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. They can also be used with a specific grab button, which behaves like a simultaneous shield and attack input (thus, it can be used for other actions involving shield or attack inputs when grabs aren't possible), and is by default:
Depending on the game, there are different variations of each character's grab:
Grabs cannot be shielded, and are thus an easy way to open up a hole in an opponent's defense. Upon a successful grab, the opponent is immobilized for a certain period, and the the grabbing character has access to five possible attacks: a pummel by pressing an attack or grab button (except in Smash 64), which racks up damage while keeping the opponent grabbed, or any of four throws (forward, back, up, or down; only forward and back in Smash 64) by tilting the control stick in the respective direction, which launches the opponent and ends the grab. Characters can only be grabbed for a certain period of time, after which they break free in a phenomenon known as a grab release, so the idea is that the grabber can throw them before this happens. This grab period is extended as the victim's damage percentage increases, but can be decreased by button mashing from their part.
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.
An important property of grabs is that they cannot be shielded, completely ignoring a opponent'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 where 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 64, grabs are notoriously fast, with more powerful throws than in other games. However, pummels, up throws, and down throws did not exist, nor did grab releases (aside from Donkey Kong's forward throw). Instead, pressing the A button or holding a grabbed opponent for more than one second automatically triggers a forward throw. Since Melee, the speed and power of most characters' grabs and throws have been toned down, and the other grab mechanics introduced have since been widely understood as the series' standard. Ultimate further nerfed grabs by giving them more ending lag, and making their grabbox sizes only half as large against aerial opponents, increasing their risk of use.
Limits on grabbing
In all games, most characters cannot be grabbed by less central parts of their bodies, such as lower arms, legs, or tails, which can lead to some unusual results against characters with extreme proportions. This varies depending on character; for instance, in Melee, all of Kirby's hurtboxes can be grabbed, but only Jigglypuff's body is grabbable, while its hands, feet and hair curl are not. From Brawl onward, ungrabbable limbs tend to be only arms, with a few exceptions. Furthermore, from Brawl onward, characters cannot grab opponents behind them, even if the grab hitboxes connect with a grabbable part of their body that extends in front of them; this is unlike in Melee, where not only this is possible, but certain dash grabs have some grabboxes intentionally placed behind the user.
A particular character can grab only one opponent at once, and similarly, neither the user nor the victim can be grabbed by another character before the grab ends. Prior to Ultimate, the Ice Climbers are able to grab two opponents at once, with each climber grabbing one opponent. In Melee, Nana becomes CPU-controlled when grabbing an opponent, whereas in Brawl, she can be controlled by the player during the grab, enabling zero-to-death combos as each Ice Climber regrabs the opponent immediately after the partner's throw. In Ultimate, Nana cannot grab at all, nor act while Popo is grabbing and throwing an opponent.
Characters cannot use their grabs while holding an item; attempting to input one will cause them to drop or throw the item first. In Super Smash Bros. 4 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, characters gain invulnerability to grabs for around one second after being released from them (70 and 60 frames, respectively), preventing chaingrabs and team wobbles. In Ultimate, this is indicated by the released character flashing yellow whilst the grab invulnerability is active.
While non-playable characters such as Metal Mario (in Smash 64) and Fighting Wire Frames can be grabbed, bosses such as Master Hand and Giga Bowser cannot. Most enemies in Brawl's Subspace Emissary and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS's Smash Run (including the enemies inside Master Fortress in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U) can be grabbed, usually those with a comparable size to the playable characters. However, in Brawl, they cannot be held, grab released, or pummeled, instead causing the character to immediately throw them in the direction the control stick is held when the grab connects (forward throw by default). In Ultimate, most but not all Assist Trophies can be grabbed. In Melee, grabbing enemies in Adventure Mode instead allows characters to carry them like heavy items.
Hitting characters during a grab
While a character grabs another, others that are not involved in the grab can still hit either character, which has different effects depending on the game:
Interaction with other hitboxes
Grabboxes are not bound by usual priority rules. Instead, in each game, they behave differently if a grab connects with an opponent at the same time the opponent strikes the grabber with a standard hitbox.
Likewise, if both characters attempt to grab each other at the same time, the situation is resolved differently in each game. In Smash 64, Melee, and Brawl, this is determined by port priority, with the character in the lower port always getting the grab. In Smash 4, port priority is no longer a factor, with either character having an equally random chance to get the grab instead. Ultimate resolves both quirks by simply causing both grabs to cancel each other out, akin to a clang. This property is known as grab parrying by the in-game tips, and results in both characters taking 1% damage and performing their rebound animation (unless they are in the air, where their grab release animation is used instead). 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.
