Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review

With a name like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch’s edition to Nintendo’s massively-successful crossover fighter certainly gave itself a lot to live up to. Somewhat miraculously, Ultimate manages to pull that very feat off, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry in the long-running series to date. Bursting at the seams with content and fine-tuning the series’ gameplay, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty expectations, even if a lackluster adventure mode and a thin (and inconsistent) lineup of new fighters means it doesn’t quite surpass them.

Super Smash Bros. really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. The franchise has become one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers thanks to its engrossing gameplay, which combines elements of traditional fighting games with Mario Kart-esque party elements, all while incorporating sumo style rules that make it unique unto itself.

By ‘sumo style’ rules, I of course refer to Super Smash Bros’ key mechanic of sending opponents off the screen – similar to sumos throwing each other out of the ring – in order to defeat them, as opposed to depleting a health bar as in most fighters. Though with that said, the ‘Stamina mode’ first introduced to the series in Melee, in which players do deplete each other’s health, returns as one of Ultimate’s primary game modes, no longer relegated to a kind of bonus mode as in the past.

That seemingly small change is indicative of the very nature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is the Super Smash Bros. that attempts to legitimize every play style for the series, and to appease every type of Smash fan. And for the most part, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wildly succeeds in doing just that.

If you’re a serious Smash player, you can remove items and play on flat stages a la Final Destination or small stages with minimal platforms in the vein of the classic Battlefield stage, with no match-altering Final Smashes included. Players who want chaotic fun can have all items active, Final Smashes turned on, and enable every last, crazy stage hazard and gimmick. Or, if you’re somewhere in between, you can play on the standard stages with the gimmicks turned off, only allow Final Smashes by means of building up a power meter during battle, and only enable the occasional Pokeball and Assist Trophy in regards to items.

The ways in which you can customize matches are boundless. This really is the Super Smash Bros. that can appeal to any Nintendo fan. At least in terms of the core gameplay, that is.

If there is one glaring downside with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s with the game’s adventure mode. Dubbed ‘World of Light,’ Ultimate’s adventure mode is mind-numbingly tedious, and simply not worth the time and effort it takes to see it to the end.

In World of Light, players initially take control of Kirby, the only survivor of a Thanos-style mass extinction, as they progress through one battle after another, unlocking the other characters and collecting ‘Spirits,’ which are won after defeating opponents in possession of said Spirits.

These Spirits are a new feature in Ultimate, replacing the series’ long-standing trophy collectibles. It’s ultimately an unfair trade. While the trophies of Smash’s past featured unique character models and gave some insights into Nintendo (and gaming) history, the Spirits are merely presented as stock promotional art from past games, and provide statistical bonuses to your characters when equipped. Spirits can grant boosts to attributes like strength or speed, or provide you with a special ability (such as starting fights with a particular item, or being resistant to certain types of attacks).

This may sound interesting in concept, but it kind of goes against the very nature of Super Smash Bros. This is a fighting series all about learning the different play styles of the various characters. So if you have Spirits activated in the standard game, it makes things more about who has the best Spirits equipped, as opposed to who played the best in any given round.

Suffice to say the Spirits find all of their appeal in the single player World of Light mode. Though even then, the game often mishandles their usage. Pulling a page out of Paper Marios Sticker Star and Color Splash, there are a number of battles in World of Light in which it is necessary to have specific Spirits equipped in order to win. If the Spirits gave you advantages in these situations, that’d be fine. But on more than one occasion you will come across a battle in which victory is impossible unless you have a specific Spirit equipped.

Another issue with World of Light is that it’s just too long for its own good. It features an unnecessary amount of branching paths, alternate routes, and  overall battles. And when it finally looks like you’re done with it, World of Light pulls a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins on the player and extends the adventure by rather lazy means. To detract from the experience even further, World of Light is exclusively played by a single player. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, was far from a winner, but at least I could play that with a friend.

Not to mention Subspace Emissary served as a fast means of unlocking every character. But World of Light just drags on and on, with the lonesome tedium making you seek one of the many other means of unlocking the characters (thankfully, there are no shortage of options when it comes to expanding the roster). The fact that World of Light actually makes me long for Subspace Emissary could be a sign that maybe Super Smash Bros. is better off without an adventure mode at all.

Of course, the adventure mode is just a small part of the overall package, and every other mode included in the game delivers in spades: Classic Mode is more fun than ever, and includes unique challenges for every last fighter. Tournaments are easier to set up than ever before. New Squad Strikes have players selecting teams of characters and eliminating them one by one. Smashdown sees players cycle through the entire roster one at a time, with previously selected characters getting locked out after use. The variety never ceases to impress.

