The amiibo metagame may be shifting back in time

Competitive amiibo training in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has been going (fairly) strong for almost four years now! When the game was first released, dedicated amiibo trainers were in a scramble to see what was different. After several years of struggling through amiibo training in Smash 4, players wanted to see something different. And for the longest time, they did: in the Ultimate metagame’s early days, trainers experimented with off-stage play, taunting, and combos — things the CPUs were finally capable of pulling off. But now, it’s 2022, and the metagame is winding down a bit. We’ve quickly realized an interesting tidbit. Over the years, as specific amiibo characters have been optimized and refined, something remarkable has happened: Ultimate’s metagame is beginning to look a lot like what Smash 4’s did toward the end of its lifespan.

The Power of the Perfect Shield

In recent years, perfect shielding (or parrying) attacks has become increasingly important to teach to an amiibo. As you might recall, Bowser was once completely banned from competitive tournaments for a variety of reasons. When the ban decision occurred, trainers hadn’t yet taught their Figure Players to focus on perfect shielding. 2020’s surge in parry-happy FPs was so significant and influential that Bowser was later unbanned. This is because many of his attacks are a single hit and thus are very easily parried by other FPs. This has, as a result, noticeably worsened his viability.

If you haven’t trained many FPs before, there’s an important note to include here. Both Smash 4 and Ultimate’s AI cannot properly perfect shield attacks composed of fast, consecutive hits. They’ll block the first hit, but then drop their shield and get hit by the rest of the attack. That’s the main reason why perfect shielding is so good now — many powerful top-tier characters rely on single-strike moves, and being able to defend against those moves is invaluable. This was the case in Smash 4 as well, in which perfect shields were a cornerstone of the metagame.

Jabs and Grabs Aren’t Half Bad

Unfortunately, Bowser is not the only character affected by the rise in perfect shields. Several already poorly-ranked characters have only become worse. Characters like Pac-Man have laggy grabs and no multi-hit attacks, leaving them without any options to get past shield-heavy opponents. In recent times, however, trainers have been mixing in a little bit of jab! This works best for fighters with rapid jabs, but you can also use it on fighters who simply have really fast standard jabs. Pac-Man is one character who would potentially benefit from a higher emphasis on jab.

If you don’t know this already, the late Smash 4 metagame was essentially centered around jabs. They’re extremely fast, and many of them can actually beat out other FPs’ reaction times. Luigi, Charizard, and Cloud are perfect examples of characters who could force opponents to drop their shields to rack up fast and free damage. At present, none of these characters rely on their jabs in Ultimate quite as they did in the previous title… but you never know what might happen in the future!

Previously, trainers would generally only teach their FPs to grab when they had a working combo or kill throw. Now, that’s not entirely necessary! Fighters like Cloud and Byleth can’t do a ton off of a grab, but the move does help them out against shields (although Cloud can brute-force through with his forward smash). As a result, you’ll likely see trainers teaching their FPs to grab more often if they’re a character that has few multi-hit moves.

Nothing Too Crazy, Please

This is sort of old news, and it’s recommended in all of our character guides. In Smash 4, FPs rarely dashed even if you tried to tell them to. They preferred to walk most of the time, and it turns out this is beneficial behavior in Ultimate too! To be clear, FPs in Ultimate can learn to dash and run, but competitive trainers force them to slow down to a walk. This is because FPs really like initiating dashes into their opponent right as they’re attacking, which causes them to get hit. If that FP were trained to walk, they would simply block the attack and then retaliate with a move of their own.

Furthermore, FPs in Smash 4 were mostly incapable of going off-stage to edgeguard. In Ultimate, they actually can do that! And at the beginning of the metagame, trainers experimented with it quite a bit. To this day, only a few characters really have to go off-stage to maintain their viability; for the others, it’s just too risky to edgeguard off-stage.

To review then: in Smash 4, FPs couldn’t edgeguard or run, and they were heavily defensive by nature. Even though Ultimate’s CPUs aren’t bound by the same rules, trainers are choosing to follow them for the sake of tournament performance. And it’s working! It’s entirely possible that Figure Players’ optimal behavior shifts a little bit further in the future. After all, Ultimate’s metagame isn’t exactly like Smash 4’s yet. Mainly because its tournament championships don’t consist solely of Lucina FPs spamming Dancing Blade.

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