In addition to adding a virtual reality mode, Nintendo’s latest Super Smash Bros. Ultimate patch also updated the platform fighter with a variety of gameplay changes. These changes adjust a large portion of the cast for competitive purposes, most notably nerfing a couple of powerhouse characters in order to bring them more in line with the rest of the roster.
Since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched last December, community opinion on the strongest character in the game has shifted wildly. Where early on players were mostly scared of facing Splatoon’s Inkling due to the squid kid’s ability to plant opponents in the ground with the Splat Roller, this thinking evolved to include characters like Pokémon’s Pikachu and Pichu, Pikmin’s Captain Olimar, and resident Super Mario royalty Peach and Daisy, among others. Truth be told, it’s still a little early to definitively label any fighters overpowered, but the aforementioned were thought to be the pinnacle of competition before the latest update.
These characters all stood out for different reasons. Pichu, for instance, has previously been something of a joke character in the Super Smash Bros. series due to her relatively weak, self-damaging attacks. Her improvements in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate caught many in the community by surprise, with some even switching from Pikachu — after whom many of Pichu’s attacks are modeled — to the baby Pokémon. And although Captain Olimar has been pretty decent throughout the Smash franchise, he received similar upgrades that made him a competitive force in Ultimate, including across-the-board damage increases and killing capabilities. Pichu and Olimar also shared one important detail: They were both graced with tiny hitboxes thanks to their diminutive sizes, making it difficult for opponents to land attacks in the heat of battle.
That changed with the release of the ver.3.1.0 patch on the evening of May 30. As Super Smash Bros. Ultimate updated on their Switches, players flocked to the official Nintendo changelog for an early look at what was adjusted. They were greeted by a huge list of balance changes, many of which involved toning down the strongest characters in the game. Peach and Daisy saw reductions in their effectiveness, but the community mostly zeroed in on Pichu and Olimar, who were hit hardest by Nintendo’s patching process. Many of Pichu’s adjustments focused on increasing the amount of damage she does to herself with certain moves, while Olimar’s potent smash attacks were greatly hampered in terms of damage and safety. Additionally, their hitboxes were enlarged to make them easier to hit.
So what does this mean for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competition? Well, it’s hard to tell. Last weekend’s big events, Smash ‘n’ Splash 5 and DreamHack Dallas, didn’t use the patch because of the short amount of time between its release and their Ultimate tournaments, so all competitors can do at the moment is explore the changes in practice and theory-craft how they will affect high-level play. That hasn’t stopped prominent players from voicing their thoughts on social media, however, with opinions ranging from satisfaction to complete disbelief.
“Nintendo has been so good with the patches,” Pikachu player Eric “ESAM” Lew said on Twitter. “This one did what 100% of people wanted by fixing nonfunctional moves, buffing some underrepresented characters, and nerfing some top tiers. I’m glad they waited a while to make significant balance changes to let the meta develop so we could see what actually was good before it got nerfed.”
Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby, one of the most successful Olimar players in the world, initially wrote off his main after seeing the changes, saying that they were a “nail in the coffin” to Olimar’s time as a dominant character, before conceding that he might still be a decent choice in competition. “Olimar is probably good post-patch, but absolutely not top tier,” he continued. “Gonna have to change his gameplan a bit, but I already know how.”
Another strong Olimar main, Robert “Myran” Herrin, didn’t mince words, saying the changes were “unnecessary” shortly after the patch’s release and calling out the competitors in the community whose complaints he felt prompted the nerfs. “Smash players were so bad at fighting a character who wasn’t even broken like previous games’ best characters they got him nerfed instead of learning the matchup,” he said, adding, “I’m not gonna drop [Olimar], I’m just frustrated with the balance team’s weird decision-making on what’s safe.”
More recently, Pichu main James “VoiD” Makekau-Tyson has admitted that he’ll be picking up new characters to cover the Pokémon’s weaknesses. “Top level Pichu is difficult, but this isn’t the selling point to me,” he said. “I play to have fun to the point I’ll risk winning simply to have fun. With that being said, I’ll go soul searching a little. I have many up to par secondaries, and I’ll work on them a lot more while using Pichu specifically.”
That said, there’s no doubt the community as a whole is looking forward to the patch making its debut on the competitive circuit. At Smash ‘n’ Splash 5 over the weekend, a raucous chant of, “3.1! 3.1! 3.1!” started in the audience while Dabuz’s Olimar dominated fellow finalist Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett in the event’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament. Dabuz would ultimately tie for fifth, the latest in a long line of good-but-not-great performances for Olimar mains despite the community’s general consensus that he’s one of the best characters in the game.
“Those 3.1 chants lol,” Dabuz responded on Twitter later. “Y’all better realize I’m not going anywhere next patch.”
Balance changes in fighting games aren’t made in a vacuum. Individual character changes might not play out in competition like they read on paper because of the way the game develops overall. Pichu, Olimar, Peach, and Daisy were quite obviously toned down, but that doesn’t mean new strategies and techniques won’t be discovered in the future that make them stronger or perhaps even irrelevant. Fighting game competition is constantly evolving, with characters and tactics coming into vogue in a flash and falling out of favor just as fast. We’ll have to keep a close eye on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competition for a clear idea of what this patch means to high-level play as a whole, but one thing is for sure: The game’s strongest characters aren’t nearly as scary as they once were.