The highly anticipated Joker from Persona 5 has finally been added to the roster of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a platform fighter that’s rapidly reaching Wrestlemania levels of “everybody is here—even, somehow, that guy.” Thankfully, with Joker, Smash Ultimate continues to hit it out of the park with newly designed fighters who continue to be both faithful to their source material and full of surprises.
In Persona 5, Joker is a high schooler who was expelled from his prior school after attempting to stop an assault and instead being blamed for it. Dealing with the trauma from that, he becomes a bit of an outcast at his new school. There, he takes on supernatural powers as part of an alter ego called “Joker” with the help of Arsene, a manifestation of Joker’s internal malevolence. When using these powers, he shifts from a coy, somewhat ambivalent high schooler into the “phantom thief,” a brash and passionate trickster. Persona 5’s vibrant, flashy aesthetic and sexy soundtrack contribute to Joker’s vibrant character, but when he returns to being just a high schooler, life can look pretty drab.
Smash Ultimate’s incarnation of Joker completely reflects this double life. After he fills up his “Rebellion Gauge,” he summons Arsene, who alters his moveset and boosts the strength of his attacks. That meter fills up when Joker takes damage or has fewer stocks than his opponent. It also fills up when Joker uses his down special, the Rebel Guard. It works a little like a counter, absorbing most of the damage done to him.
On his own, Joker is a bit of a joke. While he can move quickly, his tools include a dinky little gun, a small knife, a mediocre energy projectile, and a grappling hook that can grab opponents but is tricky to aim. His smash attacks are all right, and thankfully, his aerials have some good range. Overall, however, he isn’t much of a threat. With Arsene’s help, Joker dramatically transforms into a powerful, maybe overpowered, monster. His “Rebellion Guard” down special turns into an exacting counter that can reflect projectiles and counter melee attacks. His pitiful little grappling hook becomes the Wings of Rebellion, which propel Joker far upward and make him briefly invincible. His energy ball gets a huge damage boost. The Rebellion Gauge decreases over time and as Joker takes damage, and once it depletes, Arsene will leave.
Playing Joker requires lots of quick thinking on how to minimise time spent without Arsene. Because taking damage fills Joker’s Rebellion Gauge, and it can be difficult to properly time his meter-filling Rebellion Guard, players will need to come up with good strategies on how to transform quickly without putting themselves at too much risk. Losing a stock also resets the meter to a set point. That added layer of tactics makes playing Joker, so far, feel immensely satisfying and a little cerebral. Waiting for a powerful transformation at the end of a long meter adds a level of hype recognisable from traditional fighting games.
Even when he’s just an angsty high schooler, Smash Ultimate’s Joker feels as true to form as can be. His movement and animations are impeccable recreations of his Persona 5 incarnation. The role-playing game’s recognisable bold, bright colours appear alongside Joker when certain attacks hit. His victory pose in Smash is the same as his post-battle animation from Persona 5, complete with his catlike friend Morgana. Joker’s final smash attack summons his Phantom Thieves friends, who coordinate an “All-Out Attack”: another feature from Persona 5. All of this generates the feeling that Nintendo rolled out a big red carpet for Joker’s arrival in the game.