At first glance, Pichu doesn’t come across as a super strong Super Smash Bros. character. The diminutive Pokémon is cute as a button, sure, but its weaknesses meant it was always overshadowed by its fellow cast members in Super Smash Bros. Melee. But that all changed with the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Multiple competitors told Kotaku that Pichu is much better in the latest Smash, with one in particular believing the Pokémon is the best character in the game at the moment. A lot of this has to do with Pichu’s improved ability to damage and eliminate opponents, and its small body allowing it to weave around attacks and find openings that larger characters wouldn’t be able to exploit.
Pichu’s history in the Super Smash Bros. series was brief and unremarkable before Ultimate arrived on Switch last month. In its only previous appearance, Super Smash Bros. Melee, the electric mouse is something of a joke character. It has self-damaging attacks and a slight frame, both of which contribute to the ease with which it can be killed. According to the most recent Melee tier list, Pichu is the third-worst character in the game, and head-to-head charts note that almost every cast member is favoured in the matchup apart from Bowser and Kirby, the only characters considered worse than Pichu.
That doesn’t mean serious Melee players don’t use Pichu, but many only do so as a way to handicap themselves when they don’t believe they’ll lose otherwise. The most prolific Pichu user these days, veteran Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, has even managed to win matches at major tournaments like The Big House, DreamHack, and Smash ‘n Splash using the tiny Pokémon. Despite these brief flashes of brilliance, Pichu is just plain bad when it comes to high-level competition, and even players like Mew2King opt to stick with stronger fighters when things get serious.
When it was announced that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate would feature every characters from the franchise’s past installments, there was relatively little excitement for Pichu compared to more popular fighters like Fox and Marth. But it soon became apparent that the baby Pokémon would be worth the attention. The community began to take note of Pichu’s improvements before Ultimate even arrived thanks to various pre-release events, and early tier lists made note of the character’s potential in competitive play. These opinions were supported post-launch when James “VoiD” Makekau-Tyson and Landon “Captain L” Trybuch began winning notable tournaments.
Eric “ESAM” Lew, who usually plays Pikachu, believes that Pichu is much improved in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. “[Pichu’s] speed and aggressive play are some of the best in the game,” he explained to Kotaku. “Pichu has better combos, more damage, much better edgeguards, better kill potential. Pretty much everything got better from Melee.”
“I personally think Pichu is the best character in the game,” said Trybuch, who won with the character at The Pinnacle last December. “Strong pressure forces the opponent to play Pichu’s game in most matchups, and in other matchups, roll cancel grab can really help Pichu get in. And when Pichu is in, she hits really hard. One or two combos is all it takes to get you in range for her kill setups. Her weight seems like a huge downside, but it actually helps her escape a lot of setups that are reliable on other characters. Lastly, being tiny is always an advantage in Smash games, and Pichu takes this to the extreme.”
Where Pichu was once thought of as a weak version of Pikachu, their skills are now pretty comparable. A recent character ranking that combines opinions from a variety of noteworthy players places Pichu up near the top of the cast, right next to Pikachu. Trybuch, who played Pikachu in both Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Wii U, is firmly on Team Pichu now that it has strong kill setups and off-stage tactics that rival its evolved form. He also noted “being small and low-profiling hitboxes” was always his favourite part of playing Pikachu, and Pichu has that in spades.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ inaugural Don’t Park on the Grass champion Jestise “MVD” Negron notes that Pichu’s “amazing options” have done a lot to solidify his own opinion on the character.
“[Pichu] can quickly tack on damage to the opponent and has so many kill options you can almost forget that he damages himself,” Negron told Kotaku. “Pichu can absolutely get stronger, and we have already seen large success through players like VoiD. I don’t think Pichu will be going away any time soon.”
Competitive fighting game players can rarely predict how strong a character is going to be based on previous appearances. Sakura’s reduced viability in Street Fighter V, for instance, is a far cry from her game-winning potential in Capcom vs. SNK 2. But even so, Pichu’s sudden status as a Super Smash Bros. star is surprising due to how severely it suffered in Super Smash Bros. Melee. This joke character has risen from the depths of obscurity to compete with the best Ultimate has to offer, and it’s awesome to see new fighters on the battlefield—at least for the time being.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.