Is Pikachu the very best?
Hello and welcome back to GoNintendo’s Smash Character Review series, where we look at Smash Ultimate’s massive roster and see how will the characters have held up. Today, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Pokémon Yellow, we’ll be taking a look at the Pokémon fittingly numbered 25 in the Poékdex – Pikachu!
What is there to say about Pikachu that hasn’t already been said? Despite not having a major role in the original release of Red and Blue thanks to some genius marketing tactics and a universally appealing design, Pikachu was pushed to be the mascot of the entire series. You would be hard-pressed to find a Pokémon product with no relation to Pikachu whatsoever so it makes sense that he would be the first Pocket Monster considered to join the world of Smash.
How does the electric mouse Pokémon fair today however? Well, that’s the question we intend to answer. As always, we suggest checking out our first article in this series for a breakdown of how the grading system works. With all that out of the way let’s get started!
Pikachu’s Neutrals are inspired from various attacks throughout the Pokémon series.
Pikachu’s Neutrals are very solid and reflect Pikachu’s playstyle in the mainline games. A speedy electric-attacker who wants to get in quick, do some damage and not take too many hits.
Speaking of electricity, I want to shout out Smash Ultimate in particular for making Pikachu’s electric effects looking much better than previous installments.
While some may complain about many of the moves being innovated, I’m personally fine with it because Smash has always pulled from another source beside the video games when it comes to Pokémon.
In comparison to the other Smash 64 alumni, Pikachu (and Jigglypuff) would have far less to work with in comparison to the other fighters who had years of games to pull from. To remedy this problem, Sakurai pulled from a source where the Pokémon could express themselves far better than on the Gameboy, the Pokémon Anime.
Since day 1, the Pokémon anime has been an influence on how the monsters are portrayed in Smash Bros. Their voices all come from the anime, move choices are inspired by it, and the Pokémon themselves animate like they jumped right out of it.
We will see some more comparisons to the anime down the line, but for now I’ll just state that I’m very happy that the Neutral Attacks pull from all facets of Pokémon.
Speaking of pulling from all facets of the franchise, let’s talk about Pikachu’s Special Attacks
Contrary to my opinion on Skull Bash, I’m actually quite fond of Thunder’s slower pace as I have always viewed this move as Pikachu’s flashy finisher move (ala Falcon Punch). Skull Bash just doesn’t do enough damage or have enough flair for the time it takes to pull off.
Lastly, the Final Smash is Volt Tackle, a signature move of the Pikachu line. Interestingly though the animation of this move seems to derive less from the Pokémon Game’s or Anime’s depiction and more from Pokémon developer Game Freak’s history.
In Japanese the attack is called Volteccer (ボルテッカー) which is shared with an attack used by Pulseman, the titular main character of one of Game Freak’s pre-Pokémon projects.
Cpmparing the animations for the attack in Pulseman and Smash Bros. it’s clear that this was an intentional reference, not surprising considering Sakurai’s knowledge of gaming history.
If you want to check out Pulseman for yourself It’s actually available on the Sega Genesis NSO App, fair warning though it has A LOT of flashing light affects, so be careful.
Save for Skull Bash, all of Pikachu’s Specials really feed back into its core design philosophy of speedy and nimble attacks.
A speedy attacker was unique at Smash Bros. Inception but how does Pikachu fair nowadays? With the advent of characters like Shiek, Sonic, and Zero Suit Samus Pikachu doesn’t even crack the top 10 fastest fighters like he used to.
Well, apparently pretty good! Many competitive Smash Bros. players seem to agree that Pikachu is one of the most consistently well performing characters in the series which is astounding considering it’s been around since the first entry.
Obviously competitive isn’t everything, but it does speak to Pikachu’s uniqueness that after all these years pros are still drawn to choose this yellow rodent.
Pikachu’s speed, small size, and solid attacks seem to always guarantee that Pikachu will carve out a niche in the roster even if some stars may shine brighter.
One thing that hasn’t been lost through the years is Pikachu’s use of voice acting from his anime voice actress, Ikue Ōtani. While I know some fans aren’t a fan of the Pokémon saying their own names, I personally don’t mind it for the cuter creatures like Pikachu.
Ōtani’s performance is on point as always. She does such a good job they even had her do the voice in the mainline Pokémon games themselves for a short stint. Even though she is effectively saying the same word over and over it speaks to her talents as a voice actress that I can still feel Pikachu’s emotion in every sound throughout the years.
As we stated earlier, Pikachu in Smash (and the Pokémon fighters in general) borrow many visual elements from the anime. Heck, as a kid I thought the Pikachu in Smash was the Pikachu Ash took on his many journeys, but Pikachu’s stage entrance animation disproves that theory…
Pikachu’s animations in general make great use of cartoonish squash and stretch and the more “realistic” combat that is needed for a fighting game character.
While I have my gripes with the color choices, Pikachu is still lovingly portrayed in Smash.
I’ve been referring back to how Pikachu is designed to work in the context of mainline Pokémon games without going into much detail. In order to make my point I’m actually going to talk about Pokémon’s game design for a second so bear with me.
In the original Red and Blue games, Pikachu was a rare encounter in the viridian forest and stood out from the flying and bug types that those areas were swarming with. Any kid lucky enough to catch it and took it to fight Brock would be in for a rude awakening.
Brock’s Rock and Ground type Pokémon resist Pikachu’s normal attacks and are outright immune to Pikachu’s electric shocks, and there aren’t any sprinklers to bail you out of this one!
By all accounts it looked like Game Freak set Pikachu up to fail, but he was actually designed to teach kids a lesson about type match-ups and choosing the right Pokémon for the situation.
Obviously, the starters enforce this as well: Charmander struggles with Brock, while Squirtle and Bulbasaur smoke him. However, there was no way to be certain which starter the player picked and this lesson might have trouble sticking depending on who was chosen.
Bulbasaur, for example, is super effective on Brock and Misty, and resists Lieutenant Surge. Charmander, by comparison, struggles with the first two and doesn’t get a chance to shine until much later in the game. Pikachu also struggles with Brock, but is super-effective on Misty, and resists Surge – the full gambit of type effectiveness.
Even to this day, Pikachu doesn’t really learn many non-electric or normal attacking moves to alleviate his effectiveness problems. Pikachu doesn’t offer type coverage the way some other Pokémon do, but he does offer solid fundamentals and zippy speed to get the job done.
Kids who are drawn to use Pikachu (through its uniqueness and marketability) will learn that just because a Pokémon is rare it is not the answer to every problem. It takes good strategy and a well-balanced team to succeed, and Pikachu is a simple but useful partner to get you there.
Just like in his mainline games, Pikachu in Smash is approachable and easy to understand. There are no complex gimmicks, just simple yet snappy Neutrals and Specials that give Pikachu the extra spark to stand out.
The only thing that really holds Pikachu back from it’s full potential is some not well thought out moves (like Skull Bash) but all together Pikachu feels like a reliable partner a newcomer or veteran will be comfortable with.
Pikachu’s final score is 43/50 or 88%.
While it might seem odd to some to rate a Pokémon so highly, it’s mainly because Pokémon are generally easier to represent than more established characters. There are no glaring character inaccuracies like with Mario and Olimar because Pikachu is a simpler character.
This isn’t to say that Pokémon will always score highly however as I still feel there are a few Pokémon fighters who don’t live up to their full potential, but that’s for a later date.
Starting with aesthetics I feel the first thing would be to fix the colors, it’s the only part of Pikachu’s visual design that is lacking. Given that the next game will probably shoot for a different or more refined version of Ultimate’s art style, that seems likely.
I’d also like to see some new ideas for costumes explored.
Getting into actual move set changes one thing that I’m sure a lot of people would suggest is maybe pulling some moves from the official Pokémon fighting game, Pokkén Tournament.
While this seems like a good idea on paper, I’m personally against it as a lot of the Pokémon’s attacks in this game are actually derived from pre-existing Tekken characters.
While Pikachu using the Mishima family’s fighting style is inherently funny, it doesn’t really represent the actual character of Pikachu very well.
For moves that make more sense for Pikachu we can look to the Pokémon Anime for more inspiration.
These have all been just minor changes so far with no real impact on gameplay, what about something to replace Pikachu’s mediocre side special? My idea is Electro Ball.
While the thought of giving Pikachu a second projectile may sound absurd, I think I’ve thought of a good way to translate the move.
In the Pokémon games, Electro Ball is a move that does more damage the faster the user is than the opponent, so on a speedy Pokémon like Pikachu it has potential to do some damage.
Translating this move directly would be a bad idea as Pikachu is already faster than more than half of the roster, so how do we keep the spirit of the move?
I think a fun way we could translate that is have it be a charged projectile that gains distance but LOSES power the more you charge it. Basically, if you’re quick to the draw you’ll do more damage – but if you take the time to charge and aim, your shot will travel farther but lose steam.
It’s a move that encourages and rewards players who can act as swiftly as Pikachu without becoming too overbearing on competitive. The ideal use of Electro Ball would be to fire it off uncharged at point blank range, becoming another cool finisher like Thunder.
This is probably one of my favorite ideas I’ve ever come up with for a Smash character though I doubt they’d add such an unorthodox attack.
Speaking of unorthodox, I feel obligated to mention Electro Web, a move signature to the Galvantula family that Pikachu can apparently learn.
Ash’s Pikachu picked this up in the Sun and Moon anime and used it to trap enemies in an electric web.
This could certainly work as a new grab animation, but if I’m being really honest, I don’t like this move on Pikachu. As someone who followed the anime pretty closely it was bonkers to me that Electro Ball got replaced with this attack. I had only just gotten used to the fact that Electro Ball had replaced Volt Tackle and then they pulled this, and then Pikachu had this move until the end of his and Ash’s time on the show.
Speaking of replacing Volt Tackle, though: While at the time of Brawl’s release, Volt Tackle was the most logical sense for Pikachu’s Ultimate Attack nowadays as the competition has gotten fierce.
There’s lots of potential new Final Smash options for Pikachu. The Catastropika Z-move from Sun and Moon, G-Max Volt Crash from Sword and Shield – heck, they could even throw in Pikachu’s Pokkén finisher if they wanted.
I think the most fitting choice however would be 10,000,000-Volt Thunderbolt.
Another one of Alola’s Z-moves, it quickly became a signature move of Ash and his Pikachu during the Master’s Eight Tournament Arc.
I would want this to be a Final Smash for the same reasons I’d want the ash hat Pikachu costume, to pay respect to Ash and Pikachu’s legacy in the entire Pokémon series and pop culture in general. I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to go out.
Thank you once again for reading this review! Please let us know your thoughts on Pikachu in Smash in the comments. Also, be sure to let us know of any other characters you’d want to see us cover. I can’t guarantee they’ll be next, but it would be nice to know where the audience’s interests lie.
A recently graduated creative writer hoping to work his way into the greater gaming sphere.