Starting with the announcement of Solid Snake being added to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the hype started overshadowing the final products. It’s hard not to get carried away when this mega-franchise opened up its gates to gaming at large. The wish-fulfillment surpassed all reasonable expectations; who truly expected to see Cloud Strife or Banjo & Kazooie make it in, let alone Joker and Bayonetta? The cast is an absolute grab bag of gaming’s best characters.
Such hype can be deceiving; there are plenty of character-focused fighters with even larger casts, and none have left anywhere near the impact. The true excellence behind the Super Smash Bros. series is Masahiro Sakurai’s insistence that each character play a distinct role within the meta while having their move set based around their original franchise. The character designs balance on a tightrope between balance and novelty, most to a surprising degree of success.
More additions is far from a guarantee of success; Super Smash Bros. Brawl added a ton of characters but faltered with the actual gameplay, slowing the combat to a snail’s pace while also adding random tripping. SSB4 worked its way back toward the frantic speed of Melee, and Ultimate built upon that.
Ultimate takes it upon itself to highlight the ambition of including every single fighter the series has ever featured. In a controversial move, you begin with only the original 8 and must unlock all others. Tedious as it may have been, watching that roster slowly explode before our eyes was a perfect reminder of how far this franchise has come.
At this point in time, the Smash Bros. franchise is all about possibilities – this can be a competitive one-on-one fighter if you want it to be, but the crazier stages and option for eight players at once makes it one of the best party games. As someone who regularly hosts large get-togethers, this has always been one of the biggest video game hits alongside the Jackbox games.
My relation to this series has always been an important one. With the Nintendo Gamecube being my first Nintendo console, SSBM was my introduction to most of these franchises. I had never played a Metroid or Legend of Zelda game, while characters like Ness and Marth offered a certain unreachable allure. It quickly became my goal to try each of these series out. I met Ultimate from the opposite end; I was already familiar with even the most obscure choices but was impressed by each and every one (except maybe the endless deluge of Fire Emblem characters). It’s fan-service, certainly, but fan-service which guided me to bigger and better things.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is video games at their most chaotic, overloaded with various modes and features and sold with the promise of a massive and diverse roster. None of this would work if the franchise itself did not keep toe-to-toe with those it includes, all thanks to a magically simple fighting system. It may not offer the complexity of more hardcore fighters, but when my experience with those has always been consistently lopsided toward the more familiar player, I’ve always found it more fun when even the worst player has an outside chance.