Super Smash Bros. – with Brawl aside – has been the definitive party brawler since its debut on Nintendo 64 in 1999. Melee, the game that I have perhaps sunk the most hours into in my life, elevated the franchise to new levels. Wave dashing, final destination and sheer fan-dedication saw Melee feature on the competitive stage for 15 years. Brawl, in my not-so-humble opinion, was janky garbage and the less said about it the better. However, Smash 4 was a return to form and professional level competition, as well as the first portable smash with solid online multiplayer. As I didn’t own an Wii U or 3DS (cue the Game of Thrones shame, shame, shame gif), Smash 4 was criminally underplayed by me.

This is not a mistake that I have repeated since the launch of Ultimate in December last year. As the name would suggest, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the definitive version of the game. It features every character ever to enter the Smash roster and – amongst a suite of other new features – saw the implementation of new Squad Battles that were previously modded into a version of Brawl known as ProjectNX.

But what have we learned after almost a year of Ultimate? Has it lived up to expectation or fallen by the wayside?

Elite Smash

Online Smash has been a dream I’ve had since playing countless hours of Melee as a teenager. It debuted with the Wii’s Brawl edition of the series, but was poorly implemented. The lack of user control over battles was a hinderance and sucked the fun out of battles. Because let’s be clear, there’s only one way to really play Smash: three stock, omega-stage variants, items unequivocally switched off (final smash is also a scourge on skill-based battles and is almost not worth mentioning).

Smash 4 took everything that was wrong with Brawl and fixed it. The new “For Glory” online mode matched my desired set of rules almost to the letter, with the exception of three-stock being replaced with a two minute timed battle. A small sacrifice.

Ultimate has continued the trend of improvements to online play. The new feature referred to as ‘preferred rules’ (after an admittedly shaky start) filters your search to pair you with players looking for the same match conditions. Where this doesn’t work perfectly, particularly with stage variant choice, is does pair well for match type, item switches and final smash choices.

But the crowning jewel of new additions is Elite Smash. If you prove your worth in matchmaking, you’ll enter the ranks of the elite. And I mean elite. Elite Smash has a cut off of the top 2.5% of players. Having been bouncing in and out of that for the past few weeks, the calibre of player is exceptional.

There was a time where I thought that I couldn’t lose at Smash, but it would seem that you are only as good as the last person you beat. And I’m hooked on the challenge.

Frame by Frame Punishment

Elite Smash aside, it’s clear that Nintendo have designed this edition of Smash with professional level competitions in mind.

If you look at the finalists of competitions such as EVO, you’ll see players ditching the Switch Pro Controller or Joy-Cons in favour of a wired GameCube pad. This is in pursuit of no latency with input commands.

Many of the high-level combos, such as this zero to death decimation from Luigi, requires precise frame by frame input to execute.

A huge part of recovery during battles and escaping from on rushing combos is called ‘teching’. Here, you press the block/dodge command just as you land to dodge roll out of the way, rather than bouncing off the deck of the stage and opening yourself up to punishing jab locks. Where it’s a simple premise, teching well is easier said then done on a lot of occasions.

Ultimate also introduces the perfect block counter. If you release your shield just as your enemy’s attack lands, you’ll buff their move and leave them open for a counter. There is nothing more satisfying than perfect-blocking a Mr Game and Watch random 9 attack and replying with a quick smash to his face. Trust me.

Each of these tweaks implemented by Nintendo are serious fan service and have elevated the standard of Smash worldwide.

Serious Post-Launch Support

Smash 4 was the first title in the series to receive post launch support with DLC characters. With Ultimate, Nintendo have expanded upon this support. A year on from launch, we already have five new characters either in, or heading to, the roster. The Banjo & Kazooie announcement received unreal levels of hype, and was one of the most ingenious launch trailers that I’ve ever seen.

Not only do we have new characters, but Nintendo are also tweaking the balancing of existing characters with regular patches. For serious players, reading the patch notes with each subsequent release is a key part of strategising and staying at the top level.

That said, there are still a number of quality of life improvements that Nintendo can implement. Losing saved replays with each incremental version is extremely frustrating and needs to be addressed. Furthermore, a change in battle set-up could be brought in so that you don’t have to reselect your character after each match. It’s the little things that really make the difference.

This game is also crying out for Waluigi.

Local Multiplayer

Despite the host of online improvements brought in for Ultimate, nothing compares to the chaos of local multiplayer. New modes such as Squad Strike help, but the real joy comes from seeing the misery inflicted on your opponent. Best of 3 series are also a welcome addition, adding to the tension particularly when battling with more than two players.

It may be Nintendo’s criminal decision to not allow native voice chat on their online service that means playing friends online is not as rewarding as locally. But I think it is more the environment created by a good smash battle. The sweat on your controller, the screams of joy and the anguish in death.

Best of the Best

All of these components combined to establish Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the definitive brawler on any console. Despite rumours of Sony working on another PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale, the crown still rests safely atop Ultimate’s head.

With another year of character introductions confirmed, Ultimate is only going to improve. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

It had better be Waluigi.

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