I enjoyed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I enjoyed it… but I also felt it was a let down in a number of ways, and I consider it the weakest in the series (with exception to the original which I haven’t played and thus can’t speak on).
I want to emphasize that most of my criticisms of Ultimate are as a single player experience, and that I couldn’t care less that you can’t doowop an skippity uppity airslap into a wavedashed cockdump sparklenut or spitshine a ledge canceled dickknob after twirlywhirly dibdidybobbidyboo 2: Electric Boogaloo. I am aware that fighting games are typically multi-player focused, but I never got into strictly multi-player games. Also there is the fact that the Switch now requires a subscription for online multi-player that I’ve heard isn’t an improvement over Smash 4’s free online.
Additionally, I have played the crap out of Melee and Brawl and most of the time I spent with them was in single player mode. That being said, I did play a bit of local multi-player with both my step brother and my partner. The only issue I had was because none of us realized that taunting could be mapped to the shoulder buttons. I can’t really say much about the multiplayer due to a lack of experience, but I will just say that Smash Bros. Ultimate succeeds at being a fun game to play at parties.
I think Smash Bros. Ultimate could have done a bit more though. I find there to be a recurring problem among a fair amount of Nintendo games, and that problem is that a lot of games try harder to emulate older games rather than expand on them. I’ve talked about this a while back when I reviewed New Super Mario Bros U. I felt the game was fun, but it also felt flat and uninspired, and I didn’t feel the same sense of engagement and wonderment as whenever I play Super Mario Bros 3 or World.
With the recent success of the Switch and titles like Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild, I was hoping that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate would expand the series in scope while maintaining the appeal of the previous games. Ultimate does try to expand in scope, but it does so in a way that lacks substance and by cutting a lot of corners.
For example, Smash Bros was noteworthy for having every character from the previous games returning. This sounds like something exciting until you realize that it means they also brought back the characters that sucked. No one was asking Nintendo to bring back Pichu or Dr. Mario. Dr. Mario should not even be considered a separate character for fuck sake! The only case for his inclusion is that he keeps the down B special that functions a hell of a lot better than regular Mario’s FLUDD, and that could simply be solved by making the FLUDD not useless!
But let’s take the focus off of the functionality of the characters and simply think of the lineup from an aesthetic stand point. You have WAY too many characters who look and function way too similarly. Simply deciding to refer to clones as “echo fighters” does not fix the problem with an over reliance on them, and that problem is that there isn’t a sense of refinement to how the characters compliment each other.
If this sounds confusing to you, then just imagine you are playing another fighting games with characters you have never seen in your life. If you saw that the game claimed that it had 69 playable characters but later saw that most of them were just palette swaps of other characters then you’d probably feel like they focused on quantity over quality. Yes I am fully aware that some clones may function differently, and I’m not opposed to them in their entirely.
I think that clones in the vein of Captain Falcon and Ganandorf or Fox and Wolf work well. While they share similar move sets, there is a noticeable difference in that one is speed based and the other is power based. Characters like Lucina, Dark Pit, Dark Samus, or Daisy on the other hand, you can’t tell how they are different from Marth, Pet, Samus, or Peach without looking it up. I genuinely don’t see why they couldn’t have just made them alternate costumes like Alph or the Koopalings. There is also no reason why we should have three Links.
There was also some rather questionable choices in regards to the roster even without clones. The first of these is the obvious criticism of there being too many Fire Emblem characters, but what I feel is the most egregious is the fact that a series with over 10 games worth of characters has three characters from the same game. I also never understood why Jigglypuff was a recurring character given how little significance it has in the series overall. If one was just going for iconic Pokemon then Meowth would have been a far better choice.
I have the feeling many will disagree with me on this, but I’m not overly fond of the way the series is pimping itself out to any 3rd party series that forks up enough dough to be included. Some like Mega Man and Sonic at least makes sense since they have a history with Nintendo and fit the general vibe of the pure nostalgia fest that is the Smash Bros series, but others just don’t fit in. Characters like Cloud Strife, Snake, or Joker were primarily on Sony platforms and only appeared in minor roles in whatever Nintendo system titles they were in.
