5 Things to Love and Hate in Smash Bros. Ultimate
Well, after months of hype and speculation, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is here and the general consensus is it’s pretty great. Having spent the better part of my weekend playing the heck out of it, I have to say I generally agree with that sentiment, but I have come across a few things I’m not really crazy about in the game. Since I’m not much for being negative though, I’ll counter balance each of those points with something I love. Here are the five things I dislike most about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (and 5 things I love).
Dislike: No spirit descriptions
Ever since Melee, the trophies in Smash have been a wonderful window into Nintendo’s history. Unlocking those buggers and reading their descriptions was always a treat, especially for the obscure stuff. Now trophies have been replaced by Spirits, and while I largely agree with this decision, they lost the biggest part of what makes these things so darn cool to begin with: context. World of Light is chock full of these incredibly well-thought out spirit battles that basically take attributes of a spirit character and apply them to an existing fighter. Unlock a Rayman spirit by fighting a battle that includes a Sukopon assist trophy. Don’t know what Sukopon is? That’s the problem right there! Sukopon is a character from a late NES game called Joy Mech Fight. It was never released in America, and even where it did see release it’s pretty obscure. The character also doesn’t have limbs, just like Rayman. Get it? It’s super clever. But nobody who doesn’t know what Joy Mech Fight is is going to understand why that’s so cool. This kind of context would have been a pretty massive undertaking considering just how many spirits are in Ultimate, but it would have been incredibly worth the effort. Using existing artwork instead of creating 3D renders gave them the opportunity to include a ton more characters than they otherwise could have, but with the well being so deep here it strikes me as a huge missed opportunity to be the most comprehensive digital video game museum in existence. I unlocked the Simon Belmont spirit, and I want to know specifically what game that artwork came from. I unlocked a handful of weirdos I’ve never seen before, and I want to know more about them without putting down my game and doing a google search. This is easily my biggest disappointment in the game.
Like: Just about everything else about Spirits
Sure, I would love descriptions, but even without them, the Spirits idea is so much cooler than trophies. Seeing classic characters all done up as 3D models was a real thrill back in the Melee and Brawl days, but at this point we’ve seen that trick, and the grind to unlock all 3 trophy models for all the fighters was a real slog in Smash 4. What’s super cool now is seeing all this original artwork in high resolution on my TV. I’ve never seen this Simon Belmont artwork before, and it’s awesome. I’ll always jump at the opportunity to see these Robot Master designs. Seriously, all these Spirit images are so incredibly cool, and I love that I can just scroll through them all as I get them. I also love that they have an effect on your character in World of Light. There’s a pretty convoluted system involving them (which I’ll get to in a bit) but the whole concept of these Spirits not just being cool pictures, but having an actual gameplay value, is really great.
Dislike: World of Light is obtuse as heck
What I wanted to do was stroll through this mode and have fun with all the super clever Spirit battles. What I wound up having to do is pay attention to stats, numbers, attributes, weaknesses, more numbers, absurd spikes in difficulty, and all manner of other nonsense. Before I realized that I needed to put so much thought into what I was doing, I wound up stuck on this incredibly frustrating battle for several hours. I was unlocking the Rayman spirit I mentioned earlier. I had to fight a stamina battle with Sonic and a Sukopon assist trophy. With my stats at the time, I started the match with I think 130 HP, and Sonic had I think 160. Each hit from Sukopon took 30-40 HP. Sonic could do very similar damage as well. Meanwhile, I could land my Final Smash and only lead about 10 HP in damage. It was ludicrously unfair. Eventually I had some conversations with friends who gave me some tips about leveling up my spirits by feeding them and training them, and my eyes glazed over. I don’t want to do any of that, I want to Smash stuff! Now that I’ve learned more about it, it’s actually pretty cool, but it sure as heck isn’t inviting, and it’s definitely not what I’d traditionally consider fun.
Like: World of Light is clever as heck
While everything I said stands true, there is so much cleverness built into World of Light it’s unbelievable. The way they’ve managed to find ways to create analogs for just about every video game character under the sun out of the existing Smash roster is nothing short of astounding. It’s why I wish World of Light was easier to get through because it’s really got that “one more level” appeal. Once you get the hang of it and all its weirdo mechanics, it’s really hard to put down. Heck, I’d be playing it right now if I could.
