“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” the latest in Nintendo’s fighting series loaded up with a huge helping of fan service, is an unapologetically loud and chaotic game bursting at the seams with content.
That will be great news to gamers who already love engaging four-player fights through well-designed battlegrounds often peppered with treacherous pitfalls and traps. The roster of 76 fighters includes every selectable character from previous “Smash Bros.” titles as well as some new editions, plus a host of other characters in support roles.
The sheer heft of the game, however, could also intimidate those trying to get into the series on the ground floor. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” assumes a familiarity with the series’ idiosyncrasies that, if not grasped quickly, could consign new players to a series of frustrating defeats before they catch on to the quirks.
The aim of the game in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is simple: be the last fighter standing in matches that pit you against one to three opponents. Using a combination of punches, kicks, and special moves unique to each character, you try to wear your opponents down until they can be knocked out, usually by launching them off the screen.
A character’s moves are pretty straightforward to pull off. One button is for regular attacks, such as punches or kicks, and another is for special attacks. The depth comes from the variations of these attacks, which can be altered with the controller’s left stick.
Players start with a handful of fighters at their disposal — including some of Nintendo’s heavy hitters in Mario, Link, Donkey Kong and Pikachu — and build their roster as they play. This can be done by simply playing the game until a random fighter challenges you, or by unlocking fighters in the game’s adventure mode, called “World of Light,” which serves as a sort of single-player campaign.
Some characters are better suited toward players new to “Smash Bros.” Kirby, for example, can jump multiple times, helping him get back onto solid ground and avoid a knockout if he’s been launched into the air.
The depth of the roster in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is astounding. All of Nintendo’s best-known characters are on offer (except, perhaps, Waluigi, a bone of contention with some gamers) as well as some deep cuts, like the yoga trainer from “Wii Fit.” And it’s not only Nintendo characters available: Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Ryu and Ken from “Street Fighter” and Cloud from “Final Fantasy 7” also make an appearance.
And that just scratches the surface. Other characters are available to help your fighters in a supporting role, and some of them come from the absolute depths of obscurity. Remember the big head from “Brain Age” and Kyle Hyde from the largely forgotten “Hotel Dusk?” Probably not, but they have new life in this game.
The game’s main mode, appropriately called “smash” pits two to four players against each other in a one-off fight or tournament. New players should stick to the default settings, but there is deep customization to the rules available, as well as a sizable number of arenas to choose from.
While the basic concept is simple, it may take new players a while to adjust to “Smash Bros.” sometimes frustrating nuances. Awareness of one’s surroundings is paramount, as failing to get back into a fight after being knocked off a precarious ledge will result in a knockout.
It’s not uncommon for one fighter to be dominating, only to get felled by an unlucky fall. It can be a significant irritant, especially in fights to unlock a character, as you may not get another chance for a while to add that fighter to your roster.
Even seasoned veterans may find fighting four-player battles on a small screen in the Switch’s portable mode challenging. With so much chaos it’s easy to lose track of your character, which can have deadly consequences.
The layout of the menu doesn’t help new players. A comprehensive help database is on offer, but it’s relegated to an inconspicuous menu on the right side of the screen. Playing the adventure mode is a good way to learn the ropes and the simplest method of acquiring new characters, but it’s buried under a menu option called “spirits,” which is not intuitive.
And the amount of content can seem overwhelming at first. There are several varieties to the “smash” mode alone, and on top of that there is the adventure mode and a “classic” mode, where each available character fights though a gauntlet of franchise-appropriate enemies before taking on a final boss. Add all the mechanics involved with support characters, and it’s a lot to take in.
Still, none of these will be a problem for “Smash Bros.” veterans, and even new players who initially struggle should persevere. Through trial-and-error it doesn’t take too long to grasp the basics and become a more competitive battler.
The game’s artificial intelligence puts up a decent fight, and its difficulty can be customized, but “Smash Bros.” aces who really want to show off will be looking for multiplayer options. Players can do battle over the internet (requires a subscription to the Switch online service), though a local area network with another Switch, or locally on one system with a few trash-talking friends.
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is rated E, suitable for all ages, and retails for around $80.
Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press