Slaying the Peasants - Various Strategies for Beating Mid and Low-Tier Characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee
Sun 23rd Jun 2019 - 12:07pm
An Introduction to not so Great Characters
In Melee, the vast majority of players, top players especially, play top tiers. For this article, we will define the top tiers in Melee as Fox, Falco, Marth, Jigglypuff, Sheik, Peach, and Captain Falcon. Although these characters are widely considered the best, that does not mean the rest of the cast can’t be dangerous.
The goal of this article will be to go over why and how the top tiers can abuse matchups against lower tiers characters. You will learn what is best to do against these characters on a general level and, more importantly, you will learn strategies that help you avoid what what not to do. In fact, my motto against low and mid-tier characters in Melee has always been it’s 10 percent about what you do and 90 percent about what you don’t do. Most low tiers and mid-tiers especially have the ability to do a large amount of damage to a lot of the top tiers but, a lot of the time, this relies on gimmicky openings and by knowing what not to do, you can easily get around them.
Now for the breakdown of the rest of this article. I will be going over the four mid-tiers that are played at the very top level the most. One at a time, I will cover general weakness each of these characters has and how to abuse those weaknesses. Those characters are Ice Climbers, Samus, Pikachu, Yoshi. Then, finally, I will cover a general weakness that many of the low-tier characters have and how to abuse it.
Before we move on though, it’s important to note that even though many of the strategies presented this article will be very powerful and can help you be more successful in more matchups, that does not mean that your opponent can’t make reads and that you won’t just be outplayed sometimes. With that said though, let’s slay some not-so-great characters.
Beating Ice Climbers
Before I discuss the Ice Climbers, it’s important to note that based on the color being played the human controlled character will change between Popo and Nana, but for simplicity, I will refer to the main Ice Climber as Popo and the secondary climber as Nana. In addition, I will solely be discussing the weaknesses of the Climbers as dual Climbers and not the weaknesses of Popo by himself.
The Ice Climbers are one of the most unique characters in Melee. The addition of a controllable CPU based whether that CPU is close enough to the main Climber you control in Popo allows for unique neutral setups with using desyncs, super high damaging moves, and super powerful punishes off of grab including an infinite known as wobbling.
There are, however, still some extremely abusable parts about Ice Climbers and despite the strengths listed previously, Ice Climbers still aren’t considered one of the best characters.
Now, there are two huge weaknesses of the Ice Climbers. The first is the fact that a vast majority of their movement relies on wavedashing, and the other weakness is the Ice Climbers inability to contest certain spaces due to where their moves hit.
Ice Climbers are a character with what is honestly not a super-bad dash dance, but the need to often keep Nana close to you and the fact that the Ice Climbers wavedash reaches so much farther forward then their dash leads to it often being necessary for them to commit to wavedashing in order to move forward. While their wavedash is one of the best in the game, it’s still a wavedash, and all wavedashes have a consistent weakness. The big weakness here stems from the facts that all wavedashes have a certain amount of lag, 13 frames of lag for the Ice Climbers, and the fact that moving forward with wavedashing often leads to you moving a much further minimum distance than you would have to with dashing. A common way of abusing this weakness is to intercept the space where you are currently at by using a strong zoning tool. One character who is especially at zoning out the Ice Climber’s wavedash is Marth. Marth’s jump back short-hop forward-aerial allows him to easily protect himself from Ice Climbers attacking out of their wavedash and on shield spaced forward-aerial is very often impossible to punish by the Ice Climbers.
Next, let's move on to what I consider the biggest weakness of the Ice Climbers, and that is their inability to contest spaces diagonally in front of them. Ice Climbers’ quick smash attacks and disjointed up-air allow them to easily threaten directly horizontal and vertical spaces. The only real way for the Ice Climbers to contest spaces diagonally above and in front of them when the opposing character is past a certain point vertically is to use their forward-aerial. This move comes out super slowly on frame 19 and can be easily interrupted before it comes out. Many of the top tiers can stay on the side platform to abuse this weakness. A character like Fox is especially good at this due to his runoff shine coming in at a diagonal angle and easily separating the Ice Climbers. Now, a character who’s especially good at abusing this weakness regardless of the situation is Peach, whose float allows her to stay at spaces above and in front of the Ice Climbers for prolonged periods of time.
Samus is a character with some ridiculously powerful tools and a matchup spread that allows her to do fairly well against some of the most important characters in Fox and Falco. Despite these strengths, there are critical reasons that Samus is not considered a top tier. An important reason for this is that Samus has some very glaring weaknesses which lead to characters like Captain Falcon, Jigglypuff, and Sheik, making it incredibly difficult or Samus to succeed.
Now, what are those weaknesses I was referring to? For this article, I’m going to discuss what I believe to be the two most significant weaknesses of Samus which are the ability of other characters to use shield against her and her slow jump speed making it very reliable to camp her vertically.
In many ways, Samus has some of the best options to deal with people shielding. Her forward spaced forward-tilt is relatively safe against most characters on shield. She has two aerials that are plus on block in neutral-aerial and down-aerial. Then, finally, missiles on shield are often incredibly safe, especially with the use of short-hop fast fall missiles. With all that said, there is still one huge problem when Samus has to deal with shielding, and that’s the fact that Samus has a rather slow grab, which means her ability to get openings off of her pressure is very limited. Many characters can abuse approaching with shield, and by being aware of what moves are safe on shield depending on the spacings and move choice, you can consistently reset situations when you won’t be able to get openings and then you can get very meaningful openings when Samus does an unsafe move on shield. Characters with quick dashes are very good at abusing this because they can get close quickly with running shield, which can quickly put pressure on Samus to attack. One character that comes to mind who is especially good at abusing running shield is Fox. Fox’s quick dash can allow him to get closer with running shield and then reset until Samus does an unsafe move on your shield, which can allow Fox to get an out of shield punish like wavedash out of shield shine.
