Nintendo / Sora Ltd / Bandai Namco
Well, it’s finally here. Actually, it was here a week ago but I didn’t get code until the day before launch so you’re getting a review now.
Regardless, the point remains: Super Smash Bros Ultimate is now on Switch, giving Nintendo’s already popular system another massive boost. And, judging by early sales figures – roughly 1.3 million sold in Japan already, toppling Red Dead 2 in the UK and the like – it’s clear it’s going to be a huge success.
It’s safe to say this is mainly down to Smash’s multiplayer gameplay. After all, Smash has always been known as a multiplayer fighter first and foremost, and with this new Switch version once again offering support for up to eight players simultaneously it goes without saying that many of the fans buying the game are doing so to fight against their friends or online.
Not everyone likes playing online, though, or playing with their pals, or just people in general. Some folk – yer man Scullion included – are strictly solo gamers, and in that situation it’s maybe a little less immediately clear how long the game’s going to last. Well, I’m going to tell you.
There are so many different modes and features in Super Smash Bros Ultimate that it would take me months to cover them all in a review. In the interest of everyone’s patience, then, I’ve decided to highlight the three main modes that I feel are the most important to single-player gamers.
World of Light
The main solo mode Nintendo likely wants you to take on first is World of Light. This is a lengthy adventure in which all 70-odd characters have been trapped in a spirit form and it’s up to the sole survivor, Kirby, to start the rescue process.
This involves wandering through an enormous map screen, taking on various battles to not only unlock each character, but also add ‘spirits’ to your party.
“What be sprits,” I hear thee enquire. Essentially, they’re a bunch of characters from Nintendo and third-party games: you can then recruit them – well, their official artwork – to your party.
Spirits come in two main flavours. Primary spirits will boost your attack and defence and have one of four traits: attack (red), grab (green), shield (blue) and neutral. Spirits of one colour will make it easier to beat spirits of certain other colours and… look, I know. I’m confusing myself just writing it. Stick with me.
You also get support spirits: depending on the primary one you choose, you can assign up to three of these, and each gives you a special ability.
Many of these abilities are cleverly linked to the characters they represent: the chap from NES game Urban Champion, for example, increases your punch strength, while Eevee increases your stats when you eat food (just like they do when you feed them candy in Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee).
If all this sounds massively complicated, thankfully the game gives you the option to auto-suggest a team for your upcoming fight, saving you a lot of time.
At the time of writing there are 1299 spirits in total, ranging from well-known characters – Toad, Chun-Li and the like – to delightfully obscure ones who’ll only please a handful of people (including me) like Stanley the Bugman from Donkey Kong 3 and the floating hand with the fly swatter from Mario Paint on the SNES.
Incidentally, given these are just illustrations with certain parameters attached to them you can probably expect the number of spirits to rise in the coming months and years: it would be daft of Nintendo not to add new spirits of characters from new and upcoming Switch releases.
So, back to World of Light mode. You wander around, finding these spirits and fighting them in one-off battles to add them to your collection. Obviously you can’t actually fight any of these spirits directly: Smash Bros Ultimate is a big game but it’s not ‘1299 playable characters’ big. Instead, you fight against members of the existing roster in special fights designed to sum up each spirit’s characteristics.
Take the spirit for Wart, the final boss at the end of Super Mario Bros 2. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Super Mario Bros 2 takes place in a dream world called Sub-Con, and you defeat Wart at the end of the game by throwing vegetables at him.
Wart’s spirit fight, then, has you taking on a team of King K Rool (because he’s a big green guy) and Peach (because Super Mario Bros 2 was her first appearance as a playable character). On top of this, Peach mainly uses her vegetable throwing attack, and landing on the floor makes you fall asleep (because of the dream world theme). It’s clever.
World of Light mode will take you a decent amount of time to beat: around 15 hours or more if you want to 100% it. It feels like the sort of mode you should play in small bursts, though, because while there are a few interesting diversions on the map to make things seem a little less repetitive, for the most part it’s still just a continuous series of fights.
Even after you’ve finished World of Light’s lengthy journey, you still won’t have every spirit in the game. Far from it, in fact. Step forward the Spirit Board.
This is a constantly updating selection of spirit battles which allows you to take on spirits you don’t yet own in order to keep adding to your collection.
