On December 1, 2021, Nintendo released Smash Ultimate ver. 13.0.1. In doing so, they announced this would be the final character balancing patch. How does this affect competitive play?
Balance Patch Changes
I feel some of the biggest takeaways come from Ike and Cloud's balance patches. As two of the characters I prominently use, I notice Ike got several improvements to damage and KO options. Specifically, Quick Draw deals more damage and can also KO sooner. USmash deals the same damage but its launch power significantly increased. Finally, jab also does more damage and can KO a little sooner at the ledge. In particular regards to the first two, this was especially necessary. No one ever took Ike's USmash seriously and for good reason: it sucked. It was a slow move that was outpaced by many better USmashes in the game including Terry's, Cloud's, Sephiroth's, and Sora's. Who's going to use a slow, laggy, and risky move that doesn't even KO at 90%?
Quick Draw also shakes it up a bit with it already being one of Ike's best neutral tools. Now there's proper punishment to go with its utility. As a character who generally struggles with approaching, this should help him rack up damage much sooner while punishing in neutral.
As for Cloud, he got a single change: Finishing Touch now activates sooner. This alone is a huge deal since he can properly make use out of a move that can KO around 60-70% in neutral. Think of this as how Roy can nail a DTilt tech chase into an FSmash near the ledge. Now Cloud has proper setups into Finishing Touch that will both activate on a read to the opponent as well as keep him fairly safe.
For the top tiers in the game, Min Min received nerfs to multiple moves while Pyra's Side B is no longer as safe to spam. What was considered one of the single best Side Bs in the game due to multiple utilities now has a risk to using it. Throw it out, whiff, get punished. Mythra also received a nerf to her FSmash. While these fighters will still no doubt be great, this will keep them from dominating the competitive meta as perceived by the community over the past year.
Many more fighters got necessary buffs. As such, I recommend reading over them here.
Thoughts on Balancing
As expected within the most recent patch, nothing is perfect. It's all too likely that Ganondorf, Isabelle, and Jigglypuff will still be benched in favor of higher tiers like Roy, Pyra/Mythra, and Sephiroth. However, please note that Smash Ultimate remains the most balanced game in Smash history and one of the most balanced fighting games out there.
As such, without an ultra-dominant and overpowered top tier nor a useless bottom tier, you're free to play who you enjoy and expect strong results based on your practice and discipline. You can check out Smash creator Masahiro Sakurai's philosophy on Smash Ultimate's balance here.
In 2021, it's hard to consider a fighting game to be perfectly balanced. Even more so it won't be without sacrificing enjoyment. It doesn't have to be broken to all hell like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or even purposely broken like Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. However, the touch-ups to Ultimate keep it from going in the direction of Smash 4 where one character dominated the rest.
Even then, a multitude of characters in the top tier below Bayonetta still invalidated the lower parts of the roster. This took away the fun and joy of playing the fighter you like due to losing at the character select screen. For what it's worth, hopefully, Smash Ultimate will have many more years of joy to come thanks to its superb balancing.
If you've become disillusioned with a lower-tier main as of late, check them out again and give them a try. Enjoy the final balance patch to Smash Ultimate!