Pichu is currently ranked 24th in the G tier, and is the lowest ranked clone and unlockable character in the game. Pichu possesses a surprisingly good grab game, is very quick as most of its attacks have little to no start-up lag, and also has a decent air game with a slew of powerful attacks, some even more powerful than those of its counterpart, Pikachu.
However, all of Pichu's strengths are severely outweighed by its weaknesses: poor range and being prone to chain throws despite its small size, due to the unusually high amounts of hitstun it sustains as a result of being the game's lightest character; the latter attribute also means that as the game's lightest character, all throws performed against it become very fast and short, meaning opponents recover very quickly. It takes recoil damage from its own electric attacks, hindering its KOing ability, as most of its finishing attacks involve electricity.
Pichu suffers from abysmal matchups, and it has the highest amount of very unfavorable matchups of any character in any Smash game, having a total of twelve. By comparison, Kirby, the lowest on the tier list, has seven, and Bowser, the second lowest on the tier list, has six. Furthermore, Pichu has no advantageous matchups, with three being even (against Yoshi, Kirby and Bowser).
It appears that Pichu is intended to be a sub-par character, since its trophy descriptions mention that it is "top of the class in weakness" and it is "best suited for handicapped matches." Indeed, this was confirmed in a development news update, shortly after the game's release.
How to unlock
To unlock Pichu, players have to complete Event 37: Legendary Pokémon or play 200 VS. matches.
Upon completing either criterion, the player will fight against Pichu on Pokémon Stadium, with "Battle Theme" playing.
Pichu, as a character, falls under the archetype of being nimble, yet relatively weak; while slightly stronger than Pikachu in some cases, its moveset generally consists of attacks that deal much lower damage and knockback than Pikachu or most other characters in the cast. Due to its high traction and average falling speed, Pichu has a rather short wavedash; additionally, its quick and low-lag aerials also give Pichu a good SHFFL, much like Pikachu's. As such, Pichu can easily maneuver around stages, with very low landing lag, a small frame and a rather fast dash, as well as decent jumping power.
One of Pichu's main advantages is its perhaps surprising power. While its smashes are all of short range, all are unusually powerful considering Pichu's small frame. Its up smash and forward smash contain incredible power, being able to KO characters reliably at as little as 70 to 80 percent, while its down smash semi-spikes opponents and has invincibility frames. Pichu's Skull Bash also has surprising power and distance when charged; at full power, it deals a massive 39% damage and guarantees KOs at very low percentages, and the long distance traveled greatly aids in Pichu's recovery.
Professionals consider Pichu's neutral aerial to be the best tool in its arsenal, as it comes out very quickly and has very low ending and landing lag, especially when L-canceled. Pichu can approach enemies with neutral aerial, rack up respectable damage with long strings of it, and create pseudo-walls of pain if the player chooses to continue the strings off-stage. Aside from this, Pichu's up aerial allows it to juggle enemies into the air. Its other aerials are lackluster, but these two moves alone give Pichu quite a force in the air. Pichu also has decent throws; its forward and back throws can knock opponents off stage or set up combos, while its up and down throws can chain throw fastfallers and tech chase characters respectively.
Pichu's greatest flaw, however, is its significant range problems. All of its best and most powerful attacks are very close to its body, making it tough for Pichu to KO or inflict damage easily (especially against characters with disjointed hitboxes), having only a handful of options for approaching enemies. Although Pichu does have access to two projectiles (Thunder Jolt and Thunder), both cause recoil damage and are easily telegraphed, making them unreliable and punishable if used excessively. Pichu's grab game is also heavily hampered by its short range, at the third shortest in the game, making it difficult for players to consistently take advantage of Pichu's decent throws. Many of Pichu's poorest matchups stem from it being unable to deal with individual moves of characters (such as Sheik's forward tilt or a large portion of Marth's moveset) because it lacks tools that have enough range to counter the attacks.
Additionally, Pichu suffers from the infamous recoil damage it receives from using almost any of its attacks involving electrical hitboxes. In several of Pichu's attacks, especially those that involve electricity, at least one percent of damage is directly inflicted onto it; using Agility to recover alone adds four percent to Pichu each time it is used. This recoil damage is especially crippling to Pichu; with the lowest weight in the game (being lighter than Jigglypuff) and average falling speed, Pichu's survivability is among the worst in the game, meaning that this recoil damage, coupled with damage inflicted by the opponents, can cause Pichu to be more easily KOed than any other character in the game. Outside of making Pichu even easier to KO, the extra damage taken through recoil also reduces how long it can utilize crouch cancelling. In order for Pichu to avoid the significant drawbacks of recoil damage, players need to strike a proper balance between Pichu's electrical and non-electrical moves; as a benefit to Pichu, arguably Pichu's best KOing and comboing moves, such as its neutral air and up smash, do not use electricity, making recoil damage less of a problem if the player is careful enough not to use electrical moves, such as its forward smash and forward throw, too often.
