Everyone loves Smash Bros., myself included. Everyone especially loves Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and especially myself included. This is truly the ultimate Smash Bros., with every character in the series’ history in the roster and hours upon hours of amazing musical arrangements, probably tons of historical unlockables (although they haven’t really talked about that stuff yet, you know it’s in there), and all kinds of multiplayer madness. But one area Smash has often struggled in is its single player offerings. Could this game be the game, the one that gives us something good beyond freeplay and training? Well, there’s a chance.
Smash Bros. is a fighting series, which means it doesn’t necessarily even need a single player mode, just like Street Fighter doesn’t need a special single player mode. Arcade should be enough, because fighting games are one of those “forever” genres that are more about playing for the sake of playing than anything else. But things have changed over the years, and there has been a rising demand for single player stuff, especially after Mortal Kombat’s story mode blew up. But Smash always tried as well.
Melee on the GameCube had an interesting take. It had Adventure mode, which was sort of like a much bigger arcade mode, but with larger stages that felt like playing classic video game levels and gimmick boss fights. Event mode was also introduced, providing various themed challenges that were a lot of fun to play through. But while the content was great in volume, many argued it wasn’t great in substance. Enter the Subspace Emissary.
Subspace Emissary, introduced in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, was almost a reimagining of The Great Cave Offensive, a massive, treasure-hunting mode from Kirby Super Star on the SNES. It was a lot of platforming, a lot of searching and a lot of fighting, all bolstered by some of the most amazing cutscenes in video game history. But it didn’t work out. Some people like it, but more didn’t, as playing the mode itself wasn’t very exciting. It felt bloated with empty space, sparse on interesting collectibles, and the boss fights were cool, but not always fused well with gamepla. Plus, apparently tons of people just watched the cutscenes on YouTube, rendering an internal feeling like there was a waste of effort.
Hence Smash for 3DS and Wii U and its nearly dropping the concept. That game was loaded with content, but single player was a weird board game idea and sort of limited-time score rush gimmick that felt like an afterthought. Just throw something in there to check a box, meanwhile people are actually going nuts over having 8-player multiplayer. And lemme tell ya folks, 8-player multiplayer is a gift from God herself. But what’s next? People still want content volume. People still want single player modes. From Tekken to Street Fighter, the thing Mortal Kombat started in 2011 is still rippling out today. Casual audiences want single player modes, because they like the idea of fighters, but not the reality of needing to bang your head against the wall to learn them and properly hit the competitive pavement.
During the last Nintendo Direct that was all about Smash Bros., in addition to poor Luigi being murdered by Death itself, Sakurai hinted at something new coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. There was a lot of effort to point the audience’s attention to it, noting to show the main menu screen, but blurring out one of the options. Logic immediately jumps to that blurred out option being the single player mode, and you’d think that level of cheekiness means it’s more than an afterthought. What could it be? Who knows, but this is the chance to make an impact. After all, it’s the Ultimate Smash Bros.
Ultimately, single player content is always a struggle for fighting game developers. It’s something that always needs to be on the backburner by design, because so much time and effort needs to go into making mechanics fun to play, expanding roster options, and trying as hard as humanly possible to make it balanced. Single player comes after that, after the esports plans and the basic kit everyone has come to take for granted. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is no different. The focus is on the roster and making them play as great as possible. But at the same time, that big ol’ blurry button is a deliberate point of intrigue. Let’s ride this wave out and see what happens.