Forget Super Smash Bros. Ultimate—this is turning into Nintendo Ultimate, or perhaps The Entire History of Video Games Ultimate.
With roughly a month before the game’s release, Masahiro Sakurai put all of his cards on the table and revealed (almost) everything SSBU has to offer, right down to the help menus. It was a veritable fire hose of information, but it filled the important gaps and did it best to appease darn near every video game fan in existence with a shout-out of some sort. Despite giving us a lot of mundane details, the presentation kept the hype and energy levels maxed out through character reveals, customizations, and even a small taste taste of the story mode.
Let’s sift through the wreckage of what once was the Internet and break this thing down, shall we?
The Characters: I’m 100% satisfied with the final character reveals. Having Ryu without Ken always felt like a glaring omission to me, so I’m happy to see him included, and as a card-carrying member of #TeamLitten, seeing Incineroar join the fray was super exciting. (I never thought a generic Piranha Plant would make for an interesting avatar, but against all odds the SSBU team made it happen!) By also leaving the door open for future DLC, Sakurai and co. gave themselves an opportunity to monitor fan interest post-release and add more fighters based on that interest down the road. Well played, good sir!
While I can’t complain about the current roster, there was one omission that really shocked me. Given the push last year to make ARMS the next great Nintendo franchise, I would have put money on one of its characters joining the playable roster. Seeing Spring Man relegated to assist trophy status (and Ribbon Girl stuck as a Mii outfit!) really drives home the fact that ARMS is Nintendo’s biggest flop of the Switch era. (As I’ve stated before, the Big N has only itself to blame for this, as their packed early release schedule meant ARMS was almost immediately consumed by the Splatoon 2 hype cycle after its release.) While this could be rectified with the upcoming DLC, at this point I’d advise Nintendo against beating a dead horse and to focus on more-popular franchises.
The Spirits: Nintendo seems to be taking a cue from its other franchises with this one, because Spirits combine the collectability and training of Pokémon with the kit customizations of Splatoon 2. Each fighter can be assigned one primary spirit, which can in turn be augmented with several support spirits, and each spirit brings its own battle boosts to the table. Much like catching a Pikachu, you must engage in Spirit Battles (perhaps with their custom rulesets) and emerge victorious to add to your collection. Heck, even the rock/paper/scissors setup of primary spirit strengths harkens back to the fire/water/grass triumvirate of Pokémon, and the treasure-gathering feature is ripped straight from Poké Pelago! (Going even farther, using Spirit cores to summon more Spirits brings to mind the Blade reveals of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.) It’s an interesting way to introduce more customization to SSBU while also throwing a bone to fans of less-popular franchises. While I think saying you can simulate battles between even more characters oversells the feature (a lot), it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
The Online Options: I see a lot of influence from both Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 2 here: Random ruleset selection, numeric power rankings, proximity priority, Elite battles, canned messages, playing other games while waiting, etc. (Battle Arenas from ARMS return as well.) Nintendo seems to be learning from its previous online games to produce the best possible experience here, because this is the one game they can’t afford to screw up. (Once thing I’m confused about, however, is the separation of Smash World from the normal Switch online app. Why isn’t it included in the original ?)
The DLC: No surprise here: Adding new characters like Cloud and Bayonetta was a big hit in the previous Smash Bros., so the option is offered here as well. While I appreciate Sakurai’s honesty on what has and hasn’t been developed yet, I didn’t like the idea of incentivizing paying for unknown DLC when Nintendo did it for Breath of the Wild, and I don’t really like it here either. I’m sure you save some money by buying the full 5-pack, but if you have absolutely no indication of what you’re paying for, you’re just asking for a lot of annoyed customers.
The Ending: I wasn’t sure how Sakurai was going to conclude the presentation without one last big reveal, but using a dystopian cinematic and showing off some of the single-player story mode was pure genius. For a player with unreliable network access (like yours truly), they’re going to need assurances that the single-player content is epic enough to warrant buying the game. Nintendo misses the mark with Mario Tennis Aces, but I think they pulled it off here: The world looks huge, the battles look varied and interesting, and while it’s not supposed to be the grand tale that Subspace Emissary was, if the World Of Light’s claimed focus on fun is true, it shouldn’t matter too much. (If I want an long, deep storyline, I’ll play Octopath Traveler.) Giving players a brief glimpse and letting their imagination do the rest? I’d say that deserves a hat tip or two.
So am I completely sold on the game now? Well…I’ll be honest: 2018 Kyle is so freaking busy that I may end up passing on both SSBU and the Let’s Go! series, but 2008 Kyle would have been a day-one adopter and riding this hype train from the start. If you’re fan of Smash Bros. or fighting games in general, I think SSBU will be well worth its asking price. Much like Burger King, the massive number of options available means that you can “have it your way”, my way, their way, Sakurai’s way, and any old way! There will always be complainers, of course, but the majority of players should find a way to enjoy this game.
Now let’s hope your network connection is stable…