Pichu's defensive game is also poor, with short tech rolls and a slow, short ledge roll, making it far easier for enemies to punish Pichu for attempting to dodge. Its shield is rather large for its size, however, making shield stabbing less of a problem for it. Furthermore, despite being a lightweight, Pichu is also quite vulnerable to combos (some of which are either infinite or zero-death, such as Ganondorf's chain throw) due to its abnormally high hitstun.
Pichu not only performs significantly worse than Pikachu, but is considered a bottom-tier character and sometimes even referred to as a joke character. Although Pichu is very small, this makes its range very low. It also has a somewhat below-average approach as its only option is Thunder Jolt to use as a projectile while Thunder isn't good either, due to being able to SDI out of the move for being multi-hit. It's also the lightest character in the game which makes it extremely easy to KO, although its small hurtbox makes this somewhat difficult. Arguably one of Pichu's biggest flaw is that it takes recoil damage from its electrical attacks, harming its survivability even more. As a result of its major flaws, it is considered to arguably be the worst clone in the game and overall one of the worst clones in the series.
Grabs and throws
For a gallery of Pichu's hitboxes, see here.
Note: Just like Captain Falcon, Pichu's taunt will be different depending on which side it is facing, but both taunts finish at the same time and have the same IASA frames, like Captain Falcon (as both of his taunts have 60 frames apiece).
In Competitive play
Pichu has, by far, the worst matchup spread in Melee. It is hard countered by a whopping twelve characters (the most out of any character in-game and nearly twice as much as Kirby, the character with the second-highest amount), countered by six, soft countered by four, and has only three matchups that are considered even. Even in the early metagame, Pichu was severely crippled by its light weight, a surprising vulnerability to combos (including chain throws), its overall terrible reach, and above all, moves that inflict recoil damage. This has resulted in Pichu being very easy to KO, especially against characters with powerful attacks like Fox and Captain Falcon. Several characters, like Marth and Samus, can easily outreach it (thus making it easy to space), while others can exploit its vulnerability to chain throws and combos (with Sheik and Ganondorf being notorious examples of the former category). In addition, all of its counters can take advantage of its recoil damage to bring it up to KO percentages very quickly. As such, in spite of its advantages (such as good mobility), Pichu suffers from terrible matchups overall. It is one of only two characters in-game to have no advantageous matchups (the other being Bowser) and its even matchups can be potentially seen in its opponents' favors (if by a slight margin).
Tier placement and history
Pichu was always seen as a joke character by the Melee community; from the start, many noted that it was completely outclassed by Pikachu, who was already considered a below-average character at the time. With its poor approach coupled with many attacks that damaged itself, including its own recovery, as well as its terrible overall reach, extremely light weight, and difficulty in putting pressure on the opponent, many professionals doubted that Pichu could ever develop a deep metagame or gain any notable professional players.
Pichu was 25th on first tier list, and has since consistently shifted from 25th to 26th and back, competing with Bowser, Kirby, and Mewtwo for the lowest placement on the tier list. It currently ranks 24th on the tier list in G tier, ahead of Bowser and Kirby, in what is currently its best ranking on the tier list. Despite this placement, there still exists debate over Pichu's tier standing; some players believe that Pichu is still the worst character in the game due to its overall worse matchup spread than either one of its "competitors" for the position. Pichu has also failed to make an impact on any significant tournaments for several years, with none of the top 96 placers of any major Melee tournament being dedicated Pichu players, and its only players are either inactive or have better characters to choose from. Conversely, some players attest that Pichu is not the worst character in the game, due to its surprisingly powerful neutral air combos and high speed compared to Bowser or Kirby. Mew2King, arguably the world's best Pichu player, notably believes that Pichu is far from the worst character in the game, ranking it 19th on his personal tier list. Additionally, Armada places it at 22nd on his own tier list.
In Single Player Modes
In Classic Mode
In Classic Mode, Pichu can appear as an ordinary fighter in one on one battles, as an ally or as an opponent alongside Kirby or Pikachu, as the sole opponent in a multi-character battle or as a metal opponent in the second to last stage. Barring the metal fight, Pichu always appears on Pokémon Stadium, with its alternate music Battle Theme playing; when fought with Kirby it will appear on Fountain of Dreams instead.
In Adventure Mode
In Adventure Mode, Pichu can appear in Stage 7 on Pokémon Stadium, appearing alongside a team consisting of Pikachu and, if unlocked, Jigglypuff. Pichu's theme, Battle Theme can also play on the stage.
In All-Star Mode
In All-Star Mode, Pichu and its allies are fought on Fourside. Unlike normal gameplay, however, Battle Theme plays here.
In Event Matches
Pichu appears in the following Event Matches:
In addition to the normal trophy about Pichu as a character, there are two trophies about it as a fighter, unlocked by completing the Adventure and All-Star Modes respectively with Pichu on any difficulty: