If Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its name and really is the final Smash Bros., it certainly went out with a bang. Featuring every character from every previous game and then some, this is the culmination of decades of Smashing.
I am not a super technical Smash Bros. player, so I can’t comment on the niceties of balance or changes to core mechanics. What I can say about SSBU is that it preserves the fun of previous games while adding an overwhelming amount of stuff. If anything, there are too many characters, items, stages, and so on. With 74 characters at launch, 63 of which need to be unlocked, you likely won’t even see the full breadth of the game for more than a dozen hours.
When it comes to the core Smash gameplay, I don’t have much to say beyond “it’s Smash Bros., but moreso.” I will therefore focus on Adventure Mode and the spirits that go along with it. Spirits are equippable gear-like entities that correspond to characters and items from a variety of games (even beyond those represented with playable characters). They can grant a general level of power as well as specific rule-breaking abilities. You can earn many of these in Adventure mode, but also by challenging them, summoning them by consuming other spirits, and various other methods. There are enough spirits that you can mess with them forever, if you want.
The best use of spirits, though, is in Adventure Mode. You start out with just Kirby, and have to unlock all 73 other characters one by one. (Doing so unlocks them in the main game, but not vice-versa). Due to the design of the mode, some basic characters will remain locked for a ridiculously long time, which can make this mode frustrating if you have one or two specific main characters you can’t use. However, aside from the fights to unlock characters, every fight in the game is with a spirit, and this is where the cleverness of the spirit idea shines through.
Spirit fights are against normal Smash Bros. characters, but they are modified to resemble the spirit in some way. As a basic example, when you fight Dr. Wily you’ll fight 8 metal Mega Men (Mega Mans?), representing the usual 8 bosses from Mega Man games, followed by Dr. Mario filling in for Dr. Wily. Some of these only work if you squint a bit and don’t think too hard, but many of them are quite clever and work far better than they should. SSBU’s ridiculous roster size helps immensely in this regard, as some of the stand-ins for various spirits are inspired.
The problem with Adventure Mode is that it’s insanely long, taking dozens of hours to complete. If you just want an excuse to play solo Smash for weeks, that’s great, but it’s not an efficient method to unlock content and it is in serious danger of wearing out its welcome. Then again, Adventure Mode is entirely optional. You can completely ignore it and focus on normal Smash, Classic Mode, or just good old online multiplayer.
The upside of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that, whatever you want from Smash Bros. is probably in here. The downside is that a ton of stuff you may not care about is in here too. That’s a good problem to have, and this love letter to Smash Bros. fans is hard to complain about. If you like the series, you’ll find something to like here.