Shulk (シュルク, Shulk) is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. 4. After initially being leaked on August 19th, 2014 as part of the ESRB leak, Shulk was officially revealed in a Director's Room Miiverse post on August 29th, 2014, which coincided with the announcement of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on the same day. Adam Howden and Shintarō Asanuma reprise their roles as Shulk's voice actors in the English and Japanese versions of SSB4, respectively.
Shulk is currently ranked 35th out of 55 on the SSB4 tier list, placing him in the D tier. Thanks to the Monado, Shulk possesses a number of worthwhile strengths, most notably the Monado Arts. The Arts are extremely versatile, as they enable him to temporarily alter his attributes and thus adopt a variety of playstyles that can, with optimal usage, quickly enable him to regain the advantage.
The Monado itself possesses the longest overall range of any weapon in the game, which in turn gives Shulk one of the most effective movesets for spacing relative to the rest of the cast. Lastly, Vision is one of the most effective counterattacks in the game, thanks to it boasting high power, impressive range, and one of the longest counterattack windows of its kind.
However, Shulk's main weakness is his sluggish overall frame data. This is most obvious with his aerials, which have extremely high ending lag and, with the exception of forward aerial, are completely unable to auto-cancel in spite of their interruptibility. When coupled with his tall frame and heavy weight, Shulk's problematic frame data also makes him vulnerable to combos and juggling.
Although it is excellent, Shulk's range nevertheless has its flaws: his heavy reliance on aerials makes him prone to out of shield attacks, his smash attacks are completely unsafe on shield without Buster, and most of the Monado's sweetspots are located close to him. Lastly, the Monado Arts require precise usage because of their respective strengths and weaknesses, as well as their cooldown duration. This is further compounded by the Arts' advanced techniques requiring extreme frame precision.
Due to these factors, Shulk's representation and results at high-level play have been below-average throughout Smash 4's lifespan. Despite this, Shulk has a dedicated playerbase that have gradually discovered unique Monado Art set-ups and technical combos, allowing his placings at regional tournaments to gradually improve and become more consistent; several dedicated mains have even managed to earn noteworthy results at national tournaments, such as Nicko and Kome both managing to place 17th at Frame Perfect Series 2 and 33rd at 2GGC: Civil War.
Shulk is a heavyweight, being the third heaviest swordsman in the game. However, his attributes are somewhat atypical for his weight class: his walking speed, falling speed and gravity are average, his dashing speed is slightly below-average, his air speed is above-average, and his air acceleration is below-average. Thanks to these attributes, Shulk has relatively good mobility for a heavyweight, especially in the air, although they do not grant him too many obvious advantages or disadvantages.
Shulk's greatest strength is his disjointed range: thanks to the Monado, Shulk possesses the longest overall disjointed range in the game. Shulk's excellent range allows him to punish careless moves by retaliating at a distance, or create space by challenging his opponent with his disjointed attacks. His most useful grounded moves are his neutral attack, up tilt and smash attacks, each of which possess distinct perks. When clean, his neutral attack is the most damaging non-infinite neutral attack in the game by default. His up tilt boasts outstanding vertical range, can cover multiple get-up options from the edge, and can KO at very high percentages. Lastly, his smash attacks boast high power and long ranges; his forward smash, in particular, is the third longest ranged forward smash in the game, being surpassed only by Corrin and Mii Gunner's.
Shulk also boasts a powerful aerial moveset, which plays a key role in his approach and spacing games. Both his neutral and forward aerials possess wide-arced ranges with low landing lag, making them Shulk's best approach options. The former is useful for anything from starting combos to covering landing options thanks to its long-lasting hitbox and low landing lag, while the latter's wide range and dependable speed makes it a very good edge-guarding and spacing option. His back aerial is a capable KOing option due to it being Shulk's most powerful aerial, with its high horizontal range also allowing it to space or poke from a distance. Lastly, his up and down aerials are, like his back aerial, thrusts instead of slashes. As such, they have minimal horizontal ranges, but can KO surprisingly early should they hit, with the former being potent near the upper blast line, whereas the latter is capable of meteor smashing.
Much like in his home game, Shulk is a character who revolves around adapting to different situations with his attribute-enhancing Monado Arts. Each Art tweaks his attributes considerably for 16 seconds and can be manually canceled at any time, even immediately after hitstun ends or during landing lag. With this freedom, Shulk can activate an Art to open up options for virtually any situation while still being able to switch or cancel them if he is in a challenging position. Jump grants him significant aerial mobility by making his jumps the highest in the game while improving both his air speed and Air Slash's height. This allows him to recover from almost anywhere off-stage, edge-guard more aggressively and even perform several KO combos, such as a wall of pain leading to a sacrificial Air Slash at medium percentages.
