Which Spacie Should You Play in Smash Ultimate? A Primer by Rishi
Sun 3rd Mar 2019 - 2:46pm
Star Fox is one of the franchises that defines Smash. Without physical combat in the source games, the “space animal” movesets are all original. Signature moves such as the down-B reflector (the “shine”) and the neutral B laser have become synonymous with Smash, and the spacies' ever-potent combo game has kept them relevant in the competitive meta throughout the years. With the ability to rush opponents down with fast attacks, shoot lasers from afar to pressure in neutral, go deep offstage for edgeguards and still make it back with great recoveries, and extend combos with shine, it’s not hard to see why the space animals are some of the most popular characters in Smash history.
A Primer on Spacies
I want to start off by discussing the idea of the “space animal archetype.” Melee Fox and Falco are the most famous versions of the spacies, but they largely owe their notoriety to Melee’s core game engine. Lagless landing on lasers and the ability to jump-cancel shines (into wavedash, which you can execute anytime you jump) give Fox and Falco access to arguably the best projectiles in the game and amazing combo and pressure tools. Without those aspects of Melee’s engine, Fox and Falco’s strengths and weaknesses would be more cleanly defined. They would still have strong rushdown tools, but their projectile game would be reserved just for characters that really have trouble closing space. The way it exists in Melee allows Fox and Falco to wear many hats - Fox, for example, has both the best pressure and one of the best runaway games. If you try to keep Fox’s pressure off you, you risk eating free damage from lagless lasers.
Of course, Fox and Falco’s Melee weight and fall speed make it easy to combo them, and the other top tiers have their own tools to make the matchups manageable and keep Fox and Falco out of their own tier at the very top. But the purpose of this discussion is to get an idea of the intention behind Fox and Falco’s designs, and how the ideas behind their movesets function with changes in core gameplay engines.
The intention to change what Fox and Falco did was clear in Brawl, with a huge number of mechanic changes as well as changes to how the spacie moves functioned. Outside of Meta Knight, aggressive play was largely discouraged by the game’s engine, which hurt Fox quite a bit. Falco lost his shine but gained double-lasers (and his lasers still stun the opponent) on top of a chaingrab on most characters, earning him a spot in the top tier meta as a keep-away character with a heavy punish game off grabs.
Brawl also introduced Wolf. He had a fast Bair, amazing smash attacks, and a beefy laser. He also probably had the most usable shine in Brawl, with its invincibility frames being hugely valuable for dealing with Meta Knight’s tornado. But in a game as defensive as Brawl, Falco’s oppressive lasers and guaranteed punish game made him the clear best spacie in the game, leaving Fox and Wolf in the dust.
In Smash 4, a combination of move reworks and mechanics changes gutted Falco, and Wolf was deleted entirely. Fox, on the other hand, retained his fast moves, laser damage, good recovery, and gained a stronger combo game with footstools and an amazing Utilt. Up to this point, I see this version of Fox as the closest the dev team had gotten to how they want the space animals to play. Fox was more focused on controlling neutral and getting rewarded for hitting his attacks, but didn’t have an overly oppressive projectile or pressure game, and could still be punished hard for making a mistake.
History has shown that it’s hard to make all the spacies bad. Even the original Fox from Smash 64 is still a threat, with his stunning lasers, strong punish game, and trademark fragility. The mechanics of each game has changed how the spacies are balanced - the defensive engine of Brawl rewarded Falco for his laser attributes and chaingrab, Smash 4 rewarded more moderate neutral play, and Melee rewarded… playing aggressively or defensively, basically letting you do whatever you want. In Melee’s case, this worked out great (and lucky) for players and spectators, but a few changes in any direction could have led to a game too heavily dominated by the spacies (contrary to popular perception, most high-level play is not spacie vs spacie, but I digress).
Despite all the moveset and mechanics changes, one thing remains true: Smash players love the space animals, at least one of the spacies turns out to be good in every version of smash, and they have consistently been one of the most fun groups of characters to both play and watch.
