Pikachu ranks 9th on the current tier list, in the B+ tier. This is a significant drop from its previous ranking in Smash 64 where it was ranked 1st and is its lowest placement in the series. Pikachu boasts great speed and an array of KO options, owning the strongest up smash in the game and a quick semi-spike in its up-air. It also has a very long, safe, and versatile recovery. However, Pikachu is held back by very short range, with its best finishers having hitboxes very close to its body. This is further exacerbated with its subpar options out of its dash dance, difficulty in dealing with shielding opponents, and a short wavedash. Thus, Pikachu must rely on mixups and crossups to approach and find openings.
In general character archetypes, Pikachu generally stands as a small fighter with good speed; Pikachu has medium falling speed, great dashing speed (fourth highest in the game), high traction and below average air speed. Its average falling speed and high traction gives it a short wavedash; average falling speed, however, also gives Pikachu decent SHFFL potential. Due to its small size, Pikachu is also rather resistant to shield stabbing.
Pikachu's main strength is its fantastic edgeguarding game. Its up and down aerials are quick and can easily gimp recovering opponents, as the former acts as a semi-spike when sweetspotted and the latter has decent horizontal knockback, and its forward and down tilts can intercept recovery attempts close to the ledge. Additionally, Pikachu's back throw can easily send opponents off the edge, allowing it to easily set up edgeguards, even at lower percentages. Pikachu, on the other hand, is very resilient to edgeguarding; Skull Bash can give it significant horizontal distance, and Quick Attack moves very quickly, grants good distance, and has very unpredictable paths. Most characters do not have options to cover all of these recovery methods at once, and must thus rely on hard reads, rather than reactions, to properly edgeguard Pikachu.
Pikachu's other strength is its solid punish game; although Pikachu is fast and light, it still possesses several ways to combo and KO opponents. Pikachu's jab is quick and weak, giving it some of the most consistent jab reset followups in the game. Its forward, neutral, and up aerials are quick and can be used for aerial strings or juggling. Pikachu's forward and up smashes are among the most powerful in the game; its up smash, in fact, is the most powerful of its kind at realistic KO percentages, and can be used as a powerful tech chasing tool at all percentages, threatening further up smashes on fast-fallers at lower percentages and KOs at medium to high percentages. Pikachu's grab game helps facilitate its punishes; its up and down throws can be used to set up combos, and the former can chaingrab fast-fallers and even set up for its powerful up smash at KO percentages.
Pikachu also has a very good variety of special attacks, all of which can be seamlessly integrated into gameplay. Its Thunder Jolt is among the most flexible projectiles in the game, due to its ground-hugging properties; with low knockback and decent hitstun as well, it can set up combos on the ground, and can also interrupt some recoveries. Skull Bash, as aforementioned, acts as a horizontal recovery extender, and can double as a situational offensive attack with high power when charged. While Quick Attack has little offensive application, the ability to change its directions and its speed gives Pikachu a long and unpredictable recovery. Thunder, despite its high ending lag, can act as a combo finisher in case Pikachu's vertical finishers fall just short of KOing.
Pikachu's primary flaw, however, is its poor range. Almost all of its best finishers are very close to its body, making it difficult for Pikachu to secure KOs at times, and forcing Pikachu to constantly approach to keep pressure on the opponent. Additionally, Pikachu's relatively flexible grab and throw game is severely hampered by a very short grab range (the shortest in the game). Because of this, Pikachu struggles to combat shielding opponents, and must trick opponents by crossing up their shield in order to get an opening out of them.
Pikachu also struggles to approach. Although it is mobile, it has a short wavedash and lacks safe grounded moves to use out of both its wavedash and dash dance. Its best approaching options on the ground are down tilt and the risky down smash. This forces it to frequently fight in the air and perform either telegraphed Thunder Jolts or neutral aerial crossups on the opponent to gain an advantage, but such tactics are very committal due to the moves' moderately high ending lag, Pikachu's average falling speed, and its rather high short hop. All of these attributes make Pikachu's approaches very linear and predictable, and thus saddles it with a lackluster neutral game compared to the top-tiered characters, allowing characters with stronger neutral game tools to easily find openings on Pikachu while it struggles to get openings itself.
Additionally, due to its light weight and below average air speed, Pikachu is very easy to juggle, chaingrab, and combo. Pikachu's hardest top tier matchup, Sheik, can chaingrab it from 0% to 40% in the NTSC version if both players execute perfect grabs and DI. Pikachu is also susceptible to several potentially lethal grab setups, such as Captain Falcon's down throw followups.
Overall, Pikachu is a rather challenging character that requires an experienced player to succeed. While Pikachu has stellar edgeguarding and recovering abilities, and can harshly punish the opponent once it finds an opening, it suffers from poor range and difficulty in approaching. Pikachu players should look to make full use of their neutral options and constantly seek mix-ups through conditioning opponents.
Changes from Super Smash Bros.
Pikachu was widely considered to be the best character in Smash 64 due to its great mobility, combo potential, air game and unparalleled recovery in Quick Attack, which served not only as the most versatile recovery move in the game but it was also an amazing tool to escape combos and pressure due to its intangibility on startup. As a result, Pikachu was considerably nerfed in the transition to Melee, with its overwhelming advantages from the previous game, such as its consistent combos, powerful finishers, and useful specials, being significantly toned down.
As with all returning veterans, Pikachu's combo game has been hindered due to the universally decreased hitstun, making its lower knockback moves less effective, and the introduction of DI has decreased the consistency of its combos. However, some of Pikachu's moves have also seen direct changes that nerfed their combo potential. One example of this is Pikachu's up tilt, which deals more knockback at lower percents but noticeably less damage. As a result, it is a much worse combo move outside of very low percents, no longer being to chain into itself multiple times for a high amount of damage.
