Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Az Elias 28.12.2018

Review for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch

Another Nintendo console generation, and with it comes another entry in the Super Smash Bros. series. What started out way back in 1999 as a simple party fighting game featuring 12 of Nintendo's all-stars has evolved into one of the biggest video game crossovers in the history of the medium. For every sequel since its Nintendo 64 debut, the anticipation and expectations always increase, as fans preach for their favourite characters to be added to the roster... only setting themselves up for disappointment when Waluigi never arrives. Designer Masahiro Sakurai often jokes about whether he'll ever get a rest from working on this mammoth series, but while Super Smash Bros. Ultimate still carries a few familiar gripes, has he done enough to earn a good, long slumber?

Where do you begin with a frantic party-fighting game that's over 70 characters strong, features tons of different game modes, and has way more than three decades' worth of gaming history embedded into it? The release of any new Super Smash Bros. game is a momentous occasion, but even with dual console and handheld renditions of the previous title on Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, and factoring in some quite excellent and unexpected characters (Mega Man, Ryu, Cloud Strife, Bayonetta), the fourth entry in the series, particularly the console version, felt lacking as an entertaining solo game. The absence of a story mode and the way the 3DS edition had the superior single-player and Classic modes meant the game could get old rather quickly unless you got the most out of it through multiplayer.

Smash's inevitable return on Nintendo Switch comes with its share of concerns after the last entry, and the Wii U's early demise could have given further worry that this would be a simple port with just a few extra characters and stages tacked on. The final product does still have a few let-downs in there, such as just four brand-new stages, the removal of a handful of modes, and no Trophies whatsoever, but there are plenty of counterpoints that still result in this quite possibly being the best iteration of Super Smash Bros. to date.

The main draw is that every single fighter that has been playable in a past game in the series returns for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, making it the largest ever roster. Known officially as "Echo Fighters" now, there are a few more clones in there, such as Daisy, Chrom, Dark Samus, and Ken, but the newcomers do not disappoint, with King K. Rool, Ridley, Inkling, and the main third party addition, Simon Belmont, along with his Echo Fighter variant, Richter, just some of the fine examples that round out this massive cast. Even Solid Snake returns in all of his tight sneaking suit glory, as well as the stingy-as-hell Square Enix's Cloud.

Screenshot for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch

To go off on a tangent for a moment, given the complete lack of anything remotely Final Fantasy VII related in Ultimate, apart from the playable character of Cloud himself, it seems evident that Square Enix was not willing to play ball and that the spiky-headed mercenary was given the all clear in the very latter stages of development. For the FFVII fans out there that were looking forward to Cloud's second entry onto the Smash battlefield, the fact that only the same unremixed battle tunes and Midgar stage make their way over from SSB4, with absolutely nothing else to satisfy, is a huge disappointment. This is the biggest video game crossover title in years - maybe the biggest ever - and Square Enix plays an embarrassing part in not even being willing to lend a simple PNG image of Cloud from his original game appearance to the Spirit collection.

When you look at just how open even Konami and Capcom have been, throwing a shedload of fantastic music - originals and remixes - Nintendo's way to cram into Ultimate, it makes Square look just a bit pathetic. The kicker is that this is the best that Cloud - and indeed many other characters, particularly third party ones - have ever looked and moved. Animations are on another level entirely with this game. For Cloud, though, the Final Fantasy representation here is tragic, and one can only hope effort is made to resolve whatever issues Square has to try and at least get some Spirits and music patched in, even if the latter are just plain originals.

...Anyway, personal rant over. Super Smash Bros, then. As far as fighting games go, it is one of a kind. With the success of the Switch and that many people will be playing a Smash game for their first time with Ultimate, it still isn't the most well-explained of titles. The absurd menu layouts that Sakurai insists his wife must design, despite them being largely ridiculous and pointlessly complicated to find what you're looking for, return. Buried in the depths of these bizarre menus is a little how-to-play video and lots of small tips for just about everything, from character-specific moves to basic actions, and from item descriptions to stage gimmicks - but as a means for newcomers to adjust to the madness that is Smash Bros? There isn't really a solid tutorial that can ease players in. Rather, it is through simply playing the thing and messing about with the huge array of match options that proves the best resource.

Screenshot for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch

Is it about time Smash introduced an interactive step-by-step tutorial for beginner, intermediate and advanced level play? How about a more robust training mode where recording AI inputs is possible to practice combos and see what works and what doesn't for the more experienced player? It would be handy to get newbies off on the right footing, and allow veterans to test changes to their main characters and see everything a new fighter has to offer... but instead, players are more or less encouraged to just dive right into a mode and see how they get on, learning the hard way.