Speed amplifies his usually average ground speed while reducing his jump height, making his ground-to-air transitions more efficient for aerial combos and spacing, while allowing him to approach and retreat noncommittally. It also lowers traction, making Shulk's pivot grab the third longest in the game (tied with Meta Knight) for its duration. These two Arts grant him outstanding mobility for a heavyweight, and when combined with the large hitboxes of his attacks, Shulk can effectively space opponents out of a specific side of the stage with either Jump or Speed, making him very difficult to approach on stages with platforms.
Shield bolsters Shulk's defensive game by reducing both damage and knockback received, which allows him to survive for a much longer period of time and resist getting trapped in combos. His shield also becomes much more durable, making it harder to break with shield-breaking attacks such as Bowser Bomb. Buster reduces his overall knockback, but increases his overall damage output, allowing him to rack up damage extremely quickly. Buster also makes up and down throws effective and damaging combo starters at 0%, while the increased damage and shieldstun make Shulk's moves both safer on shield and capable of pressuring shields. Lastly, Smash boosts his entire moveset's knockback, making almost all of Shulk's attacks KOing options (especially with rage), and his down throw becomes the strongest in the game while it is active.
Thanks to the Monado Arts, Shulk is highly adaptive, and usually has an easier time mixing up his playstyle compared to other characters so long as his Arts are used effectively and in tandem with his powerful air game. Such an example would be constantly switching from Jump and Shield to stall a losing match, or activating different arts while being juggled to affect Shulk's falling speed, and hence mess up an opponent's combo. Lastly, his heavy weight allows him to use rage effectively, especially when combined with Shield in order to survive and accumulate rage, or with Smash for a risky, yet powerful boost in knockback.
Due to the technical aspects of activating Monado Arts, Shulk also has access to multiple unique advanced techniques, the most notable of which is known as Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling. By jumping and timing the activation of an Art just before landing, Shulk can reduce the landing lag of his aerials to 5 frames while gaining intangibility for 14 frames (1 frame less than the length granted by his sidestep). While difficult to perform, it allows Shulk to avoid punishment before immediately responding with a punish of his own, or start shield break combos, such as an Art canceled back aerial to forward smash. It can even let him retreat by pivoting in midair, or extend the invincibility of air dodging via an aerial Art activation. This technique is the only viable way to make some of Shulk's moves (such as back aerial) safe on shield against faster characters.
Several other techniques include the Monado Purge, a 50/50 KO set-up consisting of an up throw to up aerial at high percentages, and Monado Art Edge Snapping, which bypasses edge get-up animations while protecting the user with brief intangibility. When mastered, Shulk's Monado Art techniques can be very effective and unpredictable mix-up options that are inaccessible by any other character.
Excluding his Arts, Shulk's special moveset shares his overall high range, and all have their own forms of utility. Back Slash is very powerful when striking the opponent's back and has long range regardless, making it a great surprise attack as well as a decent spacing tool. Air Slash grants a good amount of vertical distance, comes out quickly, and has strong knockback growth, making it a good recovery move and an even better out of shield option. The distance and knockback of Air Slash can additionally be affected by the Jump and Smash Arts respectively, allowing the move to gain even more vertical distance, or be used as a combo finisher in the air or a KO option out-of-shield. Lastly, Vision is tied with Double Team for having the longest lasting counterattack window in the game when fresh while also having the longest range, both of which give Shulk one of the most effective counters of any character. Its alternate counterattack, which is performed when Shulk inputs the direction from which the triggered attack came from, also rivals Counter Surge as the strongest counterattack in the game.
However, Shulk has some glaringly exploitable weaknesses. Despite his outstanding range, his moveset is infamously sluggish to compensate, being among the slowest in the game along with King Dedede and Ganondorf's. Aside from his neutral attack, standing grab and Vision, the remainder of his attacks do not hit before frame 9, while only his down tilt has less than 25 frames of ending lag. Like the aforementioned heavyweights, this means he has to rely on careful reads to land a hit, as a missed attack can easily be capitalized upon. This is made worse by the low shieldstun of his attacks (unless Buster is active), making his attacks inherently unsafe up close and on shield, while still unsafe if spaced against faster characters prevalent in the metagame. Additionally, despite his excellent range, most of Shulk's moves deal more damage with the Monado's blade rather than its beam blade, while several of his strongest combos (such as a landing neutral aerial to a grab or a forward aerial wall of pain) rely on him being extremely close to his opponent/affected by rage to be inescapable, due to his beam blade's lower hitstun. As a result, Shulk is sometimes required to take risks before he can start performing any significant combos.
