A nerf is a term used to describe the weakening of a character or an aspect of a character, either through updating a game or by releasing a sequel. Nerfs are often done as an attempt to balance the roster, by weakening characters that are too strong; however, nerfs can also be inadvertently added if a character is indirectly weakened by an external gameplay change. Nerfs contrast with "buffs", which involve the strengthening of a character or aspects of a character between sequel games and game updates.
The term "nerf" is derived from the brand of toy known for its soft foam-like substance. This substance allows for safer play, as little chance of injury comes from impact with such items. In effect, a projectile is less damaging because it was "nerfed".
Notable examples of nerfs in the Super Smash Bros. series
Smash 64 to Melee
- The effect of L-canceling has been reduced; now only reducing landing lag by 50% rather than reducing it to 4 frames. It is also harder to perform with the window to L-cancel being reduced from eleven frames to seven. This generally makes aerials more punishable and reduces their combo potential. This particularly hinders aerials with very high landing lag such as Link and Pikachu's down aerials. This change is further exacerbated by many short hops being shorter along with many aerials receiving worse auto-cancel windows; greatly reducing the amount of aerials which can auto-cancel in a short hop.
- The knockback of meteor smashes can now be cancelled with a jump or an up special 8 frames after a meteor smash connects (known as meteor cancelling). This significantly hinders the utility of meteor smashes and while a fair amount of meteor smashes are stronger, this does not compensate for the inclusion of meteor cancelling. Many meteor smashes are also noticeably slower.
- Directional Influence has been introduced which allows the player to change their launch angle after getting hit by a move. While this does improve the endurance and recovery potential of each character, it also makes combos much less consistent; forcing the player to guess which way their opponent is going to DI. As a result, zero to death combos are less prevalent and requires reads from the player performing the combo. This also means that every attack in the game can be survived for longer although poor DI can allow moves to KO even earlier than they normally should.
- Shield damage and shieldstun have been significantly decreased. This makes many attacks less safe on shield which makes many more attacks punishable on shield and generally makes shield breaks far less common. This particularly hurts characters with shield break combos; most notably Kirby and Ness
- Kirby's walk and dash speeds were significantly reduced, leading to a poor ability to pursue opponents, and his increased falling speed, along with nerfs to Final Cutter, reduced the effectiveness of his recovery. Many of Kirby's most powerful attacks in Smash 64 were also nerfed; for example, his up tilt had its range, power, and combo ability significantly reduced, while his forward smash went from one of the strongest in Smash 64 to among the weakest in Melee. Ranked as one of the best characters in Smash 64, Kirby is arguably one of the worst characters in Melee, currently ranking second to dead last on the tier list and by the far the most nerfed character in the transition between games.
Melee to Brawl
- L-cancelling has been removed completely. This has the same negative effects as the weakening of the mechanic in Melee but to a greater extent. While a large amount of aerials have lower landing lag and more aerials are capable of auto-cancelling in a short hop, this does not completely compensate for the removal of L-cancelling in most cases.
- Air dodges have been changed. The main changes are that they cannot be angled and no longer cause helplessness and they can now be performed out of tumble. While the changes to air dodges have their benefits, they also cause two changes which noticeably hinder certain characters.
- Because of the changes to air dodges, wavedashing is no longer possible which negatively impacts many characters' mobility on the ground, such as in the case of Luigi and Marth
- This also enables hitstun cancelling which can also be performed with aerials. While this can lead to momentum canceling which allows many characters to survive longer, it has also heavily limited the combo potential of many characters. Two characters who were noticeably affected by this were Captain Falcon and Jigglypuff
- It is no longer possible to DI moves which do not cause tumble. When combined with the fact that non-tumble hitstun cannot be cancelled, this leads into the game's inescapable chain grabs as well as allowing various moves to chain into themselves more reliably. While this benefits certain characters such as Pikachu and acts as a double edged sword for some others such as Falco and Sheik, it also significantly hinders certain characters such as Fox and Captain Falcon.
- The landing lag glitch is a glitch where the landing lag from a special move is carried over if the player does not land normally. This particularly hurts characters who receive high landing lag from their special moves such as Marth and Ganondorf.
- Fox has been severely harmed by the game's universal changes and his most notable tools have been severely toned down. His up smash and up aerial have reduced KO potential, his down throw is laggier and can no longer tech chase, his Blaster travels half the distance, and his infamous shine can no longer be jump-canceled, has increased start-up lag, and launches at a higher angle, significantly weakening its utility. Arguably the best character in Melee, he is generally considered to be high-mid tier in Brawl.
