Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a fighting game developed by Bandai Namco Studios and Sora Ltd. and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch on 7th December 2018. Ultimate is the fifth installment in the series and was first teased during a Nintendo direct in March 2018, and was officially revealed during E3 2018. Masahiro Sakurai returns as long-time director for the series, along with developers Bandai Namco who worked on the previous entry, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Sakurai’s development studio, Sora Ltd, also returns for a third time.
Ultimate may be the fifth entry in the series, but as it is exclusive to Nintendo consoles, there are many who may not have experienced its predecessors yet. The Super Smash Bros. series features characters from Nintendo properties and many other third party developers taking part in brawls of up to eight players/cpus. The general idea is to knock other characters out of the arena by building up their damage meter thus making them easier to launch into the air. A time limit can be imposed on the match leading to sudden death should any characters be tying for first place. An alternative to the damage meter is a stamina battle in which characters begin with a set amount of health and will lose lives if they are reduced to zero.
To add to the chaos, a variety of items will drop drop during combat. These could be weapons like swords and lasers, or assistance from other characters in the form of pokeballs and assist trophies. Summoning one of the many characters or pokemon will allow them to harass other player, though they can take damage themselves to be removed from combat. When a Smash ball appears on the screen players will race to attack it as whomever deals the final blow gains the ability to use their Final Smash, a game changing move that has the potential to knock out multiple opponents.
When talking about a new entry in the Smash Bros. series, most people would ask if their favourite character is returning. The good news for fans is that EVERY character has returned, and then a few more. At seventy-four fighters (seventy-six if one counts Pokemon Trainer’s separately), this is the largest line-up in a Smash game to date. Some characters have nearly identical moves and play styles. These ‘Echo Fighters’ have unique animations and subtle gameplay differences. An example of this is newcomer Ken (of Street Fighter) echoing Ryu (also of Street Fighter). Ryu has a stronger Hadoken, whilst Ken has a flaming Dragon Punch. There are a few other differences between the two, so if a player whose favourite fighter now has an echo, they may wish to experiment to see which they prefer. Whilst this is the largest line-up of characters in a Smash game, only eight can be used initially, the rest are unlocked by defeating them when they challenge the player at regular intervals during normal play.
Spirits are a new addition to Ultimate that allows the player to tailor their character to an upcoming battle and come in four varieties; primary spirits in one of three colours, red, blue, or green, and support spirits. Primary spirits determine the attack and defense of the player whilst support spirits boost certain types of attacks, start the player with an item in combat, or allow the player to overcome some type of hazard in combat. The colour of the primary spirit is part of a rock-paper-scissors system that means no single spirit will dominate the rest. Spirits can be obtained from the spirit board, a set of rotating challenges that mirror challenges in the new story mode.
Ultimate features a brand-new story mode called World of Light in which every character has been captured except Kirby. Players will need to traverse an expansive map challenging hundreds of characters from various games (both those whose characters are included in Smash and many more besides) to themed battles. An example would be theming Ridley as Rayquaza (of Pokemon) by colouring him green and adding a heavy wind hazard effect to the battle. Defeating the opponent unlocks the themed character as a spirit. Some areas of the world map are inaccessible until the player has defeated specific spirits or cleared out another area of the map. Completing the story mode takes as long to finishing as a short RPG, but players are free to raise spirits outside of the mode by giving them food to increase their levels and merging them to create more powerful spirits.
Classic mode gives the player a series of fights that raise in intensity with every successful encounter, ultimately rewarding the player based on their final intensity rating. The score can be lowered by being defeated in combat, leading to less rewards. Gold earned through spirit battles and online play can be spent in the shop to purchase spirits, spirit food, music tracks, and Mii costume parts. Once Mii fighters have been unlocked they can be customised with any parts the player owns. Music tracks can be played freely outside of combat and playlist can be created should the player want to listen to music with the screen turned off in handheld mode.
Ultimate does feature online fights against other players, but this requires a subscription to Nintendo’s online service that this reviewer does not own, and as such there are no personal comments here about the quality of service, though reports from many major gaming sites have noted serious problems with the online experience (when they were able to get into a game). Defeating other players online awards the player Smash tags of their defeated opponents which can either be kept or sold off for gold.
Ultimate is not a radical change from the last iteration of the series, it is more akin to an existing title receiving an update that tweaks systems and stats across the board. Players who already own Smash on Wii U will be able to appreciate the new story mode and all the extra characters that have been added to the game, many of which would have been paid DLC on the Wii U. They may wish to hold off of a purchase until news of better online experiences come through. Newcomers to the series should enjoy a fun fighter with simple controls that is filled with gaming history. There is a character pass available should players wish to pickup DLC characters as they are released, and finding out that a much-loved character is being added to Ultimate may just be the tipping point for people to get into this series.
Title: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Developer: Bandai Namco / Sora
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 7 December 2018 (Worldwide)