Paper Mario Talks — Why Pre-Hooktail Pit is the Perfect Challenge

There are many, many challenges in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door — Level Zero, No Jump No Hammer, Single Partner, BP Only, Double Damage, etc… but one among them all stands the test of time, for me, as the best TTYD challenge out there. That challenge…is Pre-Hooktail Pit.

A Pre-Hooktail Pit run is a run where the player completes the Pit of 100 Trials before completing Chapter 1, which is done by defeating Hooktail. Back in the old challenge running days, this was considered one of the top challenges. Today, I consider it to be one of the “gatekeeper” challenges, a challenge that breaks you into the higher tier of Paper Mario players. Despite my labeling it as a “gatekeeper” challenge, I think it’s the perfect challenge for upcoming challenge runners and veterans alike. Here’s why:

1) It tests everything

Remember my first blog post for Paper Mario Talks? I talked about the 4 skills of a challenge runner. Well, this challenge tests every single one of them and does so in an amazing way. You need to manage peril’d partners, choose the right badges/items for the job, work with on-the-fly RNG, and figure out strategies for all the various enemy loadouts you’ll encounter. Sometimes, you’ll be put in a tight spot and need to superguard and guard well or execute good Power Bounces, Multibonks, and Sweet Treats. Seriously, no other challenge tests everything at the same time so much.

What separates this from a challenge like Level Zero is it also tests your endurance. In full-game runs, you have the luxury of saving and quitting, only doing bite-sized chunks of the challenge. Pre-Hooktail Pit (and other Pit of 100 Trials challenges in general) provide no such luxury. You have to go through the whole thing, including Bonetail, before it is truly complete. And while I don’t consider endurance a particular skill of a Paper Mario challenge runner, it certainly is a skill that any player can benefit from. If you get too tired, you can start committing silly mistakes that can cost you a run.

2) It’s modular

Pre-Hooktail Pit is only the base form of its type of challenge. One can also choose to up the difficulty by including extra restrictions such as 10 HP (Mario cannot increase his HP above 10 in any way) or No Mega Rush P (cannot equip the badge Mega Rush P). You can also combine the two to create a devilishly difficult 10 HP No Mega Rush P restriction. All three of these add to the difficulty, but don’t take away too much from what it’s testing of the player. They all require a little more superguarding, but other than that they function mostly the same, and so provide a good stepping stone of challenges to attempt as you improve as a player. This is what allows newer challenge runners and veterans to continue performing this challenge.

What’s more, speedrunning the base form of the challenge is somewhat popular, and tests the player in a completely different way since you don’t have time to loaf around and prepare – you need to think on your metaphorical feet much faster than someone going through a normal Pre-Hooktail Pit run, who has all the time in the world to figure out a solution. While it’s a little too RNG-heavy to be a completely legitimate speedrun, it is a cool and interesting take on the challenge.

Now, other full-game challenges are also modular (it’s a nice thing about TTYD’s challenges – many are modular), but I particularly like the increase in difficulty the different restrictions of Pre-Hooktail Pit provide without sacrificing something. Many of the “step ups”, so to speak, of full game challenges omit or heavily downplay something crucial in terms of skills being used.

3) There are multiple ways to complete it

While most players follow a general rough guideline on stats, badges, and items to bring, the challenge itself can be completed in a myriad of ways. Some players will choose Heart Finder or Item Hog, Quick Change or Power Plus, Pretty Lucky or Close Call, etc… some decide to upgrade Goombella, others decide to upgrade Koops (or both!). Some will bring Life Shrooms, others will bring Courage Shells, Fire Flowers, POW Blocks, Mushrooms… in short, there’s a lot of variety depending on the player’s preference, and it changes how the run is tackled. While some strategies are definitely better than others, there are enough viable strategies to keep the run fresh and exciting for new players looking to enter challenge running and for veterans to try new things when doing the run.

Again, lots of full game runs offer this same level of variety, but I think an important distinction to make here is that many strategies will be developed on-the-fly that will vary. While you have time to prepare in a Pre-Hooktail Pit run, you have to work around your preparations in case something goes wrong. When you’re really only fighting bosses, you can prepare very well and not have to worry about something going wrong impacting your strategy too much.

And, well…that’s really all I have to say on the subject. I do want to say that most challenges, full game and Pre-Hooktail Pit, are very good, barring a select few I don’t think test all the skills I’d want it to. but if you ever want to get into the next tier of Paper Mario players, Pre-Hooktail Pit is a perfect place to start. There is no better challenge run. Give it a try!

Just Sayin’

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Improvement in Smash 4 BONUS X – Practice Methods I

**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.

Before I begin, I have a quick but very exciting announcement! Sage of Unrivaled Tournaments and I are starting a new video series called “Better Buttons”! It will be a video series aimed at improving in Smash 4. We’ve already got a few episodes recorded and just need to be edited, and will be featured on Unrivaled Tournament’s YouTube Channel. I’m really excited for this because this is a great way to not only help Unrivaled Tournaments grow their content base, but also get this information out there.

I’ll be linking Unrivaled Tournaments stuff at the end, so be sure to check them out 🙂

Okay, onto the post!

Practice makes perfect, right? Not if your practice the wrong way. In this little mini-series, “Practice Methods”, I’ll be going over ways to practice and train. This’ll be about 3-4 entries, so get hype!

