Nintendo’s biggest game of 2018 is getting much better as we move into 2019

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Nintendo

  • Nintendo’s biggest game of 2018 is available now: “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the latest entry in the long-running fighting-game series and the first installment on Nintendo’s Switch.
  • The new game is already being heralded as the best in the series, and it’s deserved; the game is excellent.
  • “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is Nintendo’s first major game release with online multiplayer since the company launched its paid service, Nintendo Switch Online, in September. It costs $20 per year and is required for online play.

The biggest Nintendo game of 2018 is, unsurprisingly, an overwhelmingly good game.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a massive, sprawling encyclopedia of gaming history. At its heart, the “Smash Bros.” series is about Nintendo characters fighting to the death.

“Ultimate” is essentially a fighting game, but it contains so, so much more than that: A 700-plus list of songs spanning three decades of games, a surprisingly deep and expansive single-player campaign, a traditional fighting-game “story” mode for each of its 70-plus characters, and, notably for this piece, an expanded online multiplayer section.

Nintendo launched a paid online service in September, dubbed Nintendo Switch Online, which is required for online play. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the first major Nintendo release since that service launched, and it has a major online component.

Speaking generously, that online component experienced major hiccups around its launch. But in the weeks since – and a handful of updates later – the online portion of “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” has become a sterling example of what Nintendo’s online experience can be.

Here’s what I mean:


Things did not start out well for “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” online.

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Nintendo

“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” arrived on December 7, and, for the following week, it was plagued with online connectivity issues.

Matches suffered from game-breaking lag, where gameplay paused for seconds at a time as the game struggled to smoothly connect as few as two players.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Of the dozens of matches I’ve played online, a shockingly small percentage could be described as “smooth.” At some point in every match, and often throughout every match, I’ve hit crushing lag.

What do I mean by “lag”? Even if you don’t know the term, you’ve no doubt experienced it: A video buffering in YouTube/Netflix/etc.? That’s lag.

In the case of “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” that disconnect is far more detrimental.

Sometimes it’s a stutter in gameplay here or there. Sometimes it’s a several-second stop in the action. It’s unpredictable, frustrating, and – worst of all – it makes the game nearly unplayable.


The issues were compounded by the fact that Nintendo now charges a fee — albeit a relatively low fee of $20 a year — for online gameplay.

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Mario demonstrates the various services that come with a $20-a-year Nintendo Switch Online subscription: online gaming, classic NES games, cloud saves, a smartphone app, and various deals.
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Nintendo

Starting in late September 2018, Nintendo’s Switch console now requires a paid subscription to Nintendo Switch Online in order to play most online multiplayer games.

There are exceptions, such as “Fortnite,” but the vast majority of Nintendo Switch games with online components – such as “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” “Splatoon 2,” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” – require the paid service for online play.

More simply: You can’t play any of those games over the internet without paying $20 a year for Nintendo Switch Online.

The service comes with other features, such as access to a growing library of classic NES games and the ability to put save games in the cloud. And, at $20 a year, the cost is significantly lower than the competing services on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

But considering that “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” was the biggest Nintendo game of the year, and the fact that it has a major online component, and the fact that Nintendo started charging for online gameplay in September, having major connectivity issues at launch wasn’t a good sign.


But in the weeks since launch, things are looking up.

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Nintendo isn’t saying exactly what changes have been made in the updates, and a spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment as of publishing. The patch notes are meager at best.
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Nintendo

Starting soon after launch and continuing through the end of December, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” has been updated three times (including the “day one” patch).

Nintendo’s patch notes are vague, containing broad statements like, “Several issues have been fixed to improve gameplay experience.”

But the proof is in the playing: The game’s online stability has increased dramatically since launch.

I can attest to this personally, as I’ve played hundreds of matches online in the last three weeks, and anecdotal evidence from other players I’ve spoken with indicates the impact has been widespread.

In a complete flip, the majority of games I encounter are smooth. I rarely encounter lag, and I even more rarely encounter lag on the magnitude of what it once was. For the first time ever, Nintendo has an online experience befitting its best multiplayer game.


What’s next? New characters, and perhaps some updates to online matchmaking that could make the online experience even better.

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“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”

The game’s creative director, Masahiro Sakurai, said in a recent Famitsu magazine column translated by Nintendo Everything, “Now that Ultimate is out, is the online matchmaking system not working out well? I’ve got my own suspicions, so I’m going to look into it some. I’d like to make adjustments wherever possible to fix it wherever it needs fixing.”

In so many words, it sounds like more updates to the game may be coming.

But what we know for sure is that “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is getting even more characters in its already robust roster.

Piranha Plant, of “Super Mario Bros.” fame, is joining the roster – bringing the total playable character count to a whopping 75.

That’s not counting the addition of Joker from the “Persona” series, who’s scheduled to arrive at some point in 2019, as the first of five additional downloadable characters:

Thus far, five total fighters are being added to “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” as additional content. The grand total of playable characters will hit 80 by the time all the extra characters are available (including Piranha Plant).

There are no set dates for new fighters just yet, but the company said they’ll all be available before February 2020.

Nintendo is selling a “Fighter’s Pass” that offers access to all five of the upcoming downloadable characters for $24.99. Piranha Plant is free if you buy “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” before January 31, 2019, and will otherwise cost the same $5.99 as all other individual downloadable characters.