The Super Smash Bros. 4 amiibo metagame officially began alongside the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the first wave of amiibo figures on November 21, 2014. That being said, no official tournaments were held until late 2015 — there wasn’t much interest in amiibo training until then. Chronicled here is a complete history of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’s amiibo training scene: its best characters, important contributors, and biggest tournaments.
As mentioned previously, there was little interest in competitive amiibo training when the figures were first released. Many Smash players saw them as collectibles and little else. In fact, for most people, Figure Players in Smash 4 were nothing short of a disappointment. They were overly defensive by nature, couldn’t be trained to taunt, and rarely edgeguarded opponents off-stage. By Level 50, they could perfect shield incoming attacks with frame-perfect accuracy. Players who fought fully-trained FPs felt that they weren’t good practice partners for human-versus-human matches due to their strange behavior and unrealistically fast reaction times.
Furthermore, when a Figure Player is faced with another Figure Player in Smash 4, they generally walk right up to each other and stand there and stare at each other motionless for a few moments before one of them decides to attack. There were many moments like these in tournaments. All in all, the early consensus on amiibo in Smash 4 is that they weren’t very fun to watch — and this is part of why it took over a year for any semblance of a competitive scene to develop. Even so, certain Super Smash Bros. venues began hosting small side events for amiibo in both 2014 and 2015. The results of these tournaments were never recorded, though, and competitions like these were far and few between in the first place.
No Online? No Problem (2014 and 2015)
Sometime in 2015, two competitive amiibo training content creators (the first of their kinds) appeared: Amiibo Trainer and Amiibo Dan. The former focused on podcasts and audio guides detailing the best training strategies, while the latter was a YouTube channel focused on gathering amiibo trainers to have them compete against each other. That said, the two sites had no affiliation with each other whatsoever and occupied completely different spaces in the scene.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U did not allow Figure Players to be used online in any capacity, and this was never rectified via a game update. However, Amiibo Dan figured out how to use NFC-compatible mobile devices to save a backup of an amiibo’s training data. From this, Dan devised a system that allowed trainers to send him fully-raised FPs that he would then zap to life on his Wii U console using Amiibo Powersaves. This meant that online amiibo tournaments were possible for the first time ever! This system is still used to host competitions to this very day.
In August 2015, a third amiibo training content creator entered the ring: the Amiibo Dojo (which is the name our site used to go by!). At the time, we focused on vanilla training guides for each character. In fact, we were the first site to introduce the concept of character-specific training guides, and to this day we have a complete set of them for multiple Smash titles. Before the Amiibo Dojo, we posted some of the first-ever amiibo training guides on Reddit in early 2015. So when the Amiibo Dojo website launched in late 2015, we were able to pick up steam with the readers we had already gathered.
The Rock-Paper-Scissors Build (2016)
By 2016, three major content creators were helping to prop up the small competitive amiibo scene: Amiibo Trainer, Amiibo Dan, and the Amiibo Dojo. With so many content creators in place, the metagame could truly begin and trainers could start getting creative. At first, trainers raised their FPs to use aerials and act aggressive, and Amiibo Trainer was the first site to claim that this strategy didn’t work. Instead, Amiibo Trainer advocated for defensive play focused on shielding and countering openings with a smash attack. They also worked nearly exclusively with equipment, and they were able to pinpoint the best bonus combination in the game even in this early stage in the metagame: Critical-hit capability, Explosive perfect shield, and Improved escapability.
This setup took advantage of two skills Figure Players inherently possessed in Smash 4: frame-perfect reaction time and nearly frame-perfect mashing ability. Explosive perfect shield, hence its name, is a bonus effect that lets its user create a damaging explosion (15%) each time it parries an incoming attack. The explosion is powerful to the point where it can score KOs at around 90% at the ledge. In response, you might think that trainers could just teach their FPs to grab more often, but this wasn’t the case. In Smash 4, amiibo were hard-coded to pummel opponents at least twice before inputting a throw. This meant that Improved escapability would always kick in and let its user escape from a grab before they could be thrown. The presence of this bonus effect severely gimped characters like Ness who relied on a throw to score KOs.
