The Super Smash Bros. tournament scene is growing at an exponential rate. With the next highly-anticipated entry in the series mere months away, the unprecedented pro player invitational hosted by Nintendo at this year’s E3, and tournaments like MLG Anaheim hosting a massive 325 entrants, the hype has definitively surpassed its previous plateau. It was only last year that Nintendo attempted to deny the right to stream Melee at EVO. This year they were an official sponsor. To compare that, Melee hadn’t been part of the MLG circuit since 2010, and before that 2006.
All of this happened in only a few weeks and what resulted was a large influx of new and amateur players in the growing scene. Arcades, venues, and even vacant firehouses have filled with strangers hosting and organizing Smash fests and tournament brackets thanks to the outreaching potential of modern tools like Facebook. Maybe your own group of friends has even formed or grown thanks to Smash.
Regardless, it seems everyone now wants in on some of the deeper Smash action. Guides have seemingly popped up everywhere, providing valuable research on the game’s physics and numerous character match-ups – such as EvenMatchupGaming’s three-part video series (part one seen below) and LiquidKen’s two and a half hour video guide to playing Marth. However, no matter how much advice professionals give to novice players, it ultimately comes down to what the player decides to practice the most.
I have been to many tournaments across a wide variety of East coast cities, including Dunellen, Paramus, Red Bank, Glassboro, Vineland, Sewell and Philadelphia. I’ve also visited Somerset, NJ to attend one of the biggest Smash tournaments in the world with 629 entrants for Melee alone; Apex 2014. To make it easier for fresh newbies entering the competitive tournament scene, I have decided to compile an approachable list of essential points to always keep in mind when playing or transitioning to tournament level Smash based on some of my own experiences. If you have already played enough Melee to understand your main character, this guide will also help you become specialized in that character.
The mechanics and tactics I’ll be covering in this article are taken directly from Melee, but the fundamentals I go over can just as easily be applied in Project M for competitive Wii players.
While there is no overnight regiment that will make your friends salty with jealously, actively keeping these following points in mind (and trying to visit as many tournaments as possible) will help you develop habits to play more efficiently and methodically against others.
1) Learn to Watch Your Opponent
New players usually do not spend enough time watching their opponents’ regular movements and habits. Taking a few moments to watch how they maneuver around the stage, the moves they use regularly, and their behavior when off the stage or guarding the edge will make it easier to understand and combat their plans of attack. However, there are also some defensive moves that have almost definitive meanings behind them.
As mentioned in Lucien’s “Reading Comprehension” video tutorial below, when people shield, sidestep, and roll, they are saying something.
“The reason why people shield is because they are afraid of getting hit or because they are waiting to get hit.”
It sounds overly simple, but that’s because it is. Lucien proceeds to mention,
“If someone sidesteps, they are more afraid of grabs.”
This is why “dash dancing,” moving the player back and forth very quickly with the analog stick, is used – in order to make it more difficult to read that player’s next move. Dash dancing can help the player think of a set of combos to perform before they act – and directly counteracts the other player’s ability to predict their moves.
2) Play Every Character
I first heard this advice from DJ Nintendo, a top professional commentator and voice for the East Coast Melee scene, when I attended Apex 2014. He believes that practicing every character allows a player to understand the game more thoroughly, especially when it comes to character match-ups. If at any point a player faces a character they aren’t used to, it can immediately throw them out of their comfort zone.
A crucial part of Melee’s meta game is the overlap of movesets – that is, several moves and sets of moves overlap onto each other. While Mario and Dr. Mario are considered moveset duplicates or “clones” alongside Marth and Roy, Fox and Falco, and Captain Falcon and Ganondorf, Luigi is technically considered only a semi-clone of Mario because of slight nuances. However, playing Dr. Mario, Mario, and Luigi will help any player understand the timing of the movesets and their differences more clearly.
After learning and mastering technical moves with a certain character (commonly referred to as “downloading”), a good practice is to, at random, play with a character you rarely or never choose. It sounds masochistic, but breaking out of your comfort zone character forces you to look more objectively at your losses.
Playing every character – even the ones you despise – will help you understand how a certain character’s moves match against other characters’ and the differences between them. In this match, a Yoshi player named Amsa faces SFAT, a player who is ranked #1 on the NorCal Melee PowerRankings and is recognized as one of the top Melee Fox players in the world. This set highlights that understanding each match-up is just as much important as understanding each character.