- Captain Falcon has also been severely harmed by the games universal changes and he generally has worse frame data and KO power. His Knee Smash's sweetspot is smaller and has a shorter duration which makes the move more difficult to land compared to Melee in addition to having almost no reliable setups to combo into it. A high-tiered character in Melee, Captain Falcon frequently ranked among the worst characters in Brawl, with one tier list even considering him the worst character in the game.
- Jigglypuff has worse aerial mobility and has suffered severely from the introduction of hitstun cancelling and the universal reduction to falling speeds, weakening its previously devastating Wall of Pain combos. Jigglypuff's up throw was greatly hindered by these universal changes preventing it from being able to perform the Space Animal Slayer despite its decreased knockback. Rest's damage and knockback was also reduced, making it a considerably less devastating and less safe attack than in Melee. Initially top-tiered in Melee, Jigglypuff is considered among Brawl's worst fighters.
- Ganondorf's ground mobility is worse and he is one of the characters who was hindered the most from the removal of L-cancelling hindered which has hindered his ability ability to use his aerials for approaching, comboing, and KOing. In addition to this, his neutral attack is much slower and he generally has worse KO power leading to Ganondorf having a considerably worse approach in Brawl compared to Melee. In addition to his nerfed approach, Ganondorf's grab range is much shorter; now being the shortest in the game. The inclusion of hitstun cancelling along with his altered down throw have also severely hindered his grab game. His recovery is also even worse due to Wizard's Foot no longer restoring his double jump. A lower mid-tier character in Melee, Ganondorf is frequently considered one of the worst characters in Brawl, with the most recent tier list ranking him as the game's worst fighter.
Brawl to Smash 4
- Dash attack cancelled up smash (DACUS) has been removed as of patch 1.0.4 on the 3DS version and all Wii U versions. This has hindered multiple character's approach potential with some notable examples being Falco and Sheik
- Glide tossing has been removed which has hindered numerous character's approach with items. This particularly hinders characters who can generate item based projectiles such as Diddy Kong, Peach and R.O.B..
- Chain grabbing is no longer possible. While this does benefit some characters, it also hinders characters who possessed powerful chain grabs in the previous games such as Pikachu, Falco and King Dedede. Many throws which could chain grab in the previous game have also been altered (such as the down throws of the aforementioned three characters) to make them worse overall.
- Falco's Blaster fires slower and no longer auto-cancels on landing, crippling his neutral game that had relied on the short hop laser. As previously mentioned, his down throw can no longer chain grab for significant damage at early percentages and it has noticeably increased knockback; making it a worse combo tool while still not being powerful enough to KO. His down aerial is much slower and weaker, removing his fastest and most reliable KO option offstage. His neutral attack is also laggier and has less range. Due to these changes, despite the buffs some of his other moves received, Falco experienced the largest tier drop in the transition to Smash 4, going from being a borderline top tier character to a low tier (arguably mid tier) character.
- King Dedede's new back aerial, though stronger, is much slower, and the hitbox has shorter duration, hurting his approach game. As previously mentioned, his down throw can no longer infinitely chain grab and it no longer has set knockback. The changes to hitstun canceling have also hindered Dedede more than almost any other character as he is much easier to combo while still possessing a rather poor combo game of his own.
- Marth's range (despite his tippers on most of his moves reaching slightly further) is reduced overall, due to most of his hitboxes being reduced in size; coupled with moves that have decreased hitbox durations. Some of his more effective approach options in Brawl such as in his down tilt and forward aerial have been nerfed in various ways, noticeably hindering his approach in Smash 4. His throws also have much higher base knockback, removing many of his previous set-ups and ability to tech-chase. Considered among the best Brawl characters, Marth was initially considered to be a low-tier in Smash 4, though changes in updates, however, have since improved his viability in the competitive scene, which have allowed him to become a top tier character once again despite still being nerfed overall.
- Meta Knight's damage output, range and frame data have been noticeably toned down with his up aerial being a clear example of these changes. Many of his attacks also lost their transcendent priority. He can no longer glide, nerfing his recovery that was previously extremely powerful in Brawl. His falling speed and gravity have been significantly increased which makes him far more vulnerable to combos and noticeably reduces the height of his mid-air jumps. His Mach Tornado and Shuttle Loop also saw various nerfs although his new Shuttle Loop in particular is still an effective move. Despite his heavy nerfs, Meta Knight is still generally seen as a viable character in tournaments as the game's universal changes benefited him overall despite the clear hindrances he also received from them, though he still went from being considered the best character in Brawl to only a high tier especially after update 1.1.5.
