Who do you wreck the competition with in Super Smash Bros.? In honor of the Tennessee Titans’ Smash contingent, we’re taking a look at the best characters ever, across all four games. Put away your tier lists; this isn’t about who has a statistical advantage. It’s about who you channel as you take your feuds with your friends to the digital world.
Donkey Kong, ‘Super Smash Bros.’
Ben Lindbergh: For most of my precollege career, I was one of the smallest kids in my class; like my father before me, I didn’t grow tall enough not to be teased until I was 16 or 17. I don’t know if that’s why I gravitated toward the character SSB’s manual described as a “mighty ape … bestowed with tremendous power,” but a psychoanalyst might say so. DK belonged to the lowest tier of characters in the original Super Smash Bros. He was slow, susceptible to projectile attacks, and one of the worst at recovery. But he could deal out damage, and he could take it, too.
Donkey Kong’s grab-and-throw in Super Smash Bros. is, in my experience, the most satisfying move in video games. DK had the longest-range non-tether-based grab in the game, which meant that in most cases, he could reach you before you could reach him. Not only was the throw powerful in the conventional sense, but it could also inflict serious psychological suffering. If you were the unscrupulous type who played as Oddjob in GoldenEye 007, you could use DK to keep picking up opponents forever, doing a small bit of damage each time. Better yet (and only slightly more sporting), you could wait until your own damage counter climbed high, pick up an unsuspecting opponent, and jump off the platform to commit the ultimate indignity, a sacrificial KO. It would only work once or twice — after that, the would-be victim would learn to get out of the grab by button-mashing. But the memories lasted a lifetime.
Wherever I’ve moved, I’ve carried my console and cartridge, keeping DK close. He was with me in my childhood home, and in my college dorm, and at the 2015 tournament when I had my (and his) hide handed to us by the best N64 Smasher on earth. In each SSB sequel, DK got buffed; his speed increased, and his other attacks improved enough to bump him up to intermediate tiers. But the move that had made us a team was never the same: In Melee, his grab range went from the best to below average, and his throw did less damage. After that, I couldn’t derive the same satisfaction from the series. For me, though, maybe Smash had served its purpose. Well before Brawl, I’d finally gotten that growth spurt.
Kirby, ‘Super Smash Bros. Brawl’
Michael Baumann: I’ve had momentary flirtations with other characters — Snake and Mr. Game & Watch in particular — but the truth is Kirby’s so adorable I just want to spend as much time with him as I can. In college, I lived with three guys who spent about six hours a day playing Brawl (always on Final Destination, no items), and so it was all I could do to stay alive. So I became That Guy: floating above the platform, letting everyone else kill each other, intervening only for the occasional down-B. I’m not proud of this strategy, but in Smash, to play with honor is to die quickly. And Kirby’s too cute to stay mad at, anyway.
Yoshi, ‘Super Smash Bros.’
Claire McNear: Here is my strategy as Yoshi: stand patiently at the edge, wait for someone to approach, and then B them into an egg and shit them into the great beyond. They will go hurtling down, helpless until the egg breaks, by which point it’s too late for them to get back to land. This technique is foolproof so long as you’re not facing Kirby or Link, who can generally hop their way back up, and — more critically — none of the other players are very good. In short, this is a very good tactic for bullying your little brother. Mine eventually (a) started playing as Link and (b) got tragically good. But it was great while it lasted.
Lindsay Zoladz: I guess Wario is supposed to be “evil,” but really I’ve always just felt sorry for him. He’s hinged his entire identity on being the archnemesis of Mario, but you get the feeling if they actually ran into each other at, like, the Rainbow Road Cantina he’d have to do a couple of Jagerbombs to even get up the courage to go up to Mario and be like, “I’M A WARIO, I’M A-GONNA WIN-A!” and then Mario would just stare at him blankly for a few seconds and say, “… Sorry, I feel like we’ve met before but I just can’t place you.” Wario is like that guy on Catfish who thought he was dating Katy Perry for six years, and then when she found out about it she was just like, “Oh wow, that’s … sad” and went about her very busy day of important things she had to do and forgot all about it. So I play Wario out of pity, is what I’m saying. I find his delusions of grandeur strangely poignant. “Don’t worry, little buddy,” I want to tell him after he inevitably finishes in fourth place for the billionth time, “one of these days, you’re a-gonna win-a.”
Meta Knight, ‘Brawl’
Justin Charity: I once met and dated a girl who taught me how to use the Wii Nunchuk for the express purpose of losing to her in as many matches of Super Smash Bros. Brawl as possible; this was nearly the entire gist of our brief and experimental romance. She was Zelda and, occasionally, Samus. I was Meta Knight, the only character stabby and evasive enough to make my violent incompetence with the nunchuk feel even potentially successful. Jump, jump, slash, backtrack, jump, etc., you know how it goes. I lost everything and I learned very little in the ways of dating and combat.
Fox, ‘Super Smash Bros. Melee’
Chris Almeida: My preferred Super Smash Bros. game is Melee, and my preferred character is Fox. No matter who you are, you’re now thinking one of three things:
1. I don’t know what that means.
2. Oh, this guy takes this shit very seriously.
3. Fucking wannabe casual.
If you identify with no. 1, good for you. If you thought either of the latter two, you are right. I’m the type of player who watches four-hour documentaries on the game and is good enough to beat up on pretty much everybody who plays casually, but can’t touch anybody who has actually taken the time to learn how to wavedash or string together combos. Basically, I’m the worst possible medium between gamers and newcomers.
Fox is the fastest character in Melee by a good bit. His ground and air movement is excellent, and he also possesses a quick and accurate ranged attack. His smash and aerial attacks are effective finishers. Basically, as far as competitive players are concerned, he’s the best character in the game. Playing as Fox won’t make a difference for me against Smash pros, but I’ll take all the advantages I can get to beat up on Pichu-playing first-timers.
Toon Link, ‘Brawl’
Riley McAtee: I know it’s a little heretical to pick a character from Brawl, which isn’t a classic like the N64 original and isn’t as competitive as Melee (tripping? Why?!?!?), but Toon Link is perfect. He takes regular Link and makes him a little smaller, a little quicker, and a little more of a pest. Toon Link has enough range for me to safely camp in the corner in a free-for-all (I regret nothing) but has a fast enough move set for me to dominate in a duel. And he’s a step above Melee’s Young Link because he channels the energy from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the best Zelda game (fight me).
Princess Peach, ‘Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’
Victor Luckerson: In my Smash-loving circle of high school friends, everybody needed a real character and a troll character. The real character aligned with typical notions of sci-fi or medieval badassery while the troll character was one that seemed to us laughably out of place battling against heroes like Samus, Falco, or Link. Enter Peach. She was, to a group of 17-year-old boys, outlandishly unfit for battle — who brings a parasol to gun/fireball/Falcon Punch fight?
But as I got older, I realized that Peach was no joke. That elegant parasol of hers actually provided incredible recovery range. The turnips she summoned from the earth could send an offstage opponent plummeting to their death with a satisfyingly dainty bop. And there is nothing more exhilarating in the world of Smash than watching Peach, her ornate dress billowing in midair, glide to meet an airborne opponent before bitch-slapping them into oblivion with a forward-A. Your pants-wearing fav could never.