3) Make Every Move Count
Every move a character makes in the game comes with its own amount of frames of lag, or delay, after performing it. Slower, heavier characters such as Bowser, Ganondorf, and Samus, have to carefully time the moves they perform, while lighter, faster characters get far more freedom to make several attacks in a short time. However, raw speed and strength will never trump the knowledge of a character’s frame rates regarding hit boxes, lag times, and special intricacies. Hit boxes include frames that can hurt another player while their hurt boxes are open. Lag times refer to the time after an attack is done before another move can be inputted. Special intricacies deserve an entirely different breakdown.
This knowledge ties directly into my first tip when following your opponent. Choosing moves that you know will garner an easy punish will make racking up damage easier, so making quick yet calculated actions of attack during matches is absolutely necessary.
If you want to know the hurt and hit boxes of your main character – let’s say Falco, for example, make it a point to read up on all of his hit/hurt box animations. You can even figure out which moves fit your style of play the best.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that Smash is extremely circumstantial and some moves may not fit the situation. It is up to the player to know the nature of the moves and physics of their character to perform them at the right moment. Even full knowledge of a character will not overpower a player who regularly watches their opponent’s habits and behaviors. You can, however, benefit yourself by learning about the stages you frequently play on and the common traits that are included with every character.
4) Know Your Free Resources
When a character grabs the ledge on any stage, they are given a small quantity of invincibility frames when they are performing their “get up” attack, climbing up normally, or rolling back onto the stage. What many people do not realize is they will still have their invincibility frames for the same amount of time after they have left the ledge. This ties into tip one, and eventually tip five (which discusses the importance of gimping).
Stages can have a huge influence on the character you are playing. For example, Falco players generally despise Fountain of Dreams because of how much space there is off the stage. If Falco is up against Fox, then Fox can perform a shine (Down-B/Reflector Shield) on Falco off the stage to claim an easy stock. Essentially, if your opponent has a very poor recovery move and the stage has a lot of open horizontal space on both sides, exploit that fact. For another example, when Luigi has to resort to his predicable Side-B missile to recover, Falco has the opportunity to shoot his laser to stun him – preventing him from reaching closer to the stage.
On the topic of free resources, have you ever noticed how level 9 CPUs are able to shield so often and even reflect the trajectory of projectiles? This is because during the first two frames of using your shield, an inner shield appears that has the ability to deflect projectiles, as explained here. “Power-shielding” is when a character uses their shield precisely four frames before an attack connects.
All characters have the ability to power-shield and take advantage of the invincibility frames from the ledge, especially when trying to “edge hog“ or gimp other players. A great way to get better at power-shielding is to go into a match with a level 9 CPU Fox or Falco and choose Final Destination as the stage. Get at a far enough distance from them and they will always resort to their lasers to do damage. Use this predictable behavior as a chance to practice the timing necessary to power-shield more often during matches.
Check out this full article on power-shielding for further help.
5) Punish, Gimp, ????, Profit!
Taking advantage of a character’s exploits ties directly into…well, all of the previous points. “Gimping“ is most commonly referred to as taking a stock away from your opponent very quickly – generally at a low damage percent.
Gimping has the ability to act as a coup de grace against any character you face. This includes using multiple aerial attacks, especially back airs, to push players off the stage. This can be followed with a “ramen noodle,” or wave dashing onto the ledge instantly to gain invincibility frames. To take it even further, roll while still on the ledge to maintain invincibility while avoiding your opponent’s recovery move hit box.
Take a look at the full match between Abate (Luigi) and Hax (Captain Falcon) below. There is an amazing gimp by Luigi around 5:25 which is definitely worth checking out.
Understanding the best gimp moves for each character, such as Sheik’s projectile needles, Fox’s Down-B (Shine), and Pikachu’s Up-Aerial, will allow you to not only punish, but possibly even take another player’s stock at a very low percent. Players can “tech” and roll dozens of times and still have a full set of stocks by the end of the match, so the key to keeping yours and taking theirs is to refer back to the oldest and simplest method of winning – push your opponent off the stage.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to stay tuned to GameKoop in the coming weeks for even more helpful, in-depth Smash content. Until then, happy Smashing.