In order to improve, you need to do more than just play – you need to be aware of how you’re playing and dedicate time to improving your play and not just playing the game. However, we all can’t just grab a friend at our convenience and play. Sometimes, you have to practice on your own. So let’s learn how to do that!

There are a couple things you can practice – Match-Up knowledge, your technical ability, and your fundamentals. You need to practice all 3 to be a great player. While I went over how to practice them very briefly in my post about creating a Training Regimen, this post will expand on those concepts.

Let’s start with MU knowledge.

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MU’s

Here, you want to practice the more objective aspects of a Match-Up – KO %’s, moves that trade, moves that lose, moves that win, range differences, etc…

You can practice bad DI/no DI KO %’s in Training Mode. You don’t need to play a human to know when Back Throw KOs at center stage or either side of the stage. If you need good DI, either enlist the help of a friend or just grab a second controller and do the DI yourself. Write these %’s down and remember them.

When you’re recording these, I would record with and without rage, and with and without staling. The point here is to create a KO % range that you can then reference as you play. That way you don’t run into situations where your opponent is living insanely long and draining your patience.

For move interactions, this can be accomplished through playing a CPU or a human player. If you’re looking for a very specific move to test against, you’re better off grabbing a friend. Otherwise, just take notes when fighting CPU’s of the results of the move interactions you notice.

For range differences, I suggest you shadow box against a standing opponent or a CPU. Shadow boxing is a style of training where you visualize a standing opponent to be moving. The goal is not to hit your opponent, but rather pretend they’re attacking you and you responding to that. For example, go into training mode and visualize an MK dash attack and try and space around it. What’s a good range to be at to react safely, what’s not? Then go fight a MK CPU and stay at the maximum ‘safe’ range you have for Dash Attack. Is there anything else you’re feeling safe from or threatened by at that range? Do you feel you can punish effectively by always staying at that range?

Technical Ability

This is something I feel you need to practice by yourself before you start practicing with others. Like performing a choreographed dance, when you first start attempting these techniques you’re going to find yourself thinking about the inputs you’re making. If you attempt to use a new technique mid-match, you’ll most likely fail it and you’ll probably stop thinking about what’s currently going on in the match.

You need to commit all movements and inputs to memory, to the point that it feels like second nature and you can perform the technique flawlessly without error under stress.

So, there are three phases to perfecting a technique.

First Phase

Training Mode only. You should spend more time practicing the technique and starting to commit it to muscle memory. Don’t use it in friendlies. Don’t use it in a tournament set.

Once you can perform it near-flawlessly in Training Mode, it’s time to move onto the next phase.

Second Phase

Play against a CPU opponent. CPU opponents allow you to simulate an actual match and practice utilizing the technique as you move around in a relatively stress-free environment. This allows you to use it against moving opponents without feeling the pressure to win/impress/etc… and you can be fully concentrated on finding spots to use it most effectively. Once you can do this almost flawlessly, you move onto the final phase.

Third Phase

Play friendlies. Now that you’ve basically mastered this technique’s execution, it’s time to use it in friendlies. Friendlies incur at least a little bit of stress, which is what you now need to practice executing the technique under. I recommend playing a few higher-stakes money matches to help you even more. Again, the goal is to be able to do this almost flawlessly.

Once you’re feeling comfortable in friendlies and ONLY then should you start using the technique in tournament. You’ll find your use of it to be incredibly consistent utilizing this method, and you’ll be able to summon it in very stressful situations when you need it the most.

Fundamentals

If you need a refresher on what fundamentals are, go check out my very first post on improving in Smash 4.

Fundamentals are tricky by yourself. A lot of it you can’t practice without a human opponent, but before we get to those let’s get to the two facets of fundamentals you can practice by yourself: Reactions and Punishes and Option Coverage.

To practice Reactions and Punishes, fight a CPU and focus on reacting, not preemptively striking, the CPU. No reading, no throwing out moves to cover space. Just try and react to what the CPU does. If they’re in a knockdown, try and react to how they get up. Same as when they air dodge, roll, spot dodge, or do anything from the ledge. CPU’s have been coded to be perfect defense machines (in most close-range combat situations), so take advantage of this.

To practice Option Coverage, play a CPU and try and cover as many getup and ledge options as possible when they arise. Try and frame trap their air dodging. Throw out moves to cover space and see what option the CPU uses successfully and unsuccessfully. What’s nice about these two is you can combine practicing them. I wouldn’t recommend doing this until you’re a little proficient at both, but it’s quite effective.

As for the others, I recommend watching videos with a specific fundamental in mind. Watch, say, ZeRo vs. Dabuz Grand Finals at Genesis 3. First, watch it focusing on how the two space. Then watch it again and focus on how they position themselves. Then watch it again and focus on how they adapt. Watch it one more time and watch how they combine all the components of fundamentals into their neutral game.

Once you’re more proficient, try analyzing every component with just one viewing. If you watch it and found yourself lost while analyzing, watch it again.

This can take some time, but it will not only help you become a better player, this has the added bonus of helping you become a more analytical commentator (which we have very few of in the Chicago Smash 4 scene).

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As you can see, there’s a lot you can do on your own. Next time, I’ll be covering how to practice these methods with a human opponent!

Just Sayin’

Unrivaled Tournaments:
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Check out the rest of the series!

I – Fundamentals
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
XI – Practice Methods II
XII – Practice Methods III
XIII – At a Tournament
XIV – Practice Methods BONUS IV
XV – Game Flow

 

 

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.

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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