The third bonus effect run on this set was Critical-hit capability, which grants its user a 20% chance for any of its attacks to deal triple damage. This meant that a trainer could maximize their FP’s Attack stat and give it critical hits to result in smash attacks that could one-hit KO opponents. Perhaps even more frightening is that critical hits could stack with Explosive perfect shield, meaning an FP could parry one attack and instantly deal 45% to the opponent just by shielding. This setup of Critical-hit capability, Explosive perfect shield, and Improved escapability came to be known as the Rock-Paper-Scissors build, and it quickly rose to prominence when Amiibo Trainer discovered it.
As a result, the early metagame heavily favored characters who could use or counter the Rock-Paper-Scissors build better than any other. Large characters like Bowser and Ganondorf have bigger shields, which in turn meant their Explosive perfect shields had more range. However, one top-tier character eventually emerged that turned the metagame on its head: Little Mac.
A New Challenger Approaches (2016)
Part of the reason why Explosive perfect shield was so strong was that it could turn the tide of battle in just one interaction. An FP could close in and move to deliver the finishing blow, only for the opponent to block the attack and get a KO instead. However, Little Mac didn’t care about opponents with Explosive perfect shield: his smash attacks are the only ones in Smash 4 with universal super armor, which let him brute-force his way through Explosive perfect shield without taking knockback. This wasn’t his only claim to fame, though: with at least 60 points in the Attack stat, Little Mac’s forward smash could instantly shatter a shield in a single hit. From there, he could charge up a forward smash and score a one-hit KO, especially if he was equipped with the aforementioned critical hit bonus.
Soon enough, players began loading up their Little Mac FPs with maximized Attack and Defense and minimized Speed. This turned him into a tank capable of withstanding powerful hits and even more capable of dishing out powerful hits (one-hit KOs). Even the most carefully-trained FPs could barely contend against a Rock-Paper-Scissors setup Little Mac FP spamming forward smash. As mentioned previously, Smash 4’s AI is heavily defensive by nature, and will try to perfect shield incoming attacks even if the move will break its shield instead. Because this nature is hard-coded, trainers couldn’t teach their FPs to behave any differently. Players not running Little Mac themselves had no choice but to accept losses to him; he would either KO his opponent outright or break their shield and then KO them.
There was one character capable of challenging Little Mac: Bowser. It was thanks to his side special, Flying Slam — a command grab. While the Improved escapability bonus does let its user escape from normal grabs, it offers no such protection against command grabs like Flying Slam. As a result, Bowser FPs trained to spam Flying Slam could occasionally defeat a Little Mac amiibo in brackets. Unfortunately, though, the matchup was still slightly in Little Mac’s favor. With no real counterplay available, the community unanimously banned Little Mac from competitive amiibo tournaments in 2016.
With Little Mac gone, several characters rose in viability. This gave trainers the freedom to experiment with fighters who were previously seen as non-viable in tournament play, which helped keep the metagame fresh. It had really needed a shake-up, too, as fighters like Little Mac, Bowser, and Ganondorf had dominated tournaments for so long — this frustrated players who wanted to see some character variety in the competition.
The First High-Stakes Tournament (2016)
At this point in the early metagame, there were several different kinds of tournaments. Most of them were hosted by Amiibo Dan, and he would come up with a different ruleset for each one. Some allowed equipment, while others banned it completely to help vanilla trainers feel more welcome in the community. Each tournament was hyped up as a huge event, and Dan himself provided commentary while streaming each tourney to his YouTube channel. At around the same time as the Little Mac ban, Amiibo Dan and the Amiibo Dojo teamed up to advertise Amiibo World Tournament 3, the third in his ongoing amiibo tournament series. It’s important to note that almost every tour in Smash 4 was hosted on the Wii U version of the game, as it was much easier to stream with a Wii U capture card than a customized Nintendo 3DS system.
With two content creators working together to spread the word, Amiibo World Tournament 3 quickly became the largest amiibo tournament to date with 42 players entered. The entirety of the tour was streamed online with commentary from Dan, and the grand finals wound up as an exciting showdown between Amiibo Dojo’s Ness and Amiibo Dan’s Ganondorf. After a close game, Ness won with a tipped forward smash and was declared the winner of the entire tournament. The excitement from the tourney and its commentary caught the interest of casual viewers, and from this point on, tournaments became more popular than ever. As a result of Ness (a character who relies on kill throws) winning the tour, trainers began to consider Improved escapability as an absolutely mandatory bonus effect.