The Ultimate Spacies
Now, to the point: Fox, Falco, and the freshly returned Wolf are at their best in Ultimate. Maybe not the highest-tiered versions of themselves, but the devs really hit all three marks with this one. Ultimate’s game engine removed the overly defensive aspects of Brawl and returned some of the more freeing elements of Melee such as attacking out of dash. Edgeguarding has become much more prominent with nerfed defensive and recovery options, and combos are much more freeform than most of the bread-n-butters you would find in Smash 4.
But most importantly, each character’s strengths and weaknesses feel emphasized in a way that is fun to play.
Fox will feel familiar to most people who played him in Smash 4, but he has lost access to his “1-player” footstool combos. His Nair is still an amazing neutral tool out of both short-hop and full-hop, and it confirms into Usmash for kills at high %. His Bair is great for pressuring in the corner. His Utilt combos, his Dtilt pokes and launches for combos, his lasers are still strong, and his Uair is one of the best juggle tools in the game. You don’t auto-cancel landing lasers, so laser usage is limited to punishing opponents who leave too much space open. He commands center-stage and is generally played by applying pressure and racking up damage until you find one of his many kill confirms.
If that isn’t enough, shine-spiking has returned! If you intercept an opponent offstage with your shine, you’ll knock them down and away into the blastzone and still have plenty of time to recover.
Fox is a very well-rounded character with a versatile moveset and solid movement options. You’ll find success with him if you want to focus on using safe moves to control neutral until you pick your spot with a dash attack, tilt, or aggressive Nair.
If you land a dash attack at low %, you can combo into Utilt(s) and possible Uairs. If your opponent blocks your dash attack, you can actually time it so that you cross up their shield and end up on the other side, from where it’s hard for your opponent to challenge Utilts. Once you’ve discouraged your opponent from shielding and try to get them jumping, you can work on placing your Bairs or anti-airing with Utilt and Uair. If they land on a platform, SHUair is an amazing pressure tool that is almost completely safe.
Fox is fast-faller, so you can full-hop and land several times in quick succession, mixing in empty-lands with Nair to keep your opponent guessing. You want to mix in attack with empty-land grabs, and mix in forward, back, and in-place drift so that it’s hard for them to catch your landing.
In the current meta, Wolf is the most popular of the spacies and it’s no surprise. He zones with his amazing hitboxes and has a solid punish tree off both hits and grabs. Although he lacks a bit in edgeguarding, he is amazing on-stage. He has disjoint on Fair, a long-lasting Nair that combos into grab, and laser is possibly the best projectile in the game with its 10% damage and transcendent priority. Once he lands a grab, Uthrow Uair/Fair is a free combo into juggle, or Dthrow into Dash Attack is a big damager into a juggle.
Wolf also has great tech-chase setups and follow-up options. Both Fthrow and Dtilt can set up for a knockdown, and Wolf’s Dsmash can cover multiple or all tech options depending on the position. I also suspect that the tech-chase meta will evolve quite a bit - I’ve started working on some ideas myself, such as using shield release/parry to cover both normal get-up and get-up attack with the same timing into a Dsmash. If I haven’t convinced you yet, then consider that Wizzy has decided to main Wolf.
Wolf can combo into stock-trade at mid %, as both Fair and Nair confirm into sideB based on % and DI, and it’s reactable. Against lighter characters like Peach, you can confirm Dthrow into sideB. The stock trade confirm is very valuable in last-stock scenarios, or in a stock-lead scenario. Finding Fairs at the ledge is also a very common scenario as the move is fast and decently-ranged. Additionally, if they don’t DI for a sideB offstage, you can combo Fair into FHDair to spike them offstage.
Do you still need more reasons to play Wolf? His Bair is a kill move before 100% if you hit the sweetspot, and you can combo into it with Fair. He also has a solid pressure mixup with FHBair and empty-land grab or empty-land Utilt to catch movement out-of-shield (Utilt kills). Ftilt is disjointed and kills at the ledge, Nair is great for ledge-trapping, shine has invincibility frames, and Bthrow kills at high %. Like I said, it’s no surprise that so many players have picked up Wolf. He has a lot of tools, and they just work.
