Super Smash Bros. Still Can't Get Online Right

Ten years after Nintendo released its first online Smash game, it still hasn’t gotten the online experience right.

Marketed as the most complete Smash experience, with the most fighters, the best graphics, and the greatest quality-of-life updates, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Switch appears at face to be a no-holds-barred improvement on the series as a whole.

Over the weekend, however, fans learned that there’s one crucial, and crappy, way Smash Ultimate falls in line with its predecessors: Its shitty design for online play. And this time, with the required Nintendo Switch Online subscription service, they’re paying extra for it.

As with Smash’s previous iterations, players whose internet is less than stellar appear to be subjecting their online opponents to some truly garbage lag. Smash is a fast fighting game, and Smash Ultimate is considerably faster than its two predecessors. Many of my games felt just as laggy as they did 10 years ago when I was playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl online on the Wii. And lag kills the experience.

About a third of my matches are weighed down by this even though my own wireless speed is excellent. (I know because I tested it in the Switch’s settings menu.) I’m often matched against players who must be playing from a couch 91.44m underground in a deep, dank cave with the router sitting under a dripping stalactite.

Sometimes, my fighter’s animation will pause for a full three seconds, which, in a fast Smash game, is completely unmanageable. Making matters worse, oftentimes, these internet-challenged opponents will play characters who spam projectiles, therefore forcing their opponents to play reactively and defensively in these laggy conditions. That’s just no fun.

Making your internet setup Smash-ready is tricky and expensive. On top of the initial cost of Nintendo Switch online’s yearly bill, players might want to purchase a wired LAN adaptor for their console. A Nintendo-licensed one is releasing this week for $36, not cheap by any means, and it’s already pre-sold out in a lot of places.

Smash director Masahiro Sakurai actually said that players should buy a LAN adaptor in a Nintendo Direct last month. Upgrading to faster internet is an option, too, yet feels like kind of an extreme step just to play one video game, even if it’s as great as Smash.

There are a few different ways to Smash online. Most familiar will be Quickplay, a mode where players can hop into a match against an opponent with an ostensibly comparable skill level. That’s measured by your Global Smash Power, a skill rating that goes up when you win and down when you lose. Gonzalo “Zero” Barrios, who was the best Smash 4 player, had a rating of around 783,000 a couple days ago.

I’ve seen randos on Twitter with scores much higher. These ratings don’t mean a lot right now, but at some point, after performing well enough, players can unlock “Elite Smash,” an “exclusive society of top-tier smashers.”

Some people get it after a few dozen solo Quickplay wins and around 700,000 GSP, but others report a higher GSP threshold, like 900,000, and a varying numbers of games.

So far, I’m not finding that Quickplay is consistently matching me in the sorts of matches I’d prefer. It’s great that players can choose a preferred ruleset and that the game attempts to match you with players with similar skill and similar preferences.

My preferences are to play one-on-one matches with two stocks on flat stages. Yet in practice, a sure third, sometimes half, of the Quickplay matches I enter into are four-player matches. Frustratingly, one match yesterday tossed me into a two-on-two match, with items on, all set on a complicated, notably non-flat stage.

These four-player matches tend to suffer from more lag than my one-on-ones, too, making them even an even less welcome experience.

If you do manage to find an opponent who is at your skill level and doesn’t have crappy internet, it’s good to hold onto them and challenge them to a rematch.

Unfortunately, choosing “rematch” means you can’t change your fighter. Even if they don’t agree. Seriously: If you ask an opponent to rematch, and they don’t accept, you’re still stuck playing with the same fighter for whatever the next match is.

To mitigate Quickplay’s randomness factor, players can choose to join a battle arena. Battle arenas are wrestling rings where, as players duke it out using one chosen ruleset, bystanders either sit in the spectator stands or tap their feet in the waiting area. Players can join their friends’ arenas, which is actually pretty fun, since you get to watch your friends battle. It’s also nice that you can be sure what ruleset you’re playing.

Here’s the thing about friends’ arenas: The only way to notify a friend you want to play with them is to contact them outside of the game with a text message or something. That’s even if you can see them online. Then, assuming that friend is actually down, you can either enter their arena once they make it, or make your own.

If you want to play in a battle arena with friends online, but also with friends sitting next to you on the couch, you can’t, from what I can tell. When I tried to do this last night, we had to pass the controller back and forth, texting our online friends, “Hey, it’s James’ turn now” when we switched off.

Public arenas give players the option to queue up for matches with players who share ruleset preferences. Often, though, to actually get into one of these matches might necessitate waiting in a virtual line for your turn:

Not everybody is having a negative online experience with Smash. Yet enough people are complaining that the Smash Ultimate Reddit is deleting new posts about it and forwarding everyone with complaints into a single megathread.

