Bowser (クッパ, Koopa) is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. 4. His return to the series was indirectly announced during the E3 Nintendo Direct on June 11th, 2013. Bowser retains his voice clips from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, although they have been heavily altered.
Bowser is currently ranked 24th out of 55 on the tier list, placing him in the C tier. This is a significant improvement over his bottom-tier placement in Brawl, where he was ranked 33rd out of 38, and is the first time in the series that Bowser has not been ranked as a bottom-tier character, thus resulting in his best placement in the series yet. Many of Bowser's previous weaknesses have been remedied: he is much more mobile, has much greater range, and has noticeably improved combo and grab games. Aside from his new benefits, he retains his excellent endurance, overall high damage output, and very strong KOing options. Lastly, the implementation of rage supplements his already outstanding power.
However, Bowser retains an extremely poor defensive game, and it is considered among the worst in SSB4; Bowser's only effective out of shield option is Whirling Fortress, and both his rolls and sidesteps are short-distanced and grant a minimal amount of intangibility frames. His large size and status as a super heavyweight also make him extremely susceptible to combos, which is further compounded by his lack of effective combo breakers. Although Bowser retains Fire Breath as a projectile, his large size nevertheless makes him vulnerable to camping. Bowser's recovery is also unimpressive, as Whirling Fortress' general linearity and predictability make him vulnerable to gimping.
Bowser's perception in the metagame has fluctuated over SSB4's lifespan. He was initially considered a poor character in the first year of release for SSB4, but after update 1.1.3 re-purposed his up throw into a potent combo starter, even leading into kills at certain percentages when comboed into up aerial. Bowser began to experience greater tournament success and a larger playerbase. Greward has won a few regional and national tournaments, while LordMix and Nairo have been able to win difficult matchups against high-level players of top-tier characters; LordMix has defeated Vinnie's Rosalina & Luma and VoiD's Sheik, while Nairo has defeated ZeRo's Diddy Kong, Tweek's Cloud, Zinoto's Diddy Kong, and Mr.E's Marth. However, Bowser’s current tier placement is debatable, as his representation and results noticeably declined after Nairo stopped using the character.
Unlike in Melee and Brawl, Bowser boasts a respectable level of speed to go alongside his renowned power. While he retains slow walking and falling speeds, high gravity, average air speed, slow air acceleration and the slowest jumpsquat, his dashing speed and double jump's height have both been significantly increased. This grants him mobility that is average overall, yet balanced compared to most heavyweights. As the heaviest character in the game, Bowser has the greatest level of horizontal endurance, as well as the third greatest level of vertical endurance, being surpassed only by his fellow super heavyweights King Dedede and Donkey Kong.
Bowser's greatest strength is his immense power. Since most of his attacks are highly damaging, Bowser has an easy time racking up damage, especially when compared to combo-oriented characters like Luigi and Sheik. In addition, most of his moves have high knockback, granting him numerous (if not the largest number of) KOing options. Some of his moves are among the strongest of the cast, including the one of the strongest meteor smashes in his down aerial, one of the strongest semi-spikes in his back aerial and the second strongest forward smash, which is surpassed only marginally by King Dedede and maximum Aura Lucario's. The introduction of rage further amplifies the power of his moves without reducing the efficiency of his combos. Bowser's great endurance can also allow him to take full advantage of it, as it is very difficult to KO him without a strong attack. Furthermore, Bowser has great range in many of his attacks, allowing him to space opponents more easily than many other characters. Combined with the aforementioned perks, Bowser is proficient at edgeguarding.
Bowser also has a formidable grab game. While not particularly fast, his grabs have among the longest ranges in the game, with his pivot grab being notoriously effective, making it easy for him to grab opponents that are not right next to him. His pummel and his forward, back and down throws deal respectable damage. His up throw's low damage output is counterbalanced by its low knockback, which grants Bowser many reliable follow-ups until around 75%, depending mostly on the opponent's falling speed. His down throw is the optimal choice for either forcing opponents off-stage for an edgeguard or preventing his other throws from becoming stale. His back throw is among the strongest, being surpassed only by Ness, Toon Link, Mewtwo, Villager, Lucas, Dr. Mario, and Mario's, and can KO at 180% from center-stage. His forward throw is the strongest of its kind in the game, reliably KOing any character at 180% from center-stage.
