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How to unlock every Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character as fast as possible (update)

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Gotta go fast

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate offers a lot out of the box. All 103 stages and over 700 music tracks are available from the moment you turn on the game. What isn’t available at the start, however — and this is a big one — is every fighter. While the full roster includes 74 playable characters at launch (76 if you count Pokémon Trainer’s three Pokémon separately), only eight are unlocked from the get-go. So many worlds to play in, so few combatants.

There are myriad ways to unlock fighters — the single unifying gist is that the more you play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in any mode, the more characters you unlock — but there is one method that is much faster than others, though it requires you to spend a bit more time in the Nintendo Switch’s menus.

OK, who do I have to work with from the start?

When you first boot up Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, your roster includes eight of the 12 playable fighters from the original Nintendo 64 game: Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus, Yoshi, Kirby, Fox and Pikachu. (Ness, Luigi, Jigglypuff and Captain Falcon are part of the group of 66 that needs to be unlocked.)

The original eight fighters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

Each of the eight characters starts with eight different costumes. Some of those are simple palette swaps, while others are a bit more involved — Mario, for example, has his wedding suit from Super Mario Odyssey, while Pikachu has the usual variety of headgear.

The first fighter takes the longest. Probably.

Step one is playing a few rounds of Ultimate. Simple enough, yeah? In our testing, the first unlock happens within 8-10 minutes of game time, which is time spent in matches, not menus. The game counts these times separately; to see both “Play Time” and “Smash Bros. Powered Time Count,” from the main menu go to Vault, then Records, then Stats.

Play time stats for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
In this case, we spent a lot of time just hanging out in the menus. Doesn’t count.
Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

At the end of whatever match crosses the total play time into that territory, once you click through the postgame stats recap, the familiar siren sound should ring along with a silhouette of the fighter to unlock and an also-familiar line: “A new foe has appeared! Challenger approaching.”

A silhouette of Zelda as a challenger approaching in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

Now all you need to do is beat the challenger. Don’t you worry if you lose, though: There are ways to try again (more on that later).

The fastest ways to unlock Smash Bros. Ultimate characters

closing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from the Nintendo Switch dashboard Nintendo via Polygon
  1. Win or lose, once you face the challenger, do not play another match.
  2. Instead, press the Home button on your Switch controller to go back to the main menu, press X to quit the software, and confirm.
  3. Now reopen the game.
  4. Instead of doing a 10-minute round, this time create a new ruleset with a stock of one, which should allow for the fastest possible game.
  5. Play that match with your favorite fighter, and after you go through the postgame stats menu, a new challenger should approach for unlocking. (Protip: Play with a “human” opponent again, and then have them walk off the map as soon as the match starts.)
a list of custom rulesets for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

Repeating this method means you don’t have to wait an additional 10 minutes before being offered another character to unlock, which drastically cuts down the time in between. Why does this work? Our best guess is that Nintendo wanted to make sure you felt rewarded every time you booted up the game. Whatever the reasons were, 90 percent of the time, it worked every time.

When will I unlock my favorite character?

Though it may seem random at first — it certainly did to us — there is an order to when you unlock characters using the playtime/ reset method above. Note that the unlock order is different for Classic Mode (more on that later) and World of Light (based on map location and when you face the fighter), so you can use those methods to unlock certain characters earlier.

[Important note: We have independently confirmed about 80 percent all this list and the Classic Mode list below. The remainder comes by way of the incredible Smash Bros subreddit. We are working to confirm the rest, but we also thought it important to share now as we do.]

  1. Ness
  2. Zelda
  3. Bowser
  4. Pit
  5. Inkling
  6. Villager
  7. Marth
  8. Young Link
  9. Wii Fit Trainer
  10. Ice Climbers
  11. Captain Falcon
  12. Peach
  13. Ryu
  14. Ike
  15. Jigglypuff
  16. King K. Rool
  17. Sonic
  18. Simon
  19. Zero Suit Samus
  20. Little Mac
  21. Isabelle
  22. Shulk
  23. Lucina
  24. Wario
  25. Ridley
  26. Pokémon Trainer
  27. Lucario
  28. Daisy
  29. Roy
  30. King Dedede
  31. ROB
  32. Falco
  33. Luigi
  34. Pichu
  35. Richter
  36. Lucas
  37. Diddy Kong
  38. Meta Knight
  39. Snake
  40. Ganondorf
  41. Corrin
  42. Mega Man
  43. Bayonetta
  44. Toon Link
  45. Rosalina and Luma
  46. Incineroar
  47. Sheik
  48. Olimar
  49. Pac-Man
  50. Dark Samus
  51. Wolf
  52. Mr. Game & Watch
  53. Robin
  54. Dark Pit
  55. Cloud
  56. Duck Hunt
  57. Ken
  58. Greninja
  59. Chrom
  60. Mewtwo
  61. Bowser Jr.
  62. Dr. Mario
  63. Palutena

Is there a quicker way to get to my favorite character? (aka How to use Classic Mode and World of Light)

That’s definitely a long time to wait if you’re a fan of Bayonetta, but thankfully the unlock order for other modes is much different.

The easiest alternate method is playing Classic Mode, which is a series of themed battles and a boss fight that should take about 10 minutes or less to complete for each character.