But he doesn’t have everything. If you really value the high mobility and offstage play that draw many players to the spacies, then I would recommend Fox and Falco instead of Wolf. His run-speed is quite slow, his jumps don’t reach too far, and his limited recovery does not allow Wolf to go very far offstage for edgeguards - he’s usually limited to running or jumping off and picking one aerial near the stage before he has to retreat back to the stage. These weaknesses don’t hurt him too badly though - his lack of mobility is balanced by his laser and disjoint, and he doesn’t need to go offstage to kill if you’re consistent with ledgetrapping anyways.
There is some debate over how strong Falco is in Ultimate, but my view is that he is still being underrated. He lacks the neutral control that Fox and Wolf boast, but he has a very consistent punish game, strong moves up close, and easily the best edgeguarding of the three. In fact, he’s one of the best edgeguarders in the game.
You should play Falco if you like to go nuts after finding a hit on an opponent. When they’re offstage, Falco’s Fair is a menace. You can jump off the stage and fall with the move, and if any part of the move hits you will drag your opponent with you until the finishing move kills them off the side. You can also jump off the stage, and double-jump with Fair to cover a different angle. Even as you jump, you can drift toward the blast zone on-hit to drag them even closer to the edge of the screen, and you’ll still have enough resources to recover. It gets even better on stages with a wall - you can wall-jump off the side of the stage and then once again decide to falling Fair or double-jump Fair. Even Dair is a threat offstage, with both its spike hitbox and the weaker sideways trajectory. As long as you’re pushing your opponent either sideways or down, you’re doing your job.
Falco’s jumps also go very, very high. If you get your opponent in the air, you can change them all the way up to the blastzone with his new Uair. If you manage to get a grab you can Uthrow into Uair, and possibly combo further based on DI. The high jump, however, is a double-edged sword. Although it’s great when you are in an advantageous position and juggling your opponent, the height makes it a high-commitment option that you won’t want to throw out in neutral.
Falco’s SHDair auto-cancels, which makes it a decent pressure tool in neutral, as Falco has a good amount of drift control on the move. You can fade in and out while threatening safe Dairs on shield or cross your opponent up and start throwing out Utilt. The Utilt hitbox will scoop opponents up from the ground and is one of Falco’s best combo starters. It will combo into SHUair to more Uairs, or Nair into Fair. There are a lot of options once you actually land the hit, but landing the hit is the challenge.
Falco probably has the worst lasers and worst shine of the three spacies, so you’ll be more focused on catching your opponent in bad positions and punishing heavily. If you’re patient in neutral and don’t overcommit if you aren’t guaranteed a hit, Falco’s jump is a great escape option to reset scenarios until you find the hit you want.
So Which Spacie Should You Play?
It depends on what you find fun and what skills you want to focus on developing. If you want to be able to punish very hard and go deep offstage or chase your opponent to the top of the blastzone, you should play Falco - but keep in mind that there will be a learning curve for neutral, given his lack of oppressive tools. If you want to zone with aerials and assert your dominance on-stage with consistent combos, then pick Wolf so long as you’re able to control your space and ledgetrap. If you want to pressure your opponent with safe moves, then Fox is your character so long as you become adept at timing and drift mixups.
I think you can pick any spacie, or any combination of them, and be confident that you can win. It’s still early in the meta so it’s hard to say if any of them have polarizing bad matchups, but as opponents develop their spacie matchups, spacies will develop their counterplay. Some say that Pikachu and Pichu are awful matchups for the spacies with their strong punishes, evasion, and edgeguards, but perhaps that will change. I suspect spacies will develop stronger defensive gameplans in those matchups over time.
Balance aside, I’m very happy with the design philosophy behind the spacies in Ultimate. It was a fun exercise to track how they changed throughout each smash game, and I think they ended up in a great spot for Ultimate. I think we’ll be seeing all three of the spacies in the meta, which means we’re in for some flashy gameplay, especially as players improve their punishes. Hope this write-up was a helpful breakdown, and thanks as always for reading!
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