Keyboard play is the act of playing a Super Smash Bros. game with a Computer Keyboard as the controller. Keyboard play is mostly used alongside emulators run on personal computers, such as in Project64 and Dolphin, thus allowing for keyboard play in Smash 64, Melee, Brawl, and Project M; furthermore, Citra and CEMU, emulators for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U respectively, allows for keyboard play to occur in Smash 4. The Nintendo Switch unofficially supports most USB keyboards, and wired keyboards can be used through an adapter. Also, the Yuzu emulator was created with keyboards in mind, offering native support by default. Keyboard play is especially prominent in the Smash 64 community, due to the reliance of emulators for play though this has died down in recent years with the majority of events switching to offline play.
While generally associated with emulators, keyboard play has seen some use in tournaments, particularly in Smash 64.
Comparison to actual controllers
Keyboard play is considered by most players to be more difficult than standard controller play. 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. Outside of this, keyboard play requires the player to use of either standard arrow keys or related keys on the device which grants considerably less precise control compared to the control stick found on official controllers. As all inputs are full, this does not allow players to walk. Also, as macros are not allowed in tournaments, short hop up air requires buffering prior and characters with multiple angles such as Fox or Pikachu are limited in their recoveries.
Playing with a keyboard, however, does yield some interesting benefits compared to a controller. 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 easily configure keys can also get around some limitations of the natural keyboard layout; in Project 64, 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.
Use in Smash 64 Tournaments
While tournaments prefer the use of the original console in tournament setups, the use of emulators are not unheard of in competitive play, particularly in the case of Smash 64, where keyboard play used to be especially popular as the community used to be primarily on emulators. Smash 64 player Herbert Von Karajan developed an adapter for the Nintendo 64 that allows for players to use USB keyboards on the console, and this adapter is/was used by multiple top level Smash 64 players such as Killer, Star King, and KoRoBeNiKi for several years. The Canadian smasher and former top SSB64 player SuPeRbOoMfAn 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.
Due to events switching to offline primarily over the last several years, most keyboard players have entirely switched due to the hassle of setting it up and the limitations for certain characters (such as the lack of angles for certain character recoveries/DI mixups.) There are however more recent keyboard players such as SKG and baby caweb who have used this controller with great success. This adapter has also paved the way for the use of other USB devices to control Smash 64 with notably the top Fox main LD using the Xbox 360 controller for instance though he more recently created his own similar adapter based partially on this model as well as similar adapters for other controllers by Raphnet among other companies. The Smash 64 competitive scene in general has been much more open with alternative controllers though these are much less common in Japan and Peru.
Due to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of most offline tournaments, online tournaments have skyrocketed in popularity. For older games that don't have native online play like Melee, emulators like Dolphin are mandatory. This caused many competitive players to experiment with different controller options, including keyboards. This includes Leffen, who 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.
Notable Keyboard Players and Controller Status