Pikachu (ピカチュウ, Pikachu) is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. 4. Its return to the series was announced during the E3 Nintendo Direct on June 11th, 2013. It was also among the first wave of amiibo that are compatible with SSB4. Ikue Ōtani reprises her role as Pikachu's voice actress, albeit via recycled voice clips from Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Pikachu is ranked 15th out of 55 on the tier list, placing it in the B tier. This is a slight drop from its placement in Brawl, where it was ranked 8th out of 38. Pikachu boasts fast overall speed, an excellent approach, good neutral and combo games, and an excellent recovery. However, it is burdened with poor endurance and very unimpressive KO potential. As a result, Pikachu has a high learning curve and minimal high-level representation compared to other high-tier characters, but it has nonetheless achieved notable tournament results, mostly thanks to ESAM.
The competitive community's overall opinion of Pikachu has been volatile since SSB4's release. Initially, it was widely seen as an average character, but after a number of impressive tournament showings by ESAM, including his brief period of retirement having added to the "mystery" of Pikachu's potential, it was seen as a top 3 character by players like ZeRo and ESAM himself. Incidentally, this perception was further cemented after ZeRo and ESAM competed against each other in an extremely close Winners' Finals set at Super Smash Con.
Sometime after this, public opinion on Pikachu's viability swayed again. Many considered Pikachu's ranking on the first official tier list to be far too high, which was reflected with its lower placement within the second tier list due to metagame development, ESAM's inconsistent showings at major tournaments, a dearth of results for Pikachu at national, regional, and even local levels of play, and downloadable content and/or game updates resulting in newfound high-tier and top-tier characters. Although update 1.1.5 nerfed some of Pikachu's most difficult matchups, its current ranking on the tier list is still disputed even after its placement drop, with many players believing that Pikachu should be ranked even lower.
As in previous installments, Pikachu is a small, agile lightweight. It has fast walking and dashing speeds, average falling speed, above average gravity, and fast air acceleration, but slow air speed. Pikachu also has a quick jumpsquat that lasts for 4 frames, average traction, and a relatively long initial dash that lasts for 14 frames. These three particular attributes grant it a moderately long perfect pivot, but also result in its dash dance and fox-trot being slow and extended. Unsurprisingly, Pikachu is also capable of crawling and wall jumping.
Pikachu's arguably greatest strength is its flexible approach. Quick Attack is an excellent mobility option, and due to consisting of two hits, it allows Pikachu to weave in and out of danger, play mindgames, and initiate combos. Quick Attack can also be edge-canceled, granting even faster movement with the aid of platforms. With this technique, Pikachu can chase opponents and maintain pressure without facing significant retaliation. Thunder Jolt is a useful projectile and has good utility for zoning or forcing approaches. When coupled with its fast walking and dashing speeds, short hop, and useful pivot, Pikachu possesses an overall strong neutral game.
Another advantage Pikachu has is its frame data. Most of its attacks come out in 10 frames or less, including its up smash, which is one of its KOing options. When combined with their low damage outputs and knockback, this grants Pikachu a formidable combo game. Up aerial can combo into itself or any other aerial and is useful for juggling. Up tilt can repeatedly chain into itself at low percents, while its low knockback growth allows it to combo into aerials at high percents. Down tilt has a chance to trip opponents, leaving them open to a dash attack or a grab. Pikachu's grab game is also integral to its combo game. Its forward throw can lead into a dash attack or a dashing up smash, while down throw launches opponents directly overhead, which can allow for aerial combos and juggles. At very high percents, both up and down throws are capable of chaining into Thunder, which can KO if its meteor hitbox connects. In addition, Pikachu is notorious for utilizing jab locks more than nearly any other character, as it is able to effectively rack up damage out of forward throw, forward tilt, neutral aerial, and down aerial. By extension, it can potentially KO an opponent using back aerial's landing hitbox to set up a reset, and can guarantee a charged up smash if it hits a jab lock out of down tilt.
Pikachu also possesses a superb recovery and, by extension, edge-guarding potential. Like in Brawl, Pikachu is able to wall jump, while it has two special moves that round out its recovery. Skull Bash, although linear and telegraphed, is chargeable and deals high knockback while not rendering Pikachu helpless. Quick Attack is extremely fast and can be angled in two consecutive directions, which make it a very unpredictable and difficult move to intercept, as well as a favorable recovery option from virtually any position while off-stage. Altogether, these traits grant Pikachu the luxury of going far off-stage and challenging recovering opponents while still being able to recover itself. Its edge-guarding game is further enhanced by its ground attacks and its aerials. Neutral attack consistently hits recovering characters during their 2 frames of edge snap vulnerability, launching them at a low angle with low hitstun that can open certain characters' recoveries to Pikachu's other edge-guarding options. Its forward and back aerials use the auto-link angle, which can be used in two unique ways. Forward aerial can launch opponents downward without a special collision, but much less reliably. Back aerial has multiple hitboxes with very low knockback and moderately low hitstun, so if it trades with a recovering opponent, the opponent will be spiked. Down aerial is Pikachu's most disjointed move downward, and will beat or trade with most up specials, excepting extremely disjointed ones such as those of Mario and Bayonetta. Neutral aerial's clean hitbox is slightly disjointed and useful for covering the edge. Each of Pikachu's smash attacks reach slightly below the edge, which allows Pikachu to KO opponents even if they hang on the edge.