Every time you play through Classic Mode, you’ll get a chance to unlock a character. This is also, notably, not random. The unlock lists seem to be grouped based on each of the original fighters presented:

  • Mario path: Sonic, Bayonetta, Mac, Ike, Luigi, Roy, Dr. Mario, Olimar
  • Donkey Kong path: Bowser, Pokémon Trainer, Rosalina and Luma, King Dedede, Sheik, Greninja, Diddy Kong, Duck Hunt
  • Link path: King K. Rool, Ice Climbers, Simon, Meta Knight, Snake, Young Link, Richter, Toon Link
  • Samus path: Inkling, Wii Fit Trainer, Pit, Incineroar, Dark Suit Samus, Cloud, Wario, Dark Pit
  • Yoshi path: Lucario, Marth, Ryu, Ganondorf, Lucina, Ridley, Chrom, Ken
  • Kirby path: Ness, Jigglypuff, Pac-Man, Zelda, Robin, Corrin, Lucas, Palutena
  • Fox path: Captain Falcon, Zero Suit Samus, Peach, Falco, Daisy, Bowser Jr. Wolf, Mewtwo
  • Pikachu path: Villager, Shulk, ROB, Mega Man, Isabelle, Game and Watch, Pichu

So for example, playing through with Yoshi will unlock Lucario, then playing through again with either Yoshi or Lucario will unlock Marth, and so on. If you’ve unlocked a character through other means (e.g. World of Light or via playtime), the challenger that approaches will be the next one on the list. If you get through the whole path, the game will provide a new challenger from another list.

I really just want the Mii fighters

Oh, that one’s easy — just make one of each Mii Fighter (Brawler, Swordfighter, and Gunner). You can find the option under Games & More from the main menu.

Challenger’s Approach (aka “what happens if I lose the challenge?”)

No matter how well you play, accidents happen and the challenger might beat you. (I am not ashamed to say that Jigglypuff bested me multiple times.) The wording when you first lose might make you think you’ll be waiting a long time — like, after-you-unlock-every-other-fighter long time — but thankfully, that’s not the case.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate - Challenger’s Approach reveal Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

Eventually, after a few challengers appear, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will let you know about a new option that’ll pop up from time to time called the Challenger’s Approach. It’ll appear as a glowing door in the bottom right of the Games & More menu. Clicking it will give you a second chance to KO and unlock challengers you’ve faced previously, in the same order you found them, using whatever fighter you like (i.e., you won’t be restricted to the first character you won a previous match with).

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate - Challenger’s Approach explainer Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

We still haven’t quite figured out how often the door appears — when we had one or two challengers to unlock, it seemed rare, but once that queue grew to five or six, the Challenger’s Approach option seemed to pop up every single time we faced a new challenger. Our advice is to check back after every match, and before closing and reopening the game. Just in case.

I restarted the game and no new challenger came up. Help!

Though this method worked consistently every time with our first account, we ran into a small hiccup when testing with a new profile on the same Switch: A new challenger wasn’t appearing, even after we tried the close-and-reopen-and-play-a-quick-round method several times.

The fix was thankfully easy, though maybe a bit annoying: We used the 10-minute ruleset and walked away, and at the end of that match, we had a new challenger appear. We fought, we lost, re-closed and reopened the game, and voilà: The quick loop worked just fine after that.

What else will trigger the new challenger is still somewhat up for debate and has been contributed at times to all of the following: minutes played, number of human players during that time, button inputs pressed, distance traveled by character, etc.

Can’t I also unlock fighters through the World of Light adventure mode?

Yes, but it can take dozens of hours this way. If you’re just looking to get the full roster as quickly as possible, this is the fastest and most consistent method we’ve found so far. (Some Spirit Board challenges also seemed to work, though that wasn’t nearly as consistent, the challenges were overall much harder, and it ultimately felt like a longer amount of time.)

Very early in World of Light, you’re offered a choice of three fighters: Marth, Sheik, or Villager. Whichever you choose will appear in multiplayer, so if those three are high on your list of to-haves, this is one of the fastest ways to unlock them.

One important note: If you decide to pursue World of Light/Spirit Boards to unlock characters, they’ll appear in the Smash mode without any additional work. But if you unlock all your characters in the game’s competitive multiplayer mode, you won’t automatically have access to them in World of Light. Because of that mode’s narrative thread, you slowly unlock fighters as you encounter them in the overworld map — you only start with Kirby available. You could have a full roster available in Smash mode, but only a handful of characters playable in World of Light.

How much time does this save me, really?

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate - full playable character roster Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

Using this method instead of playing 10-minute rounds means you can face a new challenger after a 10-second round (assuming you have a second human-controlled player around who doesn’t mind running off the edge of the screen as soon as the round begins). With 66 fighters to unlock, the time savings start adding up pretty quickly. Even if you’re playing rounds for a full minute, skipping nine minutes per unlock means saving just under 10 hours to get through the full roster.

That doesn’t take into account other factors like the time to close and reopen the game (which, mercifully, is less than a minute), setting up the next match (maybe another minute), fighting the challenger (under five minutes), and possibly fighting them again later should you lose. All of which is to say, no matter how you choose to unlock characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with 66 to unlock, it could still take many hours before you see the full lineup. But hopefully, this suggestion saves you half a day of play time.