Yesterday was the day when the final Nintendo Direct for Super Smash Bros Ultimate premiered. It revealed everything that Nintendo intended to share before the game’s launch, including the final roster, details about online play, and the inevitable coming of downloadable content. Perhaps the biggest reveal, though, was the identity of the mysterious mode on the main menu screen, a mode which was theorized by many to be a “spirits” mode. Turned out that educated guess was spot on, but what exactly is Spirits, anyway? The answer to that question took some of the wind out of my sails when it comes to excitement for Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Spirits mode was theorized to be a lot of things. Some figured it was a Subspace Emissary -style single player campaign, others figured it was a Boss Rush – with so little information to work with, speculation ran rampant. I discussed it on my own blog in the context of my ideas for what kind of single player experience it might be, as well as discussing specific ideas for boss mode enemies. It turns out that Spirits most resembles the event matches from previous Super Smash Bros titles; themed matches that present specific challenges in exchange for a small reward. That reward is the spirits themselves.
Spirits in Ultimate take the place of trophies from the other titles in the series, but in practice they function more like the stickers in Brawl’s Subspace Emissary. You equip them to your fighters to improve their abilities, and the mechanics for this mode appear to be quite detailed. You have primary spirits who give you stat bonuses and support spirits attached to them that grant passive bonuses such as immunities or automatic healing. Spirits have three types which operate in an advantage system similar to ARMS (or the Fire Emblem weapon triangle, or Pokemon typings). Attack spirits beat grab spirits which beat shield spirits which beat attack spirits.
Spirits also have levels which affect how powerful and helpful they are. These exists as ranks ranging from novice to legendary, but also as a level system where spirits within each rank can become more powerful by leveling up. Levels are gained by fighting with primary spirits equipped in battle, by putting them through training, or by feeding them special snacks. It seems a lot like Pokemon or other monster-breeder games in that there’s an emphasis on raising your spirits to make them as strong as possible, and you want to have a big variety of capable spirits because you’ll need different capabilities for every event match.
It’s an interesting interpretation of “character as collectible” that is more mechanically dense than anything to exist in the Smash Bros franchise previously. Even Subspace Emissary’s stickers simply gave very mild bonuses that didn’t feel significant to the game. This time, certain spirit battles effectively require a specific support spirit to be equipped in order to negate dangerous disadvantages like poisonous terrain. These spirit battles are primarily accessed on a board that feels like starting a monster hunt in a fantasy roleplaying game, allowing you to choose which spirits you want to collect in what order and to equip your character accordingly.
Overall, Spirits mode looks to be a dense, fulfilling single player experience that offers a lot of play time and collecting for those interested in exploring the game by themselves. Standing on its own as an optional game mode, I think it has a lot of potential. It seems more involved than what I personally want in a Smash Bros experience, but I fully understand its value as a crunchy and meaningful single player experience. What makes me uneasy about Spirits mode – and ultimately lessens my excitement for the game in general – is its apparent connection to the World of Light adventure.
World of Light was revealed at the very end of the Nintendo Direct, and it serves as the Adventure Mode for Ultimate. It is the single player campaign in the sense that it contains the story and lore, though right now it is ambiguous exactly how much story we’re talking. Sakurai said not to expect Subspace levels of storytelling, though, so right now I’m not holding my breath for anything to the level of this first cut scene. Basically, Galeem turns all of the Smash Bros fighters into spirits and then uses those spirits to create evil versions of the various characters. The only fighter who manages to escape is Kirby, who then has the weighty responsibility of freeing the rest of the roster from their spirit prisons.
Like spirits mode, World of Light will require you to team up with spirits to empower your character and to battle spirit opponents in order to unlock rewards. However, this mode also requires you to defeat those spirits in order to progress along the map, enabling you to reach new areas and to face off against more spirits. By all appearances, it is in the World of Light that you find the various fighters in the game and battle against them in order to unlock them in multiplayer.
This is where things get a little sketchy for me. We’ve known for awhile that Sakurai wanted to include a new, unique way of unlocking characters in this game. We’ve also known for some time that the game would start with only the original Smash 64 roster and slowly expand to include the full cast. This means that in order to truly experience Ultimate’s multiplayer, you have no choice but to dive head-first into all of the game’s complex single-player mechanisms, managing spirits and navigating the World of Light map in order to play as your favorite characters.
Super Smash Bros is a multiplayer game at heart. The meat of the experience is in the local multiplayer, and maybe now in the online if the Switch’s service works effectively. There are few things more fun than breaking out a Smash game at a get-together, picking your favorite Nintendo characters, and jumping into a chaotic match with your friends or family. When Ultimate comes out of the box, you won’t get to have that experience. Unless you’re content playing with only 8 of the game’s 74 characters, your first experience with Smash Ultimate will likely be single player as you feed and train spirits in order to progress far enough to unlock all of the characters in the game.
Now it would be unfair for me to pretend that this problem is unique to Ultimate, or even to the Smash Bros franchise in general. Plenty of multiplayer titles which feature a roster of characters use single player as an avenue for unlocking more characters to utilize in multiplayer. This is a normal practice. But for me, the part of Super Smash Bros Ultimate that I’m most excited about – playing Squad Strike or Smashdown with a group of friends – will have to wait until I slog my through the RPG-like mechanisms of Spirits and World of Light.
My hope is that these modes will be more enjoyable in practice than they seem on paper. It is possible that I will love collecting spirits and powering up my fighters. I could find great enjoyment in facing down unique event matches and changing my spirit combinations to suit each battle. But until I experience it for myself, the idea of having to hold off on my favorite part of Smash Bros until I finish the campaign has tempered my expectations somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I still have this game on my wishlist. However, my excitement has dimmed somewhat, and I’ve become much more okay with waiting until Christmas rather than scooping it up as a Day One purchase.
What are your thoughts, adventurers? Did Spirits mode and World of Light increase or decrease your interest in the game? Do you plan to get Super Smash Bros Ultimate? What features are you the most excited for? Let me know in the comments below!