After a few days with the game, I’m no expert. Hell, I’m not even entirely sure I’m confident enough to take on all comers. I am, however, most definitely hooked. This scrappy little gaming upstart just might have a future ahead of it, after all.
I admit that I’ve not played a Smash Bros. title in…well, it’s been a while, aside from the little bit of game time I’ve had with Ultimate in various demos since the game was unveiled at E3 earlier this year. If you find yourself in a similar boat, the title plays like a fun bit of chaos out of the box.
Try to remember just how much Nintendo managed to pack into previous installments. Now multiply that by a few orders of magnitude, and you should begin to approximate how much is packed into a single screen for Ultimate. I recommend playing the first couple of rounds alone in the comfort of your own home, where no one can make fun of you.
After a few times knocked into the abyss, however, this will come back to you. The button scheme, the combos, how to rebound after some adorable Pokémon hurls you over the side like a mustachioed rag doll.
Of course, one of the series’ hallmarks has always been its ability to appeal to the button mashers as much as the hardcore gaming crowd. That holds with Ultimate. You can still inflict a fair bit of damage on the opposing side with some ham-handed controller slamming. Heck, with enough finesse, you might even trick them into believing you’ve got some clue about what you’re doing.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, be prepared to be overwhelmed. One of the fundamental keys to Nintendo’s prolonged success is maintaining the basic building blocks of IP, while upping the ante with each subsequent interaction. Like Zelda Breath of Wild and Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo’s done its best to make the title as expansive as possible. Of course, that plays out quite different with a fighting game than an open-ended sandbox title.
Here that means a ridiculous 74 characters at launch (including downloadable content). The list includes all characters from past versions, with several new additions. The series has always played into that old fanfic favorite of getting all of your favorite characters in one place to beat the ever-living snot out each. With Ultimate, the selection spans a broad array of popular franchises, including Mario, Zelda, Street Fighter, Metroid, Sonic, Mega Man, Pokémon and Donkey Kong.
The list goes on and on and on, but here’s a pretty handy guide, including in which installment a given character was introduced.
Ultimate also features modes galore. The basic, however, is the most familiar. Simply stated, you choose a stage and a fighter and do whatever you can to knock your opponent off the platform. The more times you connect, the more damage you do — and the more likely you are to deplete their life force with every subsequent toss.
The stages (100 in all) themselves are as diverse as the fighters, each playing out like a love letter to Nintendo’s past. And there are some pretty deep cuts, from the Living Room in Nintendogs to a level of the 1984 primary colored Pac-Man arcade title, Pac-Land (I could’ve sworn I was the last person alive who had any recollection of that game).
The levels are as dynamic as the fighters. That ranges from the simple speeding freight in Zelda’s Spirit Train, to, in many cases, having the ground seismically shift beneath your feet. The touches are clever in many cases, including Dream Land GB (Game Boy) and Flat Zone X (Game & Watch), which maintain the monochrome screens of their predecessors and allow you to play in — and in some cases around — the old-school console. The developers appear to have had every bit as fun designing the levels as players will have playing them.
Add to that a huge arsenal of items, from Pokeballs to Nintendogs who temporarily block the action, and you’ve got a lot jam-packed into a single frame. Sure, one of the Switch’s best features is the ability to play on the go, but you’re really going to want to experience this thing plugged into a bigger screen.
Between stages, you’ll find yourself pitted against a new challenger. Defeat them in a quick one-on-one, and they’ll be added to your roster. Lose, and they’ll come around for another challenge later on.
A few days in, and I’ve barely even begun to scratch the service on this thing. Devin’s getting ready to do a much deeper dive on the title, including the half-dozen different modes, featuring things like Spirits, collectable characters that add attack and defense bonuses to your fighters.
Sure, things don’t always turn out well when nerds get exactly what they want, but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is fan service in the best possible sense of the term. The title offers longtime Nintendo devotees exactly what they’re looking for — and then some.