First Impressions: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)

I’ve seen a ton of media outlets making puns about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being a smashing success. We’re better than that, journalists. You don’t have to take the lowest-hanging fruit every time.

Still, there’s no denying that SSBU has been hugely successful. It moved 1.3 million copies in Japan in the first week, vaulted to the No. 1 spot on the charts in Europe, and though sales numbers haven’t been released in America yet, the game obliterated every other release on Amazon (it’s the highest selling product of the year, including every other game and system). So it probably won’t surprise you that I picked it up at launch and have been having a blast.

By this point I’ve nearly completed the single-player adventure mode (World of Light) and finally unlocked the last fighter on the roster (all 74, the last being Mewtwo for me). That might be enough to do a full review, but I’ve barely dipped my toes into the main mode Smash is known for: Smash. I think I’ve only played something like 6 or 7 matches of regular old multiplayer. The good news is that I can comment at length on the new stuff, and there’s not much to worry about when it comes to traditional Smash — it’s rock solid, like everything else.

Here’s what’s new and improved in Ultimate, whose scope is somewhat hard to believe:

  • The aforementioned adventure mode is waaaaaay deeper than I expected. You essentially start with just Kirby as a playable character after everyone else gets nuked from existence (spoiler alert for the first 2.5 minutes!). From there, you move around a sort of Mario Party-esque game board tackling various challenges and unlocking more members for your crew as you beat them. You’re also collecting spirits, which can raise your stats or give you beneficial effects in battle when you equip them. All of it is rather addicting — it’s easy to tackle just one more fight or level up one more spirit and then realize half an hour disappeared. And just when you think you’re finished, there’s a twist that reveals even more gameplay. I think I’m around the 20-hour mark and I haven’t quite finished, so hats off to Nintendo for really putting in the work on World of Light after the disappointment that was Subspace Emissary.
  • Spirits are fun. You can play the game without really engaging with them at all, but you’re missing out on a bit of the experience. There are two types, primary and support; primary ones give stats and sometimes an effect while having 1-3 slots for support spirits, which don’t have their own stats but still add a bit depending on their rank. More importantly, it’s basically a video game compendium of interesting characters from 35 years of gaming.
  • Smash mode has benefited from the lessons it has learned from competitive play. Remember the days of picking some big, slow fighter like Bowser and then ending up on a massive stage like The Great Cave Offensive? No more — stage select happens before character select. That’s just one example of dozens of little tweaks that are just so well put together. You can change stages mid-fight. You can save rule sets and choose between them on the fly. You can set time limits on stock battles to prevent people from camping in the corners of Temple. You can turn on a meter that grants you a Final Smash over time, even if you want to play with items off. Really, you can play the game however the hell you want.
  • Let’s talk about quantity on top of quality, shall we? There are 74 characters and 103 stages, including everything from the previous Smash games as well as some new stuff. My personal favorite is that every single one of that ludicrous amount of stages now has an Omega version (flat, no stage hazards) and a Battlefield version (similar size, but three platforms in a triangle like its namesake) — meaning that competitive play won’t have to rely on the same stages anymore. Like the music choices somewhere but hate the setup? Turn that shit off and 1v1 me on the basic version!
  • There are also 800+ music tracks in the game, once again building on previous versions. Some of them are unlockable, so if you’re wondering why certain tracks that were in Brawl or the Wii U version aren’t here, just give it some time. Like the spirits, the music also serves as a surprisingly encompassing look at gaming — the new Castlevania stage has 31 tracks on it, for example, and Ryu’s Stage got a bunch of new themes from the world warriors. Some versions have new remixes in addition to the originals. Weirdly enough, if you love the music and you’re on the go a lot, you can even build playlists now and turn off your Switch’s screen to listen to them without draining the battery as much.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an improved classic mode that’s individualized for each fighter, the return of Challenges, a more robust training mode, the renamed but still familiar Century Smash…it’s a lot. Part of me is disappointed that Home Run Contest is no more, but like Break the Targets before it, perhaps it had run its course. You can argue that once World of Light and Classic Mode are done, there isn’t anything left but Smash — but that’s the main attraction! Asking for more depth when this game has delivered it in spades seems unfair. And hell, there’s still six new DLC characters coming down the pipe next year, starting with Joker from Persona 5 of all people (which means a Persona stage and music, so um FUCK YEAH).

Sometimes at the end of these posts we give a conditional recommendation, like “if you enjoy ______ then you should play this game.” There are no such recommendations here. If you have a Switch and you haven’t picked up Smash Ultimate, you fucked up. And considering the Switch’s library to this point and its positioning as the premier portable gaming experience, not having a Switch is also starting to look like you fucked up. You should fix that.

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