On the heels of Splatoon 2’s weird matchmaking system, which makes it very hard to play on the same team as your friend in some modes, and early complaints about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s connection issues, Smash Ultimate’s wonky online mode is just the latest in a succession of strange online multiplayer design decisions.


Comments

    The online lag has been so bad that I'd refund this if I could.
    I hope it gets fixed but I don't have much faith in Nintendo's online services.

      1. Get the LAN adaptor, which came out ages ago.
      2. Get better internet

    Smash 4's online was decent. It worked for what it was. I dunno why they needed to drastically change it so much in Ultimate. There's no simple option to play 1v1 no items for example...wtf?

    Playing pass the controller sounds pretty poor and the hooking up with friends online is clunky.
    BUT, why would you play online with wifi? A network adapter will cost $3 on eBay with free postage. I've had no issues with mine since forever (18 months).

    Was thinking about buying this til I saw Nintendo is still completely incompetent when it comes to online play. On top of that, the fact that I need to buy an adapter is absurd.

      You don't.. Thats a load of bull. There is just less dropped packets and more consistent connection via wired - which is better suited to fast paced fighters.

      I've been playing via both wired and wireless with little issues.

      It's not that bad. Played a few good matches. Played some laggy as f**k ones. I must say, this "premium" online service has been a joke so far.

        Nup, not doing it again. They need to get with the times.

          Lol that's just Nintendo. Didn't you get a switch already? By buying a switch you've already funded their ineptitude when it comes to their random basic whacky "not doing basic stuff like online right". Why stop now? READY? FIGHT!

    I've held out buying this game to see what the online is like and sadly it seems like I feared, a laggy featureless mess that you now need to pay for. Its a shame because nintendo really could have done something great here

    Just another in a long line of reasons to avoid Switch's online service.
    Why do they expect us to pay for it again?

    Has there been a point where Nintendo has ever gotten online right?

    Its almost as if the boardroom goes like this:

    "Hey everyone, I know other consoles are doing online and it works perfectly and customers love it. But lets instead do online terribly and make our customers hate it! Its the Nintendo way!"

    My first two experiences with online weren't too bad. First match was fine until close to the end and then it kept pausing. Second match had consistent but only very slight stuttering throughout, though I still managed to win. I can imagine if I'd played more online I would eventually come across those matches that are nearly impossible to play.

    I'm probably going to steer clear of online though, much prefer local play, but that's not an option for many people I'm sure and you can't expect to play decently with stuttering all the time.

    Smash has already sold more than a few million copies.. Nearly every big online game that launches has issues with connectivity, disconnects etc all in its first few weeks whole they tweak and patch. Nothing new here..

    And for everyone bitching about Nintendo screwing up online, have you actually tried their other games online? Tennis, Kart and Splatoon 2 work perfectly fine. Diablo 3 also uses it - no issues at all. This is clearly a case of just needing a few tweaks and refinements.

    If you want to whine and miss out on a fantastic game, go ahead. But let's be honest - Smash is a same room experience. It's meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, not randoms online (but should still have that option for when you can't do local).

      Splatoon online "works fine", but not to a standard that justifies being paid for. In fact the disconnection issues (not necessarily myself, any match that had at least one person drop out) seemed to only ramp up once the paid subscription hit.

    I hope Nintendo fixes the online issues that are forcing players to turn away.
    I mean people are still going to complain about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate because they think the game is trash or the World of Light is garbage and the next thing they're going to say is we want Waluigi as a fighter for Smash.
    Well what I would say is people are getting pissed off that we got 74 fighters and we got 5 more characters coming in as DLC as part of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Fighters Pass.
    I mean why can't people just be happy for once?
    We're getting a new update for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate which is Version 1.2.0 and what that new update means is that we're not going to watch any replays and I hope Nintendo fixes the online issues because I'm not going online until Nintendo fixes this online problem.
    I mean Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is still a great game and even though it's been given a 10/10 the World of Light Adventure Mode is absolutely fantastic.
    But people are still getting very upset about why Masahiro Sakurai isn't adding Waluigi as a new fighter well as I said it's not going to happen unfortunately.
    But with the new Version 1.2.0 update coming out for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate people really need to chill out give Nintendo a break give Masahiro Sakurai and his development team a break Sakurai-San has put a lot of hard work into making this game and people really need to let Masahiro Sakurai do his work and that is bringing in some DLC for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate which includes the Piranha Plant DLC and Joker from Persona 5 DLC.
    Hopefully Nintendo fixes the online problem because more and more people are going to be pissed off about why Waluigi isn't going to be added as a new fighter.
    What I would say is chill out people stop complaining and just be happy.

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