Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is perhaps the biggest video game crossover so far. Even back when the Super Smash Bros. series first began, it already had some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises meeting each other for battle, the likes of Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda coming together to already make for an impressive crossover. Over the years though, the series continued to grow, and soon characters from outside of Nintendo’s series joined in the brawl. Nearly 20 years after the original game, we now have series like Metal Gear, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, Pac-Man, Mega Man, Castlevania, and Street Fighter joining Nintendo’s many classic characters in a battle between over 70 recognizable faces from games both old and new. Not only is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly an ultimate gaming crossover, but it serves as a wonderful celebration of the history of the entire video game medium.
Super Smash Bros. might just be the only series where we’re likely to ever see such characters interact, but Ultimate also happens to the most refined version of the fighting game style created by the first game. In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, players pick a character to try and defeat the other player or a game controlled character, but the means through which they do so is a bit different from many fighting games. To earn a KO, a player must launch an enemy either so far up, down, or to the left or right that they exit the stage’s borders, the character exploding once they hit these blast zones. Essentially, you’re trying to knock your enemy out of the ring, but the style of battle featured here is much more diverse than a sumo wrestling match. Characters have ways to recover from being knocked far away and their attacks can have properties better for launching the foe or dealing damage, the idea being that the more damage a character takes, the further they’ll fly away when hit with a strong attack. The battle style is pretty simple to pick up and a bit friendlier to new players than a health bar system, although Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does have a Stamina mode that functions similar to traditional health bar based fighting systems. Since you aren’t just depleting a bar though, new players can pick more powerful characters who can score KOs more easily, but a skilled player will be rewarded for figuring out how to properly engage with the game’s systems.
The controls in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are pretty conducive to the game’s angle of being easy to pick up but having enough complexity for more skilled players to be rewarded for mastering it. Rather than having a huge list of moves for each of the characters, all characters draw from the same sets of inputs, meaning that no matter who you decide to play, you should at least have a basic concept of what your button presses will do. The main button you use will be for your normal attacks, and these can be modified by either lightly pressing the stick in a direction or “smashing” it, where you press it harder in that direction to pull off a stronger attack. Besides aerial versions of the directional basic attacks, all you have to worry about is adding up, down, or a side direction to your moves, and these attacks quite appropriately hit the direction your pressed towards, regular attacks often being good for dealing damage or linking together into combos and smash attacks being great tools for launching foes far away from the stage. While the exact nature of the basic attacks changes across characters, they do the job you’d expect of them, meaning it’s not hard to figure out the whole cast by just spending a little time with each character. Characters also have special moves though, where a character’s more unique video game abilities can shine. Special attacks don’t have aerial or smash versions, but their directional inputs give them four unique moves, and while this is the area most prone to diversity, there is still a bit of consistency. If a character has a long range projectile like a laser shot, fireball, or magical power, it’s likely going to be either the standard or forward special. If the character has a counter attack or a move that reflects projectiles, it’s probably their down special, and to help characters get back to the stage if they’re falling below it, almost the entire cast has an up special that involves them getting some extra height after their double jump, although certain characters can have extra jumps to help them as well. The only other controls to learn are how to block, which in this game takes the form of a shield that will gradually shrink and break if used for too long or hit too hard, a dodge performed by pressing the shield button and a direction, and a grab, which allows you to snag and throw a foe even if they’re shielding. The interplay of attacks can lead to fast paced battles where players are trying to outmaneuver their opponents to land attacks but avoid being knocked too far away, but even if you don’t care to learn the basics, some success can be found with just a few moves, opening this game up to players of all different ages.