On the concept of variety, the biggest selling point of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that every playable character from the franchise’s history is present. If they were playable in a past Super Smash Bros. title, they’re playable here. So those of you who missed Solid Snake for being omitted from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U/3DS, he’s back. Young Link and Toon Link can now face off against one another. Pichu makes his return after seventeen years (they can’t all be winners). The DLC characters from Wii U/3DS return. Even the good ol’ Ice Climbers have found their way back to the series, after technical limitations on the 3DS prevented their appearance in the last installments. And yes, we even get a handful of new characters joining the fray, meaning that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has all of the character variety of each and every one of its predecessors put together and then some.

“You’re the man now, Croc!”

Speaking of the new characters, that’s where things can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to selections. Ridley and King K. Rool feel like the most meaningful newcomers, given that they’ve been in high demand from fans since Melee. Splatoon’s Inklings also make sense as they represent one of Nintendo’s contemporary success stories. And Simon Belmont feels long overdue in the third-party character department (seriously, besides Mega Man, what other third-party character even compares to Castlevania’s early history with Nintendo?).

The remaining newcomers, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. Isabelle from Animal Crossing – though a welcome addition in her own right – doesn’t exactly come across as a character fans were dying to see join the series. Incineroar feels like he could have been any randomly selected Pokemon. And the downloadable Piranha Plant just feels like a big middle finger to the fans who have been requesting their favorite characters for years. That’s not to say that these characters detract from the gameplay by any means. But for a series so grounded in fanservice, some of these character selections feel misguided.

“Evil kings from classic series are the coolest!”

Perhaps with more newcomers the more disappointing entries wouldn’t stick out so much. But with most of the emphasis going towards bringing back every past character, you kind of wish that the smaller quantity of newcomers would have translated to a consistent quality. And that’s unfortunately not always the case.

Some fans may also lament that clone characters – now officially referred to as “echo fighters” – are still present, but at least now they’re categorized appropriately, and not treated as though they’re full-on additions to the franchise.

“The colors, Duke! The colors!”

Still, it’s hard to complain too much when Ultimate boasts seventy unique characters (with more on the way via DLC. Here’s hoping some favorites make the cut). There’s simply never a shortage of characters to choose from, and all of them bring their own sense of fun to the gameplay (with the possible exceptions of the excessive amount of sword fighters from Fire Emblem, who often feel interchangeable even when they aren’t clones).

Each character’s Final Smash has also been altered this time around, as they take on a more cinematic approach. Unfortunately, while the Final Smashes look more impressive than ever, their infrequent interactivity makes them less fun than in previous installments. This was probably done for the sake of balance, which is admirable. Though chances are, if you have Final Smashes active, you aren’t exactly aiming for a balanced, competitive bout.

The stages also adhere to Ultimate’s “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. Although there are a few omissions, the majority of stage’s from past Super Smash Bros. titles make a return (unfortunately, Brawl’s Electroplankton-inspired stage is bafflingly among them). There are only four brand-new stages in the base game: Odyssey and Breath of the Wild themed levels for Mario and Zelda, and courses based on newly-represented series Splatoon and Castlevania. That may not sound like a whole lot of newness, but more stages are planned to be added along with the DLC characters. Besides, with the returning courses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate includes over one-hundred different locations to do battle. And as stated, every last stage comes in three different versions (standard, Battlefield, and Final Destination), so you’re not very likely to get bored from repetition.

For those who don’t always have someone at the ready for some couch multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also expands the series’ online capabilities. Creating online matches has been streamlined by means of creating arenas, where players can set the rules as they see fit. You can even search for specific rulesets if you want to join an arena that’s more to your play style (though admittedly, the search engine needs some work). It’s now much, much easier to set up or join an online match and play with or against Smash players from around the world.

Sadly, the online functionality still isn’t perfect. Though lag is considerably less frequent than in Brawl or Wii U/3DS, it’s still present more often than you’d like. It isn’t limited to worldwide matches, either. I’ve encountered some slowdowns in games against my friends. Again, the lag isn’t so common as to detract from the overall experience, but considering that in five years’ time I’ve never encountered any lag issues in Mario Kart 8 (whether on Wii U or Switch), you have to wonder how and why Nintendo can’t replicate that level of online functionality with their other multiplayer franchises.

