Improvement in Smash 4 V – Stages

**If you’re unfamiliar with Smash, this probably isn’t the post for you unless you’re curious. In order to get a full understanding of this, you should be familiar with Smash’s game mechanics and lingo (EX: Forward Air = Fair), specifically the mechanics for Super Smash Bros. Wii U.

Let’s talk about stages.

Stages are tricky. They change how you play, how a match-up can work. Suddenly that low ceiling makes character X more adept at KO’ing from the top, and you panic more when above them. Maybe you get drained as you fire off another Smash attack and your opponent is living to 200%+ thanks to bigger blast zones. Whatever it may be, stages are the most dynamic part of Smash Bros, and one of the most important things to consider while practicing.

When it comes to stages, you’re at the mercy of the TO. They decide to use Halberd? You can’t say no. Delfino? Castle Siege? Tough luck, buddy. They’re gonna be there, and you may have to play on it.

But because of the unique way stage banning works, there are things you can do to practice efficiently (I’m assuming that you know how the stage banning process works. If you don’t, feel free to reach out to me personally or to someone else in the Chicago community. We can all help you with that).

Look at the Counter Pick list. Then look at your MU’s – is there a stage that doesn’t benefit you in any of your MU’s that you just don’t like? You don’t need to practice on it. If you’re going to be banning this stage almost every time and never take anyone there, there is zero reason to practice on it. Don’t waste your time. Likewise, if there’s a character you know you’ll never take a certain character to and always ban a certain stage for, don’t bother practicing that MU on that stage. If you happen to not have a stage that you’ll never play on – you practice every. Single. Stage. (that’s on the legal list of your tournament’s stages, of course).

Move around the stage. Execute a couple moves and look at your positioning. Make sure you practice every MU you think you’ll be playing on the stage, too. Look for spots on the stage where you see a positional advantage and make a note of it. See where your opponent will have the best advantage of your character.

Becoming comfortable with the stages you’ll be playing on will allow you to play better: you’re more comfortable with your character’s spacing there, you know the in’s and out’s of the stage, and you just feel better while playing on it. That can be the difference between a win and a loss sometimes, and it’s something you shouldn’t brush aside.

The bottom line about stages is this: Don’t let it be the stage that’s winning/losing when you’re counter picking/being counter picked.

Just Sayin’.

I – Fundamentals
II – A Different Way to Look at Match Ups
III – Attitude
IV – Friendlies
VI – Preparing for a Tournament
VII – Training Regimens
VIII – Character Loyalty

Check out the BONUS series!

IX – The Plateau
X – Practice Methods I
XI – Practice Methods II
XII – Practice Methods III
XIII – At a Tournament
XIV – Practice Methods BONUS IV
XV – Game Flow

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Improvement in Smash 4 III – Attitude

**If you’re unfamiliar with Smash, this probably isn’t the post for you unless you’re curious. In order to get a full understanding of this, you should be familiar with Smash’s game mechanics and lingo (EX: Forward Air = Fair), specifically the mechanics for Super Smash Bros. Wii U.

You’ve got your tech down. Your movement is crisp. Your spacing? Immaculate. You walk into the tournament venue, ready to take on the world…

and then you find out your first round is against a Mario player.

And you HATE Mario. You just can’t seem to win, no matter who’s using him. The second Mario enters the battlefield, you lose. He Does that stupid grab, Up Tilt combos, Uair combos, Up Smash is ridiculous, he’s such a brain dead character sakjdhenmfdenfrmewtrcnmrcewtUAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does for a lot of you. And to be frank, most players encounter a character like this. But hold up for a second. You’re not losing because Mario’s an incredible character. No, you’re losing because of the limits you’re mentally imposing on yourself.

While I’m of the opinion that you can never be perfect in your fundamentals and tech, once you’ve got a good grasp of those it’s time to move onto the next stage – your mental game. Having mental endurance is absolutely crucial to winning. If you lose your composure, you’ll fall apart, no matter how good you are.

