Improvement in Smash 4 I – Fundamentals

**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.

Lately, my local scene (Chicago/Chicagoland) for Super Smash Bros. Wii U (Smash 4) has had a big increase in new players that are hungry for improvement. Some are decent but not quite at that high level, some are completely new, and others are old vets trying to get back into Super Smash Bros. The most common questions I’m hearing from these guys are along the lines of “Where do I start?”, “What do I need to know if I really want to push myself to the next level?”, and “What MU’s do I need to focus on?”.

I’m here to help you, players! I’m going to be writing a couple blog posts aimed at my local scene to attempt to help them improve and become incredible players. Obviously, this small little series is going to be aimed at Super Smash Bros Wii U, so keep that in mind.

For all of you Chicago Smash 4 kids who may not know me and are probably asking “who’s this nerd thinkin’ he can give us advice?”, let me give you a quick introduction of myself. My tag in Smash is Kappy. I’ve been playing competitively since Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out when I first attended a smash fest in my local area and got 3-stocked by a Ganondorf. Since then, I’ve taken a few breaks from Smash due to school and work, but when I was playing I managed to steal a spot in the top 10 of WIL’s (A combined PR of Wisconsin and IL’s Chicago scene) PR for one season after a couple years of competing (and then I took a break because school). I’ve been Honorable Mention multiple times in Brawl, and was a 2-time panelist for the official MU’s of Kirby (my main) during Tier List updates for Brawl.

After my break, I picked up Project M and played exclusively Meta Knight, where I managed to, again, reach the top 10 players in the Chicagoland area’s PR for EXP Gaming.

As for Smash 4, I’ve only entered 2 tournaments. I don’t know all the little intricacies of the game, but my fundamentals have allowed me to do well so far.

I could go on, but that’s the basic gist of my level of skill as a player. I’m no national monster, but I think I’m at a level where I could become one if I really dedicated myself; and you can definitely become a national monster! Here’s how to start that journey:

Where do I start?

Fundamentals. That’s it. You start with the basics of the game. These fundamentals are present in every iteration of Super Smash Bros.

What are fundamentals, you may ask? A lot of people may have slightly varying definitions of what the fundamentals of Smash 4 are, but here are the skills I think are fundamental to Smash:

– Spacing
– Positional Awareness
– Option Coverage
– Reactions and Punishes
– Identifying habits (Adaptation)
– Neutral

Let’s dig a little deeper into what those things are.

Spacing is the concept of throwing out a move when it is hardest to punish it, when it out ranges another move, or when it creates an advantageous situation for you. If you’re Marth, and you throw out a Forward Air close enough that Mario can use his Neutral Air, that’s a problem, especially since Marth’s sword out ranges Mario’s Neutral Air.

Another good example is spacing an aerial in such a way that you can’t be shield-grabbed even if you hit their shield.

Positional Awareness ties into almost everything. It’s about being aware of where you are, where your opponent is, and what that means for you in terms of advantages/disadvantages. If you’re under a platform and you’re against someone who thrives being under someone, you should be aware of that and position yourself accordingly. Don’t try to force an engagement when you’re in a bad position unless you see your opponent putting themselves in a position that will suddenly benefit you.

Option Coverage is simple. In any given situation, there are choices you and your opponent must make. These are options. You can choose to cover certain options and not others. Learning which moves covers the most options in a given situation is something that every player needs to be proficient in.

Reactions and Punishes is just your reaction speed. If you can’t capitalize in a mistake, you’re going to lose more than win. This also entails knowing the right punish. If Jigglypuff misses Rest, don’t just jab combo her. Charge an attack, set up a KO combo, etc…

Identifying Habits refers to being able to pick up on an option your opponent takes often in a given situation. For instance, in the first 30 seconds I notice that whenever I run at my opponent, he rolls away from me. Next time, instead of throwing out an attack or grab, I follow his roll and punish him for it with a grab combo.

Neutral is the most abstract. Neutral is a state within fighting games that refers to when both players are “safe”. Neither one is being hit, neither one is easily seen to be on the defensive or offensive. It’s basically a culmination of all the fundamental skills because you have to navigate and win neutral to win the game.

This is where everything comes together. Winning neutral refers to winning exchanges made in neutral that transition to another state. If I space a Back Air with Mario and hit, I’ve transitioned to be offensive while my opponent has transition to being defensive. I have won that neutral exchange.

