Here's our Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review and why it took us a few extra days to release

AdaptiveTrigger and I are running on very little sleep and are surprised to be alive...

Posted by Steven 'Dreamking23' Chavez • December 12, 2018 at 4:07 p.m. PST

One of the largest gaming events of 2018 is finally upon us; Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is officially in the hands of the public. Nintendo brings to the world the most ambitious entry in the series, with more content, more characters, more stages, and more everything packed into a Smash Bros. game than ever before.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate boasts a launch roster of over 70 characters, features more than 100 playable stages (each with three different layouts to choose from), over 850 songs from 32 different video game franchises, and the classic Smash Bros. gameplay players have grown to love over the past 19 years.

Everything we've seen of the Nintendo Switch title leading up to its launch has been top-notch, leaving fans thirsty for more. From beautiful cinematic reveal trailers to showcases at gaming expos, Smash Bros. Ultimate built up a status in the public eye that is not easy to uphold.

So, does Super Smash Bros. Ultimate live up to all the hype? And how does it stack up in an era littered with other major, modern fighting titles?

We have spent the last week digging deep into the massive mountain of content and fun that is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and somehow we're still alive to tell the tale. There is so much to get to here that Justin "AdaptiveTrigger" Gordon and myself took as much time as we reasonably could — admittedly at the expense of some sleep — to put together our Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review. You probably aren't surprised to hear that unlocking characters and World of Light ate up a large chunk of our time, but more on that later.

Let's dive right into Nintendo's gargantuan crossover phenomenon, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Presentation

"Everyone is here" is the tagline of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that refers to the fact that every character to ever be playable in a Super Smash Bros. game has returned in the latest entry. If I could add an extra piece to that tagline, it would be "and they look better than ever."

The visuals in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are fantastic, with intricate details adorned on familiar fighters and newcomers coming out of the gate looking their best. Series mainstays like Mario and Link have seen updates to their designs that bring in elements from their most recent triple A titles making them feel familiar, yet fresh.

Backdrops are gorgeous too, leaving you staring deep into the screen to admire all of the tiny details scattered throughout the massive landscapes that accentuate the platforms in the foreground where the battles take place. What's great is that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate keeps with the tradition of having a full-fledged camera mode when you hit pause during a match, so you can truly take all of the beautiful visuals in whenever you so choose.

Nintendo's attention to detail in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is nothing short of astonishing — in every way that it manifests. There are so many cameos, references, added details, and character traits here that it really shines a light on Nintendo's extensive knowledge of their source material and understanding of what fans want. Things like Ness' PK special moves now featuring the same visual effects found in Earthbound or one of Ridley's taunts seeing him stand upright (as a clear allusion to the character being deemed too large to fit properly into past Smash Bros. games) make you feel like no stone was left un-turned in this game, and that's exactly what you want to see in any large-scale fighting title.

The same can be said about the sheer volume of content in this game. There is so much included here that it can actually be difficult to find the characters and stages you're looking for at times — but that's a good problem to have. Although the number of newcomers is lower than the amount that joined for Super Smash Bros. 4, the addition of every returning veteran more than makes up for it with its 74 character roster.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's selection of music is also beyond impressive. Nintendo could honestly sell the collection as its own package for the same retail price as the game itself and fans would buy it. It's that good. Being able to create playlists with your favorite tracks and even listen with the Nintendo Switch screen off (to conserve power and act as an MP3 player on the go) is truly tremendous and one of my favorite features in Smash Ultimate.

"Nearly everything you could ever want in a Super Smash Bros. game is included in Ultimate, and there's still more to come."

There is so much content in this game, fans are sure to be kept busy for many years. Having said that, Nintendo apparently isn't done adding to Smash Ultimate. We have the confirmation of future updates in the form patches and five DLC characters set to join the game over the next year or so.

Sometime in February 2019, we'll see the bonus release of the Piranha Plant as a free download for those that bought the game digitally or those that registered their physical copies by January 31st, 2019. In addition to Joker from Persona 5, we'll be seeing at least four more fighters to join the roster after that.

Nearly everything you could ever want in a Super Smash Bros. game is included in Ultimate, and there's still more to come. But all of the content in the world is nothing without great gameplay, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does not disappoint.

