Amiibo Science: What Ganondorf can teach us about the importance of good AI

In case you missed EVO 2018, Bayonetta happens to be the best character in Smash 4. At the same time, Ganondorf happens to be third from the bottom on the same tier list. The reasons for this are incredibly obvious: Bayonetta has built-in combos and incredible mobility, and Ganondorf is slower than an elderly person drenched in molasses.

Now go take a look at any amiibo tier list. It can be mine or anyone else’s, and it can be vanilla or nonvanilla. Locate Bayonetta, and locate Ganondorf. The ‘Ganon Cannon’ is always placed higher than Bayonetta, usually by at least a tier. As someone who hates Bayonetta, this brings me great pleasure. I enjoy watching a smart Ganondorf kick a Bayonetta in the face.


But what could cause such a shift from competitive play to amiibo play? Their movesets are mostly the same between competitive and amiibo-style competition. Granted, using custom special moves in nonvanilla could alter them somewhat, and maybe even having bonus effects and extra stats could swing that change.

I’m not sold on that argument, though. Every amiibo tier list places Bayonetta lower than Ganondorf, and usually by a lot. A difference that large even precludes the possibility that everyone just trains Bayonetta wrong, too. What could be missing that we aren’t accounting for?


I took a Bayonetta I had trained and transplanted him onto a Ganondorf in a vanilla setting, and had them fight. The recently-transplanted Ganondorf won four of the five matches, only losing the third. I did the reverse, and transplanted a Ganondorf onto a Bayonetta. The original Ganondorf won all five matches. Ganondorf is better at being Bayonetta than Bayonetta is.

We’ve discussed before how amiibo are basically RNG, but if you’ve ever trained an amiibo you’ll know that they still tend to copy traits that you exhibit to them. If you’ve trained a lot of amiibo you’ll know they tend to do things that you don’t exhibit to them. So amiibo do what you tell them to, and they do what you don’t tell them to.

These two seemingly opposing forces are hard to reconcile, until you take an alternate theory into account. Amiibo seem to have a preprogrammed AI that allows for some variance in behavior, and the variance in behavior is generated by actions that are observed, as well as RNG inserted by the game. However, this variance is not infinite: due to issues with amiibo programming, you can’t teach an amiibo to mimic a combo you watched Mew2King do on his stream yesterday. In some instances, amiibo can’t even use certain moves, such as Jigglypuff’s Rest or Palutena’s Counter (although up until 1.1.3, Palutena could be taught to use Counter if she was trained only to use a custom down special and then her down special was changed.)

The fact that amiibo AI appears preprogrammed and not very plastic at all indicates to us why Ganondorf continues to be better than Bayonetta. Ganondorf’s AI was just plain ol’ programmed that way. Good AI is good AI.


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