Looking back on the year that was 2019, the release calendar for all three gaming systems seems a bit lacking.
As this console generation winds down and developers and publishers move their resources to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, this year was a sort of dead zone. So when picking the game of the year for 2019, it seems only fitting that the best game of this year originally released at the tail end of 2018.
Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the culmination of a series dating back more than 20 years to the Nintendo 64. Not only does it include the most content ever packed into a game of this type, it perfected the formula of a series that has already been highly successful and enjoyment with almost every entry to date.
Creator Masahiro Sakurai did the impossible by combining the content and feature richness of later entries with the fast-paced and easy-to-learn-hard-to-master design of “Super Smash Bros. Melee” for not only the best game available on the Nintendo Switch, but one of the best fighting games ever made.
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the ultimate love letter to Nintendo fans. There’s so much history crammed into the game, from every little bit of information in trophies and backstories to the cameo appearances of almost long-forgotten characters. There’s so much attention to detail that one can easily overlook so many elements of the game and still feel overwhelmed.
“Ultimate” finally struck the balance in gameplay that has been missing since the release of “Melee” on the Gamecube in 2001. Every subsequent entry tried to change up what worked and failed miserably. “Brawl,” with its slow and floaty movement and asinine tripping mechanic, was perhaps the most disappointing. “Smash 4” on the 3DS and Wii U attempted to remedy those issues, but felt more like a lifeless, bland rehash of what had come before with nothing to offer to the franchise’s longevity. It took Sakurai’s near-unhealthy dedication to create a game in “Ultimate?” that will truly be timeless.
Many originally saw the massive roster — including every single character to ever appear in a “Smash Bros.” game — as a gimmick. And while a small section of the fighters are mirrors of another character with the same moveset and abilities, there is such a variety in fighting styles that almost everyone will find someone they can enjoy playing with. That’s the beauty of “Smash Bros.,” there’s always some character that will appeal to someone.
While the game originally released at the tail end of 2018, it has continued to change and evolve over the course of this year, expanding to an even more massive package than at release with new characters, stages and minigames to keep players coming back. If Nintendo plays its cards right, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” could be the final “Smash Bros.” release in a long time — not because it’s a perfect package as is, but because it can become its own platform with new content updates on a regular basis. It represents the promise of what a quality games-as-a-service release could offer.
It’s easy to look at “Smash Bros. Ultimate” and pass it off as another game in a long-running series that has seen its best days in the past. But this is one release that any Nintendo fan or fighting game fan should purchase and enjoy. Even if you’re just using characters to take a swing at punching bags with a baseball bat, or whether you’re wanting to go full madness with an eight-player free-for-all battle, the game has something for everyone. It’s not only the most refined and polished “Smash Bros.” release yet, it’s the most enjoyable experience in the series — one that finally tops “Melee” as the best fighter on Nintendo consoles.
Congratulations, Sakurai and Nintendo, you deserve a break and a pat on the back.