There was one interesting tidbit regarding Amiibo Dan’s tournaments, however: he always kept Explosive perfect shield banned. This was a decision he made himself, as he thought the bonus made matches boring to watch as they became centralized around standing and shielding. The concept of banning an element of the amiibo metagame to encourage higher viewership is a theme that has remained consistent in amiibo training ever since — especially in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate years down the line, where certain characters and Spirit effects were banned to keep matches engaging.
Eventually, the community took Amiibo Dan’s banning of Explosive perfect shield to heart. It was decided that both Critical-hit capability and Explosive perfect shield would be banned from tournaments. Critical hits made games devolve into which FP got a heavy hit first, while Explosive perfect shield favored large characters and risked dropping the Smash 4 amiibo viewer count even lower. With these bonus effects out of the way, trainers began flocking to ones like Lifesteal, Improved launch ability, Hyper smash attacks, and especially Auto-heal capability. Improved escapability was not banned and continued to see constant usage.
A Jab Well Done (2017)
With Explosive perfect shield out of the picture, trainers realized something important: their FPs no longer had to be overly careful with their move selection. In the past, so much as a single mistimed jab or forward tilt gave the opponent a chance to activate Explosive perfect shield and potentially score a KO. This was no longer the case, and players quickly shifted their training priorities to include moves with very low startup lag — mainly jabs, which tend to be each character’s quickest attack.
In Smash 4, FPs who are holding up their shield will drop their shield if they are hit by an attack that consists of multiple strikes. This meant characters could simply walk up and use a jab; the opponent would block the first hit but then fail to defend against the rest of the move. Again, this never came into play when Explosive perfect shield was around because the bonus would simply interrupt the jab.
Bowser and Ganondorf – fighters who were previously top-tier – actually did not lose much viability as a result of this development. Instead, several characters gained viability, the most notable of which being Link, Luigi, and Charizard. Each of these fighters had a fast, powerful jab that could interrupt an enemy’s defenses; they could then move in and KO with one of their powerful smash attacks (or, in Luigi’s case, an up special). Link also benefited from a spammable projectile in his Boomerang as well as a two-part forward smash, which soon skyrocketed him to the top of Smash 4’s amiibo tier list.
However, the banning of Explosive perfect shield had another effect: it created a brand-new best character in the game. In fact, it created two! These fighters went on to win dozens and dozens of tournaments, though their dominance did not compare to Little Mac when he was still allowed in tournaments. These two fighters were Marth and Lucina.
Rise of the S Word (2017)
Marth and Lucina’s rise to fame is easy to understand. As stated previously, Smash 4’s AI is hard-coded to drop its shield when faced with a move with multiple hits (and this AI flaw wasn’t fixed in Ultimate either). These two fighters shared a multi-hit attack, Dancing Blade, that ripped unprepared trainers to shreds. Although FPs could react to incoming attacks quickly, they could only do so by putting up their shield — which they’d immediately drop after the first hit of Dancing Blade. This meant Marth and Lucina could simply spam all four hits of Dancing Blade for what was essentially free damage, and then finish off the heavily damaged opponent with a forward smash.
Large characters like Bowser, Ganondorf, and especially King Dedede suffered as a result of Marth and Lucina’s increase in popularity. In addition to falling into Dancing Blade, Marth and Lucina could use Counter against one of their smash attacks and one-hit KO them in return. Heavyweight fighters remained strong tournament contenders, but were now balanced out by poor matchups. On the other hand, fighters who used projectiles or faster moves (Link and Luigi) could give Marth and Lucina some trouble. They were still the best characters in the game, but unlike Little Mac, they weren’t nigh-impossible to beat. Roy, who was released later, did not receive the same success as Marth and Lucina — for whatever reason, his AI often failed to use more than two hits of its side special in a row. Using all four hits of Dancing Blade was the point of using the move at all, so trainers stuck with Marth and Lucina for the most part.
In July 2017, Cloud, Corrin, and Bayonetta’s amiibo figures were released to the public. Corrin and Bayonetta were solid mid-tier fighters, but could not contend against the metagame’s top tiers. Cloud, however, immediately became problematic: just like Little Mac, his forward smash could shatter a full shield in one hit. There was little counterplay for this, so the community decided to impose a restriction: Cloud FPs could not run more than 60 points in Attack and were not allowed to have more than one bonus effect that increased attack power.
This set a new precedent for the community, as they could now place restrictions on characters instead of banning them outright. They decided to revisit Little Mac, and allowed him back into tournaments on two conditions: he couldn’t have any points in Attack nor any bonuses that increased his attack power. Even with these restrictions in place, Cloud and Little Mac remained top-tier fighters; that said, they were not contenders for the best character in the game as they would have been otherwise.
