“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” – A Casual Review

Jacob Parish, Staff Writer

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As one of Nintendo’s Original IPs (Intellectual Properties), the Super Smash Bros. Series, a line of games featuring a majority of Nintendo’s cast (alongside 3rd party guests from different game companies such as Sega and Capcom), has been one of the most well known and best selling games throughout the generations of Nintendo home consoles. The series as an entirety, having five different games (six, if you include the 3DS and Wii U version as separate) has sold over 40 million copies total. Now that the latest installment, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, is out on Nintendo’s latest system, the Nintendo Switch, it has become one of Nintendo’s fastest selling games. It has sold over three million copies 11 days after its worldwide release on December 7th, 2018, according to the NDP Group (a market research company formerly known as the National Purchase Diary Panel Inc). Suffice it to say, it has gotten popular very quickly and is continuing to grow its sales. Even NFA’s gaming club is completely dedicated to playing only Ultimate when they meet up on Thursdays.

While sales records support that the game is already starting off as a big success, how good is the game exactly? Is it as good as people say it is, or is it simply fans from previous installments giving in to nostalgia and built up hype? How does it compare to traditional fighter games? How good is the game compared to previous installments such as the game with the highest sale record in the series, Super Smash Bros. Brawl ($13.29M) for the Wii, or the highly competitive-turned game Melee for the 18-year old GameCube? While the game isn’t as technical and competitively driven as Melee, and it has yet to surpass Brawl in terms of sales, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is becoming a good mix for both its competitive audience and casual players.

The Main Game

While the game is part of the fighting genre, the Super Smash Bros. series is relatively different from fighting games such as the Street Fighter series and the macabre Mortal Kombat series, as it also includes aspects of platforming games (games that revolve around jumping onto floating platforms and avoiding obstacles. For example, the Super Mario Bros series). It’s even considered by some to be a party game (due to having the option of having hazards and items mid-match that adds a random factor). However, the more prominent reason why the Smash series is different because unlike many traditional fighting games, where fighters have a life bar that depletes once attacked, the Super Smash Bros. series revolves around the concept of knocking fighters off-screen and past borders, mainly referred to as “blast lines” or “blast zones,” scoring you a point while making them lose a “stock”(life).  This is done by building up the opposing fighter’s damage, which is represented via percentage that increases when the opponent’s attacked. The higher the opponent’s percentage, the easier it is to knock them off stage with a strong move.

This kind of concept, as seen with the previous installments, has been quite the successful one for both competitive players (as it’s a different take on a fighting game that doesn’t focus solely on combos), and newcomers who can be a bit intimidated by traditional fighting games due to the (usual) restricted back and forth movement, (sometimes complicated) input commands, and seemingly inescapable combos until your health reaches zero. So, it’s no surprise that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate keeps to this concept and improves from its previous game on the Wii U. In Ultimate, the game’s been made to benefit players who play more aggressively rather than defensively, as options such as shielding and dodging mechanics are less effective.  This makes it so games aren’t so dragged out when trying to score a point. Another way how it improves on it’s predecessor is by implementing returning techniques such as the direction air-dodge mechanic originally from Melee (though not as useful as it was in that game), as well as newer mechanics.

Variety

As it stands in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, every single fighter from every game in the series has returned, making it one of the largest rosters ever in the series. The roster contains 74 fighters, the majority of whom include unique moves and play styles to match how someone plays, whether they like to play as a strong character with slow but powerful hits, a speedy character to out-maneuver slower characters and rack up damage via quick combos, or someone who fights using projectile based moves, to name a few. The developers themselves are quite proud of this accomplishment as advertisements for the game uses the slogan “Everyone is here.” To run-longing fans, it is a nice surprise to see characters who weren’t to make a reappearance in the previous games. While this did mean there were less new characters, the additions still offer unique and fun play styles (while also being a form of fan-service to fans who’ve wanted them for quite awhile).