There are a few things I want to address in this post, and they’re all related in one aspect of your mental game – Attitude.

Here’s a definition of attitude I pulled from Google: “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior”.

Now, let’s translate this into Smash terms. Attitude is, basically, how you’re thinking and feeling about a)your level of play in comparison to others, and b)characters in the game. There’s more to it (likes how you think/feel about rules), but these two are the ones most important to improvement.

Let’s start with characters. I want to preface this by saying that your opinion of a character can change very quickly. And it really depends on your opponent’s style. You may beat down campy Luigi’s like it’s just a Tuesday for you, but the second an aggressive Luigi comes along, you’re toast. And suddenly, you’re thinking about Luigi differently. Now those campy Luigi players are suddenly doing better because you know what Luigi can really do to you, and it scares you. You start playing differently, but it’s not to adapt. You’re playing afraid, giving too much respect – that kind of stuff.

You start crying out that your character just can’t beat Luigi. It’s time to pick up someone else, but you start doing worse even if at first you felt better about it. You complain that Luigi is stupid. Why does he have all these tools? It’s unfair!

There are three big problems with this progression – the first one, as I mentioned in my post about MU’s, is that character is taking over the player. You’re placing too much emphasis on the character you’re playing, and not the player. That needs to stop. You may lose to an aggressive player playing Luigi, but those guys you were beating before? There’s no reason they should be beating you overnight just because you got floored by the aggressive one. Recognize who you’re playing, not their avatar.

The second problem here is your emotions. One of the reasons why players get so frustrated with characters like Sheik, Mario, and Luigi are that they have good ways to deal with a lot of different options. And when a Sheik hits you 5 times in a row and you feel like you can’t do anything, it can be hard to shake that feeling away. Being more conscientious of how you’re feeling is something you’ll need to work on.

I want you to think about this the next time you fight a character you despise (especially in friendlies). Why do they frustrate you? Is it a move, a combo, their movement? Do you just hate the character as a character? Is there a possibility it’s the player behind the character that’s frustrating you?

The third thing is that a lot of people have really awful, simple-minded perceptions of characters, and project these onto players. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people complain about the throw combos from Sheik/Luigi/Mario/Ness, and how “anyone” can play these characters. Anyone can play Link, too.

But that’s not what they mean. This happens the most with Mario in Chicago, so I’ll use him. Mario, at least in the Chicago Smash 4 Scene, is considered “brain dead”, and “boring”. Anyone can pick him up and do well in a tournament.

I have never, in my 6 years of playing competitive Smash, seen this happen to an extreme degree. A guy picks up Mario and beats his friends, maybe moves from 17th to 13th? Cool. A guy picks up Mario and suddenly goes from 9th -> Top 3? NEVER.

Here’s the thing… there are exceptions, but look at the highest level of talent: world caliber players. When they pick up a new character, they have to put in the work before they see any substantial results, and if they don’t need to put in work then I can only see them as gifted players. These exceptions only happen with mid and low leveled players. I find those exceptions irrelevant because of that. No one’s aiming to be mid level when they want to win tournaments.

However, this was pretty prevalent in Brawl. Top-level players would switch to MK after losing game 1, and sometimes they’d win. Now, being that MK was actually a dominant character in Brawl and had incredible tools on paper that actually translated in-game, sometimes those pockets (as it was called) would win. It was rare, but I’ve seen it. Never, though, did a pocket MK win a tournament. It just didn’t. The better player usually won anyway, especially as you went farther into a bracket; that’s very much the case in every Smash Bros. iteration, including Wii U.

So back to Mario. He’s brain-dead and boring, and anyone can pick him up and do well. Here’s the thing…that’s wrong. Yup, wrong. Look, I understand – Mario has a straight-forward game plan, but why is it that he’s brain dead and boring and Luigi isn’t? Why isn’t Sheik? What about Sonic? Or Falcon? Falcon is literally Dthrow -> Uair/Nair -> Uair/Nair. Dthrow -> Knee or something along those lines for the KO. They’re try to stomp offstage or knee. I dunno…seems pretty brain-dead to me. I know I could pick him up pretty easily. Same with Luigi. Dthrow combos, Dthrow -> Up B, fireball to control space. Bam. Done. Luigi’s brain-dead and boring, too.

