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Understanding spirits in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

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All your favorite characters are back — in Pog form

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is introducing a new collectible called “Spirits.” They’re replacing trophies as the main collectible in Smash, and they’re pretty much Pogs. Rather than 3D models, they’re cutout images of characters from deep video game lore — and not just Nintendo’s. We’ve got Goku (not that Goku), multiple versions of Revolver Ocelot and some guy from Disaster: Day of Crisis.

These little dudes aren’t just for looking at! They factor into the gameplay of a few modes: World of Light, and Spirit Board.

While director Masahiro Sakurai talked at some length about Spirits in the final Super Smash Bros.-themed Nintendo Direct, we didn’t fully grasp the system until we tried it out for ourselves. There’s a lot to take in. Spirits act as trading cards, power-ups, perks, virtual pets and more. They add another layer of complexity and chaos to an already chaotic game. Check out the video above (or the wall of text below) for a detailed breakdown of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Spirit system: what they do, how you get them, and how you use them.

What do spirits do?

From a gameplay perspective, spirits are like a bit like items in any loot-based RPG. You equip one spirit as your primary spirit. This spirit has attack and defense bonuses that are added to yours. Your primary spirit can also imbue you with an element: Attack, Shield or Grab. These three elements work like rock-paper-scissors. If you’re facing an enemy that uses Shield element, you’ll want to use as spirit that imbues you with the Grab element. It will give you an additional bonus to your attack and defense stats.

It’s important to note that even though the elements are named after specific techniques, they have no impact on your use of those techniques — i.e., your shield won’t be more powerful if you use a shield spirit. It’s all about the rock-paper-scissors system.

the elemental advantage system of super smash brothers ultimate Nintendo via Polygon

Here’s where things get even more complicated. Your primary spirit might have support slots — meaning you can equip more spirits.

You don’t get any additional boosts to your base stats from these support spirits, but you do get their perks. Perks can modify your stats or the conditions of a match in countless ways: additional damage from foot attacks, starting with a certain item, or changes to your character’s physics.

It’s worth noting that your equipped spirits won’t alter your appearance to resemble that spirit, and physical representations of the spirits won’t show up in your match. You just get their stat boosts and perks.

A spirit in super smash bros ultimate, along with support spirits Nintendo via Polygon

Where can you use spirits and how do you get them?

Spirits factor in to a few game modes, mostly the World of Light adventure mode and Spirit Board.

World of Light is the (sort of) story mode in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. You move around a map, going up against other fighters equipped with spirits, plus some unusual conditions. For example, there’s an Excitebike-themed battle against a bunch of Warios that only use their motorcycle attack. Sometimes, the conditions are weirder, and this is where your support spirits come in. You might have a match where the floor is electrified, which will be a huge pain unless you equip a spirit that nullifies that effect. When you finish one of these themed battles, you capture the associated spirit.

The pre-match splash screen for a spirit battle in Super Smash Bros. World of Light mode. Wario gawks at the camera. Nintendo via Polygon

The other mode where you’ll be using spirits is Spirit Board. This is a rotating bounty board of spirits you can go after. Spirit board mode can be pretty tough, especially if you don’t have the right spirits equipped. Just like in World of Light, when you beat a spirit, you get to keep it. Each challenge only sticks around for five minutes, so if you don’t get it either on the first try or before the time runs out, you’ll have to wait until it comes around again.

There’s also a way to get spirits without beating them — summoning. If you’ve got duplicates of a spirit, or you just really hate one of ’em, you can “set them free,” which will leave you with their core. You can cash in different combinations of cores to summon other specific spirits from a list.

Once you’ve got spirits, you can take care of them. You can feed them to level them up, using food pellets you earn at the end of matches. This will increase their power level, which will in turn add more to the stats bonus they give you if you use them in a fight.

The big question you may be asking is, Can you bring these spirits into normal smash battles? The answer is yes, but we’re not sure people are really going to want to. Smash is, at its core, chaotic and the near-infinite variables of spirits makes it even more so. It’s hard to imagine that Smash fans will make this a big part of tournaments or serious play sessions, but obviously for collectors and solo players, it’s great to be able to have something to work for. After all, it’s as close as you’re going to get to having Goku in Smash.

Goku in smash Nintendo via Polygon