When Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was first announced, many weren’t sure if this would be a completely new game or an upgraded version of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. But after many Nintendo Directs, and as more information was released, it became very clear that Director Masahiro Sakurai and Nintendo were intent on making the name “Ultimate” more than just a marketing gimmick. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the ultimate Smash Bros. experience, perfect for the most casual player and the most hardened tournament veteran.
The biggest addition to Ultimate is a massive single-player story mode called World of Light, in which players traverse a game board and follow a very barebones story of the various Smash characters being captured by a mysterious being called Galeem and having evil clones of themselves made. In the game world, you collect spirits, characters from all across the video game spectrum, to aid you in battle. You can equip a main spirit that boosts your character’s attack and defense, as well as up to three “support spirits” that grant your character extra bonuses like starting with certain items, increasing the power of special moves, increasing your jump height, etc. You can also feed your spirit “snacks” that can be found in World of Light to level your spirits up, some of which can even be evolved after reaching level 99. There are some really cool nods to these characters included in the leveling, like Street Fighter Alpha Chun-Li evolving into Super Turbo Chun-Li and Naked Snake from Metal Gear Solid evolving into Big Boss. You can set free spirits you aren’t using for extra items and summon new spirits as well. It is all the best parts of collecting you would see in a Gacha-style game, but without paying real money.
Your main spirits come in three types: Attack, Defense, and Grab, forming a rock/paper/scissors triangle. Opponents in World of Light will have one of these types of spirits that affect their stats as well, and you can counter-pick with your own to gain an advantage. While it seems like a good idea at first, at a certain point you will end up having high-level spirits of each type that you will just rotate out for each fight, which just adds an extra few seconds and button presses to every fight that can get old after a while.
That brings us to the main problem with World of Light — it is way, way too long, taking anywhere from 20-30 hours to complete. While the levels are interspersed with admittedly cool dungeons and boss battles from different game series, the in-between parts last far too long. As it stands, even with its bloated runtime, World of Light is still one of the best single player modes I have ever played in any fighting game, with countless nods and references to video games past and present, cool dungeons, fun boss battles, and an obviously huge amount of love poured into it by the developers. It makes the drag in-between dungeons bearable enough to press onwards.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, nothing has changed at the most basic level since Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but where the “Ultimate” in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate comes through is in all the tiny little updates and quality-of-life improvements. Every character has been updated or tweaked in some way. Some characters have completely different moves, (Ganondorf now uses his sword in all his smash attacks.) and some have had slight changes made to their standard move set that can dramatically change how they play. (Link, now in his Breath of the Wild garb, must manually detonate his bombs, which can lead to some wacky setups.)
The overall feel of Ultimate is faster and tighter than in Wii U; moves feel powerful, and movement feels responsive. Not to mention it has the most satisfying KO effect I think I have ever seen in a fighting game. Moves feel like they have weight and power. When you hit somebody hard in Ultimate, it really feels like you are hitting them hard, more like in Street Fighter III: Third Strike and less like in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Other notable changes include a small window that pops up in the corner of the screen when a character flies off screen, showing exactly where the barrier is that will count as a KO. And once a character is KO’d, the remaining stock will show up on screen to make the current score clear to both players, which is great for spectating matches as well. Another cool new feature is Stage Morph, where you can pick two stages before a fight, and the stage will morph mid-battle in an explosion of light.
At launch, the Online functions of Ultimate were extremely disappointing. Thankfully, a patch has been released that massively improves online stability. While four-player Smash is still an unplayable mess, one-on-one matches feel great as long as your opponent has a solid connection. While this is true for all online games, especially fighters, it feels even more prevalent in Ultimate. If you or your opponent has a bad connection, Ultimate is borderline unplayable. But luckily with even a moderate connection, you can still enjoy some solid matches.
You can turn on “preferred rules,” which lets you search for games that match how you want to play, but this never seemed to work. I would set my preferred rules to no items, three stock, one-on-one matches, and I would always end up in a four-player nightmare of chaos with items turned on. The only other way to find matches is by joining or making a lobby, which works well enough, but at this point all fighting games should really have a simple way to just play with people on your friend’s list. But for people looking to play some good old-fashioned one-on-one matches with friends and strangers alike, Ultimate’s online does a more-than-serviceable job, and I can see myself putting in a lot of time whipping fools with the Belmont boys online.
There are so many small changes made to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — from all stages having Final Destination and Battlefield variants to being able to save your own custom rule sets — that it is impossible to list all of them here. But it all adds up to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being the perfect Smash Bros. experience. Smash feels more like a full-fledged fighting game than it has ever before, and the game has been designed to make sure it stays in the competitive circuit for years to come. I honestly don’t know what a sequel can possibly do to improve on what has been done here. Ultimate has rekindled my love for Smash in a way that I haven’t felt since I first popped in the cartridge of the original game on the Nintendo 64. If you have ever had an interest or fondness in Smash Bros. before, I can’t recommend Ultimate any higher.