Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is out: Here's everything you need to know

Our review has arrived, and based on our first impressions, the new Smash Bros. is the best yet.

Morgan Little Senior Director, Audience
Morgan leads the teams managing CNET's presence and content across social media, news platforms and more after stints in the marketing world and LA Times. Eventually his last byline on the site will be about something other than Godzilla
Morgan Little
10 min read

Welcome aboard, Ken.

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Every single Smash Bros. character is headed to the Nintendo Switch with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which is now available in stores and on the Nintendo eshop. Earlier in the week, the review embargo lifted and the critical consensus is clear: Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to the hype.

Resident Smash Bros. expert Alfred Ng got an early copy of the game, and found it has what both casual and hardcore fans want.

"For now, SSBU plays like a well-balanced game with new elements to keep it fresh and interesting for a long time," he said. "The meta game could develop to a point where one character is broken and overpowered, but until then, SSBU has a great shot at bringing Smash players from across the fandom together."

Gamespot's review Edmond Tran's review-in-progress gave Smash Bros. a 9/10.

"Situational downers don't stop Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from shining as a flexible multiplayer game that can be as freewheeling or as firm as you want it to be," he wrote. "Its entertaining single-player content helps keep the game rich with interesting things to do, as well as bolstering its spirit of loving homage to the games that have graced Nintendo consoles. Ultimate's diverse content is compelling, its strong mechanics are refined, and the encompassing collection is simply superb."

Oh, and by the way, during the Game Awards, Nintendo surprised pretty much everyone by revealing Persona 5's main character Joker would be coming to Smash Bros. as DLC next year. He'll join the Piranha Plant as the second character added to the game next year.

The game features every single Smash Bros. character yet (and new additions such as Castlevania's Simon Belmont and yes, a Piranha Plant), more than 100 stages, more than 800 music tracks and countless other additions to the long-running franchise. And our resident Smash Bros. competitive expert has given it a tentative thumbs-up after getting an early hands-on with the game.

Here's everything we know so far about what could be the single-most anticipated game for the Nintendo Switch, from new characters, online modes, Spirits to Nintendo's DLC plans. Or, if you're totally new to the concept for Smash Bros., Nintendo has an exhaustive explainer video breaking down everything from how the game works, to what's new with Ultimate, which you can watch below:

Watch this: Here's what you need to know about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

What is Smash Bros. and why is everyone freaking out?

Since the Nintendo 64, every Nintendo console has featured a game in which beloved (or obscure) Nintendo characters beat each other senseless. In what ended up being one of the smartest moves in its game development history, Nintendo's decision to make a less-technical fighting game resulted in tens of millions of sales. Seriously, the Wii Smash Bros. alone sold more than 13 million copies.

Whether fostering a competitive community or highlighting characters beyond Nintendo's familiar stable (Solid Snake, we're looking at you), Smash Bros. has been a series that both casual gamers and the Nintendo faithful can both enjoy. Particularly since the GameCube's Super Smash Bros. Melee, the series has taken a number of left turns and included tons of unexpected characters, creating even more excitement.

Even when fans disagree with some of the decisions made by Sakurai, they're always back for more the moment he announces a new Smash Bros. And given the success of the Switch among both crowds, it's easy to see why the latest entry has already sparked so much excitement.

Which playable characters will be in Smash Bros. Ultimate?

The best answer to that question is simple: all of them. At E3, Sakurai revealed that every single fighter who's been in a Super Smash Bros. game will be featured in Smash Bros. Ultimate. That includes DLC fighters such as Bayonetta, Cloud and Ryu, along with returning favorites like Solid Snake.

In the final Nintendo Direct for Smash Bros., the complete roster of 74 characters was revealed, with Street Fighter's Ken and the Pokemon Inciniroar showcases as the last two additions to the base game.

Every old character is also getting major or minor tweaks to their move sets, attributes or play styles. Here are some, but not all of the changes coming to established characters:

  • Mario doesn't have new moves based on Super Mario Odyssey, but he will be wearing Cappy, who can be seen in select special moves.
  • Link is based on his Breath of the Wild iteration, with his special moves and weaponry updated to reflect the Switch entry.
  • Captain Falcon's Falcon Punch and other strong attacks will trigger a slow-motion effect in 1 vs. 1 fights.
  • Zelda's new look is based on the 3DS title A Link Between Worlds, with a new Final Smash to boot.
  • Final Smashes on the whole have been tweaked to be speedier and more cinematic.
  • Cloud's Limit Break, Robin's limited-use attacks and other character-specific abilities will have distinct displays at the bottom of the screen for easier insights about their status.
  • Pokemon Trainer can switch between Pokemon at will, even midair, with an alternate costume for a female trainer.

