Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is going to be the big console game this December. It’ll be on tens of thousands of holiday wish lists and be the group activity that saves siblings from terrible Netflix Christmas movies – instead letting them beat each other mercilessly as Nintendo’s megastar mascots.
Unfortunately, the fun won’t be available to everybody. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch and can’t afford to get one – even Black Friday sales didn’t offer much of a discount – then you’ll be left out of Mario’s violent party. You might be able to go over to a friend’s house and play – but who doesn’t pine for a copy of their own?
Luckily, while Super Smash Bros. is still the dominant platform fighting series, it has in recent years picked up a ton of competition on PC. So even if you’re out of the Nintendo loop you can pick one of these games up to fill the void.
I’d recommend checking out each game to see if the community meets your expectations as some of these titles have sputtered online. They’re still great for local sessions though.
Brawlhalla is one of the best examples of a brilliant Smash-like. It’s a platform fighter with everything you could want: over 40 distinct characters, a variety of colourful stages, casual and competitive modes, and weekly updates that address balance and community feedback.
You don’t even have to spend a penny
As it’s free-to-play it has amassed a large and active community. That’s one of its biggest advantages over many of the other games in this list. However, the unpleasant side of that is much of the community being toxic. As Brawlhalla has been around for a few years now too, you’ll also face some frustration going against the dominant strategies in intense one on ones – you’ll need to practise a lot to overcome that hurdle. Try sticking to the casual battles if you’re struggling.
With a secure connection and some friends, however, Brawlhalla provides hours of platform fighting entertainment, and you don’t even have to spend a penny.
Rivals of Aether
While Super Smash Bros. strikes a good balance between casual and competitive play, Rivals of Aether goes all out on the competitive side by zeroing in on speedier mechanics. It gives you a number of elemental animals to fight with, and boy, it’s great fun to see a Monk-frog stab a lion who has a flaming mane. Stars from other popular games such as Ori and Shovel Knight also make an appearance as playable characters.
Rivals of Aether has a fantastic art style to boot, although I still can’t stop thinking of Greninja whenever I see Ranno in action. If you want your Smash-like competitive, then this is among your best picks.
Slap City, an especially zany party fighter developed by Ludosity, has smooth, floaty mechanics that feel more like Super Smash Bros. Brawl than Melee or Ultimate. Smash Summit 7, an invitational for some of the most influential players in the competitive Smash scene, had the game as part of its lineup.
The development team is pretty involved with regular updates and balance patches as well, so if you’re looking for a platform fighter with a friendly community be sure to check this one out.
Super Smash Flash
Super Smash Flash, and its sequel, is a browser replica of Super Smash Bros. Melee. It’s easy to access, has multiplayer, and a bunch of other features from the original game. This is in no way legal, obviously, but the creators have got away with it so far…
Super Smash Flash also has non-Smash characters like Naruto, Chibi-robo, and Goku, making that brand recognition even more prevalent. I was hooked the first time I picked it up.
Icons: Combat Arena
Developed by some of the folks behind popular Super Smash Bros. Brawl mod Project M, Icons: Combat Arena is a free-to-play platform fighter that’s pitched as being “for everyone.” However, that’s not the case yet – given it’s only available in Steam Early Access for North America.
It’s had a short and rocky history so far with all kinds of issues around updates, but it’s worth trying out to see what the creators of Project M have been up to. Hopefully it’ll be more on par with its competitors in the genre soon – it certainly has the talent behind it.
Dynasty Feud has more than 40 unique characters. Alright, that doesn’t seem like much compared to Ultimate’s roster of 70+, but it’s still plenty no matter what the context. And the full context here is that you don’t just pick a fighter, you pick an entire dynasty, and fight between different periods of history.
Unfortunately, as brilliant as that idea is, developer Kaia Studios confirmed it only sold 300 copies back in June of 2017. Hopefully it’s done better since, but that still means Dynasty Feud should probably be purchased to play alone – or locally with friends who can also pick it up.
Developed by TeePee Studios, Dimensions VS has only recently come to the platform fighter scene – but due to its tight mechanics it’s already starting to get traction. However, the sound, character, and level design are lacking and seem to be putting people off.
That’s a real shame as the developer appears to be committing to keeping the free-to-play fighter up to date with regular updates and content patches. Dimensions VS doesn’t have a whole lot of discussion around it yet, so it’s difficult to say how active the playerbase will be in the coming months, but it’s worth checking out as long as you proceed with caution for now.
Super Smash Land
Super Smash Land is a fan-made ‘demake’ – from the developer of Rivals of Aether, no less – that recreates the popular series with Game Boy specifications. It’s been around for years, and pops up every once and a while on a gaming forum or subreddit – but it’s never had the attention it deserves.
It’s still free-to-play, easy to access, and is a great fit for a stream, all-night gaming session, or solo Smash-like adventure.
Brawlout is the indie game version of Super Smash Bros. – like, really. It’s not just an independently-developed game, but features characters taken from around the indie game universe. Replacing the likes of Mario and Link are familiar faces from Hyper Light Drifter and Guacamelee.
Hyper Light Drifter and Guacamelee replace the likes of Link
It got some mixed reviews at launch, mostly due to direct comparisons with Smash – it’s hard to match the polish Nintendo delivers. Still, while Brawlout may not be nearly as good as Smash Bros., it’s still well worth a look, especially if you want to see some of your beloved indie game characters brawl.
2D platformers as practice
There are other Smash-likes that could be mentioned but this is an important point to make: if you want to get better at platform fighters, you should play more side-scrolling platformers.
Digging into the mechanics of games like Nidhogg, TowerFall, and Samurai Gunn can help with your timing, coordination, and reactions when in desperate situations. It’s the type of training that would be turned into a montage in a Rocky movie. It all helps, and there are plenty of platformers you can play without needing a good internet connection or a bunch of friends with hours to spare.