Keyboards are typically characterized by their many buttons, or "keys", that each correspond with a different action. These keys have many layouts, such as "WASD," "CJK," and "AZERTY," to aid in quick, easy inputs. Sometimes a keyboard is paired with a mouse that streamlines some processes that can be considered cumbersome with a keyboard alone, such as moving a cursor and clicking a button on the mouse to instantly perform an action.
Nintendo has made a few keyboards for their systems, such as the Family Basic add-on to the Famicom in 1984. A version of the GameCube controller produced by ASCII Corporation, designed for Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II, notably features a keyboard layout for typing messages, though the keys cannot be used to control any other titles without external modifications, only the buttons. Hori has developed officially licensed keyboards for many Nintendo systems, notably the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Switch.
Any keyboard can be used for any hardware it can connect to and is compatible with, most notably a PC. This sometimes creates an issue where keyboards meant to be used on a specific proprietary system are effectively locked to said system and are not forwards compatible with new hardware. Also, a new developmental hurdle keyboard users and manufacturers face is the introduction of firmware updates that can suddenly make previously compatible keyboards incompatible, sometimes meant specifically so, necessitating firmware updates of its own.
The Nintendo Switch unofficially supports most USB keyboards, and other wired keyboards can be used through an adapter.
Despite the widespread compatibility of the keyboard, no game in the Smash franchise officially supports keyboards as a controller option, though there are mods that permit such. Ergo, keyboards have never had official methods of button mapping.
Keyboards are more often than not used when emulating Smash on a PC, as using official game controllers on computers requires either peripherals like the Smash 4 GameCube controller adapter or an unofficial controller with a USB input, the latter of which often have dubious build quality. Keyboards are especially prominent in the Smash 64 community due to the reliance on emulators for play, though it has become less popular over time.
The most obvious advantage to a keyboard compared to other controllers is that certain techniques are made far easier. Button mashing, for instance, is more efficient on a keyboard than a controller, allowing for improved operation of attacks such as Mario Tornado, as well as allowing for players to more easily escape from throws in Melee and Brawl. In addition to this, SDI is easier to perform, due to keyboards only having the ability to "tap" when a key is pressed; this is particularly useful in the original game, as Smash DI is the only DI present in the game. With easier pivoting, a lot of top SSB64 keyboard players mained Kirby due to pivot up tilt.
The ability to map actions to any key has two specific advantages. The first advantage is for comfort; a player can map buttons ergonomically where their hands naturally rest, which can relieve stress and prevent potential injuries. The second advantage is to get around some limitations that are impossible to remove from other controllers; in Project64, for instance, the C buttons are mapped to the Home, Delete, End and Page Down keys, all of which are found above the arrow keys on many keyboards, allowing for players to more easily SHFFL. It is also easier to dash dance as well as this can be mashed.
Keyboards with a numeric keypad also have the unique benefit of being able to bind 8-way directional inputs to a different key. This is similar to how early freeware fighting games in the 1990s bound the arcade controller stick inputs to these keys, with 5 being the neutral position and all other numbers being their corresponding direction. This is why many fighting games today use numbers as shorthands for specific directions. This technique makes command inputs much easier and more consistent, with Kazuya especially benefiting due to having diagonal inputs for certain attacks.
Keyboard play is considered by most players to be more difficult than standard controller play with a fairly steep learning curve. In addition to most users already being used to the standard controllers for the games, the setup of the keys on a keyboard can be considered counter-conductive to gameplay; on the standard GameCube controller, for instance, shielding merely consists of pushing the L or R buttons with one's index finger, whereas on a keyboard, this can require movement of a player's fingers in order to reach around other keys. Additionally, keyboards require the player to use of either standard arrow keys or related keys on the device, which loses access to the subtle and precise movement potential found on official controllers with a control stick. As the keys can only be pressed or not pressed, players can only move at one speed without mapping a button for each movement speed. Also, short hop up air requires buffering prior and characters with multiple angles such as Fox or Pikachu are limited in their recoveries without mapping a button to each angle, over-complicating what is otherwise a simple and intuitive process.
Keyboards also contain elements that skirt the line of legality in a few ways. One way is them having many more buttons than an official controller, which lets them "break the game" in certain ways, such as being able to perform multiple actions simultaneously that would otherwise be impossible. In addition, the same action can be mapped to multiple buttons, granting borderline unfair levels of consistency and altering the way characters are played. Because of this, button macros are not allowed in tournaments and keyboard players typically have to show to a Tournament director before entering that they have mapped their controls in a way where these techniques are impossible.
In competitive play
Playing with a keyboard is relatively uncommon in competitive Smash, owing to the hassle involved with using one in a tournament. Most Nintendo consoles were not made compatible with standard keyboards and thus were never designed to use them. While there are a few exceptions like the ASCII Keyboard Controller for GameCube and a select few Nintendo Switch games being compatible with USB keyboards, no game in the Smash series has been designed with keyboards in mind. The aforementioned disadvantages of keyboard play also dissuade players from ever trying it, with some who do try it eventually switching back to standard control options.
Despite this, there is a niche playerbase dedicated to playing with a keyboard. They feature prominently in the Smash 64 scene, due to the general distaste of the official Nintendo 64 controller and preferable alternatives like the Hori Mini Pad being expensive and hard to find, making players more open to other options, with several well known players like Killer, SKG, baby caweb, and Samsun using keyboards as their primary controller. Canadian smasher and former top Smash 64 player SuPeRbOoMfAn, who often goes by the alias "KeyboardKing", notoriously fought against American smasher Sensei with a keyboard in the grand finals of Zenith 2013's Smash 64 bracket; SuPeRbOoMfAn lost by a small margin, and he elected to switch to a regular controller towards the end of the set.
There have been efforts to make keyboards more accessible, such as Smash 64 player Herbert Von Karajan developing an adapter for the Nintendo 64 that allows for players to use USB keyboards on the console. This adapter is a popular choice to this day and has been used by multiple top level Smash 64 players such as Killer, Star King, and KoRoBeNiKi for several years. This adapter also paved the way for the use of other USB devices to control Smash 64, with top Fox main LD notably using the Xbox 360 controller (he would eventually create his own similar adapter based partially on this model as well as similar adapters for other controllers by Raphnet among other companies).
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased attention it brought to online play, also renewed interest in different controller options, including keyboards. Since emulation is required for playing the older Smash games online, many competitive players began to experiment with competing using a keyboard. Notably, Leffen uploaded a video to YouTube explaining the pros and cons of the control setup. While there have not been significant results with keyboard players in this realm, the progress made here may lay the foundation for innovation in the future.
|Controllers and buttons
|Nintendo 64 controller
|Wii Remote (and Nunchuk)
|Wii U GamePad / Pro Controller
|Switch Pro Controller
|Hori Mini Pad · Arcade controller · Keyboard