Smash Seminar: The Smash 4 Metagame | Characters | Nintendo Wire

Welcome back to the Smash Seminar! In this series I’ll be introducing readers to the world of competitive Smash through articles on history, characters, players, and more, in the hopes of getting more people involved in the competitive scene. Whether you wish to be a casual observer or a future champ, I hope this series offers a good way to get a grasp on what makes professional Smash so special.

Last time, we covered the ruleset (Part 1) and stages (Part 2) for Smash 4. This time, we’ll be looking at the best characters the game has to offer in Part 3, wrapping up the metagame discussion for this game. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Part 3: Characters

Now comes the trickiest part of all. Due to the slew of patches for the game since release, the character tier lists in Smash 4 are quite varied, with almost no one among the best players being able to agree upon a top ten. As such, in talking about the best in the game, I’ll likely have a slightly different list from some of them. It’s just the nature of the beast. The order I’ve chosen isn’t even that stringent – you could easily swap some numbers around, and there would be no cause to complain.

That being said, Smash 4 is a much, much more balanced game than its predecessors (excluding maybe Project M). The gap between the best and the worst here is much smaller than it was in Brawl and Melee, so it’s quite possible to pick a mid or even low tier and do quite well. So don’t feel pressured to pick one of the best just to be able to compete. But that’s enough talk; let’s get down to business.

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Cloud

Notable players: Komorikiri, Tweek, MK Leo

The main character of Final Fantasy VII has many tools to his advantage – great aerials, strong Smashes, good range, and his unique Limit system that allows him to give a huge boost to his specials. He does have a few significant flaws – notably a weak grab game and a bad recovery without Limit – that keep him from being overpowered. While being easy to pick up and play, dedicated Cloud mains seem to struggle to find results. It’s unknown where exactly he falls in the grand scheme of things, but nobody can deny that he’s quite powerful and good for beginners.

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Diddy Kong

Notable players: ZeRo, Zinoto, Nietono

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. When the game was first released, Diddy dominated the meta due to his great and powerful combos – particularly the down throw to up air “Hoo hah” – combined with fantastic agility. This prompted the first serious nerf of the game, with the Hoo hah and his damage output in general being nerfed… but he’s still a great character, and can still take names from just about anybody in the cast. His banana is a great mix-up tool and allows him to have wide stage control, and his grab game is still quite powerful. His low damage and weakness to offstage gimps are what set him back today. Still a very strong character, after all of the nerfs.

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Rosalina and Luma

Notable players: Dabuz, Falln, Xaltis

While most of the heavy hitters in the game have been hit with one nerf or another, Rosalina remains the only one relatively untouched. It’s not too hard to see why – she’s rather difficult to play, having both a high skill floor and a high skill ceiling due to her fight style revolving around her star child, Luma. Rosalina tends to be defensive, relying on Luma to tank hits and strike back, making her a difficult character to approach (especially due to some jankiness with Luma’s control). However, without Luma, Rosalina becomes noticeably weaker, as she has a large frame and is fairly lightweight. A good example of hard to learn and master, but one where the payoff is well worth it.

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Sheik

Notable players: ZeRo, Mr. R, VoiD

Much like Diddy, Sheik is a fallen former #1 tier list spot holder, taking the chimp’s place after he was knocked down by nerfs. Sheik’s strength lies in her incredible neutral game, with very few of her moves being punishable, and her needles being one of the best projectiles in the game. While she still retains much of this, what was nerfed was her killing power. Sheik always had few good tool to secure stocks, but many of her prominent ones – back air, kill confirms, etc. – were removed, making it much harder to kill with her. While her time as the uncontested best is up, she’s still a force to be reckoned with, as three of the top ten still play her, as do many throughout the upper echelons.

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Mario

Notable players: Ally, ANTi, Zenyou

Despite what his best practitioners would tell you, Mario is an excellent character in Smash 4. A jack of all trades with an excellent neutral game, Mario has it all – a projectile, a reflector, combos, edgeguarding… not to mention his results lately have been astounding, with Ally and ANTi both taking premier events with the plumber this summer. While he does have his shortcomings, such as poor reach and questionable kill options, his easy learning curve and ultimate lack of major flaws make him one of the best around.

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Sonic

Notable players: Komorikiri, Wrath, SuperGirlKels

Probably the most polarizing top character in Smash 4, Sonic tends to have two playstyles – lame and not lame. The former tends to consist of hit and run using specials and spin dashes to slowly whittle away and camp out the opponent, while the latter has more versatility behind it. Sonic is obviously fast, but has a lot of KO potential too, making him a force to be reckoned with. However, some of his stronger moves have more noticeable lag, and he has no projectile either. While not at the top of the mountain, Sonic has quite a bit of representation, and is generally agreed to be one of the more annoying characters to play against.