All 74 characters are not available from the start. Rather, you start the game with 8 characters to choose from.  While some may find it tedious to unlock all the characters, it offers a way for players to not feel stuck trying to decide which character to pick out of 70+ faces, as well as get an early idea of which character suits their style. Even then, players will gradually unlock fighters as they play.

Aside from having the most characters in the series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also has the most stages to play on, 103,  most of which have unique background settings, platform layouts, and (optional) hazards. Again, most of the stages are ones that have been revamped from their previous appearances, meaning there are only four new stages. While seemingly disappointing, it is nice seeing returning stages that have only appeared once or twice in a series become revamped in higher definition with improved aesthetics. And for those who have not played all of the games in the series (or any at all), they can still offer a new experience.

The Main Modes

The game’s main menu consists of five different main categories. Each of the categories contain different modes or options relating to that category. Traversing through the menu is certainly easy as everything is organized in a simplistic manner to have the main modes clear to see while the less important categories (such as options and notifications) are placed to the side. It keeps an overall simple yet appealing look, which is in contrast to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.  Everything in that game feels unorganized, and it is a hassle to find what you are looking for outside the main mode.

The categories that make up the Menu include Smash, Games & More, the Vault, Spirits, and Online.

In the Smash category, there is the option to choose a regular game of Smash, where you can play with up to 8 people at once. There is also Squad Strike, a mode where you can choose up to 3 or 5 different characters to play an elimination style battle (meaning you can use other characters as additional lives).

Tourney mode simulates a bracket-style game in which players must be eliminated to win a tournament. Then there is Special Smash, which has 3 additional options such as Smash Down (a game mode in which players have to choose a different character each game), Custom Smash (a mode in which players can add special effects to all of the fighters), and Super Sudden Death (a mode in which all fighters start off at a high percentage, making almost any attack lethal). All of these modes for the Smash category alone, offer a number of different ways a player can play.

The Games & More section consists of not only side games but Classic Mode, a series of different CPU fights depending on the character you choose, alongside a big boss fight at the end; Training Mode, where you can practice things such as character combos or techniques; Mob Smash, where you fight an endless number of enemies at once to see how many you can beat. There is also an option that allows you to create a fighter using the console’s avatars called Miis’ (meaning you can make a fighter of yourself or other people). Finally, there is the option to use Nintendo’s line of toy products of characters, called Amiibo. When using an Amiibo, you create an AI for the toy that learns based off the play style it is going against. If trained properly, it gets to a point where it becomes stronger than a regular CPU fighter. On a smaller note, there is an option that occasionally shows up that allows you to have a second attempt at unlocking a character you lost to beforehand.

Then there’s the Vault, which is a category that is used mainly to keep track of collected things. The vault includes music that you can listen to whenever you want outside of a match.  It also gives you the option to listen to the characters’ voice clips exclusively. It has the option to view saved replays from fights beforehand, and it gives you the option to format the replay as an actual video into a micro SD card. There are recorded statistics such as how long you have played or which character you use the most and a challenge board that rewards you for completing a range a of simplistic tasks to more difficult ones. There is the option to look at tips for almost everything the game has to offer such as techniques and what certain moves do, as well as reading a little bit about the characters’ origins. There is the option to re-watch cut-scenes from the World of Light game-mode (which will be discussed later). Finally, there is the option to buy things such as music tracks you have not yet obtained or costumes that can be worn by the Mii Fighters. You go about buying these features by using in-game currency, which can be obtained through regular game play or playing modes such as Classic Mode or Spirits. While the Vault is not anything astounding, especially to those who just want to play the game, it is still a nice feature for those who want to go more in depth with everything the game has to offer.

Spirits Mode

On the bottom left of the menu, there is a section called “Spirits,” Ultimate’s exclusive mode that was advertised before its release. The mode revolves around collecting “spirits” (flat images of countless characters from different games) by defeating the opponents they are attached to. These spirits can cause the player or enemy to have a little bonus when fighting, such as having status effects that make a fighter stronger. The mode includes two different sections: an adventure mode, in which you run around a massive map fighting enemies with spirits and using them to counteract them, as well as a side option called Spirits Board, which is basically a hit-list where you can choose which spirit to fight.