The next significant weakness of Samus is the fact that she very much struggles to chase characters who are vertically camping her. There are two big reasons for this weakness. The first is the fact that Samus is one of the floatiest characters in the game, making her jump relatively slow. The second reason is that Samus doesn’t have a great aerial move for challenging people camping directly above her. Forward-aerial can call out people above and in front of her, but characters being far enough directly above Samus leaves Samus limited to up-aerial and up-special in order to get a direct opening. Up aerial isn’t super reliable for getting openings, especially against the floatier characters, and while up-special can lead to knockdowns against some characters, it can also easily be avoided and leaves Samus in a relatively helpless state. By playing with a strategy that heavily involves moving to those vertical spaces that Samus has trouble contesting, you can constantly stay safe from any sort of meaningful opening. One character who is especially good at abusing this strategy is Jigglypuff. Jigglypuff’s five aerial jumps, incredible aerial drift, and huge back-aerial allow her to continually stay outside of spaces Samus can meaningfully punish while poking to add on damage.
In many ways, Pikachu is one of the more normal mid-tier characters. Pikachu’s has a good dash dance game, good aerial drift, and some quick pokes with down-tilt. These tools, along with the fact that Pikachu’s moves are relatively stubby, lead to Pikachu often being forced to play a relatively honest neutral game. That being said Pikachu still has some very powerful setups into a very strong kill move in up-smash and some of the most dangerous gimp setups in the game if you play into them.
These setups, along with Pikachu’s quick movement and incredible recovery, can make him extremely difficult to deal with.
Despite these strengths, Pikachu does have some very abusable weaknesses. One huge weakness is the fact that Pikachu directly approaching into you with a move of some sort is very easy to beat out for most characters. Then, another significant weakness is Pikachu’s inability to deal with characters playing at a farther distance and abusing crouch cancel.
Pikachu has a very limited amount of direct approaches with the most common one being his overshoot short-hop neutral-aerial. Other approaches include Pikachu using running grab and running forward-tilt. The problem with all of these approaches is that they can all be easily beaten out. By playing at Pikachu’s threat range, you can put out moves where you’ve set up in order to continually beat Pikachu out. Fox is a character who is exceptionally good at using this strategy due to his short-hop down-aerial easily beating out Pikachu’s approaches and leading into grab or shine.
Next up, we have a weakness that is definitely much less exploited by most players against Pikachu but can still be used to great effect. Pikachu very much struggles to deal with crouch canceling. Many of the moves Pikachu will be using consistently in neutral such as down-tilt and neutral-aerial can be crouch canceled until relatively high percents. By playing at farther away ranges, you can often force Pikachu to commit to overshoot approaches which can almost all be easily crouch canceled. One character who is especially good at abusing this strategy is Sheik. By playing at a range where Pikachu is often forced to use neutral aerial to get a direct opening, Sheik can easily get crouch cancel grabs which can lead into huge amounts of damage.
Besides the Ice Climbers, I would argue that Yoshi is the most unique character in Melee. Yoshi is the only character who can’t jump out of his shield, the only character with armor on his double jump, the only character who can never be shield poked, and the only character who does not suffer shield stun. Not jumping out of shield is definitely a big problem, but thanks to the use of shield dropping and a technique known as parrying, Yoshi has one of the strongest defensive games in Melee.
This defense, paired with a ridiculously strong punish game, can make Yoshi a very dangerous character. With this, all in mind though Yoshi’s big weaknesses are still very exploitable.
Yoshi’s most significant weakness in neutral is often his inability to deal with multi-hit moves that can be used to zone him out. Due to the way parrying works and the fact that Yoshi’s standing grab is frame 18, Yoshi struggles greatly to deal with multi-hit moves hitting his shield and even in general. By staying away from the platforms and covering spaces that Yoshi can threaten by using multi-hit moves you can make it very difficult for Yoshi to get any meaningful openings. Two characters, in particular, come to mind, who are great at abusing this strategy. The first character is Fox. Fox’s in place short-hop down-aerial can be used to zone out Yoshi’s direct attacking approaches and is completely safe on Yoshi trying to take stage with shield or crouch.
The second character is Peach. By floating at certain heights and covering herself with down-aerial, Peach can continually poke at Yoshi to rack up damage and potentially get bigger openings while staying completely safe from any punishes out of shield.
Exploiting a Common Weakness of Many Low-Tiers
In Melee, the low-tier characters are very much not viable characters at the top level, and for many of these characters, a big problem they have is an inability to effectively get to their threat range. Characters like Ganondorf, Bowser, Zelda, and Ness both lack effective projectiles and are too slow to get to their threat range without many characters being able to create more space on reaction. One character who is especially good at abusing farther ranges against these types of characters is Falco. Falco can stay at far distances and abuse his lasers in order to force approaches and easily avoid them to create whiff punish opportunities.
Although I have explained many strategies to abuse against various mid and low tier characters, I hope it has become clear that many of these characters have very dangerous strengths and that you can’t just do whatever you want to run over them. Remember to stick to your game plans, and especially remember that against these characters, it’s so much more about what you don’t do than what you do.
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