Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game.

Samuel and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate go together as whipped cream pie and whipped cream, so expect the review equivalent of a pork . (Google it; is bizarre.)

Recently I had a fight on Twitter with another Dutch game journalist. I thought he was hitting gamers too much and defending Blizzard too much after that whole Diablo Immortal debacle. “I’m not going to let the Blizzard ad agency call me out for the man who is basically Super Smash Bros. PR agency,” he replied. I am not telling you all this to boast that I obviously won that discussion (, please) but because I have to admit one thing to my opponent: I am also a bit of a Smash PR agency. But, hey, not because I want to promote Nintendo’s interests or anything – after all, companies just want to make a profit and it’s my job to be on the side of the consumer – but because I just love Smash dearly. Smash has, truly, become an indispensable part of my life. It has shaped my identity. So I don’t make PR for Smash so much; I make PR for myself.

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

Lifestyle

Yes, I can still remember how I went to the Free Record Shop at Amsterdam Sloterdijk station on the day of launch to watch Super Smash Bros. Melee. That was May 24, 2002. (Interesting detail: ladies and gentlemen, I am f * cking old.) I spent the bus ride home reading the manual. Since then I have never let go of Smash. I competed in tournaments (and even won a few), I became part of the huge family called the Smash community (first offline, and after the invention of social media and YouTube also online) and since the release of Smash 4 some years ago Smash also became a real part of my daily online multiplayer life.

Until last week I played the For Glory mode daily, and, yes, that does indeed mean that until last week I also had a Wii U under my TV, as probably one of the last in the Netherlands. So I am not exaggerating when I say that Smash is an essential part of my being. After all, it has been for over sixteen years.

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

Back of head

So on the one hand, I am the perfect person to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I know the series so stupidly well that I immediately sense every difference in this new fifth installment. ‘Oh, the overall speed is slightly higher’, ‘oh, there is less landing lag on air strikes’, ‘ah, air dodges during a recovery are now a bad idea’, et cetera. (Apologies for the jargon. Fighting games, huh?) But then again, it might have been better for you if someone else had covered the game. I mean, how likely was it that I wouldn’t have found Ultimate all the ? This is the game that’s going to be the foundation of my daily enjoyment for at least the next, phew, five years? No way that I can even see this game as potentially flawed; I’m too invested in the franchise for that. So keep that in mind.

Reward

Masturbative and too long introduction aside, this game is the truth. That ‘Ultimate’ subtitle is (unlike many other games) completely justified, partly because the game succeeds more bombastically than ever before in the two main goals of the franchise: to be the world’s best platform fighter and to be of the greatest celebration of video games in general. In contrast to the previous parts, Ultimate knows how to forge these two elements into one whole.

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

For example, one of the most memorable things about Melee was the many trophies you could collect, all of which beautifully honored the history of all of Nintendo. They were beautiful, informative, digital trophies with which the game, in addition to being a fighting game, also managed to be a kind of Nintendo encyclopedia. The ‘problem’ with these trophies (an issue that I only now understand, thanks to Ultimate) is that they had no impact on gameplay. They were ‘only’ a reward. A great reward, but only a reward.

Street Fighter

A strange, melancholic kind of sadness came over me when it was confirmed a while ago that Ultimate would no longer contain trophies to make time and resources available for the ambitious goals the game was aiming for. Fortunately, their replacement – the spirits – is superior in almost every way, because yes, they actually affect your enjoyment of playing. In both the (great) adventure mode World of Light and the Spirit Board mode (where you can do single battles to obtain spirits) the spirits in question dictate what kind of fight you will experience.

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

Spirits are the ghosts of well-known and lesser-known game characters from over 35 years of video games, and they are represented by the battle they are linked to. Let me give you an example. A fight against the spirit of Blanka from Street Fighter? So that’s a fight against a green Donkey Kong holding the screw attack object so that, like Blanka, he can do electric roll attacks. And of course this fight takes place in the jungle, while the Blanka Theme blasts through the speakers. Yes, it’s ‘just’ a fight against Donkey Kong, but it feels like a Street Fighter fight.

