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. Instead of using his voice actor Kenny James who has voiced Bowser since Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, Bowser retains his realistic roar voice clips from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, although they have been heavily altered.
Bowser is 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, despite the addition of universal armor in Tough Guy 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 speed and air acceleration and the slowest jumpsquat, and while his air speed and falling speed are much lower relative to the cast compared to Brawl, his dashing speed and double jump's height have both been significantly increased, and he also retains high gravity. This grants him mobility that is average overall, yet fairly balanced compared to most other heavy characters. As the heaviest character in the game, Bowser has the best horizontal endurance of them all, although due to his slow falling speed, his vertical endurance is not the best, but rather the third best, being surpassed only by his fellow super heavies 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 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 Super Smash Bros. Brawl
In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Bowser was considered to be an unviable low tier as while he had solid KO power, great endurance, good range, a good Out of Shield game and a solid grab game, due to his effective Flying Slam command grab and his short grab release animation, he suffered from having very poor frame data, a highly exploitable recovery and his combination of having a huge body, high weight and high gravity made him a punching bag for many characters. He overall struggled to approach (especially against projectiles) as he was a huge target without solid enough mobility and he was a very easy target for multiple characters to chain grab, making him struggle against a large portion of the cast.
As a result, Bowser has been heavily updated in Super Smash Bros. 4, with almost all of his animations being completely or at least slightly revamped from the previous game. Bowser has seen a mix of buffs and nerfs in the transition to Smash 4 and while he was not greatly improved in earlier versions of the game, he has seen some rather drastic buffs as of the latest patch, which greatly help him overall.
Bowser has seen multiple changes to his attributes which noticeably help him. His running speed has been significantly increased, which along with his new dash attack, makes it easier for him to approach and run away. He has additionally seen a helpful unique attribute known as Tough Guy, which gives him armor against very low knockback attacks, which allows him to plough through jabs as well as other low knockback attacks, giving him a rather unique advantage. His weight has also been noticeably increased which noticeably improves his endurance even with the removal of momentum canceling (especially relative to the cast), which is especially helpful considering the introduction to rage, which further boosts Bowser's already strong KO potential when he is at higher percents.
Bowser's recovery has also seen some rather significant improvements. While his air speed is slower (especially relative to the cast), his air dodge has much less ending lag and his aerial Whirling Fortress grants much more height which can be increased further with mashing, making it a much better recovery move. The move can also now grab ledges from behind as it is rising and the removal of edge hogging also greatly improves its recovery potential and makes it much harder to edgeguard against. Bowser's significantly improved recovery makes it much harder to KO him, further improving his endurance.
While some of Bowser's moves have seen rather simple animation changes, some moves have been changed completely for the better. His dash attack is a better burst option, his forward smash comes out faster, hits harder and is overall more reliable, his neutral aerial is now an effective damage racker, his back aerial is noticeably stronger and it can now auto-cancel in a short hop and his down aerial is now a hard hitting stall-then-fall, giving his neutral and down aerials in particular more utility than they had in the previous game. Some moves which were not drastically changed such as forward tilt, up smash and forward/back throws saw improvements to their KO potential, which overall gives Bowser greater KO potential than he had in Brawl, which is further compunded with rage.
Bowser's most drastic and useful buffs however were made to his up throw. Up throw has less knockback, less ending lag and it launches opponents at a more vertical angle, which have transformed the move from a very underwhelming spacing throw to one of the most devastating combo throws in the game. At lower percents, it can easily lead into an up tilt, a forward aerial, a back aerial or a neutral aerial, with the latter being able to rack up a lot of damage. The most formidable part of the throw though is that at higher percents, it can lead into an up aerial (which comes out much faster than in Brawl) for an early KO. Rage can allow this to lead into KOes even earlier and as stated before, Bowser can very easily build up rage due to him being the heaviest character in the game, making him one of the largest benefiters of the mechanic.
The changes to this single move have immensely helped Bowser as it further solidifies the buffs some of his other moves have received (as with the case with his neutral and up aerials) and it means that he does benefit from the changes to hitstun canceling and the changes to Directional Influence as without the throw, Bowser still possesses a rather poor combo game and the two mentioned universal changes noticeably increase his vulnerability to combos. While the latter point is true regardless, his up throw acts as an extremely potent compensation, allowing him to make use out of the changes to hitstun canceling/DI, which he otherwise would not be able to.
