So, it’s been a few years since last we had reason to rejoice in our favorite characters pummeling each other into the dirt. Since the beginnings of Super Smash Bros. history, we’ve settled many arguments through virtual brawls. Yet through the decades, we’ve not grown bored of Link sniping Pikachu, or Mario fireballing Zelda/Samus/Everyone.
Now, though, we’ve been blessed by the new release, one labelled as Ultimate. However, is this iteration truly the best, the most expansive edition of this long-lived franchise?
The most important aspect of a fighting (or, wrestling, in this case) game is how well it performs its sole duty: giving us a fair competitive edge and fun thrills. Ultimate handles this with the grace I’ve come to expect from such accredited developers. Fighters have been tweaked to their utmost, and with hotfixes and patches rolling out based on player feedback, it seems as though a true balance has been struck. At no point during my first few hours have I felt I unfairly KO’ed (except for a certain case). The only problem seems to come from items, which (as always) range from practically useless to vastly overpowered. Some new items seem to be very unbalancing towards those new to the genre, although that tends to be expected.
The added option for every map to have an omega and battlefield variant makes this a great game for the competitive scene. Stage morphing from Battlefield Stage to Battlefield Stage is such a brilliant bit of flair that can really make an extended stock match come alive!
The spirit system works adequately for casual matches and the story mode, though it feels slightly contrived. Still, it’s nice to see a huge amount of minor characters from all across the Nintendo/Gaming universe.
That said, though, there’s a few grains of sand in an otherwise great pie: players have, according to many sources, experienced a great deal of frustration with the online connectivity, a problem that has consistently shadowed Nintendo. While it would usually be just an “oh Nintendo” moment, we’re looking at the title that was going to be the selling point for Nintendo Online. Not a great start for the service, something that dearly needs every bit of help it can muster.
And then, there’s the big gripe, one I’ll be touching on more in the future: character unlocks. I love unlocking characters in Smash games, as it’s one of the few times I feel progression throughout the franchise. It’s really cool to complete some kind of challenge, and then face off against a new member of the entourage. However, when you start out with eight fighters, slowly working your way through a semi-random ladder of characters to unlock, each without a specific challenge tied to them, I feel as though I’m simply checking off a list instead of actually accomplishing anything. Now, this would work in a single-player vacuum, but unfortunately, we reach the inevitable problem of people that have all the characters dwarfing the skill level of all the other local players in a party scenario.
As a small aside, announcing DLC fighters for an Ultimate edition of the Smash franchise comes off a bit anticlimactic. As Jim Sterling says, if there’s DLC for Ultimate Editions, then suddenly you’re always going to have a “more ultimate edition”. A small gripe, but one that shouldn’t be ignored.
What I mean with the above is that by the time you’ve collected every fighter, and can show off the magnificent roster at your local party, you’ve reached the kind of playtime where you’re going to (most likely) have a significant advantage over more casual players. In a game centered around local party gaming, this creates a savage disconnect from your other players.
Honestly, there’s not much to say for me about The World of Light. While the stakes are certainly higher than our last Smash saga back in Brawl, Subspace Emissary had a certain charm about it that the new story mode fails to capture. It could be partly due to the lack of platforming sections, or it could be the overall frustration of some aspects of the spirit-laden fighting, but my ultimate gripe is the lack of true narrative drive. Sure, we want to save our pals, but I never feel that I am given the continuous fighting against their shadow-copies, and their lack of endearment afterwards. I don’t remember when I rescued Link in this game, but I sure remember the look of Snake hiding from his soon-to-be allies in Subspace.
However, I’ll give this a small pass due to the really cool way they’ve enhanced Classic Mode, with all-new bosses. Sure, several characters are foisted with the old Master Hand routine, but it’s absolutely incredible to face down Giga Bowser or Dracula, or Ganon. I appreciate the update to this mode, and it almost excuses the problems I have with World of Light.
To get this out of the way at the start: I like this game. It’s quite possibly my favorite Smash, regardless of the slightly lackluster story. I love the new characters, love the new customization options, and love the updated visuals. I wouldn’t change much in this entry at all, honestly, and it’ll probably go down as the best iteration of the franchise so far.
That said, a big improvement must be made to the online aspects of this game. Nintendo can’t and shouldn’t get away with a subpar networking experience just because they’re Nintendo. Character unlocks should also feel a bit more nuanced, or at least given a bit of spice. There could be a casual party/demo mode allowing for people playing this as a party experience to let people play as any character in the roster. Does this negate the need to unlock characters? A bit, but then again, I’d much rather not have to play the game for 12 hours or so before going to a casual event with some friends.
Giving us Subspace might be too much to ask, and many people were on the fence about that mode in Brawl. I’d still like to see a more solid adventure, but it’s understandable why that might be a bit too much to ask for.
All in all, I’ve been playing this for several hours now, and haven’t grown tired of it in the slightest. I’m looking forward to many a great competition among my friends, as well as a ton of fun solo experiences in Classic Mode. Sometimes it’s wise to follow the hype, if the developer has proven themselves time and time again, so go out there and start beating the shit out of your favorite Nintendo buddies!