This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is the latest installment of the wildly popular Nintendo brawler series that has shown up on all of their home consoles since N64. Take your favorite Nintendo characters into a battle arena against other popular (or obscure) characters.
I’m a casual fan of the Super Smash Bros. series. I enjoy them, but I generally don’t like fighting games and my lack of skill in them has kept me from ever really diving into the Smash Bros titles in the past. I’m not a rookie as I’ve played all of them except the Wii U version, but I am far from an expert. I picked up Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Switch and have been playing it for about a month now, so why not write a bit about it from a casual player’s point of view?
What Is It?
For the uninitiated, Smash Bros is a 2D fighting game series which pits (mostly) Nintendo characters against each other in brawls. Rather than trying to deplete your opponent’s health bars, you increase their damage and try to force them off of the map. There are different ways to play, but in a standard timed match, each time you are lost off of the edge of the map, you lose a point, and each time you knock your opponent off of the edge, you gain a point. Knocking an opponent off of the edge varies wildly between maps. Most maps are floating areas of some sort so there is a clear edge to knock players off of. However, all characters are well equipped with multiple jump moves to get back onto the map should you toss or punch them off to the side. The more damage you have dealt, the more likely you are to deliver a final blow which knocks them off for good, with no chance of recovery.
Ultimate allows for up to eight players to brawl at once, which is a chaotic mess and about as fun of a video game experience as you could ask for. Throughout the fights objects will fall onto the fighting area to be grabbed and used to help win. These have a wide range of abilities. A handful offer fun ways to punch your opponent, others will give you temporary help via an ally who will help beat up your opponents, and some will even reduce your damage. The ultimate ability in Smash is the Final Smash, with each character having their own custom move. This is a floating, glowing orb which must be damaged quite a bit to be unlocked. Once this happens, the character who did so gains their Final Smash attack which, if landed properly, will frequently lead to a knockout.
The game features all 63 characters from previous Smash titles as well as 11 new characters, plus others via DLC. The characters mostly stem from Nintendo titles, but there are some that don’t as well as some quite obscure characters. On the obscure side, you will see characters such as Ice Climbers who hail from a 1985 NES title, Ice Climber. Characters from Earthbound, Pikmin, Wii Fit, Kid Icarus, Game & Watch, and others also appear. There are also a few from non-Nintendo series, such as Snake (Metal Gear), Sonic, Pac-Man, Ryu (Street Fighter), Cloud (Final Fantasy 7), Mega Man, and a handful more.
The initial playable roster is only a handful of these. As you play the game, random challengers will appear and you must face and defeat them in a “first one to fall loses” match. If you win, that character enters the playable character list, otherwise you have to wait until next time. There is a way to get an occasional rematch, but you don’t get unlimited chances there.
My biggest gripe about this game is how unfriendly it is to new, or casual, players. None of the game modes are well explained and the controls for fighting aren’t either. I had to look up online to refresh my memory. I can imagine somebody trying to jump into, say, a FIFA game and being totally lost, that’s how I felt the first time I played Ultimate. Luckily, things are fairly straightforward once you know what’s going on, but the game assumes you know that coming in.
There are a handful of game modes, once you figure them out, that let you play a few different ways. There is a light story mode type game, with some RPG/collectable elements (Adventure) which I still don’t fully understand. Classic Mode sets you off on a series of challenges against six opponents capped off by a boss fight. Squad Strike allows for a team game. You can also hold tournaments or Smashdowns which are fun ways to assert your dominance over friends. You can also simply fight against one or more CPU/Human opponents in a standard game.
This all adds up to a lot of different ways to play this fighting game. I don’t keep up with fighting games at all, but the mode list in Smash is impressive to me.
It's All About the Characters
With over 70 total characters, they can’t each by completely and totally unique from one to the next. There are like a dozen guys or gals with a killer sword and medieval armor, for example. Sure, each of them have some unique moves, but there are is definitely some overlap. The good news is that there’s going to be somebody for you. Want a giant brute of a fighter who excels at close range? King K. Rool or Donkey Kong, among others, might be for you. Want a character who is ridiculously tough to knockout? Kirby can float and float and float his way back to the arena time and time again! Want some great ranged attack options? Link with his bow, boomerang, and BotW bombs would be a good choice. Want a cool looking character with a huge sword and medieval armor? You’ve got a few choices there.