Other quibbles with the online mode include some minor (but no less irritating) design quirks, such as leaving your place in cue for the next fight in an arena just to change your character’s color (let alone change your character). Or why entering the spectator stands also removes you from cue (why the cue and spectator stands aren’t one and the same is anyone’s guess). Again, these are all just minor annoyances, but you have to wonder why they’re there at all.

Of course, it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the World of Light adventure mode, all of the complaints to be had with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are minor grievances in the big picture. The series’ signature gameplay has never felt so polished, the content has never felt this endless, and with every last character in franchise history present, Super Smash Bros. has never felt this complete.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also a technical showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Though it retains a similar overall look to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and Brawl, the graphics are much sharper and more refined. The level of background detail in the stages themselves – often so small you’d never see them in the heat of battle – is a testament to the abilities of the artists behind the game. The character animations are similarly impressive, especially those with unique characteristics (such as DK’s eyes bulging out of his head when hit, Donkey Kong Country-style; or Wario’s manic, sporadic movements).

Complimenting these visuals is a soundtrack that represents an unrivaled array of video game music, featured in both their original and new remixed forms in addition to many remixes from past Super Smash Bros. installments. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s quite as many new pieces of music added into the fray as Brawl and Wii U/3DS brought to the table, but it’s hard to complain too much when the music is this terrific. Not to mention the soundtrack to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is inarguably the biggest library of classic video game themes ever compacted into a single game.

On the whole, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute winner. Its overall sense of newness may not be as prominent as the past few entries, but its inclusion of the best elements of every past installment, along with each and every last one of their characters, makes this the definitive entry in the long-running Super Smash Bros. series to date. With the exception of its egregious adventure mode, everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exploding with fun. With so many characters, stages, modes, and options, the content included in the package is seemingly bottomless, leading to an unparalleled replay value.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not only the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.

 

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Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting Review

*Review based on Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting’s release as part of the SNES Classic*

There is no questioning that Street Fighter II is one of the most impactful and important video games ever made. It single-handedly created the fighting game genre, and it could be argued that multiplayer and competitive gaming was forever influenced by it. Street Fighter II was such a success that Capcom continued to re-release the game under various new guises (a trend that continues even today with Ultra Street Fighter II on the Switch). Some of these subsequent releases featured notable changes such as additional characters, others had more subtle gameplay and balancing tweaks. The first such re-release was Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, which turned the four boss characters playable and allowed two players to pick the same characters. After that came Turbo: Hyper Fighting which, although containing the same detailed mechanics as the previous installments, is one of the lesser additions to the legendary title.

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting retains the same basics as the original Street Fighter II, with a single player being able to take on the other characters in the arcade-style story mode, or two players can duke it out amongst each other in what was always the game’s biggest draw. The fighting mechanics of Street Fighter II were always deep and intricate, and that all remains true here (though so do the original game’s shortcomings, namely stiff character movements and many moves taking a good chunk of health, making for some disappointingly short matches). Turbo: Hyper Fighting also retains the four additional playable characters from Championship Edition, along with the eight originals, so there’s plenty of variety to be had in the combat.

So what’s different this time around? Well, true to its name, Turbo: Hyper Fighting includes a faster playing speed called Turbo mode, which makes the combat more hectic, and is definitely a test for one’s Street Fighter abilities. The characters also have a few new moves in their arsenal, such as Chun-Li now being able to throw a fireball and perform the Spinning Bird Kick in midair. Additionally, there are other, smaller tweaks to the game balance.

These changes are certainly welcome, and probably improve the overall experience. Likewise, the 16-bit graphics and iconic music are as pleasing as ever. But knowing that even more polished and enhanced versions of Street Fighter II were released shortly after, you have to wonder why Nintendo (or Capcom) decided to re-issue this relatively minimal version of Street Fighter II for the SNES Classic Edition. For its time, it may have refined the experience, but in a post-Super Street Fighter II world, it can be a little difficult to look back.

One change that isn’t so welcome is the enemy AI when playing alone. You’d hope that when refining the game, Capcom would have done the same with the AI, but the computer opponents of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting are frustrating for all the wrong reasons, as they spam the same moves ad nauseam. Fighting against a tough opponent is fine, but when Ryu starts cheesing the Hadouken more frequently than even your cheapest gaming friends, it’s more annoying than it is difficult.

Street Fighter II remains one of the most influential video games ever made, and one of the few that can boast it created an entire genre. But each subsequent iteration was an improvement over the last, which makes the previous versions lose a little bit of their luster when playing today. When the superior Super Street Fighter II Turbo, as well as Street Fighters III and IV exist, Turbo: Hyper Fighting comes off as a little underwhelming, competent and fun though it may be.

