Ranking Smash Ultimate’s First Wave of DLC Fighters

Normally I feel weird reviewing DLC, but I’ll make an exception for Smash. It’s been a while since I dissected something in this game, and I’ve had the itch to get out my video game scalpel.

I need to come up with better metaphors.

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Honorable mentions to Sans and Cuphead. However, because they’re Mii costumes, it’s hard to analyze their movesets and designs.

I gotta hand it to Sakurai, he always keeps us on our toes with these fighter announcements. And after the dust has settled, I’m actually quite satisfied with all of these characters. It’s a diverse cast from diverse parts of gaming. I got to learn more about the history of SNK, I got to see franchises long dead get revived, and I watched Sakurai teach how to count in binary live on camera. His presentations may just be my favorite part about the Fighter’s Pass.

Anyway, it’s time to pit these fighters against each other and decide which of the six (including Piranha Plant) is the best for me.

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6. Hero

I’m glad that Dragon Quest finally gets a representative. Of all the RPGs out there, this series deserves a spot. Overall I really appreciate the attention to detail — the different skins, the MP gauge, the Luminary abilities… but you know why he’s at the bottom of the list. The spell menu is a cool idea on paper, but the execution is sloppy. Having 4 spells randomly drawn from a list of 16 makes him too hard to predict when I fight against him, and too hard to strategize for when I play as him. It makes for hilarious shenanigans, I won’t deny that, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly.

His play style ends up feeling a lot like Robin’s, where you have swordplay mixed with a spell management mechanic. It’s a good way to represent RPGs in a fighting game, but I can’t help but think that Robin did it better.

I think Sakurai overreached with Hero. It would’ve been better to just pick 4 spells, and that’s his set. He’s still fun if you’re just casually messing around, but for anything else he’s too unpredictable. Considering that all of these characters are designed so well, any fighter with an actual flaw is going to land right at the bottom of this list.

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5. Terry

Once I saw Sakurai take out his old SNK stuff, explaining the history of Fatal Fury, I was on board with this character. He looks like a buff version of Pokemon Trainer, like the final evolution. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

His moveset reminded me more of Big Mac than the Street Fighter characters, actually. I can get some really good combos in when I’m on the ground; but in the air, I struggled. His input commands are actually really satisfying to pull off, and it’s very smart of Sakurai to give visual feedback when you put in the command right. And those finishing moves when he’s over 100% damage are super cool. I gotta say, only Sakurai could make complicated button inputs more fun than normal. What an unexpected but welcome representative. Perhaps it was Terry who inspired Sakurai to make Smash Bros. in the first place…

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4. Banjo & Kazooie

I never thought I’d live to see this day. Both Banjo and Kazooie look amazing. Their animations are so expressive and cartoonish. From only having two games as material from over 20 years ago, Sakurai made quite a representative moveset — the egg projectiles, the jumping recovery, all fantastic. The only thing missing are the transformations, which admittedly would’ve been difficult to pull off.

Banjo feels balanced and easy to maneuver. He can get some space in with projectiles but also can handle up close as well. The thing is, no matter how much I practice with him, he just doesn’t click with me as well as other fighters. Either I do very well with him, or I get destroyed. No real middle ground.

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3. Byleth

Excuse me while I drink the internet’s tears for a bit… *sip* ah, so salty…

I really like Byleth. I like that this character represents the Fire Emblem series better than most in the roster, and it’s not just from the four weapons. Their play style is more risk/reward, more calculating. Some of the attacks make you commit to them, for better or for worse. It’s exactly the right way to convey the choices and consequences of role-playing in Fire Emblem.

This character’s reach is amazing. The lance is a power trip, the whip sword is great at juggling enemies in the air, and that Up B attack never gets old to use. To top it all off, Blyeth hits like a truck. However, Byleth is on the slow side. If you know what you’re doing, you can bypass the attacks and do some heavy punishing. Their moveset is so intuitive to me, though, that I’m willing to work to make up for their shortcomings.

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2. Piranha Plant

Talk about a unique fighter. And he’s another “villain” character, which I’m always a fan of. I’m still impressed that Sakurai came up with such a whacky yet intuitive moveset. That toothy grin is so charming, yet his animations are fast and ferocious. I’m 99% sure Sakurai saw Little Shop of Horrors and added just a twinge of Audrey II into the fighter.
Piranha Plant is yet another balanced character, only with a bit more reach. He has some “projectile” capabilities with the spike ball and his long-reach comp, but he also has some options for closer proximity. It will always feel good to land a spike ball on a recovering opponent.

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1. Joker

Yep! Did you ever see this coming?

If I were to main any character from this list, it would be Joker. First off, the series he comes from is incredibly stylish, to the point that it even influenced Smash’s own UI. And Sakurai nailed that style and poise in the character animations. The knife’s red swish, the bright blue mask, the flashy Persona summon, you can’t ignore Joker when he’s on stage. The Persona, Arsene, isn’t summoned quite the same way in the game, but from a story perspective it fits rather well. Persona 5 was all about rebellion and striking back, and that reflected well by the rebellion gauge.

He’s fast, sly, and ruthless. He’s the most responsive of all the characters for me. The Persona adding in more powerful attacks is a nice way to simulate a character’s RPG progression as well. When Arsene comes out I become much more aggressive as I try to get in some good shots before the gauge runs out. This can work out in my favor, but it can also backfire on me. Most experienced players do actually see it coming, I guess.

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Like Marth and Roy back in the Melee days, though, Joker’s reveal is what convinced me to start trying the Persona series, and I’m very glad I did.

And there you have it. I was hoping Sakurai would get a break after this wave of fighters, so he would 1) relax and 2) work on his own projects, but I’m also happy we have a new cycle of fighters to speculate about (and watch as the internet gets disappointed). Thankfully it will be a slower cycle this time, because seriously, Sakurai, you need to manage your workaholic nature. Please. It stresses me out thinking about how much you work. Please. Don’t push yourself with this next pass.

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