All characters possess a grab as part of their standard moveset, which can be performed by pressing the shield and attack buttons simultaneously on any controller in any game. Grabs can also be used with the R Button on the N64 controller, the Z button on the GameCube controller, sideways on the D-Pad with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the Minus button on a standalone Wii Remote, the L button on a Nintendo 3DS or the ZR button on a New Nintendo 3DS, ZL or ZR on the Wii U GamePad, Classic Controller, and Wii U Pro Controller; L or R on the Switch Pro Controller or dual Joy-Cons, and the SL button on a single sideways Joy-Con.
Two slight variants exist for each character's grab:
Grabs are unblockable and cannot be shielded; they can thus be used as an easy way to open up a hole in an enemy player's defense. Upon a successful grab, the enemy is immobilized for a time. They cannot be held indefinitely, however: after a short amount of time, the grabbed character will break free in a phenomenon known as a grab release. A grabbed character can escape faster by button mashing, but grabs become more difficult to escape as damage accumulates.
During a grab, the grabbing character has access to five potential attacks: a pummel by pressing the A button, or a forward throw, back throw, up throw, or down throw by pressing those respective directions on the control stick. Damage can be racked up before a throw by using multiple pummels, but this runs the risk of the enemy escaping before a throw can be performed.
In the original Super Smash Bros., grabs are notoriously fast and throws are equally powerful. Pummels, up throws, and down throws did not exist, nor did grab releases (aside from Donkey Kong's forward throw). Pressing the A button with an enemy grabbed will input a forward throw, and waiting 1 full second without inputting anything automatically triggers a forward throw as well. Since Melee, the speed and power of most characters' grabs and throws have been toned down and many of the mechanics were introduced which are now widely understood as the series standard.
Several special moves are similarly able to grab and then throw opponents, which are similarly unblockable and put opponents in a unique state compared to normal grabs. These types of attacks are often referred to as “command grabs”.
List of grabs
Tether grabs and extended grabs
Some characters, instead of grabbing opponents directly, throw forward a long rope- or whip-like object in order to grab opponents. This sort of grab is known as a tether grab, based on the tether recovery ability that many such characters also have (or, in Melee, the wall-grapple). Tether grabs are renowned for their very high range compared to most other grabs, but – particularly in early installments – are also much slower than standard grabs.
Other characters do not have a tether recovery but still possess a grab range that greatly surpasses other characters'. These characters can be said to have an extended grab.
Characters with tether grabs and extended grabs are noted in the table above. In general, characters with tether grabs also have grab aerials, while those with standard or extended grabs do not. Luigi in Ultimate is the exception; he has an extended grab with a grab aerial that cannot tether.
Special moves that can grab
Some special attacks function as grabs (sometimes called command grabs, from the similar concept in traditional fighting games). When their hitboxes are viewed with Melee's Debug Menu, these attacks use the same magenta hitbox color as standard grabs. Grabbing special attacks put opponents in a unique state that is manipulated by the move in some fashion, and have their own independent rules as to whether and how opponents can escape.
Hitboxes that can grab
A minority of special moves utilize hitboxes that grab opponents when they hit. Functionally, these moves have all the properties of hitboxes (damage, angle, effect, etc.), but instead of dealing knockback when they connect with an opponent, they place the opponent in a grabbed state. Practically, the most important difference from a regular grab is that they can be blocked. Additionally, should the hitbox have non-zero knockback, then if it connects with an opponent who cannot be grabbed, it will deal knockback instead. While this mechanic is new to Ultimate in term of Smash, it is more commonly used in other fighting games, with borrowing hit grab as a common term for this sort of move from the competitive communities of such games as well (similar to many other terms such as clone, tech and wavedash).
An important property of grabs is that they cannot be shielded, completely ignoring a foe's shield and grabbing them out of it; in comparison to other unblockable attacks, grabs are available to the entirety of the cast in all Smash games, preventing foes from overusing their shields against any character. This, along with grabs' generally fast startup, their ability to easily punish out of shield, and most throws allowing the player to execute diverse combos and chains, causes them to be used very prominently in competitive play, constituting the neutral game of characters as a triangle in which grabs beat shields, but are beaten by attacks as they are outranged by them. Grabs also ignore moves that conceptually block attacks, such as those that provide armor and most counterattacks, though they do not work against foes knocked down on the floor (with the only exception being in the original Super Smash Bros.). In Smash 4 and Ultimate, characters also gain invulnerability to grabs for 70 frames after being released from them, preventing chaingrabs and team wobbles; in Ultimate, this is indicated by the released character flashing yellow whilst the grab invulnerability is active. Most characters also cannot be grabbed by the arms and legs. This can lead to some unusual results against characters with extreme proportions.
Grab hitboxes react very interestingly throughout the Super Smash Bros. series when they collide with a regular hitbox that is within a character's grab range. In Super Smash Bros. and Melee, the grab has priority over the hitbox and will completely override whatever hitbox it collided with and grab the opponent; in Brawl, the grab still has priority over the hitbox, but the hitbox will deal full damage to the character that attempted the grab before they proceed to grab the opponent. In Smash 4, however, hitboxes outprioritize grabs; in this situation, the character that attempted the grab will receive full damage and knockback from the hitbox that the grab collided with, and the character that threw out the hitbox will be grab released and take 3% damage (or more if the grab came from a special move and the grab itself dealt damage, like the beginning of Falcon Dive).
Hitting a character with a grabbed foe in Super Smash Bros. causes them to make their hard-damage noise. From Melee onward, if a character grabbing another character is interrupted (that is, hit by an attack), the grabbed character will be sent flying horizontally. In Melee, characters oddly cannot escape from grabs if they are constantly hit by other characters at certain intervals, which is the main cause of wobbling.
In Ultimate, if two players attempt to grab each other at the same time, both players will take minor damage and will perform their rebound animation (unless they are in the air, where their grab release animation is used instead). This is similar to the 3% damage grab break effect from Smash 4, but affects both characters like a clang. The exact timing of when this can happen is specific to every animation of every character, and may even be assigned to actions that are not grabs. Before Ultimate, port priority was used to determine which fighter's grab was successful in the event of simultaneous grabs colliding.
A particular character can grab only one opponent at once, and similarly, a grabbed character cannot be grabbed by another one before being thrown or released. Prior to Ultimate, the Ice Climbers are able to grab two opponents at once, with Popo grabbing one and Nana grabbing the other. In Melee, when Nana grabs an opponent, she will act independently, being CPU-controlled. In Brawl, Nana is directly controlled by the player during the grab, enabling zero-to-death combos as each Ice Climber re-grabs the opponent immediately after the partner's throw. In Ultimate, Nana cannot grab at all, and does not act while Popo is grabbing and throwing an opponent.
Initial grab range by game
Melee grab ranges by character according to Mew2King's webpage.
In Smash 4
Smash 4 grab ranges by character according to Smash Highlight's video