Smash Ultimate is a living game, and one month later, it’s just starting to walk on two legs. Sure, its launch was explosive, but Smash takes on new meaning as fans’ ideas about it evolve. Who’s top tier in the meta? What’s the wackiest ruleset anyone’s come up with? Will we decide a year from now, en masse, to play with the Smash meter on? Only time will tell. Here’s what’s happened since Smash Ultimate’s 7 December release.
- Smash Ultimate was actually being played well before it came out. A full copy of the game leaked and circulated among pirates and fans two weeks before launch. It didn’t take too much air out of the game’s real release; but it did lead to a handful of YouTube channel takedowns and an outpouring of sympathy for Smash’s developers.
- Nintendo announced at the Game Awards on 6 December that JRPG Persona 5’s Joker would be coming to Smash Ultimate as a DLC character. It was a huge surprise for fans who may have been crossing their fingers for Dragon Ball’s Goku or, say, Waluigi—but not an unwelcome one. We don’t know when he’ll be out, but we do know that Smash Ultimate’s first downloadable fighter, the Piranha Plant, should release around February. (In November, Smash director Masahiro Sakurai asked Smash fans to, please, “refrain from flooding us” with requests for DLC fighters while the developers aren’t actively soliciting feedback.)
- Smash Ultimate released to huge acclaim, pockmarked only by a few criticisms. It launched with 76 fighters, including long-anticipated ones like Ridley and King K. Rool. Basically all of them felt balanced, competitive and exciting. Mechanical changes in the game, including directional air-dodging, a faster play speed and a “perfect shield” parry, helped finally make Smash Ultimate’s larger fighters viable competitors against the faster fighters. A slew of quality-of-life updates made jumping into the kind of game you want as easy as ever. Kotaku’s review had some negative things to say about the game’s idiosyncratic, tacked-on adventure mode, World of Light, and the entire Spirits system, which buffs fighters with stickers of characters from other games. (However, Kotaku’s Mike Fahey loves these modes.)
- Smash Ultimate’s online mode’s launch was unilaterally crappy. It wasn’t hugely surprising because all of Smash’s online modes have been pretty flawed. There was lag—lots of it. Players who wanted to queue for one-versus-one games with no items found themselves in four-versus-four team battles with every item under the sun.
- Thankfully, a patch released one week after Smash Ultimate that improved the lag and helped players find games that better fit their preferences. Unfortunately, it didn’t mend the online mode’s integral design flaws. Players still can’t challenge friends who are online to a Smash Ultimate game through the Switch’s interface. They still can’t play in a battle arena with both online friends and local friends. To even get into an arena match, sometimes Smash Ultimate will put you in a virtual line. Hopefully, this all will improve with time.
- Not all the characters had the same proficiency at swimming. Smash games since Brawl have given fighters a few moments to struggle in the water before drowning. In Smash Ultimate, Charizard, Incineroar, Inkling and Sonic take damage just from being in the water. Huh!
- A glitch in Smash Ultimate let Animal Crossing’s adorable pupper Isabelle spawn an infinite number of assist characters. That led some some very hilarious GIFs of Isabelle knocking the snot out of her opponents with a huge horde of Knuckles and Waluigis.
- At one of Smash Ultimate’s earliest tournaments, a Fox player won. Those unfamiliar with Smash’s competitive scene might ask, “Who cares?” Those who know how dominant Fox has been for over a decade in the competitive scene of Smash Ultimate’s predecessor, Melee, might have balked. Was Fox going to be the big guy on the block again, even with 75 other fighters available? The answer turned out to be no. Lots of other characters, including Peach, Ike, Wolf and Ridley, have made it into the finals brackets at tournaments. Nothing to see here!
- Players debated over the grind to unlock all of Smash Ultimate’s characters. The debate even split Kotaku staffers. Some argued that it was a fun way to get to know the whole roster, and plus, it’s how things have always been done; others said it felt too grindy and punishing, especially to new players. Adding to that frustration, the challenger fights were pretty difficult until a patch nerfed them a couple weeks after launch.
- Also in the category of “user-friendliness,” Nintendo posted a tutorial late December on how to find Smash Ultimate’s tutorial. Lots of new players had issues figuring out how to access it from within the game’s baffling menu system. So Nintendo stepped in and lent a hand.
That brings us to now, one month later. In the game’s first 11 days, it sold three million copies. In so many people’s hands, the game has a lot of growing ahead of it. Smash Ultimate’s competitive scene is picking up speed. There isn’t a dominant fighter yet, which means everyone’s ripe for the picking. There will be more hype combos. There will be more memes. There might even be more funny bugs, if we’re lucky. And hopefully, there will be more patches.