Smash 4 game updates
- Diddy Kong was highly dominant in early competitive play, being very common in tournaments and typically placing highly. However, in patches 1.0.6 and 1.0.8, Diddy Kong was heavily nerfed overall. Before the patches, Diddy Kong possessed powerful aerials that could easily be comboed into, most notably down throw to one or more up aerials, which was both a powerful KOing and damage racking tool and was simple to execute. The patches greatly weakened the damage, knockback and combo potential of several of Diddy's most frequently used moves, lowering his use in competitive play significantly and putting his usage more in line with other high tier characters. While Diddy Kong is less effective after the nerfs, his neutral game has remained untouched in these updates, and he gained some buffs in other areas, allowing him to remain a highly ranked character in Smash 4; by version 1.1.6, Diddy ranked 1st on the second tier list, due to nerfs to multiple other characters in the top tier after he himself had been nerfed although he is no longer considered to be the best character in the game; currently being ranked third on the latest tier list.
- Luigi was considered to be one best characters in the game after J.Miller won B.E.A.S.T 5 with him. He possessed a very strong combo game stemming from his down throw, alongside a long, safe recovery and improved mobility compared to his Brawl incarnation. Update 1.1.1 however, significantly nerfed Luigi's down throw, the previous key to his success. His down throw was previously identical to its Brawl counterpart but after the update, it received lower base knockback but higher knockback scaling which significantly hindered its ability to lead into KO moves. The changes to the game's shield mechanics in the same patch further hindered him. Luigi is now generally considered a high-tier character; initially ranked 16th on the first tier list. While he fell into the mid tiers being 29th on the second tier list, Elegant started achieving solid results with the character in late 2017; resulting in the character being ranked 18th on the latest tier list.
- Sheik was a particularly potent character from the beginning of the metagame, and after the nerfs to Diddy Kong, she was almost universally viewed as the best character in the game due to her excellent neutral game, unrivaled attack speed, and effective combos. While Sheik received repeated nerfs, particularly in regards to her raw attack power, her combos and KO confirms remained intact and she still remained among the best characters in the game. Sheik was ultimately nerfed by update 1.1.5, which altered the knockback of her throws to remove her most commonly used setups and make it very difficult for her to KO. Like Diddy Kong, however, her powerful neutral game remains intact, and she is still well-represented in tournaments, being ranked fourth on the latest tier list.
- Bayonetta was widely viewed as one of the best characters in the game after her release as downloadable content, due to her powerful combos and ability to punish even weak moves with Witch Time. These concerns were exacerbated by update 1.1.5; while this patch did nerf Bayonetta, Sheik was also nerfed, arguably more significantly than Bayonetta. This left many players convinced that Bayonetta was now clearly the best character in the game, with some tournament scenes even considering banning her. Update 1.1.6, however, nerfed Bayonetta's combo moves, making her combos easier to escape and less capable of KOing at low percentages; the second tier list based on this patch ultimately ranked her as 11th. Despite this, Bayonetta still possessed an incredible combo game and she could still easily KO opponents at extremely low percents especially with rage. After advancements were made to her metagame, Bayonetta was once again widely considered to be the best character in the game with her playerbase growing significantly as time went on. As a result, she was ranked first on the last two Smash 4 tier lists.
Smash 4 to Ultimate
- The defensive mechanics has been weakened severely as each consecutive usage of rolls, air dodges, and spot dodging lost intangibility frames as well as increased ending lag. Additionally, the changes to perfect shields makes it much harder to perform as it requires the user to shield drop right when the hit connects. Altogether, these changes have nerfed the entire roster in the game making them much more vulnerable to combos and KO confirms.
- All character's grabs (except for tether grabs) have increased ending lag which makes them more punishable if missed. These changes were likely made to discourage players from spamming grabs. In addition to this, there is now a 4 frame delay when a shield grab is performed out of shieldstun; which significantly hinders using a shield grab as an out of shield option.
- The rage mechanic has been nerfed, which previously allowed many characters (especially heavyweights) to KO very early, and in more notorious cases could turn certain moves with looping hits and set knockback (such as Super Jump Punch and Screw Attack) into potent KO moves at extremely low percents. In Ultimate, the multiplier has been reduced and grows at a slower rate, hindering its comeback potential; additionally, attacks with set knockback are no longer affected by rage.