Lastly, Bowser has a versatile special moveset. Fire Breath is Bowser's only projectile, which can be used to fend off opponents or gimp recoveries due to it ability to be angled, while the nerf to SDI makes it quite difficult to escape when caught up close. Flying Slam is a command grab, allowing it to ignore shields and counterattacks. Upon a successful grab, Bowser is invincible up until he jumps to perform a flipping belly-to-belly suplex that deals enough knockback to KO around 120% or even earlier if he lands on a platform. After getting grabbed, the opponent cannot do anything other than slightly alter the move's trajectory. Whirling Fortress is Bowser's primary means of recovery, granting below average vertical distance but good horizontal distance; button mashing increases the move's vertical distance if done close to the end of the move, while shortening it if done at the start. Whirling Fortress is also a phenomenal out of shield option, as well as Bowser's fastest attack. Lastly, Bowser Bomb is very powerful and can be used as an alternative to fast-falling, making it useful for grabbing the ledge while at the same time threatening edgeguarders. It also deals additional shield damage, meaning that a shield break will occur if both of its hits connect.
However, Bowser has some glaring flaws. One of his biggest problems is air-to-ground transitioning. All of his aerials have at least 20 frames of landing lag, with his back and down aerials having 40 frames each. As none of his aerials have favorable autocancel windows, returning to the ground is very difficult for him, or even impossible without air dodging and/or fast-falling, due to his slow aerial mobility. As a result, Bowser is quite vulnerable to combos and heavily susceptible to juggling, making it easy for opponents to rack up damage on him, further worsened by his large size. His down aerial is his only move that can help mitigate these issues, but its aforementioned landing lag and stall-then-fall status can make it quite unreliable most of the time. His moveset, while fast compared to most heavyweights, is slow when compared to the rest of the cast, limiting his combo starters to only up throw and jab canceled neutral attack, and making it difficult for him to keep up with faster opponents, such as Sonic. This also compounds another noticeable problem: his ability to escape pressure. Due to his slow rolls and sidestep, with the former also being short-distanced, Bowser's only real method of dealing with pressure is Whirling Fortress, which can be punished if executed too late. Some of his moves are also inevitable KOs if used off-stage, namely his two stall-then-falls, down aerial and Bowser Bomb, as well as Flying Slam. Lastly, despite his recovery being rather long-distanced, it is among the slowest of the cast, making aggressive edgeguarding more than enough to KO Bowser.
Bowser benefits greatly from custom moves. Compared to Fire Breath, Fire Shot is slower and has noticeable intervals between each fireball, but has more range and deals consistent damage, which make it better for Bowser's neutral and edgeguarding games. Dash Slam is drastically weaker, but has a lower launch angle and propels Bowser forward, making it easier for him to grab opponents. Dash Slash deals less damage, but deals high knockback, hits throughout most of its animation and maintains the default version's autocanceling, granting Bowser a very reliable move for approaching and setting up combos. Both Flying Slam alternatives can also improve his recovery. Lastly, Flying Fortress cannot be used out of shield, but grants twice as much vertical distance at high speed, significantly improving Bowser's vertical recovery.
Overall, Bowser is a surprisingly speedy powerhouse who relies on a defensive, bait and punish-oriented playstyle. As such, he requires timing his attacks carefully or focusing on punishing his opponents' mistakes in order to avoid serious punishment himself. While Bowser's overall representation in high-level and top-level play has been smaller than higher tiered characters, players such as LordMix and Nairo have managed to achieve notable results, with many players arguing his tier placement should be higher. The most notable instance of this is ZeRo, who considers Bowser to be a high-tier character.
Changes from Brawl
Bowser has been buffed significantly in the transition to SSB4. Most of his moveset and animations have been completely revamped for the better: his range has been increased and his mobility is much faster overall. His endurance and recovery have also been greatly improved, which improves his survivability, whereas his attacks have become even more powerful than they were in Melee. Lastly, Bowser now sports a significantly more reliable combo game thanks to his up throw receiving immense buffs in update 1.1.3. All of these improvements have rendered his disadvantage state and punishment games safer and more rewarding, respectively, than in previous games, while also remedying many of his flaws.
The changes to gameplay physics and mechanics brought about by SSB4 also significantly aid Bowser. The universal nerfing of campable projectiles significantly helps his approach, although he still susceptible to it because of his larger size. The removal of chain grabbing eliminates the zero-to-death or otherwise heavily damaging combos that plagued Bowser in Melee and Brawl. The changes to shield mechanics, namely the bonus shield damage and the increased shieldstun makes his attacks safer and harder to punish, as well as allowing him to shatter a shield more easily. Lastly, the introduction of the rage mechanic results in his outstanding endurance and power becoming even more useful than ever before.