This may just be the most customisable Smash experience in the franchise, too, with countless settings to set up match styles that suit you and your friends. All of the usual settings return for Smash (versus) mode, as you fine tune basics like how to win (e.g. most KOs in a time limit (Time), be the last player with a life standing (Stock), reduce all your opponents' HP to zero (Stamina)), plus the various niggly factors, such as item occurrence, how Final Smashes (super moves) are earned, and how much a fighter is launched after a powerful hit. The ability to have Final Smashes available through a meter now is a welcome addition that ensures these supers can still be used when items are switched off.

Is there a definitive answer for how you should be playing Smash Bros, though? Aside from smashing your foes out of the screen, not really. Despite how accessible it is as a game to pick up and play, it is still a confusing anomaly in the world of fighting games - but that's what makes Smash stand out from the crowd as its own delightfully messy mash-up.

Screenshot for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch

Messy it still is, too. Two- to three-player affairs aren't too bad, but once you start to compete in four-player and above matches, even after assigning your profile name to your character so it appears above its head during gameplay, it is incredibly easy to lose track of who you are amongst the frenetic action, especially on tight stages with multiple items, Assist Trophies and explosions going off left, right, and centre. ...And if you even dare attempt the craziness that is an eight-player brawl, well, good luck. By the way, Assist Trophies are overpowered and last far too long on the battlefield, now – sometimes staying around long enough to get two easy KOs off on you!

In large part, these frenzied bouts to knock each other to a pulp are okay as long as you keep a stern eye on your character, but it is inevitable in more populated matches that you will mix yourself up with somebody else – which is much more likely if another person is using the same character – and this can most certainly be the cause of your own downfall at times. Even stranger and more pronounced than previous games is characters actually getting obscured behind the user interface at the bottom of the screen, where the score display is. The camera, maybe only on certain stages and with more characters on screen, won't pan down quite enough on some occasions, and you can be left blindly duking it out against an opponent as the face of Kirby and his accumulated damage text blocks your view.

It is in keeping with the element of chaos and randomness to this item-focused party-fighter that things aren't quite perfect, regardless of the fun that is always had when groups of friends get together either locally or online. Despite innovating very little since the jump from its inception on N64 to Super Smash Bros. Melee on GameCube, the tried-and-tested combat setup and its exceptionally small move lists (by fighting game standards) still work to ensure that Smash remains a fighter that anyone can pick up and play, regardless of their fighting game background. That isn't to say it doesn't have the qualities that make it competitive, either, because the series has a consistently strong hardcore scene. That looks set to continue with Ultimate, thanks to what proves to be faster gameplay than some previous titles, but does have worryingly poor input latency that can be felt particularly when dodging and recovering, and more so online.

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The main attraction to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate this time around is Adventure mode. The so-titled World of Light is the lengthy solo quest that has been pined for since Brawl's Subspace Emissary, extinguishing fears that this latest entry would not feature such a mode, particularly as the last game skipped out on one. It is equal parts both a triumph and a let-down.

Opening up with the same World of Light CG trailer shown in the final Nintendo Direct presentation, sole surviving warrior Kirby is plonked onto a huge fog-covered map that clears up as progress is made in this fused world of worlds, venturing across the top-down plains to nodes that hold Spirits – a new and important mechanic in this iteration of Smash Bros. Think of your average platformer level select map from something like Super Mario World, except with way more paths and routes to take, and you have the right idea of its format.

In fact, the world is massive – so much so that this is at least a good 20-hour mix of fun...and a bit of a slog. Each node pits you in a special battle with predetermined rules that reflect the Spirit up for grabs. Spirits are non-fighter characters from the worlds of Nintendo and beyond that have been captured alongside the main fighters and melded their individual powers with them, enhancing the opponents you will fight against, and affecting the laws of nature and the setups of the battles, such as ensuring only certain items will appear, electrifying the floors, or flipping the stage entirely on its head partway through the bout. Common Super Mario universe enemy Boo, for example, is represented by an invisible Kirby in its battle, with added shield durability, whilst Virtua Fighter martial artist Akira pits the player in a stamina battle against Ryu, where his physical and smash attacks have increased power.

