Ultimate is a word that’s often bandied about with little regard for its accuracy, but there’s not an ounce of hyperbole in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s exactly what it says on the box: the best version of a Smash Bros. game. The sheer scale of this game is hard to wrap your head around, towering above its forebears and making them look like bad games in comparison.
Let’s start with the roster, shall we? You start off with the eight original characters that were featured in the original Super Smash Bros. nearly two decades ago, but they’re just the start. There’s a huge lineup of 74 for you to unlock, either by making your way through the World of Light and rescuing them, or just through sinking time into any of the other modes. For those new to the series, eight is a manageable start, but it’s a cute callback for those who’ve been playing the series from the start. Plus, it’s incredibly satisfying to unlock so many characters!
World of Light is the story of how a pink puffball goes on to save the entire Smashverse – which is totally a word now. You see, following a brutal attack by the big bad Galeem in the opening cinematic, the only surviving fighter is Kirby. Landing alone and as hungry as ever, this little guy has to journey around a big map taking out possessed fighters. While you will always be fighting a clone of a playable character, sometimes rescuing them to join your selection of fighters, but the new spirits mean it’ll never feel the same.
Each fight is made up of a playable character, with settings designed to pay homage to the spirit that inhabits them. One of these fights has you up against the various forms of Eevee, and while this part is played by Yoshi, each one is represented by something different. Flareon is a red Yoshi who always has a Spicy Curry active, for example. The amount of care and attention put into each battle makes you wonder how they even came up with it all.
This plays out a bit like an RPG. You adventure round the map, choosing different paths as you go to decide what you will unlock and who you can play as. Each victory gives your spirits experience points, and also nets you new spirits to use too. The rock-paper-scissors aspect is only one part of how you make your choices. Some spirits will give advantages that will make certain matches immensely easier, like a spirit that negates the effects of wind being very useful in a level with strong winds. Your rewards will differ depending on the strength of you spirits, too. If you go in with a weaker spirit you will receive greater rewards, whereas an overpowered spirit will get you less.
The size of the mode is completely absurd, too. This isn’t some five-hour long jaunt and getting through everything is going to take a big chunk of time, but you’ll love every second of it. The map is fun to explore, the variety of fights is mind-boggling, and the spirit system and skill system help to give the mode a truly different feeling to the rest of the game.
Of course, there’s always Classic Mode, which is like an arcade mode for those who know fighting games but don’t know Smash. You choose a character to start with, then fight your way through their specific set of challenges until you get to the last boss. Playing as Simon from Castlevania sees you fighting a giant version of Ridley, but then ends in spectacular style with a battle against Dracula. There are two incredibly nice touches regarding this fight; first of all, you can only hurt the king of vampires by hitting him in the head, but I wouldn’t dare ruin the second for you. Each run through is unique to that character, and once again shows off the sheer love of the source material that Smash has throughout.
The last of the main single player modes is the Spirit Board mode. While in World of Light you can challenge any battle as many times as you need, the stakes are a bit higher on the Spirit Board. You only get one chance to challenge a spirit from the randomised and constantly refreshing selection available. Succeed and you have a spirit catching minigame, but fail and you will have to wait until it reappears. These are much easier to dip into than the other single player offerings and are just as much fun and creative as in World of Light.
The small tweaks made to the fighting gameplay all add up to create a really clean feeling experience. You can no longer run through other characters, so to get past them you will have to dodge or jump. This makes every interaction more open; you have to leave yourself vulnerable to gain a better position, which leads to a more aggressive feeling flow to each bout. You can now grab tech, which is to say that if you both try to grab each other at the same time it’ll cancel out. It doesn’t seem like much, but it means a lot to the hardcore.
For those who just want to play around with the ridiculousness that Smash Bros. offers there is plenty to love here too. The new items are an absolute joy, with my personal highlight being the baseball. When you throw the baseball, it warps out of existence, only to re-enter somewhere else, attacking an enemy in a blaze of blue fire. They all feel incredibly fun, and incredibly powerful, which livens up the chaotic matches that you want in your life.
The new stage morphing is also an absolute revelation, as shifting from one stage to another mid match leads to some hilarious results. You might be in Hyrule Castle and be completely safe, but if the stage shifts to Kirby’s Dream Land you’ll find yourself at a loss for land to stand on if you don’t move quickly. Choosing the level combinations yourself is fun, but random choices are just as good. Not knowing either level makes for a great party game atmosphere.
Each of the new characters feels great to use and feel like a worthy addition to the roster. While they are all a lot of fun to use and fairly well balanced, the two most interesting ones are probably Inkling and Simon. Inkling has a great array of different attacks and getting to cover an enemy in paint to deal more damage is a fantastic use of the mechanics. Simon is an absolute monster of a character, his attacks are fantastic for zone control, he has good range, and he isn’t too slow either. We still have Piranha Plant and the DLC characters to come, but it’s already a ridiculously varied showing.
Smash Bros. has often felt a bit like it was trying to do too much and while it has always been a fun series, the disparity between the fighting game and the party game didn’t always mesh well. Ultimate is the perfect fusion of the two styles. There are countless additions to it as a fighting game to keep the competitive players happy, but the new items and features make the party game the most exciting it could be. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate feels like one of the best written love letters to gaming that there has ever been, the care and attention given to each of the games represented is incredible. This is quite simply a must-play game, one that will keep you going for hundreds of hours with its single player alone, and with multiplayer that will keep you going for thousands.