Bowser has, however, received a few nerfs. While helping his endurance, his increased weight and the changes to hitstun canceling now render him more vulnerable to combos, similarly to in Melee. The frame data on his attacks is also slightly slower in general to compensate for the increased power in many of his moves. Lastly, Flying Slam also now causes Bowser to be KO'd first while the opponent does not go through their grab released animation, making Bowsercide a less viable tactic to KO an opponent. His overall damage output has also been decreased. To compound these nerfs, a great number of Brawl veterans, notably his fellow bottom-tier characters such as Mario and Captain Falcon have also been buffed to various degrees in their transition as well. These changes, however, are notably offset by the very useful buffs Bowser has received, which has resulted on him becoming much better than he ever was in previous installments.
Bowser has received numerous buffs from game updates. However, he received one major nerf in update 1.0.4, as Flying Slam no longer KOs the opponent first if a Bowsercide is performed. On the flipside, Flying Slam has been significantly compensated for, as Bowser now has more control of its trajectory, it transitions faster, has a larger grab range, and now has invincibility frames before he leaves the ground. His up tilt, neutral aerial and Fire Shot have also been improved to varying degrees, while he significantly benefits from the changes on shield mechanics in updates 1.1.0 and 1.1.1; the changes grant his attacks even more chances of breaking a character's shield and give him an open attacking opportunity, but weakens his out of shield punishes with his Whirling Fortress. Update 1.1.3 heavily buffed his grab game by re-purposing his up throw into a very reliable combo starter, though this was toned down somewhat in update 1.1.4. While Bowser's buffs do not address his more critical weaknesses, they have arguably helped to counterbalance them.
Technical changelist 1.1.4
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Opinions on Bowser's viability have greatly fluctuated through SSB4's metagame, but the general opinion is that he has fared much better than in Melee or Brawl. Around the metagame's early lifespan, due to all of the top spots taken at early SSB4 tournaments (including a Bowser ditto for the Grand Finals in the pre-release San Diego Comic Con Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS tournament), Bowser was initially considered the best character in the game. Players took little time to notice the significant buffs he received, and to further compliment this, characters that were excessively challenging for him in Brawl, such as Marth, Meta Knight, Falco, the Ice Climbers and most notoriously King Dedede, were either heavily nerfed or, in the case of the Ice Climbers, removed entirely. However, as time went on, perception on Bowser's viability noticeably fell. The first instance of this came about from a significant nerf to vectoring in update 1.0.4, followed by his weaknesses starting to come afloat, which were the same as, and as exploitable as they were in previous installments. He also lacked any noteworthy results at high-level play in a heavy contrast compared to the early lifespan of the metagame, and his perception began declining much like in Brawl.
Despite his lowered perception within the community, update 1.1.3 brought immense buffs, the most notable of which were to Flying Slam, Whirling Fortress and his now-infamous up throw. These buffs allowed Bowser to perform considerably better at locals, as his playerbase managed to achieve a few placements at high-level play, largely thanks to players such as LordMix and KingKong. This ultimately culminated in Bowser being placed at 30th on the first 4BR tier list, resulting in him becoming the second lowest ranking mid-tier character; while a far cry compared to the positive opinions of his viability during the initial release, it was still his best placement in the series at the moment.
However, update 1.1.4 nerfed his infamous up throw by weakening its guaranteed KO set-ups, though it brought further buffs to Flying Slam. Update 1.1.5 also brought more buffs to his survivability and recovery by increasing his weight and air speed, respectively. Thanks to the recent results of his playerbase, Bowser only dropped slightly to 32nd on the second tier list. As the tiers were expanded for the second tier list, Bowser maintained his status as a mid-tier character despite his placement drop, with the drop being largely attributable to the inclusion of Corrin and Bayonetta into the game between the first and second tier lists.
In the current metagame, many argued that Bowser's tier placement was somewhat low, with ZeRo considering Bowser to be a high-tier character, and Nairo utilizing Bowser to great effect in a number of upsets. This was later reflected with Bowser's placement of 25th on the third tier list; in addition to becoming both the second highest ranking mid-tier character and surpassing Donkey Kong as the highest ranking super heavyweight, this tier rise was the fourth highest between the second and third tier lists. He then saw a slight rise to 24th on the fourth and current tier list; the expansion of the tiers have resulted on him now becoming a high-tier character, despite losing his status to the best super heavyweight to Donkey Kong once again.
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