Here it is. The last big title for 2018 and possibly the most anticipated game in the history of Nintendo. As all the promotional material has stated, everyone’s here. Every single character in the near twenty year history of Super Smash Bros. (and a few new invitees) are up for the melee this year, giving you 70+ options to enrage your friends with. Gone are the fears that the game would just be a port of the Wii U/3DS version, as it is its own full-fledged brawler and then some to truly make this Smash feel like the ultimate.
If you’ve never been initiated into the cult of Smash, the concept is relatively simple. You pick a character among the all-stars of Nintendo and other video game idols and pound on an opponent (or seven of them). What ensues is an insanely fun and chaotic free-for-all. Instead of hit points like other fighting games, characters build up damage percentage. The higher the percentage, the easier it is to knock them off the stage and get you a win. In practice, all of that has created a phenomenon that has been one of the engines of the fighting game scene since its inception.
The very first thing you’ll want/need/have to do is invite all those wonderful friends to the party. You start off with the original eight characters from the first Smash way back on the N64 – Mario, DK, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Fox, and Pikachu. From there, you have to grind your way through regular Smash mode, Classic Mode, or the new Adventure mode. It is quite a grind and the unlockable characters may seem to be at random, but they’re actually set in a predetermined order. Every ten minutes of gameplay, a new challenger will arrive once you exit the mode you were just in. Playing Classic Mode has characters unlocked in chains. The base of those chains is one of the original eight characters, meaning if you beat Classic mode with every new character as you unlock them, you will unlock the next in the chain and so on. Adventure mode has you recruiting fighters across a huge map. Waking them up there unlocks them in the game, allowing you to break some chains and jump the challenge list. This takes forever, though this is a kind of grind I’m oddly okay with because this is Smash and I guess one of the drawbacks of having a roster this size is you have to have some satisfying method of gathering them all together.
Those challenger fights. Good lord, those challenger fights. So I’m not great at Smash. I’m not garbage, but I like to think I’m at least in the average range. I kept getting wrecked by challenger fights and then having to go back and redo them (which made my grind even longer) because holy crap they’re hard. Hell, they may be the hardest fights in the entire game. I thought it was maybe because I had to actually get good at the game, but no, a great deal of players are having their own difficulties with them, as the AI for challenger fights specifically has been cranked all the way up. I’m not sure why they decided to make the unlockable fights so difficult – maybe because Sm4sh’s were so easy – but the AI for them is pretty much on a competitive level. Prepare for what is essentially a gauntlet of sixty-nine boss battles.
Adventure mode, titled World of Light, has been the biggest talking point of Ultimate other than the enormous roster. The culprit of that weird video where every Smash character is disintegrated by light emanating from some giant winged thing and Kirby is the last hope, Adventure mode has you trying to awaken your fallen comrades and revolves around the new Spirit mechanic. Spirits are basically stat upgrades and power boosts in the guises of figures from all over video game history, both big and small. There are over 700 Spirits and I wouldn’t be surprised if every single Nintendo title in the company’s history is acknowledged by the presence of at least one Spirit. In World of Light, you have to traverse a surprisingly large map to gather Spirits and awaken fighters to join your cause to defeat Galeem, that winged abomination that looks like the biblical descriptions of an angel.
The fights to free the Spirits themselves are a genuine treat. The rules and buffs that go with fighting each Spirit pertain to each individual one to make it feel like you’re actually facing off with a vessel for that character. For example, my favorite was fighting to free the Snorlax Spirit, which had me locked in a stamina battle against a grey King K. Rool who literally wouldn’t move. Another great one is the Breath of the Wild Zelda fight, where you first have to do battle with Falco, Zero Suit Samus, Inkling, and DK with a club – all stand-ins for the Champions from Breath of the Wild. The best series of fights, though, has to be the Street Fighter mini-map which sees you fighting a bunch of low-jump stamina battles.
The mode also features an RPG-esque skill map, giving you abilities to help wail your way through the toughest enemies. If you don’t find the Spirits you want on the map, there is the adjacent Spirit Board mode, which has a rotating roster of Spirits to fight every five minutes. You also have to have a good trigger finger for that, though, as they come with a post-fight mini-game where you have to shoot a laser through a rotating shield at the enemy you just defeated. Those hours of Red Dead may actually come in handy. “Surprises” is the true tone of World of Light. The Spirit battles are really something, as is the story and events that you could never really predict and that I refuse to spoil here. A drawback, however, is how long it can be. One of the biggest surprises is the length of the mode, which can take some 20+ hours to complete and can easily be a slog for many players.
As for the characters themselves, everyone seems to be optimized and in their very best form. Older, written-off characters are being picked back up as useful and the newest challengers see plenty of play, even if they are a bit of a challenge to utilize just right. It might take players a minute to get the grasp of Simon and Richter’s long range game or Incineroar’s grapple system, but even through all that, everyone is incredibly fun to use. Yes, even Pichu. Smash mode itself has fully customizable rules that you can save every which way and, of course, a proper tournament mode so you don’t have to keep a pen and paper bracket like some caveman.
What else is there to say? This is Smash in its purest, most perfect form. Everything from previous games that made it such a worldwide phenomenon is back and everyone that made the game so great is here to make it that much more fun. Keyword: fun. I know Smash has become sort of the modern day Monopoly as the game you play to lose friends to and it has a serious culture around it as perhaps the greatest fighting game of a generation, but above all, it is supposed to be a living gaming museum and Nintendo toy box that can do anything your imagination desires as long as it wants to have fun. Ultimate does all of that and more, providing one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had and almost certainly setting the bar for Game of the Year 2019.
Where Smash goes from here is anyone’s guess, but for now, it’s simply the best it's ever been.