Games

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: 5 things Nintendo needs to fix

From the moment the Nintendo Switch was first announced, fans knew it was coming: a new version of Super Smash Bros. It took about a year after the console’s launch for Nintendo to catch up to that expectation, and a few months more until it promised the next game in the series would be the most complete iteration of the fighting game ever made. To drive the point home, Nintendo baked it into the game’s title: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

This was supposed to be the best version of Smash Bros, the game that had everything fans wanted: every character who had ever appeared in the game; all of the most iconic stages and items; faster gameplay; better online support and more.

If you glance at the game’s Metacritic score, it seems like it has met those expectations: fans and critics alike love Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. But the honeymoon is starting to wind down. We’re starting to see flaws.

That isn’t to say SSBU is bad, or even a bad Smash Bros. game. In fact, it might be the best entry in the series since fan favorite Melee — but there are some real shortcomings we need to talk about. The issues revolve around two major aspects of the game: the single-player Adventure Mode and anything that involves online multiplayer.

Adventure Mode is a shell of what it could be

Let’s be honest: Nobody ever expected Super Smash Bros. to be a platform for good storytelling. But that doesn’t mean nobody ever played a Smash game for the story. Despite being a game that’s mostly about orchestrating increasingly ridiculous fights between iconic Nintendo characters, Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Nintendo Wii boldly included an adventure mode. The Subspace Emissary offered six to eight hours of gameplay, sprawling platform levels with diverting paths and nearly an hour of cutscenes filled with action, comedy and drama.

World of Light, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s single player adventure mode, has almost no platforming levels, very little story and about 10-15 minutes of cutscenes — 20 if you include the ending credits.

It’s not necessarily a bad single player mode, it just feels like wasted potential. World of Light tasks the player with rescuing captured fighters and battling clones of the Smash fighters who have been possessed by spirits of characters from other games. It’s a clever framework that allows the game’s cast of 74 fighters to represent countless other characters. It even takes place on an enormous, gorgeous world map the player can wander around and explore — but it’s also a soulless experience.

Apart from the opening cutscene, the player never gets to see the characters he rescues interact with each other. There are hardly any moments that drive the story forward, or scenes that show off the fruits of the player’s labors. There aren’t even bonus levels or platforming segments to break it up — just spirit battle after spirit battle.

It’s not as if Nintendo has lost its talent for making delightful cinematic mash-ups of Smash characters either. The character reveal videos for Metroid’s Ridley and Castlevania’s Simon Belmont felt like pieces of an epic cinematic story that we never got to see, and King K. Rool’s introduction could have easily been lifted from a more lighthearted part of a larger story. Why did Nintendo make these incredible, Brawl-like previews of these characters interacting only to leave us with such a gutted and lifeless adventure mode?

The cutscenes that are in the game look great, but even those feel a little incomplete. In the opening cinematic, Fox and Zelda have spoken lines, but World of Light’s sparse plot points are delivered through voiceless subtitles, every word begging for a narrator.

Super Smash Bros. Adventure mode has a beautiful world map and a great basic framework, but it feels half done. And that’s a shame.

There’s nothing better than getting together with a group of friends, starting an argument over whether a hotdog is a sandwich or not, and settling the absurd debate in Smash. Ever since the series debuted on the Nintendo 64, Super Smash Bros. has been an epic, hilarious party game experience. That’s great when everyone is in the same room, but replicating that multiplayer magic over the internet is a challenge.

Smash Bros. Ultimate may have online multiplayer support, but setting up a match with friends is unnecessarily difficult. It’s not completely the game’s fault. Nintendo’s Switch Online service is notoriously bare bones compared to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, to the point where it doesn’t have built-in voice chat or a group system of any kind. There is a friends list, and you can see when your friends are playing Smash Bros, but there’s no way to invite your friends to play with you or to join the game they’re playing.

That means that if you want to play a game of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with your friends, you’ll need to call or text them first, tell them when you’re going to be online, make a private Battle Arena room in Smash Bros. Online mode and ask them to search for it or enter the arena ID code hidden in the Arena Settings menu that becomes available after you create a room.

Sound complicated? That’s because it is. And that’s not even getting taking into account the messy smartphone-app-required voice chat system.

Ultimately, this is a failure of the Nintendo Switch Online service, but it would have been nice if Smash Bros. had accounted for those shortcomings. Sadly, it doesn’t. Playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with your friends is too complicated to be fun.

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