Kirby is ranked 50th out of 55 on the current tier list, thus going into the F tier. This is a big drop from his placement in Brawl, where he was ranked 20th out of 38 characters, and is similar to his bottom-tier placement in Melee. Among his strengths are fast attacks for naturally-flowing combos, including up tilt, forward throw, and down aerial – the latter of which is also a great KO set-up attack – and good edgeguarding ability thanks to his versatile forward aerial and powerful back aerial. Kirby's multitude of jumps allow him to recover from long distances and mix up his landings. His small size also makes him difficult to hit, especially while crouching, and he can flexibly and efficiently KO opponents with his powerful smash attacks and back aerial.
However, this comes at the cost of poor endurance. Kirby is one of the lightest and floatiest characters in the game, and his recovery, despite its distance, is linear and predictable. Kirby's mobility and approach are very poor, as he is slow, floaty, and lacks an effective projectile. He also has poor reach in most of his attacks due to his small size and short limbs.
Kirby is a small, short lightweight, tied for the fifth-lightest character in the game. Aside from his average dashing speed, his mobility is poor: he walks slowly and has low traction, while having the fourth-slowest air speed and falling speed, and the third-lowest gravity, but high air acceleration, being the 15th highest. His jumps are very low on their own, but he boasts six of them – tied with Jigglypuff and Meta Knight for the most jumps in the game.
Kirby is a simple character suitable for beginners, and this can be observed in the versatility of his moveset. Many of his attacks are characterized by speed and combo ability, with some outliers trading those strengths for raw power. His jab and forward tilt are both fast and effective close-quarter attacks, while up tilt is a highly versatile attack which combos into itself cleanly. Down tilt is weak, but its speed and Sakurai angle allow it to trip opponents consistently. His smash attacks are notably strong without being particularly slow, making them excellent finishing moves.
Kirby's grab game is similarly effective, as he boasts a fast grab, an effective pummel, and a set of useful throws. His forward throw can cleanly fit into any part of a combo and enables Kirby to set up long and highly damaging follow-ups, even a down aerial into a regrab. Back throw can KO on the ledge at high percentages, and up throw can KO even earlier off the top (especially if he lands on a platform with it. Lastly, down throw, while not especially useful overall, can rack up damage when no other throw can yield better results.
Complementing his six jumps, Kirby has effective aerial attacks as well. Neutral aerial's long duration and short landing lag allow him to protect himself when landing, while forward aerial is an excellent all-around attack for combos, edgeguarding, and KOing at high percentages. His back aerial takes that principle even further, being his fastest and strongest aerial. Up aerial is a standard attack for juggling and low-damage combos, allowing for many potential followups. Finally, his down aerial, while slow, is a multi-hitting spike with low landing lag and generally little risk, making it a great tool for both edgeguarding and setups on grounded opponents.
Kirby's special moveset has some interesting options. Inhale allows him to either copy the neutral special of any character he Inhales, or spit them out as a weight-dependent projectile. The latter can be used to Kirbycide or put the opponent below the stage, almost eliminating their chances of recovering. Depending on what character he copies, the gained neutral special has the potential to greatly improve his kit – whether from an effective projectile like Falco's Blaster or Luigi's Fireball, or a massively beneficial and versatile technique like Monado Arts.
Hammer Flip is very powerful, especially when fully charged. Its slow speed, however, makes it very difficult to use outside of edge-guarding or after a shield break. Final Cutter is Kirby's recovery move and is decent at that, granting good vertical distance and decent horizontal distance, as well as decent protection during his ascent and descent. It also emits a shockwave upon landing, making it difficult to punish if not at point-blank range. Lastly, Stone causes Kirby to plummet straight down and ignore damage by any move that deals less than 30%. It is also very strong and can be canceled at any time, making it useful for playing mindgames.
However, Kirby has noticeable flaws. His most prominent weakness is his endurance. Being light and floaty, Kirby cannot endure strong hits at high percents. He is also very vulnerable to juggling, due to his aforementioned slow falling and air speeds. Rage further compounds these issues, as Kirby will be launched even earlier, while he will typically not endure long enough in order to take advantage of it.