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There are countless fights throughout the adventure that will definitely raise a smile when recognising and appreciating how certain non-playable characters have been transformed into highly creative battles. The list of examples of clever recreations given the limited set of characters at the game's disposal is something to be admired, although there are unfortunately a few too many cases of plain old Battlefield stages and certain fighters being reused for particular fights – namely Isabelle for anything that pretty much isn't human.

There is a fair bit of freedom to explore this gigantic overworld, although you are usually pushed towards the same general portions of the map over time, winning battles to gain access to some quite excellent throwback areas to certain franchises (again, such a missed opportunity to not represent Midgar or any other place from FFVII here), with the eventual goal to reach main boss Galeem at the top of this foreign land. It's an entertaining adventure that will last some time for the soloist, but there is no question it starts to turn into a bit of a chore in the final hours, particularly as there is just no story or cutscenes to be found.

Despite that opening FMV, this is nothing like the Subspace Emissary, which featured tons of amusing little scenes with the characters as you unlocked them. Even the ending is total throwaway, rendering the whole thing incredibly anticlimactic and underwhelming. It's massively disappointing. Crossover games aren't expected to have some grand and epic JRPG-like narrative, but for such a milestone in gaming as a whole, there isn't anything to keep players entertained in between the hundreds and hundreds of battles on these large overworlds. No fan service cutscenes or humorous interactions between Snake and Pikachu, or Cloud telling Samus he's “Not interested” in her name, and will do whatever to just get home. It puts a downer on what is otherwise a superior solo quest than Subspace Emissary.

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It also isn't the best setup in terms of how to go about unlocking characters. Want to play through the adventure with Palutena or Dark Samus? Tough luck, because those two are buried so far deep into the end of the quest that you'll only be able to select them for the final few bouts. There is no way to determine where on a map a certain character is to battle and then unlock them, so perhaps there could have been some choice in which characters you get to unlock at certain points in the adventure, rather than them only being in fixed spots and not knowing where they are. Adventure mode is the ideal place to unlock the characters for the rest of the gameplay modes, however, as being pit against them outside of the World of Light in challenger battles can be pretty tough. Unlocking them in the World of Light makes them available in the rest of the game, but doing the reverse won't unlock them for the adventure. You may have a shock if you take your time before trying the adventure out after spending time unlocking a whole bunch of your favourites through casual Smash play... Some more clarity and better ways to unlock fighters may have been necessary.

As for the Spirits, there is more to them than just being a reason for crazy battle scenarios. Once you beat one, you unlock it for yourself, which can then be equipped to your own party, granting advantages like strength and defence stat boosts, immunity to specific hazards, or being able to start matches with certain items in hand. With over a thousand of the things to collect, there is a massive amount of room for customisation, and ensures they aren't just useless 2D images to never be looked at again.

The downside? They have pretty much replaced Trophies from previous Smash games, and are more like the Stickers from SSB4. Where the last game had both Trophies and Stickers, SSBU only goes with its flat copy-pasted official art for its main collectible items, giving no detailed descriptions at all, except for a generic point about which series they come from. No info on date of first appearance, the actual game they appeared in, or any extra details of any kind.

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Now, okay, there are over 1300 of these things, and a half-page write-up for every single one would be a big effort, but with the lack of the more visually-appealing and labour-demanding Trophies to render this time around, and for the majorly historic game that this is, it feels pretty lame to not give some context and background to at least the playable fighters themselves, particularly the third party ones. Just having Bayonetta, Cloud, Ryu, Simon, Mega Man and Sonic randomly show up in this ultimate of crossovers without providing any reasons or even allowing players to learn about their origins (because so many will not be familiar with a lot of the characters in this game), aside from a few one-line tips that show up during loading screens, is more than a little depressing.

No doubt others will think differently about this, and just say to be grateful these fighters are even in the game at all – and that's a fair point to make – but for someone that loved Smash to learn about the numerous fighters, NPCs and other related material through Trophies, the Spirits don't quite have that same appeal to them, especially since the majority of it is reused art (though some of it is nice to see at a high resolution and shows Nintendo hasn't forgotten about certain characters).

Outside of the World of Light, Classic Mode returns as the other core game mode that can even be played in two-player co-op. While this, too, could grow into a bit of a drag in previous Smash titles, it is reinvigorated in SSBU, as every single character has a special route tailored just for them, often times throwing back to the specific fighters' past games or something based on the characters themselves. Yoshi, for example, battles in seven matches featuring reptiles, Toon Link always partners up with two CPU Toon Links, while Mr. Game & Watch fights against classic characters on retro stages. A few routes have unique bosses at the end, instead of the usual Master and Crazy Hands, which is a great way to round off the paths. It's just a shame the Hands make one too many appearances at the end of the majority of Classic Mode runs, so that is definitely something to hopefully be improved upon in the next game.