However, Pikachu has noticeable flaws, the most glaring of which is its endurance. While its small size, light weight, and average falling speed make it difficult to combo, these attributes and its above average gravity make it susceptible to KOs. The rage mechanic further exacerbates this problem, since Pikachu's unimpressive KO ability commonly results in skilled opponents being able to survive up to very high percents, while it in turn cannot reliably take advantage of the mechanic due to its light weight. While its impressive recovery somewhat mitigates its endurance issues, Quick Attack is a difficult move to master. When using it for fast movement, inexperienced players can often veer off-stage or angle it the wrong way and miss the edge entirely while attempting to recover, causing Pikachu to fall helplessly and inadvertently self-destruct.
Pikachu also suffers from poor range, as most of its attacks' hitboxes are very close to its body. Despite its speed, Pikachu's aerials have abnormally high landing lag, with its down aerial being tied with Toon Link's for having the highest amount of landing lag of any aerial in the game. When coupled with the previous point, only forward aerial is fairly reliable for approaching and pressuring, which leaves Pikachu susceptible to characters with capable aerial approaches, such as Sheik. This issue is further compounded by its slow air speed.
Lastly, Pikachu's overall damage output is poor despite its powerful combo game, which results in it commonly taking time for opponents to be brought within KOing range. This, in turn, is further compounded by another issue: Pikachu has significant trouble KOing. Its set-ups off of up and down throws into Thunder require reads and proper spacing and timing. Aside from these few situations, it has no reliable set-ups into its KOing options. Up smash has short range, which makes it very punishable. While it has good range, forward smash has noticeable start-up, which makes it unsafe in close quarters combat despite its low ending lag. Down smash is relatively weak and has odd hitboxes, as they do not hit very far in front or behind Pikachu, but have deceptive vertical range. Forward and down smash only hit slightly below the edge, meaning Pikachu will often be forced to attempt to score KOs by using its forward or back aerials' auto-link angles, or launching the opponent away with neutral and down aerials' small and short-lasting hitboxes. Each of these options are inconsistent, and require matchup experience to perform effectively.
Pikachu receives minimal benefit from its custom moves, though they still have their uses. Thunder Wave paralyzes grounded opponents, opening up opportunities for follow-ups at the cost of having much less range. Heavy Skull Bash travels and charges faster, and has immense power if used at point-blank range. Meteor Quick Attack covers less distance, but as its name implies, both of its hits are meteor smashes and deal much higher knockback at the start of each dash. Quick Feet travels farther and has more power, but it loses its unpredictability due to consisting of only one dash. Distant Thunder has more start-up and a much weaker shockwave hitbox around Pikachu, but it has more vertical range, much more power near the thundercloud, and cannot meteor smash. This allows for easier Thunderspiking, which restores most of that technique's usefulness.
Overall, Pikachu is a viable character courtesy of its mobility, frame data, combo game, recovery and edge-guarding potential. While it has a high learning curve, largely due to the skill required for proper use of Quick Attack and its heavy reliance on reads to score KOs, its strengths generally make up for its weaknesses. While Pikachu has low tournament representation, the efforts of a few dedicated mains, such as ESAM, have resulted in it achieving strong tournament results. In spite of this, some players are critical of its high-tier ranking, as ESAM has been the only notable Pikachu main that has consistently achieved impressive placings.
Changes from Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Pikachu received a mix of buffs and nerfs in the transition to SSB4 with its direct changes nerfing it overall. The changes to hitstun canceling grant it a few notable KO set-ups from its throws with up throw (Thunder) working at higher percents (although it is very difficult to perform). Some of Pikachu's moves also have increased KO potential including its up and forward smashes. As many of its moves deal electric damage, it benefits from the increased shieldstun and the weakening of SDI has also benefited Pikachu's multi hit moves. Pikachu's frame data has seen relatively few changes giving Pikachu greater frame data relative to the cast and most of its moves with altered frame data either saw only an extra frame or two added onto or cut off of its startup lag/duration or ending lag.
