Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: How to Play Joker Like a Pro

Joker, the protagonist from Atlus’ Japanese role-playing game Persona 5, is the latest character to enter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s roster. He’s the leader of the Phantom Thieves, a group of high schoolers with the ability to enter people’s minds and steal their hearts. So, how did the team at Nintendo translate his skillset from a turn-based RPG into an arena fighting game? They made him fast and nimble.

Joker is a slower but more powerful version of Sheik. This is great news for Sheik mains as, even after the new 3.0 update, she’s still largely unusable in tournament. While Joker doesn’t have the speed of Sheik, he plays similarly enough to where he can scratch that hyper-fast hyperactive itch.

Is Joker any good?

Early data shows that Joker is a good character in Smash. The speed of his attacks and moves are about on par with the rest of the cast, with a few moves executing a bit faster. He's still not Sheik level quick, but there’s actual damage to back up each attack.

Joker has a weight of 93, which puts him at the lower end of middleweight. That means compared to lightweight characters like Greninja or Zelda, he’ll stand a better chance of not flying off the screen.

So, is Joker worth your time? Most likely, yes. While Joker isn’t immediately being seen by the competitive Smash community as a super top-tier character, many do feel that he’s in the mid-to-high tier, which in Smash Ultimate is good enough to win tournaments. It means that players will need to be properly proficient with his options, and know how to maximise Joker when his persona, Arsene, is out on the field.

And it’s Arsene, Joker’s pocket wild-card, that can make or break this character. As Joker builds up damage, or when he’s behind in damage or stocks, a meter fills. Once that meter is full, Arsene appears, adding extra umph to all of his moves.

Fast Fingers and Fundamentals

Joker isn’t a difficult character to learn, but is so much more effective if you have your fundamentals down. I broke this down in my general tips guide for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. But to recap, to effectively utilize a fast and nimble character like Joker, you'll need to to speed him up as much as possible. That means exacting some fast finger work.

  • Master the short-hop. It’s a quick press of the jump button.
  • Short hop and fast-fall. At the apex of your jump, you hit down on the control stick to bring Joker down to the ground as quickly as possible.
  • Use the c-stick, or right analogue stick, to quickly throw out attacks in the air.

It might be a bit mind boggling to short-hop, mash down on the control stick, and also hit left or right on the c-stick before you land. Your window is really small, but if you master this sequence, you’ll throw out attacks so much faster that your opponent won’t be able to keep up.

Pro Tip: Dash left and right, a lot. This will keep your opponent guessing as you establish neutral control. It’ll also keep your fingers warm and put you in the zone when playing a fast character like Joker.

The fresh prince of back-air

A great way to rack up damage against opponents is to short-hop forward-air (fair). Run towards your opponent, short hop, and press either right or left on the c-stick. Get back on the ground as quickly as you can to short-hop again into another fair. Do this in succession to rack up quick damage. This is where that fast finger-work really comes into play.

While Joker’s fair is good, to really set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd, learn to create openings to use back-airs (bairs) in succession. This can be more tough as you’ll be needed to face away from your opponent. But a quick succession of bairs will do more damage than fairs, which could make-or-break a set.

When to kill?

Like other light and nimble characters, a simple punch won’t be enough to send your opponent to the blast zone. While playing as Joker, you’re likely going to need to fish for a smash attack, which means reading or baiting your opponent. With Arsene out, it’s possible to land a killing blow with a normal attack.

It’s this interplay that can make Joker a wild-card. Matches will lack consistency, as some will have Arsene out when you need him, while others won’t. If you and your opponent are both at last stock and high percentage, and Arsene still isn’t out, you’ll likely be forced to play defensively, which your opponent can exploit. It’s in these situations when nerves can really get to you. And it’s here when patience and clean play can make all the difference.

Pro Tip: Joker’s Smash attacks, even when using them with the c-stick, have a lot of lag. This can be easy for your opponent to read. But down-smash can be handy as it hits both in front of and behind Joker.

Don’t be afraid of jumping off-stage

Joker has excellent recovery. He can throw out a whip with surprisingly long-range to get back on stage. The whip is especially long when directly under the stage. Joker’s up-b changes when Arsene is out. The whip is tucked away for wings. Arsene can launch joker straight upward or at an angle to bring you back on solid ground. The tough part is landing, as there’s a noticeable amount of lag. Your opponent can easily abuse this, waiting for you to get your footing again. So it might be best to try and grab the ledge rather than landing on-stage.

Now, with great recovery comes great recklessness. Because Joker’s recovery is so solid, and considering his speed and agility, it’s a great opportunity to throw yourself off stage to intercept an opponent as they recover. This is really where Joker shines. Joker’s down-air (dair) isn’t the best option to spike an opponent, but when Arsene is out, it becomes lethal.

Pro Tip: Practice teching. Sometimes when you’re off stage, you’ll accidentally be hit by your opponent and will launch into the side of the stage and bounce off to your demise. But there’s a way around this. Even the side of the stage is still considered the stage. Press the L or R button right as you hit the edge to “tech” it. It’ll stop the animation that would have sent you flying and will allow you to recover. But only if you’re fast enough.

The best option is usually to use a fair or bair to push an opponent far enough off-stage so that they can’t recover. When practicing off-stage gameplay, you’ll probably lose a lot of matches in your quest to attack without fear. But it’s the top players that know Smash doesn’t only take place on stage that tend to advance furthest in tournament.

I find that Joker's up-air, a screwdriver like kick, can do a wonderful job of sending opponents packing. But of course, to do an up-air off-stage, you’ll need to get underneath.

Get below your opponent

With fast and nimble characters like Joker, it’s all about bombarding your opponent quickly with as many attacks as possible. You might feel dejected when, after a huge barrage of attacks, it only takes one or two moves from a heavy character like Ganondorf or King Dedede to match the percentage you just doled out. But don’t worry, more damage on you means Arsene will come out more quickly.

Joker’s down-attack is a slide that sends your opponent flying upward. Here, you can do a quick neutral-air (nair) where all you have to do is short-hop and press the A button. This is a great mix-up tool as well. For example, instead of dash-attacking all the time, run towards your opponent and quickly press L or R to shield. This will stop Joker. Then press down on the stick and the A button to use Joker’s down-attack with gusto.

Another way to send your opponent upward is up-tilt. You can tilt your control-stick slightly up and this attack will launch your opponent right above you, plus do a decent bit of damage to boot. You do have to be close and facing your opponent for this attack to properly execute.

If your opponent is above you, jump up and up-air as much as possible. If you land enough consecutive up-airs, eventually it’ll be enough to see a bolt of red lightning and become lights out. Eventually you’ll notice that your opponent will catch on to your up-air shenanigans and air-dodge as they descend back towards solid ground. Try and bait or predict their air-dodges to land a game-ending up-air.

When in a jam, pull out your gun

Joker has a few projectiles. The first is his gun. It slowly shoots out a bullet that can rack up some damage on your opponent. It has no knock-back, so your opponent can run through your barrage if they’d like. But if they do, Joker has the unique ability to do a massive leap right after taking a shot. It takes a bit to get the timing right, but can be a great escape option.

Try it: Press b, then jump right after the animation ends.

Joker’s gun also has some unique properties while in the air. The timing is really weird, but could be useful in certain situations. Try taking a shot in the air and then immediately hold up or down on the control stick. Joker will do some acrobatic moves while sending bullets flying everywhere. It only works in Joker form, and not when Arsene is out.

Other projectiles include Eina, or Joker’s side-b. It sends a projectile out towards your opponent at a downward angle. The angle is really specific, meaning you’ll need to either be really close to your opponent, or get the spacing just right. And of course, it does more damage and has different properties when Arsene is out.

Pro tip: Projectiles are a great way to keep the pressure high when your opponent is off-stage and trying to get back on. Even if you miss, they’ll be forced to change their trajectory, which you can use to your advantage.  

Another move you can use as both a defensive option and as a way to fill up your meter is Rebel’s Guard. This move, executed by pressing down-b, can “reflect” attacks. You’ll take 50% of the damage, but your meter will fill faster.

Bottom line

Joker is one of the most unique characters to enter Smash. He’s easy enough to pick up, but given his tools, there’s a lot of room for creativity. After mastering his speed, take the time to learn his aerial gun tricks. Because landing lag is low after a gun trick, it can easily convert into a tech-chase combo.

Joker has only been out for a few days, and the scene is still learning all of his quirks and tricks. Given his unique toolset and ability to summon Arsen, I can only imagine the insane matchups we’ll see at a tournament level.

Credit: Nintendo

Imad Khan

Imad is currently Senior Google and Internet Culture reporter for CNET, but until recently was News Editor at Tom's Guide. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with the New York Times, the Washington Post, ESPN, Wired and Men's Health Magazine, among others. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.