- Several multiplier-based counterattacks have been indirectly nerfed; previously, many counterattacks could easily deliver extremely powerful blows if they countered a powerful move, which had the potential to KO low-percentage opponents and makes it almost impossible to DI. In the transition to Ultimate, the effectiveness of DI combined with fast knockback physics resulted in counterattacks KOing noticeably later.
- Captain Falcon was slightly nerfed in his transition to Ultimate. Down throw's knockback was altered to reduce its combo potential at high percentages. Raptor Boost was reverted back to a combo starter, but has one more frame of startup. Captain Falcon was negatively affected by universal changes: his dash dance is considered one of the worst in the game due to his below-average initial dash and turnaround speed, his dash grab no longer grants long horizontal momentum, and footstools being techable make his footstool combos less guaranteed. While he was buffed in Update 3.1.0, the above problems are still prevalent.
- The Ice Climbers can no longer pull off chain grabs due to the universal changes to grab mechanics. Nana was also nerfed as she sustains significantly more knockback than Popo, making her easier to KO and cannot act during grabs, preventing her from attacking.
- Marth has been moderately nerfed overall. While the faster engine provides Marth some benefits, it makes spacing tippers more difficult. This significantly impacts his kill potential. Jab connects significantly less reliably, nerfing one of his strongest tools from Smash 4. Many professionals agree that his clones (Lucina, Roy, and Chrom) are all better characters. While Marth is not considered a low-tier, he is usually overlooked in favor of his clones.
- Sheik was one of the most potent characters in Smash 4 due to her neutral game. In Ultimate, her already low damage output was nerfed substantially. As a result, her long combos deal less damage than the rest of the cast's. Up throw is no longer a 50/50 setup. Overall, Sheik is considered less viable in Ultimate than in Smash 4 although she would receive buffs in balance patches.
- Mewtwo had its tail hitbox increased, leaving it more prone to combos and KOs despite its increased weight, which remains rather low. Down tilt and forward aerial are slower, having less combo potential and guaranteed KOs, respectively. Lastly, its most noticeable nerf was in its air dodge, as it’s a less effective defensive option due to its increased ending lag and the removal of unlimited air dodging. Overall, Mewtwo isn’t considered a top tier like in Smash 4.
- Meta Knight's combo game and KO ability were noticeably toned down even further. With his dash attack having more end lag and more knockback, it’s harder for him to use it to perform his up aerial combos, leading to a KO with neutral aerial or Shuttle Loop. Furthermore, Shuttle Loop is less reliable on getting KOs as its first hit now has a set knockback. While it’s still possible for Meta Knight to combo and get KOs with the same setups, it is nevertheless much harder to perform than his previous incarnation.
- In previous games, Diddy Kong was a top-tier character due to his combo game. However, Diddy Kong’s nerfs are apparent in Ultimate. He has lost many useful utilities: his down tilt has less range, making follow-ups into up smash more inconsistent; his up aerial has less range; and his grab was made shorter. Diddy Kong's recovery was nerfed, with Monkey Flip and Rocketbarrel Boost traveling shorter distances, though the latter was patched in 3.1.0.
- Sonic's changes in Ultimate generally nerfed his defensive options. His weight has been decreased and Spin Dash can no longer be canceled by shielding. This and the changes made to the jostle mechanic make him easier to punish. Overall, Sonic has a harder time racking up damage and killing than his previous iteration. Though his results aren't as strong as they were in Smash 4, he has still been very successful in Ultimate and his perception has significantly improved throughout Ultimate's life.
- Lucario's one of its biggest nerfs was the changes to Rage because the rage multiplier was changed to 1.1× and it no longer affecting set knockback and Aura because its multiplier changed to x1.125 which both greatly reduces Lucario's extreme comeback factor. Another nerf was its weight was changed to 92, making it more difficult to survive at higher percents to take advantage of Aura and many of its special moves were nerfed for example Aura Sphere has less hitlag during charge, allowing characters to escape it much easier, and Extreme Speed had less distance and its controls have been modified where its initial flight direction is locked in a short period of time before flight begins, which can lead to unintentional self-destructs. Lucario's nerfs outweigh the buffs it received and is considered to be much worse than both of it’s iterations in Brawl and Smash 4.
- Little Mac's ground game was nerfed both by universal changes and outright nerfs to his ground moves. He is no longer capable of dashing through opponents, significantly affecting his mixup ability. Additionally, his combo potential was weakened: his down tilt and down throw have been made worse for combos, while up tilt was made unsafe at low percents. Little Mac is often considered a bottom-tier in Ultimate as opposed to his low-mid tier placement in Smash 4, although patches have improved him somewhat over time.
