Paper Mario Talks — Skills of a Paper Mario Challenge Runner

Coffee…Check.
Fingers and hand stretched…Check.
Paper Mario information…Check.

I think I’m ready.

Welcome to Paper Mario Talks! In this new series, I’ll be exploring various areas of the Paper Mario series as it relates to gameplay, game design, and challenge running! I have a lot of opinions on this series that I haven’t really expressed to, well…anyone! So, what better way to talk about the series I love the most than through blog posts and videos!

Oh, yeah, there’ll be videos, too! They’ll be available on my YouTube channel. Here’s how it’s going to break down: these posts will be more in-depth into various topics of the series that I want to write about, and the videos will be more focused on my favorite/least favorite badges/partners/etc…

Paper Mario Talks will be more focused on Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door; the reason will be a topic all of its own!

To begin this series, I want to bring to light what challenge running is so that you know what angles I’m coming from. Unlike speedrunning, where the goal is to beat the game as fast as possible, challenge running aims to beat the game under certain conditions or with restrictions. This is to force a new style of gameplay or make the game harder. RPG’s are usually pretty great for these, as you can easily restrict certain items/attacks/level ups and change the way the game is played.

There’s a wiki detailing a lot of different challenges in the Paper Mario series to get you more familiarized with what I’m talking about. Check it out if you’re interested!

Anyway, today’s topic is about the core skills of a challenge runner in the Paper Mario series. There are four distinct skills I believe most great Paper Mario players are proficient in – execution, planning, game knowledge, and reactionary theory. Let’s define those:

Game Knowledge: How well you know enemies, their health, their stats, Mario’s abilities, partners’ abilities, boss AI, etc… This is an ever-growing skill until you’ve memorized everything. If you don’t know enough about the game, you can’t really improve the rest of your skills. However, it’s easy to improve this one – ask someone or look it up online. Besides Color Splash, the series is pretty old and has a lot of FAQs/guides dedicated to the other games in the series.

Planning: How well you can plan out a strategy for a given fight. If you know enough about a certain boss, you can plan turn-by-turn strategies around them. You can account for RNG and have a plan of attack no matter what the boss does. You can be adequately prepared for any kind of encounter. Theoretically, you can win fights before you even get to them! Everyone can plan to an extent, but truly remarkable players can optimize their strategies further.

Execution: This is Planning’s cousin. You can win fights before you even play them, but can you execute on your strategies and actually win the fight? Can you guard or superguard every attack you’re planning to? Can you hit all the necessary Action Commands? Planning & Execution go hand-in-hand with each other.

Reactionary Theory: Probably the trickiest of the skills challenge runners need. If your plan goes awry, how can you get back on track? Can you save the fight? If you encounter a certain enemy loadout that you weren’t expecting, can you formulate a plan for success? This kind of on-the-fly thinking is crucial to certain challenges and is great for when you messed up an Action Command or RNG truly shot down your strategy. This is the hardest skill to become proficient in.

These four together form the core of a great Paper Mario challenge runner. How I define these skills helps shape how I view challenge running – and by extension certain facets of the series – so I hope this helps shed some light on how I’ll be approaching the rest of the topics in Paper Mario Talks.

Just Sayin’

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Improvement in Smash 4 BONUS XV – Game Flow

**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.

I’m sorry for taking so long to post this. It’s been over a month, so let me explain: I was recently offered a partnership for my YouTube channel, so I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks working very hard to get my channel to be more presentable and get an upload schedule going and all that good stuff. I just didn’t have time to finish this post. Now that I’ve got everything set up, I will be writing more posts again!

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the actual post 🙂

——

So! Game Flow. Game Flow is something I like to use when I think about the current state of myself and my opponent during a game. You see, the second the game starts you and your opponent have a state assigned to them. What state that is depends on the character, stage, time left, and percentage, but it’s there right when the match begins and constantly changes throughout. Today’s post will be going over those states individually and how I define them. I’ll also be going over how quickly it can change.

So, game flow is definitely a subjective topic with an objective core. There’s definitely some sort of flow (it’s how you can see momentum rise and fall), but to a lot of players it can mean something different. I see it in 4 distinctive states – advantaged, disadvantaged, neutral, and true neutral.

Let’s go over those.

Advantaged state is a state where you have the advantage. Your opponent is feeling pressured and unsafe, while you feel safe to mount an offense. Sometimes this state flickers by after being hit or during an opponent’s whiffed smash attack or grab. Your goal is to maintain this state for as long as possible and reclaim this state whenever you don’t have it.

Disadvantaged state is the opposite of Advantaged. You’re feeling unsafe, pressured, scared, ans basically don’t feel like you can approach or mount a good offense. You may throw moves out in a panic or in defense, or feel like you need to air dodge or spot dodge to escape a situation. If you’re in this state, get out of it as quickly as possible.