An Ever-Changing Metagame (2017 and 2018)
At around the same time the Cloud amiibo was released, the popular YouTuber Alpharad released a casual amiibo training video that directly shouted out and linked to the Amiibo Dojo. This gave the community a huge increase in activity, and some of his viewers that came over to the site went on to win several amiibo tournaments and change the entire metagame.
In Smash 4, Figure Players’ learning could not be switched off. They would learn from every match and change their behavior accordingly, which was often a bad thing. In 2017, trainers figured out how to exploit this: raise a poorly-trained fighter on purpose who could “corrupt” its opponent’s learning over the course of a tournament game and then win the set. Most often, trainers opted to train a Mario amiibo to spam its special moves and aerials. These “corruption amiibo” almost never won entire tourneys, but caused a great deal of frustration by eliminating well-trained FPs along the way.
As time went on, trainers became bored of watching Marth and Lucina dominate tournaments. Eventually, the community reached a consensus: amiibo training is inherently unbalanced, because the developers likely never intended a metagame to form around them. Rather than change the rules to ban more characters, the community took a different approach: host tournaments that only allowed characters residing in a specific tier of the official tier list. This helped encourage trainers to raise otherwise underutilized characters and created some variety in matches. As a result, fighters like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong – who had previously rarely been trained and were thought to be bottom-tier – had their individual metagames developed and rose several tiers on the list.
Custom moves were allowed in all kinds of amiibo tournaments. They are difficult to farm for in Smash 4, but the Amiibo Powersaves software trainers used to enter tournaments was capable of changing an FP’s equipped customs without having to farm for them. For the most part, they didn’t have a huge impact on tourneys. Many of the best custom moves were on low-tier characters and were not enough to increase the viability of those characters. The most notable custom moves were Iai Counter for Marth and Lucina and then Thunder Burst for Pikachu. Tournament-trained Pikachu FPs only used Thunder Burst and a few other moves and achieved respectable results.
There are also a couple of fighters who made an impact in the metagame (for better or worse) who have not yet been discussed. Lucario could run trade-off bonus effects to increase its attack power, defense, and the damage percentage it started each stock at. Trainers would sometimes enter a super-powered Lucario FP that started each stock at 120%. From there, it would either one-hit KO an opponent or be one-hit KO’d itself! The strategy wasn’t consistent enough to warrant a ban, but it was an interesting strategy nonetheless.
Mega Man was considered the worst fighter in the game, and is not known to have won (or even entered the grand finals of) a single tournament in Smash 4 amiibo history — even tier-restricted ones. His AI couldn’t camp with its projectiles and its melee attacks were weak. Furthermore, three moves that are usually instrumental to a Smash 4 amiibo (jab, forward tilt, and forward smash) were nearly useless for Mega Man. Samus, R.O.B., and Yoshi were other examples of bottom-tier characters.
Onward to Ultimate (2018)
In 2018, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was announced for Nintendo Switch, and it retained amiibo functionality from Smash 4. As you might expect, trainers moved on from Smash 4 in late 2018 and began training in Ultimate instead. Since then, there have been no tournaments or metagame development for Smash 4 whatsoever, and there likely never will be again.
By the beginning of 2018, both Amiibo Trainer and Amiibo Dan had shut their doors and deleted all of their content, leaving the Amiibo Dojo as the only amiibo training community going into Ultimate. None of their content was archived anywhere on the internet and is now considered lost media.
To review, many important elements in Smash 4 helped influence which FP would win a given match. Moves with multiple hits or super armor helped a character’s viability very much, as FPs in this game (and eventually Ultimate) could not accurately defend against either one. Counter moves were very strong, and helped balance the powerful heavyweights that otherwise ran rampant. Though Explosive perfect shield had been long banned, teaching an FP to stay grounded and play defense was still important.
Smash 4’s amiibo community was small and tight-knit, and we worked together to solve a metagame that would have never gained any sort of traction otherwise. Even when there were three different creators creating content for Smash 4 amiibo, we periodically worked together to link our individual userbases and make trainers feel an even greater sense of community. Though many of the people who participated in the competitive metagame are no longer active, we still have a huge amount of resources available for Smash 4: our character guides, tier list, and the amiibo Wiki being just a few examples.
If you would like to return to the amiibo Wiki, please follow this link.