Just a few years ago, it would have been nonsense to think we’d see characters like Persona 5's protagonist Joker or Terry of Fatal Fury fame playable in Super Smash Bros. But Ultimate has far surpassed what we expect from Nintendo’s massively popular brawler. Look beyond the character select screen, though, and you’ll see that the crossovers only get wilder and wilder.
Much of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate single-player experience focuses on Spirits, which are collectible assist characters that power up your main fighter. Some are based on characters that are already playable, but the vast majority are not. Their sole representation in Smash is as an homage to their respective series. Geno, the Super Mario RPG party member that has been a popular roster request for ages, can be found amongst the Spirits. Waluigi, too. And every time a new character has joined the playable cast, Ultimate’s spirits have been expanded with a variety of new faces connected to that character.
In this way, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a true love letter not only to Nintendo’s history but the history of video games as a whole, and it shows with every deep-cut character they’ve invited to the party. And it’s not just restricted to characters related to the playable cast. Last week, Ultimate received two of its most surprising guests when it added Spirits for Lotus and Natah, characters from the free-to-play shooter Warframe.
As a longtime fighting game fan, I’m continually impressed with the amount of respect Super Smash Bros. Ultimate shows to its predecessors and contemporaries. Joy Mech Fight, an old-school fighter released for the 8-bit Famicom in 1993, is represented by a Spirit for its main character, Sukapon. Virtua Fighter mascot Akira Yuki is also a Spirit, appearing elsewhere as an Assist Trophy and Mii costume as well. And while Athena Asamiya is best known for her appearances in King of Fighters, she makes a cameo in Ultimate as the protagonist of Psycho Soldier, the 1986 arcade game in which she debuted.
Some characters are so niche that I wonder who at Nintendo is still advocating for them after all these years. Remember Baten Kaitos, the deck-building JRPG that first arrived on the GameCube in 2003? Did you know it got a sequel, Baten Kaitos Origins, a few years later? If so, all ten of you will likely be happy to see Origins protagonists Sagi and Milly on the Spirit board. Someone was also very invested in making sure Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. found its way to Ultimate. That terrible XCOM-like, released for the 3DS in 2015, is repped by Henry Fleming. Yes, the same Henry Fleming from the classic Stephen Crane novel The Red Badge of Courage. Boy was that game weird.
While Nintendo is still considered the most family-friendly of the big video game corporations, this reputation has softened a bit over the years. This turn towards acknowledging edgier content is also shown in some of the Spirits chosen for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Mio and Mayu Amakura, the twin sisters from 2003’s absolutely terrifying Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, make an appearance alongside Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water heroine Yuri Kozukata. Hotel Dusk detective Kyle Hyde brings a bit of noir flair to the fight. Heck, even the literal Devil from Cuphead can be found in Ultimate.
A lot of work went into making sure each and every facet of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Spirit system accurately represented its crossovers. The developers clearly had a lot of fun pulling in characters from every corner of the video game world, and it shows with some of the choices they made. Where else can you equip the Hero from Dragon Quest with Cubivore’s boxy Pig creature in a fight against Sonic the Hedgehog and Stanley from Donkey Kong 3? I can’t possibly imagine how Nintendo outdoes itself with the next game.