 

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Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

One of the most popular and iconic video games of all time, Street Fighter II, returns once again, this time on the Nintendo Switch. Ultra Street fighter II: The Final Challengers brings the beloved fighter to Nintendo’s current hardware with a lavish transition, though it does come with a few caveats.

In terms of gameplay, this is very much the Street Fighter II we all know and love. Capcom has claimed they made a few balance tweaks, but only the really dedicated competitive players will probably notice. Otherwise, it plays just as well as Street Fighter II always did, which is both a good and bad thing.

It’s good because, for the most part, Street Fighter II has aged pretty well. This is the fighter that gave us combos, and added so much intricacy to the genre’s mechanics. It’s still a satisfying fighter. But this is bad because (unpopular opinion approaching), while it has aged well, Street Fighter II is much stiffer and less fluid than its successors. Ultra Street Fighter II works like Street Fighter II always did. It certainly gives the game an authentic feel, but if you’re more used to Street Fighter III or IV, it’s going to feel a little bumpy by comparison.

You can play the game in two different visual styles: the classic, pixelated style found in the original, or a modern, HD look. Though it’s nice to have the retro look available, there’s a smoothness and visual pop to the contemporary look that makes it my preferred mode.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers does bring a few new tricks to the classic, with the most obvious being the additions of two “new” characters in the form of Evil Ryu and the hilariously-named Violent Ken. Though it’s nice to have additional characters brought to a new version of a decades-old game, it is a bit disappointing that the new characters are just alternate versions of ones that already existed in Street Fighter II. I understand that Capcom wants to keep the game close to its original incarnations, so I wouldn’t expect them to go all out and add a whole roster’s worth of new characters, but it would have been far more interesting if they pulled one or two characters from the Street Fighter sequels and placed them into this most iconic installment, instead of simply popping out two re-skins of the two most ubiquitous characters in the series.

Of course, being on a modern console, Street Fighter II now features online play, with ranked and casual matches available. It’s your standard online features for a fighter, but no doubt the ability to face people from all over the world for a few rounds of Street Fighter II is enticing.

One of the more enjoyable new features is the ability to create your own custom colors for the characters, though this too has a few drawbacks. Each character has ten different color sets, which you can alter however you like. On the downside, you can only equip one of your custom colors for any given character at a time. So you can’t show off your rainbow of Zangiefs to a single player online. Instead, you have to go back to the main menu, return to the color editor, select the character, and then equip one of the other color sets. It doesn’t really make much sense, since the characters have so many color sets to begin with, why can’t you equip more of your custom colors and swap them out in between matches? Still, being able to play as blue Cammy is always awesome.

There is one new feature that the game could have (and probably should have) done entirely without: The Way of the Hado. While the base game can use different control methods, the Way of the Hado mode uses the motion controls of the joycons, as players take control of Ryu from a first-person perspective to defeat onslaughts of Shadaloo soldiers. Simply put, it’s poorly-implemented, with the motion controls hardly ever working as they should. Ryu can perform a variety of moves in this mode, but it seemed like no matter what I did, he just threw Hadoukens at opponents. Only by sheer, random luck did I ever perform anything different.

When all is said and done, Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is another fun iteration of Street Fighter II’s unique “brand within a brand.” It core fighting plays as well as it ever did, the new visuals and updated music are a pleasure, and you can definitely have fun playing online or at home in the game’s multiplayer modes. But perhaps a little more tweaking to make things move a little smoother might have brought it a little more up-to-date (at least with the new visual mode, the game could have used a little more modernization in gameplay). The “new” characters are also a tad disappointing, and some of the new features aren’t fully-realized, with the Way of the Hado mode being a complete mess.

Still, Street Fighter II is Street Fighter II. No matter how many versions it’s seen over the years, it still remains one of the most playable games of its era, and is still a surprisingly deep fighter even by contemporary standards.

 

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Street Fighter: The Movie (Sega Saturn) Review

One of the great anomalies of the video game medium is Street Fighter: The Movie…the video game. Yes, it’s a video game, based on a movie, based on a video game.

Street Fighter II remains one of the most influential video games of all time, and during the 90s, it was everywhere. The 1994 film adaptation was one of the first “video game movies,” following in the footsteps of Super Mario Bros. a year earlier. Like the Super Mario Bros. movie, Street Fighter’s film adaptation is certainly no critical darling, but has a campy, guilty pleasure appeal about it, and the same can be applied to the game.