However, Pikachu has also received significant nerfs. Quick Attack canceling can no longer be used on the ground unless used off of a slope, making it less flexible as an approach option, forcing Pikachu to use its Quick Attack edge-cancel technique. Pikachu's grab game, one of its greatest strengths in Brawl, has been heavily nerfed: its overall grab range is shorter, its up and down throws deal less damage, with the latter's increased knockback worsening its combo potential, and the removal of chain grabbing removed its forward and down throws' highly damaging chain grabs. While the changes to hitstun canceling have given it new combos, they are nonetheless inferior to its chain grabbing combos in Brawl and Pikachu also has worse locking potential not only due to the three hit lock limit but also because Quick Attack has lost its locking potential in exchange for combo potential and Pikachu's up aerial has much higher knockback making it less reliable at leading into a footstool. Pikachu's damage output has noticeably been reduced hindering its overall racking ability. Pikachu's overall range is also worse further exacerbating its already poor range especially when relative to the cast. Although the new edge mechanics supplement Pikachu's already impressive recovery, they also hinder its edge-guarding potential, especially since the majority of its fellow veterans have improved recoveries. While some of Pikachu's moves have greater KO potential, others have reduced KO potential most notably down smash, neutral aerial and Thunder. Thunder has significantly less range and power making thunderspiking both harder and far less effective although Thunder has a new meteor smash hitbox on its Thundercloud which can lead into the shockwave. Lastly, the introduction to rage is a mixed bag: although it alleviates Pikachu's unimpressive KO potential, Pikachu's unimpressive endurance makes it difficult for it to utilize rage safely and the removal of momentum canceling has also further worsened Pikachu's already poor endurance.
Overall, while Pikachu retains most of its strengths, a majority of them were toned down while its weaknesses were further exacerbated. While Pikachu overall benefits from the changes to Smash 4's mechanics, it does not benefit from them as much as many of the other returning veterans. As a result, Pikachu is a less effective character although its strength relative to the cast is not much lower as the characters ranked above it in Brawl saw a similar treatment to either a lesser or greater extent.
Although Pikachu was universally agreed upon as being a high-tier character in Brawl, its tier status in SSB4 has been polarizing in comparison. Much like in Brawl, Pikachu had a rather small playerbase in competitive play because of its very high learning curve and requiring a degree of technical skill in order to fully thrive, Pikachu is still considered a notable force in the metagame, thanks to players such as ESAM. However, Pikachu's current ranking on the tier list is still debatable among the SSB4 competitive community, owing to its below average representation in comparison to other high-tier characters.
Pikachu has received a mix of buffs and nerfs from game updates. While update 1.0.4 buffed some of Pikachu's KOing options by increasing their power, it then received only direct nerfs afterward. Update 1.0.6 standardized Pikachu's edge grab animation, making it slower and effectively weakening its edge-trumping ability, while update 1.1.0 removed Thunder Wave's ability to lock and thus its ability to perform zero-to-death combos in custom matches. Update 1.1.5 also removed a glitch where Pikachu could edge-cancel Quick Attack on both versions of Umbra Clock Tower. However, the changes on shield mechanics benefit its electric attacks by making them safer on shield, thanks to their high hitlag. Overall, Pikachu's potency in the metagame has not been reduced.
For a gallery of Pikachu's hitboxes, see here.
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Pikachu was initially perceived as a top-tier character, thanks to its approach and mindgame potentials courtesy of Quick Attack, its strong combo game and edge-guarding potential, its ability to evade attacks courtesy of its small size and low crouch, and its jab lock set-ups into KOs. As each of these traits were demonstrated very effectively in competitive play by ESAM, Pikachu was ranked 5th on the first tier list. However, there was also a vocal fraction of players who did not agree on Pikachu's initial placement, mainly due to ESAM being the only notable Pikachu player who placed well in tournaments, which was insufficient enough in comparison to the significant results and representation of other well-regarded characters. Other criticisms included Pikachu's lack of reliable KO set-ups, its KO potential in general, the high landing lag of its aerials, and its poor range.
The debate over Pikachu's tier placement would become even more prevalent due to ESAM's results eventually declining due to the strengths of other well-regarded characters, as well as Pikachu's unfavorable matchups against Mario and Ness becoming more apparent. These criticisms were further exacerbated by Pikachu's representation still remaining fairly minimal for a high-tier character, and altogether resulted in its ranking on the first tier list being met with widespread disapproval. As expected, Pikachu's tier placement saw a noticeable drop on the second tier list, where it was ranked 12th. Despite ESAM placing at 3rd at UGC Smash Open, Pikachu's tier placement saw another drop, now being ranked 15th on the third tier list. Pikachu's results, while rare, have remained pretty strong nonetheless, which has allowed it to hold on the 15th placing on the fourth and current tier list.
In Event Matches