With the cast being so huge, you can certainly expect a lot of variety in it. Not only does Super Smash Bros. Ultimate contain an impressively large amount of characters, it also boasts every character featured in the fighting game franchise so far. Most of the characters are from within Nintendo’s own franchises as they are the host of the battle after all, and it features quite a diverse range of characters from different points in its history and from different kinds of games. Characters from racing games, RPGs, adventure games, and more are added, and with the addition of characters from third party developers, it would be hard for someone to who knows even a little about video games not to recognize at least one of the fighters. Pikachu, Mario, Pac-Man, and Sonic probably have the biggest reach, but not everyone in attendance has to be a big name. Obscure characters, characters from extremely old games and the newest of new, and multiple faces from the same franchise drop by to join the fight. Villains, good guys, even the dog and bird from Duck Hunt join the bloodless battle, and while some pulls still seem a bit odd or out of place (Palutena from Kid Icarus has a lot less clout than most the other characters and the Fire Emblem series is a bit overrepresented with sword wielders who play similarly), the quantity of characters means it’s hard to begrudge anyone’s presence. There may be three versions of Link from The Legend of Zelda, but it’s part of having every character present from the past games. Besides, many of the new characters added to the series in this entry were long requested additions, such as Donkey Kong’s nemesis K. Rool and Samus Aran’s long time foe Ridley. Quality thankfully joins the quantity in making this impressive collection of characters enjoyable to play. There are so many styles present and unique gimmicks to be found in the cast that battles can take on many different forms just based on who is participating. Some characters prefer to stay on the ground when fighting like the boxer Little Mac or the fiery wrestling Pokemon Incineroar, but other characters are much more effective fighting in the air like the balloon Pokemon Jigglypuff, Princess Peach and her similarly designed Echo Fighter Princess Daisy, and the gun-wielding witch Bayonetta. Some guys prefer to fight from afar with long range attacks such as the three Links or Simon and Richter from the Castlevania series, but then some characters really want to get in close and dish out heavy or consistent damage like Captain Falcon and Donkey Kong do.
There are characters who are easy to pick up and play like Mario and Kirby for being straightforward, but there are tons of fun gimmicks on offer as well, things like the Ice Climbers letting a player control two characters at once, Pokemon Trainer letting the player swap between three fighters who go from the small and swift Squirtle up the heavy hitting Charizard, Rosalina who can station her living star Luma around to fight for her, Olimar who can have up to three tiny Pikmin with special abilities fight for him at a time, Lucario who becomes stronger the more damage he’s taken, Shulk who can change which of his stats are the best for a short period, the Miis who you can customize the appearance and attack style of… there’s oodles of creativity present in the design, all of it still going back to that incredibly simple control method. The more technical characters might be intimidating to new players despite this, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does something to potentially avoid this while also hearkening back to its roots, only having eight playable characters available at the start. I can certainly see why people might be disappointed to have to unlock so many characters despite it being pretty fast to do, a multiplayer focused game is best experienced with all its content available after all, but it does at least keep people from plunging into the deep end and picking a character that might put them off for being a bit complicated. It must be said though that the cast feels incredibly well-balanced this time around, with advantages often coming with disadvantages like heavy hitters being slow or having trouble getting back to the stage when knocked off and light characters being somewhat weak but fast enough to rack up damage and having better recoveries to make up for it. Balance is certainly more complicated than just those basic qualifiers, and while there are some characters who are better than others inevitably, it feels like the gap isn’t so wide as it is in some fighting games, allowing player skill to sometimes bridge the gap. After all, this is a game where Pichu, an incredibly light mouse Pokemon who damages itself with electrical attacks, can hold its own against the dark lord of evil Ganondorf. While it will always be possible to come up with more fun ideas of who could join this enormous battle, it feels less like characters are missing this time around and more like that there will always be ideas for who could make this already great cast even more amazing.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t just a fighting game though, it’s also a party game, with up to eight players able to participate in this game’s frenetic battles. With eight players it is understandably chaotic, the game probably best handled from anywhere between 2 and 6, but the chaos is also a great way to even the scales when it comes to skill discrepancies as well. After picking either Stock mode where players have a set amount of lives, Time where players want to earn a certain amount of KOs before time runs out, or the earlier mentioned Stamina mode, players get to pick the stage for their battles, and even with eight players possible on every stage, there are still places where the battle can be incredibly spread out. Since the game is a platform fighter, the stages can be just as important as the fighters picked, with different stages being different sizes, some not featuring areas to fall to your death in, and quite a lot of them containing unique hazards that can interfere with the battle in fun ways… or sometimes annoying ways, but there is a toggle to remove some of the hazards to play with the base layout with just the platform layout to worry about. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate features 103 stages in its base game for players to pick, many being returning stages from older Smash games and others like New Donk City’s City Hall and Dracula’s Castle being added to represent Super Mario Odyssey and Castlevania respectively. In fact, nearly every stage in the game is meant to have ties to video games and the series featured in Smash, with some even being reproductions of areas from retro games like Duck Hunt, Donkey Kong, and Mario Bros. In some levels it’s easy to get knocked off, others there are walls you’ll bounce off instead to make for longer battles, In some, an enemy might appear to try and join the battle, and in others it might change or move you to new locations as you battle. All of these stages come with an amazingly vast soundtrack to back them up as well, and just as much of the fun can come from where you are as who you are.