Neutral state is a state where neither you nor your opponent have the advantage or disadvantage. However, in this state, you’re not completely safe. You could easily transition to the Advantaged or Disadvantaged state depending on the decisions you and your opponent make. You could also transition to True Neutral. In this state you’ll feel safe and pressured at the same time, and you’ll be aiming to move from this state to Advantaged or Disadvantaged. Like Advantaged and Disadvantaged, this state can come and go extremely quickly.

True Neutral is a state where neither you nor your opponent have the advantage or disadvantage, and there is no way for either of you to immediately change that. In that specific moment, you feel completely safe, but you don’t feel like you can do anything to create pressure either. This state is incredibly rare. It generally happens at the very beginning of a game and when someone loses a stock. It can happen mid-match in other situations, but generally requires some players to be extremely defensive/campy. Strangely enough, when this state is achieved it generally lasts longer than the others, but not by too much.

Those are the four states of the game as I see it. It’s important to consider when your character and style is in one of these four states, and how it transitions based on the decisions you and your opponent make.

To give you a couple examples:

When Toon Link has the percent lead and the timer is low, he is an in Advantaged state while fighting against non-projectile characters like Donkey Kong/Bowser or against slow characters like King DeDeDe/Luigi, even if they aren’t close to him, because his projectiles generate pressure and the opponent needs to make that up before time runs out.

When crossing up someone with a slow Bair/Forward Tilt, Kirby goes from Neutral to Advantaged due to the pressure he’s generating being behind the opponent instead of in front because they lack access to their jab and grab immediately to prevent him from pushing his Advantage forward.

The ways you can see these transitions are endless. Being aware of them can not only help you make better decisions, but it will help you identify how your opponent might be feeling. Some players may not feel pressure when you think they should and vice-versa, and that can really throw you off. Obviously, this may not be how you see the game, but if you’re looking for a place to start, I hope this helps you.

Just Sayin’

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
X – Practice Methods I
XI – Practice Methods II
XII – Practice Methods III
XIII – At a Tournament
XIV – Practice Methods BONUS IV

Improvement in Smash 4 BONUS XIV – Practice Methods BONUS IV

**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.

Last week I read an article from Freakonomicks website. It was a podcast they had put up titled: “How to Become Great at Just About Anything.” I highly suggest you give it a read.

So, how does this apply to Super Smash Bros.? And why is it so important that I had to add a BONUS section to the Practice Methods mini-series? Well, that article talks about a concept called “deliberate” practice, a concept that explains how practicing specific parts of a skill until you’ve mastered it will not only help you improve faster, but would enable someone who maybe doesn’t have a lot of natural talent in Smash to become great at it.

What I want to go over is how to utilize this.

So how do we do that? Let’s break it down.

In a lot of the posts I make on here, the one thing I bring up as much as possible are the fundamentals of Super Smash Bros. (check my first post if you want a refresher on how I define them, as I will be referencing them here). And in my post about creating a Training Regimen and my mini series on Practice Methods I went over how to train those up, sometimes at the same time.

Now, don’t get me wrong – training multiple fundamental aspects at once is completely fine and sometimes natural to the game. Fundamental aspects of the game, I think, should bleed into each other. So, when you’re playing Super Smash Bros., you’re constantly making decisions and executing on them, either as a preemptive action or a reaction, and making those decisions and performing those actions requires small bits of certain fundamentals, and will generally lean towards one overall. A quick example – you throw out a back air to cover the neutral getup or jump option from ledge. Your opponent rolls, and you react to that with a grab since your Bair missed. Or, on a deeper level, your opponent is expecting a quick punish/cover option like a grab and spot dodges, giving you a free punish if you made the right guess or reacted fast enough. This can go different ways depending on character and player style – it gets a little complicated after that and this isn’t about the fundamentals themselves – this is about training them up.

Anyway, I wanted to write that little paragraph so I could follow up with this: if you do not have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of Smash, practice one. At. A. Time. You heard me right: while practicing, only focus on one fundamental aspect until you’ve become proficient in it. Do NOT move on until you’ve become proficient.

When you sit down to play a friendly, you’re exercising the Neutral fundamental aspect according to my definition of the fundamentals. Neutral, to me, is a combination of the rest of the fundamental aspects. So you play a ton of friendlies but find out that you, well, don’t really go anywhere because you’re just playing. This is one of the easiest ways to hit The Plateau. Focusing in on one fundamental aspect allows you to see things differently, and like just playing friendlies, progress will be slow. But as you start mastering each fundamental aspect, you’ll find yourself hitting big breakthrough moments – those moments while playing friendlies or in bracket where you suddenly find yourself being able to think on the fly much more fluidly and with more clarity than before. You start reacting better and choose better options. Really, the difference is incredible.

