Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Review)

I actually get why some people don’t like the Smash Bros. franchise. I don’t agree with them, but I do understand them. Gameplay can become an unimaginable clusterfuck of visual spam that looks like effects from multiple different genres were spliced together in a way sure to cause a tension headache. If you find yourself in a match on one of those massive platforming-stage-type arenas with Pokeballs and Assist Trophies set to max, keeping track of the action or even where the hell you are on screen, even with ID tags on, is a pain in the ass. Plus, despite varied move sets, most non-professional players tend to spam the same attacks over and over and over and that can get boring.

Still a better ending for this dragon than the ones from Game of Thrones got.

So yea, I do get how someone could not buy into the hype. Frankly, the only reason I didn’t is because I couldn’t get my epilepsy under control for years, and Smash Bros is to photosensitivity what a Big Mac is to dieting. In my pre-epilepsy days, I played TONS of Melee on my GameCube. It was easily the Cube game I put the most time into. I got every single trophy and loved every moment of it. Then came epilepsy, and I realized halfway through Brawl my Smash days were over. I never even made it far enough to unlock Sonic The Hedgehog, and I didn’t even bother trying with Smash on Wii U. I didn’t like the 3DS version at all. I hated how it felt, and I put it down after less than an hour, never to return.

Now, I have my epilepsy under control. This last week, my Dad and I watched the Sora reveal trailer. My Mom and sister were out of town, meaning it was just the two of us. My Dad just started gaming full-time within the last couple years, and after seeing the trailer, he wanted to know if it lived up to the hype. As I type this sentence, he’s putting somewhere around hour #70 into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s safe to say, the hype was lived-up.

Good lord! Of course, there is room for four more fighters after Sora drops. Hmmmmm. Nah, I’m sure this is it. Probably. Who knows? It’s weird that there’s still space there.

In that time, I’ve mostly been struggling to wrap my head around the sheer amount of content. Yea, I’m disappointed that the single player campaign doesn’t more closely resemble Brawl’s design, and I preferred collecting trophies in Melee to “spirits” in Ultimate, but otherwise, this is such a massive game. It took us just under 40 hours to complete World of Light and score a 100% completion on Normal difficulty. Along the way, you collect “spirits” that are basically static JPEGs of characters from all over the video game spectrum. And I mean ALL OVER! In fact, there’s really one Nintendo game that gets no love at all: StarTropics. There’s NOTHING for StarTropics. Hal’s Adventures of Lolo also never shows up, but Lolo & Lala (or rather Lololo and Lalala, the Kirby bosses) appear in a background on the GameBoy stage, so in a way they’re here. As of this writing, there’s 1,499 spirits with more coming in the Sora update, and it’s likely more will be added even after Sora drops this next week. Sadly, there’s no biographies for them. They’re just static pictures that also work as buffs for fights in the adventure mode or for the “spirit board” where you aim to collect even more spirits. It’s like you’re a gaming version of Ghostbusters, which is funny because the first thing my Dad asked is “are the Ghostbusters in this?” I said “no.” He said “there’s a Ghostbusters video game!” He’s a delight.

I’m really not a fan of the whole “time and shoot to get the spirit” shit. Maybe if there had been a larger variety of ways you had to finally unlock the spirit, it’d be okay. But, after having to battle some of the harder, four-star level spirits, needing to do this one last thing became a major pain in the ass.

Beyond the spirits, there’s several other collectables. There’s a boatload of Mii Fighter costumes, new songs for the soundtrack, tons of optional challenges, and more. Hell, the roster itself is a collectable. In fact, when you first boot-up Smash Ultimate, you only get the original roster of fighters from the Nintendo 64 game (plus any DLC characters you’ve bought). That means you have to unlock SEVENTY characters over the course of the game. You can do this in few ways. We got ours mostly through the World of Light campaign. Anytime you “wake-up” a playable character, you gain access to them in all other modes. Or, when we’d quit out of World of Light, it’d usually say “A NEW FOE APPEARS” and we’d unlock another. This would happen while we cleared-out the Spirit Board as well, but it was hugely annoying when that happened. The Spirit Board works on a timer, and after five minutes, the spirits reshuffle. Apparently you can also unlock fighters through the Classic Mode, which I’ve actually decided is the weak link of the game. Compared to all the other modes, it’s just old fashioned anymore. But, I was annoyed that the target practice stuff was gone too. I’m sure if I really, REALLY think about it, I’ll remember how hard and frustrating some of those were, but in the spirit of Smash Bros. fandom, I’m just mindlessly complaining right now. Also, they could have made the alternate costumes of the fighters collectable too. That’s.. like.. 623 more things they could have made you collect. I mean, fuck it, why not? Literally every single new thing you get feels special. When has that ever happened in any game?