- Cloud’s down special can no longer instant charge cancel, and his Limit status will disappear after 15 seconds if it is left unused while fully charged, meaning he can no longer potentially have access to permanent or prolonged status effects and now has to use Limit Breaks within a short amount of time, which also renders them more predictable. His neutral aerial now has much less range due to an altered animation. This makes it difficult to combo as it requires him to be closer to his opponent. His down air is now less of a combo option, as it now has more ending lag. Finally, his up aerial, previously known as one of the best moves in Smash 4, has a much smaller hitbox and deals less damage and knockback. While he performs worse in Ultimate than in Smash 4, Cloud is considered to be top tier despite his nerfs.
- All of Corrin’s special moves were markedly nerfed from Smash 4. Dragon Fang Shot connects and combos less reliably, lessening its follow up potential. Dragon Lunge, previously considered Corrin’s most versatile move, was significantly nerfed. The move has increased ending lag on all kicks and Corrin is now much easier to punish. Additionally, Draconic Ascent no longer grants Corrin extended distance, making recovery less safe. The Counter Surge, previously the strongest counterattack in the game, has been dramatically nerfed, along with ending lag being increased. Corrin was considered a far less potent than in Smash 4 but patches have improved him over time especially in the 8.0.0 update.
- Bayonetta was widely considered the best character in Smash 4, with many competitors considering her broken because of her ladder combos along with an incredibly versatile moveset with devastating punishment options. As such, she has been significantly nerfed in Ultimate. While she is still capable of racking up damage, her KO prowess and frame-data have been heavily reduced to the point of being relatively lacking compared to most of the cast and her combo moves are much less reliable for leading into KOs, especially vertically due to her up aerial now launching at a weak horizontal angle and her forward aerial has a harder time combining into itself. Heel Slide and After Burner Kick are both much more punishable on shield due to the former not activating the second hit on a shielded opponent whereas the latter cannot perform the move a second time on shield, making her side special much riskier to use as a combo starter overall. Witch Time’s duration has been reduced substantially to the point where she may not have time to even land an uncharged smash attack. In Ultimate, she is often considered to be mediocre because of her inconsistency and difficulty scoring KOs.
Ultimate game updates
- Several of King K. Rool's attacks were nerfed: his Blunderbuss has a shorter windbox duration, Propellerpack's hitbox has been slightly reduced in size, and his Down Throw buries for less time at low percents. Additionally, his Down Throw can no longer bury on the third throw, removing an infinite. However, contrary to popular belief, these changes were very minor, especially since his Down Throw actually buries for longer at higher percents, making it more useful at higher percents (which is usually when the move is used to secure KOs). King K. Rool would also get several significant buffs at later patches, making him a significantly stronger than he was on release despite these nerfs.
- Chrom was dominant in earlier competitive tournaments due to his ability to combo into Soaring Slash, KOing opponents first even when at last stock. As of patch 2.0.0, Soaring Slash’s knockback has been reduced and the move has faster falling speed, KOing Chrom first. It is now more unreliable unless Chrom has more stocks than the opponent.
- Pichu was previously considered one of the best characters in the game. Update 3.1.0 brought several changes: all recoil electrical attacks now do more damage, its forward tilt has its knockback reduced, and its hurtbox has been increased, lowering its survivability. Pichu is now a riskier and weaker glass cannon character, and dying earlier, but as of update 3.1.0, it’s usually considered mid-tier. Pichu continues to remain viable but is weaker post-patch with worse results in tournaments after the update.
- Olimar's forward smash clean hit became much harder to land in update 3.1.0 due to altered duration of the hitbox. Both it and his up smash have increased ending lag. His hurtbox has been increased and his Winged Pikmin travels shorter with every consecutive usage, weakening his survivability. Olimar was initially considered a top-tier character comparable to his counterpart in Brawl, but as of update 3.1.0, he is considered high tier. Olimar continues to remain viable, but is weaker post-patch.
- Ivysaur's down air received a smaller sweetspot, and Razor Leaf became slower and had longer vulnerability and the aerial version of Vine Whip received shorter knockback when the sweetspot connected, lowering it's kill potential.
- R.O.B.’s jab received shorter hitstun, causing it to no longer lead into a down tilt loop.
- Joker's horizontal range of downward aerial Gun was reduced and Arsene loses more Rebellion Gauge when hit if there are two to three opponents in the match.