Kirby's poor mobility not only makes it significantly difficult for him to approach and pressure opponents, but also makes him susceptible to fast characters like Sonic, or those with disjointed hitboxes like Marth and Cloud. In addition, his very long-distanced recovery is very slow, making aggressive edge-guarding and gimp-oriented moves, such as F.L.U.D.D. or meteor smashes, detrimental to him. Kirby's range is also mediocre at best, and his strongest moves happen to be his slowest, making it difficult for him to KO opponents outside of edge-guarding or without a set-up.
Overall, Kirby tends to run hot and cold, similarly to Luigi. He can inflict an impressive amount of damage if he gets close to his opponent thanks to his potent combo game, but doing so is difficult for him due to his poor mobility. As such, Kirby functions well with a bait and punish playstyle, although being unprepared for an opponent's approach can be hazardous due to his unimpressive survivability. Kirby has achieved average tournament representation and some degree of success: Poyo, Triple R and Prince Kirby have each won numerous local tournaments and continue to place very well at them in singles and doubles play, while MikeKirby and K.I.D.Goggles have collectively achieved a handful of notable results at regional and national tournaments.
Changes from Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Kirby has been considerably nerfed in the transition from Brawl to SSB4. Most of his issues in Brawl were not only retained but worsened and he also suffers from new weaknesses. Kirby's already mediocre range has been reduced further, with his feet becoming smaller and several general nerfs to hitbox sizes. This makes it even easier for opponents to wall out Kirby especially with the cast having greater range overall. Kirby's air mobility as also taken a hit as his air acceleration is lower, and unlike most returning veterans, his air speed has been decreased, which hindering both his recovery and ability to escape aerial pressure. As with his transition from each new Smash game as well as with most of the returning veterans, Kirby's damage output has been decreased. Some of Kirby's moves have also seen changes which greatly hinder their utility, with forward aerial having more ending lag and no longer autocanceling in a short hop due to a combination of its autocancel window being unchanged and Kirby's higher gravity and lower jumps, and dash attack and connecting less reliably due to its much shorter range, but the attacks that were affected the most were down throw and aerial Hammer Flip, losing most of their previous utility: the former has lost all of its followup potential due to its more unfavorable angle and increased knockback, while the latter has much more startup lag and has lost its recovery and edgeguarding potential, as to it's no longer being a semispike and now stalls Kirby's horizontal momentum instead of his vertical momentum.
Smash 4's adjusted mechanics have both helped and hindered Kirby. The changes to hitstun canceling overall help Kirby, strengthening his ability to combo opponents. It does, however, make Kirby slightly easier to combo himself, especially due to his increased weight, fall speed and gravity. Without the ability to momentum cancel, Kirby's already poor endurance has been further reduced, although he had poor momentum canceling in Brawl, and his higher weight somewhat compensates for it. The inclusion of rage further exacerbates this issue, and while it improves Kirby's own KO potential, his poor endurance combined with his lack of a ladder combo or early kill confirm prevents him from making great use of the mechanic. The changes to aerial grab releases, however, now make him much less vulnerable to those kinds of followups.
Kirby has seen some buffs, however. His considerably faster dashing speed improves his approach, while some less reliable moves like Inhale and down aerial have been given new utility, with the former being faster and the latter connecting better due to using the autolink angle and its landing hit has less knockback and launches higher, making it better for combos, and forward and back throw are also more useful for combos due to the former's new angle and reduced ending lag, and the latter also has received KO potential thanks to its altered knockback, increasing its versatility overall. Other attacks, namely his up smash, down smash, back aerial, back throw and up throw, were given more KO power – and this can be better taken advantage of in the new environment of Smash 4, in the absence of momentum cancelling and the presence of rage. His Hammer Flip now can be charged, has more range, no longer has sourspots and Kirby can move and jump while charging the attack.
Overall, while Kirby still retains most of the strengths he had in Brawl including his solid combo ability and KO potential for his character archetype, his weaknesses were amplified and he gained new weaknesses most notably, his reduced range and aerial mobility. While the changes to the game's mechanics benefit him overall, they do not aid him as much as some of the other returning veterans. As a result, Kirby is significantly worse than in Brawl.
