December brought 2018 to a close, and with it the final few video game releases of the year. Independent games such as Ashen and Gris made waves with their intriguing aesthetics and solid gameplay. Meanwhile rhythm game and Shin Megami Tensei fans got an early Christmas present with the dual release of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight. Just Cause 4 and a number of ports to the Switch rounded out the rest of the new releases, but our Game of the Month has to go to one of gaming’s most hallowed traditions. It is the system seller, the disagreement settler, and the hype generator. Our December Game of the Month is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
A new Super Smash Bros. game really does feel like a gaming tradition at this point. Alongside Zelda and Mario, it is one of the few franchises guaranteed to appear on every new Nintendo console. It’s consistent, but the timing can always creep up on you suddenly. Yet Super Smash Bros. Ultimate felt like even more of a special event. A lot of fans missed out on Super Smash Bros. 4 due to the Wii U’s lackluster sales, a problem not shared by the current Nintendo Switch. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate brings these players back with a glorious celebration of a classic franchise while also attracting an influx of new players who are discovering for the first time what it’s like to swipe, spike, and smash. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was everywhere this past month, from the crowded TVs at holiday parties to the threads of social media to the endless tournament streams. The release felt like one big party that we were all invited to, and, for once, everyone was happy to attend.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also special because it’s the first time that the series has iterated upon itself. Although every Smash game uses the same basic premise, each one feels distinct. Melee is blisteringly quick and precise, Brawl is comparably slow and floaty, and Smash 4 lies somewhere in between. Rather than overhauling characters and making sweeping alterations, Ultimate feels like an extension of Smash 4, but snappier and more refined. Controlling any in-game character is a joy unto itself and the utter anarchy inherent in Smash’s premise is dialed way past 11, resulting in a perfect balance between the game’s wacky party game roots and competitive fighting game niche. It is funny, complex, and captivating all at the same time.
That’s the real beauty of Smash: it isn’t defined by any one set of rules. Regardless of what the developer, world champion, or your best friend says, Smash is and can be whatever you want it to be. There is no right or wrong way to experience it. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is simultaneously a celebration of the past and an affirmation of the present, a technical fighter and a casual party game, and a worldwide community of gamers and a private world for just you and your best friends. Simply put, Super Smash Bros. offers the purity of play, that innocent and elusive childhood experience, and makes it available to anyone who chooses to pick up a controller. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the perfect coalescence of this ideal in a way even its predecessors couldn’t rival. It is the best the series has ever been and more than earns our December Game of the Month.