To further add to the battles, there are also items you can enable or disable as you please, battle in general in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being customizable to an incredible degree. Items can appear on stage and add a new way to enjoy the battle, and while not all of them have the best design for that aim, you can switch them off to only have the items you like. There are items to throw, shoot, slash with, use to heal, and use to easily defeat enemies with, many of them also being callbacks to other video games, but the most interesting three have to be Poke Balls, Assist Trophies, and the Smash Ball. Poke Balls will make a Pokemon briefly appear to help whoever threw the ball, each one having a unique attack it executes before leaving. Assist Trophies are similar in concept, but instead of just being Pokemon, they call from all kinds of video game series, a character briefly fighting on your side. While you can expect to see characters from already represented franchises appear like Mega Man’s nemesis Dr. Wily, a Chain Chomp enemy from Mario, or a Metroid from Metroid, some series only have their characters briefly join the fight through this item. Shovel Knight, Monster Hunter, Bomberman, Virtua Fighter, Fatal Frame, and more all get to briefly participate in the battle through these guest appearances, although some are so strong it can make them almost on par with a playable fighter! Speaking of incredible strength, the Smash Ball is one way to earn your character’s Final Smash, a superpowered move that is a great way of earning KOs. While there are a bit too many that involve just pressing the button once to capture the foe and hitting them a bunch, these moves do add some flashy and dramatic attacks to the mix when a player gets one, the game even letting you enable a meter that builds up to let you use one. These super powered attacks are by no means balanced though, but items in general are just there for the fun side of Smash rather than the competitive version, with other modes available to play into this as well such as making everyone made of metal or really tiny. There is an interesting new mode called Squad Strike as well where a player can make each life in a battle a different character, so there’s plenty of room to make your multiplayer battles how you like them.
Single-player wasn’t forgotten in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate though. While light on real story, the game’s World of Light mode offers a long campaign where a player explores a world map fighting in special battles with unique rules. A being called Galeem threatens to destroy the universe, and the fighters in Smash turn up to stop it… only for the universe to be completely destroyed. All of it save Kirby, who now moves through Galeem’s new world to free the fighters it captured and attempt the fight again. However, Galeem is using the fighters as templates for puppets, puppets that the many spirits of the universe’s dead can inhabit and be forced to fight the heroes. These are what are known as Spirit Battles, and Spirit Battles are a bit different from Smash battles. Rather than being just about knocking out an opponent, these are almost a bit like puzzles, the player needing to determine which of the characters they have available is best to handle a foe’s gimmick. The idea in World of Light is that many characters who aren’t playable in Smash Bros. are now spirits, their spirits carrying over some traits from their source games to alter the effects of battle. You may be fighting Meta Knight from the Kirby series, but he’s standing in for Vega from the Street Fighter series due to both wearing masks, the battle’s rules changing to be a fight with health and limited jumps to mimic the way Street Fighter battles take place. There are many fun and creative ways the spirits are implemented to have characters represented by the cast of Super Smash Bros. with perhaps my favorite being Roger the Potted Ghost from Yoshi’s Island, who is originally a ghost that can’t move inhabiting a potted plant pushed by two green masked enemies. In Smash, Roger’s spirit inhabits the mannequin like form of the Wii Fit Trainer, who is made giant and stands in place as two tiny green Meta Knights fight you. Not every battle is so inspired, some are just a character with an odd color or holding an item to mimic the spirit inhabiting them, but there are over 1,000 who have unique battles to fight, some in the story mode and others in the optional Spirit Board where they randomly appear. Fighting a Spirit Battle is about making sure your own set of Spirits is up to the task, Spirits lending you special traits when you have them equipped. Admittedly, many Spirit Battles can be easily overcome with a strong character with the right Spirits instantly trouncing the foe, but a Spirit’s rarity rating is often an indicator of how tough the battle will be, with some incredibly hard battles or gimmicks that will demand special Spirit arrangements to overcome. Luckily, the game can suggest some from your current collection to use, so it’s not overwhelming to gradually figure out which Spirit arrangement might win the day.