I don’t know about you, but I kinda preferred it when Smash Bros was a celebration of Nintendo’s history rather than a cash cow that has characters primarily associated with one of its biggest competitors. It is because of the focus on 3rd Party characters that we have yet to see Isaac from Golden Sun playable, or Starfy from The Legendary Starfy series. Or Captain Syrup from Wario Land, or Mike from Startropics, or Jill from Drill Dozer, or Ray from Custom Robo, or Chibi-Robo from Chibi-Robo!
Hell I recall hearing that Sakurai wanted to add Takamaru from The Mysterious Castle Murasame and Ayumi Tachibana from Famicom Detective Club, but that they didn’t add them because “fans wouldn’t recognize them.”You do realize that’s the entire point of a series like Smash Bros? The series that included Ness in the very first Smash Bros despite the fact that no one had heard of EarthBound outside of Japan at the time. The same series that added Ice Climbers in Melee because Sakurai liked Ice Climber but didn’t add Punch-Out’s Little Mac until the 4th game. Hell even this game added Piranha Plant as a DLC character despite the fact that no one ever asked from him.
I’ve said this over an over again in my reviews and I’m going to drill it into your head again here; the best games put artistic value over profit or market value. The overall aesthetic of a game is far more important than most people realize. Without an aesthetic, you are basically just pushing buttons in front of a blank screen. I mention this because I’ve had gibbering Nintendo fanboys bitch at me for criticizing New Super Mario Bros U’s lack of identity or aesthetic. Because Goddess forbid we hold games to a standard beyond soulless assembly line retreads.
And yes, I can’t help but feel that way about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The character roster is only one aspect of the game that feels that way. Another aspect is the lack of trophies in Smash Bros. Ultimate. A neat feature of the previous three games were the trophies, collectables based on a character, item, or move in various Nintendo titles. In Smash Ultimate they are replaced with Spirits that basically serve the same function minus the descriptions that the trophies used to have.
It was honestly disappointing that the series removed the descriptions considering the amount of spirits is far bigger than the amount of trophies, and it would have been nice if the game actually provided a description about the spirits that you collect. You know, assign a bit of context to the items the game tries so hard to convince you to collect while also maybe drawing attention to games that some people may have otherwise not known much about. Instead you just get a picture of the character and the series they come from, not even the game they originate from, the series!!! Yes, I fucking know it was to save time and money!!! That doesn’t change the fact that it is a downgrade from the previous game in the series, and that sequels are supposed to be IMPROVEMENTS over the previous games!!!
But yes, I know, it’s the gameplay that is most important, and if the gameplay was an improvement over the previous few games then I wouldn’t mind all the little things. Unfortunately that is not the case. That is not to say it didn’t do some things right though. The first notable change is that some of the more OP final smashes were nerfed and the game is more balanced. Also there is no more tripping! Yes I know that wasn’t in Smash 4 but it needs to be reiterated, NO MORE FUCKING TRIPPING!!!
Yet another nice decision was that Smash Ultimate decided to bring back adventure mode after they stupidly left it out of Smash 4. When I first saw the opening for Smash Bros. Ultimate’s adventure mode, it lead me to believe it would be something much different than it actually was though. I got excited when I actually heard the characters voices, so it made me assume that it would tell a story in the same vein as Brawl’s subspace emissary but with actual dialogue and interactions and shit.
Unfortunately Ultimate’s adventure mode was a major step down from Brawl’s subspace emissary, and it should be noted that the subspace emissary wasn’t even a masterpiece in and of itself. The ideal adventure mode should be something like Melee’s that actually involves locations and enemies from the series in question but laid out like Brawl’s that has actual longevity and conflict.
Ultimate instead creates something that is worse than either of them. At first it looked like it would be interesting where it involves you exploring a large world map and collecting spirits, the problem comes when you realize how this is achieved. Rather than modeling itself after Brawl’s platformer/beat em up/fighter hybrid, Ultimate’s story mode is basically the previous games event matches event matches if it took “quantity over quality” to the absolute extreme.
