It's not just a clever title, this really is the Ultimate game in the Super Smash Bros. series.
It's been a big year for games, and while most of the releases have had a lot of time to sit and resonate in our minds, one game has quite literally smashed its way onto our list despite a December release date. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the latest iteration in Nintendo's wild fighting franchise, and with a launch on Switch this winter on a console it seems the perfect match for, let's run down exactly why this opus is worthy of a spot in our GOTY toplist.
Perhaps the biggest part of the appeal is the character roster, which is epitomised by the game's slogan that "everyone is here!" All of the 63 characters that have appeared in previous games return now, with several more on top of that to really make it a massive roster; this really is the Ultimate collection for fans of the series looking to experience all of the fan-favourite characters of yesteryear and perhaps try something else new in what is a satisfyingly deep and polished overall package. With over 100 stages in play as well, it shows that Nintendo has delivered quantity without sacrificing quality.
These new inclusions to the roster aren't just token either, but add something meaningful with each one. King K. Rool, for example, was a highlight for us, as he could smash foes with his stomach and throw his crown, but then the Inklings from Splatoon can also use their paint rollers and transform into squids. Each retains the flavour of their original franchise while also bringing their own movesets and flair, and that extends to the other 63 too.
While a lot of people get into Ultimate for the multiplayer, the single-player offering is also meaty too. The story mode pits you against Galeem and sees you play as Kirby who needs to free all of his friends, with RPG elements thrown into the mix for good measure as you move across a board and fight spirits. What's more, these spirits (of which there are over a thousand, we should probably add) can be used to bolster your abilities further, providing a moreish loop as you keep unlocking them.
Classic Mode also offers a more... well, classic experience, deviating from the branching story and just seeing you take on a series of challenges before a boss battle, as well as bonus and challenge modes (and there's even an excellent credits sequence that warrants a mention). Multiplayer is where the game really shines though, which should come as no surprise considering the pedigree of previous entries like Melee in this field. You can have up to eight players on screen at once to really cause some chaos, and you can take the fight online as well if you want some more challenge that doesn't require a room full of people in your lounge.
Tournament mode lets you get really competitive if you want, and little tweaks have been made to ensure the best possible experience for all kinds of Smash fans. GameCube controller support, for example, is a really welcome feature for the community, but then there have also been changes made to items, stage transitions, and much more. It's been built with a lot of care and attention to detail, and it really shows.
There's clearly an attempt at introducing even greater accessibility, with Sora and Bandai Namco balancing everything that old fans will know from previous entries with all the ease of access to get newbies on board, and while there may appear to be a certain level of madness to events on screen, that hasn't resulted in a sacrifice in terms of complexity. To be really good here you'll still need to master your different attacks and how you navigate around the levels, but with so many characters to use it takes a keen eye to work out who's the right fit for you.
In short, the "Ultimate" part of the title is fitting for this latest Smash Bros. entry, and it's a real treat for Switch fans looking see the year out with an exclusive. There's an unholy amount of content on offer here, whether that's the sheer volume of maps and characters or just the various experiences to take part in via single-player and multiplayer, and regardless of whether you're an old expert with a GameCube controller from your Melee days or someone looking to dip a toe in for the very first time, there really is something here for everyone.