In general, Pikachu's damage output has been made much lower, with not only its aforementioned up tilt but also all of its aerials and throws receiving a damage nerf. Pikachu has also lost multiple KO options; its throws, back aerial, and down smash, which were all formerly solid KO options, all cannot KO reliably anymore. As a result, Pikachu has to work a lot harder in order to build up damage, and it has to rely more heavily on edgeguarding and landing smash attacks to secure KOs, with the latter's reliability being character-dependent due to Pikachu's lack of universal KO setups. Pikachu's range is also worse; aside from the aforementioned back aerial, the hitboxes on several of Pikachu's other moves have been toned down in size, including its grab, which now has the worst range in the game. This makes it easier for opponents to wall out Pikachu, particularly with shielding, and it means that Pikachu requires more precision in order to approach its opponents and win the neutral.
Pikachu's aerial game has also taken a hit. Its aerial mobility (both its air speed and air acceleration) is significantly worse, going from among the best to being rather mediocre, and its double jump has been made much lower. This worsens its recovery, and hinders its ability to both juggle and escape aerial pressure. Aside from the aforementioned range nerfs, all of Pikachu's aerials are weaker and have lost their extremely lenient auto-cancel windows (with the weakening of L-canceling further exacerbating this) which hinders Pikachu's ability to both space and combo with its aerials. Back aerial, in particular, has changed into a weak (albeit slightly quicker) sideways spin with little KO potential and significantly higher ending lag, going from Pikachu's second best aerial to a practically useless move.
Pikachu's specials are also less potent overall, with only Thunder Jolt being slightly buffed due to its lower lag. While Quick Attack is faster and now has a hitbox, it no longer gives intangibility, covers considerably less distance, can no longer be extended, and can no longer auto-snap the ledge during its teleport, making it now a noticeably worse tool for both recovery and escaping pressure. Combined with Pikachu's worse aerial mobility, Pikachu's recovery and edgeguarding potential are not as effective as they were in Smash 64. Thunder has also been significantly nerfed, as it no longer has infinite vertical range; this, along with the universally increased falling speeds, has considerably hindered Thunderspiking. Thunder is also hindered by DI, which not only makes setups into Thunder less consistent, but also makes it easier to avoid being KOed off the upper blast zone if the Thunder connects.
However, Pikachu has seen some buffs. Pikachu's new up throw has added utility, as it can easily lead to combos, chain grabs, and KO setups into up smash on fast-fallers. Pikachu's new back throw is also superior at setting up edgeguards despite it being immensely weaker. Pikachu's new side special, Skull Bash, gives Pikachu a new recovery option and can lead to early KOs if Pikachu charges it. Pikachu's forward and up smash are both faster and stronger with the latter in particular now being the strongest up smash in the game although both moves have seen nerfs in other areas. Pikachu's up aerial has also seen some notable changes giving it even more utility than it already had. While it is weaker, has less range, and has much higher landing lag, it now has a different set of hitboxes with different properties with its clean hit being an excellent juggling tool while its later hits are very effective at edgeguarding. Lastly, Pikachu is heavier and falls faster which noticeably improves its endurance (although these traits also make Pikachu more vulnerable to combos and chain grabs).
Overall, Pikachu is considerably less effective with many of its strengths being toned down and its weaknesses being far more plentiful and noticeable. However, Pikachu still retains many of the strengths it had including its solid mobility and its great recovery/edgeguarding potential. Pikachu is now a more well rounded character with clear strengths and weaknesses rather than being a "master of all," as Pikachu still has the tools it needs in order to overcome its opponents, but has to work a lot harder in order to win. As a result, while Pikachu was one of the most severely nerfed characters from Smash 64 to Melee, Pikachu is still a potent high tier character who can hold its own against much of the cast. While Pikachu's tournament representation is rather small, it has still seen consistent success in tournaments and is still very much a viable character in competitive play.
For a gallery of Pikachu's hitboxes, see here.
Note: According to the debug menu in Melee, Pikachu technically doesn't contain any idle poses. Instead, it will perform both its idle poses in one loop (mostly noticeable when Pikachu is currently holding an item). Both these animations become Pikachu's idle poses in Brawl and in Smash 4.
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Pikachu was originally a low-mid to low tier character; many professionals thought Pikachu's heavy power, speed, and combo ability nerf from Super Smash Bros. was unmanageable, and that it had lost all of its viability in the transition to Melee. Axe proved this thought wrong, however, as he showed how powerful Pikachu was at pressuring the enemy, especially at edgeguarding (due to Pikachu's notorious up aerial semi-spike). He also showed how powerful Pikachu was up close, despite its problems in approaching the enemy efficiently. Axe, and a handful of other dedicated Pikachu players such as PikaChad, 2framez, Tyler Swift and Kimchi eventually brought Pikachu up to the high-mid tiers, where it ranks now in 9th place.
In Classic Mode, Pikachu can appear as an ordinary opponent, as an ally or opponent in team battles, alongside Pichu, Jigglypuff, or Kirby, or as a metal opponent. In Pikachu's appearances, it appears on Pokémon Stadium as a regular opponent, and on Battlefield as a metal opponent. And on team battles, it appears on Green Greens with Kirby.
Pikachu appears in Stage 7 of the Adventure Mode. In its stage, the player must fight eight separate Pikachu's on Pokémon Stadium similar to the Classic Mode's team battle; if Jigglypuff and Pichu are unlocked, they can also appear in the team. In this stage, the only items to spawn are Poké Balls.
Pikachu and its allies are fought on Pokémon Stadium.
Pikachu appears in multiple event matches:
In addition to the normal trophy about Pikachu as a character, there are two trophies about it as a fighter, unlocked by completing both Adventure and All-Star modes respectively with Pikachu on any difficulty: