When I was a kid, my mother had rules about violent content that some families would consider to be strict. I was not allowed to own a toy gun. Action-oriented shows like Power Rangers were totally off-limits. And the ESRB ratings of video games were taken very seriously, with room for specific games to be off the table even if they were rated E. Now while some kids might have had issues with the limit on the shows or games they could enjoy, I don’t remember ever having a problem with the ban on violence. As a teenager I quietly accepted that I couldn’t watch R-rated movies or play Mature games that my friends were experiencing. There was really only one time when my mom and I argued about whether something should be banned or not – Super Smash Bros.
I was seven years old when the original Smash Bros. released on the Nintendo 64. I don’t know if I found out about the game right around the time it was released or if some time had passed when I first saw it on a shelf at the local game rental store, Video Video. Either way, once I knew about the game I wanted it immediately. The cover featured many of my favorite characters: Mario, Link, Pikachu, and Star Fox all feature prominently. My mom took one look at it and stood her ground on her fighting-game ban. Smash Bros was too violent for my young mind in her view. I objected on the grounds that Smash Bros was rated E for everyone – everyone included me too, right? I definitely got upset over it and I can remember trying to push for it a few times after the original discussion. Mom finally decided that I could get the game once I turned an age where she felt that mild cartoon violence wouldn’t be too much of an issue: ten years old. Funnily enough, as modern readers already know, E10+ eventually became an actual ESRB rating.
The time came when I finally got to play Smash 64, and the rest is history. The game lived up to my childhood hype and I played both Melee and Brawl extensively as those games were released. Smash Bros is my favorite couch multiplayer game to play with friends, and it played a big role in my friendships throughout both high school and college. So naturally I was quite excited about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate when it was announced. While I don’t yet have my own copy of the game, I’ve had the opportunity to play the game three different times with my brother-in-law. During those play sessions I’ve experienced (at various levels of depth) classic mode, World of Light, local multiplayer, and online multiplayer. So before I get my own copy of this already-legendary fighting game, I thought I would share my thoughts on what I have experienced so far.
The aptly-named Classic Mode is the classic single player gameplay of the Smash Bros series. You choose a character, fight a few battles in a row, participate in a minigame, and face off against Master Hand. A few changes have been made in Smash Ultimate to help classic mode feel fresh, and these features are what I want to focus on. The first change is that classic mode can be played as two-player co-op, which is a great option when you’re showing the game off to a new player for the first time. Instead of fighting each other, you can work together in a series of lower-stakes cooperative matches. This is helped even further by the fact that you can set the match intensity when you play.
Intensity is a new take on difficulty settings that Sakurai effectively ported over from one of his other games, Kid Icarus: Uprising. The higher you set the intensity the more difficult the matches are, but in return you earn more coins (which are used to buy goodies like Spirits). Intensity increases after each match based on how well you performed, but if you die and choose to continue then the intensity drops down. This allows you to set the difficulty of the game based on your skill level with the character and how many rewards you want to earn.
Finally, each character has a themed classic mode unique to them. This makes the series of battles feel special because they are tailored to the character you are playing. The themes vary in inspiration but it’s fun to identify the source behind them. For example, as Game & Watch, you go through a timeline of battles against classic characters like the Duck Hunt Duo, Pac-Man, and Mario – it’s an adventure through gaming history. Then there’s Robin, whose Fire and Lightning theme results in a series of team battles against a fire-based opponent and a lightning-based opponent, such as Incineroar and Pikachu. Not all of the themes are this easy to identify, but it’s fun to see the inspiration that went into each of the unique classic mode battles.
WORLD OF LIGHT
World of Light is the true single-player experience of Smash Ultimate, and it’s all about Spirit battles. Spirits are the way in which Smash Ultimate seeks to honor the legacies of the games involved in its making, incorporating all sorts of characters from throughout the history of Nintendo. These characters manifest as members of the game’s core roster, but in unique battle scenarios utilizing strategies that reflect the character meant to be referenced.
These references vary from clear and obvious to subtle and difficult to discover. For example, the Paper Bowser spirit is a battle against Bowser (duh) but with a number of references to the final boss battle in Paper Mario. Bowser is wielding a Star Rod, sometimes turns invincible, and has boosts to attack and defense power. Compare that to the battle against a Guardian from Breath of the Wild – the character used to represent the Guardian is R.O.B., who is given a mushroom to reach giant size and relies primarily on his neutral special, a laser beam attack. I’ve only seen a few spirit battles so far, but the references are quite clever and it obviously took a lot of thought to design the special conditions for each one.
