Nintendo Switch owners will need to pay to play "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" online, and Nintendo is working to make the experience worth the money.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most anticipated Nintendo Switch game of the year, and comes with a bunch of online multiplayer features.
- Earlier this year, Nintendo started charging players to play online with the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
- While past Smash games have struggled with making online play consistent, the improvements to Nintendo's online service and the wide variety of online game modes should be worth the price of admission.
"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" is the biggest Nintendo Switch game of 2018, bringing some impressive upgrades and the largest roster the series has seen so far.
Online play has been a part of the franchise since "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" arrived on the Nintendo Wii in 2006. However, Nintendo's handling of online play has historically lagged behind other game developers, earning the company a reputation for subpar matchmaking, unstable connections, and limited rewards for dedicated players.
The Switch is the first Nintendo console to require a subscription for online play ($20 per year), and there is hope that the added investment will translate to a better online experiences overall. Nintendo has overhauled the online modes in "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" to tackle some of its past issues head-on. A recent Nintendo Direct livestream fully detailed how online play will function in the new game with the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Your smash tag is essential for online play
The first step to playing online will be creating a smash tag. Your tag will identify you to other players, and as you beat other people, their tags will be added to your own list. Records and statistics from online matches will be recorded based on the Smash tag, making it easy to track results over time.
Players will be matched online based on their preferred rules.
The last "Smash" game, "Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS" divided online matches between two modes with two different sets of rules; For Fun, which included normal stages and items, and For Glory, which only featured flat stages and no items.
Rather than divide the player base into two camps, online quick play in "Ultimate" will let players set their own rules and match them with others who have similar preferences. Once the match is set, the game will randomly choose one player's rules to use during battle.
However, the matchmaking prioritizes connection strength over rules, so there may be some occassions where players are stuck playing with rules they don't prefer, in favor of a more stable match.
Your location is the most important factor in matchmaking.
Matching players who live in similar regions makes it easier to maintain a stable connection and ultimately cuts down on lag when playing online. In past Smash games and other Nintendo titles, players often report being matched up against players in other countries, leading to significant delay during the match.
By prioritizing proximity, the matchmaking system will deliver more consistent matches, even if the ruleset isn't always ideal.
Nintendo recommends a wired internet connection for more stable online matches.
Nintendo is also recommending that players who plan to play online use a wired LAN cable for more stable connections. Sadly, the Nintendo Switch doesn't have its own ethernet port, but you can pick up a third party USB ethernet adapter or buy the official Nintendo one for $24.99. Dedicated Smash players have been using LAN adapters since "Brawl" to get more consistency out of online play.
Your Global Smash Power ranks you alongside every player in the world.
Online matchmaking will also use a ranking system called Global Smash Power. GSP ranks a player against the total number of players in the world. Rather than starting the rankings at number one, the GSP figure reflects how many players are below you in the rankings. If your GSP is 128,490, that means you are ranked above 128,490 players; so higher is better.
"Ultimate" will match players with similar Global Smash Power.
Raising your GSP will eventually place you up against stronger players. Your GSP will change from character to character, depending on how often you use them and how much you win overall.
High-ranking players will be able to play elite battles against other top players.
Players with very high Global Smash Power can qualify for elite battles. Nintendo says the development team will be monitoring elite battles and these high-stakes matches will likely impact the game's balance in the future.
Two players can use a single Switch to team up online.
There's no need to play online alone; two friends can team up on the same Switch to play against other two-player teams. It's not clear whether cooperative matches will impact your GSP, but bringing a friend in on the action will be easy.
Players can use training and other modes while searching for an online match.
Like other fighting games, "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" will allow players to enter training and other game modes while searching for matches online. Once an opponent is found, they can go straight into their online game.
Self-destructing or disconnecting too often during online matches will be discouraged.
"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" will also punish players for killing themselves repeatedly or disconnecting from matches early. Players run the risk of being kicked from online matches and/or temporarily banned from matchmaking.
Create battle arena lobbies to set your own rules or play with specific friends online.
Battle arenas will allow players to set up their own lobbies with personalized rules. You can make arenas open to the public or exclusive to people on your friends list. This will be the easiest way for friends to group up and play together online.
You can still spectate online matches to watch and learn.
"Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" will feature a spectator mode, for those who don't want to join in on the action. Spectating strong players is a good way to learn new tricks, and a nice option for those who may need to step away from a battle arena for a few minutes.
Players can assign short phrases to the directional pad to communicate during matches.
Players can once again choose short messages to share during battle. Up to eight messages can be mapped to the controller's directional pad for communication before or after online matches.
The Nintendo Switch Online app will be necessary for voice chat.
If you want to talk with other players, you'll have to use the Nintendo Switch Online companion app, which includes voice chat and other supporting features. Players can use the app to chat with people on their friend's list during matches or send longer messages.
A new service, Smash World, will let players share clips online.
Finally, Nintendo will launch a new online service, Smash World, in 2019. Smash World will let players share screenshots and video clips of their gameplay with people around the world.
With Smash players now paying for online, there's definitely an expectation that "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" will benefit from the subscription. Nintendo seems to have a solid framework in place to support an online community, but the biggest tests will come when the game is released on December 7th.