Simon Belmont, the vampire hunter of Castlevania, has an echo character, Richter Belmont.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Morgan Little/CNET

Some new and existing characters are joining Smash Bros. as Echo characters. Echo characters are tweaked versions of characters that aren't quite distinct enough to be given their own separate move set. 

For example, Daisy is an Echo version of Peach. But with newly revealed Echo characters such as Dark Samus, Chrom and Richter, it looks like Nintendo's doing more than just swapping out characters skins and tweaking animations. Dark Samus in particular looks distinct, and Chrom appears to borrow moves from multiple Fire Emblem characters.

And no, we didn't forget about King K. Rool. After years of fan requests, Donkey Kong's antagonist is at long last making his Smash debut.

Is that it? 76 doesn't seem like every possible character

Firstly, you're setting your expectations very, very high. Secondly, you'll be pleased to know Nintendo has revealed their DLC plans for Smash Bros. Ultimate. Following the game's launch, five new fighters will be added to the roster. Each fighter comes with a new stage and music, for $5.99 apiece. The first batch of DLC fighters are also available as a bundle for $24.99.

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And in a surprise announcement, another fighter is entering the fray after the game's launch for free -- so long as you purchase the game prior to Jan. 31, 2019. And that character is...a Piranha Plant?


If Sakurai does anything well, it's keeping Smash Bros. fans surprised.

Nintendo/Screenshot by CNET

The Piranha Plant is currently being developed by Nintendo, but Sakurai cautioned that work on other upcoming fighters has yet to begin, which explains why Joker's reveal included no gameplay footage.

How do I unlock all of these characters?

Smash Bros. Ultimate's starting lineup is actually just a sliver of its grand total. You'll begin with just the original N64 game's starting lineup of eight characters, and over time get the opportunity to add additional fighters to your roster as they pop up via challenges. As noted by Gamespot, the single-player mode World of Light will give you the opportunity to pick specific characters to unlock as you progress through the map. 

Otherwise, you'll just see challengers pop up as you play Classic or Multiplayer modes, roughly every 10 minutes. The average Classic run will last shorter than 10 minutes though, so going through Classic may be your best bet if you REALLY want more characters.

What's Smash Bros. Ultimate's stage situation?

Like its gigantic roster, Ultimate's bounty of stages encapsulates the entire franchise, with some new additions. The previous entry in the series split exclusive stages between the Wii U and 3DS versions, but as is the theme with Ultimate, they're all being brought into the fold. Right now, the total number of stages is a whopping 103.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Morgan Little/CNET

But, according to Sakurai, if you take into account all of the variations of stages and treat them distinctly, there are more than 300 stages in Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Every stage will get an Omega form, which simplifies the stage and eliminate hazards and interactive elements to be more friendly to players who want to minimize random elements. Omega forms were first included in Smash Bros. on the Wii U and 3Ds, and stages in Ultimate will get Omega forms that emulate both the flat Final Destination stage, and the platform-filled Battlefield stage. And independent of those two toggles, there's a separate options to just eliminate a stage's hazards.

During the most recent Direct, Sakurai showcased a brand-new stage feature, that allows players to select two stages before a match. The the middle of the fight, the stage will morph from one to the next, requiring you to adapt to the new environment.

And thankfully, this wild number of stages doesn't require any unlocking: Every single stage and variant will be available from the moment you boot up the game. 

What music will be available while I'm pummeling my friends?

One of the Smash Bros. series' most underrated elements is its soundtrack. Previous entires have contained a nearly endless supply of beloved themes songs, both original and rerecorded, from series represented in the game. A quick glance at the gigantic list of tracks included in Smash Bros. Wii U reveals the sheer breadth of the music included in the franchise.

