Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW) Review

It's been a full two months since I last wrote a post on SuperPhillip Central. However, now SuperPhillip Central is back in business, and there's no better game to bring us back than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. What better evening to do a review of the game than with the release of the first DLC character Piranha Plant and the big Ver. 2.0.0 patch? None--that's what! So, sit back, relax, and get comfortable, as this review is a hefty one--fitting for a grand return, wouldn't you say!

Has a title ever been more appropriate?


My elementary and middle school lunches were filled with heated discussions about which video game character would kick which other video game character's butt in battle. Who knew that two decades later that dreams of Mario versus Sonic, Mega Man versus Pac-Man, and Solid Snake versus Ryu would come true and have the ability to be played out? That's exactly what Super Smash Bros. Ultimate delivers, offering over 70 characters and over 100 stages to play with and play on. It's the ultimate video game crossover, and with it, Ultimate brings every character and almost every stage back from every past Super Smash Bros. game. Throw in a meaty new single-player campaign, nearly 1300 Spirit characters to collect, enhanced online play, and the most accessible fighting game controls imaginable, and you have a serious and smashing (pardon the lazy play-on words) package.

Smashing throughout the ages, Mario and Link once again take each other on.
The basic gameplay rules of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate remains the same from past installments. Standard battles require you to deal damage to your opponent. The more damage they receive, the easier it is to launch them off screen. Either by hitting them so hard that they blast off the edge of the screen or fall into the pit below makes it so they get K.O.'d. In Time matches, you earn a point for every opponent you K.O. you get, while you lose a point for every time you get K.O.'d. The player with the most points at the end of the time limit is the victor, unless there is a tie, then the players in first place duke it out in Sudden Death. Here, it usually just takes one hit to be K.O.'d out of the arena. Other rules include a life-based Stock mode, as well as a more traditional fighting game-styled Stamina mode.

If you can press a button and a hold a direction on an analog stick, you're good to go with Smash Bros. Okay, well, that might be a slight simplification of how accessible this game is...
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate continues the Smash Bros. series' penchant for excellent accessibility for all ages and player skill levels. This is in part because of the ease of the controls. There's no need to memorize and master complex button combinations to pull off the most entertaining and worthwhile of attacks. Instead, basic attacks are mapped to the A button while special attacks are mapped to the B button. Hitting these buttons in conjunction with directions on the left analog stick results in different moves being performed. Up + B always serves as a character's recovery ability, making it so after performing a jump or two with the X button (or alternatively the Up direction on the analog stick) you can unleash your recovery if you're finding yourself falling off a stage with no other recourse available to you. That said, it's not a foolproof means to save yourself from a K.O., as each character possesses a different recovery move, and some of these are as useful as a teaspoon for a boat paddle.

Performing a powerful roundhouse kick? Sure, Ken can!
Ultimate has faster movement than many past Super Smash Bros. games, putting it more closely to Melee than anything else--at least from my experience. While no doubt Melee purists or those who prefer that game will remain with the GameCube classic, I feel Ultimate--as if the name doesn't already suggest it--is indeed the ultimate way to play Smash Bros. New changes to the gameplay make things like edge-guarding less of a successful strategy, and shields no longer being completely impervious to attacks when put up make for a better, more tactical game.

That said, the faster action doesn't always translate to a perfect experience. I don't know if it's the lighting used in this game or all of the special effects that can obscure the screen, but sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to see where your character is on the screen when action intensifies. I can't tell you how many times I've been K.O.'d in silly ways because I couldn't save myself in time due to not being able to find where my character was on occasions. This is a prominent problem when there are more than four characters on screen at once--with Ultimate allowing up to eight players on ALL stages, instead of just a select handful like in its Wii U predecessor.

When Smash Bros. series and Ultimate game director Masahiro Sakurai promoted the idea that "everyone is here", he was not kidding. Every past character from the original Super Smash Bros. all the way to Smash for Wii U and 3DS is included. In addition, some longtime desired newcomers have arrived as well in the form of Metroid's Ridley, Donkey Kong Country's King K. Rool, and even Ryu's sparring partner, Ken. You can also fight as Pokemon Sun and Moon's Incineroar, Animal Crossing: New Leaf's Isabelle, and perhaps most exciting third-party newcomer-wise, the Castlevania duo of Simon and Richter Belmont.

DK protects his little buddy from King K. Rool,
an old rival who has returned to get revenge--Smash-style!
While every character is indeed here from past Smash Bros. games, not every stage is. About a dozen or so stages from the N64 days to the Wii U and 3DS era are not included, such as the N64's Sector Z stage, Melee's Poke Floats and Icicle Mountain, and Brawl's Rumble Falls, for instance. That said, when you still have more than 100 stages that have been graciously remastered and updated for Ultimate's impressive standards, one can't really complain too much.

Alas, Orbital Gate Assault, I will gladly take the new stages like Super Mario Odyssey's New Donk City, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Great Plateau Tower, Splatoon's Moray Towers, and Castlevania's Dracula's Castle in your stead, grinning and bearing it. Stages can be played in normal form--with or without hazards--in Battlefield form or Omega form. A new addition to Ultimate stage-wise is the ability to use Stage Morph mid-match. This allows you to pick two separate stages and during the match, the game will cycle between them magically.