Gameplay

As someone who has played every entry in the Super Smash Bros. line, I can tell you that this game feels great. The pacing and increased game speed is exceptional, especially for bigger characters like Bowser and newcomer Ridley who you feel far more in control of now thanks to the new short hop input shortcut — which allows you to keep your offensive pressure going with quick air attacks that are performed very close to the ground at the expense of a bit less damage by pressing jump and A at the same time.

The short hop macro is very clearly meant to help newer players with short hopping in the face of the universally shortened jump squat animations. While this is surely a welcomed addition for many players, this can actually hinder some seasoned Smash Bros. players that are too used to this not existing. Unfortunately, there is no option in the controls to turn this off despite an option to adjust things like tap jumping and “A + B” smash attacks.

Overall, the feel of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate can take some adjusting to if you're used to Smash Bros. Wii U / 3DS. Recent tests have indicated that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate reportedly has the highest amount of input lag in the series, which is likely the culprit here. This is not a deal breaker, though, as gameplay feels smooth after you've dialed in for a bit.

There's enough in the game to satisfy both the casual and hardcore audiences. While Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is easy to pick up and start playing for newcomers, there's still a lot of depth within the mechanics for competitive professionals to enjoy.

Long requested features like Battlefield and hazard-less variants for stages have finally been added. We'll now be able listen to the awesome music for stages that were previously never played at tournaments.


Bodied!

Modes like Squad Strike are most certainly a welcomed addition. Having trouble picking a main? Squad Strike let's you pick 3-5 characters to play during a single match, and it's awesome.

Although Super Smash Bros. Ultimate just reeks of ambition and overall feels like a masterpiece, there are some minor nitpicks that we’d like to see improved upon in a future update or patch.

One peculiar change in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that which forces players to re-select their characters after every match. In previous iterations, characters were already selected upon return. Instead of just jumping straight back into the action, time is essentially wasted picking the same characters.

It is also odd that the stage hazard option must be selected during the match rules section rather than the stage select. This is what is causing the “hazards on vs. hazards off” debate within the community, and we hope to see this changed at some point for a better quality of life.

One of the strangest design decisions, however, is the lack of support for the Nintendo Switch's video record feature. Holding the camera button while playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will not snap a 30 second clip for you — like it does in other games — which is really unfortunate considering the amount of amazing moments you'll undoubtedly want to capture while playing.

Single player experience

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate comes equipped with a robust series of game modes for players of all walks of life. Whether you enjoy an extensive single player experience — which can be found in Smash Ultimate's World of Light adventure mode — or just want a zany, chaotically fun multiplayer brawl, this game has you covered.

Classic Mode gives players a more traditional arcade mode-style run-through of opponents with a boss battle at the end of each path. These play-throughs remain fresh as each character sports a different theme to their ladder with varied match formats and bosses to encounter. Boss battles are a blast in Smash Bros. Ultimate too, though with much of the cast facing some variation of Master Hand, I would have liked to see a handful more of the unique bosses here.

Players will also be doing a lot of their character unlocking in Classic Mode, and it's definitely a grind to get all 63 locked fighters onto your character select screen. Those who tough it our are looking at 10+ hours of playtime before all fighters are playable.

World of Light is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s main adventure and story mode. In the opening cut-scene, we learn about the true extent of Galeem’s power as he wipes out the game’s entire roster with a single attack — except for Kirby.

Playing through the World of Light ended up being an extremely polarizing experience. On one hand, the mode drags on for way too long with most of it being very boring. That aside, there are some high points that were certainly memorable.

Essentially, all of the fights are made up of the new Spirit Mode battles. While these “spirits” seem like they’re trying to emulate a feeling that you’re fighting against a character that actually isn’t playable, they just come across as stat enhancing equipment and conditions.


The starting roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. There are many characters to unlock.

The main problem is that there are far too many matches that end up feeling repetitive and ultimately just blend together. A lot of the conditions repeat for different spirits. After a while, this mode mainly becomes a grind in order to get through.

Spirits can be equipped to counter the set conditions of battles like having your controls reversed or the screen flipped during gameplay. For the most part, we just resorted to using the auto-select feature to minimize the amount of time spent in menus, and that was a totally viable strategy.

There’s also a skill tree system that was fairly complex. If you want to play as more fighters, you can unlock them by winning “awakening battles.”

