If you’re a Nintendo stan, you probably love the ultimate crossover multiplayer fighting series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Its impressive kaleidoscope of beloved characters means that whether you’re a fan of Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Splatoon, or much more, you’ll find a character you love to pick to help you slap competitors into the screen with a mighty smack.
If you’re a fan of Fire Emblem, then…wow. You’ll be in your element.
Even if Nintendo games aren’t your forte, chances are you were interested when you heard Cloud from Final Fantasy was slashing into play, or are keen to find out what makes Steve from Minecraft such a viable option.
So, the real question is: which characters are the best?
Now, there is a definitive tier list that ranks all characters in terms of competitive viability. That’s not what I’m looking at here. That would make this a predictable blog that would simply shave off the top S-tier characters to repurpose into a standard ‘top 5’ list. Where’s the fun in that?
Instead, I’m picking the top 5 characters my friends and I love to pick whenever we decide we need to beat each other up (virtually!). It’s a hectic feast for the senses, and its chaotic variety of diverse characters drags all lovers of video games into play. From “3, 2, 1, GO!” right down to “Sudden Death!”, this variety is what firmly cements Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as a steady staple in my household.
Spoilers abound for gameplay. No plot spoilers.
First up is the Super Smash Bros. veteran from Xenoblade Chronicles, the shirtless wonder, Shulk.
Don’t let him fool you—he may seem like a Cloud wannabe, with his blonde anime cut and giant sword, but his kanji is primarily used by activating Monado Arts, his Neutral Special Move. By choosing from one of five arts, he can affect his physical traits. For example, in Shield state, Shulk will take 2/3 normal damage, deal 0.7x his normal damage, and he becomes the heaviest character in the game, making him considerably harder to launch. Alternatively, his Speed state is useful for rapidly approaching an enemy and accumulating damage quickly.
All states have advantages and disadvantages and makes Shulk hard to master. But when you do, he can be a real dark horse—especially as opponents will rarely be able to tell which state Shulk is in at the time due to the chaos of battle.
My personal favourite move of Shulk’s is his Back Slash move, in which he yells—you guessed it—“Back Slash!” as he cuts downward. This punishing move inflicts more damage if striking from behind, and is useful for avoiding low projectiles. It’s a reliable KO option, but Shulk players beware. It cannot be cancelled, and so using it too close to a ledge means it can easily become a suicidal move.
Ultimately, Shulk’s fun and can do a lot of damage, but he’s tough to master. Use with caution.
He’s big, he’s intimidating, and he’s a hot contender for a character you’d expect to actually yell “SMASH!” when he beats you into submission. It’s Bowser.
Bowser is what you’d call “high risk, high reward”. As one of the heavier characters, Bowser can take a real beating. Despite his size, he’s actually pretty swift, meaning that, even though his hit box is larger than most, if you’re quick, you can avoid being combo-food. If you’re not, well…you’re easy to spot and don’t have a lot of recovery moves, so you’ll be easily juggled if you take your eyes away from the screen for a moment. Ultimately, if you go in for a punishing punch, you might get penalised yourself.
He does have some really fun moves. Grabs that can send opponents flying, a butt stomp that can damage a whole group underneath him, spinny turtle shell of death (Whirling Fortress), and an ultimate smash that gives us his gigantic form, Giga Bowser, and a ferocious punch. Plus, he breathes fire—what more could you ask for?
He might not be as competitively viable as some of the others on this list, but he’s enjoyable to play as. And, really, what more do you need when you just want some fun with your friends?
If you’re an OG Nintendo stan, you might remember EarthBound, the RPG published for the SNES. Ness/Lucas may look like normal young boys, but as you might expect from kids tasked with saving the world from aliens and invading armies, back them into the corner and they’ll surprise you.
