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Ultimately more is less

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    Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Ultimately more is less

    When this game was announced back in March, many people were shocked and confused. A new Smash game, this quickly after the last one? Surely it can’t be a new game it has to be a port! But no, no Smash game’s had a development longer than 2 and a half years, it’s gotta be a new game! Come E3, it was revealed as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with every single character and nearly every single stage in series history returning and people were floored. Few were arguing that it wasn’t a new game anymore, but something that needs to be argued now is whether or not it being a ┬í┬░new game┬í┬▒ was for the better.

    First off, it looks similar to the Wii U version of Smash 4. Different lighting and darker texturing make it visually look like an awkward mid-ground between Brawl and Smash 4’s visual styles; some characters it’s barely noticeable on (Robin, Pit), while others stick out hard (Bowser is now dark orange bordering on brown depending on the lighting). It runs smoothly as far as I can tell (though Century Smash does lag a bit, though that’s excusable since it’s trying to spawn 100 miis at you as fast as you can KO them), so for overall responsiveness and performance I see no issue.

    The game mechanics as a whole have been changed; you are punished for repeatedly dodging with fewer invulnerability frames and greater lag between dodges, with aerials having far reduced landing lag. In addition, you can cancel dashing with any attack (granted, it’s not as instantaneous as it sounds because you have to let go of the left stick before an attack will register). Changes like these were pretty deliberately done for the competitive community and, while not earthshaking for us casuals, are definitely noticeable and provide a slightly different feel to things.

    Another thing that’s a lot more competitive is the AI. it’s no longer a complete idiot (most of the time; still seen a few dumb self-destructs on its part). Instead of being defensive with frame perfect shields and often leaving themselves open on higher difficulties, AI fighters are instead very aggressive and can easily juggle you and edgeguard, on top of using character specific techniques and combos (Snake blowing himself up with his own landmine to aid in recovery, Villager always going for a charged f-smash after burying you with his down smash). Unlocking fighters is no guaranteed success anymore. Thankfully, if you fail you can rechallenge them without having to repeat the conditions (just have to wait 10-15 minutes).

    As some are aware, every fighter outside of the original eight starter characters in Smash 64 need to be unlocked. So do you have a bunch of super specific conditions for each fighter? Nope. Every 10 minutes or so of game time and every run of Classic Mode is guaranteed to unlock a character. Some characters do specifically unlock other characters (Zelda unlocks Robin unlocks Corrin, for instance), but overall it’s pretty much the worst of both worlds; the people who enjoy specific unlock conditions will be disappointed by the ease of it all while those of us (like me) who’d prefer everyone to be unlocked from the start are gated behind about a dozen hours of artificial progression (though if you fire up a 1-stock match, run all the way down Moray Towers and then SD to end the match, beat the challenger, and then reset the system you can get everybody in two hours or so).

    As for single-player game modes, you have less than the bare minimum. Classic Mode, ¡°Mob Smash¡± (100 man smash, a gutted ¡°All-Star Mode¡±, and Cruel Smash), and Spirits. No Home Run contest, no Stage Builder, nadda; Brawl still stands heads and shoulders over everything else as the king of single player content and ¡°side modes¡± eight and a half years later.

    Classic mode is now something like a traditional fighting game Arcade mode, with each fighter having a theme and specific set matches. While some of them are very clever (Ryu exclusively fights stamina battles with stand-ins for Street Fighter II characters on Omega form stages and culminates in him and Ken taking on Master Hand and Crazy Hand), others are┬í┬ş well, Bowser fights all the red characters on the roster. And since the fights are set per character, there’s limited replayibility┬í┬¬with the game just encouraging you to try and use everybody. Why they couldn’t have included a normal randomized Classic Mode alongside this I don’t know; but Ultimate’s design ethos seems to be all about trade-offs.

    Spirits is the bulk of the game. There’s World of Light (the ┬í┬░Adventure Mode┬í┬▒) and the Spirit Board. Spirits replace trophies. Spirits are JPEGs of characters that are just their original art that give stat bonuses in WoL/Spirit Battles. Spirits have no in-game descriptions. Spirits are just artificial content.

    In Spirit Battles, you fight a character on the roster that kinda sorta resembles the Spirit you’ll get from beating them with a special condition in the battle. These range from hardly noticeable (the enemy tends to favor one attack) to cripplingly tedious (the stage is covered with fog making it impossible to see exactly what you’re doing, the enemy is outright invisible, etc.). But don’t worry! Get a strong enough Spirit and a couple sub-Spirits that can nullify the gimmicks and you can just steamroll over them. There’s almost no in-between; it’s get curb-stomped or do the curb-stomping due to statiscal superiority. Masahiro Sakurai outright said that the decision to cut trophies was made early in development and that Spirits and spirit battles were basically a consolation that the dev team could feasibly work with; that seems to be a bit of a trend.

    Now, for World of Light. If you liked the Subspace Emissary from Brawl you’ll probably hate it. If you hated the Subspace Emissary you’ll probably hate it. Why is this even a thing aside from more padding and being an alternative option to unlock newcomers? Well, there are a few bosses┬í┬¬some of them are old, but a few are new (and a lot of them are the final battle in Classic Mode). A couple Smash originals and a few from other series: Giga Bowser makes his return, along with Marx from Kirby, Ganon (his final boss from from OoT), and┬í┬ş Rathalos from Monster Hunter? No Pokemon bosses (Zygarde 100% and Ultra Necrozma were begging for this) even? They’re all decently fun, but the series representation is fairly lacking.

