Early opinions of Super Smash Bros Ultimate have been largely positive, but a cloud hangs over Nintendo’s flagship fighter as fans and pros alike have criticised the online matchmaking experience. One top player, TSM’s William ‘Leffen’ Hjelte, went as far as saying it has "perhaps the worst online matchmaking/netcode of any AAA game - for its time - ever".
The qualification is crucial, of course, as compared to Super Smash Bros Brawl’s online experience, Ultimate is not as bad, but as the Swedish player points out, this is no longer 2008. In 2018 it is almost inexcusable for a game made by a company as big as Nintendo to suffer in this way, with multiple issues ranging from bad connections to being put in game types you never searched for.
It was never going to be easy for Nintendo to produce a perfect matchmaking experience and they are far from the only company to have struggled with this in recent times, with many titles across a range of genres failing to provide what the fans are looking for when it comes to online play. However, with the new Smash title faster than the previous one, reaction time is crucial, although from some clips posted online it seems the problem is even worse.
This is not a great look for Nintendo ahead of the Christmas period, when they will be hoping the game will sell in massive numbers for the Switch game, although there is one silver lining. Compared to the evil of Roblox or other games that have been demonised in the press, Smash’s internet issues are unlikely to register with many parents, meaning a massive part of the game’s core audience, the kids, will still be playing it on the 26th.
However, if more and more clips like of stuttering, broken gameplay circulate, and Nintendo cannot get ahead of the problem, there is a risk to the commercial success of the game that could see the company lose out on a lot of cash. From an esports point of view, no serious competition will ever happen online, so competitions are going to be fine, but the majority of people experience multiplayer through internet matchmaking these days, and Nintendo’s Smash audience is no different.
There is plenty of cash in the bank for the Japanese giant to throw at the issue, and they are hardly alone in struggling to make that side of the game work. If they do, Ultimate has almost limitless potential, with Melee and Smash 4 gods alike fawning over elements of the combo game and improvements made to the mechanics. If only they can just fix the connections…