The Super Smash Bros. name carries so much weight with it. If you throw the name out to most gamers, they’ll know what to expect. Through the franchise’s 20 years of history, each entry came with a subtitle after the first. Melee, Brawl, and for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U were merely symbolic in meaning. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, on the other hand, is quite literal: This is the definitive Smash experience. It’s the Ultimate mash-up of all things Nintendo…and it is glorious.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Smashin’

The game itself comprises a few different modes that all add a great variety to Ultimate‘s immense offerings. If you’re like me, you’ll boot up the standard “Smash” mode and get playing with a buddy, or just test out the roster. This time, you’ll be limited to the original eight characters from the first game, but you’ll be unlocking characters one after another in no time at all.

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Simon, meet Charizard.

You’ll know what to expect from most characters if you’ve played any recent entry in the series. Some older characters, like Kirby, feature new moves. Kirby’s dash attack turns him into a ball of fire, which is thematically nice. Likewise, I’m a fan of Wario’s new dash attack. There’s been some general changes to either strengthen or tweak moves, so obviously the game is going to feel a little different regardless of whom you play as.

As far as how characters move and attack, it’s going to vary depending on how you adjust the controls. The control stick should ideally be put on high sensitivity, which allows your characters to be more responsive to your inputs. Regardless of what setting you’re using, each character feels as they should. Bowser is a beast who is both faster and more powerful, and it’s a blast to play as him. The Fire Emblem fighters like Marth or Chrom are speedy and, being a fan of their game series, playing as them replicates how I’d expect them to move in a non-turn-based setting.

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The detail in each fighter is incredible. This includes their expressions!

With a roster this large, you’re bound to find some character you take a liking to. The newcomers this time around, including the likes of King K. Rool and Simon Belmont, are exceptional additions. Simon and his Echo Fighter Richter specialize in long-ranged battles with plenty of powerful projectiles. I loved throwing their axe, which takes precision due to its arc trajectory but feels great once you land it. Inkling is a really unique character that can cover enemies in ink in order to do more damage to them.

In addition to the massive roster, the stages are even greater in their amount and variety. You’ve got the Smash series’ greatest hits, including Fountain of Dreams, Smashville, Shadow Moses Island, and, my personal favorite, Corneria. You’ll also likely not get tired of most stages because of the option to turn any of them into a version of Final Destination or Battlefield.

Thankfully, you can also turn off hazards on stages. There were plenty of great stages that could ruin your game with unfair hazards, like the Flying Man from Magicant. Other aspects of regular Smash that can certainly destroy your lead are items and the Final Smash balls. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play with items, Assist Trophies, and Final Smash on, but if you’re trying to improve in the game then they can give you an unfair advantage.

Items aren’t the worst offender of this. While there are some extremely unfair items like the new Banana Gun (which shoots an extremely powerful banana bullet), Assist Trophies and Final Smash take it too far. There seemed to be an overabundance of Assist Trophies, even when I put them on low. When I disabled them, more Pokéballs came out. It appears that when you have items on the game wants to throw out something that gives a substantial edge to anyone who uses it. Some Assist Trophies, like the albeit awesome Rathalos, last way too long and can take two lives off you easily.

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Death has come.

Final Smashes, on the other hand, are faster and nearly instant this time around. No longer do you have to deal with Fox’s insane Landmaster. Still, they do tons of damage, and some seemed unavoidable as well. In Smash for 3DS and Wii U, I could avoid most Final Smashes if I tried enough. Some are still annoying, like Zelda’s, which sucks you into a vortex and deals insane damage. The happy medium would ideally be the new FS Meter. This can be toggled on or off and it charges up every time you take damage. Eventually, you’ll be able to use a less powerful Final Smash without having to break a Smash Ball. The problem with this is that it punishes the other player for winning, because the more you get beat up, the more this meter charges, thus why you’ll want to toggle it off.

