We've been checking in on Smash Bros. Ultimate to see how Nintendo's fighting game is doing after more than a year out in the wild.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is now in its second year and a new Fighters Pass has just begun. According to producer Masahiro Sakurai, the six characters included will be the last to be added to the game - and that seems pretty reasonable. At some point, it's time to leave it behind to move on with new projects.
When I reviewed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at launch, I handed out our very highest rating. That was something I didn't do with any previous part of the series, not even the cherished Super Smash Bros. Melee. This will certainly make the esports audience snort at me, but with such a comprehensive love letter from Nintendo as we got in Ultimate, it's very clear to me that the game is aimed at a larger audience than hard-boiled core fighting fans (who also seem to enjoy it as well, I might add).
Now, a year and a half later and with the aforementioned new Fighters Pass, and several major updates along the way, it feels like a reasonable time to check out what has really happened to the game since it was launched. And that's a lot because Nintendo has continued to provide masterly support at a level they've never done before.
The most obvious is, of course, Fighters Pass 1. The first character to be released was the Joker from the Persona series, which led to massive speculation about several Persona games coming to the Switch. That turned out to not really be the case, but Joker quickly became popular and blended well into the ensemble. In addition, the stage 'Mementos' is one of the game's absolute best. With Joker, it was also clear that Nintendo had planned to release more guest characters for its game, and figure number two was just that, a guest on a quest.
It was Hero who quickly came to be ranked as one of the game's best characters, something he still is even after all the updates that have landed since. Personally, I think Hero is a bit boring, but undeniably does the job and has a plethora of Dragon Quest fan service to offer. Character number three is the most noticed, namely Banjo-Kazooie. The duo came to prominence during Nintendo's classic Rare era, but have long belonged to Microsoft since. Microsoft and Nintendo seem to have a good thing going on right now and the amount of love invested in fan service is huge. Unfortunately, Banjo-Kazooie is often ranked as rather mediocre in the competitive sense, but their inclusion has also got fans dreaming of other guest appearances from Sony (why not Ratchet?) and Microsoft (time for Master Chief?).
When Smash Bros. debuted, one of the big draws was the fact that the characters therein were by no means fighters of the variety that we associate with fighting games. Nintendo and Sakurai have also said that it is a bit of an idea with the game. However, after Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter joined, it still felt good that SNK legend Terry Bogard was announced as the fourth character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Thanks to his typical fighting game moves, he is perhaps the beginner's best choice, and he is also considered above average in most tier lists. For those who love SNK, Terry Bogard is also a must because he comes with the track King of Fighters Stadium and no less than 50 associated SNK songs.
The last character to be released for Fighters Pass 1 was Byleth, one of the main characters in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. This character was released in two versions, both male and female, but was nevertheless rather unpopular. Many people thought that there were already too many Fire Emblem characters and would rather have seen classic Nintendo icons or some spectacular guest appearance. Byleth is also not considered very good among the competitive community and may be considered the worst of Fighters Pass 1.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate quickly became the series' most popular game ever and is today considered the best-selling fighting game of all time with around 20 million copies sold. However, its prestige is fairly low in the competition space, and Melee continues to be the game that matters at the top level. However, the fact that the game is completely superb fortunately means that there is still a great deal of interest in Smash Bros. streams, feeding its popularity further. A thriving community awaits you, almost two years after its premiere.
This is also a notable online scene. Fighting games are usually a difficult genre to play because it is generally more hardcore and that makes it a tough nut to crack for casuals. This also applies to Smash Bros, which, despite its cutesy exterior, often sees me being juggled around online, completely helpless. That means that the most fun I have with Smash is when I play against people I know, which also increases the chances of everyone having good bandwidth and my being to enjoy a series of pleasant matches. The network code in the game is unfortunately still not as good as the giants of the genre.
Nintendo has continuously patched and balanced Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in a way that many perceived as somewhat conservative. Often they are small changes that have taken a long time to be released and you should be prepared for a long wait for things to be fixed - but they will eventually. Characters like Peach and Wolf were a real pain when the game was new, but have gradually (especially with patch 3.1) been brought in line with other fighters. Large tournaments have often formed the basis for Nintendo's decisions, which feels like a wise way to work.
But it's not just with new characters and patches that Nintendo has kept the game alive. They have also been incredibly diligent with other things such as guest costumes for Miis and the game's Spirits, which can be cheap to buy and have often been spectacular additions (such as Altaïr from Assassin's Creed, Cuphead, or the Rabbids). In addition to this, Nintendo has also run events where we have been able to play creative interpretations of classic games, and recently, as an example, an Octopath Traveler event has just ended. These normally last a week before they are replaced by something new.
In short, there is never a shortage of things to do in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and there is absolutely no indication that it will decrease in the near future either. Fighters Pass 2 has, as you know, just started and will continue throughout next year. First out was Min Min from Arms, a somewhat surprising choice, but she has a lovely playing style and is fun to use, even though she's probably too complicated for her own good.
In addition to the above characters, Piranha Plant has also been released. A mediocre and difficult-to-play character, however, it's a perfect addition because she personifies everything that Smash Bros. stands for; namely beloved mascots who do something outside of their so-called 'comfort zone'. To sum up, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is actually even better a year and a half later after it was launched, and there has never been a better opportunity to catch up on the fun than now.
Which other older games that have been updated over the years would you like us to take a closer look at next?