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Ryu

Notable players: Trela, Venom, False

A character more often judged by his potential than his results, Ryu is an interesting beast in the Smash 4 metagame. Due to Sakurai keeping true to his original Street Fighter moveset, Ryu has an insane number of combos and great kill potential, alongside surprisingly versatile recovery. His frame data is also among the best, meaning that at a theoretical optimal level he would be among the greatest in the game. But his flaws are quite notable: lack of good approaches, poor grab game, and a steep steep learning curve all detract from Ryu’s good qualities, and few except Trela have pulled good results with him. Still, many claim he could be the best in the future, and only time will tell whether Ryu truly holds that title.

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Zero Suit Samus

Notable players: Nairo, Marss, ANTi

Queen of the punishment game (at least until Bayonetta came along and contested the title), ZSS has many unique tools at her disposal. Her recovery is versatile and flexible, her projectile paralyzes, and her fluid movement speed makes for good comboing. But parts of her play are a bit dicey – her grab, while a great way to start combos, is very high risk if whiffed, and her ground moves are rather weak compared to her good aerials. While she has been nerfed slightly, and most of her top players are somewhat inconsistent, there’s no denying that ZSS is a force to be reckoned with in the right hands, as she was the character used to end ZeRo’s 55-tournament win streak.

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Fox

Notable players: Larry Lurr, NAKAT, Xzax

The undisputed best in Melee is quite good in Smash 4 too, as it turns out. Many of his strengths in that game – speed, versatility, projectile, and KO power – transfer over, as do some of his faults – fast falling and lightweightness among them. His grab game is also iffy, and sometimes his recovery options are a tad predictable, but he’s still among the best out there. Fox’s speed and power do very well in tournament, though few besides Larry Lurr have ascended to the highest level with him yet.

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Mewtwo

Notable players: Abadango, 9B, Rich Brown

While most among the high tiers here have either been nerfed or left alone since the game’s release, Mewtwo is an interesting exception. When initially released, he was considered mid-low tier, a glass cannon with more disadvantages than was worth the effort. But come buffs, and Abadango’s surprising win with him at Pound 2016, and suddenly the clone Pokémon was a contender. Mewtwo is very lightweight and floaty, but has good combo tools like his down tilt and some amazing kill power, making him a character that can strike hard and fast. Mewtwo is certainly the face of Smash 4 buffs, and has been served all the better by them.

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Bayonetta

Notable players: Pink Fresh, 9B, Saj

A character once as controversial as Sonic, if not more so. Bayonetta, like ZSS, relies on her amazing punish game, due to her versatile and fluid combos reminiscent of her home series, as well as her excellent Witch Time counter. Pre-patch, many complained that these tools were too powerful, as her combos were seen by some as brain dead and overpowered, but these attributes have since been nerfed. Now Bayo has to be much more creative with her kit, relying on baiting the opponent and then punishing appropriately. While not as good as she once was, Bayonetta is still great, as seen by Pink Fresh’s victory in the stacked 2GGT KTAR Saga.

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Others

There are numerous other high tier characters with their own signature players, such as Villager (Ranai), Ness (FOW) and Pikachu (ESAM). Meta Knight was once considered top ten before getting nerfed, but even now has great players such as MK Leo, Abadango and Tyrant still throwing their weight behind him. Even mid tiers have had their heroes – Kamemushi stunned America at EVO with his Mega Man, taking out many top players and claiming second place. If you’d like to see who’s at the top with each character, ZeRo made a series on the topic a few months back.

As mentioned before, just about every character in Smash 4 has value to them. Playing Kirby against Fox in Melee is just about an impossible battle at a certain level. Choosing Ganondorf against Cloud is risky and unlikely to end in victory, but is comparatively much more doable. So choose whoever you’d like to play, because who knows – that one could take you far.

Unless it’s Jigglypuff.

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Stay tuned

That’s all for this edition of the Smash Seminar. Next time we’ll be covering some Smash lingo, so you can learn what a “wavedash” or an “L-cancel” is. Until then, stay Smashing!


Jigglypuff GIF source.

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Written by Ben Fruzzetti

Gamer, writer and devourer of pasta. Whenever not letting his daydreams run out of control, he can be found writing for Nintendo Wire, playing old JRPGs, or reading sci-fi and fantasy novels and comics.

Ben Fruzzetti

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