Smash Bros. Ultimate is easily the pinnacle of the Smash Bros. series. Its ability to bring together characters and stages from every previous Smash Bros. game and put them together with new and exciting game modes and features is amazing, but Nintendo’s lack of understanding towards multiplayer continues to haunt even their best successes.
World of Light
Since there’s so many things to dive into in Smash Ultimate let’s start off with what is essentially the game’s story mode, Adventure Mode aka World of Light.
The lengthy, about 30 to 50 hour campaign, sees you embarking on the quest to regain the souls of all the characters in the game. You’ll fight your way through a countless number of crazy battles to obtain spirits in order to become stronger and continue fighting on.
Each and every battle has the possibility of being crazily modified. During some fights the floor is lava, some fights have hurricane strength winds, and other fights have huge enemies made of metal.
It all depends on the spirit you’re fighting.
While you don’t get to literally fight against the spirit you’re trying to capture, which is fair because there’s well over 1000 of them, you do get to fight against a Smash Ultimate character that’s modified to mimic the spirit you’re trying to capture.
It’s a really cool system that creates some interesting match ups.
For example, when fighting Urbosa’s spirit you’ll actually be fighting against Zero Suit Samus, but the floor is electrified, it’s a stamina battle, and Zero Suit Samus starts the battle with a Killing Edge sword.
When fighting against Dry Bowser’s spirit you’ll be actually be fighting against Bowser, but the floor is lava, Bowser will begin breathing fire after a little time, and Bowser will have increased defense after some time.
It’s a really fun system that can lead to both hilarious match-ups and frustratingly tough battles.
But the grind is the name of the game here, and that’s not a bad thing.
There will be a ton of battles where you will be beaten into a pulp, and the only option you’ve got is to get stronger spirits, level up your spirits, and practice.
It can be hard, but it’s a rewarding system that really ties in well with the new spirit system.
The spirit system is easily one of my favorite editions to Smash Bros.
What it ends up being is a pokemon style system where the goal is to collect them all, form a powerful team, and use your team to help in your battles versus opponents.
It’s simple, but really cool.
The spirits come from a huge assortment of games, and there are over 1000 to collect.
There are multiple types of spirits too. The 4 types of primary spirits are attack, defense, grab, and neutral type. Attack type beats grab type, grab beats defense, defense beats attack, and neutral doesn’t have a strength or weakness against any particular other type.
Primary spirits usually have some sort of stat change such as magic attack up, jump up, physical attack up, etc.
Primary spirits can be leveled up to level 99, and some spirits can even be enhanced once they’ve hit level 99. If enhanced they will return to level 1, but will evolve into a stronger form.
Leveling up characters is done through multiple methods. You can send them on expeditions in caves to collect items for you while leveling up, you can feed them to level them up instantly, or you can put them into the gym to level up through training.
These systems really help the grind feel a little bit more fun. It reminds me of the typical mobile game where you collect characters and level them up over time, but it doesn’t feel cheap at all. The training over time works really well since you can easily use a different spirits while others are training.
Catching spirits in the Spirit Board is my addiction though.
The Spirit Board is a timed board of spirit battles where a few spirits are only available to fight for a few minutes at a time. After the timer on the board ends, that spirit battle is gone and it’s replaced with a different battle.
Eventually, spirits will loop back around and you’ll have the chance to fight them again, but the timer really works as a motivator to keep grinding through the battles.
For the most part, the Spirit Board works the exact same way as capturing spirits in Adventure Mode, but in the Spirit Board if you win the fight you don’t automatically get the spirit. You have to participate in a strange shooting mini game where you have to shoot the spirit while a circle with a small opening spins around the spirit.
For lower tier spirits it’s not that big of a deal because the circle spins slowly with a fairly large gap, making the whole thing not even worth a second thought. But on higher tier spirits the circle spins at a crazy high rate, making it highly unlikely to hit the spirit.
If you miss it will knock out a part of the circle so next time you fight the spirit it will be easier to hit, but it kind of takes away from the thrill of beating a challenging spirit when you don’t get any reward because you didn’t shoot the target after a battle.
At the same time though, I understand the design choice because it helps to get rid of fluke victories that the player got lucky with. It makes the player really win.
I get it, I’m just not the biggest fan of it.
Now that we’ve hit on Primary spirits, it’s time for support spirits.
Each primary spirit has anywhere between 0-3 slots to put support spirits.
Support spirits fit into those slots and give the player additional abilities. These abilities can be even more interesting though. Some support spirits give you a sword or gun to start the fight, some give you a bob-omb to start the fight, and some simply give you some damage resistance or stat boosts.
Support spirits aren’t quite as in-depth as Primary spirits, but are a nice way to make your team stand out.
Luckily, you have the ability to save multiple teams of spirits for easy and quick selection.
During multiplayer matches, playing with your team of spirits is disabled by default, but the option to play with them is there. It’s a really fun way to spice up battles with friends.
Starting off fresh
When you start off in normal Smash mode you’ll start out with the original 8 characters from the original N64 game.
Every character from every Smash Bros. game is here to unlock, and every stage from every Smash Bros. game is here too. All stages are unlocked right from the start so no worries there, but you’ll have a ton of characters to unlock.
It’s pretty intimidating to know that you’ve got over 60 characters to unlock, but they come fast enough to feel like you’re getting through them at a good pace. You can unlock every character by playing Adventure Mode too, but you’ll have to find and beat every character in the mode which will take the entire campaign to do.
It’s much quicker to just play other modes to unlock them.
Once you’ve unlocked all 74 characters, you’ll have every single character from every single Smash Bros. game plus the newly introduced characters at your disposal. It really is an amazing roster of characters, and I can’t complain at all about it (except for the lack of Waluigi).
