Yesterday saw the highly-anticipated final balance patch for Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and it’s fair to say fans of many characters were somewhat disappointed by the changes, or lack of in some cases. While buffs to Inkling and MetaKnight will have pleased a few loyal mains, the de facto "best" characters in the game went largely untouched, with one in particular drawing the ire of many a gamer.
For those who don’t follow the competitive scene, there is something of a debate about the "best" character in the game. Recent releases like Pyra/Mythra and Byleth have seen some impressive tournament results, but only when piloted by truly god-tier players like MKLeo or Spargo, while DLC before them such as Joker and the now-nerfed Min-Min look like very strong characters, despite their kits being toned down a touch.
There is one top tier that has remained roughly untouched through multiple patches, though, an electric rat with relatively little in the way of tournament success. We are of course talking about Pikachu, a character that has been a problem on and off since Smash 64, and one that occupies an incredibly odd place in the Ultimate pantheon, of being both overpowered, and underrepresented in terms of tournament wins.
Why is Pikachu so good in Smash Ultimate?
On paper, there is really no arguing that Pikachu is not a high tier character in Ultimate, with many believing the character to be the best in the game. Strengths include a near-broken recovery, great movement, the ability to escape disadvantage states against most characters, and potentially the best edgeguarding in the game. That’s on top of the fact Pika basically has zero-to-death combos on a decent number of other characters thanks to sequences like lightning loops and the infamous back-air.
Then you get onto the fact that the most successful Pikachu main is also one of the few elite players to talk up their character, rather than down. While Melee Fox mains complain about losing a matchup to Marth on a single counterpick, the primary Pika protagonist is ESAM, a man never shy about extolling the virtues of their chosen main. When asked recently by our very own Oddball why he feels so confident against the world’s best player, MKLeo, ESAM said simply, “Pikachu's broken and beats all of his characters,” something you’d think would be very significant in an era where Leo is often the final boss of Ultimate.
However, if you look at the results, Pikachu is only listed as a winning character at one major tournament in 2021 — and two since the start of 2019. Both of these wins came at Glitch, and both were taken by ESAM himself, with the rest of the top 20 or so choosing to put their faith in far "worse" characters. This may be at the heart of why Pika has remained untouched by the nerf team for so long, but why are there so few mains of the (theoretically) best character in the entire game?
Practice makes the perfect Pika
Well, the first thing to mention is that not all Ultimate pros work that hard on their tech skill, or spend as much time in the "lab" as their Melee counterparts, at least according to some. Fox main Light has admitted his main form of training is just practicing his combos in training mode to keep his basic tech in shape, while Melee pro Leffen has struck out at the Ult scene for being lazy by comparison to his own world.
While Ult isn’t the most technically demanding game in the series, there is no doubt that Pikachu is one of the more technically demanding characters in Ult, and that is borne out by his results in casual play. The lack of Pika mains at the top level is more difficult to understand, but that has also probably contributed to the way the Pokemon has sailed through patch after patch unmolested by Sakurai’s balance team, as there is little empirical data to suggest Pika really is a problem.
It may be that if Ult survives another decade, Pika will rise to the top, in the same way the technically demanding Fox emerged as the best in Melee once enough time had passed for players to truly master all of his options.
For now, it seems as though the electric rat will remain in Schroedinger’s Smash Bros., with the potential to dominate the competitive scene, but in reality no results to force the hand of the balance team, or bear out the idea that the character is a problem.
Image credit: Nintendo US