Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best version of Smash yet. It’s not even close competition. Everything about the game feels tighter, better, more refined. The number of options available for everything from character choice to battle settings is staggering. Online play is solid and easy to get into.
But even beyond that, Smash has nailed, for the first time, its execution of a true single-player mode. Ultimate’s version is called World of Light, and it’s a departure from previous games in that it keeps players’ attention with its sheer variety. While it lacks Smash Bros. Brawl’s amusing and fan service-filled narrative cutscenes (which, to be honest, didn’t really do anything for the gameplay experience), it makes up for it with a sprawling world filled with battles to fight and secrets to uncover.
When World of Light was first revealed, I was nervous. Nintendo was describing a system by which you would acquire “spirits” that would level up alongside you, and sub-spirits that could provide additional skills and powers. Besides that, there was a separate character progression system, akin to something from a roleplaying game like Final Fantasy X, where skill points earned in battle could be spent on upgrading moves and abilities. As someone who isn’t excited by “systems,” so much, this was a little intimidating. With Smash Bros., I thought, I just want a simple good time. Why add all these layers of complexity?
It turns out, I was wrong. See, even though there’s a lot to the World of Light’s various systems on paper, in practice, it all gels in a really satisfying way. I’ll try to summarize it:
The setup here is that the world has been destroyed, leaving Kirby as the sole survivor. Every other Smash character has been taken captive, and evil clones of them are being created and fused with “spirits.” These spirits take the form of various characters and items from every game represented by Smash Bros. One spirit might be a Metroid, while another might be Tom Nook from the Animal Crossing games. You’ll travel around a world map and battle the evil clones of Smash fighters, and when you defeat them, you’ll free the spirit embedded in them, which will then join you. You equip spirits much like you would weapons and armor in an RPG. They give you various stat boosts and access to special abilities. Some give you environmental protection, like lessened damage in lava. There are also sub-spirits that can be inserted into slots on main spirits. These provide extra power-ups and abilities.
Periodically, as you travel across the beautifully drawn world map, you’ll encounter the actual captured Smash characters. Battling them returns them to their senses, and they’ll join you. From that point forward, you can choose them as your character. This also unlocks them in other Smash modes, making this a much more fun way of unlocking characters than waiting for random “New Challenger Approaches” battles in other modes.
What makes World of Light so much fun, though, as I’ve alluded to, is the variety. True enough, each battle is a Smash battle at its core. But every new fight has a new set of conditions, typically inspired by the spirit you’re attempting to save. For example, in an early fight, you’re attempting to free the spirit of Eevee (the cutest Pokemon, sorry Pikachu). To do so, you have to battle a team of Yoshis. However, rather than fighting several stock Yoshi fighters, each one has different abilities that make them match up with Eevee’s various evolutionary changes. One is fire-based, for example, just like Flareon, and one is lightning-based, like the shocking Jolteon. These tiny, subtle, often hilarious nods are hidden throughout the entirety of the experience. When you get one, you really feel like you’re in on the joke with Nintendo. It’s a terrific way of celebrating all these franchises that are on display here.
With each fight against even familiar opponents being so unique, it’s hard to get bored. While goofy cutscenes might keep my attention for a little while, the uniqueness of the gameplay in World of Light will always be my preference. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has set a new high bar for these games, and it’s going to be hard for even Nintendo to top it.