Top Tier History: Peach

Peach may look like a helpless princess, but she’s a force to reckon with in Super Smash Bros. Melee. A mainstay of competitive play, Peach is one of the most consistently high-placing, played and influential characters in Melee’s metagame.

Although she may not be technically “top tier” by the current Melee tier list, today’s smashers view the character as synonymous to Armada: the world’s unquestionably best Melee player of all-time. However, Peach’s success and impact was present even before Armada.

Downsmashers (late 2001 to mid 2004):
Notable players: Mike G, KrazyJones, Azen, Eric, Vidjogamer

Peach’s downsmash is possibly her most recognizable move in the game. You don’t have to be an expert to know that when used correctly, it can work as a combo starter, “get off me” defensive tool and combo finisher. In one of the oldest guides for Peach available online, a GameFAQs player called “SPACE CATS SOIREE” wrote the following about Peach’s downsmash:

Spinning cyclone attack. Very useful to clear out foes if you are
ambushed. Also good if you and your opponent roll around a lot. This is also
one of her strongest moves and should be used often.

His description of downsmash is pretty much spot on for 2002. Because strong hitboxes, range and knockback were prioritized over movement back then, Peach’s downsmash gave her a tool to already compete with anyone else she faced.

Moreover, because crossup moves on shield were seen as a counter to a popular strategy of shield grabbing, Peach’s dash attack gave her yet another effective attack. When combined with the strength of her aerials and range of her projectiles, Peach was a character that had intuitive spacing and combos. Her float also gave her one of the game’s best recoveries, as well as made her difficult to hit without her getting away or suffering a trade.

After initially being placed at ninth on Melee’s October 2002 tier list, she eventually moved up to fourth on the next one in December. Characters like Sheik, Fox and Marth were almost always seen as superior throughout Melee’s history, but Peach’s success and solid matchup spread gave her a wealth of advantages over other characters, like the Ice Climbers and arguably even Falco.

Within the modern competitive era of Melee (post-Game Over in early 2004), Peach’s first notable finish at a major from her main came from Deadly Alliance’s Mike G, who is often considered one of the character’s forefathers. He finished second at MLG Atlanta 2004, higher than Chillin, who defeated Ken earlier that year, and just under the East Coast’s best in Azen.

Around June 2004 came Smash 4 Cash – a New York Melee tournament that featured some of MDVA’s best, DA and the Fall River crew from Massachusetts. Here, a player named KrazyJones, from New England, upset the DA captain Wes, who had practice against Mike G. Though KrazyJones ended up placing fourth, Mike G placed second, just under Isai.

Two months later, Peach was shown as a character capable of beating even the best player in the world, with Washington’s Sastopher defeating Ken’s Marth in winners at Tournament Go 6. Keep in mind that at this point, Marth was seen as Peach’s most difficult matchup. For a modern comparison, this victory would be like if Trifasia suddenly defeated Hungrybox before top eight at EVO.

Royal Treatment (Mid 2004 to Late 2007):
Notable players: Cort, PC Chris, Sastopher, Mike G, Vidjogamer, Kei, Wife, Kupo, Mikael, Mikey Lenetia

Unlike other top tier characters of the time who had one or two clear contenders for best representatives, Peach was different. During the MLG era, nearly every region had a Peach that played differently, was among the best players of their contemporaries and were close in skill level.

For instance, take Wife, who was considered around a top 20 player at the time, but consistently attended MLG tournaments enough to finish in the top ten for points. At the time, he was known for his immense prowess in the Marth matchup, notably almost defeating Ken at MLG Atlanta 2005.

If Wife’s moderate success wasn’t enough, the international success of East Australia’s Kupo and East Japan’s Mikael gave another perspective to view Peach’s character growth through. These players were dominant in their respect regions, rarely losing and also giving the character its first bit of notable representation outside of the United States. Mikael was especially one of Armada’s biggest motivations for improving his game.

Another underrated contributor to the Peach metagame is Australia’s Quetzlcoatl, who frequently posted on Smashboards and gave advice to newer Peach players. In July 2006, Quetzlcoatl posted one of the most notable and still-useful resources for smashers in his extensive turnip guide.

This set the bar for what would later become standard Peach techniques, including using them as edgeguards, Z-dropping, etc. When you take into account Peach players also now adjusting their float heights, going off-stage to edgeguard opponents and also using turnips more effectively, Peach now had a new level of technicality, in sharp contrast to her previously simplistic playstyle.

Also helping Peach’s success was how she was perceived on her counterpick stages. Today, stages like Dreamland and Fountain of Dreams are seen as favorable Peach picks, but back in the MLG era, she also had Brinstar, Mute City and Kongo Jungle 64. These were seen as great counterpicks against space animals and places with large ceilings, which prevented opponents from getting easy KOs and also made her frustrating to play against.

The Armada Mob (Early 2008 to early 2014):
Notable players: Armada, Cort, Vwins, Pink Shinobi, VanZ, DoH, Hanky Panky, MacD, Bladewise

I’ll try not to go into too much detail, but chances are that you’re already familiar with Melee’s greatest player ever. When word started getting out about his skill and dominance in Europe, reception was mostly skeptical in the United States, as Europe lacked significant representation (outside of Amsah) within the Melee scene.

Back then, several smashers argued that his combos only worked on opponents who couldn’t DI or didn’t know how to fight Peach. Given the massive amount of notable Peach players in the United States, it wasn’t unreasonable to think Armada was talented, but you would have been crazy to predict his success translating seamlessly as it did to the top-level.

Think about how young Armada was at the time. Could you imagine that a teenager from Sweden, with no experience playing in the United States, could come there and beat all of the world’s established players in one fell swoop? Peach wasn’t anywhere close to being a bad character, but Armada brought a level of meticulous positioning, destructive punishes and mental grit that no other Peach before had ever had.

With most characters, several players contributed equal amounts to their technical development and tournament results, like Ken and Mew2King with Marth and PC Chris and Leffen with Fox. Yet with Peach, it was more like a group of players each contributed to the rise of a person who far surpassed his contemporaries.

A top eight performance at a major wasn’t initially unthinkable for Peach, but beating DaShizWiz, Mew2King and Mango en route to a second place at GENESIS was the most significant tournament run for the character in years. If you’ve followed Melee for any period of time and know anything about its competitive history, you know that this was just the beginning for Armada.

It would be unfair to claim that he was the only Peach of note – or that there were no other good Peach players. DoH and Smiles were notable powershielders with aggressive play styles, while people like Vwins, VanZ and Pink Shinobi were more defensive and able to swing of Peach’s more traditionally tricky matchups (like Ganondorf) swing more in her favor. Often, it’s easy to “Armada-wash” Peach’s history, as these players and the Peaches before them played a crucial role in advancing her as a character. For reference, I had Cort as my No. 3 player of 2008, based on results.

But while it’s not true that Armada’s success somehow invalidated them, he was clearly different. For smashers back then, Armada looked like he had actually solved Peach, since he was winning matchups that many thought were at least her soft counters (Fox, Marth, Sheik, etc).

Any Peach main could tell you something different that Armada does from other Peaches, but in a nutshell he’s faster and more responsive. His success in the post-Brawl era, where shield pressure was becoming more advanced, was also partially due to out of shield game, which was years ahead of its time in terms of application and how he’d quickly flip losing situations into ones where he could turn the table on his opponent.

Armada’s success with Peach gave a strange conundrum with how she was considered. While he had wins over nearly everyone in America with Peach, only one player looked like the natural Armada and Peach counter: Hungrybox, who dominantly 6-0’d him at Apex 2010. Peach was clearly good, but not exactly carrying him.

When Armada successfully brought out Young Link to counter Jigglypuff, it proved two things: that Armada was just that good and that Peach could still be countered. Outside of maybe Pikachu with Axe and Yoshi with aMSa, I would argue that Armada is the only all-time great whose character is primarily associated with him, rather than vice versa.

Yet even when Armada first retired, Peach still had strong representatives. MacD, a Southern California Peach player who broke out at Revival of Melee (3) when he defeated Hax, was known for both his teams excellence and for his expertise against Fox and Falco. Washington’s Bladewise, who ruled his region with Silent Wolf continued to be one of the premier Peach players in the world, having also taken a set from Mango in 2012.

Top Tier? (Mid 2014 to now):
Notable players: Armada, MacD, Bladewise, Trifasia, Mafia, Azusa, CDK, Llod and Kalamazhu

Judging by representation, it’s hard to deny Peach’s place in the current meta. Almost every region has its own top-level Peach, with a claim to be right under Armada as part of the next tier of skill.

Trifasia and Vanity Angel in particular are not exactly identical to Armada, but as European Peach mains, they still show a great deal of inspiration from his punish-heavy and deliberate play style. New England’s Mafia has a reputation as a rushdown Peach, but is well balanced in his skill set, having taken sets off Jigglypuff players Darc and s0ft: a matchup that Armada claimed was the most lopsided among top tier characters (though it’s still debated today).

MDVA has Llod, who Smash G0D – a man who took Armada to last stock, last game at EVO 2016 – called the best Peach against Marth in the world. NorCal’s two Peach players: Kalamazhu and Azusa also are underrated, with Kalamazhu notably making a legendary ninth place run at The Big House 4: the third of the tournament series’ notable Peach runs (VanZ at TBH and Hanky Panky at TBH2).

In practice, Peach seems to be doing just fine, but her sixth place ranking on the current NTSC tier list shows a character that’s still not quite respected enough to be technically considered “top tier.”

However, her matchups among the top tiers are concerning for her long-term goals. Though Peach-Falco is intensely debated to this day (with even Armada claiming that Falco slightly wins), in theory, she still struggles against Fox, Marth, Sheik, Jigglypuff, and Captain Falcon. Against Leffen in particular, Armada’s Peach was so thoroughly dismantled during his return from his initial retirement that now Armada opts to ditto him. This was years after dominating Leffen in their head to head.

So is Peach top tier or not? The truth is more ambiguous than a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s important to consider that Armada’s Peach to this day is the most terrifying player/character combination in the world, but if he runs into Leffen or Hungrybox (maybe healthy PPMD), he almost assuredly would have played Fox instead. Winning GENESIS 4 attests to both Armada’s skill, Peach’s ability as a character, but also her need for a bit of bracket luck in today’s metagame.

Regardless of whether you view her as top tier, high tier or just hate her, you have to admit that Peach’s impact on Melee’s history has been pretty sweet.

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