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An example of a nerf, involving lowered hitbox sizes in Kirby's up tilt.

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[edit]

Smash 64 to Melee[edit]

  • 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 considered one of the worst characters in Melee, currently ranking last on the tier list.

Melee to Brawl[edit]

  • Arguably, all veterans were indirectly nerfed by a variety of universal gameplay changes made in Brawl. The loss of wavedashing negatively impacted many characters' mobility, such as in the case of Luigi and Marth, while removal of L-cancelling nerfed many characters with slow aerial attacks, such as Ganondorf and Link. Some characters with powerful combo potential in Melee, such as Captain Falcon and Jigglypuff, were also notably affected by the addition of hitstun cancelling, which severely reduced the impact of combos.
  • Captain Falcon's combo ability was drastically lowered due to the addition of hitstun cancelling, leading to significant difficulty in KOing opponents. His Knee Smash, which can also no longer be reliably comboed into, also had its hitbox reduced, and the sweetspot's shorter duration made the move more difficult to land compared to Melee. A high-tiered character in Melee, Captain Falcon frequently ranked among the worst characters in Brawl, with one tier list even considering him the least viable character in the game.
  • Jigglypuff suffered severely with the hitstun changes, weakening its previously devastating Wall of Pain combos. Rest's knockback was also reduced, making it a considerably less reliable and less safe attack than in Melee; Jigglypuff's up throw was also given higher base knockback, preventing it from being able to use the Space Animal Slayer. Initially top-tiered in Melee, Jigglypuff is considered among Brawl's worst fighters.
  • The removal of L-cancelling hindered Ganondorf's ability to use his aerials for approaching, comboing, and KOing, while his grounded moves had nerfs to their frame data, 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 slower and now is the shortest grab in the game, with the loss of his ability to chain throw, as well as increased difficulty in comboing from a throw and his recovery is much worse going from one of the best to among the worst A 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[edit]

  • Falco's Blaster fires slower and no longer auto-cancels on landing, crippling his neutral game that had relied on the short hop laser. His down throw can no longer chaingrab for significant damage at early percentages, and his down aerial is much slower and weaker, removing his fastest and most reliable KO option offstage. Due to this, despite the buffs to most of his other moves, Falco experienced the largest tier drop in the transition to Smash 4, going from 7th out of 38 (in the top tiers) to 47th out of 55 (in the low tiers).
  • King Dedede's new back aerial, though stronger, is much slower, and the hitbox has shorter duration, hurting his approach game. His down throw can no longer infinitely chaingrab and the changes to hitstun canceling significantly harm Dedede.
  • Marth's high range (which was actually increased slightly during the transition) is less effective than in previous games, due to other characters getting more significant range increases; coupled with moves that have increased ending lag and decreased hitbox durations, such as in his down tilt and forward aerial, Marth's approach was badly nerfed 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 low-tiered in Smash 4, though recent buffs in updates, however, have since improved his viability in the competitive scene, which have allowed him to become a top tier character once again.
  • Meta Knight's moves were made laggier, especially his up aerial, and deal less damage, with many of his attacks also losing their transcendent priority. His range has also been reduced, and he can no longer glide, nerfing his recovery that was previously extremely powerful in Brawl. His falling speed and gravity have been significantly increased, and with the changes to hitstun, he is far more vulnerable to combos. Despite his heavy nerfs, Meta Knight is still generally seen as a viable character in tournaments, though he is not considered the top-tier character he was in Brawl.

Smash 4 game updates[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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, and changes to the game's shield mechanics further weakened him. Despite a modest playerbase, including smashers such as Poke, Boss, and Mr. ConCon, Luigi is now generally considered a mid-tier character; initially ranked 16th on the first tier list, the second tier list had him drop to 29th, the center of the 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, with a third place finish on the second 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.

Smash 4 to Ultimate[edit]

  • The defensive mechanics has been weakened severely as each consecutive usage of rolls, air dodges and spot dodging will lose 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. All together, these changes have nerfed the entire roster in the game significantly making them vulnerable to combos and KO confirms.
  • All character's grabs (except for tether grabs) have increased ending lag which make it more punishable if missed. These changes were likely to discourage players from spamming grabs.
  • Almost all multiplier-based counterattacks have been 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. In the transition to Ultimate, counterattacks now KO noticeably later. However, it is currently debatable whether or not this was a direct or indirect change in Ultimate due to universal changes to knockback.
  • The Ice Climbers has been considerably nerfed; previously known for possessing chain grabs that can virtually rack up more damage at any percent range with the addition to desync combos. These techniques have caused many competitive tournaments to ban the usage of chain grabs due to the inability to escape combos. As of Ultimate, they can no longer pull off chain grabs due to the grab invincibility frames added for characters that were previously grabbed. To make matters worse, Nana sustains significant knockback than Popo, making it easier to KO and cannot act out on many situations such as grabs and Popo getting grabbed. The Ice Climbers now perform significantly worse than Brawl and being one of the characters to have been truly nerfed in Ultimate.
  • The following characters who were nerfed previously from Smash 4 game updates were nerfed again in Ultimate:
    • Sheik has remained one of the most potent characters in Smash 4 due to her infamous neutral game even after receiving the most nerfs which did little to no effect on her. As of Ultimate, her combos now suffer the reduction of damage where most of her attacks are much harder to rack up damage. Her forward tilt deals less damage and more knockback and up tilt now connects less reliably making it harder to combo. Her up throw has more base knockback with less knockback growth removing the 50/50 setups without giving the ability to KO at realistic percentage. Overall, Sheik performs significantly worse than her iteration with many competitors dropping favor of her, being truly nerfed in Ultimate.
    • Cloud was one of the veterans who got nerfed in the transition to Ultimate. His down special now can’t instant charge cancel and disappears after 15 seconds when not used. His neutral aerial now has less range due to the infamous "Double Cloud" which was banned in doubles. This makes it difficult to combo as it requires him to be closer to his opponent. His down air is now less of a viable combo option, as it now has more ending lag. His up air, one of the most infamous moves in Smash 4 has a smaller hitbox and deals less damage. With his bread and butter attributes earning him 2nd in the Smash 4 tier list, now being weakened, Cloud is now not as overpowered as he was.
    • Bayonetta was widely the best character in Smash 4 to the point where many competitors considered her as broken where she can pull off her infamous ladder combo with Witch Twist and After Burner Kick at any percent range, which is carried out similar to Meta Knight in Brawl even after receiving ineffective nerfs she received from the latest updates. Possibly as a result of her advantages, she has been significantly nerfed in Ultimate where most of her moves now lack KO power and making her combo moves less effective against any percent range. Overall, Bayonetta is one of the characters to have been truly nerfed from Smash 4 to Ultimate.

Ultimate game updates[edit]

  • In the 2.0.0 patch, several of King K. Rool's attacks that made him notorious in low level play were nerfed, including his Blunderbuss having a shorter windbox period, Propellerpack's hitbox being reduced in size and his Down Throw burying for less time at low percents and not burying on the third throw, removing an infinite.
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