Amongst the panoply of Super Smash Bros. characters, Captain Olimar is often considered one of the most peculiar figures in the game. The Pikmin star is tricky to use effectively, particularly for beginners. Now, he's developing a new reputation thanks to a ridiculously powerful exploit one player discovered this week.
Before I get into the specifics of Olimar's newfound exploit, let me lay out some basics so it makes more sense. Like any Smash character, Olimar brings many traits from his own series into Nintendo's iconic fighting game. Pikmin is an idiosyncratic real-time strategy game (a rare species on consoles!) that centers around controlling one or more astronauts who solve puzzles and kill bad guys by strategically herding and deploying pikmin—the hopelessly adorable denizens of the planet Olimar and co. somehow keep crash-landing on. He "uses" pikmin in a similar way to how characters in other games summon minions: gathering them around him with a whistle, and then picking them up and chucking them at some problem that needs solving—bricks that need to be carried and assembled into a bridge, bad guys that need to be killed, and so forth. Many of his Smash Bros. abilities therefore involve summoning pikmin with a whistle move and then throwing them at opponents.
It's a unique ability, one that's difficult for newcomers to Smash to appreciate since chucking tiny allies at an opponent doesn't work the same way other, more generic kinds of ranged attacks do. Olimar loyalists and experienced players insist that he can be as much of a powerhouse as any other Smash fighter. But still: the guy isn't a huge presence in tournaments, or even in the Wii U game's online multiplayer.
How does Olimar's exploit change this? Well, the technique that was discovered and revealed to the Smash-playing public this week demonstrates how, under certain conditions, Olimar can essential supercharge his pikmin during a fight, turning them into devastatingly powerful super-pikmin that can instantly kill pretty much any opposing fighter with a single hit.
Lest you're terrified by the thought of unstoppable, overpowered Olimars flooding into Smash's online multiplayer and taking over tournaments: don't panic. The move only works under a very specific set of conditions. It requires custom moves to be enabled—settings that aren't permitted when playing online. While it works in one-v-one matches, it's only consistently effectively when playing in doubles (a two-v-two mode). The discovery has stirred some anxiety in the Smash community, however, because it's arrived just when custom moves are starting to be accepted in tournaments. Many fans therefore worry that the exploit will either scare players away from allowing custom moves in tournaments, or that its discovery will lead to similar revelations in the future.
The exploit was discovered by Trevor Williams, a 24-year-old Smash player who lives in Northern California. He published a video earlier this week identifying the move, which he calls "Persistent Pikmin Power Amplification," or "P3A" for short (he also suggested "PikAmp"), and showing how it can be activated:
He also posted an in-depth analysis explaining the ins and outs of the exploit:
And a demonstration of how it works in doubles—turning a Olimar and Fox team into an unstoppable force:
The reason P3A works best in doubles, Williams explained to me in an email, is that Olimar needs to bounce pikmin off another character with a reflector ability to power them up.
"This tech works by taking advantage of the fact that Order Tackle gives Pikmin two hitboxes when they are whistled to by Olimar," Williams said. "A character with a reflector (like Fox), can reflect the Pikmin as they are called, effectively reflecting them TWICE (once when they are whistled to, and once as they leave the ground.)"
Williams broke it down further:
Fox has two options for this. He can either a.) Have Olimar throw Pikmin onto him, reflect, and have Olimar whistle them back with Order Tackle or b.) Reflect the Pikmin as they are running across the ground. Pikmin reflected by either of these methods (latched or walking), are now powered up and capable of instant killing any character in the game. These stat enhancements will carry over to any move that uses that Pikmin , including all aerials, grabs, pummels, smash attacks, and Pikmin throw.
Another Smash player provided step-by-step instructions for how to use P3A in a post on Smashboards:
Step 1. Throw Pikmin, preferably onto someone, or make sure the reflector is in between you and Pikmin (in this case, make sure they can walk to the reflector).
