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Is it Ultimate?

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    Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

    Rating: 5.0 – Flawless

    Is it Ultimate?

    While the new Smash Bros title has come out quicker than anticipated, I’t’s not too surprising when you think about it. Sure, Smash Bros usually comes a good while into a console’s life, but there are a couple things to consider. One, Nintendo’s Wii U was a commercial failure regardless one one’s personal feelings for the system. Two, the Switch is absolutely on fire. It would make sense that Nintendo wants to keep that momentum going with sure-fire system sellers and must-own titles. Naturally, the shorter development cycle leaves one wondering just how the game is going to stack up. Is it truly Ultimate as the title implies?

    In truth, ‘Celebration’ might have been more fitting a title considering its primary selling point. Every single previously character has returned. All of them, including secret unlockables and DLC characters. The good thing is no one is left out. On the downside, the already massive roster means new characters are limited. That said, we get some long-requested additions like King K. Rool and Ridley, which should not only satisfy a good chunk of the fanbase but also give the game more representation in the villain department. There’s also Simon Belmont, who is rather fitting considering the Castlevania legacy on Nintendo consoles. The newcomers are few, but they are mostly good picks. it’s no secret that a lot of the new additions are more echo fighters (Ken mirrors Ryu, Richter Belmont mirrors Simon, Isabelle somewhat mirrors Villager, etc.), but echo fighters and palette swaps have been a staple of this series. Half of Melee’s added roster was practically echo fighters, so this is nothing new. The point is that the overall roster is simply smashing, pun fully intended. Not everyone will be pleased, but that’s the unfortunate reality about crossovers and fighting games. There could be 200 characters and someone would complain that their request didn’t make it. Even I have my dream characters that will likely never make it. Sometimes you just have to take a game for what it is.

    There was some concern over the fact that only the original eight veterans from the N64 title were playable, and the rest had to be acquired overtime. Rest assured, however, that this is no grind-fest to unlock characters. Just play the game and challengers will start diving in. The game is also generous enough to let you rematch failed challengers after a while. I had every single character unlocked within a weekend, and that was without exploiting reset tricks. Not to mention I probably failed half the challengers on the first go, because some of them are downright brutal. My only nitpick is that they are all tied to overall playtime, rather than being attached to various challenges like before which was a bit more interesting. Regardless, it doesn’t take long at all to get the full roster at your disposable. Also, this is a good way to encourage playing with different characters.

    There is an absolute plethora of stages to choose from as well, in a vein similar to the roster of fighters. Most of the levels are returning classics from all previous games, and while that means there aren’t too many brand-new levels it’s hard to complain when you have this many at your disposal. Some are generally of higher quality than others- Hyrule Temple is stellar while The Great Offensive Case is too busy for its own good- but there’s going be something for everyone. Most of the levels are unique in their own way, and it’s a case of quality and quantity. For the serious and hardcore players, you can also set all stage to a standard set to avoid advantages or random hazards. In an era where fighting games love to give miniscule rosters while locking fan-favorites behind paywalls, it’s amazing how much Super Smash Bros continues to give up front in comparison.

    Smash Bros for the Wii U and 3DS struck a balance between the casual pace of Brawl and the competitive speed of Melee. Ultimate goes that route again, but leans slightly more towards the competitive side. The action has definitely been turned up a notch, with most characters being quicker and the overall lag from things like landing being slightly reduced. This should please the competitive-minded fanbase, but it’s still approachable enough for casual players who just prefer to have fun with friends. Overall, Smash Bros Ultimate continues trend of accessibility to players of all levels. The controls and mechanics are straightforward, but there is still that underlying depth of strategy that comes from mastering the minute mechanics such as lag, spacing, overall KO potential for each more and the risk of missing attacks, etc. Ultimate continues this trend, refining the mechanics to make the action smoother as well as quicker. While there are always going to be tiers in fighting games, I’ve tried out several characters and they all seem competitively viable. Even consistent low tiers like Zelda seemed to be buffed out, and this could possibly be the best-balanced Smash Bros yet. Of course, time and tournaments will tell if anyone is horribly broken, but for the average player the majority of the cast seems accessible.

    Quicker action aside, there are some minor adjustments to the gameplay. Final smashes have been slightly tweaked. Whereas some old final smash moves gave you complete control (Super Sonic) or multiple uses (Zero Suit Samus), they now mostly serve as a one-and-done or overall quicker attack. I miss a couple lost moves, but this overall might be for the best in terms of balancing. Some old smash moves were horribly overpowered or underpowered, and this tweak seems to make things better across the board. Custom moves are no longer a thing, but that’s not a big downside- they were more of a novelty than anything. Instead, we have ‘spirits’ that are unlocked in various modes. Spirits essentially and a sprinkle of customization to the roster, beefing your opponent with things like enhanced power as well as giving certain abilities like slightly faster speed or a running jump. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a neat concept that’ll be touched upon later.

    You’ll also find that the AI has received a buff in its own right. Going back and testing the Wii U game, level 3-4 on Ultimate is closer to level 6-7 on the Wii U. Those not expecting this might feel like they are getting trolled by the now surprisingly competent AI. Skilled and dedicated players will more than likely enjoy this for the increased challenge, but the more laid-back player can still set the AI level around 3 or so and things aren’t that bad. Overall the tougher computer players add enticement to solo play, though you might occasionally feel cheated. Smash Bros continues to maintain its fantastic accessibility, where those that are not accustomed to typical fighting games can still have fun while the dedicated players can master the various mechanics for competitive dominance. When a series has nationwide tournaments while also being adored by those that are usually less-than-stellar at the fighting genre, it’s doing something right.

