As it has been wont to do over the years, Nintendo has saved a blockbuster release for the final few weeks of the year, this time in form of the grandly titled Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Unveiled at E3 earlier this year, this generation’s entry in the long-running beat-’em-up crossover series positions itself as the definitive Smash Bros experience, featuring every fighter from previous entries — plus a cavalcade of new faces.
In his Eurogamer review, in which he awards Ultimate the coveted Essential rating, Martin Robinson describes the game as “an enthusiastic grab bag of gaming history, where familiar call-backs are met by deeper cuts and references to obscure NES RPG series by the beloved, departed Data East.”
“Nintendo Switch’s big Christmas game [is] riotously good fun for anyone”
Tom Hoggins, The Telegraph
He continues: “That enthusiasm is infectious, too — Smash Bros is, and always has been, a smile of a game, an endless festival featuring all your favourites plus a few more besides. Yes, it gets a bit messy sometimes, but the best festivals always do.”
Robinson’s referring not only to the range of characters, but also the plethora of stages, items, musical tracks and other references to games past — both from Nintendo and the other developers it has allowed to share this scrappy fighting platform.
While the nods to their favourite titles have pleased many a critic, it’s the sheer wealth of content that has impressed the most, with a solid mix of single-player and multiplayer modes for Switch owners to dive into.
“There is an almost bewildering amount of wonderful stuff and nonsense, making the Nintendo Switch’s big Christmas game riotously good fun for anyone that cares to get involved,” says Tom Hoggins in his four-star review for The Telegraph.
He continues: “The accessible but deceptively deep brawling isn’t necessarily for everyone, while its kitchen-sink approach could be overwhelming for those that don’t already have a commitment.”
In his 4.5-star review for GamesRadar, Aron Garst writes: “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate manages to make a series that started in 1999, with characters and stages we’ve played time in and time out, feel like something completely new.
“It’s an especially impressive feat since Nintendo hasn’t been particularly tight-lipped in the past few months. Multiple Nintendo Directs, announcements, event demos, and leaks have shown off most of what Ultimate has to offer. Yet, every character unlock has left me completely giddy.”
“Smash Bros Ultimate manages to make a series that started in 1999 feel like something completely new”
Aron Garst, GamesRadar
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, this is much the same as previous Smash Bros outings. The mechanics are the same, the modes are new explorations of previous themes, and even the characters play almost identically to how they always have.
That ‘almost’ is an important caveat, mind you, as critics across the board praise Nintendo for the tweaks that — however minor — dramatically improve the experience. Controls are tighter, animations are smoother and it’s easier than ever to activate special moves (though not necessarily easier to land them or win).
“The bulk of the experience is the same as it’s always been in Smash, which is to be expected, but the number of small tweaks and subtle changes that permeate the game are practically innumerable,” writes Alex Olney in his glowing 10/10 review for NintendoLife.
“Whilst someone unfamiliar with the series might see little to differentiate Ultimate from the previous entries on 3DS and Wii U, if you’ve played the previous games an unhealthy amount like we have, the feel of how it all works has been drastically ramped up and re-worked to a spectacular degree.”
He adds that Ultimate “feels faster, more responsive and tighter than before” but notes that it’s “perhaps not as fast and unpredictable as Melee”.
The biggest new addition to the series is the World of Light single-player mode and the Spirits system. This RPG-styled outing pits players not only against all the other characters, but versions of those characters ‘possessed’ by others from various gaming franchises in ways that make their behaviour and abilities less predictable.
It’s an exhaustive mode, but one that Olney says works very well: “The variety in these fights is staggering, and practically all of them are insanely good fun and a novel way to breathe additional life into battles without having to code and create 1,297 unique fighters.”
“This truly is the ultimate instalment in the series, and it makes you wonder where Sakurai can possibly take this franchise next”
Alex Olney, NintendoLife
Hoggins agrees: “It is kind of weird and often maddingly overwhelming, but offers a generous and riotously fun focus for the solo player.”
There’s also a revamped Classic Mode that, rather than putting players through the same sequence of fights regardless of the character they choose, instead creates a themed set of battles designed around their choice. Add in mini-games, custom battles and more, and — as Hoggins puts it — “solo players have never had it better.”
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as a package is remarkably generous even before the online servers are turned on. In fact, for the more casual player, it might simply be too much. It may seem odd to complain about a game providing too much content, but occasionally it can feel like Super Smash Bros Ultimate can trip over its own excess.”
Garst concurs, adding that “nothing feels tacked on or incomplete either, as every new addition feels as natural as Mario and Pikachu.”
He concludes: “The amount of content in Ultimate blows most other fighters out of the water. The fact that every match feels like a fair, if chaotic, fight is incredible, especially with a roster of more than 70 superstar characters. While some of the polish doesn’t hit the mark completely and and the absence of a variety of single-player modes is disappointing, Ultimate is a fighter I’ll be playing for years to come.”
Finally, Olney argues Nintendo have perhaps done too good a job living up to the promise it made with the game’s moniker, questioning how this game can be improved upon.
“We’re not sure how you could make a more robust or pleasing Smash game,” he writes. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly is the ultimate instalment in the series, and it makes you wonder where Sakurai can possibly take this franchise next.”