During the hellish, 13-month development cycle of Super Smash Bros Melee, Masahiro Sakurai decided to play a prank nobody saw coming. That came in the form of Pichu. In the context of things, especially with the sheer amount of clone characters added (Falco, Ganondorf, Roy, Young Link, Dr. Mario), it somewhat makes sense. It also capitalizes on the hype of Gold, Silver, and Crystal as well as the 2000 (or 2001 in North America) Pikachu and Pichu special. Perhaps our adorable baby boy was foreseen as a Luigi like character to Pikachu, but the developers had other plans. He was developed purely as a joke for Melee, but the devs failed. How so? Well, let’s take a look into the best, worst character in Melee. Pichu.
When you look at Pichu’s Classic Mode trophy in Melee’s gallery, what does it say?
It is best suited for handicap matches.
They’re saying he’s pretty much the equivalent of playing with one hand behind your back. Or playing drunk versus someone sober (which really isn’t a handicap, in my humble opinion). The only two positives listed are that he’s slightly smaller and slightly faster than Pikachu, other than that, he’s verbally trashed by his own developer. Every other character is highlighted much more positively. Yikes.
How about his All-Star trophy?
…it’s top of the class in weakness, too! For Pichu, it’s all about scampering here and there to pick up items that will help it survive.
They just keep roasting my mans. Again, while other characters have very useful advice, such as grabbing counter happy Marths (which is funny because counter sucks ass in Melee but is super prevalent in later titles), Sakurai and his goon squad use this to personally attack any player who wants to seriously pick up Pichu. They flat out said Pichu can only survive in casual item matches, and it takes running away from any conflict to stand a chance. They put him in a body bag with these trophy descriptions.
So from what we read, it’s painfully obvious Pichu was intentionally developed to be terrible. Via a direct translation of the baby boy’s Smash Dojo page, it is stated as fact. Sakurai even says that Pichu is a flat out weaker version of Pikachu and that he should only be played for the cool factor of beating someone with a shitty character. From everything we have seen, from the trophy descriptions to actual behind the scenes words from Sakurai himself, it seems logical to say Pichu is the worst in the game, as intended right? The funny thing is, he’s far from that.
Over the years the title of the worst character in Melee has flip-flopped countless times. Many believed Sakurai that Pichu was the worst initially. Some said Mewtwo. But some deeper digging and years of competitive development found that Kirby, Bowser, and Zelda are now seen as the worst characters in the game. People even thought Zelda was a borderline high tier in the game’s beginning stages (gross), where rolling was king, but the discovery of wavedashing and dash dancing (especially with Marth) sent her to the streets.
Zelda and Bowser are made for the bottom tier, and it doesn’t take a lot of analysis to point that out.
They’re piss poor slow, have little combo game, and have the most pitiful grabs in the game (Bowser’s down throw doesn’t even hurt Game & Watch or Jigglypuff, seriously). Or at least almost. That distinction belongs to Kirby, who can’t even forward or back throw right.
Kirby is such a special case for his terrible status in Melee. He was THE undisputed second best character in Smash 64 (Pikachu takes the crown for best) and had some ridiculous jank to his game. From disjointed hitboxes that rival Melee Jigglypuff’s, an uptilt to end all uptilts, and the fact his multihit down aerial has a powerful spike hitbox on every hit. It’s nasty.
So Kirby deserved a nerf. But perhaps Sakurai was too harsh with his favorite creation in terms of handing out the punishment. He butchered his airspeed, combo game, power, everything that made him dominate in 64. It didn’t help the universal changes to Melee, such as less shield stun, hindered him even more. Pikachu, who was the best character in 64, only got more moderate nerfs and is still very viable in Melee. Kirby got the rough end of the stick and is often seen as the worst.
Let’s not stray away too much from our favorite rat. Pichu is still a bad character, he was designed to be the worst after all. He damages himself considerably with every move that involves electricity. He’s the lightest in the game, so his survivability is the worst thusly, especially when combined with his recoil damage. He has terrible range and only has thunder jolts as a reliable way to approach (and those hurt him of course). He has the worst matchup spread in the entire game. People even joke about Pichu’s flaws and try to correct them themselves via modding. It just ends up becoming cursed though. Pichu healing itself instead of damaging itself? You can’t play God like that.
But for real, Pichu possesses some attributes that very few bottom tiers have. He has a very good SHFFL (short hop fast fall l cancel) thanks to his low lag aerials, shockingly (pun intended) powerful kill moves such as forward smash and up smash, great overall mobility, chain grabs, and one of the best recoveries in the game (but it does hurt him, obviously). His neutral aerial is honestly one of the best moves in the game. Super quick, racks up damage easily, combos reliably, can use it to approach, overall a perfect jack of all trades move. He also has the best taunt game, if you didn’t know. Depending on the direction you’re facing, his taunt changes. He can also shield halfway though his taunt (thank you JoSniffy for this vital information).
Over the years, Smash pros began to see these positives and how underrated Pichu can be in the right hands. Again, he’s far from a character that can take you to a Majors win but he can shock (need to stop with this pun) some opponents who get flustered or insulted when you pick a low tier. Mew2King made a living off picking Pichu against admittingly lower competition and absolutely dicking them. Like Sakurai said, winning with Pichu makes you a cool guy and anyone that picks him in high-level competitions deserves all the applause. Because even though he isn’t the worst, he was made to be the worst, so the message is still sent. The perfect character to embarrass someone. Personally, I won a Melee tourney with Marth my freshman year of college. Me and my best friend grinded for a few weeks before it, and I had a pocket Pichu ready to go to end some lives if the situation arose. After winning, the tourney organizer wanted to play me with his Marth. I went with Pichu. I three stocked him. And yeah, I was slightly drunk.