Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review: An Undeniable Triumph

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is, bar none, the best game in the series to date, and somehow manages to satisfy both hardcore and casual players alike.

Something that a lot of reviewers struggle with, myself included, is defining what a perfect game looks like. What specific criteria must a game live up to in order to achieve a score of 100%, A+, or 10/10?

Of course, I can't speak for any writer but myself, but for me, the criteria center on a simple question: "Would I change anything about the game?"

There are precious few games that fit this description: We Love Katamari, Pokemon Sun/Moon, Dance Dance Revolution, Bayonetta 2, and Super Mario Odyssey are a few that tick all of the boxes for me. 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate not only joins that group but in terms of its sheer scope, becomes bar-none, the most impressive game I've ever played. 

Everything You Could Ask For Is Here

The first thing to know about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that it is probably the most ambitious crossover project in the history of media. Right now, the game features 74 characters representing dozens upon dozens of games and companies, and that roster will expand to 80 with the addition of DLC.

Infinity War, eat your heart out. 

Add to that a staggering list of stages, over 800 music tracks, hundreds of items, and Easter eggs in the form of Poke balls and assist trophies, and the scale of this game starts to (barely) come into focus.

There's just so much ... 

For those of us who are longtime fans of the series, it can sometimes be easy to take a lot of this for granted, especially since director Masahiro Sakurai has had the unenviable job of topping his own announcements ever since they revealed that Sonic would be appearing in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

If the new announcement that Joker from Persona 5 will be joining the battle is any indication, though, the team still has the uncanny knack for topping itself and subverting expectations. 

Another way of putting it is this: the simple fact that this game was even made is a freaking triumph.

Taking Stock

From the minute you hop into battle, you'll notice how refined Super Smash Bros. Ultimate actually is. Every design choice feels painfully intentional, from the stunning new final hit animation to the revamped perfect shield mechanic and the way in which rolling has been changed.

Each modification comes together beautifully, like ingredients in the most delicate, delicious dessert you've ever had, and it's all meant to make Super Smash Bros. Ultimate an incredibly fun game not just to play, but to watch as well.

Aside from the Home-Run contest, the basic modes players have become accustomed to are all here. From a revamped Classic mode that sees each character in the roster follow a different path to victory and a much-improved training mode that is tailor-made for drilling combos, to series mainstays like Cruel Smash and 100-man Smash (now called Century Smash), Ultimate has something for everyone.  

Under the hood, there's now an almost-endless array of ways for you to customize matches beyond choosing time or stock and turning items off. There are tons of modes -- tournament, smashdown, squad battle -- that are designed for large groups or party scenarios, and even if you're not using them, there are lobby rules for local Smash that allow you to set up rotating battles where the winner stays (or drops out), leaving no pauses in the action.

We've Got Spirit

After Ultimate's Spirit mode was announced, I was skeptical. The way that Nintendo presented it, the mode seemed like some weird cross between Tamagotchi, Pokemon, and Super Smash Bros., without the charm of any. It looked confusing, inaccessible, and tacked on.

Of course, it became my favorite part of the game.

In practice, fighting a spirit battle is more like fighting an event battle in a previous entry in the series, with the caveat that there are literally thousands of spirits. The majority of the time, these battles take the form of incredibly clever battles that use and subvert the rules of the game to simulate battles between characters that aren't in the game. 

For example, the Venusaur battle sees players facing off a gigantic Ivysaur on a stage where the floor is poisoned, while the Squitter battle simulates fighting on a spiderweb by making the ground sticky. To win these battles, you need to equip spirits to overcome these deficiencies, to either get more powerful or to render yourself immune to hazards. 

I don't want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that everything in the spirit section of the menu is brilliant, from the rotating bounties on the spirit board to leveling up spirits to enhance them and change their forms to the amazing story mode, World of Light. 

In World of Light, you'll find a relatively deep experience, but not one as deep as Subspace Emissary. The mode will take you anywhere between 30-40 hours to complete, and it is sprawling, packed full of intense boss battles, spirit fights, and climaxes that will tug at your heartstrings.

It's a triumph.

Online Matches

I can only speak from my own experience, but the new online system, one where players set their preferred game rules (whether they want to play 1-on-1 matches or not, whether they want items on, etc...) has worked very well for me, though it seems like I'm the only one.

I very rarely (maybe one or two matches out of every 10) get placed in a match that isn't being played by the rules I have selected as my preferred rule set.

In addition, though reports have been coming in of players experiencing terrible lag during online matches, in my week of testing, I haven't run into that yet, even playing without a USB LAN adapter. 

Given the discourse on Twitter right now, I'm part of a huge minority of people who haven't run into these issues, and make no mistake, they are issues. That said, even if the lag and rule set issues don't get resolved, the addition of public arenas where players can actually set defined rules for matches (as opposed to quickplay, where there's always a chance your rule set won't be picked) makes any quickplay headaches people might encounter into a non-issue.

There are public arenas for every rule set you can think of, and you can set up private arenas for you and your friends as well if lag is becoming an issue and you want to make sure you're only playing with folks who are using wired connections. It's inelegant, but there is a way around every online issue you're likely to find.

I hesitate to say this but... maybe this time Nintendo got online right? At least kind of?

We eSports Now

The most surprising thing about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that finally, for the first time since the series debuted, the game seems to be catering to the competitive crowd as well as the casual crowd without making any concessions. 

There's no forced time mode here, no hand-holding -- the game gives you a toybox of rules, stages, and characters to play with and lets you loose.

Hazard toggle means that more stages than ever before will be tournament legal, and Stage Morph offers some pretty amazing variety for casual players, allowing them to essentially play on two stages at once.

The Smash Radar, a feature that allows players to see exactly where they are even as they're off-screen is incredibly helpful for competitive play and can lead to a whole bunch of amazing off-stage exchanges.

Pros:
  • The Spirit Mode means the game has almost-unlimited replayability, even for single-player fans
  • The roster is absolutely insane
  • The new rules, stage lists, items, and ways to play make the game feel like a sandbox where you can play the way you want to
  • Online modes make sense, and generally work exactly the way they should
Cons:
  • It's not looking like Waluigi is gonna make it in this time around, folks

The reason Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is such a triumph is that it says yes to the player at every turn.

It feels almost like a sandbox game at times, which is absolutely ridiculous when you remember that this is a fighting game. The level of freedom you have to smash how you want, in addition to the fact that the game itself has a ton of replayability for single-player fans, the party crowd, and the competitive scene means that this game is an instant classic already, and they're going to expand the game more through DLC.

It's the best entry in the series, despite what folks who have spent years perfecting Melee wavedashing will tell you. Once again, don't @ me.

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate used in this review.] 

Our Rating
10
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is, bar none, the best game in the series to date, and somehow manages to satisfy both hardcore and casual players alike.
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Featured Contributor

RobotsFightingDinosaurs has been writing about games for 10 years and playing them even longer. Despite the millions of hours he's played across multiple gaming generations, his favorite games are The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Smash Bros. Robots has written for Polygon, Thrillist, Kill Screen, and more.

Published Dec. 12th 2018

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