For clarity’s sake, the event matches were a series of fights with special conditions for the player to clear. Melee has 51 event matches, Brawl had 62, and Smash Bros for Wii U had 80. I can confirm that the former two had event matches that were well balanced, well thought out, and posed a fair challenge (the latter I haven’t played). Ultimate on the other hand, has over 1,000 spirits for the player to collect, and most of them are obtained through similar matches,
The obvious problem with having so many different matches is that it means that it is much harder to make these matches unique or special. I can confirm that only a handful of these were genuinely fun and felt like the event matches of the previous game, while the rest felt like dull and repetitive filler. I suppose I may need to go into WHY it felt like repetitive filler though.
The game’s spirit matches fell into three categories, and the first of these are categories that make no difference and you will plow your way through without any effort. That category is self explanatory, but the same can’t be said for the second category. The second category is “has a bullshit condition that makes the fight unplayable unless you have a spirit that counteracts this.”
These types of matches will usually have a condition like “the floor is lava” or “your controls get reversed” and the enemy is not effected. These challenges obviously add nothing of value to the game, and are instead designed like fight in an RPG where you need a specific piece of equipment to counteract a spell that the boss spams.
This is where the spirit mechanics come into play. Each spirit that you obtain serves a similar function to that of the Persona series’ eponymous personas in that they can be equipped to the player and that they gain experience when you use them in battle. There is a sort of “rock, paper, scissors” element to this system where a spirit may emphasize offense, defense, or magic in battle.
If this sounds like an overly convoluted mess that doesn’t belong in a casual fighting game, that is because it pretty much is. This basically means that there is little skill involved in most of the matches and that the players instead simply out level their opponents and equip the right spirit. While they thankfully don’t make the player grind out fights in order to max out the stats of spirits, their actual solutions of giving spirits massive experience boosts in the form of snacks only serves to defeat the point of having RPG elements in the first place.
The moment that a player figures out how to use the snacks to boost the stats of their spirits, every semblance of challenge goes right out the window. In addition to this, you also have Ultimate’s totally not a sphere grid system that allows you to use spherical objects to give permanent boosts to your abilities through the entire adventure mode campaign. As a result, the game is less dependent on genuine skill and much more dependent on the out of place RPG elements that provide artificial boosts.
For those wondering what the third category of spirit fights is that I was talking about earlier, those are the ones that are virtually unplayable without high stats and are hard AF even with end game stats. These can either be fights that involve genuine skill or they can just be so horribly designed that you will only win based solely on luck. The Pauline spirit is perhaps the worst example of the latter since it involves both a strict time limit AND a character that is constantly running from you along with two others who will pound your face into the nonexistent floor below you. Also it takes place on 75m, which is among one of the worst designed stages in the series.
I can say that I have gotten every spirit in adventure mode, but I can’t say that I got every spirit in the game. At this time, there are currently over 1,200 spirits and they can be obtained in various ways. Most of them players will get either through adventure mode or through the spirit board, which also allows you to equip the spirits from adventure mode. This means that these fights suffer from the same problems as the ones in adventure mode and will inevitably be repetitive as fuck.
What is even worse about the spirit board is its attempt to compel the player to sink as much time into it as possible using gimmicky Skinner box tactics. Rather than being like the previous game’s event matches that you unlock by clearing previous event matches, you instead have ten spirits that appear on the board that shuffle every five minutes real world time. They will often be labeled by their difficulty level, which could be either novice, advanced, ace, or legend. It is also worth noting that ace is the full extent of this game’s LGBT representation aside from banning trans flags.
This means that there is zero difficulty curve present in the spirits available, and that you could end up with a legend class spirit that you have no chance of beating because you still have early game stats. On top of this, the spirit board includes a lot of the same battles as adventure mode does, and that means even more repetition.