From Melee onward, grabs hold the opponent for a variable amount of time, increasing proportionally to their damage percentage at the time of the grab (so it is not affected by pummeling or external damage), and decreasing with button mashing from the opponent. In Melee, the formula for grab frames is
Button mashing reduces grab time by 6 frames per input in Melee, and 8 frames per input from Brawl onward (14.4 for buttons in Smash 4 and Ultimate, but they cannot be inputted as quickly as stick inputs). However, the grab time from Brawl onward cannot be lower than 19 frames, allowing certain characters to always pummel the opponent at least once and throw them before they can escape. In Ultimate, grabbed characters flash yellow when they are close to escaping (180 frames left or less, equal to 3 seconds).
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 are also much slower than standard grabs, particularly in earlier installments.
Some characters do not have a tether recovery, but still possess grabs akin to tether grabs, with much longer range yet higher lag. These characters are 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. The main characteristic of a tether grab is that it completely relies on a secondary model to work, allowing the model to move with the bone the grabbox is attached to. Steve is the only character with a tether grab that does not have either a grab aerial or a tether recovery.
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. Special grabs 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. They can also be used in midair, and can usually grab opponents in this state, giving characters with access to them another option against shields.
In the following table, a special grab being escapable indicates it can be interrupted mid-execution and put the opponent in their grab release animation, while being mashable indicates its grab duration can be influenced by button mashing. All mashable special grabs use different duration formulas from regular grabs, with the exception of Force Palm.
Hitboxes that can grab
In Ultimate, a minority of special moves utilize hitboxes that grab opponents when they hit (sometimes called hit grab, also from the similar concept in traditional fighting games). 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 shielded. Additionally, should the hitbox have non-zero knockback, it deals knockback if it connects with an opponent that cannot be grabbed. If the moves' hitboxes are scripted as projectiles, they can also can be reflected, but instead of changing the trajectory of the move, they act as if a regular projectile collided with a shield, leaving both players unharmed.
Hit grabs cannot be escaped, nor influenced by button mashing.
Initial grab range by game
These are lists that rank how long the hitbox of each character's grab is in each game. Note that hitbox length alone does not accurately reflect how far away a character can actually grab ingame, as where a grab hitbox is positioned on a character plays a large role in how far away it can effectively grab characters. For example, the size of R.O.B.'s grab hitbox is above-average in Smash 4 and Ultimate, however most of the hitbox is positioned inside of his body, leaving so little of it extending outside his body that he has the worst reaching standing grab in both games. Conversely Palutena's grab hitbox is of below-average size in Ultimate, but since it is a positioned in a way where most of it reaches outside her body, she has one of the farthest non-tether grabs in the game.
Super Smash Bros. grab ranges as tested by SuperSqank. Testing method is between the character's bone 0 (position) and tip of furthest grabbox. The scale is different than the scale used in later games, with the conversion rate roughly being range/30 (So Fox's range for example is 400u, which would roughly convert to 13.33u using the scale from later games)
Differences between game versions
NTSC-J to NTSC-U
Melee grab ranges by character according to Zeckemyro and SuperSqank. This testing is done by calculating the distance between bone 0 (the character's position) and the tip of the furthest grabbox. While Bowser and Yoshi have higher grab ranges than Marth (who was thought to have the longest non-tether grab in the game), this is only because the long range of their grabboxes was made to fit their larger bodies. Marth has a better grab by comparison due to its better disjoint compared to his smaller size despite having less range overall (which is further complimented by its superior speed).
Brawl grab ranges by Zeckemyro and SuperSqank. The units displayed are raw range between the character's position in 3D space (TopN bone/bone 0) and the tip of the furthest grabbox in in-game units.
Smash 4 grab ranges by Zeckemyro and extra data for tether and extended grabs from SuperSqank. Numbers are raw horizontal range from the character's bone 0 position and the tip of the furthest grabbox. Certain tether and extended grabs will have asterisks next to their range due to not being able to get perfectly accurate values. Despite the innacurate values, the placements in this ranking are accurate.
Grab ranges in Ultimate as tested by Zeckemyro and CrimsonStarfall. The number besides each position indicates the range using in-game units. Extended grabs will be followed by an asterisk (*) due to only being approximations. Their range was tested and is placed correctly. Jostle and the height of the grabboxes can affect their consistency in the midst of battle. The grabs are listed based on their raw horizontal range.