The adventure mode, referred to as “World of Light,” revolves around defeating a god-like presence known as Galeem, who, at the beginning of the story, captures the entire cast of fighters and imprisons them to create evil copies, while also taking over the universe itself to create a re-imagined new world (hence the adventure mode’s name).

Because all of the characters are unplayable at the start of the game, the player’s only option for a playable character is one that’s easy for beginners to pick up, the pink walking puffball, Kirby.

The game play in the mode itself is rather straightforward. You travel around on an artistic map challenging fighters with different status effects or conditions on preset stages. Winning the challenges rewards you with the spirit they used and opening up different paths for you to take to access more of the map. Over time, you come across characters that you need to “free” by defeating them in a battle. Once done, that character is available to play in World of Light. The adventure mode itself can take approximately 20 hours to finish. Despite completing story mode (and having a little fun while doing so), for some, the game can get rather repetitive and boring pretty quickly. The reason is because when you pick it down to its bone and ignore its references and callbacks to different games, it is basically a series of AI fights with different winning conditions or abilities. The only unique fights outside of fighting the CPU fighters are actual boss fights in the story mode, but even then, you’ll only fight them every once in a awhile throughout the game.  Plus, most of the bosses are not exclusive to World of Light, as specific characters can fight them in the Classic Mode found in the Games and More section. Right off the bat, most fans of the series will draw comparisons to Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, as both were made as single player campaigns and included animated cut-scenes. While flashy CGI cut-scenes do not make a game more or less better, they give the player something to look forward to in Brawl as it showed characters from different games interacting in a way that we have not seen from Nintendo and acted as a sort of “reward” for getting through a level (which by the way, were actual levels with a “point A to point B” objective). Unfortunately in World of Light, the cut-scenes do not have the same effect as the cut-scenes from Brawl, especially given the fact that World of Light does not have close to the number of cut-scenes compared to Subspace; and even then, the cut-scenes seem to rarely focus on the characters themselves but more on the antagonist of the game.

Online

On the bottom right corner of the main menu is the games online mode, through which you can fight strangers, create specified arenas exclusive to you and online friends, and spectate other players’ games from online (the least exciting in my opinion, especially considering you can no longer place wagers for in-game currency like you could with the Wii U version). At the time of writing this article, the online feature has more or less been very mixed. Other reviewers and players of the games have complained that whenever they played strangers (or even close friends) online, they experience poor connections that make the game unbearable to play due to lag that either makes the controls less responsive, or makes games constantly stop and buffer in an attempt to work with the player’s different internet connections. Meanwhile, there are players who have yet to experience any serious issues online, and their only issue is that they are not always matched with people with similar preferences and are put into games with rule-sets they did not agree to. This has usually been a problem with Nintendo in terms of getting online gaming done properly, as the same buffering problem was usually common with their previous systems. Now that Nintendo’s online service needs to be paid for (unlike with the systems such as the Wii and Wii U), people are not likely to pay for a service that struggles with a proper online connection. While the online is not bad, it is far from being the best experience. As of now, it may not be worth the yearly $20 subscription.

Conclusion

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate offers a unique and fun experience regardless of whether you are playing seriously or just for fun. With the number of different characters, stages, and modes, it can keep players busy for quite awhile, even longer considering downloadable content is coming soon to offer more characters and stages (with the most recent DLC character being a literal plant from the Mario games). While some modes may not be to everyone’s taste, there will still be something for the player to enjoy. And while the online version is not the best as of now, there is always the chance that Nintendo will find a way to improve it, as they offer frequent updates to the game to further improve it and balance the characters. The majority of fans of the series will enjoy it. If you are completely new to the series and seem even a little interested, I recommend you play the game for yourself (or with friends if you can, as that’s always fun).

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