The game maps all of its moves onto just a few buttons. A is your character’s basic attack while B is their special attack. Y and X both jump, but that can also be accomplished by pushing up on the control stick. L and R perform a grab, while the triggers block. Most of these moves can be altered by pressing them in conjunction with the control stick. As an example, Link’s special attack will allow you to shoot an arrow, holding to charge it up a bit, or you can throw a boomerang by pressing left/right and B. But wait, there’s more, down and B will create a bomb to toss around (the same buttons will detonate it) while up and B will perform a jumping sword spin. So four totally unique ways to attack off of one button. The A button attacks are usually less exciting, but are vital nonetheless and offer multiple different options.
One of the beauties of the game is that once you understand the basic controls for any character, you can pick up new characters rather quickly. It will take a match or two to start to understand how to use them well, but each time you unlock a new character you can probably do decently with them right away, spend a few seconds figuring out what their attacks do, and have at it.
The characters are the stars of the game, but the arenas are a surprisingly big portion of the fun, or frustration. There are a ton of them, 103 to be exact. Like the characters, there are too many for them to be totally unique, but each at least offers a really great art style from whatever game universe they are representing along with some interactive twists and turns.
Besides looking great, the arenas play a big role in the battles. Many of them will change throughout the fight, a once sturdy platform will crumble or fall into the ether. Some go above and beyond, like the asteroid which rotates every so often, shifting the entire playing field at once. Besides interactivity, the arenas offer a bunch of different looks for fights. One is an apartment complex where you will jump up and down between small rooms, which severely limits your space to maneuver. Others are wide open and don’t offer much resistance to your all out battle. The point is, they definitely change the way you play the game, and that’s a great bonus for the longevity of the game, even if there are few I absolutely despise due to personal vendettas.
My personal favorite characters thus far, in no particular order: Link, Inkling, Simon, King K. Rool, Ridley, Samus.
So, How Is It?
If you can’t tell by now how I feel about this game, I suspect you skipped a lot to get here. It’s a ton of fun. I don’t have any non-Smash fighting game from the last 20 years for comparison, but I didn’t expect to like Smash as much as I have been. It’s not a departure from the rest of the series that I’ve played, I just think the game has clicked with me more than previous iterations because of the quick play nature. I don’t always have hours to play video games now, and I can hop on and get a handful of Smash fights in just a few minutes, it’s hard to beat that instant fun.
My biggest complaint is probably how poorly the game is explained when you start playing. Series veterans won’t find this to be an issue, obviously, but they probably aren’t reading this review either. Despite this, once you figure out how to play, the entire game opens up instantly. One big worry I had was how in the world I would learn how to play as 70+ different characters. The moves will vary, but the controls remain the same across all fighters and once you’ve played a handful it really begins to snowball and you can pick up new characters very, very quickly. I’ve found a few mains I prefer, but I will still go back to lesser used characters for the variety and enjoy doing so even without taking the time to master their moves.
I should take at least a sentence or two to point out the obvious: Smash absolutely shines brightest as a multiplayer game. This is no surprise, but doing all of these fun things against a friend is naturally a new level of fun beyond doing them against the CPU.
Is It For You?
I don’t know, I never know that answer, stop asking hypothetical section title question maker. If you are a Smash fan then you already know the answer. If you aren’t, I can say that I’ve gotten a ton of fun out of it coming in as someone who almost never plays fighting games and liked, but didn’t love, previous version of Smash. The strongest point for me has been the pick up and play nature. When I first started playing I wasn’t blown away by any means, it was more of the same Smash Bros. I initially came back to try to unlock new characters, who wouldn’t want to play as Ridley or Mega Man? The more I played, however, the more I enjoyed, well, playing the game. There’s a primal level of fun in taking out years of Yoshi’s aggression on Mario and it only takes a couple of minutes per match so you can quickly move onto that dream fight of armored sword guy #7 against the stars of the 1985 NES classic Ice Climber. The possibilities are nearly endless with this roster, and the simple gameplay ensures you can have fun with just about any combination you choose.