Melee Rewind: Fighting Puff Like PPMD
Mon 12th Mar 2018 - 7:32pm
Our current era of Melee is one where Falco seems to be floundering to maintain his position at the top of the tier list. And with Hungrybox dominating the current metagame, Falco mains are reminded of the “even” Falco vs. Jigglypuff match-up in which so many of them are unable to find success. When faced with an extremely high level Puff, many Falco players may find it easier to simply switch to a secondary Fox. Of course, other Falco mains can generally make do in the match-up against mid to low level Puffs, so long as they are not facing Hungrybox.
However, when seeing the lopsided results which Hungrybox has created in this match-up, I am reminded of the player who, in his prime, was fully capable of conquering Hungrybox’s Puff as Falco: PPMD. Though the height of his play is somewhat removed from our current time, PPMD portrayed a unique and innovative approach to the match-up which I believe we can learn from even now. So for this article, I will discuss the unique ways in which PPMD tackled the Puff match-up, specifically against Hungrybox, and hopefully provide some insight as to how the Falcos of today can improve their play against this character.
From the sets I looked at, the key factor which seemed to separate PPMD from other top Falcos in this match-up was his patient, laser-heavy neutral game. PPMD maintained constant up-and-down movement so that he could place lasers throughout much of Puff’s aerial space. With such a dominant control over the air, PPMD could stuff many of Puff’s aerial approaches, forcing her to resort to inferior, often punishable, grounded approach attempts. On a stage with platforms, Battlefield in particular, PPMD could dominate the aerial space even more effectively through his rapid platform movement and ability to play keep-away from Puff; in doing so, PPMD displayed a seemingly paradoxical ability to play fast and patient at the same time.
In the neutral, PPMD often threw out back-airs just outside of Puff’s range, keeping an active hitbox to punish Puff’s attempts to approach him while maintaining a safe enough distance to keep himself from getting punished. He also made decent use of neutral-air and down-air in these scenarios, although back-air generally proved to be the safer pick, with the former two moves being more commonly seen in punish scenarios. When setting up his own approaches, PPMD was precise and meticulous; his most effective approaches emerged from one of two scenarios. In the first, PPMD set up a laser to follow behind, stunning Jigglypuff, and giving himself a free opening to land an aerial. In the other, he dash danced near Puff until an easy opportunity to attack presented itself. In general, PPMD rarely forced an approach, being content to play his patient neutral until the approach opportunity effectively came to him.
Racking Up Damage:
As a character that is generally hard to combo, Jigglypuff can be a tough character for Falco to efficiently build percent against. For PPMD, part of this problem was alleviated by his constant use of lasers, tacking on a hefty amount of percent simply by playing a slow and steady neutral. However, do not be deceived; PPMD could combo Puff, perhaps better than any other player. His occasional explosive punishes typically revolved around the use of a few tried and true combo starters such as up tilt, down-air, back-air, shine, and up throw. Typically, combinations of these few attacks made up the crux of PPMD’s punish game. While seemingly simple, it proved effective, while also allowing for a surprisingly diverse mix of combo set-ups and executions.
Aside from these core moves, PPMD also saw occasional success using Falco’s forward-air, a move that has become uncommon in the modern meta. If Falco can land all of the hits, he can rack up a significant amount of percent, often dealing more damage than he could in a more complex combo sequence. And if Falco only lands the first hit, he can quickly drop to the ground, L-cancel, and catch Puff with another aerial before she comes out of hitstun. L-cancelling proved to be an important tactic for PPMD, enabling him to eliminate endlag on his aerials and continue his combos against Puff, resulting in even more up-and-down movement as PPMD executed his punishes.
PPMD also made more use of Falco’s grab than many current Falco mains would in this match-up, employing all of Falco’s throws to varying degrees of success in certain situations. Though he rarely comboed off of any throws other than up throw, PPMD could still use Falco’s other throws to gain positioning and deal decent damage. Notably, he used lasers and shines in order to combo into his grab. As a whole, PPMD showed off Falco’s ability to deal damage against Puff without forcing himself into dangerous situations by going for risky combo strings.
How to Kill:
Upon getting Puff to kill percent, PPMD would commonly use neutral-air and up-air as his kill moves, and he had a few different options for comboing into these attacks. Puff can be comboed out of up throw even at decently high percents (so long as she doesn’t SDI the laser hits), allowing Falco to set up an aerial kill upon getting a grab. Falco can also shine Puff at high percents and follow up to kill with one of the aforementioned aerials; conversely, Falco can shine Puff, double jump, and shine her again, a technique which can kill Puff off the top at decently low percents. PPMD would also follow up Falco’s jab with a neutral-aerial to kill. PPMD’s ability to combo into his aerial kill moves proved his understanding of the Puff match-up and kept him from struggling to get kills.