Dad, mad bastard that he is, bought EVERY Mii Fighter costume. The thing is, you still have to create the Mii that goes with the costumes and manually create the fighters for them. Really, each of these costumes should have come with a prefabricated Mii and just been added to the menu for the Mii Fighters. I mean, you DID pay for them!

Of course, all this stuff is predicated on whether or not you like playing Smash Bros. If you don’t, none of it matters. I really like Smash Bros. I hate doing this type of thing, but if I had to do the “describe the game in one word” thing, the one word would be “cathartic.” It’s the poster child for my beloved “OOMPH”, the idea that violence in games feels like it has weight and gravity and isn’t just pixels and polygons painted on top of each-other. A fighting game without oomph would be awful (see Clayfighter 63 1/3 for an example). Smash might be the most OOMPHful game ever. It feels so violent, and it’s fantastic! But, I was already sold on the concept back in 1999. Even with the worst box art of any Nintendo first-party game, I totally fell in love with Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64. Super Smash Bros. Melee spiked the ball and would easily make my top five GameCube list. I didn’t need any convincing. I mean, I wasn’t as bad as those fans who declared this their Game of the Year before they even played it, but I knew I’d have a good time, and I did. That’s not why this is a special game.

The shop, like the spirit board, is limited to a max of ten randomly-chosen items at a time. You can’t just grind-up resources. You also have to wait for the stuff you’re missing to appear. I get the idea is to keep players coming back to the game after they’ve finished all the content, but it’s still really annoying that you can’t just knock-out the music or the Mii Costumes first.

No, how I know Smash Bros. Ultimate is something special is my Dad, in his 70s now and brand-new to gaming, is totally hooked on it. Yea, it’s the reward mechanism thing of unlocking something new basically every minute. Sure. But there’s more to it. The simple play mechanics ease newcomers into the action and slowly reveal to them depth and nuance on a scale someone watching would never imagine. My Dad started by mashing buttons and now he’s stringing together combos and feeling mighty proud of himself. Sure, you can mindlessly mash buttons if you wish. That’d probably be enough to get you through the single player modes. But for those who journey deeper, you’ll find one of the most satisfying and balanced fighting games ever made. In fact, Smash does such a good job of being newbie friendly that it opened my Dad’s eyes to the entire fighting game genre. He wants to get into this style of game now.

Wow!

Some of the spirit battles are absurdly difficult. The one that took us the most attempts was Pauline from Super Mario Odyssey. Here, Princess Peach runs around trying to avoid you, and on a short timer, you must knock her out while dealing with Mario and Donkey Kong’s attacks. It’s maddening, but what really was a kick in the ass was that, after dozens upon dozens of failed attempts, we only won because Peach accidentally killed herself after missing a jump. She had ZERO damage. Dad checked, and apparently this has happened to multiple other people who have struggled with this level. It makes us wonder if they secretly built in a mercy feature. Come to think of it, the other extra-hard battle, for the spirit of Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid, also killed itself.

Yea, there’s stuff that bugs me. I really do wish they’d done something like Subspace Emissary. I wish the map for World of Light had been less abstract and easier to find your way around. I think the larger stages are boring and the camera is often panned too far back for the action. Also, I can’t imagine how brutal playing this must be for those poor souls who have to use their Joycons instead of being able to buy the GameCube controllers. (Speaking of which, after 70+ hours, the wireless GameCube controller we bought for Ultimate is still on its original Duracell batteries. Holy moley! The Energizer Bunny wept in despair). But honestly, I’m happy that I got Smash back. It’s fan service and full of really lazy Memberberries (even I geeked out at a picture of the girl from Eternal Darkness. OH MY GAWD LOOK! THE GIRL FROM ETERNAL DARKNESS!) that are devoid of all context. Playing Smash Bros Ultimate often feels like watching an episode of Big Bang Theory without the laugh track. LOOK, IT’S THAT THING OR CHARACTER FROM A GAME YOU PLAYED! But, you know what? It got me. It got me because it’s fun! It feels like a labor of love that wanted to figure out a way to include everything, and did. Except StarTropics. After five games, it’s the one that gets no love. God, what the fuck did StarTropics do to Sakurai? Did it run over his grandma or something?

Super Smash Bros Ultimate was developed by Sora
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$59.99 + a lot more in DLC sang GRANDMA GOT RAN OVER BY A STARTROPICS in the making of this review.

Smash Bros. Ultimate is Chick-Approved! Non-indies aren’t eligible for the IGC Leaderboard.

Sorry the formatting sucks. WordPress keeps getting worse and worse.

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