Su­per Smash Bros Ul­ti­mate

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Sora Ltd, Bandai Namco Stu­dios Pub­lisher Nin­tendo For­mat Switch Re­lease De­cem­ber 7

Switch

Masahiro Saku­rai doesn’t work at Nin­tendo. It’s easy to for­get that, with Su­per Smash Bros hav­ing grown from a se­cre­tive side project to be­come one of the com­pany’s flag­ship se­ries. Yet there re­mains a de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion; Saku­rai is an out­sider look­ing in. Bear that in mind and you can un­der­stand why, de­spite star­ring so many Nin­tendo favourites, Smash has never quite felt the same as those other big first­party games. It has al­ways been an anom­aly: faster, weirder, more chaotic, less el­e­gant than its la­bel­mates. Nin­tendo has his­tor­i­cally talked about de­sign by sub­trac­tion, cre­ativ­ity pros­per­ing through self-im­posed lim­i­ta­tion. Saku­rai, by con­trast, has al­ways favoured the kitchen-sink ap­proach. If in doubt, just add more, and then keep adding more be­sides – and boy, does Ul­ti­mate take that ap­proach to ex­tremes. It is a mon­u­ment to ex­cess. In terms of sheer vol­ume – of char­ac­ters, fea­tures, modes, op­tions, and more – this is surely the big­gest game Nin­tendo has ever pub­lished. And never has Saku­rai’s MO made as much sense as it does here.

It’s ex­em­pli­fied by the new Spir­its mode. Here, it seemed, was a throw­away sin­gle­player mode, de­signed to give Ul­ti­mate some­thing more than a few new fighters and stages to dis­tance it from the four-year-old Smash Bros U. Not so. Spir­its is as gen­er­ous as it is sur­pris­ing, invit­ing you to un­lock the full, groan­ing ros­ter of char­ac­ters by ex­plor­ing and steadily demist­ing a vast, in­tri­cate map stuffed with pipes, por­tals and puz­zles – and not just dozens but hun­dreds of in­di­vid­ual fights.

A lav­ish CG cine­matic sets up the story of an evil pup­pet mas­ter, who has en­slaved these spir­its within mar­i­onettes: ba­si­cally, red-eyed ver­sions of the var­i­ous fighters. It’s al­most as if the cast here are cos­play­ing as the many char­ac­ters who didn’t make the cut. Saku­rai and Sora have put some se­ri­ous thought in how best to rep­re­sent each of the picks. Take Rhythm Ten­goku’s Cho­rus Kids, here played by three Jig­gly­puffs who con­stantly sing through­out the bat­tle. A pink Bay­o­netta equipped with a ba­nana gun makes for the per­fect Candy Kong. Then there’s Solid Snake as Ho­tel Dusk’s Kyle Hyde, in a bat­tle set against the sky­scrapers of Four­side at night, with the stage spo­rad­i­cally fog­ging up. Ev­ery fight has clever or comic touches like this, prompt­ing a nod or chuckle of nerdy recog­ni­tion among those who re­ally know their Nin­tendo. There’s a bit of cheeky self­aware­ness on Saku­rai’s part, too, with a few spir­its seem­ingly ref­er­enc­ing some of the myr­iad ru­mours and leaks in the build-up to ev­ery Di­rect. Just wait un­til you see who’s play­ing Ray­man. Spoil­ers? Hardly. Not when there are sev­eral-hun­dred sim­i­lar sur­prises in store.

Once beaten, these spir­its can be equipped for later bat­tles, es­sen­tially act­ing as dif­fi­culty mod­i­fiers. Pri­mary spir­its boost your at­tack and de­fen­sive power, and each comes with empty slots into which you can place sup­port spir­its, which con­vey a be­wil­der­ing range of ef­fects. If a stage haz­ard threat­ens to re­verse your con­trols, there are spir­its that will negate that; ditto for poi­soned ar­eas, while oth­ers re­sist fire and ice. You might want to in­crease your dash speed or start with a ranged weapon against an elu­sive ri­val. And if all else fails, and you’ve got three slots free, you can just equip your­self with an Ore Club and blow your op­po­nent away. Though some spirit types are stronger against oth­ers, com­bined power trumps all. It’s some­thing to con­sider be­fore each chal­lenge; like­wise the fact that you’ll earn bet­ter re­wards if you choose to hand­i­cap your­self than if there’s a large power dis­par­ity in your favour.

You’ll even find hints of Poké­mon and Per­sona in there, with some spir­its ca­pa­ble of evolv­ing to more pow­er­ful forms when they reach max­i­mum level, al­beit re­set­ting to level one in the process. Oth­ers can only be made by fus­ing the cores from two or more un­wanted spir­its. Again, there’s an un­der­ly­ing logic: to get Star Fox’s Gen­eral Pep­per, you’ll need the cores of Me­tal Gear’s Roy Camp­bell and a Labrador Re­triever from Nin­ten­dogs. And if they still aren’t giv­ing you the at­tributes you need, you can re­train them at do­jos scat­tered across the map.

The level of gran­u­lar­ity is ab­surd, since it’s your fight­ing skills that fun­da­men­tally de­ter­mine the out­come. Yet it would be wrong to say the ef­fects aren’t no­tice­able: es­pe­cially on the harder fights, the right spir­its can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween a hum­bling de­feat and a squeaky tri­umph. If you’re less in­vested in the process, or sim­ply find­ing it too time-con­sum­ing, an auto-select lets you cy­cle be­tween rec­om­mended load­outs. Ei­ther way, even­tu­ally you’ll have enough spir­its to cope with pretty much any­thing thrown your way, in­clud­ing the var­i­ous stage haz­ards. Though, as ever with Smash, there’s no ac­count­ing for the luck of the item drops.

