Competing in Smash Ultimate: A Primer
Thu 6th Dec 2018 - 9:42pm
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is about to release, and with it an explosion of content, players, and tournaments. This write-up is aimed at anyone interested in getting involved in the competitive scene for Ultimate. I’ll begin with a general overview of how Smash works, then talk about what you need to know if you’re 1) completely new to the Smash scene, 2) have experience with traditional fighters but are new to Smash, or 3) a seasoned Smash player.
A lot of this will be review for more seasoned players, but I’ve dropped in some of my own analysis as well, so I definitely recommend reading all the way through.
Super Smash Bros is the progenitor of the “platform fighter,” a sub-genre of fighting games. Platform fighters are defined by their emphasis on movement and freeform combo system, along with the variety of unique stage layouts that give platform fighters their name.
The goal in smash is to hit your opponent in such a way that they extend past the top, bottom, or sides of the screen into the “blast zone.” As you continue to land hits on your opponent, their % increases and they get sent farther and farther away with each subsequent hit. When their % is high, strong moves will send them flying off into the blast zone, ending the stock. At higher level play, you’ll see top players pressure their opponents into the corner and off-stage, prohibiting their opponents from reclaiming stage control without taking additional % or losing a stock. Some characters have a strong off-stage presence, and can jump off the level to intercept the opponent’s recovery, landing an earlier kill. You can use any tool in your arsenal to achieve the goal of putting your opponent in the blast zone.
BRAND NEW TO THE SMASH SCENE AND WANT TO START COMPETING?
This is the absolute best time to get involved with Smash and start competing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There are more resources out there now than ever before for players who want to improve. Top players are extremely accessible with social media and livestreams. Tournaments are happening everywhere, all the time, at all scales. If you are passionate about smash and want to join an amazing community with a deep history, this is the best time to do it.
I could go on and on about what you can do as a new player to the scene, but here are the two most important pieces of advice:
1. There is no substitute for playing the game.
This especially applies to a new game and to new players. There will be thousands of videos and livestreams in the near future as everyone says their say about the game, but there is no substitute for actually playing. In a game with so many characters, it will be paramount that you become so familiar with each one that all the moves become second-nature to you. You can practice by yourself, play online, and play with people locally. This brings me to my next point.
2. Show up to your local tournaments.
The best part of competitive smash is the community. Local events give you the chance to meet like-minded players who will help you improve. You might even find rivals to help keep you motivated! Many regions have local events every week. I recommend searching “Smash Bros” on your Facebook to find the Group pages for your local scene - that’s where most local events are organized these days. Also, local events are good for all ages. Parents, talk to your local Tournament Organizers to get a sense for the scene. Fun fact, I attended my first tournament when I was 11 years old!
I also recommend searching for Discord channels and watching Smash streamers on Twitch. The smash community is huge, and is about to get larger, so there is a place for everyone.
WHO AM I AND WHY SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO ME?
My name and tag is Rishi, formerly known as “SmashG0D.” I’m primarily a top Melee player, ranked #36 as of the Summer 2018 Global Rankings and ranked #1 in Tri-state. Recently, I placed 7th at Smash Summit 7, 13th at The Big House 8, and 7th at SuperSmashCon 2018. I’ve been competing in Melee for over 13 years, but I’ve competed in every other Smash game as well.
I’m a smash fan and competitor at heart, so I’ve competed at majors in every Smash game. I was formerly ranked top 5 in the Maryland/Virginia region in both Smash for Wii U and Project M and won the 2017 Arcadian event for Smash 64. I’ve also dedicated much of my career to analysis and teaching others how to improve at Smash - if you’re interested, you can check out my personal site where I document my tournament experiences (supersmash.blog) or my other articles on dignitas.gg for in-depth Melee analyses.
Image courtesy of Redbull
COMING FROM A TRADITIONAL FIGHTING GAME?
If you’re familiar with Smash games, feel free to skip this section… but review never hurts.
Many of your skills will transfer over to Smash! The way you condition your opponent with grounded footsies, establish control with pokes, and set up for grabs will all be relevant in Smash. In traditional fighting game fashion, you also cannot pass through your opponents on the ground any longer, like you could in previous Smash games. But there are some skills unique to Smash that you will need to practice if you want to win.
Punish and Defensive Game
The punish game is much less structured than most traditional fighters. Upon getting hit, your opponent has the ability to influence the trajectory that your attack sends them, otherwise known as “Direction Influence,” or DI for short. The distance your opponent gets sent post-hit also depends on their % prior to being hit. There are other factors to consider, such as the defending character’s weight and fall speed. As such, you’ll need to develop a sense of how your moves flow together so that you’re able to innovate while competing - there is no way to map out every punish on every character in every situation.
Conversely, you’ll need to practice how to escape punishes and maximize your survivability after getting hit. The basic principle of DI is holding your control stick in the direction you want to go after being hit. If your opponent goes for a finishing move, you’ll want to DI toward the stage so that you don’t get sent as far, but be wary of opponents who go for a lighter hit first to set up for a stronger hit afterward! In the latter case, you can DI away from your opponent to avoid the finisher. This is known as a “DI mixup” - learning every character’s DI traps will be crucial to surviving as long as possible.