His sluggish frame data also extends to his aerials. While he is uniquely the only character who can interrupt the ending lag of his aerials with a jump, air dodge or another air attack, all of Shulk's aerials have disproportionately high ending lag, with neutral aerial in particular having 40 frames of ending lag. In addition, Shulk is the only character who cannot auto-cancel any of his aerials, forcing him to endure landing lag every time he starts an aerial attack, even from a double jump (with the exception of forward aerial). While Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling can negate this, it is considerably more complicated to perform compared to auto-canceling, making it very difficult and unwieldy to perform consistently. Essentially, this makes every attack very committal, and makes it important for Shulk to space his attacks carefully as he can easily be punished for missing. Additionally, moves such as back aerial or up aerial are unsafe to use upon landing; unlike many other characters' aerials, their hitboxes only appear after a pause, making it possible to land before an attack even comes out while causing Shulk to suffer from landing lag.
Due to his weight and stature, Shulk is an easy target for combos and juggles, as his tall height, slow air acceleration, and lack of quick combo breakers (with his fastest aerial, neutral aerial, hitting on frame 13 and beginning behind himself) makes it difficult to break out of combos. His lack of a projectile and anti-projectile options also makes it difficult to pressure his opponent from a distance, while making it hard for him to approach against projectile users as well. Even pressure on the ground can be hard to escape from, as Shulk has the fifth lowest traction in the game. This gives him a poor out of shield game without Air Slash, which is punishable when missed. Shulk's special attacks are also flawed in some ways. Back Slash's knockback is exceptionally weak if hitting the opponent's front, has considerable ending lag, and is notorious for its inability to edge sweetspot. Air Slash provides very little horizontal momentum and does not sweetspot edges immediately unless the second slash is inputted right beside an edge, thus making his recovery predictable, even with Jump. Lastly, Vision's counter window decays upon consecutive use, which discourages frequent usage.
The Monado Arts also have debuffs to compensate for their buffs: if an Art is active, it causes some of his other attributes to drop, weakening some of his abilities. A careful opponent can potentially take advantage of them to gain the upper hand, making his Arts a double-edged sword due to his reliance on them to approach and/or perform combos. Jump makes him very vulnerable to damage, and when combined with his slow moveset, makes it even riskier to whiff a move. Speed lowers his damage output, requiring him to deal more hits for the same amount of damage and reduces his jump force to the point of hindering his vertical mobility.
Shield drastically reduces his mobility and damage output to the point of making his recovery and offensive potential among the worst in the game. When coupled with his worsened mobility, Shield's increased knockback defense also leaves Shulk heavily susceptible to combos and juggling. Buster increases his vulnerability to damage, albeit not to degree of Jump, while its lower knockback drastically lowers Shulk's KO potential to the point that his smash attacks will not KO until past 150%. Finally, Smash drastically lowers his endurance, hinders his combo game, and makes his attacks the least damaging in the game.
Even having no Arts active is disadvantageous, as Shulk's balanced attributes do not allow him to easily approach or catch up with opponents. Having no Arts active also hinders him offensively: very few of Shulk's moves possess combo potential past low percentages, and all his smash attacks are punishable because of their high ending lag. This forces Shulk to be reliant on edge-guarding and spacing while waiting for an Art to refresh, and requires him to capitalize on the duration of a needed Art to the fullest in order to perform certain techniques (such as combo strings or approaching), compared to other characters who may have the ability to do so at any time.
Shulk's custom moves grant him various options. Decisive Monado Arts last longer and have amplified effects, but cannot be changed. This makes them great for regaining neutral or claiming stage control, but at the cost of their dynamic flexibility in the middle of the match. Hyper Monado Arts last much shorter and with even harsher debuffs, but their buffs are even more powerful, which allows him to briefly boost a needed stat to the extreme and capitalize upon its benefits in a much shorter time. Back Slash Leap offers quicker start-up and more vertical range, at the cost of some horizontal range and more ending lag.
Advancing Air Slash gives more horizontal distance and the second hit is stronger, but it gives less vertical distance. Mighty Air Slash is more powerful, but has only half the range, making it difficult to connect the second hit. Dash Vision is weaker than normal, but it has much more range, is much faster upon activation, and gives Shulk both his only anti-projectile option and another recovery option. Lastly, Power Vision has much more start-up upon counterattacking and a much stricter counter window if used repeatedly, but the counterattack itself is immensely powerful and capable of scoring one-hit KOs even if used against very weak moves, especially with Smash.