If PPMD ever found Puff at too high a percent to be comboed into a kill move, down tilt became his go-to kill move, assuming he could catch Puff on the ground. Up tilt is good as a high percent kill move as well, while also acting as an anti-air which can make it difficult for Puff to approach safely at high percents. Forward smash near the ledge was another common kill move for PPMD, whether being used as a read, an edgeguard, or just a raw punish (fun fact: PPMD seemed to exclusively use fully charged forward smash as his Rest punish, one area where current Falcos actually tend to do better than him). While Falco typically prefers killing Puff from the air, PPMD was also well aware of Falco’s grounded kill moves, giving himself a wide array of options for taking Jigglypuff’s stocks.
On top of his solid offense, PPMD employed an effective defensive strategy, the heart of which revolved around respecting Jigglypuff and all of her options. As mentioned previously, PPMD refrained from approaching recklessly, preferring to wait out appropriate opportunities to attack and avoiding unnecessary risks. In general, PPMD did not challenge Puff in any opportunity where his own success would be questionable. Whenever Puff dropped a combo against him, PPMD would opt to wavedash away rather than throwing out a hitbox which could miss and give Puff another opening. If anything, PPMD would shine, as its hitbox is useful for keeping Puff away, making for a solid get-off-me option if Falco wishes to reset the neutral. In addition, PPMD would often choose to let Puff back onstage rather than challenging her at the ledge, understanding the fact that Falco really shouldn’t be relying on edgeguards to kill Puff.
In a sense, PPMD played a humble Falco; though he was quite adept at comboing Puff, he typically opted not to go for flashy combos in tournament, at least not in tight battles where a flub could cost him the lead. Typically, PPMD’s combos didn’t get much riskier than simple down-air strings. If Puff was shielding on a platform above PPMD, he would often choose to wait out her shield rather than going for a questionable read and potentially getting punished out of shield by Puff.
Whenever PPMD was in a tricky situation, he would typically use either shine or spotdodge to save himself from Puff’s combos. He also saw some success using air dodge and roll in these scenarios, although these were more situational and generally less effective. Generally, throwing out an aerial or double jumping to get out of Puff’s combos were options PPMD avoided, since the results could be deadly if Puff could hit him out of his jump. It is worth noting that Falco can jump out of Puff’s combos more safely than many other characters do to his high double jump and quick fall speed. Nevertheless, the option is risky if Puff can read Falco’s landing, and as a result, was viewed as basically a last resort option by PPMD.
In pretty much any match-up, spacing and stage positioning are key factors for success. PPMD’s positioning was unsurprisingly crucial to his defensive game against Puff. Of course, center stage is the safest spot for Falco, although PPMD had a knack for not leaving himself open, allowing him to play near the ledge a bit more safely than others. Ultimately, PPMD’s position on the stage was dependent upon his position in relation to Puff. Most of the time, this resulted in center stage becoming the safest spot for him. However, in situations where he was positioned far away enough from Puff, PPMD was not afraid to take to the sides of the stage in order to shoot lasers, maintain distance, and otherwise keep Puff out with his oppressive neutral. Though such risks were not frequent, they were calculated, as PPMD ensured that his positioning on the stage was always most optimal for his current situation.
PPMD utilized quite a few of Falco’s options as spacing tools against Puff. As previously mentioned, up tilt is a solid anti-air, making it rather effective for keeping Puff out of Falco’s immediate air space. This, along with common neutral tools like laser and back-air, allowed PPMD to stuff many of Puff’s approaches, making it incredibly difficult for Puff to get in and start dealing damage. As a result, the only times when the two characters were in close quarters were opportunities for PPMD to attack.
In addition to properly spacing his own moves, PPMD also knew how to impeccably space around Puff’s moves. PPMD was able to jump just outside of Puff’s range whenever she threw out an attack while staying close enough to go for the punish. Similarly, he knew when he could jump away from Puff’s attacks offstage while still giving himself enough room to safely recover. PPMD also knew never to double jump in neutral unless he was convincingly out of Puff’s range. Even then, this would typically only be done if PPMD had platforms he could wavedash onto, keeping him from being vulnerable after jumping.
While PPMD’s approach to this match-up was not perfect (as evidenced by his suboptimal Rest punishes), he undoubtedly handled Falco vs. Jigglypuff in a manner unlike anything that is seen at the highest level today. Much of this simply has to do with playstyle; many modern Falcos are flashy and aggressive, which puts them in direct opposition to PPMD’s patient, methodical, seemingly optimal approach. Perhaps by implementing some of these tactics from PPMD’s glory days, Falcos may begin to see greater success against Jigglypuff.
Of course, it is hard to predict how the practical application of all this information would play out. Melee has changed a lot in the few years that PPMD has been inactive. While this particular match-up seems to have lain dormant since then, it is unreasonable to expect current Puffs to play exactly as Hungrybox did in the period from 2010-2014. That being the case, this article is not intended to be a definitive guide on how to beat Puff as Falco. Instead, it is an invitation for Falcos to experiment with the techniques which PPMD employed, to synthesize them into their own playstyles, and even to adapt them to match the ever-changing climate that is competitive Melee. Maybe we could see such Falcos begin to make Hungrybox sweat, bringing this match-up back to relevancy at the very top level.
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