Kirby has been buffed via game updates. Update 1.0.6 improved up and down smashes' KO potentials; re-purposed down throw into a viable damage racking option; and decreased Inhale and Hammer Flip's ending lag. Update 1.1.0 brought about further buffs: neutral attack's second hit connects into neutral infinite better; neutral infinite's finisher had its start-up lag decreased; forward throw was re-purposed into a useful combo starter like in Brawl; and Inhale's start-up and ending lag were decreased. Kirby also slightly benefits from the new shield mechanics brought about by updates 1.1.0 and 1.1.1, as they make down aerial's multiple hits and Stone's high damage output and hitlag much more reliable at pressuring shields.
Update 1.1.3 brought about even more buffs for Kirby: his dashing speed increased; his smash attacks, forward and back aerials, and all variations of Hammer Flip became slightly stronger; and up throw gained KO potential. Update 1.1.4 brought out another minor buff, as hard tripping now grants Kirby 5 frames of invincibility. Lastly, update 1.1.5, buffed Kirby's smash attacks and all variations of Hammer Flip by slightly increasing their knockback. As a result, Kirby is noticeably better than he was during SSB4's initial release.
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Due to the considerable nerfs Kirby received in his transition from Brawl, he has always been considered a non-viable character within the SSB4 metagame, even in spite of game updates noticeably buffing him. This has been due to his only success occurring at local tournaments, whereas his results at regional and national tournaments have been very sparse. Many smashers also took note of Kirby's overall poor matchup spread as characters like with large disjoints, and strong good kill power (Cloud being a primary example) as well as zoning characters with effective projectiles (Pac-Man, Mega Man, Toon Link and Villager being good examples) do very well against him. These aspects culminated with Kirby being placed at 33rd on the first tier list as the 2nd highest low tier character.
Kirby did not fare well after the next updates as characters like Marth, Lucina, Duck Hunt, Shulk, Link and Mewtwo who were initially considered to be worse than Kirby proved to not only become better than him, but proved to be very troublesome matchups as well due to them having excellent tools to prevent Kirby from approaching. The release of Bayonetta and Corrin also hurt him since they too proved to be tough matchups for Kirby. This resulted in Kirby's already scarce results to become even worse than before.
Kirby would then drop to 41st on the second tier list, and eventually to 47th on the third tier list, with the latter drop being tied with Pit and Yoshi's for the second largest between the second and third tier lists. However, Komota later scored an upset by defeating Ally at Frostbite 2017 and placing 33rd at said tournament. Due to this, his tier placement has been widely debated, with some players believing he should be placed slightly higher due to niche matchups against much higher tiered characters, such as Zero Suit Samus and Fox. However, due to his continually sparse results after Frostbite 2017, Kirby has since dropped to 50th on the fourth and current tier list.
Since then, Kirby has failed to make a significant impact at tournaments as he hardly has any tournament representation outside of Komota who never places high at supermajors. Meanwhile, characters lower than Kirby have all performed much higher with ZAKI getting 17th at Smash 'N' Splash 4 and 2GG: Hyrule Saga while defeating MKLeo and Rags; Onpu and Rizeasu performing very well in Japan with the former taking WaDi to game 3 as Zelda; Pon, Gungnir and Rickles doing work with Ganondorf in their regions with Pon beating Ally, Gungnir getting 17th at Umebura Japan Major 2017 while defeating Taiheita and Earth; and Captain L using Jigglypuff as an effective secondary taking sets off of Larry Lurr, BestNess, John Numbers Blank, Strike, Pandarian and even took ESAM to game 5 with the character.
Due to Kirby's meager tournament results and his glaring weaknesses some smashers claim that he should be even lower due to his overwhelming weaknesses with ESAM ranking him as the 3rd worst character in the game, putting him below King Dedede, Wii Fit Trainer, Zelda and even below Jigglypuff, who is widely considered to be the worst character in the game, as well as Raito and Dabuz claiming that he's the absolute worst character in the game. Others, however, think that he is underrated and that he should be ranked relatively higher due to his excellent combo game, good kill power and great edgeguarding.
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