“Offstage” and the Ledge
The ledge is another defining characteristic of Smash Bros. You can hang on the ledges at the end of the stage, jump past the ledge to prevent your opponents from returning to the stage, or even steal the ledge from your opponent (“ledge trumping,” only in Smash Wii U and Smash Ultimate). This brings me to the next key skill for Smashers that you may not have developed in another fighter: recovery.
Every character has at least one additional jump after already airborne, in addition to a selection of recovery moves. Most characters can recover using their Up-Special, but some characters can use Side-Special as well. By pressing your Shield button in the air, you can also perform a directional airdodge to boost yourself in one direction (with invulnerability!). Learning every possible way for your character to mix up recoveries will be key.
Conversely, again, you need to learn how your opponents recover as well so that you can “edgeguard” them - this means you’re intercepting or interrupting their recovery in some way such that they fall or get hit into the blastzone. When your opponent is already offstage, they’re much closer to the blastzones, so reaching this positional advantage already gets you closer to the goal of ending your opponent’s stock.
If your opponent does manage to get back onto the ledge, there are a variety of ways for you to pressure them as they try to get back up. Again, many principles of traditional fighting games will apply here, so long as you learn the various get-up options from the ledge (normal, roll, jump, attack) and character-specific options (such as ledgehop projectiles or counters).
MELEE PLAYER LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW?
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: Ultimate is not Melee. Melee has a unique addictive quality to it that makes most diehard Melee players unlikely to put a great deal of time into other Smash or fighting games. On the other hand, Ultimate provides a new challenge for Melee players who want to try something besides (and not necessarily instead of) Melee.
For me personally, the hallmark of a good platform fighter is movement. Melee players know that wavedashing itself is not what makes Melee such a great game - it’s the variety of movement options that allow you to express yourself through gameplay. I’m happy to say that, given what I have seen so far and played in demos, Ultimate has more movement options than any smash games besides Melee and Project M. This alone is enough to keep me optimistic.
The most notable change to Ultimate from Sm4sh is the ability to cancel your skid animation with any move or turnaround move. This means you can use approaching or retreating tilts in either direction. This means characters with good pokes like Marth’s Dtilt can maintain a stronger presence on the ground, and characters with good backwards-hitting Utilts like Fox and Kirby can approach with their lower-commitment combo starters.
You can actually cancel your skid with a repeated dash input as well, allowing you to effectively have a longer dash-dance range, but with a slightly slower turnaround due to the portion of the skid that cannot be canceled. Note that you can still dashdance normally, but there is an added animation for turning around while still in initial dash.
Directional airdodging also makes its return from Melee, but wavedashing will likely be heavily limited relative to its usage in Melee. Wavelanding will still exist as a movement option, but to my knowledge you cannot slide off platforms using a waveland.
Those aspects of Ultimate are similar to Melee, and with a wider array of characters and some engine differences, there is much to explore for Smashers who love movement like I do. Now onto the differences.
A big one that you’ll notice right away is the difference in ledge mechanics. Recovery has become much easier since Melee, with most characters receiving a significant buff to recovery moves and the ledge being easier to grab (this change has persisted in varying degrees since Brawl). And since sm4sh, edgehogging has been removed and replaced with ledge-trumping. You can grab an occupied ledge, and unless your opponent buffers a get-up option, they will be knocked back off the ledge in an animation that you can punish with a ledgehop aerial.
Although recovery has become easier and ledge hogging no longer exists, you don’t need to respect an opponent on the ledge as much as you would in Melee. Melee ledges grant intangibility that can be converted into invincible actions on stage with a quick enough ledge dash. This is an odd quirk of Melee in which being put on the ledge can actually put you in a favorable position if your opponent gets caught out of place while trying to corner pressure you. In Smash Ultimate, being closer to center will generally remain favorable, especially since re-grabbing the ledge does not renew invincibility like it did in Brawl.
The last change I’ll note is the new parry mechanic. This is brand new to smash games. You can no longer powershield in the traditional sense (shielding right when you get hit reduces shieldstun in previous smash titles) - now, if you release your shield as you are getting attacked, you gain a 14-frame advantage over your opponent. You still can’t reflect projectile like you could in Melee, but I think this is a really interesting new mechanic. In the absence of wavedashing out-of-shield or doing a jump-canceled shine, you still have a way to get rewarded for anticipating or reacting to your opponent’s shield pressure.
I suspect that holding shield at the right moment will be powerful in this game, depending on how punishing shieldstun is. Because grabs can be “tech’d”, you have a counter to both attacks and grabs from a shield-holding position. The inability to cross up shields on the ground is also a buff to shields, as fast characters like Sonic can’t sneak past and Bthrow you offstage anymore.
Everyone is here, including your favorite Melee top tier. Marth, Fox, Sheik, Peach, and Falcon are all solid and straightforward. Falco’s moveset has changed a bit, and Puff’s viability is yet unclear. However, Ice Climbers make a return, desyncs and all (but say goodbye to wobbling). That all being said, let me give a few recommendations on new characters you might be interested in coming from Melee.
