Nintendo's huge new 'Smash Bros.' game is the best one in years, and I can’t stop playing it

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’/NintendoStill images from ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ look like classic works of Roman art, but with modern video game characters.
  • Nintendo’s biggest game of the year, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” is now available.
  • Good news: It’s an incredibly impressive game that’s ridiculously fun to play, alone and with friends.
  • I’ve been playing the “Smash Bros.” franchise since the first one. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the best game in the series.

There are hundreds of Super Mario games. Even “Mario Kart” is getting up there in sequels – the latest entry is “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” which is actually more like the fifteenth Mario Kart game.

But the “Smash Bros.” series is an outlier.

Despite the franchise originally launching way back in 1999 on the Nintendo 64, Nintendo has only made five games in the series. The fifth game, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” just launched on the Nintendo Switch – and it’s truly excellent.

Beyond just being a fun game to play, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is an exhaustive, interactive encyclopedia of gaming. In what other game can Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario, Solid Snake, and Cloud Strife fight to the death at Hyrule Castle? In what other game can you listen to literally hundreds of songs from the last 30 years of gaming?

Like so many other aspects of “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” the answer is simple: There’s nothing else like it.

Having spent the last week playing it non-stop, and the last 20 years playing “Smash Bros.” games, I’ve got a lot to say about what makes “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” so incredibly good.


“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” has an overwhelming amount of content.

NintendoIf your favourite game character isn’t playable in ‘Super Smash Bros Ultimate,’ they’re almost certainly in the game as an assist trophy.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” The game is seemingly overflowing with stuff to do.

Let’s start with the list of characters: As the game’s name implies, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is intended as the definitive edition of the franchise. To that end, it has more than 70 characters. More than 70! And more are being added!

That leads to some truly outrageous match-ups between characters that have no place being together. Taking on Sonic as Mega Man, or watching Bayonetta fight Simon Belmont from “Castlevania,” there’s a sense of lived nostalgia built into “Smash Ultimate.”

It is perhaps cliché to speak about “Super Smash Bros.” as an encyclopedic, voluminous game, but that doesn’t make it any less true. There are dozens of stages to fight on, each featuring an absurd level of detail. Each of those dozens of stages has a wide variety of music tracks dedicated to it, encompassing 30 years of gaming (and often offering modern remasters/remixes as well).

It’s a staggering amount of content. And I haven’t even begun talking about all the different game modes!


More than just stuff to explore, there’s <em>so much</em> to do in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’/Nintendo

Yes, it’s true: You have to unlock that huge roster of characters in “Smash Ultimate.” And that will take some time.

With two friends helping, I unlocked the vast majority of the 70-plus characters in a single day. It wasn’t a chore or a grind: It was as simple as playing through the game’s relatively quick “Classic Mode” levels, which are a ton of fun. These are the standard linear progression that might be the only “campaign” mode in another fighting game. You fight a bunch of different characters, culminating in a boss fight. It’s pretty straightforward.

But Classic Mode is just one of the several ways in which you can enjoy “Smash Ultimate.”

There’s the standard “Smash” mode, which is the base level fighting that “Super Smash Bros.” is known for – played either against computer-controlled characters, or a group of friends.

Then there’s the “Mob Smash” modes, which are especially gruelling challenges against various groups of enemies.

Then there’s the online mode, which allows you to play with friends and strangers all over the world. It’s got some issues, but it is by far the most robust online mode of any “Smash Bros.” game.


And then there’s the “Spirits” mode, which is an absolutely massive single-player campaign that’s entirely new to the “Super Smash Bros.” franchise.

Nintendo

“Spirits” mode is a strong reason to buy “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” all by itself. It’s essentially a fighting game-based role-playing game starring the entire cast of characters.

Sounds confusing? In practice, it’s not – you move characters around a large, hand-drawn map, occasionally stopping to take on various fighting-based challenges. Maybe you fight like a dozen Kirbys, or the heroes of the “Legend of Zelda” games (or whatever else). The battles are themed, and have various conditions – maybe your foes are impervious to certain types of attacks, for instance.

Spirits mode can only be played by one person, and is intended as a meaty story mode of sorts.

It is, by far, the largest addition to the latest “Smash Bros.”, and it’s an incredibly meaningful addition at that. I’ve spent at least 10 hours thus far going through Spirits mode, unlocking characters and earning new “spirits” to attach to my unlocked characters.

What do those spirits do? They offer benefits, along the lines of “buffs” in role-playing games. Maybe you use a “Wii Fit” trainer spirit, thus granting your character greatly increased movement speed and jump height. Or maybe you use a spirit that enables you to start each match with a baseball bat! Using these spirits is key if you want to succeed in Spirits mode.

Thankfully, Nintendo does a lot of holding players’ hands early on in Spirits mode. I never felt confused, or like I couldn’t proceed. Spirits mode offers a substantial reason for people to play “Smash,” even if they’re not into fighting games.


Online mode is full of promise, but is unfortunately rife with lag and connection issues.

NintendoIf you catch me online as Snake, prepare yourself.

For many people – myself included – “Smash Bros.” is a franchise that conjures fond memories of laughing and shouting next to friends on a couch. Similarly, many of those people are now grown adults who don’t necessarily live near the group of friends they used to play with. Sadly, I am also among that group.

But hey, it’s 2018: There’s an expectation that multiplayer games will have robust online components. Such is the case for “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” which does indeed feature a relatively robust online section.

You can play against friends, albeit in a convoluted way, and you can play against strangers. You can even choose a set of rules to search for so that you get to play the way you want.

Unfortunately, Nintendo’s online infrastructure continues to be a mess. At least 50% of the games I’ve played online were rife with lag. When it does work, it’s magical – playing “Smash Bros.” infinitely against actual people online is what I’ve wanted since the original game. When it doesn’t, it outright breaks the game. What’s the point of a speedy, Twitch-based game when it repeatedly gets hit with minutes-long lag? It undercuts the entire experience.

“Smash Bros.” deserves better online – it’s one of the two main multiplayer games from Nintendo, alongside “Mario Kart,” and it’s a tremendous shame that the online stability is so bad. Worse: It’s the first multiplayer game from Nintendo to launch since Nintendo’s paid online service arrived in September.


Most importantly of all: The fighting in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the best it’s ever been.

NintendoThis adorable little pup is from ‘Nintendogs,’ a Nintendo DS game that was hugely popular. She’s an assist trophy.

“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” feels pixel perfect in exactly the way a fighting game should feel.

There’s a level of detail and precision in “Smash Ultimate” that’s distinctly Nintendo. The level above, for instance, is pulled from the NES game “Balloon Fight.” In that game, a large fish would leap out of the water if you got too close. If that fish ate you, you were toast.

I wondered if Nintendo would go to the level of detail that it would include said fish – unsurprisingly, the fish acts exactly like it did when I played “Balloon Fight” on an NES in 1990.

Allow me one more example: Both Ken and Ryu from “Street Fighter” are in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” You can play them the same way you would play as every other character, or you can control them exactly as you would in “Street Fighter.” A quarter-circle forward and punch pushes out they’re iconic fireball. Nintendo didn’t have to add this. It would be totally fine if Nintendo didn’t add this. But Nintendo of course did do this, because everything about “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” has this absurd level of detail.

It’s this loving level of detail matched with a massive amount of excellent, fun content that makes “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” a must-own for the Switch. Even if you’ve never played a “Smash Bros.” game before – even if you don’t like previous games in the series! – there’s a good reason to get this one.

“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s out now for $US60.


Wondering what the game looks like in action? Check out this trailer right here:

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