It is quite lu­di­crously large. After a full morn­ing we’d un­cov­ered a tiny frac­tion of the map on Nor­mal dif­fi­culty. By the end of a solid two days’ play, we’d vis­ited ev­ery cor­ner, the fog hav­ing lifted en­tirely – and with­out wish­ing to give the game away, that’s by no means the end. It’s al­most too much, in the best pos­si­ble way. If Smash has seemed like a game to dip into ev­ery now and again – and for all its size, Spir­its can eas­ily be en­joyed in short bursts – here’s a mode that puts it along­side the big­gest games on other con­soles, giv­ing it a long-term hook for solo play­ers it hasn’t re­ally had be­fore. A few may miss those ex­trav­a­gantly daft cutscenes, but in ev­ery other sense it trumps Brawl’s Sub­space Emis­sary.

More im­por­tantly, it com­pen­sates for the lack of a train­ing mode in the 3DS and Wii U ver­sions, too. By forc­ing you into so many di­verse sce­nar­ios against the full range of char­ac­ters, it in­vites you to adapt to dif­fer­ent com­bat sit­u­a­tions and tech­niques. Stamina matches against op­po­nents with su­per ar­mour will

In terms of sheer vol­ume this is surely the big­gest game Nin­tendo has ever pub­lished

teach you how to get in and out with­out tak­ing hits; after sev­eral bat­tles against the clock you’ll know ex­actly how to deal with op­po­nents that guard or run away a lot. And by lim­it­ing you to the char­ac­ters you’ve un­locked, it gives you the op­por­tu­nity to get to know ones that might not be your favourites. The ef­fort to at­tain new ones tempts you to use them straight away – and even if, after a while, you re­turn to a com­fort­able fall­back, it gives you greater knowl­edge of this huge ros­ter. Else­where, there’s a mode that pulls a sim­i­lar trick, putting you in for a se­ries of bat­tles but ban­ning char­ac­ters you’ve al­ready used.

You could ar­gue that Ul­ti­mate makes you work a lit­tle too hard to get your hands on the new­com­ers. An­i­mal

Cross­ing’s Isabelle might well be the pick of the fresh faces, and not just for the won­der­ful mo­ment where she and three clones are cast as Ouen­dan’s cheer­lead­ers. She’s got a multi-pur­pose fish­ing rod, which can reel op­po­nents in (the bait can be cast and left for a lit­tle while if no one’s near) be­fore she flings them away, and which dou­bles as a re­cov­ery move, latch­ing onto edges as a last re­sort. Castl­e­va­nia’s Si­mon Bel­mont has the stilted, de­lib­er­ate walk of his 2D coun­ter­part, but with a chain with de­cent range and a cross that can be thrown side­ways or lobbed for­wards in an arc, he’s well worth mas­ter­ing. Of the big boys – all archetyp­i­cally slow but pow­er­ful – fire Poké­mon Incineroar is a solid grap­pler, while King K.Rool can stomp op­po­nents into the ground, leav­ing them tem­po­rar­ily in­ca­pac­i­tated, and ripe for smash­ing. Spla­toon’s In­klings are a tricksy op­tion, splat­ter­ing oth­ers to steadily de­plete their health, but re­quir­ing space to top up their sup­ply; still, their squid jump is a handy way out of a jam.

There are yet more spir­its avail­able through time­lim­ited events, though their chal­lenge matches their rar­ity, and you’ve only got one shot to earn them. In truth, there are ways and means to get a sec­ond chance, but that sense of play­ful risk is a near-con­stant in Ul­ti­mate. It’s there, too, in Clas­sic mode, where each char­ac­ter gets a cam­paign com­pris­ing six bat­tles, a bonus game and a cli­mac­tic boss en­counter. Here, you’re pre­sented with a gi­ant scrolling mu­ral of all the char­ac­ters. The more you up the ante, the more you’ll see of it, and the bet­ter the re­wards you’ll earn. Yet if Sora is keen for play­ers to chal­lenge them­selves to im­prove, it’s more than happy to ac­com­mo­date new­com­ers: along­side the usual hand­i­caps, there’s now an ‘un­der­dog boost’ that in­creases at­tack power for strug­gling fighters. To list and ex­plain all the modes and op­tions would prob­a­bly take us the en­tirety of the Play sec­tion. Suf­fice it to say, if you can’t find a way to en­joy Ul­ti­mate then you’re prob­a­bly not look­ing hard enough – and when even the menus are snappy and en­joy­able to nav­i­gate, why wouldn’t you?

Ul­ti­mate doesn’t solve all Smash’s prob­lems. Yes, Bay­o­netta’s been nerfed, but it’s still ex­tremely tempt­ing to spam Pikachu’s com­i­cally ef­fec­tive down-spe­cial, and those Gust Bel­lows are still deeply, deeply an­noy­ing un­less you’re the one wield­ing them. But it’s harder than ever to re­sist em­brac­ing the chaos, be­cause with so many in­gre­di­ents it’s bound to sur­prise you more of­ten than not. As its ti­tle sug­gests, this is a se­quel that pulls out all the stops, as you sense that Saku­rai is go­ing all-out to in­dulge his in­ner nerd for maybe the fi­nal time. It’s a rap­tur­ous cel­e­bra­tion, not just of Nin­tendo, but videogames as a whole. Now for pity’s sake, let the poor man have a rest.

Land a pow­er­ful smash and the cam­era some­times zooms in to the point of im­pact. The screen dark­ens, the sound damp­ens and the ac­tion freezes. Rem­i­nis­cent of FireEm­blem’s crit­i­cal hits, they make for an ex­cit­ing flour­ish

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