningfully distinguish between characters that would otherwise have been just palette swaps (and have been literally that, in cases like Peach-Daisy).
That familiar old Smash Bros. problem remains, though. The Fire Emblem representatives (bar Ike) all play in largely the same fashion, including their special moves. The same’s true of the Starfox characters.
Then there are those who shouldn’t really bear any relation to each other, like Captain Falcon and Ganondorf. What happened there? I can appreciate that Ganondorf is meant as a slow, heavy hitter, but why these moves? They don’t really translate well from the Ganondorf we know from the Legend of Zelda games.
1 Switch-ing It Up
So, yes. The Switch may be Smashing sales records (see what I did there), but it hasn't been an easy ride. At the time of the system’s launch in March last year, it was carrying the weight of the Wii U’s failure. It also didn’t boast a clear-cut must-have game (beyond The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which wasn’t exclusive).
It was the big names like Super Mario Odyssey that started the system’s momentum. The first-party experiences that only Nintendo can deliver. Smash Ultimate is one of these, for certain, which is the best thing about it from Nintendo’s standpoint.