Release Date: December 7, 2018Platform: Nintendo SwitchDeveloper: Bandai Namco Studios, Sora Ltd.Publisher: NintendoGenre: Fighting
As a fan of fighting games, there’s always been this unsaid acceptance of the give and take of sequels. While the sequel is all about adding new stuff to the basic game we know, not everything can be brought over. Niche favorite characters have to be removed to make way for new characters. This could be due to time, money, space, or all of the above. But we get why, say, Street Fighter V is missing so many characters from Ultra Street Fighter IV. It’s expected.
Even when fighting games do have an “all hands on deck” mega-roster, most of the time it comes off as rather soulless like Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Even Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which featured every normal character from the Marvel-based fighters and plenty of new, came off as pretty empty if you were trying anything other than play two-player.
Then you have Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which blows the mind by having EVERYTHING and more. Er, I mean, as long as you aren’t interested in that baseball minigame.
The fifth installment of a nearly 20-year-old series, Smash Ultimate features the same gameplay style the franchise is known for, mixing a wrestling battle royal with a superhero showdown. Rather than focus on dropping down your opponent’s health until they’re unconscious, it’s about dealing harm so that their damage score goes up and makes them more susceptible to being knocked off-screen to their doom. Fights can feature anywhere from two to eight fighters duking it out with all sorts of bells and whistles (stage hazards, weapons) added or removed to make it more controlled or chaotic.
You can play the infamous boring way of Fox vs. Fox on the Final Destination stage with no items like the pros, or you can have 16 Ice Climbers having a frenzied fight to the finish on a New Donk City skyscraper, which will occasionally transform into Dr. Wily’s castle. Whatever floats your boat.
While they’ve tweaked the tried and true formula in minor ways, there are a couple of neat additions thrown in. For instance, when it’s down to two fighters, the (usually) killing blow will get an extreme close-up, flourish, and slow-down of time to emphasize that this battle is over.
Then they have the Spirit concept, where you can equip yourself with one of hundreds of character trophies that will alter your performance in one way or another. More on that in a bit.
The game has an extensive library of fighters to choose from. Not only does it have new guys like Ridley from Metroid, Simon Belmont from Castlevania (giving us a Captain N reunion alongside Pit and Mega Man), Incineroar from Pokemon, and so on, but it also features every single character to ever be in the Smash series! Not just the Nintendo names like Yoshi and Little Mac, but the third-party crew like Sonic the Hedgehog, Bayonetta, and Cloud. The final count is over 70 and that’s bonkers.
I know it’s cliché to whine about the lack of Waluigi at this point, but…man, I really wish Waluigi was in there. Wah.
The big surprise in this is that when you start the game, only a handful of characters are playable, and those are the original Nintendo 64 default crew. Instead of having everyone available from the get-go or having to empty your pockets for DLC, you simply just earn your characters the old-fashioned way. Play through the game enough and every now and then you’ll be challenged to a one-on-one battle with a locked character. Even if you fail, they have a special mode that gives you a second chance after a while.
I can see how this might frustrate others, but I love it. The pure euphoria that comes from unlocking new characters can’t be beat and there are so many goddamn characters to do that with.
On the other hand, all the stages are available to start with and there are over 100 of them. I’m a randomizer myself, so I’m fine, but if you have specific stages you want to battle it out on, good luck memorizing where it is on the menu. At least you also have the option of having the stages switch around mid-match to add to the unpredictability of it all.
And then there’s the soundtrack, which helps drive home just how massive this game really is. There are YouTube videos for songs relating to certain characters and they are crazy long. Mega Man, for instance, has over two hours of music to his name in this game. There’s over 28 hours of soundtrack total and somehow this all fits on that tiny cartridge. It’s witchcraft, if you ask me.
Of the many modes available, the one with the most spotlight is the Adventure Mode, otherwise known as “World of Light.” It is…well, Infinity War as retold by the kid from The Lego Movie. All the Smash characters prepare to fight a battalion of giant, flying hands, only to be engulfed by the main villain’s power. The only one to escape its wrath is Kirby, who goes on an adventure to free his friends and fight various Spirits.
Now, the Spirit fights are absolutely inspired. It’s reminiscent of when the Marvel vs. Capcom games would recolor Marvel heroes and villains and pretend that they were someone else. You know, like how Orange Hulk was sort of supposed to be Thing or how Mephisto was just Blackheart with a different color scheme. This time they go in a more creative direction by altering existing Smash fighters in ways that fit them.
For instance, there’s a Spirit fight against Dan Hibiki, the dopey egomaniac from Street Fighter. Instead of actually fighting Dan, you’ll face Ken Masters in a pink gi who can’t stop taunting. Brilliant.
That reminds me of how fun Classic Mode is. In the original days, it meant having to fight the same set of battles regardless of who you were picking. Then there were games where your battles were more random. Here, every single character has their own specific and unique Classic Mode path that has some kind of theme or pattern.
Take Bowser. He’ll take on opponents who wear red, including a trio of Mii warriors dressed like Mario. His final boss is not Master Hand, but an endurance round against Mario followed by Metal Mario.
Ryu’s Classic Mode path has the game transform itself into something resembling Street Fighter II, where every opponent tries to fill in for a classic Street Fighter character. You’ll face a green Donkey Kong at the jungle stage with Blanka’s theme music playing and the fight is based around having a health bar instead of trying to launch your enemy into the sky.
And there’s just so much more you can do here. There are so many modes with new stuff, like tournaments (up to 32 entries) and a unique concept called Smashdown where you and your opponent have a series of matches with the caveat that each character can only be selected once. You can go full-on King of Fighters by doing 3-on-3 or even 5-on-5.
The only major modes that haven’t made a return are Home Run Contest and Target Test and that’s no skin off my back.
Otherwise, there’s just so much content in these games that it’s rather overwhelming. It’s like enjoying a TV show that has way too many episodes for you to realistically catch up on the entire series. I absolutely love playing Smash Bros. in any iteration, but even when I get tired of playing Ultimate, I won’t be done. I’m sure I’ll just pick it back up later, reignite my love for it, and try to get more of those challenges completed.
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and wonders which Mortal Kombat character would best fit in the Smash engine. You could probably just give most of Bowser’s moves to Goro and call it a day. Read Gavin’s other articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L