Neutral is difficult to master. Being aware of what options your opponent has at certain ranges of each other and where you two are (Spacing, Positional Awareness, Option Coverage) will allow you to more accurately predict (Identifying Habits) and punish (Reactions and Punishes) a mis-spaced aerial, grab, etc…

Being able to figure out your opponent’s game plan and win exchanges in neutral based on that knowledge is referred to as Adaptation.

So how do you practice your fundamental play? Obviously, attending tournaments and playing with people is the best way, but if you’re alone? Fear not! There are two simple ways to practice everything.

CPU’s and video watching.

What do you use to practice each technique? Here’s a quick’n’dirty list:

CPU’s
– Spacing
– Positional Awareness
– Reactions and Punishes
– Option Coverage

Videos
– Identifying Habits
– Positional Awareness
– Option Coverage

Human Players
– Neutral

Notice how fighting a human is basically practicing everything, while the other two let you hone in on specific skill sets (with a little overlap).

Let’s start from the top:

CPU’s

So, here’s an old adage I’m sure you’ve heard:

“CPU’s suck and help YOU form bad habits”

This is false.

If you’re conscious while practicing, you can make sure not to auto pilot and form those bad habits. CPU’s are great to space around and practice reaction time. If a CPU techs, they’re the exact same as a human. Practice punishing rolls and spot-dodges. CPU’s are great for nailing Air Dodge punishes on reaction or covering those options. Practice combos – CPU’s will either attack you or air dodge as soon as they can, so see how far you can go with a combo before that happens.

Practice reacting to DI. CPU’s are notorious for having either bad or godlike DI, so practice reacting to it. Don’t predict, just react.

Think about your advantages and disadvantages while on the ledge, platforms, center stage, in the air, etc… CPU’s are pretty notorious for having inhumane reaction time, so sometimes you can see weird holes in your play because of their flawless execution and reaction. Try to attack them – can a move of theirs outright beat the one you’re using? If so, think of different ways to get around it.

The most important thing about fighting CPU’s is to NOT AUTOPILOT. Be absolutely conscious while you’re training and really think about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to practice. React to them, do NOT try to predict them.

Videos

Here’s where a good chunk of your mental game comes into play. Watch any match – bad players, good players…whatever! I want you to pick a player and try and find their habits. Do they tech roll to the left? Do they always use get up attack if a player is running towards them and they missed their tech? Pick apart these habits. Try to predict a player’s habits mid-match. Try to predict their adaptation mid-match.

Look at an exchange between players – I think offstage or ledge play is most effective to begin with – and see what options are being covered and what options are present. As an example, Player A is grabbing the ledge. He has the option to:

– Normal get up
– Ledge get up attack
– Roll get up
– Jump get up
– Drop down and regrab ledge
– Drop down and come up with an attack

What is Player B doing to cover these options, and how many is he covering? What could Player B do to cover as many options as possible? Think about these as you watch. Pause the videos if you have to, but ideally you should strive to analyze these as the video plays without pausing.

Look at the positions of the players. Center Stage is a highly coveted spot in Smash. It allows the most safety and is the best place to mount both a defense and an offense. See how the players interact with that. Try to spot when players inadvertently put themselves in a terrible position, especially when they have the lead. Watch how that bad position translates to a big punish for their opponent. Watch how players attempt to set themselves up to always be in an advantageous position.

A really good idea is to get videos of yourself and watch yourself play. Pick yourself apart, see where you could have made better decisions or put yourself in a better position, and see where you played well. This can really help if you’re feeling like you’re approaching a plateau.

Human Players

This is where it all comes together. Obviously, this is one of the most effective ways to get better. When you’re playing friendlies, you get to practice everything. Remember to be conscious while practicing. Don’t just mindlessly play.

Here’s a helpful tidbit – don’t get mad about losing. Anyone who knows me can attest that when I play friendlies, I suicide quite a bit. Why? Because I experiment. This option isn’t working? Let me try something weird. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I now have experience about that particular decision.

Listen, you’re not going to learn what you can do just by watching others and heory-crafting about it. Try stuff out, especially when playing friendlies. Go for those crazy edge-guards. One day you might come upon a situation where that suicidal edge-guard will net you a win, especially if you’re ahead in stocks. You’ll thank yourself for having tried it out not only because you’ll win, but you’ll be lookin’ real fancy doing it.

If you’re playing on For Glory, take into account lag while playing. I don’t recommend For Glory for anything reaction-based because of lag, so if you are on it, try to predict more to practice that.

What about Match-Ups for my character?

I’m a firm believer that learning these fundamentals comes before even thinking about processing character v character match-ups. In fact, I think player v player is much more important, but I will be covering MU’s in my next bit of this series as well as stuff about picking a character and play styles.

So…how often should I be playing?

Every day. At least 30 minutes, no less. You want to get good? Play every day.

Play as long as you want, but realize that everyone has a limit before they start to burn out. At that point, STOP PLAYING. Or, at the very least, stop practicing and do something fun like Smash Tour. If you practice while you’re burnt out, you’ll become worse. Being burnt out is when you’ll start to autopilot and form awful habits. Me? I can play for probably 4-5 hours of serious play before I need a break.

——

I think Chicago’s scene has a lot of fire and potential, but not a lot of direction. I’m here to give you all who need it some direction so that you can all become amazing. Please, don’t hesitate to send me a message on Facebook or Skype (ID is ryan.klaproth) and ask about stuff like this or ask for some friendlies – I’m generally not available for them, but I’ll try to make time. I’m not the best player in Chicago, but I know how to talk about this stuff and break it down, and I can help you break down your own play styles, habits, explain these concepts in more detail, etc… And, you can always reach out to the top players in Chicago – they’ll be more than happy to help you, especially with character-specific stuff and MU knowledge.

Anyway, this is part 1. Save this post somewhere that’s easy to access and get practicing! Next time, I’ll be covering play style and anything more character-specific!

Just Sayin’

Link to the Chicago Smash 4 Facebook group: Clicky

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

II – A Different Way to Look at Match Ups
III – Attitude
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

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Fundamentals

Before I get into the meat of this post, I just want to do a quick little update. I hopped on the Yo craze a few weeks ago (if you don’t know what Yo is, go look it up!) and just saw made an account for this blog. No longer will you have to wait via email or social media updates to know when the next post is out – if you have Yo and add this name to your list of Yo contacts, a Yo will be sent out (with the url to the blog) from the account! The name is JUSTSAYINBLOG!

Okay, time to get to the real post!

Time to turn on the heels of my last post about execution. I want to talk about something that I see a lot of new players in any competitive game I’ve watched struggle with. Because Super Smash Bros. is the primary game series I compete in, I’m going to use that as an example.

Imagine that you’re a new player for Super Smash Bros. Melee. You’ve been watching the pros for a while, and dream of doing all the crazy technical stuff that they can do. You start to practice wave dashing, dash dancing, L-canceling, ledge hops, jump cancels, ledge cancels. You go to a tournament, ready to show off your skills, and some guy who doesn’t do any of that tech stomps you.

What happened? You’ve become proficient in all the technical skills required of the game, and this guy didn’t even L-cancel his aerials! I’ll tell you what happened – that guy who doesn’t L-cancel has a greater understanding of the fundamentals of Super Smash Bros..

I think a big problem with getting into some competitive games is that there’s so much tech to learn that you become overwhelmed and focus on learning the tech instead of learning the fundamentals of that game. Instead of learning how to properly space aerials, zone, and maintain an advantageous stage position, new players are doing tech that even I can’t do, but they have no idea when to use it correctly – they just kinda flash around the stage and get beaten.

Every game is different in their specific physics and tech, but one thing remains constant: the need for good spacing, zoning, and stage position control. Every Super Smash Bros. game requires these skills to be a good player. Once you learn the fundamentals, you can transition between games because you have the option to play smart. You have the ability to take new techniques learned and apply them in a way that helps you instead of hinders you. As a kid, I learned how to wavedash in Melee and lost a lot because I had no idea when to use it. I just thought using it and knowing how to execute it would make me better. Then I came from Brawl to Melee and Project M once I had been playing Brawl competitively for a few years, and while I struggled with execution at first, I immediately realized the effectiveness dash dancing and wavedashing had on maintaining stage control and zoning and simply thought about when the application of those techniques would achieve those goals best.

Fundamentals are the most important thing to learn when approaching any activity, whether it be writing, competitive gaming, sports, programming…you name it! Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, all the techniques you’ve been practicing will fall into place.

And you’ll find yourself succeeding.

Just Sayin’.