Light up what you can, Palutena, but not even your
heavenly light may be enough for Dracula's Castle.
Replacing trophies from past Super Smash Bros. games--which was a bummer to me at first--is that of Spirits. While trophies were nice in past games to view (see: ogle) the 3D models of unique characters, items and objects; as well as read up a quick description of each as you slowly, gradually collected them--they no doubt took a lot of work to write up and then localize. Compare this to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's immense lineup of over 1300 Spirits (and that includes the added Spirits included as free DLC), where attempting to turn 1300 characters into models, as well as write up descriptions in multiple languages is one lofty task! Instead, the Spirits are not only much more numerous, but they're also just as fun to go after and collect. A wide selection of Spirits are featured in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate--many of which being deep cuts that might not ever get featured in a Smash Bros. game, much less any other game in Nintendo's history, otherwise.

That said, Spirits have a far more important use in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate than mere collectibles. Spirits come in two forms: Primary and Support, and are used to equip to your party in order to enhance their strength and abilities. Spirits have a rock-paper-scissors-like quality to them with strengths and weaknesses to other Spirit types, and many imbue your party with advantageous skills in battle. Such examples include greater jump height, elemental resistance of varying types, starting the battle off with a specific item equipped, among many others. You can't just equip as many advantages in battle as you like, either. Each Primary Spirit has a set amount of slots available to it--up to three. Equipping the more powerful Support Spirits takes up more slots. Primary Spirits can also be leveled up, making them stronger by battling with them, having them work out at the in-game gym, or feeding them Spirit food--all of these ways make Primary Spirits stronger and more useful.

There is a whole section of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dedicated to Spirits, and this section is where the main single player campaign of Ultimate takes place--the World of Light. Starting off with Kirby, you traverse a nonlinear overworld map, going from space to space, dueling with various Spirits as you amass an army of Spirits and fighters to face off against bosses along the way.

Link wants a quick win in this Spirit Battle, so he decides to "cut" to the chase.
Spirit battles have you taking on members of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster where they have a specific Spirit attached to them. Winning the fight, earns you that Spirit for your collection. Each battle has its own theme based on the Spirit. For instance, when facing against the Poltergust 3000 Spirit from the Luigi's Mansion series, you'll battle Luigi who likes to use throws. His throw move just so happens to utilize his Poltergust 3000. Some of these themes are less obvious and will take some vivid video game knowledge to decipher. Though making the Mr. Dream from Punch-Out!!'s Spirit fighter being Donkey Kong is a bit... wrong, if you know anything about harmful African-American stereotypes.
Different Spirit Battles contain different, themed rules, stages, and characters.
World of Light took me about 18 hours to complete my first time through. It's really fun accumulating an army of Spirits and fighters, opening treasure chests along the way, solving simple environmental puzzles on the overworld maps, and taking on challenging and usually cleverly themed Spirit battles. I can see how this mode might be a bit tedious or repetitive if you're merely wanting to rush through it, but if you go through at your own pace, you'll find an enjoyable mode. Quite honestly, I think World of Light is my favorite of the single-player campaigns featured in a Smash game. Yes, even beating Melee's Adventure and Brawl's extensive Subspace Emissary.

Alongside World of Light in the Spirits menu is the Spirit Board, where Spirits up for grabs are routinely shuffled in and out of the spaces on the board. To earn a Spirit, you must win a Spirit Battle, which is essentially the same types of battles as seen in World of Light, only many of the ones on the Spirit Board are exclusive to the board itself. You only get one chance ordinarily to beat a space on the Spirit Board before that Spirit moves on--win or lose--before you have to wait for it to come back. Of course, you can use Spirit Board items to make for an easier go of it or reface a Spirit whose battle you just lost.

Apart from the Spirit menu--which is quite exhaustive, if you hadn't already guessed--Super Smash Bros. Ultimate retains its Classic mode, though this is uniquely tailored to each of the 70+ characters within the game. Though the number of matches each fighter faces is the same, the opponents they face varies and has a theme to it. For example, the newly added Piranha Plant faces off against every newcomer within the game. Once again, Ultimate houses the most impressive and enhanced Classic mode ever featured in the Smash Bros. series, really nailing home the point that this Smash is the ultimate Smash.

Assist Trophies are but one type of item in Smash, but they also allow
 for more characters to be represented, such as the pyromaniac Bomberman here.
But here lies one of the areas where Super Smash Bros. Ultimate falters, and it's pretty much no surprise to anyone who has followed Nintendo's online offerings for any extended period of time. Online battles are by no means as awful or horrid as Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In fact, when the online works--and for me, it was most of the time--it is a splendid and enjoyable experience. When it doesn't, it results in unintended disconnects--which the game penalizes you for after several of them, regardless of whether or not it was your fault--as well as severe lag.

Almost every stage within the Super Smash Bros. pantheon
was recreated, all of which done with some great TLC.
It's also the lack of options that's rather disappointing as well. Sure, you can set up rooms with your rules in either a private or public matter, play quick matches with or without a local multiplayer friend online (as well as finding quick matches with your preferred rules in place), but why can't you enter online battle arenas, where you play against the same opponents and are able to spectate as well? The lack of anything other than the most basic of communication options (pre-written text options before battles) is expected but insanely inexcusable.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's subtitle isn't just for marketing and hype. This Smash truly is the ultimate experience--it has over 70 characters including several newcomers in the base game and five more promised as paid DLC, it has over 100 stages, it has over 800 songs, it has 124 challenges to complete by achieving certain in-game goals, it has a great collection of items to turn any fight into a party, it has multiple modes for solo players to smash their way through, it plays splendidly in both docked and handheld forms, it allows you to play as your Mii (or happily smack it around), and it has never been more fun to play. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may stumble (or should I use the word "trip"?) a bit when it comes to its online offerings, but overall, a title has never been more appropriate for a game with the content and joy you'll get out of it. This Super Smash Bros. is indeed ultimate.

[SPC Says: A]

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