Speaking of great, Classic Mode is back, as always. I really enjoyed this mode, which has themed battles for each character you choose. I picked Dark Samus, and teamed up with other “dark” versions of characters while fighting their “light” counterparts. It’s cool details like that which give the Classic Mode variety.

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In Classic, you can even fight against unique bosses like Marx.

At the start of Classic Mode, you can toggle the difficulty up to 5.0, and ideally the goal would be to reach as close to 10.0 as possible. The battles, therefore, get gradually more difficult, assuming you win them each time. Classic ends with a fight against a boss character; for example, as Link I battled with a giant, transformed Ganondorf. If you’re doing higher difficulties, however, you’ll go against Master Hand and Crazy Hand. This chaotic battle really puts your skills to the test and their unpredictable nature always mixes things up.

In short, you’ll likely have a great time whether you like items or not, whether you like Classic or just a good old-fashioned match with a bunch of friends. Still, if you fancy singleplayer, there’s even more content in The World of Light. 

Spirit of Competition

If you loved Brawl’s Subspace Emissary as much as I did, you’ll be pleased to find The World of Light. This mode is all about spirits. Spirits are game director Masahiro Sakurai’s replacement for trophies. While I enjoyed reading the bits of lore trophies offered, I think spirits are a step in a great direction.

There’s going to be hundreds of these things. Spirits come from many different Nintendo and other third-party games. You’ll recognize some, like Paper Mario or even Bomberman, while others might be more obscure — the Tomatrio from Tomato Adventure? I couldn’t tell you who those are.

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Anything goes as far as spirit variety.

Spirits are also kind of complex, at least at first. They enhance your performance in battle during The World of Light mode, but they’re an option in standard Smash mode too. You’ve got primary and support spirits. You can make a team comprising one primary spirit (that varies in class, from Novice up to Legend) and several support spirits. Primary spirits will usually grant your character some sort of passive bonus, like, for example, Steelix increasing a fighter’s weight, or the Darknut increasing sword attack damage. They can seriously change up the gameplay. Sometimes they come with weaknesses, but that is a trade-off for the general stat boost they give.

These primary spirits also have types in addition to classes. These include attack, shield, and grab, along with a neutral type. It’s like the Fire Emblem weapon triangle, or rock-paper-scissors. Attack spirits beat grab, grab beats shield, and so on and so forth. Neutral, of course, is omitted from this. To top it all off, primary spirits can level up to 99, increasing their stat boosts further. Some select spirits evolve at level 99, gaining new abilities.

Then there’s the support spirits, which give advantages that can be weird or are basic enhancements. These include slightly increasing the damage of punches, or increasing shooting attack damage. Others might make you metal or giant at the start of a match. You can equip up to three on your team if your primary spirit allows it. Some of these support spirits take up more than one slot depending on how powerful they are. The variety here is truly staggering, and I’d wager to say the options are near limitless. The fact that you can choose from 74 fighters and hundreds of primary and support spirits shows there’s a lot to work with.

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Spirit Hector is as powerful as his Fire Emblem 7 counterpart.

The World of Light and the Spirit Board are the main ways to earn spirits. The Spirit Board is just a way to jump in and grab a spirit immediately. Once they pop up on the board, you’ll have minutes to battle and grab the spirit. It cycles throughout the whole day, so chances are there’s going to be something new every time you look. Spirit battles, though, are where things get very interesting, leaving me captivated and entranced each time.

Obviously you’ll be fighting a character from the roster, but how they represent the spirit you’re trying to get is excellently portrayedFor example, the battle for Snorlax was hilarious and stuck with me. You’ll fight against a giant, dark King K. Rool that just sits there. This stamina battle gives K. Rool tons of health, and you have to beat him down before the timer drops. The developers have managed to capture most of the spirits’ personalities within these unique fights.

Another example: “Bord, Cord & Barst” is a spirit of three Fire Emblem characters that use axes. In their original game, they throw axes. In Smash Ultimate, you’ll fight on a linear bridge against three Simons that do nothing but throw axes. This is just great. It adds much needed variety to The World of Light.