World of Light is definitely more about making battles into mini puzzles, but for people just looking for single player battles against strong opponents, the game’s Classic Mode offers a sequence of six battles and a boss fight to satisfy their needs. While there are only a few unique bosses total and each Classic mode features a brief deviation into the same minigame every time, the battles for Classic Mode are all given a special theme based on which character you picked. There are some incredibly fun and clever battles to be found here, things like Mega Man fighting foes to mirror the ones he fought in Mega Man 2 and Ryu’s Classic Mode using Stamina mode to be like Street Fighter, but the rules never change so much that it stops feeling like Smash. Foes may be gigantic or you might fight a bunch at once, but it’s more a test of your fighting skill here, the difficulty increasing based on how well you’re doing or decreasing if you fail a fight. Some Classic Mode themes are simple like Link fighting the villains of Smash and Pikachu taking on other Pokemon, some are a bit less inspired like K. Rool fighting a bunch of heavy characters and Isabelle fighting all the girls, and some are even a bit hard to make sense of like whatever Wario’s is going for, but it’s still fun to see just how the Smash cast has lined up to match the theme. Between the Classic Modes and World of Light, Smash has a longer single player than some games designed specifically around it, ensuring there’s something to enjoy even if you don’t have friends to play with or don’t want to play the game’s online multiplayer component.
THE VERDICT: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate calls together some of the best video game franchises in an enormous celebration of gaming history where characters we love from their original games can fight each other in locations based on games from all across the medium’s history. Over 70 characters, over 100 stages, and plenty of cameos from other faces in the forms of Assist Trophies, Spirits, and more make it an absolute joy just to see such a legacy condensed down into one fighting game that isn’t just full of fun references, but has an accessible yet technical fighting style at its center that is easy to learn yet full of variation. World of Light and the unique Classic modes hold up the single player with their many curated battle challenges while multiplayer allows for incredibly customizable combat with plenty of unique and flashy gimmicks to bring you back to it again and again. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t just a crowd-pleasing crossover, it’s the culmination of the series and its platform fighter style into one fantastic refined experience.
And so, I give Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch…
A FANTASTIC rating. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the kind of game I could sit here talking about for ages. Every character present comes along with tons of neat references to their source material while still serving as strong, enjoyable characters in this game’s style of play. So much of what there is to love about video games is present here, from the creative character designs and abilities that crop up in it to the amazing music and visual designs made to support the play and stories from the original games. I could pick apart the small things, like how Spirit Battles don’t always stay true to their theme in that some are somehow Spirits of vehicles of weapons, with the Star Rod being the most egregious case of the game forgetting the Spirit concept in that it’s an item somehow inhabiting puppets of Kirby even though Kirby was never captured to manufacture puppets from, but these minor nitpicks are outweighed by the spectacular fighting mechanics, incredible breadth of content, and the clear love shining through and the care put into making sure video game franchises are well represented here in this ultimate crossover.
No doubt there will one day be another Smash Bros., and I certainly want to see characters like Dixie Kong, Isaac from Golden Sun, and Banjo-Kazooie some day join the fun, but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is such an enormous package of everything that has made the series fantastic so far honed into such an excellent package that there’s certainly no rush for the next title. Any time me and a few friends who play video games get together, I’m sure this will be the game to come out, not just because it combines the many great series the video game world has to offer, but because of how that variety and the variety in play allows people of all kinds to get into a fun fighting game that can balance its silly casual side and serious competitive side so well.