The changes to gameplay physics and mechanics (as well as the aforementioned changes to hitstun canceling/DI, along with the introduction of rage) also aid aid Bowser. With many projectiles being nerfed, it is much easier for Bowser to approach projectile users, especially with his increased running speed and his faster air dodge (although his is still vulnerable to projectiles due to his large size). The removal of chain grabbing eliminates the zero-to-death or otherwise heavily damaging combos that multiple characters possessed against him, greatly improving his endurance against certain characters. The changes to shield mechanics also help his as the increased shield damage multiplier and the increased shieldstun makes his attacks safer and harder to punish, as well as allowing him to shatter a shield more easily (particularly with Bowser Bomb).
Bowser has however, received a few nerfs. As mentioned before, Bowser is now much more vulnerable to combos due to the changes to hitstun canceling/DI, which is further exacerbated with the changes to weight dependent throws. Weight dependent throws are now faster on Bowser in spite of his increased weight, which makes it harder for him to DI weight dependent throws and it gives them less ending lag against him, making him more susceptible to combos out of weight dependent throws.
Bowser's grab release animation now has 10 extra frames of ending lag to match the rest of the cast. When combined with the general changes to grab releases (particularly aerial grab releases) and the removal of chain grabbing, this completely removes his grab release's utility (although his improved up throw largely compensate for this).
Bowser also has inferior frame data on some of his moves. Some moves such as up tilt and forward aerial have increased startup lag (although the former has decreased ending lag and more range in front of Bowser) while others such as down smash and Flying Slam have increased ending lag. Some of Bowser's moves also have reduced KO potential, such as his up tilt, up aerial (although it comes out much faster to compensate) and his grounded Whirling Fortress. Many of his attacks also have reduced range, with many of his attacks having smaller hitboxes which are not positioned as far away from Bowser, although some of his new animations can compensate for this on certain moves.
Bowser's specials have also seen some nerfs. Fire Breath is inferior at racking up damage (due to its lower damage), its late hit no longer causes hitstun and Bowser cannot turn his head as quickly while using it. While Flying Slam is stronger and Bowser has more control over his trajectory, the move now causes Bowser to be KO'd first while the opponent survives and some characters can even make it back to the stage, making Bowsercide a less viable tactic to KO an opponent. In addition to this, the move has less range, more ending lag (as stated before) and Koopa hopping has been removed, making Flying Slam harder to land and decreasing its utility. Grounded Whirling Fortress has seen the most significant nerfs however. The move is now a weaker, multi-hitting move, with no intangibility on startup, less range, more ending lag, Bowser moves slower while using it and Bowser can no longer slide off edges while using it. This hinders its use as an Out of Shield option and it is overall a less effective attack (with reduced power, reliability and range) with less utility, although it is still an effective Out of Shield option.
Bowser's nerfs however, are notably offset by the very useful buffs Bowser has received (particularly to up throw). Overall, Bowser has seen some rather significant buffs, which work excellently with the game's universal changes. Bowser not only has greater endurance, is overall faster and has a much better recovery but he also has greater KO potential and excellent combo potential, due to his greatly improved up throw. This has resulted in him faring much better than he ever did in Brawl and especially Melee.
In earlier versions, Bowser was still considered to be a low tier character (particularly as time went on, as people figured out the game and realised that Bowser's improvements were not as drastic as initially though). Besides his recovery and improved KO potential, Bowser still suffered from the same flaws he had in Brawl, and he had lost some of his more effective tools (notably his shorter grab release, which noticeably hurt his grab game at the time). Bowser did receive buffs over time though, with his most drastic buffs being introduced in version 1.1.3, which greatly improved his up throw. In earlier versions, up throw was an unimpressive spacing throw much like it was in Brawl (as it dealt more knockback and had more ending lag) but in 1.1.3, it became the devastating combo throw it is known for today. While its combo potential was toned down in version 1.1.4 (and Bayonetta was introduced in the same patch), he received other useful buffs in the same patch, along with the next patch (where some of the top tiers were also toned down), and it still remained an excellent combo tool.
The changes to this one move were enough to push Bowser from low tier to high tier, subsequently improving his results and player base. A consequence this had though is that Bowser became a rather controversial pick. Because his up throw was so much better, Bowser's gameplan suddenly became overcentralised by his grab, as his main goal would be to fish for grabs, up throw and build damage from there (or KO depending on the opponent's percent). This resulted in Bowser's reputation being rather negative, as he was essentially a low tier character, but with one incredibly powerful gimmick (his grab/up throw), which largely carried him, making him a rather one dimensional and predictable character.
Nevertheless, while Bowser is still a giant punching bag, who has really poor frame data and struggles to approach, he is now widely agreed to be a viable character in the latest version of Smash 4 (even if it is largely due to one move), and is overall one of the characters to be buffed the most in the transition from Brawl to Smash 4, alongside Mario, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Sheik, and Mewtwo.
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.
Technical changelist 1.1.4
For a gallery of Bowser's hitboxes, see here.
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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