And what is The World of Light? It’s a giant adventure mode, tasking you with defeating Galeem, who has essentially captured all the fighters except Kirby. You’ll start with Kirby and explore a map filled with fog that eventually dissipates as you travel to new regions. Along the way you’ll fight in various spirit battles to progress, as they block your path forward. This is a way to gain spirits and add them to your team to help with World of Light battles. You’ll also just battle against fighters to unlock them for this mode, so the roster will gradually expand.

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There’s a staggering amount to explore.

The map itself is really cool. It’s vibrant and colorful, and there’s small puzzle elements. There’s switches you have to hit to progress to other areas, and stores to buy new spirits and enhance and level up ones you already had. There’s training dojos to change the stats of your spirits and places to level them up whilst outside the mode. It’s a fun time progressing and making it to the end, but it’s best played in short bursts. Since there’s so many of these battles, it can be a tad repetitive at times. Still, if you’re looking for solid single-player content outside of the usual Smash and Classic modes, The World of Light is a good alternative.

Online Woes

I’m a bit of a Smash fanatic and maybe a slight try-hard as well. When I saw Nintendo offering a paid Nintendo Switch Online service, I was optimistic that my Smash experience would be lag-free, quite unlike the previous game’s shoddy performance.

I’ll first say that the 1.2.0 update to Smash helped a bit, but at launch it was a disaster. Most, if not every online match I hopped into was laggy. There was severe input delay that tested my patience.

There’s preferred rule sets that you could choose, which is a great feature, but it didn’t work at launch. I wanted to do 1v1 on Final Destination and Battlefield stages, no items, two lives and five minutes. The result would often give me four players, with items, on any stage.

Now it’s a bit better. You’ll likely get into those competitive matches you wanted, or the more casual ones if you set the rules as such. The lag still remains. I fought and defeated an Ike player in one match no problem, but the next a literal lag switch was flipped and was a disaster for both sides. I’m hoping that these issues get fixed, as it’s a real shame for both me and a large portion of the community.

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Snake?

The features are decent in Online, at least. The better you do on a specific character, the more Global Smash Power (GSP) you gain. Winning a match gives you more, losing, less. Eventually you can make your way up to Elite Smash, fighting against others who dominate the ladder. Elite Smash is for a single character that you’ve attained enough GSP for. If you want to fight with the best on another character, you have to work your way up again.

I also enjoyed Battle Arenas. It’s a bit like Dragon Ball FighterZ, where there’s a hub. You can set up Battle Arenas with a specific set of rules. They can be password-enabled so that only your friends can join. You are represented as a token, which you can either move to the arena to fight a match, keep in line to wait your turn, or set on the bleachers to spectate. There’s even an option to set your own music in this little room while you wait for a match.

One flaw with the Battle Arenas is that you can’t change the rules on the fly. To start a new set of rules for our own GameLuster tournament, we had to exit out of the current one and start a new Battle Arena. It was a meaningless extra step that was a burden more than anything else.

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Let’s hope the lag doesn’t mess me up.

Overall, the online needs some work. The one simple fix to the most pertinent problem is getting rid of the lag, but a lot of that is dependent on each player’s connection. Still, I hope in the future that there’s more stability.

A Smash Hit

Despite the issues in online, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the definitive game in the series. It’s a celebration of Nintendo’s legacy in the gaming industry, and a triumph in game design. As a Smash player since I was a toddler, and having played every entry since, this has got to be my favorite. It takes all the elements I loved from previous games — the roster, an adventure mode, an engaging classic mode — and puts them in one $60 package. The soundtrack alone, with hundreds of tracks, is worth that. If you’re new to the series, don’t pass this up. If you’re already a fan of the series, I reckon you’re already playing it as much as I am.

Austin reviewed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate using a personally purchased copy.