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Super Smash Bros Ultimate UK Review: The fighting game with everything

Written by  Nov 15, 2018

There’s magic to the concept of the crossover, when strange worlds collide and wildly disparate characters meet, which Nintendo has often leveraged by bringing its various mascots together to engage in mortal combat (or occasionally go-karting).

But Smash Bros Ultimate takes things to a maximalist extreme. In the 70-odd-strong fighter roster, Nintendo heroes such as Mario, Splatoon’s Inklings and Pikachu stand alongside outsiders such as Castlevania’s Simon Belmont and Final Fantasy’s Cloud. A palpable love of video games infuses everything, and tributes and references to their colourful history are omnipresent, from iconic and world-famous series to esoteric games that you thought nobody else even remembered.

Smash’s fairly basic goal – build up damage on opponents to launch them off the stage – belies the depth and complexity underneath. A match of Smash is the kind of thrilling, barely controlled chaos that feels like you’re dancing on quicksand. Spacing and positioning are paramount, as is the ability to predict an opponent’s next moves and movements. Couch multiplayer remains the most raucous and often hilarious of modes – shouts of “what just happened?” are not uncommon – but even when playing alone, the loop of split-second analysis followed by instantaneous action keeps you enthralled.

 

Ultimate has its fair share of smaller-scale adjustments for competitive players, including a modified perfect shield mechanic, but even at beginner level the game just feels responsive and precise, no matter which character you pick. It’s an electric, bombastic presentation all around, with fights punctuated by dramatic camerawork and sudden freeze-frames when a risky strike hits home and opponents rocket into the sky in a puff of smoke and particles. The soundtrack is stuffed full of recognisable tunes and high quality remixes from all over – the Castlevania collection is simply astounding.


Super Smash Bros - Ultimate (Nintendo Switch)
£49.99 at Amazon

The single-player mode, World of Light, sets you up against hilariously unfair opponents by augmenting your character with ludicrous power-ups, under all manner of bizarre conditions. (A match themed after boulder Pokémon Geodude starred four grey Kirbies who wouldn’t stop turning into rocks.) Matches can be over in 10 seconds flat or turn into gruelling but ultimately satisfying trials against powerful foes. It’s a fantastic marriage of various systems that have come before in Smash Bros history (for example, in event matches and Smash Run’s collectible power-ups), alongside creative references ranging from Ubisoft’s Rayman to fan-favourite DS rhythm game Ouendan to the Japan-only Famicom-era Urban Champion and everything in between. There’s enjoyment to be had just from trying to figure out the game’s plentiful in-jokes. Classic mode, meanwhile, consists of themed challenges for every single fighter; Ryu’s, for instance, is a wholesale pastiche of Street Fighter II complete with flat stages and 1v1 stamina fights.

Gameplay featuring Whispy Woods from 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land on Game Boy.

Gameplay featuring Whispy Woods from 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land on Game Boy. Photograph: Nintendo

Unlocking all the characters is a convoluted process that requires a fair amount of time, random chance, and beating murderously difficult CPU opponents. With only the veterans of the originalSmash Bros unlocked at the start, it can be hours before you get to play as the characters you’d like; after more than 25 hours, I still don’t have a full roster. Personally, I enjoy the reward of unlocking new characters gradually over time, but an option to temporarily unlock all characters for parties or tournaments wouldn’t go amiss.

Ultimate’s biggest problem by far, however, is the online functionality, especially considering Nintendo has begun charging for online services. Perhaps it’s because of people’s variable wifi speeds, perhaps it’s the match-ups across international distances, but almost every game I played turned into a slow-moving slideshow where attacks initiated full seconds after hitting the button. Even if the game ran smoothly, the online options would be lacking; quickplay matchmaking feels like it ignores your search criteria half the time and there’s a plethora of issues with the lobby system as it stands (no host migration, only one fight per lobby at a time, difficulties playing online co-op with a friend, and so on).

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