Step 2. Have player 2 reflect it so the Pikmin touches the reflector by walking by, or latching.
Step 3. Using the Order Tackle custom move, bring the Pikmin back. If they are done at the right timing, you can get almost 100% on your opponent.
Step 4. Note this Pikmin. it is now busted until it dies, is thrown, or used in a smash attack.
So, in other words: P3A works by performing a sort of yo-yo maneuver with Olimar's pikmin. Tossing them out and putting them through some magical blender enabled by another character's reflector turns them into incomparably (and unprecedently) powerful projectiles that can take an opponent from 0 to 100 percent damage in a fraction of a second.
It's not hard to see why Smash players might find an instakill move like this disconcerting. Smash might be a relatively unbalanced fighting game. But it's still a fighting game. Characters need to be roughly equal in terms of the damage they can deal for it to remain competitive and fun. The prospect of suddenly being confronted by a damn near unstoppable insta-kill move would turn a scene like this:
Into a moment of outright panic due to the threat that an unstoppable killing blow would immediately follow:
Even more intimidating is the fact that the pikmin stay that way until they either die or Olimar deactivates them. So while P3A is a neat find, it's also the sort of thing that basically breaks the game whenever it's used.
Advanced tech discoveries are often met with excitement by the Smash community. But P3A has received a cool reception at best so far. Unlike recent finds like, say, a new way to reduce character lag, the Smash community has universally panned Olimar's newfound superpower.
On popular forums like Smashboards, the Smash subreddit, and GameFAQs, fans were in near-unanimous agreement that it's the sort of exploit that should be banned from tournaments, and patched out of the game entirely by Nintendo.
Others worried about what P3A could mean for the nascent potential of custom tournaments:
Or blamed Williams for ruining them at such a critically formative movement:
Williams, for his part, agrees with criticisms of the move. He told me that he thinks it shouldn't be allowed in tournaments, and should probably be removed from the game with a patch. But he stood by making his discovery public, both because he felt it was bound to show up at some point whether or not he was the one who pulled the trigger, and because it's such a rare find.
"These types of tech findings come along so infrequently, and so far this is the only time I've been the first to find something like this!" Williams explained. "It's exciting seeing everyone's reactions to the tech , and I had a lot of fun recording and editing the video footage."
I understand the desire to take full credit for something new you've uncovered. But still: I found Williams' reasoning a tad...puzzling. What's the point of revealing a new ability to a game's community if you know they won't take kindly to it—so much so that it will most likely never end up being used?
"I thought about saving this for a tournament that runs custom doubles," Williams told me, "but I came to the conclusion that this is too strong to be allowed for competitive play in the doubles format. Also, I just thought the concept behind this tech was too good to pass up. I'm pretty sure nothing else in Smash 4 will ever come close to the absurdity of inflicting 999 percent damage in a single blow!"
"Just because it will eventually get patched doesn't get rid of the fact it existed (and I hope Nintendo patches this at a later date)," Williams concluded.
I love the idea of finding a special hidden move in a game, one that's so powerful that it will remain locked away—never to terrorize hapless Smash doubles players. But more generally, P3A's brief moment in the sun this week is an interesting reminder of how Super Smash Bros. works as a game. It's a fighting game that's as popular as it is opaque, thanks in no small part to the secrecy with which Nintendo handles most of its work and the company's relative reticence to change the game with balance updates and patches the way so many other developers do.
Pushing Smash to its limits—testing the game's boundaries, poking around for hidden tricks and unrealized facets of characters or individual moves—is a big part of what many players love about the series. It's a game that evolves over the course of many years as its community continues to learn how to master every conceivable aspect of its gameplay.
Olimar's newfound deadly power is a reminder that not everything players find when they go searching for hidden treasure is a good thing. But at the same time, highlighting oversights or unanticipated problems with a game can be just as valuable as unlocking a new technique for a player's toolset.