Well, it’s finally here. The definitive Smash title, the grand culmination of years of blood, tears, and fanboy sweat. From a content perspective, this is definitively the best title in the series to date. This is to say nothing of the online, however, which I’ll get to later. Besides the countless balance tweaks, the inclusion of smart and diverse singleplayer content, and the massive amount of stages, characters, and music, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly takes the throne for one simple reason: the inclusion of Waluigi as a playable character.
When I began my journey through the singleplayer World of Light mode, I was relegated to playing as Kirby for the early stages. For those unfamiliar, the cast has all been killed horribly by an angel firing white-hot light in all directions like a genocidal spaghetti monster, with Kirby serving as the sole survivor. Besides playable characters, Spirits, the incarnation of other characters from the Nintendo universe, have also been lost. Recovering them means facing copied “puppet fighters” they control, each with unique quirks that mimic the Spirit’s own abilities. These battles are fun, intense, and sometimes downright unfair. Still, it’s commendable what the team has done to make it feel as much as possible like you’re fighting whatever Spirit is supposedly in control.
Once I unlocked Waluigi, I started having a much easier time. Many World of Light battles are team-focused, and his long limbs and signature cartwheel dash attack allowed me to send enemies flying in all directions. Although I didn’t much care for the Spirit upgrade system and the rock-paper-scissors element when fighting opponents, switching them out was easy enough that most fights could be overcome within a few attempts. This was necessary because there are hundreds of battles in this mode; the map stretches for what seems like an eternity in your journey to recover the lost souls.
Taking on my friends locally with the “Wah” himself was much more enjoyable. There are tons of customization options for matches, and even a mode that has each player pick a team of three characters. Similar to something like Marvel vs. Capcom, once one gets knocked out, they’re gone for good. While this meant I couldn’t play as Waluigi the whole time, it was still interesting to mix things up, and it allows for insane comebacks with your last (and best) fighter. Along with Smashdown, a mode where a group of friends can work their way through the whole roster in a similar fashion, there’s plenty of room for local-tourney fun.
When it was time to say our goodbyes we took things online, and this is where my main complaints with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate come into play. The presence of lag during the first few days was fierce and unrelenting, and this is after we’d all ponied up and paid Nintendo to use our own internet. Inputs, already stymied by the generous buffer, felt unreasonably delayed online. Frequent connection issues and a generally clunky matchmaking system (with no option to invite friends) made things all the slower.
This brings me to my most somber point: quickplay is an absolute abomination. Picking “preferred rules” of 1v1 2-stock battles apparently means I want to play with upwards of 4 players, with health, items, hazards, and Final Smash meters turned on. The game sometimes stutters, freezes, or outright disconnects you mid-match (counting as a loss and penalizing you, even if your opponent disconnected). This makes grinding for the ethereal “Global Smash Points” feel meaningless, because comparing so many different playstyles on a single metric is inherently flawed, and doing so on a broken online service is madness. Luckily, there might be a solution.
Battle Arenas, my favorite new addition in Smash Bros. Ultimate, allow players to make their own rules in public or private lobbies. Designed to look like a wrestling ring, they’re perfect for fighting like-minded opponents over and over without worrying about tanking your made-up number. Not many people could handle my Waluigi game online (especially his dastardly up-air), but I found several kind souls willing to go toe-to-toe for upwards of an hour straight. This is Smash at its best, it’s just a shame it required so much effort to get online to feel right, and even this doesn’t solve connectivity issues.
Between World of Light and Classic Mode (with carefully thought out match lineups for every character), there’s still plenty of content for the solo player. While lacking in the intense cinematics and story beats that Brawl delivered, it’s still far and away the best single-player experience the series has seen. Even the CPU AI has been drastically improved, and I’ve been disrespected by a level nine computer chasing me off-screen for a dunk more than once. Alas, Waluigi’s recovery game certainly isn’t the best.
Even with its flaws, me and my friends find ourselves hopping in a Discord lobby at least once a night to talk trash and duke it out. I feel magnetically drawn to this game in a way I couldn’t claim about the others in the series. Maybe it’s because of the Switch and its ability to be taken anywhere (the game controls relatively well in handheld mode). Maybe it’s just the Zeitgeist of a new Smash game that has me trying to stay competitive and practice. Or maybe it’s the long-overdue inclusion of Waluigi as a top-tier fighter. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its name, delivering an excellent casual or competitive fighting experience. Besides some serious online woes it has the best look, feel, and overall content the series has ever seen; I just hope it can find its legs in the near future.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nintendo.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does well to live up to its name, at least where offline content is concerned. It's with the backward, early-2000's era online experience that I take issue. The inability to easily match up with friends, or even those with similar rule preferences, severely hinders an otherwise fantastic fighting game.