I hope you see where I’m going with this. Every character has an optimal game plan depending on the player and character they’re facing. They have good moves and bad moves. They can all be broken down easily, and they can all be seen as boring and brain-dead in my eyes. But I don’t see it that way. I see a character with tools that a player can uniquely utilize. Will two players use the same tools? Sure, it’s how games like this work, and sometimes they’ll be exactly the same, but more often than not, the utilization is different, and that’s what makes every character interesting. Only when every single player would use the same tool in every situation because it is clearly the best option every. Single. Time…will I find a character to be truly “brain-dead” and “boring”.

And this is how you should see this, too. A character may be simple, but not that simple.

——

Let’s talk about how good you think you are.

You’re undefeated amongst your friends, you’re callin’ kids in the top 10 of your local scene trash. You think your opinions are so insightful. You never think you should be losing.

That’s a bad way to approach your scene, buddy.

Listen, everyone likes a few hot heads, but you best believe it’s not helping you improve. Look, thinking you’re better than everyone is semi-good. You’ve got a lot of confidence in yourself and expect a lot. Buuuut, that’s where the problem starts. When you lose, it hurts. You should NEVER lose to Player X! But you did, and now you’re lookin’ bad because you were talkin’ trash earlier. Ouch.

You start getting mad quickly, and when you don’t live up to these expectations of being better than everyone, you can start disliking the game altogether. You’re only having fun if you’re beating everyone else, and don’t get me wrong – losing isn’t fun in a serious competition. But to get so angry that you want to stop? C’mon, now.

There’s a better way to look at this. Instead of thinking you’re better than someone, just have the confidence that you have the potential to be the best. Yes, you have the potential to be better than even ZeRo, but it takes time to get there. But as long as you believe in that potential, you can use that as a motivator.

Obviously, you have to put in the work, otherwise it’s a false belief, but you can use this confidence to motivate yourself. I go into every set, no matter who I’m playing, thinking I can win. I’ll even acknowledge that it’s gonna be hard, and if you came and talked to me beforehand I’d tell you I have a good shot at losing, but once I sit down to play I’m 100% convinced that I can win. Not that I will, mind you, but that I can.

It seems silly, but thinking you’re going to win really puts pressure on yourself. Just play the best you can and think you can win. if you don’t? You’ll get ’em next time. It sounds silly to utilize the whole “try, try again” mentality, but if you’re actively putting in the work, I think this is the best mindset you can have. Eventually, you’ll get those results. I have twice achieved status as a top 10 player in Chicago, once in Brawl and once in Project M. Twice I have used this mentality to help myself.

Believe me, I was an arrogant kid back when I first started getting good at Brawl. Then I got really angry when I lost and it frustrated me. I had to take a step back and re-evaluate how I was approaching the game, and it all came together after months of hard work after realizing I had to change how I thought about the game.

———————-

So what usually happens with these bad attitudes? Well, the most obvious one is that these players tend to make excuses. Here are some common ones:

– I wasn’t trying
– I was tired/sick/hungry/too hot/too cold, etc…
– Character X is so stupid
– My C-Stick wasn’t working
– Crowd was too distracting
– Couldn’t hear the sound
– Too cramped of a venue
– My hands were cold
– It’s impossible for Character X to beat Character Y
– Move Z is broken
– I SD’d twice

These are all barriers that hold them back. These are the biggest barriers that hold a player from being consistent. These are the biggest barriers that hold a player back from being truly great.

Notice, for just a moment…that these are complaints to hide behind to take away from a player’s victory, and to bolster your bruised ego. You’re using a mid-tier and lose to Sheik. “Sheik’s so busted”. Okay. You knew what you were getting into. “I SD’d”. Okay. Maybe if you were more aware of your positioning you wouldn’t have put yourself in a situation to SD. “Physiological excuses”. Bruh. Really? Part of being good is taking care of yourself. It’s on you that you lost, still.