Diddy Kong has fast hitboxes, good combo tools, and two projectiles. His Fair extends far forward, and Dtilt is a good combo starter. His signature tool, the banana peel, can be thrown out of shield and will trip opponents, forcing a knockdown scenario that cannot be teched. His flipkick (Side-Special) is a grounded or aerial command dash that ends in either a kick or a command grab. With these tools, he will always be a good character, and has been since his debut in Brawl. I personally found Diddy to be largely uninteresting in sm4sh, but the new dash mechanics will surely spice things up - especially running Dtilt.
Greninja is a character I think Melee players will also enjoy. He has a fast-fall feel to him and is vaguely reminiscent of Melee Sheik. He was largely defined by footstool combos in sm4sh (jumping off your opponent’s head in sm4sh could force resets), but footstools are tech-able in Ultimate, so I expect his combo tree will change a bit. He Water Shuriken is a charge-able projectile, his Up-Special works like Pikachu Quick Attack but with a push/windbox element. His Nair can combo similar to Melee Fox Nair, and his Fair is disjointed. I expect his weight and fall speed will feel familiar to Melee players.
You’ve probably heard a bit about Inkling, especially from Melee players who have had the chance to try the character. Inkling has one of the best-feeling dashdances in the game and pretty standard aerials. Without specials, the character is relatively straightforward to pick up. Once you start combining the specials into your gameplay, however, you’ll unlock Inkling’s full potential. Using her gun, her bomb, and roller, she has three tools to spray the opponents with ink and increase all subsequent damage dealt. She also has to refill her ink when running low by holding shield and special at the same time. Inkling is a good character to start out with for learning new game mechanics with familiar normals and movement.
Lastly, I would recommend you try out Melee mid- and low-tiers that have been revitalized in this iteration of smash. Everyone is here, and everyone has received quality-of-life upgrades, largely thanks to the engine. Low aerial landing lag means Ganondorf is once again a threat, Pichu’s Uair now does more than double the damage it used to, Dr. Mario’s pills have crazy setup potential and his Dair is a spike, and Zelda finally has a moveset that fits her character and is sufficiently powerful, thanks to improved movement, faster specials, and a brand new oki-style Down-Special.
Like I mentioned, if you are a hardcore Melee player, you know as well as I do that it’s impossible to replace Melee. But I’m definitely looking forward to trying new characters in a new smash engine that has finally brought forth some new movement options, and for me that’s what platform fighters are all about.
SM4SH PLAYER READY TO MOVE ON TO NEW CHALLENGES?
Sm4sh and Smash Ultimate look to be quite similar at face value, but I have a feeling the games will look more and more different as the meta develops. This may also be the first time many Sm4sh players learn to play a new smash game, which is its own challenge.
First, let’s make a few notes on terminology, given the new grounded mechanics in Ultimate.
Dash: generally referring to the “initial dash.” This is the burst of movement your character does when smashing the stick left or right on the ground.
Run: this is what occurs when you continue to hold your stick left or right after inputting an initial dash. Note that the animations between initial dash and running are different.
Dash-dancing: this is when you turn around during your initial dash to input another dash in the opposite direction. Initial dash lengths vary by character, so characters with long initial dashes generally are said to have a good dash-dance. In sm4sh, initial dashes were very short so most characters could not dash-dance effectively.
Run-brake / Skid: when you release your stick and stop running, your character will go through an animation where they skid to a stop. The earliest you can activate this animation is at the end of your character’s initial dash, and you can activate it anytime during a run by simply letting go of the stick.
Pivot: stopping your momentum and halting in place with a turnaround input while in initial dash. In Melee, a pivot can be performed at any point during your initial dash. In sm4sh, a pivot can only be performed at the very end of your initial dash (thus the difference in nomenclature: “perfect pivot”). In Smash Ultimate, pivots effectively don’t exist, but you can input smash attacks during your initial dash to create a similar effect.
Keeping all the terminology straight will help you keep track of what is actually happening in the game and convey ideas to other players! For example, the term “pivot” is often incorrectly used in Melee to refer to turnaround actions, and can cause confusion.
As I mentioned earlier, you can cancel your skid animation with any action. You can use an attack, including tilts, or even input another dash in either direction. Effectively, you could have a pseudo-dashdance of any length but with a slightly slower transition between left/right dashing.
I would recommend Sm4sh players try picking up a brand new character in order to avoid falling back into old habits while learning new mechanics. Once you get a strong sense of the new engine, you should start looking for ways to implement the new techniques with your old characters. Transitioning to a new game for the first time can be tricky, especially with so many of the same visual and audio cues. At the end of the day, you just have to put the hours in.
EXCITED TO GET GOING?
Then go play! Unless you’re reading this before the game comes out. In which case, go play your favorite Smash game until Ultimate comes out, I guess!
Once the game released, you’ll find countless online tournaments, in-person local tournaments, streamers, YouTube videos, and even major tournaments where competitors compete from all around the world. Get some of your friends together and go to a tournament. Sign up for online tournaments using smash.gg. Go subscribe to your favorite streamers. There are a million ways to get involved, and everyone is here to help you get started.
Thanks for reading! If you want more of me, check me out at these links: