Kirby is a controversial character, especially among competitive Super Smash Brothers players.
Even if you don’t play games, you probably know who Kirby is. You know his deal. He’s cute. He’s pink. He says “hiiiii” in falsetto. He looks like a marshmallow. And he swallows his enemies whole, which is weird and humiliating and would probably be really scary if he weren’t so darn cute.
If you’ve met Kirby on the battlefield, then you know what he can do. Behind that cute, fluffy face lies the merciless soul of a troll.
The character you choose in Smash Bros. dictates how you play. Choose a character like Starfox or Sheik, and you’ve shown a love of speed. If you choose Pikachu or Jigglypuff, you prefer evasive maneuvers with a small-statured character who can pack a wallop in close quarters...
Choose Kirby and you show you’re not afraid to humiliate your enemies. Kirby’s core conceit revolves around swallowing opponents and either stealing their abilities or spitting them out into dangerous situations. The latter is the most ostentatious and effective way to give other Smash Bros. players grief. Whether you’re a casual Smash fan or a pro, you’ve doubtless experienced the singular embarrassment of getting swallowed by Kirby and spit out into certain doom.
Kirby isn’t the only character with an obnoxious moveset; if you’ve ever been on the other side of Princess Peach’s frying pan and turnip-tossing, then you know Kirby’s not the only showboat in the Smash roster. What sets Kirby apart is that he’s far more difficult to master in high-level play. A Kirby pro is a rare sight to see. That’s because Kirby is weak. He’s especially weak in Super Smash Brothers: Melee, which is still one of the most popular Smash games on the competitive circuit.
In general, Kirby’s moves don’t deal much damage, but worst of all, he’s a slow-moving lead balloon, both on the ground and in the air. Because of his low-powered moves, his humiliating swallow maneuvers end up being an important part of Kirby’s toolbelt. That’s why vehement Kirby hatred fills comment sections on tutorial videos about him:
But it wasn’t always this way.
At first, Kirby was powerful in Smash Bros. Far too powerful.
Kirby began his life as the brainchild of Masahiro Sakurai, who invented Kirby and, after helming three Kirby games, served as the director for the first Super Smash Brothers game. That could explain why, in the very first SSB for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, Kirby was one of the most powerful characters in the game, by far. His attacks were not only powerful but fast. His small stature also made him harder to hit. There was nothing Kirby didn’t have, back then: strength, speed, stealth, and charisma (that cuteness!). The unassuming pink marshmallow packed an unexpected punch.
Best (or worst) of all, Kirby could swallow his opponents and spit them out over the edge of the map, leaving them in a perilous struggle to leap back onto the platform while he guards the edge, waiting to swallow them and spit them out once more. Worse yet, if Kirby had more lives than his opponent, he could swallow them and leap over the edge, killing both himself and his enemy while still securing a match victory.
This is called “Swallowcide,” or “Kirbycide,” and it’s a technique Kirby players use to this day. The phrase “Kirbycide” can also refer to other Kirby moves that involve self-sacrifice for the greater victory, such as grabbing his opponent, pulling them over the edge, and using his “stone” move that turns his body into a super-heavy, fast-falling rock that plummets both characters to certain doom.
(King Dedede, who also hails from the Kirby franchise, shares both the Kirbycide moveset and also Kirby’s slowness and underpowered status. He’s basically a big ol’ Kirby, and he’s hated almost as much as his pink predecessor.)
“Kirbycide” alone is a good reason to hate Kirby, especially back in his Smash 64 heyday. These days, Smash players also hate Kirby because he sucks. Literally and figuratively.
Kirby’s creator, Masahiro Sakurai, went on to direct every Smash game. But Kirby has never been as strong as he was in Smash 64, even though his dad’s the boss.
In Smash 64’s sequel, Super Smash Brothers: Melee, Kirby tumbled from the top of the tier list to the lowest of the low. Kirby’s Melee build knocked back every ability that made the pink fluffball unstoppable, particularly his speed. Where once he had been able to bounce around from opponent to opponent, dealing damage in spades, Kirby now moved like he had lead weights in his mysterious shoes. His floaty jump got floatier, making him a slow-moving target. His dash attack got a slower startup. Almost all of his attacks dealt less damage than before. The li’l pink hero had received a merciless nerf.
Unfortunately for Kirby, Melee was the game that blew up the Smash competitive circuit, starting with Tournament Go in 2002. So Kirby’s bad reputation got solidified among pro players—including those who still compete today. He’s seen as a joke, or an intentional troll pick, given that Kirbycide moves are still the most viable ways to get consistent wins with him in Melee.
Kirby did get a bit faster and stronger in Super Smash Brothers: Brawl (2008). Unfortunately for Kirby, Brawl is the least popular Smash game among competitive players.
Kirby’s not a top pick for many pros. He’s good for those who like trolling. And there was one player who beat the world’s best Smash player while using Kirby, though both players had been drinking.
Very few pro players choose to use Kirby, given the inherent difficulties presented by the character. Given Kirby’s weak move-set in Melee, he’s not a motivating choice to learn, so greater understanding about how best to use Kirby in top-level Smash play has been limited.
The few Melee pros who do use Kirby don’t consider placing first in a tournament to be their goal. If they can win any matches at all with Kirby, that’s a victory for them. For example, one notable Melee Kirby match involved Cereal Rabbit (aka C. Rabbit) beating Armada, who was drunk at the time. This was at a Get Smashed at the Foundry tournament, which as its name implies, involves top players getting drunk and playing through it. Armada isn’t just any pro player. He’s considered the best Melee player in the world, and he’s listed first on 2016 SSBMRank and the European Melee Power Rankings. Even though C. Rabbit beat a drunk Armada as opposed to a sober Armada, this match is still considered a legendary win for Kirby fans everywhere.
Kirby started out as a more effective choice in a fan-made version of SSB: Brawl called Project M that launched in 2011. Project M blended Brawl and Melee, and in Kirby’s case, that meant he now had stronger, faster moves, thanks to his Brawl build. Project M Kirby looked like a force to be reckoned with once Smash pro Daniel “ChuDat” Rodriguez used the character for many Kirbycide-powered victories. In a video called “Top 10 ChuDat Troll Video Analysis,” ChuDat includes some examples of himself using the fated Kirbycide move in competitive play, to the horror and hilarity of onlookers. He also admits in the video that Project M’s developers implemented some nerfs to Kirby after he used Kirbycide moves at tournaments. By the way, even ChuDat isn’t strictly a Kirby pro; he primarily uses Ice Climbers.
By the time Super Smash Brothers 4 came out in 2014, Kirby’s reputation as an annoying, weak, joke character had been sealed. That could explain why he’s still on the lower end of the tier list in SSB4; very few top players have circled back to give him a chance. But he doesn’t actually seem as bad in this game as he used to be, even though almost no one at the highest levels chooses him.
The short list of pros who stuck by Kirby all along—even through his weakest Melee days—have managed to reign supreme as Kirby in SSB4 tournaments. Randall “Triple R” Reinart, for example, stuck by playing Kirby from Smash 64 all the way to the present day, and his extreme long-term efforts have paid off with some first-place tournament wins in SSB4.
Plus, there’s always new blood, like Michael “Mike Kirby” Alvarez, who thus far has only competed in SSB4 and plays as Kirby. The kids these days, they’ve got no clue that Kirby used to be hated—and thank goodness, because maybe they can discover some much-needed new strategies for this long-abandoned pick who got written off as a goofball joke for over a decade.
If you’ve spent this whole article saying to yourself, “but I love Kirby,” you’re not alone. Kirby complaints have long plagued the highest levels of the competitive Smash circuit, but they aren’t top of mind for the rest of us mere mortals.
According to a SSBM Tutorials video about Kirby, he’s the most popular choice for casual Melee players, although they don’t cite any statistics to back up that claim. In my own experience, though, it’s held true. I see newcomers pick Kirby all the time, and he’s not a bad choice for a Smash novice. Kirby’s got an easy learning curve (in spite of his eventual plateau in competitive play), and he even has a familiar set of abilities, since many people have played a Kirby game before.
But anyone who chooses to play as Kirby and hopes to elevate their game to the competitive level will be walking down a difficult and lonely road. The moves that make him so easy to learn, such as his floaty jumps that guarantee a new player has extra chances to recover from getting knocked off a ledge, end up serving as his downfall in high-level play. Kirby’s super-slow glides make him an easy target in Smash. His slowness is the natural counterpart to guard against the Kirbycide moves that make him a terror—and those are the moves that you will have to master, if you fancy yourself a budding Kirby pro.
If you want to play as Kirby, you had better be stubborn, because people will hate you and question your choice. But these days, Kirby could end up being a dark horse (pink horse?) for up-and-coming SSB4 pros. He may just float to the top of tier lists yet again… at which point Smash players can hate him for being too good at sucking. As opposed to just hating him for sucking.