This mentality that players…I dunno, aren’t important? It’s ridiculous. You’re fighting another person. They’re sitting right next to you. Why doesn’t anyone ever complain about a player when it comes tournament time? Why don’t they just admit that another player is puttin’ in work and it’s paying off when they get beaten by said player? I don’t understand.

These are all things you can work on, but what I really want to stress before this ends is that there’s an intrinsic belief that character > player. I’ve been talking about this since my first blog post, and for good reason. Once you realize that it’s the player, not the character, that’s truly important, I guarantee your mindset will only improve.

Well, except for being arrogant. But we’ll let that slide.

Just Sayin’

Link to the Chicago Smash 4 Facebook group: Clicky

Check out my other posts on improving in Super Smash Bros. Wii U!

I – Fundamentals
II – A Different Way to Look at Match Ups
IV – Friendlies
V -Stages
VI – Preparing for a Tournament
VII – Training Regimens
VIII – Character Loyalty

Check out the BONUS series!

IX – The Plateau
X – Practice Methods I
XI – Practice Methods II
XII – Practice Methods III
XIII – At a Tournament
XIV – Practice Methods BONUS IV
XV – Game Flow

REVIEW: Pictobits

Every month, Club Nintendo releases a set of games that are available on the Wii Shop Channel or the 3DS e-Shop as rewards for coins. These are usually priced at 150 coins, and, like with Super Mario Kart, some of them are absolute gems. Pictobits is one of those gems.

Atmosphere (Music/Graphics):

It’s 8-bit! Who doesn’t love 8-bit? The puzzle pieces look very similar to Tetris, giving it a very nostalgic feel. The music, remixed versions of the original songs (still 8-bit!) are great! I got into it and started playing to the beat of the songs, and it was awesome to hear the originals remixed with 8-bit, keeping everything simple and themed.

I found myself replaying a few levels just because the music was that awesome!

Gameplay:

The gameplay is actually relatively simple. Colored blocks are falling from the sky, and you have three rows of various colored blocks to make a column or row of 4 or a 2×2 box minimum by manipulating them with your stylus. You can make a row stretching across the entire screen if the falling pieces present themselves that way or a 5×2 box – the combinations make up a big part of the way the game plays. If the falling pieces hit your blocks and don’t make a match, they turn into blocks themselves.

Once you make a match, time freezes, and any pieces attached the to completed piece start to fall faster after the completed piece disappears – this gives you time to set up blocks so that they fall into matches and link together. You can go up to a maximum of 9 links, and I’ll explain why in a second.

You can touch an untouched block with your stylus and have the entire block of puzzle pieces fall quickly to extend your combo if you’re quick enough, and any match you make during the time freeze will extend your combo.

So, why only a maximum of 9 before it stops counting? Because of the goal of the game. The goal of the game is to uncover the level’s hidden character(s). You do this by completing puzzle pieces. If you complete a column of 4, then 4 bits fly to the top screen and fill in 4 bits of that character. If you do a combo, you’ll get 8 bits for 2 links, 12 bits for 3 links, and so on and so forth until you can get a whopping 36 bits for link 9, and that’s only for combing with 4 bits. If you combo with larger blocks, rows, and columns you can get into the 60’s of bits!

The difficulty increases as you complete the character. In the beginning, the music is just some beats and a very small rhythm. As you complete the character, the music begins to fill itself in with the parts of the game pertaining to that character, and once you’re 3/4 of the way done, the entire song comes out and plays as you finish the character. As the music picks up, the puzzle pieces fall faster, making it harder to combo.

It’s actually pretty simple, but the game throws a few curveballs in – there are blocks that can’t be moved (marked by an ‘x’), so they must be completed to disappear. There’s also the Pow Block and coins. Completing a 2×2 or higher block gives you one coin, and any unmovable blocks give one coin when matched – but what are they for? Besides buying the Dark levels (harder versions of the original levels) and music to listen to, they’re for restoring spaces in your block holder.