    In terms of content, there’s unfortunately been some cuts. Some modes have been limited if not outright removed, and this could easily be seen as the biggest critique against the game at first glance. it’s a bit of a bummer that there are no mini-games like target blast or home run contest, although I doubt anyone will lose sleep over that. There is no Special Orders or Event Mode, so there’s a lack of challenging battles with certain stipulations. There are still the various smash challenges, such as the 100-enemy smash for time record attempts or the cruel smash for those insane players that enjoy tormenting themselves against the most challenging of challenges. There is all-star Smash, but it’s been downgraded; instead of a chronological battle with breaks and items based on difficulty, it’s just one battle where every character on the roster flies in over time. it’s fun, but lacking. It appears that either because of short development schedule or lack of space, quite a few modes were cut. One can still create custom Mii fighters, but the stage builder has been removed.

    The large number of modes cut can be forgiven to an extent with the addition of World of Light, thankfully. World of Light essentially serves as Ultimate’s story or adventure mode. The gist is that the entire roster of characters, save for Kirby, are possessed by an evil outside being. The goal is to travel the map, fighting spirit-possessed fighters and freeing the other fighters to join your party. This is where single-player content shines, with a plethora of battles that have your typical quirks or stipulations. The enemy might be giant and immune to stuns, the ground could be lava, or the enemy might favor a certain attack. In most battles you obtain a new spirit after victory, and here is where spirits really play a role. Aside from the AI being tougher than before, some opponents are equipped with their own spirits and abilities that will put you at a disadvantage. As you unlock and level up spirits, you’ll learn to apply them to the proper battles to even things out, or even give yourself the advantage. Strong wind during a battle knocking you off stage? Nullify it with a spirit that resists it. While World of Light may not be the best adventure mode seen in the series, it’s still very enjoyable. The mode is expansive enough that you can easily spend dozens of hours in it. It may get grindy after a while, but you can always take a break and play other modes.

    Despite all the modes taken out, one can’t really say Ultimate is lacking in content. There’s not as much packed in as there was in the Wii U/3DS version, but there’s still plenty to go around. 8-player smash returns, for those who like their chaos turned up to the max. There’s still Special Smash for those that like adding some quirkiness to their party. Classic mode has actually received a significant improvement. After the previous ho-hum version, this time around we have a unique path for each character. A characters’ battles may have their own stipulations, such as Ryu’s battles all featuring stamina rules rather than KO rules. it’s a definite upgrade, and gives enticement to try playing through which each character. Tourney mode returns, where you can have up to 32 characters face-off in an elimination-bracket formula to decide a champion. There’s also a new team mode, referred to as squad-strike. This mode lets you pick between teams of either 3 or 5 characters, and then face in a few ways. You can play elimination style where a new character jumps in once the current one has been knocked off, continuing until one team is eliminated. You can also do a ¡°best-of¡± version, playing until someone wins three out of five rounds. In short, there’s a lot of various methods for competitive gameplay. While the overall amount of modes falls short of the last title, there’s still more than enough to go satiate a thirst for variety.

    There’s even Spirit Mode, which somewhat substitutes the old Event Mode. Here, spirits of various difficulty pop up for a certain period, each with their own possible quirks like World of Light. If you beat the opponent, you can the chance to unlock the spirit. There will even be events once in a while that feature legendary spirits. It doesn’t completely make up for the loss of Event Mode, but it is an enjoyable addition that’s worth going to every once in a while.

    When it comes to the music¡­ awesome is all I can say. There are so many fantastic tracks in this game that it’s unreal. Various series such as Street Fighter, F-Zero, Starfox, Castlevania, and Sonic all have their own playlist of classic tunes, and each one alone is worth the price of admission. You can also directly pick which track you want to play for a battle, and even create your playlist from scratch if you desire. There are zero complaints in this department. Sure, one could complain that we don’t get songs like One-Winged Angel, but it goes the same way as the massive roster. There are so many classic tracks, it’s not worth nitpicking that we didn’t get more.

    If there’s one potential kryptonite to Ultimate, is it’s the issues regarding online. Online seems to be a thing Nintendo struggles with, and that trend continues here. Not only is there some noticeable lag regardless of your internet strength, but the match-making process is a little eschewed. While you’re supposed to be able to set your preferences for rulesets and search for compatible players, the system has a tendency to completely ignore prerequisites that have been laid out and randomly pair you with anyone. To Nintendo’s credit, as of this review they are already rolling out a patch to address these issues. One cannot ignore the state of the original game so it still bears mentioning, but the quick response to the game’s main flaw is commendable.

    So, Is Super Smash Bros Ultimate truly the Ultimate game of the series? That is rather debatable, given the consistent quality of this series. Regardless, it is undeniably a worthy sequel to this powerhouse franchise and a must-own title for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch. The action has been refined slightly, and sped up for competitive action while still being accessible to all levels of play. The return of all characters obviously makes this the best roster yet, and the additions are few but mostly of high quality. The game took a lot away when it comes to a variety of modes, but it also gave in return with World of Light, Squad Strike, Spirit Board, etc. The game even allows you to save preset rules so you don’t have to manually recreate them every time. Its only real critiques are the loss of some long-beloved modes as well as the state of online-play at launch, of which the latter is already being addressed. Everyone will have their own personal favorite title from the series, but this is still an absolute smash hit of a game that belongs in any Switch owners’ collection.

    Final Score: 10/10

    Rating:   5.0 – Flawless

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

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