    But the bulk of World of Light is just Spirit Battles. Spirit Battle after Spirit Battle after Spirit Battle. it’s repetitive and tedious; everything I said about Spirit Battles goes here as well. There is a neat-looking overworld, but it’s pretty much just a skin for the monotony. Heck, despite opening with a neat cutscene there’s barely any┬í┬¬and there are no character interactions. I get it, half the cast doesn’t speak, but in stuff like Dragon Ball FighterZ’ story mode (another monotonous botfight session) character interactions and something of an overall plot made it and provided a silver lining to the tedium of the gameplay. Link could have a fairy ┬í┬░speak┬í┬▒ for him, the Mario Bros just speak with faux-Italian accents, and so on. I’m not asking for fully voiced fully animated cutscenes; just Visual Novel-style portraits would’ve worked. The SSE managed some character interaction with everybody miming; given actual dialogue, things could’ve been so much better.

    BTW, as I said before All-Star mode is now just under ¡°Mob Smash¡± and has you fight every character as the spawn in. There, I just spent as much time describing it as the dev team did implementing it.

    Now for the ┬í┬░meat┬í┬▒ of the game: it has 74 Fighters and 103 Stages. ┬í┬░Ultimate┬í┬▒ was referring to this. Everyone is here, and you can play on virtually every old favorite (RIP Pac Maze why did we get MSPai┬í┬¬Pac Land instead). Even Ridley is here! Hunched over and half the size he normally is, but he’s here! And K. Rool, explicitly soaring in off of the Ballot.

    However, there are only 5 unique newcomers (Inkling, Ridley, Simon, K. Rool, Incineroar). The rest are either semi-clones (Isabelle and Ken) or pure clones (Daisy, Richter, Dark Samus). And then there’s Chrom, with one new attack but sharing Roy’s except he doesn’t use a reverse grip and also his model is just the one from Robin’s Final Smash and he doesn’t even blink. But yeah; there’s very few unique newcomers this time around, and that also holds true with the stages. Only 4 new stages: Moray Towser, New Donk City, Dracula’s Castle, and Great Plateau. Ultimate clearly tried to be more of a ┬í┬░best of┬í┬▒ game, bringing back and remaking as much content as possible.

    And now, the online. Though basic, Smash 4’s For Fun and For Glory mostly got the job done, splitting off 4 player FFA madness and 1v1 competitive. What did Ultimate do? Take a massive step backwards. There’s no set playlists; you set your preferences (1v1 or FFA, types of stages, what items to have on, etc.), hit go, and hope the game actually listens to them (spoiler alert: it often doesn’t). Why this game is behind Halo 2, which is nearly 15 years old, in terms of online is mystifying. Why didn’t they just take For Fun and For Glory and add a few subsections to them? One console exclusive (Halo) can have a dozen+ online ┬í┬░playlists┬í┬▒ at once, so why can’t Smash? it’s so inept it’s downright bizarre. Thankfully I have friends to mess around with online this time around.

    As for music, nearly every track was brought back and more were stacked on top of it. it’s the best OST collection in a game almost by default, and if you’re like me that’s almost worth the price of admission. Castlevania got a ton of love while Capcom continues to show how easy they are with licensing by letting more Mega Man and even Street Fighter music get piled on (meanwhile, Cloud sits there with the two songs ripped from FFVII that came with his stage as DLC in Smash 4). First parties, however, are a lot more uneven. If you’re a fan of Kid Icarus, Xenoblade, WarioWare; no new remixes for you! The overall amount of new tracks in general is also lower in the past, though that likely has to do with the amount of returning stages.

    Winding things down, this game is a very strong example of ┬í┬░more is less┬í┬▒. The dev team decided to bring back every fighter and as many stages as they could early on in development, and did so at the expense of almost everything else. Just from a content perspective, Ultimate doesn’t quite feel like an all-new installment┬í┬¬more like a ┬í┬░celebration title┬í┬▒ a la Monster Hunter Generations and Etrian Odyssey Nexus. In addition, the game was clearly rushed; there’s incomplete data for Home Run Contest and Stage Builder, as well as a ton of data for the first DLC character, Piranha Plant, which heavily implies that it was cut from the base roster mid-development due to a lack of resources.

    Smash Ultimate is still Smash. it’s still fun, and it’s a blast to play with friends. Every fighter is here. But the lacking amount of actually new content, coupled with single player modes that are more limited than ever, has me hankering for something else. Wishing that Ultimate had either been ┬í┬░Smash 4.5┬í┬▒ and built off of the Wii U version with a lot of new additions or a completely new game with it’s own identity. As-is, I think the Japanese subtitle suits the game far more: Special.

    Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is definitely special, but if you tend to prefer single player or are going expecting a sizable volume of new content I’d recommend waiting for a sale┬í┬¬ because it’s a game that’s far from being ultimate.

    Rating:   3.5 – Good

    Product Release: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (EU, 12/07/18)

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