Street Fighter: The Movie… the video game is just a generic copy of the game that inspired the film that inspired it. It uses digitized actors a la Mortal Kombat, with most of the actors from the film reprising their roles (except, sadly, for Raul Julia as M. Bison, as his grave illness was taking its toll at the time).

You have a selection of most of Street Fighter 2’s roster (sans Dhalsim, who was – for whatever reason – a scientist and not a fighter in the movie). Additionally, you can play as Captain Sawada, an original character from the film whose role was so small, you may not even recognize him even if you’ve seen the movie.

“I approve of this!”

I have to admit, it’s actually pretty humorous seeing the game in motion. A match between Guile and Chun-Li becomes a battle between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ming-Na Wen. Most of the characters retain the exact look they had in the movie, but some  now have clothing that more closely resembles their original video game appearances (we get to see Kylie Minogue in Cammy’s original gear, which is definitely a bonus).

It’s really just a fun game to look at. Obviously, the whole “digitized actor” thing hasn’t exactly aged well, but the simple fact that it looks like Street Fighter: The Movie is entertaining in its own way.

As stated, the gameplay is nothing special. It’s just a basic 2D fighter, and nowhere near as intricate or fluid as the “real” Street Fighter games. Though in all honesty, I’ve played worse. The biggest problem here is that the gameplay is bland and flavorless, but at least it isn’t flat-out broken.

“Praise be unto Sawada.”

You have a few game modes to choose from: Movie Mode is essentially a story mode, where players take control of Guile and follow the events of the movie. Street Battle is a more traditional arcade-style mode, where you can select your character and battle a series of opponents. Trial Mode sees players gunning for a high score against every opponent. Finally, Vs. Mode gives you the two-player battles you would expect from Street Fighter.

In the end, Street Fighter: The Movie… the game is, as you might suspect, not very good. But like the film on which it’s based, it has its own ironic appeal. It’s the kind of game you can break out with a friend, play a few rounds, and have a good laugh. I mean, you can play as Captain Sawada! Doesn’t that just say it all?

 

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Top 10 Video Game Duos

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarter darling from Playtonic Games, has already gained an impressive following for its ambitions to revive the 3D platforming genre of the N64 days. It’s also aiming to resurrect the old video game tradition of having two heroes share the spotlight. This got me thinking of some of the other great video game duos over the years, so I decided to compile a list of the top 10 twosomes in gaming.

The only real qualification for this list was that the two characters have to share in their adventures together. They can be two equal heroes or a hero/sidekick combo, but they have to both brave their adventures on a somewhat even level. Solid Snake and Otacon won’t be here, for example, because while Otacon may help Snake in some valuable ways, it’s usually from the sidelines.

Also, as much as I already love them, Yooka and Laylee won’t be here for the obvious reason that their game isn’t anywhere near release. Only established games for now.

Let’s get to it then. Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Duos”

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition Review

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition

Given how far the 3DS has come, and how impressive its library has grown, it can be hard to remember that during the system’s first few months on the market, its sole highlight was a port of Super Street Fighter IV. It had to satisfy 3DS owners while they waited for Super Mario 3D Land and Pokemon. Thankfully, Super Street Fighter IV is a hefty enough game to have helped the 3DS in its bleak beginnings. Unfortunately, hindsight also shows that this 3D Edition is probably the title’s weakest iteration.

 

The fighting mechanics don’t always translate well on the handheld. The joystick and button layout all work well enough, but pulling off some of the more advanced combos can be a little more difficult than they should be. The characters don’t move as fluidly with the control stick as they do in the game’s home console counterparts, which makes chaining together button presses and movements feel less responsive.

Super Street Fighter IV 3D EditionCapcom seemed to address this by adding buttons on the touchscreen which perform characters’ special moves without the need to perform more extravagant combos. This comes as a bit of a double-edged sword, however. While the touch screen specials do make the game more accessible on the 3DS, they are also easily exploited, leaving many multiplayer matches to feel one-sided in favor of whoever hits the first move. Perhaps brief cool down times on the touch screen could have prevented this move-spamming.

Visually, the game still holds up. 3D Edition looks nearly as impressive as its HD home console counterparts. Better still, the 3D effects, while among the first to hit the 3DS, are still impressive. The 3D is especially noticeable during the character’s more extravagant animations in their special moves.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is still a solid gameplay experience, but some of the game’s finer aspects were a little lost in the transition to its handheld form. You can still find a complex fighter if you dig deep enough, but some of the tweaks that attempt accessibility only end up making 3D Edition feel considerably more hollow than its refined home console editions.

 

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