There are four amiibo metagames that have existed so far: Smash 4 vanilla, Smash 4 customs, Ultimate vanilla, and Ultimate customs. While Smash 4 vanilla was largely ignored, the rest of them have all had at least some level of metagame development, and we’re far enough along that we have a rough idea of who or what the best options consist of.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be using the Ultimate vanilla and Smash 4 customs metagames specifically, as those two metagames are the most defined and we have the clearest picture of the optimal amiibo. For instance, we know that in Smash 4 customs, Explosive Perfect Shield, Little Mac, Cloud, etc. are all SS-tier choices, for lack of a better term. In Ultimate vanilla, we know that Link and Bowser, and possibly Mii Gunner, are in a similar position right now. Because we don’t have similar information in the other metas, save for knowing that Slow Super Armor and Super Armor are optimal, we’ll stick with Ultimate vanilla and Smash 4 customs.
This is the June 2020 tier list, which is current as of this writing.
In Ultimate vanilla, I want you to notice these amiibo:
While there’s some argument about what specific tiers these characters belong to, there’s no doubt that each of these five are competent tournament contenders. Link and Bowser win most tournaments, Lucina and Ganondorf almost always place well, and Ike has had some very notable tournament placings as well.
Now take a look at the top tier of Smash 4 customs in the link provided above, under the section “Tier List – Equipment”. We see:
The names I bolded are the same names that appear in the Ultimate vanilla list as well: only Ike is missing. Do you notice something about the characters in these tier lists, but more specifically these four characters? Some abstract trait they all have in common?
Every top character in these metagames has several attacks that, with single inputs, cause significant damage and knockback. Lucina’s smash attacks. Link’s up smash. Ganondorf and Bowser’s… everything. Cloud and Little Mac’s smash attacks (even after the nerf). All top-tier contenders in the advanced amiibo metagames are characters that can make progress against an opponent using only one input. Interesting, isn’t it?
I think the reason for this is because of the nature of amiibo: amiibo don’t learn complicated, sequential button inputs unless they’re pre-programmed, similar to Smash 4 Ness’ up special. In neither Smash 4 nor Ultimate, they can’t combo or string together any length of attacks in the same way that we would…
If amiibo can’t learn those sequential inputs, then they’re obviously not going to use them, either. Thus, characters that would normally rely on several connected, pre-planned moves such as Smash 4 Sheik or Ultimate Meta Knight are going to fail miserably, while characters that have effective single-input moves (henceforth referred to as ESIs) are going to rise to the top of the tier lists. This is compounded by the fact that they are also taught more effectively: whether amiibo learn from KOs or from damage landed, those moves land more often.
This isn’t a universal rule, as this strategy is not perfectly effective. Notably, Luigi in Smash 4 customs still placed well despite his glaring lack of many ESI moves. Mii Gunner in Ultimate vanilla takes a unique approach as well, instead spamming projectile after projectile. But this rule doesn’t explain all of the tier placements: many characters have potential ESI moves, but only a few of those characters are a success. Why doesn’t Captain Falcon sit at the top of the tier lists? He’s got strong attacks on the ground and air. What about Roy? Or Donkey Kong?
Well, they’re not just characters! These are amiibo we’re talking about, so we can’t forget that some of them are just plain smart and some are just plain stupid, and there’s not much that we can do to change that. Were I to describe that fact, and the concept of ESI in a mathematical model, I would write:
I = base intelligence of the amiibo
C = effectiveness of the character
F(I^α,C^(1-α)) = Overall success
The overall success of that amiibo is a function of its intelligence and the utility of its character. (We’re ignoring the importance of the α for right now, as it should be in a separate post.) If their character has many ESI moves but isn’t very smart, like Ganondorf, then they likely won’t end up outperforming amiibo that have useful moves combined with intelligence. If they don’t have many useful moves but they’re so wickedly smart that they can almost always do exactly the right thing, like Mii Gunner in Ultimate vanilla, then they’ll end up stomping out whatever high-C opponents they come across.
In later posts we’ll discuss how I and C can change, and the effects that variables like stages, ruleset changes (in the case of customs/Spirits), game patches and new training methods have on I and C. We’ll also be discussing how the concept of I and C relate to character bans, and how that criteria can be used to determine whether a ban should be instituted or not. And of course, we’ll be discussing how α is the defining factor in all of this.
For now, we’re going to be focusing on ASMR #3 and watching to see how these theories play out.