For me, this is the section that makes or breaks Smash Bros Ultimate’s solo content, depending on how you like to play your games. If you’re the sort who likes to collect things – the kind of player who’s driven on by the goal of ‘catching ‘em all’ in Pokémon – then the Spirit Board will keep you busy for hundreds of hours as you try to collect all 1299 spirits.
Thankfully, there’s a ‘collection’ screen that lists them all and lets you see at a glance which ones you own. Without this the spirits would feel a bit arbitrary, but the fact that this screen has a modest little counter at the top telling you that you’ve collected X/1299 spirits is the one thing many gamers will need to hook them: a clear, defined goal to reach.
Much like the World of Light mode, whether you’ll actually manage this depends on how patient you are to have well over 1000 fights (and that’s not counting the ones you lose). On top of that, when you win a spirit battle you then have to play a timing-based mini-game to try and catch the spirit: miss and you’ll come away empty-handed and have to wait for it to randomly come back round again.
This was the one I was most worried about before the game launched. As a solo gamer, the way I kept myself entertained in Melee, Brawl and Smash for Wii U and 3DS was by trying to collect as many trophies – 3D models of Nintendo characters past and present – as possible.
As well as all the other ways to collect trophies, there were special one-off trophies of each fighter that could only be unlocked by completing Classic mode with them (and All-Star in some games).
This was a great idea, because it meant that players would have to get to grips with every single character in the game if they wanted to collect every trophy: it encouraged you to experience the entire roster instead of just picking Link – the Ken of Smash Bros (well, until Ken appeared in Ultimate) – and stubbornly sticking with him.
The announcement that Ultimate would be ditching trophies had me worried that this would possibly make Classic mode pointless. Turns out that’s not the case, thankfully.
This time, when you beat Classic mode with a character you’ll unlock their spirit for your collection: this is the only way to get that character’s spirit. This means that, once again, you’ll need to beat Classic mode with every single fighter to get all the spirits.
To keep things interesting to at least a small degree, each fighter has a different set of preset opponents in Classic mode that relate to their character. Toon Link’s Classic mode, for example, has you playing a series of fights accompanied by two other CPU-controlled Toon Links (a reference to the three-player title Tri Force Heroes).
Meanwhile, R.O.B. has a strange set of battles against opponents who don’t show any expression – Meta Knight, Wii Fit Trainer and the like.
Long story short, if you’re the sort who tries to 100% their games and you plan on getting every spirit, then Classic mode will take up a hefty chunk of that. The fact you’ll need to play as every character in the game, though, means working your way through everyone’s Classic mode feels a lot less repetitive than World of Light or the Spirit Board do.
So there you go, the three main modes for solo players in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Obviously the game has so much more to offer than this – like I say, I could be here for days listing all its features – but if you’re strictly single-player only the fact is that World of Light, the Spirit Board and Classic mode will take up the vast majority of your time with the game.
Whether that’s a good thing relies mainly on your tolerance for taking on countless one-off fights with different parameters and gimmicks applied to each one. If you need a story, like Brawl’s Subspace Emissary mode, you may be left wanting.
Similarly, you’re more likely to get the most out of Ultimate if you’re the sort of gamer who sees that there are 1299 spirits to collect and thinks: “challenge accepted”. If you take satisfaction from seeing your total grow and trying to find the remaining ones you need to complete the collection, you’ll be at this one for months.
Naturally, Smash was always designed to mainly be a multiplayer game, and if you’re interested in playing against other people online or locally – especially locally – then it’s clearly an absolutely essential game. If you have a Switch, you should also have Smash.
For solo players it’s a bit of a harder sell, but only slightly so. There’s still an obscene amount of content in here if you want to go it alone, and while the action’s a little more repetitive as a result, the way the spirit gimmick regularly mixes things up means you’re still going to get your money’s worth.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate is available now on Nintendo Switch. You can buy the physical version from Amazon UK.
In order that I could write this review, I received a digital copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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Good read, Chris! I reckon I’ve spent well over 15 hours in World of Light. Looking forward to giving the other modes a go when I’m finished with it – I didn’t realise Classic was tailored in the way that you described.
One question I haven’t seen mentioned in any review: do the spirits have a lovely bit of text to go with them like the trophies of old? I used to love reading through them