At the start of any level, you can store up to 10 blocks to then put down and make matches. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in a tight spot, you can press the Pow Block in the lower left-hand corner to erase a few lines of your stack and make the rest come crashing down to the bottom of the screen. However, it comes with a price – you lose one spot in your block holder, meaning you now can only hold 9 blocks. If you have 5 coins, however, you can buy one spot back. It’s a very balanced system, and extremely useful during the later levels when you’ll be using the Pow Block more than a few times.

There’s some replay value in Pictobits, but only in its Dark levels that need to be unlocked and in getting enough coins to unlock all the music. Or, for those who are hardcore, you can try to get the highest score, and if that’s the case the replay value is great!

And finally, the controls – in short, the stylus works wonderfully. There’s nothing more to say about it except I’m glad it used the stylus instead of the D-Pad.

Pictobits is one of those games that you pick up, beat, and then come back to when you have a few minutes to kill and want to play something you know you’ll enjoy – it’s got great music and intuitive gameplay, and it’s something I’ll be playing whenever I’m bored or want a puzzle game with fantastic music! If you’ve got 150 coins to spare on Club Nintendo or a few extra dollars, pick up Pictobits; you won’t be disappointed.

Score:

Atmosphere: 9/10

Gameplay: 9/10

Overall: 9/10

Just sayin’

Why Super Mario 3D Land has the perfect difficulty scale


My girlfriend recently started playing Super Mario Advance 4, and as I watched her play I noticed something – she was having a much harder time playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (which is what Super Mario Advance 4 contains) than Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL), a game I had suggested to her a while back. I began to wonder to myself why she was having such a hard time with Super Mario Bros. 3, when a thought came to me – Super Mario Bros. 3 has a high learning curve.

To the gamers out there who played the Super Mario Bros. franchise, this may seem a little off. I myself remember Super Mario Bros. 3 to be extremely easy – maybe a little long for my younger self, but definitely not difficult, and when I played it as Super Mario Advance 4 it was even easier. So why, I thought to myself, did Super Mario Bros. 3 have a high learning curve?

I thought back to Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL). She had almost no experience playing, yet has been able to make it to World 5, and I realized why she’s been doing well: SM3DL has the perfect difficulty scale.

Let me explain. If you die 5 times on a single level in SM3DL, you are given a Tanooki Suit with infinite invincibility. This is for those who are having trouble dealing with the enemies and natural hazards in the game. Now, if you die 10 times on a single level, then you’re given a P Wing (I didn’t know this existed until she played the game), which takes you to the end of the level, no questions asked. This includes boss levels, and this can help alleviate a level that requires platforming that is too great for the player.

The Invincible Tanooki Suit

Mario in the invincible tanooki suit.

This may seem like a cop-out, but keep reading. At a certain point, levels start becoming blocked off unless you have a certain number of special coins. You can collect 3 special coins per level, and you must collect them without dying to obtain them.

When I was playing, I thought to myself, “this is stupid. Why would they impose these limits on players? It’s busy work.” But as I watched my girlfriend play, it dawned on me – they’re to stop the really bad players from breezing through the game with the super-powerful items. They’re forced to go through those levels that they may have used the P Wing for and get those coins, otherwise they won’t be able to progress at all, and hopefully, by the time they’re forced to collect those coins, they’ve improved to the point where they use those items a little less. It forces improvement while still allowing them to progress slowly so they don’t stop playing in frustration.

And for players like myself, the coins serve as a way to increase the difficulty. The game was easy, but collecting the coins in every level was difficult, and doing the same thing in the Special Worlds made it that much more difficult, so the game gave a satisfying sense of challenge, so besides catering to the casuals, it caters to the hardcore, creating the perfect difficulty scale. It can be as difficult as you, the player, make it to be.

Just sayin’.