Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally here, and the verdicts are in: by almost all accounts, the latest installment in Nintendo’s all-star fighting franchise is the best one yet.
Reviewers are in love with Nintendo’s Switch-exclusive brawler, praising the game’s polished fighting and heaps of content for competitive and casual fans alike. There are a few nitpicks, particularly with Ultimate’s single-player content, but the game that lets you beat up your friends with everyone from Mario and Link to Pac-Man and Solid Snake is otherwise shaping up to be worth every bit of the hype.
If you’re still on the fence about picking up Ultimate when it hits stores Dec. 7, here’s what the critics are saying.
Polygon’s Chelsea Stark praised the sheer scope of Smash Ultimate, complementing the game’s robust array of characters, stages and modes while also giving props to its fun, fast-paced combat.
"Few fighting games capture the pace and energy of Super Smash Bros.; even for folks who aren’t the star of the battle, or especially good, there’s pleasure in sowing disorder. Smash Bros. doesn’t get enough praise (or criticism) for how its multiplayer allows for grade-A trolling, letting you spoil your pals’ fights with a single well-placed trophy attack."
"Even when I get knocked out of a match early, I enjoy watching how it unfolds. During that break, I get to appreciate how beautiful some of this game’s stages can be — especially early levels that have been given a full face-lift — and I savor the lovingly remastered versions of songs plucked from my childhood gaming memories."
"This plethora of fighters is a blessing and a curse. … It’s a daunting selection, even when I’m familiar with each of the represented series and its characters. I can’t imagine viewing this as a younger player relatively new to the greater Nintendo mythology."
"I do wish the simplicity of rule management translated to the level select screen. Ultimate has 103 playable stages, and they’re all jammed on one crowded grid. Nintendo hasn’t included basic options, like sorting by franchise or level type. It’s all too complex, favoring Nintendo fan service over accessibility."
Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio praised Smash Ultimate for its ability to cater to all kinds of players, from those who want to play it as a party game to aspiring pro competitors. Like other reviewers, however, she wasn’t very hot on the game’s solo World of Light mode.
"For serious-minded players, Nintendo is offering one of its most most fine-tuned, precise, and technically deep iterations of a game that has grown an exuberant grassroots esports scene. Pushing Smash Ultimate’s perplexingly silly side-modes aside, it is a tremendous game that will hit the ground hot and running to meet, and satisfy, most everyone’s excitement for it when it lands on Nintendo Switch this week."
"Ridley plays like a dream distilled from fans’ imaginations. Large and imposing, but mechanically tight and faster than he looks, Ridley’s spear-sharp tail and slashing talons are just splendid to fight with."
"Similarly, I had next to no fun playing through Smash Ultimate’s single-player adventure mode, World of Light."
"For me, World of Light wasn’t worth it for the stickers. It would have been significantly more satisfying to play if, say, there was a short cutscene after I unlocked a fighter or even, like, a bit more plot. I don’t play Super Smash Bros. to collect things or make numbers go up. Those who do may enjoy this. After reviewing Smash Ultimate, I will probably never look at Spirits mode or World of Light again."
Destructoid’s Chris Carter praised the competitive polish of Ultimate’s fighting, and was one of a few reviewers that actually enjoyed the solo World of Light mode. However, he did note that much of the new content feels iterative.
"[Smash] is an even bigger feast for fans with the refinements that pros have begged for since Melee became a professional sport. Sakurai and his team have risen to the occasion twice now."
"It's fun to see what the team comes up with [in World of Light mode] and how they keep it going for hundreds of little skirmishes. The same goes for the world map, with tons of fanservicey secret locations and homages that I won't spoil here."
"But while Ultimate does collect pretty much every bit of Smash history in one place, some of the new stuff doesn't hit as hard as the series has in the past. There's nothing wrong with the new stages but they're very much iterative work of previous designs."
"Several of the new fighters elicit that seem feeling. Ridley is a powerhouse and more threatening looking than a lot of other villains (it's almost goofy how dark he is), but his kit could have used more refinement to draw out his animalistic, win-at-any-cost nature."
Like most critics, IGN’s Tom Marks had lots of good things to say about the wealth of content in Ultimate, and pointed out how well the game runs both docked and in handheld mode. And, like most critics, he had mixed feelings about World of Light and the Spirits system.
"Ultimate has made it significantly easier to adjust the rules of a match. You can now make custom rulesets to save and reselect whenever you’d like."
"That said, I was shocked by just how great Ultimate looks and runs in handheld mode. This is a truly fantastic-looking game – a noticeable step up from the last one – and it doesn’t feel trimmed down at all when played mobile. (Its level-select issues are made predictably worse, however.) But there seemed to be no noticeable performance difference between the two modes."
"However, the level-select UI itself isn’t ideal. It’s literally just a giant grid of barely discernible pictures of each stage organized by the date of their debut Smash Bros. game."
"While seeing so many Spirits from all over gaming is extremely cool, everything about the system those Spirits are used in feels overdesigned."
The Verge’s Andrew Webster noted that Ultimate lives up to its name and then some, praising the variety of content and noting how the Spirits system makes a good fit for short handheld sessions. He did have some frustrations about the difficulty of unlocking characters, however.
"There’s a lot going on, but somehow it never feels like too much. Instead, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exactly what the title implies: it’s the ultimate version of the game, offering just about everything a typical player could want from a new Smash game. After spending a week with it, I’m not sure why I’d ever want to play a different Smash Bros."
"The Switch also makes one of Ultimate’s major additions much better. The game’s single-player mode is something called “spirits,” which essentially turns the character battler into a straight-up role-playing game. … The battles are all quite different, but what they share in common is that they’re all fairly bite-sized challenges. Most only take a minute or two to complete. This makes it a natural fit for the Switch, where you can knock out a challenge (or a few) whenever you get a spare moment."
"While I love the huge, comprehensive cast of characters, actually unlocking everybody takes forever. It’s one of the few really frustrating aspects of the game."
"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate won’t change your mind about the series. If Nintendo’s particular brand of chaotic fighting doesn’t appeal to you, Ultimate doesn’t offer much new, unless you happen to be a die-hard Ridley fan."