Esports Fighting Games

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Sisyphus and the Futility of Learning Ultimate

Learning Smash Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has been out for a little over a month now. Learning Smash Ultimate seems nearly impossible. Is it even feasible to know everything there is about this game? Here, we’ll look at why it’s so hard to have a deep understanding and what you can do about it.


In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who cheated death. Eventually, he was caught, returned to the realm of the dead and punished. As punishment for avoiding his initial fate, Sisyphus was forced to roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down the hill before reaching the top. The myth says that he continued to push the boulder into eternity.

The myth has led to the term “Sisyphean” being used to describe tasks that are meaningless or unable to be accomplished.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has seemingly run into a Sisyphean task already: learning the game itself.

Tier Lists and Futility

The game has been out for slightly over a month now – having been released December 7th in most places -and the tier lists have already become omnipresent. Many players prominent players from a number of games, like Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios and William “Leffen” Hjelte have released multiple tier lists. ZeRo was even releasing tier lists before the game dropped.

A tier list from ZeRo before the game’s release

This happened in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as well. The first tier list was created just before the addition of Bayonetta and Corrin. The game had been out for about sixteen months at the time. By the time the next tier list was released, the top of the rankings saw big shakeups.

The two highest characters were different and the top tier had more than doubled. Bayonetta, the bane of most Smash 4 players’ existences, wasn’t considered S Tier – the highest tier – yet.

It took months to figure out the meta in Smash 4. Adding in new characters via DLC and patches made creating an accurate tier list nearly impossible. With more characters, stages, and changes per patch, tier lists run now hold little value outside of entertainment.

4,761 Matchups

There are 69 characters in the game excluding echo fighters. That means, including ditto matchups (ie. Fox vs. Fox, Inkling vs. Inkling), there are 4,761 possible matchups. Solo-maining a character leaves you with 68 opposing characters that you need to know how to fight outside of your own. No one is mastering all of them.

Every Ultimate Character (for now) courtesy of IGN

Even Smash 4’s best players suffered from matchup inexperience. ZeRo, one of the greatest fighting game players ever, lost to a Paultena in the game’s first year of competitive play. Palutena peaked at 40 on any official Smash 4 tier list.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has a truly insurmountable amount of data to digest. There’s no way to understand the game from every angle. So are we doomed to the same fate as Sisyphus?

Optimizing Your Time: Tier Lists

Spending time wisely is the best way to improve at Smash Ultimate quickly. Knowing the Zelda/Little Mac matchup is great, but for Marth mains, it’s not a great use of time.

For tier lists, take them as what they are: one player’s opinion on what they’ve seen and experienced in the game. No player has had time to pour dozens of hours into each character yet. They make for fun conversations, but playing the game for yourself is a great way to determine which character’s you’ll be best on.

Interestingly, Smash 4’s original tier list had Zelda, Ganondorf, and Jigglypuff as the worst characters. They were the final three characters on the last tier list of the game as well. It’s likely the community can easily pinpoint the bad characters. They just struggle with the top-end heroes until more experimenting is done. Know that when you opt for an extremely low-tier in Smash Ultimate, things may not get better anytime soon.

Use tier lists as a loose guideline to narrow down your character choices, but choose a character that allows you to optimize what your best at.

Optimizing Your Time: Matchups

Because it’s easy to find out which characters are bad, don’t worry about learning their matchups if you main a solid character. Rely on a better moveset and allocate your time elsewhere. Not now at least.

Also, don’t grind out one top-tier opponent. With so many characters to choose from, being great against a handful of them and having little knowledge versus the others limits your chances of winning. This preparation requires the perfect bracket for success. It also makes your knowledge only useful on the current patch and in the current meta.

Instead, master the fundamentals. Whether it be understanding how to edge-guard or mastering DI, this type of expertise is independent of swings in the meta and opponent.

Projectile extraordinaire Snake courtesy of Nintendo

Learn archetypes, not matchups. Understanding how you’re character should face projectile-based characters can be more useful than a deep knowledge of any single matchup. Practice closing space against a variety of projectile characters like Snake or Young Link. This will help you transition to a number of other matchups without having to practice out each one extensively.

Diving into Smash Ultimate can feel like a Sisyphean task but it doesn’t have to be one. Spend your time wisely and become good at the game, not the matchups. Fit your style with your character and know tier lists are fluid and comically inaccurate.

See you in a free-for-all with items that we didn’t queue for.

 


Featured image courtesy of Medium

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