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Strangely enough, SSBU does away with the Target Smash and Homerun Contest modes, although they aren't particularly missed. All-Star has been turned into a single match where every playable fighter spawns after the other, as you attempt to survive until they are all defeated – and it's a pretty fun and challenging battle in itself – while the super tough Cruel Smash returns and is as hard as ever. Century Smash is the final main solo mode, where you must fend off a hundred foes to win.

On top of this, Challenges return to add even more replayability, but the nice thing is that none of these are too extreme in regards to actually completing them. There are a few that ask you to test your skills against Level 9 CPUs, but with the right characters and tactics, plus a little fiddling with the rulesets beforehand (since the game is pretty lenient on what rules you can still apply to complete them), nothing is unattainable. As always, a few Hammers are available to break the challenge tiles that you are having trouble with – or simply cannot be bothered to do (200 online Quickplay matches might not be everyone's cup of tea).

What this all means is that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is absolutely bursting at the seams with content and things to do. Smash isn't always synonymous with being a single-player game, but despite the lack of Trophies, there is easily a hundred hours of gameplay here when factoring in Adventure mode, Classic runs for all characters, 1300 Spirits to hunt down (which will only grow with limited time events that reward with exclusives), and the additional modes and multiplayer on top of that. Plus, of course, the online...

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Online, though... dare it be said... is worse than it was in SSB4. Battle arenas let you join rooms others have created with specific rules, as well as battle friends across the network in private or open lobbies. Amazingly, the host must shut down the entire lobby, kicking everybody out in the process, if wanting to make any adjustments to the rules after its creation. Doesn't matter if it's a private lobby and everyone has agreed to the changes; it must be closed and a whole new arena started up again. If the owner wants to leave or is disconnected, as well, the lobby won't transfer over to a new host; again, everyone is booted and the arena is disbanded.

It's an incredibly frustrating experience when it comes to the most basic of functions. Changing your character whilst waiting in the queue will send you to the back of the line, and there is never a clear and obvious moment after the end of a match for you to back out if you don't want to continue playing. Before you realise the moment you can quit, everyone has already decided to proceed to the next match.

When it comes to the competitive mode known as Quickplay, which pits you against random strangers in what might be likened to any other fighting game's ranked mode, SSBU is once again bordering on pre-Xbox Live levels of messed up. SSB4's For Glory might not have been the perfect competitive online mode, but it functioned at providing a central place for those wishing to fight against strangers in a fair and balanced 1-on-1 match with no items and on flat battlefields. This is gone entirely in Ultimate.

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What you're left with once you enter Quickplay is a page to set up your “Preferred Rules.” Instead of offering an actual competitive online mode with a solid ruleset, you are only give a chance to play against others with the rules you want. If you're a hardcore Smash player dead set on the competitive experience being 1v1, no items and Omega stages only, well, good luck, because the game will only “attempt to put you in a battle with these rules.” In the matchmaking process, it will often result in something completely opposite to what you want to play, such as a four-player stamina team battle, all items, on a hazardous stage. Yes, this does go the reverse way, too, as people looking for item-wielding fun can still end up in no item-based matches.

Even if you actually managed to get a ruleset you wanted and completed the match, opting to replay with the same opponents can still turn the next match into a whole different set of rules. This is all the more frustrating when a team battle occurs; it is rarely ever obvious when a team battle is taking place, and you can go a whole minute not realising that you have an ally on your side and thinking it is a free-for-all.

It has been documented that game designer Sakurai isn't a fan of making Smash Bros. competitive, and this can once again be seen not just in the lame matchmaking process, but in the bizarre online ranking system. Instead of a crystal clear win:loss ratio, Nintendo goes with its SSB4-introduced Global Smash Power (GSP) rankings, which are supposed to tell you how many people you outrank in the same mode (it also features across the game in non-online modes).

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GSP is a needlessly confusing setup that doesn't make it explicitly clear how many points you need to enter the esteemed Elite Rank territory. While that is more of a bragging rights thing than anything else, the number of GSP required is always changing, yet it is never known what range you must be above to get there. You must go matches of continuous wins to have any chance, yet still drop hundreds of thousands of points with a single loss. You can never really gauge just how good you are compared with the rest of your country, continent, or the world. The whole concept is more perplexing than anything else, but god forbid Nintendo offends anyone when they see an opponent with a better win:loss ratio, so they stick with this obtuse GSP setup.

