Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has only been out for a few months and its competitive community has already gone through several distinct phases of hatred for various cast members. The latest Nintendo character to receive the scene’s ire is Captain Olimar, the diminutive protagonist of the Pikmin franchise.
Olimar was first introduced to the series in 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The most widely accepted tier list for that game ranked the space captain as the third-strongest character, but like the rest of the roster, he was overshadowed by Kirby antagonist Meta-Knight, who controversially dominated Brawl competition until the game fell out of favor with the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in 2014. From there, Olimar wallowed in mid-tier hell before Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrived last year and returned him to the “strongest characters in the game” conversation. That’s all thanks to, among other things, hurtbox adjustments that made him harder to hit and buffs to his attack damage across the board.
While it’s rare for an Olimar player to win a major Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament, one got pretty darn close at last weekend’s Pound 2019 in Laurel, Maryland. Robert “Myran” Herrin, who has been using Olimar in high-level competition since the Brawl days, almost went the distance before losing a close grand finals match to Canadian powerhouse Elliot “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce. Spectators in the Pound 2019 venue seemed respectful—well, at least more so than the dude who threw a real-ass crab at Melee champion Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma—but social media exploded with Smash fans happy to see Olimar go down in flames.
“ALLY SAVED ULTIMATE, OLIMAR IS GONE,” exclaimed fellow Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competitor Rasheen “Dark Wizzy” Rose after Myran fell to Ally in the championship match.
“OLIMAR IS TOO STRONG imo,” Smash god and notable Brawl Meta-Knight main Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman echoed.
“I wanna grab Olimar by the helmet and crush his tiny head between my fingers like a piece of bubble wrap,” Canadian player Zak “Irakaz” Rogers quipped the next day.
But why has Olimar been hit with such contempt? Several characters—from Splatoon’s Inkling to Pokémon’s Pichu—have been the subject of serious community discussion since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched last December, but the complaints leveled at Olimar seem much more drastic. Speaking with Kotaku, Pound 2019 runner-up Myran said much of the backlash has to do with the explorer’s jack-of-all-trades ability to excel in just about every facet of competition.
“I think Olimar is an incredibly strong character,” Myran explained via email. “He has very high damage output, explosive KO power, and good ways to keep the opponent out. He’s a character that requires some skills that others don’t, but when you put it together, he can do pretty much anything very well. I think his design is great because there’s a lot of flexibility in how you can play him.”
While many fighting game players find it tempting to downplay their character if they end up being good, Myran was very open about Olimar’s potency, going as far as to openly talk him up as “the strongest character in the game” due to the improvements he received in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. That said, he doesn’t believe that Olimar overpowers the rest of the game’s upper echelon characters, with Super Mario’s Princess Peach, Fire Emblem’s Lucina, and Star Fox’s Wolf O’Donnell chief among them. “If he is the best, it’s not by an insane margin,” Myran added.
Myran earned a lot of attention during Pound 2019 thanks to his ability to “desync” Olimar from his minions. Much like in his original series, the space captain’s combat prowess revolves around his ability to grow and command plant-like creatures known as Pikmin that assist him in battle. By momentarily separating the main character from his helpers, Olimar players like Myran can cover a lot more ground, leading to situations like the one below where he was able to grab and eliminate his opponent with a blue Pikmin despite Olimar being on a completely different platform.
“Most people consider [techniques] like that very situational or useless, but I pull it off often in matches and have integrated it into my play quite well,” Myran said of the Olimar desync. “I like to try and fit it as many little [techniques] and other strategies I can even if they are situational. In bracket, all I need is for it to work once and that scenario will present itself eventually.”
Another prominent Super Smash Bro. Ultimate competitor, Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby, chalked the Pikmin protagonist’s strengths up to completely different factors while speaking with Kotaku, saying that the time Olimar mains spent with him during Super Smash Bros. for Wii U prepared them to take full advantage of the character once he got buffed in the new installment. Additionally, he thinks the frustration opponents feel when facing a strong Olimar player—due, in part, to the character’s excellent ability to return to the stage and also his small stature—makes him well-suited to longer fights and the more intense matches that typically take place at the tail-end of tournaments.
That isn’t to say Olimar doesn’t have flaws. Dabuz explained that the character is easy to camp—that is, whittle down with a hit-and-run, keep-away style—because of his relatively slow speed. Myran echoed that, saying that it’s crucial for opponents of Olimar to learn when and how to attack Pikmin so they can’t be used against you. “It’s all about getting Olimar to over-commit so you can get in, then taking your opening and running with it,” he added. “[Olimar] suffers the most in disadvantage, so being able to push that on him is crucial.”
Smash players are notorious for hating characters that they don’t believe conform to a very narrow idea of how the game should be played. In the past several years, fast, rushdown characters like Fox and Sheik have dominated Melee competition, which has led to a portion of the community seeming to believe that that’s the only way the game should be played, vociferously decrying players and characters that slow things down. This attitude is likely responsible for Hungrybox’s crab encounter at Pound 2019; his Jigglypuff prowess continues to be a sore subject due to her ability to play keep-away. Similar behavior has also been leveled at competitors who use characters that are perceived to be overpowered, like when spectators performed a mass exodus at Evo 2018 upon realizing that two Bayonetta players would be in the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U grand finals. Unfortunately for Olimar players, he checks both of those boxes.
“I fear the Smash community will never learn how to handle having a character they dislike,” Dabuz told me via email. “I think it’s very difficult for anyone to overcome their bias once they have one. In order to enjoy watching Olimar, you have to be able to look at how delicately we handle Pikmin lineups, how we focus on finding the habits of our opponents and destroying them in seconds for a single misplay. I can go from a very slow, methodical, walling style to suddenly one punish into a 80% damage series of pressure, tech chases, combos, strings, into a stock within seconds flat. [Olimar’s] a character that may not look like he’s doing much at first, but when you look closely, you see lots of little intricacies that no other character has.”
Myran had a similar take, writing, “If you don’t like Olimar, that’s perfectly fine… Just take the time to learn about the character and really understand what you say you don’t like about him. I do think there is a problem with the overall push for fast characters. It’s totally fair to like those, but acting like other people can’t enjoy different types of gameplay isn’t good. Imagine how you’d feel if the roles were reversed and you got berated for liking a character like Fox in a wave of slower characters. If you don’t like it after trying to understand it, then don’t watch. Don’t take to Twitter to bash the person playing for their character choice.”
Olimar doesn’t have several championships to his name, but his prominence in high-level competition—thanks mostly to players like Myran and Dabuz, whose skills have helped elevate him to his current status—has already become a sticking point for a very vocal section of the Smash community. It’s impossible to know if he’ll become a more dominant force in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competition or even if he will remain at the consistent level he’s already attained, but it is clear that Olimar mains will have to endure the ire of the scene if they continue to succeed.
For his part, Dabuz has one simple message for folks that might not find his Olimar as exciting to watch as the rushdown characters they adore: “I don’t care to make my play style entertaining, I care about winning first because this is a competition.”
Correction (2:45 pm, 04/25/19): This story originally stated that Olimar has never won a major Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament despite Japanese competitor Shuto “Shuton” Moriya doing just that at Prime Sage earlier this month. We have updated the article to reflect this information.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.