Overall, Shulk's optimal playstyle consists of warding off pressure and having extensive knowledge of his opponent. While his weaknesses are exploitable when fighting head-on, his adaptability allows him to excel when played patiently and while exploiting openings. Regardless, Shulk has an extremely high learning curve because of a combination of uncommonly sluggish attacks and very demanding techniques, as extensive knowledge of Monado Arts, reads and patient play are each required for him to thrive. Shulk also has a notable playerbase that have discovered a number of signature advanced techniques and expanded his metagame, albeit to mixed results: his learning curve and weaknesses have resulted in him garnering low representation, while his results had been sparse until Nicko and Kome's tournament success as of early 2017.
Shulk has been buffed significantly via game updates. Update 1.0.4 increased the damage outputs of almost every single one of his attacks; improved Speed and Buster by adjusting their damage output and input multipliers, respectively; and noticeably improved his down tilt and forward smash by adjusting their hitboxes. The changes to shield mechanics brought about by updates 1.1.0 and 1.1.1 were indirect buffs for Shulk: they made his attacks harder to punish on shield and turned several of his attacks into surprisingly effective shield breakers, especially when used with Buster. Lastly, update 1.1.3 increased the damage outputs of his dash, tilt and aerial attacks, as well as decreasing the landing lag of his aerials. As a result of these buffs, Shulk is considered to be much more viable than how he was during the initial release of SSB4.
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Opinions on Shulk's overall viability in the metagame have fluctuated greatly throughout SSB4's lifespan. During the game's initial release, Shulk was quickly discovered to be very flawed, mostly due to his moveset being burdened with very sluggish frame data, his aerials being incapable of autocanceling throughout their animations, and the fact that some moves (like his multi-hitting forward smash) didn't work properly or were simply undertuned. As a result, Shulk was poorly regarded early on. However, update 1.0.4 significantly buffed Shulk, which mainly addressed many of his aforementioned issues, alongside damage and knockback boosts to nearly all of his moves. When these buffs were coupled with the discovery of advanced techniques like his signature Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling (MALLC), Shulk's position on the tier list became a hot topic of debate among players due to his perceived potential, with some seeing him as a potential high tier once mastered.
As time went on, players' opinions of Shulk dropped once again. Despite the benefits of his Monado Arts, Shulk failed to achieve high placings at major tournaments, so Shulk was perceived to be a low-tier character and was left with a small, albeit dedicated, playerbase as a result. Despite receiving some buffs in future updates, most notably update 1.1.3, they failed to compensate for his flaws. As such, Shulk was ranked 40th on the first tier list, placing him in the G tier and confirming his status as a low-tier character.
Shulk's representation and results would then be largely stagnant for a time, largely because of his sluggish attacks being viewed as a significant issue and too inconsistent for high-level play. This resulted in him being ranked 44th on the second tier list, a slight drop from his previous ranking. Despite his low-tier status, Shulk's playerbase consistently discovered more Monado Art-based techniques that allowed his moveset and options to flow better than before. This, in turn, has allowed him to garner better results in recent times, with dedicated mains achieving top placings at a more consistent rate within their respective regions. Additionally, M, Nicko and Darkwolf have achieved notable placings at the national level, such as 3rd at B.E.A.S.T 7, 17th at 2GGT: Mexico Saga and 13th at Get On My Level 2016, respectively. These improved results have been reflected in Shulk being ranked 38th on the third tier list, placing him at the very end of the mid-tier.
Despite his prominent weaknesses, some believe Shulk is still underrated in the current metagame, partly because of his obscurity and very steep learning curve. While debatable, some professionals like ZeRo nevertheless argued that Shulk should be ranked higher in the mid-tier. This argument has been supported by the performances of dedicated mains throughout early 2017, most notably Nicko and Kome each placing 33rd at 2GGC: Civil War, which was one of the most challenging tournaments in SSB4's lifespan. Currently, Shulk ranks at 35th on the fourth and current tier list, as a result of his slightly better placings. However, it is unknown how Shulk will fare in the long run, due to his relative obscurity in competitive play.
In Event Matches
Shulk's second through sixth alternate costumes correspond with one of his traveling companions in Xenoblade Chronicles, whereas his seventh alternate costume is based on his armorless attire in Xenoblade Chronicles.