During the August Direct, Sakurai revealed more details about Smash's staggering soundtrack. We'll let the number of tracks speak for itself:



Nintendo/Screenshot by Morgan Little/CNET

Songs from across Nintendo's entire history, and other non-Nintendo games with Smash participants such as Mega Man and Castlevania will all have exhaustive song libraries to pull from. And for the first time, songs aren't tied to stages. Instead, stages will default to selecting tracks based on the franchise the stage is associated with. And if you want to make your own custom soundtrack or listen to F-Zero while on a Kirby stage, no worries. That's all customizable.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Morgan Little/CNET

You can already dive into remastered tracks included in Smash Bros. Ultimate, starting with the main theme, via the official Smash Bros. site. We don't have a full track list yet, and given how many songs are included, that's a post on its own once we do.

What new modes are coming to Smash Bros. Ultimate?


Kirby is the last survivor in World of Light.

Nintendo/Screenshot by CNET

After months of fan speculation, we finally know all of the game modes coming to Smash Bros., and yes, there is a single-player adventure. The series' Wii entry, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, featured a surprisingly lengthy story-driven adventure mode titled "The Subspace Emissary." That mode created a narrative justification, however forced and muddled, for characters across so many franchises to be joining together or fighting against each other. Fans who have been waiting for a follow-up for years, and their patience has paid off.

With "World of Light," the game will place you as a rotating series of characters as they try to combat an entity that has turned a crazy amount of video game characters into Spirits (more on those later). From the early preview, it looks like you'll be able to explore a wide-ranging map and engage in fights with special conditions.

And then there's the intro cinematic to World of Light, which has to be seen to be believed.


Things are about to get complicated.

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Then there's Spirits mode. The explanation from Sakurai took up a bunch of time during the November Nintendo Direct, but here are the basics:

  • Characters, whether they're playable or not, can be collectable Spirits.
  • These Spirits, while within the Spirit mode, can be assigned to your character of choice. Sub-Spirits can also be assigned to select Spirits. There's a whole ranking system for these spirits, based on their potency and rarity.
  • Each of these Spirits confers special abilities and bonuses to your character, and as they gain experience through combat, training or being fed Spirit... food... the power they add to your character builds.
  • Spirits are not being added to every game mode if you don't want them to be. You can fight against friends, within Spirit Mode challenges and so on, but they won't be turned on for your matchmaking online play, for example.

If you have a favorite obscure Nintendo character, chances are they're a Spirit.

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And back during the August Nintendo Direct, we learned a lot more about other specific Smash modes. 

  • Eight-player fights are returning, and they're now compatible with every map.
  • Squad Strike is a 3 vs. 3 or 5 vs. 5 team fight where you pick a slate of characters and go through each in a series of battles.
  • Tournament mode is back, with the game automatically generating brackets after you select the player count.
  • Smashdown, a new mode, has players go through the entire roster in a series of fights. Once a character is used once, they can't be used again.
  • Training mode is getting a significant revamp, with its own stage focused entirely on analyzing data about characters, from the reach of specific attacks to the launch trajectories at low, medium and high damage percentages.

Will Smash Bros. have decent online play?


Californians will get used to playing other Californians.

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There's no telling until the game is in the wild, but there's an expectation given that Nintendo is charging for online multiplayer for the first time that we'll see an improvement to Smash's online options. After Nintendo confirmed that the game would include a number of online features, the full suite of options was detailed during the November Nintendo Direct.

The game is no longer splitting online players between competitive and non-competitive matchmaking. Instead, three factors are used to determine who you play against. 

Preferred rules, which you set prior to your matches, will help pair you with other players who want to play stocked or time battles, or want to play with or without items. GSP is your power ranking, which will be used to determine your skill level relative to other Smash players to ensure you're playing competitive matches. And above all, the matchmaking system will prioritize other players within your region to ensure stability.

You can also engage in private matches with friends, along with the standard suite of spectating the recording options fighting game fans will be familiar with.

And in case you forgot it existed, the Nintendo Switch's mobile app will be your means for communicating with players over voice, since Smash Bros. Ultimate lacks native voice support. Nintendo is also launching a separate app, Smash World, for players to share gameplay footage between each other.


it's like YouTube, but for Smash Bros.

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Originally published May 31.
Updated, Nov. 1: Added details from latest Nintendo Direct.

Updated, Dec. 6: Added details from Gamespot, CNET's reviews.

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