Dislike: Weird stage choices
There’s about a billion stages in Smash Ultimate, and most of them are returning stages. What I don’t understand is why some of these stages were chosen over others. Let’s take a look at Pac-Man. Pac-Man had 2 stages in Smash 4, one exclusive to 3DS and one exclusive to Wii U. The Wii U stage was based on the arcade “classic” Pac Land, which I don’t think a single person on the planet actually enjoys. It’s a great Smash stage because it pays homage to a really weird and interesting arcade game, but it’s hardly what you think of when you think of Pac-Man. The 3DS, on the other hand, got the Pac-Maze stage, which is perfect. It’s got cool stage gimmicks, it’s fun to play on, and most importantly, IT LOOKS LIKE FREAKING PAC-MAN. So why on Earth did we get Pac-Land and not Pac-Maze? Why didn’t the Yoshi’s Wooly World stage return? There’s a sequel to that coming out on Switch next year! And that super cool Donkey Kong Country stage with the two levels of play? Instead we have not one but two Pokemon Stadiums? Were both Dream Land stages really necessary? Also, it really would be nice to be able to enlarge the stages on the select screen. There’s I think 108 of them, and they’re all really small. If this is your first exposure to these stages, this can’t feel very inviting.
Like: Brilliant stage remodels
On the other hand, the stages that did make it into the game look and sound beyond amazing. The upgrades to the Melee stages in particular are breathtaking. Fountain of Dreams looks so good! And the fact that every stage is 8 player compatible, has the option for Omega and Battlefield forms, and they’re all unlocked from the get go, is just wonderful. I honestly thought I’d be more upset that there weren’t as many new stages, but with everything that’s here looking so darn good, I can’t be mad.
Dislike: Misrepresented characters
This has been a gripe of mine for a while now, and they’ve done a good of rectifying it in several spots. But the cases of Little Mac and Luigi are still pretty glaringly wrong. I’m a huge Punch-Out!! fan, so having Little Mac represented in Smash is pretty wonderful to begin with. I love him, and I love the visual callbacks to his arcade roots with the wire frame and all. The problem comes from his personality. In Smash Bros., Mac is depicted as hyper aggressive and always angry. In the 2 Punch-Out!! games he’s appeared in, neither of those are characteristics I’d associate with him. Mac is always depicted as a determined and ultimately happy guy. When he wins, he has a huge smile on his face. When he’s not smiling, he has a look of fierce determination to be the best. In Smash, he never smiles. Ever. And in place of determination, he’s just angry, and it’s just not true to the character. And then you have his Final Smash. I know Giga Mac is technically a thing thanks to the two player mode in Punch-Out!! for Wii, but it’s probably the worst part of that game, and not one anyone remembers. Meanwhile, his signature Star Punch isn’t referenced anywhere in Smash. The KO gauge from the original arcade Punch-Out!! games is a fantastic addition to his moveset, but having the Star Punch worked out for his Final Smash would have been way more faithful to the games he hails from.
Then there’s Luigi. I don’t know why in the world of Smash Luigi is this super-goofy weirdo, but it’s never made a lot of sense to me. I’m glad they’ve done a few things to keep him more in line with his established character in all of his other games, like making his throw the Poltergust, but he’s still so freaking weird. Just look at his official pic.
Why is he sticking his butt out with a bashful look on his face? Why is his forward special him launching himself like a missile head first? Why is one of his taunts him striking random awkward poses? None of these things are bad ideas for a character, but they completely clash with Luigi’s established character in every other game he appears in. For a game that gets so many small character details so right down to the smallest details, these two in particular feel incredibly out of place.
While we’re talking about characters, a couple of simple echoes were skipped and I really don’t know why. They introduced the concept of echo fighters, but they didn’t apply it to characters like Young Link or Dr. Mario. Plus, there’s only six of them. These are such a good way to pad the roster, and in each of the existing cases they’re really nice additions to have, but how in the world did they not toss Ms. Pac-Man and Shadow at us? Heck, Ms. Pac-Man wouldn’t even need to be an echo, she could just be a costume change like the female Pokemon Trainer, Inkling Boy, or Alph. I know it’s dumb to complain about the roster when it’s already beyond absurdly huge, but come on, these were such easy ones to do.
