After being able to spend a good amount of time playing Smash Bros Ultimate online, I've been able to come to a solid conclusion about how I feel about it. It's been controversial, and it's not without faults, but I feel like it's a huge improvement over Smash 4's online, and I'll tell you exactly why.
Nintendo was on to something when they had tournaments for Smash Bros 4, but it was poorly executed. They took too long to set up and get into a game, and it was difficult to find an actual working tournament.
They've been replaced by Battle Arenas in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. A Battle Arena is a private room where you can invite friends or open it up to the public, make your own rules, and then take turns fighting.
It has a pretty cool token system, where the fighting players are in the ring, and you can move your token to the bleachers to spectate, or stay in the waiting area when you are waiting to play. It tells you how much longer you have, and it's quite fun to play with friends online that you couldn't play with before. Granted you miss out on the lag reducing match making, but it's still a great feature to have that makes online feel better.
I'm not trying to defend Nintendo charging a monthly fee so you can play online games that don't have servers and are all peer to peer, but they've done a lot to try and mitigate online lag problems with Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and it shows.
Online lag in fighting games can be extremely obnoxious. All games have lag, shooting games can cover up lag by interpolating and more or less guessing what's happening to fill in the gaps between lag spikes and network problems.
But, fighting games don't have that luxury, they're forced to be completely accurate with no guessing about what a player is doing and filling in the gaps. So, typical fighting game lag ends up with the game slowing down, pausing, or being really unresponsive. In short, it's way, way less enjoyable than dealing with lag in shooting games.
Nintendo has done two major things that seems to have helped to reduce online lag.
The first is that they've worked to try and use match making to find people who are close to you. One of the largest problems I had with Smash 4, as an American, is getting players from a country down south that doesn't have very good internet. The entire match would run slow, and be unresponsive. Since the game was running slower than real time, that 5 minute match could take 10 minutes because of the lag. I've still experienced some of this with Smash Ultimate, but it's been far less and it's been far better than it was in Smash 4.
The second thing Nintendo has done is penalize people who have poor connections and cause lag by informing them they have a problem and blocking them from playing online. This is definitely a hugely controversial decision, because you have people paying for online and Nintendo is not letting them play if their connection is bad. But, Smash Bros Ultimate seems a lot less laggy than Smash 4, and I think we have these rules to thank. I know personally that they work. This is sort of a bug, but you can play Battle Arenas with people with poor connections, and then when you go to play a Quick Match it will tell you your connection is not good and it needs to be fixed before you play online.
More Variety In Battles
Two things lead to Smash Bros Ultimate having a lot more variety in online battles, and it's the good kind of variety. With Smash Bros 4, online battles got mundane. It ended up mostly being the same characters fighting with the same rules, with only two different rule sets.
Smash Bros Ultimate's huge roster is very well balanced, so you''ll see a lot of different characters in your online play. Anyone who played Smash 4 knew that 90% of your serious online Smash time was spent playing against Fire Emblem, Cloud, and Bayo. Nearly everyone is viable in Smash Bros Ultimate, and it leads to a lot of different characters in all your battles, which makes things really unique.
The second huge, and awesome thing that adds variety to online matches, is that you make your own rules now, and Smash will try and match you with people with similar rules.
This screen shot is missing some time options, in the current version you can choose battles up to 7 minutes long.
Here's the options, you can see you can choose the format, between free for all Smash, a Team Battle, or a 1 on 1 fight.
You can choose the basic rules of how scoring is done. Time will let everyone keep playing for a specific amount of time. You die, you lose a point. You kill yourself, you lose two points, you kill someone, you get a point. Whoever has the most points at the end of the battle wins. I've found time battles to play a lot differently than other modes, as it's a race to kill people as fast as possible while trying not to die.
Stock gives everyone a set number of lives, when you die, you lose a "stock", just like losing a life. The battle finishes when one person remains, or the time runs out. When time runs out, the player or team with the most stock left wins. If there is an equal amount of stock left, it goes into sudden death. Stock battles are fun, because you end up having to work to pick off the weak players while avoiding getting killed. You should be using strategy to decide if it's worth the risk of dying to kill someone, or if you should be avoiding fights to stay alive. Your death is more important, and with time battle, you can walk into two people fighting, pick off the kill, and get a point while denying someone else that point.
Stamina is an interesting addition. Basically, the damage percentage is replaced with hit points. The hit points count down when you take damage, and when you run out, you die. You can also be killed by conventional means, like falling off the screen. I think this is my least favorite mode, but it turns the game into an interesting situation your mistakes where you take damage hurt you more than ever. Not to mention it gives lightweights an advantage. Instead of heavyweight fighters being more difficult to launch and being able to withstand more damage, everyone gets the same amount of HP, and when it's gone, you're gone. It doesn't matter if your the lightest character in Smash Bros Ultimate, Pichu, or the heaviest, Bowser, only your HP really matters.
These three game options give you a lot of different ways to play online. I find myself getting bored of one mode and changing it up and having a lot more fun. It leaves me wondering how I played Smash 4 online so much with such limited options. These three different rules really change how you effectively play Smash, and it adds so much more variety than it used to have in earlier games.
The last really huge update to online play in Smash Bros Ultimate is being able to set items. You can turn them all off, turn them all on, or online enable some specific items. You can directly toggle Final Smash Balls, assist trophies, pokeballs, weapon parts, flags, or all other items.
This adds so many chances to have fun with random people that we didn't get in Smash 4. People will do things like only enable final smash balls, pokeballs, etc. If you only enable one of them, it seems like they spawn very quickly. It's as if the spawn rate for items is fixed, but you limit what can be spawned. So imagine a game with 3 flags out at the same time, or tons of assist trophies. It gets chaotic and can be a lot of fun, if you're into having fun with Smash and not trying to be a competitive nerd all the time.
Personally, I've been doing stock matches with flags only. With flags and stock battles, if you hold the flag long enough, you'll get an extra stock. But it takes a long time, and while you're doing it, you're defenseless. It ends up making battles an extreme fight between trying to kill people, as well as build yourself enough time to get a flag. It seems like four player free for all is too much to deal with, but doing it with team battles can be a lot of fun. I find myself in lots of situations where I, or my team mate, have a chance to grab a flag for an extra stock and one of us has to protect the one with the flag. It really adds a lot to the game and can be a ton of fun if you can find people who understand what the flags are and what they do.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate Online is not without problems, which I'll address in a later post. But I wanted to talk about the things that I love about Super Smash Bros Ultimate Online. There's been a lot of negativity around Smash Ultimate Online, and after spending some time with it, I think that a lot of it is not warranted. It's not perfect, and can be improved, but it's overall a lot more fun than previous online modes in Smash Bros games. Stay tuned for the parts of Smash Bros Ultimate Online that I don't like in a later post.