In Smash and traditional fighting games, low tiers are defined by their poor results. This is often due to their poor frame data, options, and just bad balancing in general. Throughout competitive gaming history, a small portion of players argued that tiers don’t exist and that character success is based on the individual and everyone is balanced equally. Naturally, this continues to be refuted with frame data and tournament results.
In Smash history, the series was not given balance patches until Smash 4. Even in Smash 4, many of the low tiers remained untouched and thus seldom used in the competitive meta. To make matters worse, fighters such as Ganondorf, Zelda, and Jigglypuff have remained on the low tier over the course of several games (Jigglypuff from Brawl to Ultimate, Zelda and Ganondorf from Melee to Smash 4).
Despite the notable mention of Jigglypuff, however, Ultimate became the first Smash title to shine true light on low tiers. While past Smash titles have unequivocally had their loyal following, Ultimate’s roster has blurred a line among tiers thanks to its incredible balancing.
The Low Tiers of Ultimate
When low tiers in Smash Ultimate come to mind, many players think of Incineroar, Isabelle, Little Mac, Jigglypuff, Dr. Mario, and Ganondorf, for starters. However, what’s notable is that their results are much more flexible than their low-tier predecessors in past Smash titles. Instead of being an auto-loss at the character select screen, low-tier mains are proving that their characters might be anything but.
In one example, Axel demonstrates Isabelle’s competitive prowess in a set against Georgia legend, Fatality. In doing so, he proves that Isabelle offers much more to the competitive meta than the community’s impressions over the past two years.
Through the early meta, Magister began racking up respectable results with Incineroar. However, Incineroar’s results never quite hit the level of numerous other characters including high and top tiers like Pikachu and Joker. Even after numerous patches, his KO power was still overshadowed by his terrible mobility and options against zoners.
As such, he’s widely outclassed by heavy contemporary, Bowser, who offers much of the same toolkit but optimized with better frame data, speed, and survivability. However, as of late, Mexican player SkyJay has begun paving his way through the meta to prove that Incineroar, despite his weaknesses, is not out of the fight.
Among the most unanimous names in the low-tier discussion is Little Mac. Also known as a low tier in Smash 4, his poor recovery and aerial game did not contribute well to his results. In the absence of Smash 4’s top-ranked Mac player, Sol, several players continue to fight as the Bronx brawler. Among these include MDVA’s Peanut who recently entered the Ultimate Summit.
I want to keep this section brief since it’s largely anecdotal without replays. However, I will say that I’ve fought my fair share of Dr. Mario players who have outplayed every expectation the community would share. Among the best names I’ve played include Kitora, ChaseKit, and most recently, JNap.
I’ve also matched against Melee legend Hungrybox and his Jigglypuff numerous times. However, in regards to both playing him and his own results in Ultimate, I cannot say I have much faith in Jigglypuff’s future in the meta. While players like BIG*PINK have given me a bit of surprise playing online, I feel Jigglypuff will, at best, remain an “upset” character that otherwise remains outclassed by nearly the entire roster.
While upsets can and do happen in Smash titles, low tiers are generally considered unviable in the long run. In the case of Ultimate, Incineroar, Jigglypuff, and Little Mac both run into a plethora of losing matchups while being outclassed by better characters that utilize similar options.
However, given Ultimate’s level of balance, the roster faces neither the glaring bottom tiers of past titles nor their oppressive broken tiers. Two and a half years into Ultimate’s meta and I’m finding a surprising level of top tier play using perceived low-tier characters. While there is still a tier list for Ultimate, the lines are far more blurred in this game than any other in Smash’s history. Top tier lines are blurred among high tiers whose lines are in turn blurred with the upper mid-tiers. Just as it’s become difficult for the community to settle on a Top 25 of the game’s roster, it becomes increasingly harder for the community to decide on the low tiers, let alone a bottom tier.
With that being said, matchups matter more than tier placement. If you’re going to use a low-tier fighter, I strongly suggest investing one or two counterpicks to sort out their worst matchups. I find next to no matchup in Ultimate to be unwinnable and, as such, it opens up greater opportunities for upsets than ever before.
Finally, if you want to know more about the players using the low-tiers of the game, I strongly recommend viewing the character’s page and looking up their respective notable players on SmashWiki.
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