Representation

Even one of my favorite DS games Elite Beat Agents (a music game about three men in suits) was represented by a fight against three Mii Swordfighters in, yes, black suits. Never thought of seeing that franchise again after twelve years, man. And that’s the strength of Spirits: it knows how to represent an innumerable amount of video games based on the extensive, in-depth Smash Ultimate gameplay. And there are just under 1300 spirits, so count your winnings. I’ve always said that this is how fighting games should approach single-player content: by offering AI combat with conditions, rules and gimmicks that you don’t find in normal matches.

One of the reasons the Challenge Tower from the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot was previously my favorite single-player mode in a fighting game ever was because it did exactly that: it presented you with 300 challenges with bizarre rules, like bigger enemies, levels that started to tilt, etc. Well, Spirits has the honor of being my new favorite, partly because it has just under 1300 of those challenges and at the same time honors the history of gaming. Sublime.

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

Better

I cannot stress how extremely smart the whole Spirits side of Ultimate is. Conditions such as ‘the enemy starts the fight with a weapon’, ‘the level is covered with lava’, or ‘fight five characters and only take out the main enemy’ do not seem very special at first, but linked to spirits from other games they get such a unique context that you can’t stop smiling.

Ultimate also rewards you more as you become a bigger video game nerd; the greater your knowledge of the medium, the more you will appreciate the creativity of the Spirits battles. Magnificent. But perhaps best of all… is that Spirits makes you a better Smash player; those unique rules ensure that you learn to use the core gameplay of Smash in ever-changing contexts. Just like, indeed, in competitive games against human players. Previous Adventure modes (like the Subspace Emissary) were pretty fun, but didn’t make you a better player. Spirits do.

Car sick

However, this clever, recursive way of linking gameplay to the legacy of Nintendo and its characters is also extended to the other modes. Classic Mode used to be a pretty boring, for every character quite identical experience where you had to complete a series of standard battles before you could fight against Master Hand. And that was it. Now Classic Mode is unique for each character, both thematically and content. Do you play as Wolf? Then you have to fight against all the characters that did not return in Smash 4. Yoshi? Fight other lizards, dragons and dinosaurs. Pikachu? His Classic Mode is all about Pokémon. Jigglypuff? Fight the entire cast from the very first Smash game. Ryu? All fights are Stamina battles, similar to Street Fighter. Cloud? All of his fights take place in moving arenas, a reference to his motion sickness in Final Fantasy VII. Et cetera, and so on. Classic Mode is admittedly entertaining now, and I never thought I’d ever say that.

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

Message

That’s how you damn nostalgia: by not simply referring to familiar things, but by actually linking it to gameplay. To say that Ultimate is a ‘celebration’ of the medium is as much an understatement as saying that the World Cup is a ‘pretty fun event’ in the world of football. Ultimate is not a celebration; it is a reaffirmation of the right to exist of video games. Yes, Ultimate makes you feel unabashedly proud of your identity as a gamer; something that in this political climate is almost seen as an act of weakness. I think emphasizing this is more important than talking about the small mechanical changes in the combat, because, hey, that only fascinates hardcore idiots like me.

Ultimate is, in terms of gameplay, just another Smash game, and you know by now whether that is your thing or not. Anyway, Ultimate is my game of the year – , it’s my game of the generation – and that has not only to do with the best character roster in a game ever, the almost 900 song soundtrack (which in its one is worth the purchase price) and the great, timeless, honed combat system. It mainly has to do with the fact that it dares to be more video game than any game. Truly ultimate. Says this Smash PR agency.

Conclusion

Super Smash Bros.  Ultimate: The ultimate fighting game

SCORE:

100 Don’t ask me how Nintendo put more than 35 years of experience and love into one product, but they did it. Smash Ultimate is not only the ultimate Smash game, the ultimate fighting game, the ultimate party game, and the ultimate collection of video game nostalgia: it is the ultimate video game. I’m going to play this forever. At least, until a sequel is ever released. Don’t ask me how Nintendo managed to put more than 35 years of experience and love into one product, but they did. Smash Ultimate is not only the ultimate Smash game, the ultimate fighting game, the ultimate party game, and the ultimate collection of video game nostalgia: it is the ultimate video game. I’m going to play this forever. At least, until a sequel is ever released.