I’ve grouped these two together as their movesets are very similar. They both have a lot of long-distance attacks and relatively good recoveries. They’re fast, though they don’t top the leaderboard: swifter characters will certainly give them a hard time. If you want to get out of a tight spot—or if you just want to annoy your opponent—you won’t go wrong with Ness’ Side Special, PK Fire, which can be cheekily spammed. He shoots light whilst airborne, which bursts into a pillar of flame if it hits.
For the more careful players, his Down Special, PSI Magnet, can be used to absorb energy-based projectiles to heal damage.
Ness and Lucas are win-win characters, making these cute little guys deceptively deadly if you know what you’re doing. Give them a go and see the somewhat flashier Megaman or Joker mains quake in fear.
All hail Lady Palutena: the Goddess of Light, rightful ruler of Angel Land, and all around fantastic Smash player from the Kid Icarus series.
With a roster of hard hitters from Donkey Kong to Little Mac, you might not think a more slender character like Palutena would make the cut as one of the best fighters to pick in the series. But it makes sense. She’s an almighty goddess with divine powers, from warping moves that allow her to teleport whilst avoiding attacks to energy blasts that erupt from her staff. She can counter physical attacks, reflect projectiles and, if you find yourself near an edge, you can cancel her escape option to avoid KO-ing yourself. My favourite thing to do with Palutena is juggle an unsuspecting opponent with her Explosive Flame attack.
It's great that we have a lighter character that can hold her own against some of the titans on offer, proving that strategy and a touch of (explosive!) magic can beat out raw power any day.
“Smash is as wild as ever, eh Joker?”
Fantastic mobility? Check. Great combo options? Yep. The flashiest Final Smash in the lineup? Hands down. This is what makes Super Smash Bros so great.
Joker injects the ostentatious, creative art style of Persona 5 to make an already jam-packed, fan-servicey game even more colourful and exciting—a feat I didn’t think was possible. Joker’s Final Smash animation is one of the coolest in the game, incorporating the All-Out Attack screen from his home game to take out his opponent with ultimate poise. The victory screen blends seamlessly with whichever Smash stage he was playing on, and you even get treated to a voice line here from another Persona 5 character. He taunts with Mona and summons his Persona, Arsene, in battle. For a DLC character, the developers really went all out in making sure Joker gets the spotlight he deserves.
His impressive moveset in Super Smash Bros is certainly reflective of the badass Phantom Thief. He’s a close-to-mid-range fighter, using his long dagger for close combat and smash attacks and taking out his pistol to catch more evasive opponents. He has strong combos despite his smaller reach, so if he can get close to you, you’re in trouble. He has two versions of each Special attack—for example, whilst his Side Special fires a low projectile that inflicts damage over time, his Arsene Side Special is more powerful and launches opponents. When Arsene is summoned, Jokers attacks are bolstered, but be careful. You need to build his Rebellion Gauge (similar to Little Mac’s KO meter) to summon Arsene, which means Joker takes increased damage whilst doing so. However, the payoff is huge. Just make sure to utilise Arsene as much as possible, as he’s not around for long.
Joker’s speed and movement options can also save you from a sticky situation. His grappling hook (or Arsene’s wings) can prevent you from falling, he can dodge whilst shooting, and his dash option is rapid. Keep moving, and you’ll do well.
Joker embodies what I love about these kinds of games. He stands out. His unique movesets and animations makes battles more exciting. He injects flavour and creativity from his original game—something characters in any Smash game should do. For a fun, flighty, and fantastic fighter, look no further. He might just change your heart.
The great thing about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that you can try out the whole roster of well-known characters and have a fantastic, unique experience every time. Whether you’re a long-time Smash player or just starting out, you always have a chance to score a KO and hold your own.
A few honourable mentions include: Pokémon Trainer, who lets his Squirtle, Ivysaur, and Charizard do the fighting; Samus, who dominates with homing missiles and spin attacks; and the intimidating Ganondorf, who creates an alternate ending to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask by pummelling Link straight to the bleeding moon.
I hope this list has helped you decide who to give a go—or convince you to stop maining Kirby for a bit to try something new. Let us know your favourite character to play as via our Zatu socials!