Like: The roster is truly amazing
Like I said, it’s silly to complain about the roster because honestly, this game’s roster is beyond crazy. First, you have the 3rd party stuff, which represents very important pieces of Nintendo’s history. Simon Belmont was the original hero of the original Castlevania game, a series that got its start on the NES/Famicom and continued to be incredibly influential on many Nintendo platforms since. Mega Man had 6 games on the NES alone, and his NES sprite is still one of the most iconic images in all of gaming. Solid Snake’s introduction in America was on the NES, and it was so popular it got a sequel, even though the game’s original creator had nothing to do with it. Street Fighter II on the Super NES was the closest anyone could imagine to bringing the arcade blockbuster home back then, and for many, many people their first exposure to Street Fighter was on that cart. Heck, even Cloud representing Final Fantasy VII has huge historical ties to Nintendo, what with FF7 being originally planned as a Nintendo 64 game before moving over to the PlayStation, effectively reshaping the home console market with it. These aren’t just popular characters tossed in Smash for the heck of it (Well, except Bayonetta. Still not entirely sure why she’s there, because I don’t believe for a minute that she was the actual winner of the Smash poll). They’re thoughtful and deservedly iconic characters that deserve to be listed alongside Mario, Link, and Samus.
And speaking of Nintendo’s characters, how about those new additions? Adding the Inklings from Splatoon might have been the biggest no brainer in the galaxy, but they work so incredibly well! And digging up King K. Rool was a stroke of genius. They absolutely nailed his look, personality, and moveset. I’ll say it again, the roster is so good it’s hard to fathom. And there’s DLC on the way!
Dislike: Classic Mode isn’t enough
One of the most impressive things I’ve encountered so far has been Classic Mode. It’s also what let me down the hardest once I realized it wasn’t going to keep up the pace. The first round of Classic Mode I played was with Mario. All the stages were specifically themed around him, and that was awesome. Then I go to this little bonus stage where I had to run away from a black hole and collect yellow orbs, and again, it was awesome. Then there was a final boss battle against Giga Bowser, and you guessed it, it was awesome. Next I played through with Link, and the stages were again themed around him, which was awesome. Then I got to the bonus round and it was… exactly the same. Okay, bit of a letdown, but maybe it was just for Link. Then I made it to the final boss and it was a fight with Gannon. Like, Gannon from Ocarina of Time. Not Gannondorf, Gannon. Had to get behind him and hit his tail and everything. Amazing. Didn’t see that coming, and I was incredibly impressed. But a few characters later, I realized that there was nothing like Break the Targets that was different for every character. The bonus round was always exactly the same. Every. Single. Time. And only a small handful of characters had actual boss battles. Yeah, maybe it’s a bit unrealistic to have expected more bosses for individual characters, but with the existing ones being so cool, I can’t not be disappointed by the lack of them. I wanted to fight Hades or at least Medusa at the end of Pit’s adventure. There’s a Mother Brain assist trophy, they couldn’t have made some sort of altered version to fight against as Samus? Same with Mega Man. You’re telling me the last boss couldn’t be a battle with the Yellow Devil and the Dr. Wily assist trophy at the same time? And the bonus stages! Why is there only the one? They could have even just stuck with the same basic principle but made different courses for the different characters and that would have been a vast improvement. But no. It’s just that same course over and over and over. Such a letdown.
Like: But what’s there is amazing
On the other hand, holy cow some of these Classic Mode battles are fun. Luigi is all based on him fighting nightmare monsters, including Dracula as his final boss. Peach is all about not being a damsel in distress, so she beats up Bowser, K Rool, and whatnot. But my absolute favorite so far has to be Ryu’s. Each stage is Final Destination style, each fight is one on one, and each challenger is presented as an analog to a Street Fighter character, complete with their stage music playing during the fights. Metaknight is Vega, Zero Suit Samus is Chun-Li, Incineroar is Zangief, and my personal favorite, a green Donkey Kong is Blanka. Yes it’s a bummer to not have more character specific bosses, but they’ve made incredibly clever use of what they have, and I can’t give them enough praise for that.
There’s a lot more I love about Ultimate, and a lot more I dislike, but at the end of the day, I’m so in love with this release and how many hours it’s going to give me over the years, I think 5 and 5 is enough for now. How are you enjoying Smash? Are there any things you absolutely love or hate about it?