There are definitely some characters that are much stronger than others, but luckily you have the ability to balance the game for yourself.
This is another one of my favorite inclusions.
I’ve been to so many friends’ houses where everyone gets upset that someone is spamming the overpowered characters. Well now you can just nerf them yourself if that’s what you see fit.
Nintendo has also made it as easy as an on/off switch to toggle your custom balancing.
So many ways to play
There are so many modes in Smash Ultimate that it’s hard to put the game down. On top of World of Light and the Spirit Board there’s a ton of modes to play.
You have a fully fleshed out tournament mode where you can have a 32 person tournament with all players or AI or both.
There’s squad strike where you can play 3v3 or 5v5 team battles. Smashdown is a new mode where once a character is played they can’t be selected again. If you don’t like any of the present modes there’s full rule customization with new modifiers in Custom Smash. Classic mode gives you a challenge to fight through as you fight against character-specific stages, race to collect coins in platforming levels, and fight giant bosses such as Rathalos from Monster Hunter. Mob Smash allows you to fight against armies of enemies. Training allows you to hone your skills with multiple stage layouts, launch guides, and mid-match AI tweaking.
There is really a ton of content to be had here, and it’s a little overwhelming if anything just how much there is to do in what a newcomer may think is just simple fighting game.
When it comes to multiplayer Nintendo seems to always fall short. This game isn’t an exception sadly. I can’t imagine just how addicting this game would be if the multiplayer worked, but it’s borderline garbage.
Local multiplayer is great, but when you go online everything begins to fall apart.
First off, you can’t select any modes or settings for matches. You get to pick your “preferred rules”. This ends up just creating a ton of frustrations.
Before you find out if you get the match type you wanted, you pick your character. This doesn’t make sense because if you are competitive at all you don’t get to attempt to pick characters to your advantage.
Because of the whole preferred rules thing you don’t know if you’re going to get into a 1v1 match or a free-for-all match.
A lot of people enjoy playing certain characters for the chaotic free-for-all matches and certain characters for 1v1. Even if you selected 1v1 in your preferred rules there’s no guarantee you’ll get into a 1v1 match. There’s actually pretty good chances you’re going to get into a free-for-all.
It would make a lot more sense just to have 2 different matchmaking queues; one for free-for-all and one for 1v1 matches.
I get they wanted to let everyone have the opportunity to play the way they wanted, but mashing together competitive 1v1 matches and fun but chaotic free-for-all is a disastrous idea.
Nintendo could have easily given the ability to choose 1v1 or free-for-all and then given the option to edit your prefered rules inside of the mode you chose.
On top of this awful decision is some of the worst lag I’ve encountered in a game this consistently.
I have quality internet speeds, and my in-home network is extremely good. While I don’t have the Switch on LAN, my WiFi isn’t the issue here.
During my time online I played a ton of matched, and good ⅓ of them had horrible lag. I’m talking unplayable levels of lag. To be fair, 1v1 matches were generally good with only a few bad apples in the bunch, but I think it’s fair to say that a majority of my free-for-all matches were unplayable.
Too bad I can’t choose my match type and not play free-for-all.
The combination of horrible connections and the fact that I can’t play the way I want just ruins the online experience.
It’s a shame that this is part of the Smash Bros. Ultimate experience because the rest of the game is so polished and well done, and this just doesn’t feel like it had any effort put into it.
Not to mention you have to pay for Nintendo’s online service now.
Something that Smash Bros. Ultimate does perfectly though is its music. The amount of songs included in the game is ridiculous. There are so many tracks that not only play during matches, but can be listened to using the Switch as a makeshift MP3 player.
On top of this, you can pick your favorite songs to play during matches. Every stage has its own selection of music based on the series it’s from, and you can pick just how often every song plays on every stage.
It will easily take more than an hour to pick how much you want to listen to every song on every level, but the fact that you have that much control is astonishing.
Smash Ultimate is a beautiful game, but it does a great job in preserving classic detail too.
Every returning level has been polished up nicely, but Nintendo took extra care to keep levels looking like they did on their initial release.
New levels also look great, and what makes everything so great is the ultra-smooth 60fps that the game runs at in both docks and hand-held mode.
Characters also have the same attention to detail that the stages have. Special attention has even gone into tiny details such as Mr. Game & Watch’s juggle animation actually juggles his opponents icon in the juggle animation.
Responsive and punchy
When it comes to fighting games, controls are always a big topic of importance. Well luckily, Smash Ultimate’s controls are nice and tight.
Everything in the game feels incredibly responsive and fast, and while it takes some getting used to, even the joy-con controller felt like a viable controller setup for higher-level play. Though, I would still recommend a Pro Controller or Gamecube controller.
Another thing Smash ultimate does that no other Smash game has done quite so well is its ability to feel hard-hitting and punchy.
It uses some small tactics to give off this feeling, but they do such an amazing job it makes the whole game feel all the more satisfying.
Whenever a character lands the final blow to knock someone out of the map or hits the perfect special attack the camera does a quick zoom into the character delivering the blow. It really adds to the excitement of the game when someone lands that hard hit.
It can be a little distracting during multiplayer matcher, but it feels so good when it happens that you’d rather leave it on anyway.
Smash Bros. Ultimate really feels like the peak of Smash Bros. games. On top of all the returning characters, stages, and features is ton of new content that just adds to the experience.
The controls feel tight and responsive, the loading screens are fast, that game is pretty, and music is amazing.
It’s a real shame that online multiplayer is so bad because this game would be impossible to put down if they had gotten it right.
But what speaks volumes for the game is that fact that it’s already a struggle to put it down without the multiplayer mode.