Nintendo only started charging for its online service a few months ago, and this is what its customers are forced to deal with. It's beyond sad that the company just cannot, or will not, make the effort to appease its fan base, and still somehow manages to go back on itself after SSB4.

Is there fun to be had online in Ultimate? Absolutely. On a good connection in friend battle arenas, it is always a blast once you learn to deal with how everything is set up, and those who don't mind jumping from one type of match to the next in competitive Quickplay will have less of a problem than hardcores who are only in it for no-item bouts, but the lack of options and choice to deliver the best of all worlds to everyone is unacceptable in this day and age.

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Before wrapping up, a few remarks to gloss over. The character select screen takes a more puzzling arrangement of the fighters this time; instead of putting them in series order, they are in order of Smash Bros. appearance, making it a little more difficult to quickly find the one you want in this 70-plus character grid. It also seems to change a bit depending on the game mode accessed. A random character filter would have also been nice. How on earth there is lag when choosing a costume or colour now, is beyond anyone, too.

Still on the alternative colours, though, naturally it is more work to design actual costumes, but Nintendo seems to have teased the idea by adding Mario's builder and wedding outfits, along with the different forms of Bayonetta, Wario, Villager, Cloud, Ike and others, and then not capitalised on this. How great would it be to have the actual suits Samus wears throughout her series, rather than mere recolours? Peach has a huge wardrobe from her time in Super Mario Odyssey, while Daisy could don her sports gear. Link has massive costume potential after the famous Breath of the Wild and the many combinations he acquires, and Zelda and her numerous reincarnations would be perfect alt skins.

The list of stages is phenomenal at over a hundred strong, though just four new additions in the base game is a shame – even if five more will come through paid DLC. Many older ones have had clear visual upgrades, however, particularly when looking at some of the SSB64 originals; backgrounds and stages themselves are so much smoother and not blurry and pixelated like before (though some classic effects do remain).

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Almost 900 soundtracks make this the largest collection of music in any Smash game yet, but – at the risk of sounding overly greedy – it cannot help but be wondered why some series have been so under-represented. Apart from FFVII being the obvious one, F-Zero, Star Fox, Yoshi, Sonic and Metal Gear all seem to be limited in new additions or in their total number of tracks. Would anyone really complain if straight-up originals were thrown into the game instead of remixes? There are so many renditions of the main Mario and Zelda themes, yet there are so many from the aforementioned franchises that are glaringly missing. Maybe Donkey Kong Country 3 tracks will only be added once Dixie Kong gets in, as well... As for not only continuing to use the inferior version of the DK Rap, but omitting two verses of it entirely in SSBU (leaving the two worst ones in), just add it to the list of odd decisions Nintendo has made.

A final aside: it's great to see the expansion of track choices for each stage (e.g. entire franchise music can be played on a same-universe stage now), but why not just take this further and allow any song to be played on any stage? Let players create personalised playlists that they can choose from per character or stage from the entirety of the selection, rather than limiting it. Choice, people; it's good to have it.

Everyone is going to find personal gripes in a crossover game like Smash Bros, and there is no exception with this review. Taken as a whole, what is being offered for a standard full-priced game with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is beyond impressive. The level of content is absolutely immense, with massive potential for continued play in its multiplayer options. It is not the leap above the previous entry in the series people hoped for (except on the solo adventure front), but it is still quite possibly the best game to date. Five new characters, plus a few new stages and music tracks, in scheduled DLC will only add to this longevity over time. Better make the most of this one, because who knows whether “Everyone is here!” will happen again.

Screenshot for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

There is more bang for the buck in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate than almost any other game - especially fighting games - since, well, probably the last Smash Bros. When you start lamenting a lack of new stages, hardly any extra music tracks from certain franchises, and a scarce amount of adventure cutscenes, you start to sound overly picky when there are nearly 900 songs, over 100 stages, and the solo quest is over 20 hours long. When so much of what's in a Smash game has been seen before, though, can a fan be blamed for expecting just a bit more? There always seems to be areas that Nintendo doesn't quite expand on - and with the removal of descriptive Trophies whilst using copy-pasted official art for Spirits, and the absolutely pitiful online mode setup and features contained within, it's difficult to say that this really is the ultimate Smash game. Regardless, it is a fantastic celebration of not just Nintendo, but video games in general, and it will provide months, if not years, of both solo and multiplayer mayhem.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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