World of Light has a number of RPG elements in the form of equippable spirits for your character. You can engage as much or as little with this aspect of the game as you like – the auto select feature allows you to set one possible ideal spirit combination for your battle with the press of a single button. Giving yourself an advantage with helpful spirits makes the battles easier, but you can also equip weaker spirits with type disadvantage to increase the size of the reward you receive after battle. Rewards include points to spend in order to buy new spirits, food to power up your spirits, and skill points to fill out a skill tree that gives your character special advantages not directly related to the spirits you have equipped. For those who love to dive deep into strategic mechanisms, it seems like World of Light will have a lot of cool stuff to offer.
Smashing your friends is the meat and potatoes of Smash Bros, and this aspect of the game is the one I’ve experienced the most in my time with it so far. It is perhaps the part of the game that has changed the least compared to the previous versions, but the changes that have been made make the experience cleaner in a number of ways. There’s a great variety in your game options, from the type of match you play (Stock, Time, Stamina) to the combinations of players (1-on-1, free for all, teams) to the level of chaos you want to experience (items, stage morph, stage hazards). Being able to customize your matches to your current desires and save them as presets for future games is a great feature.
There are 74 playable characters in this game and choosing between them can be one of the most time-consuming parts of a match! In my three play sessions I’ve switched around between revisiting old favorites and trying out characters who are new to me (as someone who missed out on Smash 4). At this early stage of my experience with the game, it seems like Corrin might turn out to be my main. She may be yet another Fire Emblem swordfighter, but her abilities are more unique thanks to her power to turn into a dragon. This gives her access to a ranged attack as well as moves that strike from weird angles. I particularly like her side special, which creates a lance that pierces the opponent and combos into a sliding kick.
From a general gameplay perspective, this game feels faster than my previous experiences with Smash Bros. It makes it hard to track your character during particularly chaotic battles. I played a lot of eight-character matches, and since we often selected random stages we would end up with eight characters jammed onto stages barely designed to handle four. This made it nearly impossible to know where I was and what was happening – I definitely would recommend picking stages more carefully if you plan to play with a huge group of opponents. That is, unless you WANT the chaos, because that setup delivers it in spades. That’s the magic of Smash Bros – it can be a highly technical, competitive experience, or a ridiculous explosion of video game references where no one has any clue who is going to come out on top. As long as all the players present agree on which kind of experience they want, the game is perfectly capable of delivering.
Out of everything that Smash Ultimate offers, this is the mode I have the least experience with. Online on a Nintendo console is always a sticky subject – they easily struggle with the concept more than the other major consoles, and the Nintendo Switch hasn’t really been an exception. Granted, the lobby setup and connection quality in ARMS never gave me any issues, but past experiences with Smash Bros online made me a little cautious about trying this out. The experience came out middling for a few reasons.
The actual gameplay of online seemed fine from what little I played. We had only one moment of significant lag where the game effectively stopped – other than that, most of the experience was smooth with only tiny moments of slower frames. You have many of the customization options available to you in the local multiplayer, but online does have a couple of understandable limitations. You can’t have time limits that exceed ten minutes, or stock amounts above 10 lives. These limits make sense given that a match with unlimited time could cause issues as far as getting matched with someone who endlessly stalls and prevents you from being able to get into more battles.
The tricky part is actually getting everything set up. In my circumstances, my brother-in-law and I were trying to play together online with a friend of his. It turns out that you can’t combine local and online multiplayer – there was no way for both my brother-in-law and me to both play at the same time while also playing online. This meant we had to switch back and forth, but even just playing with a friend is complicated. You can’t invite friends to a game using any functions of the Switch’s friend mechanisms or even with any tools within the game. Instead you have to establish a room, set its rules, find the room code, and tell your friend the code via phone call, text message, or the cruddy Nintendo Switch app. It makes it difficult to just play an impromptu round of Smash with your friends on the console – every get-together likely involves organizing the game via social media or other forms of out-of-game communication.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed my early experiences with Super Smash Bros Ultimate. It lives up to my expectations based on my past experiences with the series, and I’m quite excited to get my own copy of the game so that I can go more in-depth with the single player as well as sharpening my skills with the game. Now I turn the conversation to you, adventurers; have you gotten to play Smash Ultimate yet? What are your thoughts on the game so far? Tell me all about it in the comments!