Game review: Super Smash Bros Ultimate lives up to the hype

Super Smash Bros Ultimate is the fifth instalment of the fighting game series, and is a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate is the fifth instalment of the fighting game series, and is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. PHOTO: REUTERS

Super Smash Bros Ultimate lives up to its title - the fifth instalment of the fighting game series which pulls together classic characters from the history of gaming into a giant crossover battle, is fresh, nostalgic and a blast to play with friends.

In the Super Smash Bros series, the Pokemon Pikachu can blast lightning at hero-plumber Mario, while trying to avoid fireballs shot by Ryu from Street Fighter, with the round, pink, adorable Kirby watching from the sidelines.

Ultimate is the biggest and most ambitious version yet. A Nintendo Switch exclusive, it has the most number of fighters in the series with 74 different playable characters, and Nintendo fans will have no shortage of favourites to pick from.

The character roster reads like a Hall of Fame of famous gaming characters, including names like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Solid Snake, Pokemon Trainer and Sonic the Hedgehog. Ultimate has also answered the prayers of longtime Nintendo fans with the addition of classic characters from enduring franchises, such as Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series, King K. Rool from Donkey Kong, and Ridley from Metroid.

As a longtime Legend of Zelda fan, I immediately gravitated towards Link, the pointy-eared protagonist of the series, who packs an arsenal of weapons like a sword, bombs, bow and arrow, and a boomerang. But I found myself unable to choose a favourite character to stick with as I had so many other favourites and ended up cycling through different fighters after each match, from Pikachu, to Bayonetta, to Cloud from Final Fantasy.

Everything about the game looks and feels highly polished and refined. The game's graphics are stellar, with each character's animation looking smooth and unique. Each attack, hit and strike has a satisfying crunch when it connects. When each character busts out their final smashes - their most powerful move, which build up as they fight - the animation ranges from the awesome to the ridiculous, but always look and feel satisfying to pull off.

Ultimate lets you customise how to win matches, with the default being knocking - or smashing - your opponent off stage after weakening them. Other options include reducing your opponent's stamina to zero, like a traditional fighting game, or being the last man standing in a group match.

Matches play out in one of the game's 103 stages, which come from existing games, such as Green Hill Zone from the Sonic game series, or the Pokemon Stadium from the Pokemon franchise. Each stage is unique with its own hazards, with some stages requiring you to keep on your toes or risk falling off.

The best part of Ultimate, as with any Smash game, is playing with friends. While fighting games can often be daunting to newcomers, as there can be a steep, technical learning curve, Nintendo has perfected the balance between accessibility and longevity in Ultimate.

Newcomers can jump in with their favourite character and learn the basics relatively quickly, and have a good time after a few rounds, while competitive players have a whole host of technical skills to master. There is something for everyone, casual or competitive alike, as underneath the novelty and fun of this all-star crossover lies a game with a host of advanced tactics.

Ultimate supports up to eight players on a single screen. The more players you have, the more chaotic and fun it is. There is nothing like hosting an all-out free-for-all with eight players, as the screen lights up with a variety of explosions, sword hits, punches to the face and laser beams being fired. I found that four players is the sweet spot between having enough mayhem and still being to keep track of where your character is whilst being alert of your opponent's movements.

Ultimate brings a host of customisation options to suit any party crowd, such as player handicaps to offset any skill disadvantage between experienced and new players, or increasing the chaos and fun of matches by making random items appear more often.

There is also the option for online multiplayer. It is, however, a step back from the online capabilities of the previous Smash game for the Nintendo Wii U, as there is now no separate options for competitive or casual play. This can be a pain if you are a casual player who ends up in a competitive setting, but can be avoided somewhat by specifying exactly what kind of game restrictions you want.

Those who want to play Ultimate solo will find the single-player mode, World of Light, a sufficient distraction for at least 20 hours, more if you are aiming for full completion. You start with only one playable character, Kirby, and have to fight battles across a giant game board to unlock other playable characters and Spirits.

Spirits make your chosen character stronger, and are themselves recognisable side characters from other video game series. There are over a thousand Spirits to collect, which will prove to be quite the time sink for the dedicated player.

Ultimate is simply pure fun to pick up, be it putting in several hours in single-player mode, or having a quick round or two with a few friends. The beauty of Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch means that it can be played anywhere, letting you squeeze in a match while waiting for the bus, or challenging friends during lunch.

Verdict: Super Smash Bros Ultimate is the finest addition to the franchise yet, with a dizzying array fan favourite characters to choose from and game modes perfect for multiplayer game nights. Ultimate is a love letter to the history of gaming and promises fun for whoever picks it up.

PRICE: $84.90 (Nintendo Switch)

GENRE: Fighting

RATING: 9/10

ST Tech Editor's Choice

Lester Hio is a freelance writer.