And yes, I am aware that you have more spirits on the board because it is possible to sell spirits for SP that can be used to fuse spirits in a manner that is also suspiciously similar to Persona (Maybe THAT’S why they include Joker!!) or to feed the previously mentioned snacks to your spirits. Yes, you need to pay a fucking currency to use an item you already have, and yes it is stupid as hell. Said SP can also be used to purchase more spirits in adventure mode. Needless to say, this makes the game a total grind if you are trying to collect every spirit, and that just makes the decision to do away with the trophy descriptions even more baffling.
So the question remains as to what I enjoyed of Smash Bros. Ultimate if it was so repetitive? I will start out by saying that I quite like what they did with classic mode. I kinda wish that the mini games involved were more varied than just the one it includes. I don’t know what happened to Melee’s “snag the trophy” mini game or even the target breaking mini game that has previously been a series staple. I also liked how you now fight more bosses at the end than just Master Hand, but the fact that master hand still shows up in half of the fights when you have about eight other bosses is pretty disappointing.
It also felt like some character’s classic mode had significantly more effort than others. On one hand, you have Ryu’s campaign which serves as a neat tribute to Street Fighter 2 that changes up the physics and even uses M. Bison’s music for the fight against Master Hand. But for a multitude of characters you have campaigns where all the opponents are just arbitrary categories that have nothing to do with their campaigns or characters.
Another positive I will grant the game is that the battles against Galeem and Dharkon in adventure mode were quite fun despite the repetitiveness of the mode itself. The same especially goes for the final boss and the level before it, but needing to fight 50 standard battles in a row before that was an immense slog. Previous sections of the world map in adventure mode may at least involve some clever puzzles that break up the monotony a little bit, but there was nothing like that in the final area.
I would also like to just say that the presentation is solid as is usually the case with the Smash Bros series. The visuals are very well done and the game has the most expansive soundtrack in the series to date. It is just a shame that the game itself is so tedious.
I did say at the start that I enjoyed Ultimate, but the parts I enjoyed were mostly things that the previous games already did effectively without being unbearably tedious. I think that the RPG elements may have been a unique idea but they really should have been thought out better, along with the Skinner box tactics that focus on trying to keep the player playing without taking their enjoyment into consideration.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is FAR from the ultimate Smash Bros experience, contrary to its namesake. In fact, I now have greater interest in revisiting Smash Bros 4 after this simply because it sounds like I would enjoy it more. but that likely won’t be for a while though as I am quite fatigued in regards to this series. As for anyone else, I’m hesitant to recommend this game to anyone aside from those looking for a casual multiplayer title.
Update: I have posted this review in one of the Super Smash Bros subreddits and they have responded to this piece about as well as Joe Biden at a rave party. I suspected they would be unhappy but I didn’t quite expect them to be THIS salty about it to the point where I’ve had one that entered my Discord server just to harass me about the review. I have been told by others that the Smash Bros has one of the most toxic fanbases in all of gaming and I can now see why.
The key problem I have with this type of toxicity is that it is impossible to take any of it as genuine criticism considering that it’s clear that my opinion made them mad and not the quality of my writing. The closest that anyone has had to a decent criticism of my piece was that I may have come across as too hostile at the start, and I know that is bullshit because that reaction is precisely because these same types of idiots have harassed me about my reviews in the past.
So yeah, I’m more convinced that Nintendo and especially Smash Bros fanboys are gibbering fuckboys than I ever was, and if I pissed any of you idiots off then good. I have since deleted the piece off the Subreddit in question, but I only ever posted it since I assumed good faith at the time and I’m not one for actively trolling other communities. I’m more than content to continue to stay rent free in the heads of those that start shit because they were mad I didn’t like their vidya geam, so I came out on top in this case.
This review was originally posted to my Patreon on July 2nd of 2019 for patron only viewing. You can read my reviews one week before they are posted on Guardian Acorn if you pledge $1.00 or more to my Patreon account. New reviews are are posted every Monday. You can also follow this blog if you would like to be kept up to date on my stuff.