The story only really picks up about halfway through and things start to get interesting and fun. Without spoiling anything, the game features some really great surprises at the very end that made the experience feel almost worth it.

While you’ll end up fighting all the boss battles that are possible in the Classic Mode, there are actually a few bosses that are completely unique to this mode. Like all the other bosses, they end up being a treat and challenge to fight against.

Online and training mode

As is the trend with modern fighting games, you will likely be spending a lot of your Smash Bros. Ultimate time in the game's online mode. Players are capable of jumping online to battle against random foes around the world or friends in lobbies.

Much like World of Light, Smash Ultimate's online is currently a mixed bag. As we previously reported, the major issue that plagues the game's Quick Play / Elite Smash makes it so that matchmaking is terribly inconsistent. Players are able to set preferred rules for the type of match they'd like to play — free-for-all, team, 1v1, stock, time, etc. — but very often are those rules completely bypassed and you're thrown into a chaotic match up type that you were hoping to avoid.

With Quick Play and Elite Smash essentially being the game's ranked mode, this type of inconsistency is a huge problem, especially for tournament players who were hoping to use online as a means of seeing serious practice.

Despite this issue, Smash Bros. Ultimate's online connectivity seems surprisingly stable, based on what we experienced. With a hard-wired connection (via a LAN adapter), much of our matches against random opponents held up well with little to no noticeable lag.

Testing against ourselves in a lobby, the connection felt great and remained consistently strong for about three hours or so of matches. It's worth noting that with this test, one player was on the west coast, while the other resided on the east coast.

Smash Ultimate's online mode is not immune to quality of life issues, though. In the lobby system, you must go to the end of the waiting line if you want to change your character for the next match. The fighter you choose is otherwise character locked, making a change on the fly unnecessarily tedious.

"Online mode's matchmaking is definitely in need of fixing, as its inconsistency is a major issue that cannot be ignored."

We're still digging into the game's online mode, so expect an in-depth follow up piece on it here in the near future.

Training mode is an extremely important feature in any fighting game, especially today with the slew of major tournaments and strong competitive scenes that help drive them. While Smash Ultimate's training mode is sufficient and has a couple of cool new additions, it's lack of tools for hardcore players makes it feel dated.

One major facet that's missing here is a basic record / playback option. This is a crucial tool for competitive players as it helps test set ups, counters, combos, and much more. You can set the training dummy to perform certain attacks repeatedly, but it just feels too limited and doesn't quite match the standards of what we often see in modern fighting titles.

Ultimate's training mode does add great features like the trajectory lines that show where and how far an opponent will be knocked back by attacks at different percentages. Players can also set a color-coded indicator of when a character can and cannot be attacked during a move, which will undoubtedly aid in learning match ups and overall improvement.

Closing thoughts: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is fast, fun, exciting, and completely addicting. Nintendo's latest entry in the series is not only the biggest and possibly the best Smash Bros. game to-date, it's also a major contender in a market filled with other top-level fighting games.

The Nintendo Switch title is almost the perfect Smash Bros. game, but a number of quality of life issues hinder the experience — albeit not all that much. Online mode's matchmaking is definitely in need of fixing, as its inconsistency is a major issue that cannot be ignored. A handful of other small changes are also in order, but every problem we encountered with the game could very likely be fixed with future patches and updates.

There is so much content in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and there's something here for players of all walks of life. If you're not playing it at the moment, you should definitely change that as soon as possible.

Pros:

+ The most impressive launch roster in Super Smash Bros. and possibly fighting game history.

+ More content than you'll know what to do with.

+ Gameplay feels sharp, smooth, and natural.

+ Massive library of fantastic video game music that you can listen to on the go.

+ Easy to start playing, but still has enough depth for competitive players.

+ Unique game modes allow for many different experiences.

+ Filled to the brim with fun Easter eggs that reference the many games featured in this massive crossover.

+ Post launch content such as patch updates and DLC characters confirmed by Nintendo. Should see support until at least February 2020.

Cons:

- World of Light, though ambitious, feels tedious and drags on for too long.

- Several quality of life issues are annoying, but don't hurt the overall experience too much.

- Online matchmaking needs fixing.

- Training mode feels dated compared to other modern fighting titles.

- No video record using the Switch.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was reviewed by Justin "AdaptiveTrigger" Gordon and Steven "DreamKing" Chavez.

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