Once you master the rest, then you can focus on the Neutral fundamental aspect.

So how do you do that? Which one should you start with?

Well, it can be difficult because, as I said before, a lot of these aspects bleed together in some way, even if it’s a very small amount. You need to make sure you don’t drop your focus while practicing and really push to practice that one fundamental aspect. Play some games, review them, then go at it again. As I said in previous posts, 30 minutes is enough time to get meaningful practice.

What should you start with? Well, that’s also tricky. Ultimately, I think it’s up to you, and here’s why:

I’ve said this before on a couple streams while commentating, but I think even the worst players have an innate understanding of the fundamentals in Super Smash Bros. It’s very unconscious, but it’s there. The difference between those players and good players is that good players understand these concepts and are working to refine them. They are consciously aware of the fundamentals. Great players like ZeRo have refined their fundamentals to a point where you could call it “mastery”.

So, you, the reader, are probably aware of these fundamentals, even if unconsciously. Go back and watch a few sets of yours or talk to other players – what do they think you’re strong and weak in right now? Whatever you’re weak in, pick one and that’s what you’ll start with.

If you’re still unsure, I suggest Reactions and Punishes or Positional Awareness to start with.

Seriously, if you haven’t, read that article. It’s really great, and my translation to Smash Bros here doesn’t do it justice. If you take this concept and apply it to your own training regimen (which you should have by this point if you’ve been reading my improvement series!!), you’ll find yourself excelling soon enough. Honestly, the slow start is worth it in the long run.

Just Sayin’

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
X – Practice Methods I
XI – Practice Methods II
XII – Practice Methods III
XIII – At a Tournament
XV – Game Flow

Improvement in Smash 4 BONUS XIII – At a Tournament

**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.

Last time I went to a monthly, I wrote about how to prepare for a tournament. Well, once again, I’ll be attending another monthly. This time, it’s Mashfest 3, the 3rd installment in Unrivaled Tournament’s series that features the best of Chicago and the Chicago-land area. You should come out and say hi to me! Come ask me anything about improvement if you see me just standing around or chatting casually – I don’t bite 🙂

It’s this Saturday, April 23rd. I’ll link up the Facebook event page below this post.

So, you’ve made it to the tournament. Whether it be a weekly, monthly, regional, major, what-have-you, your play in bracket is what’s going to count. Here are some helpful tips that will help you stay on your A game throughout the day and make the most of your tournament experience.

PLAY FRIENDLIES!

I really can’t stress this enough. Now, I already have an entire post dedicated to making the most of friendlies. Go and read it, then come back here. And seriously, go walk up to people, say hi, introduce yourself, and ask for friendlies! Most people, unless otherwise busy, will say yes.

Besides everything that I cover in that post, you’re making new friends. I don’t do this nearly enough at locals, but you should attempt to hold a conversation and get to know these people. Some of my closest friends I’ve met through Super Smash Bros. Even making one new friend can significantly enhance your tournament experience.

HYDRATE

While you’re in bracket, don’t go drinking soda/shakes/etc… stick to vitamin waters, Gatorade, and straight-up water. Last time I brought two half gallons of water and used all of it. I’ll be bringing more this weekend for sure.

If you’re feeling drowsy the day of, I’d recommend coffee, but DO NOT put in too much sugar. You’ll start to crash and play sub optimally.

Speaking of sugar…

EAT WELL

At some point, you’re gonna need to eat. If you’re going to eat while still in bracket, don’t eat greasy, sugary foods. Get something small but packs a lot of protein – turkey sandwiches, yogurt, granola bars, etc… those will energize you and minimize your chances of crashing from sugar or playing slower while digesting.

You can also wait until you’re knocked out of bracket, but believe me that can be hard to do. For me, I don’t get hungry during bracket very often because I get so focused and stress gets rid of my hunger. I generally just drink a ton of water and that gets me by. I usually get a big meal after I’m knocked out since I haven’t eaten all day.

WATCH MATCHES

Another great way to scout players is to watch their bracket matches. Grab a friend and watch with them. Talk about it as it’s happening. I do this all. The. Time. If you’re sitting in Winner’s/Loser’s waiting for the winner/loser of a match, it’s a good idea to watch that match and prepare yourself for either opponent. Players styles can change rapidly, even during the day. By watching you can gauge how they’re playing and see what adjustments you need to make before your match with them even starts! This is especially useful for opponents you’ve played before.

SOCIALIZE

Besides making more friends and enhancing your experience, socializing is the gateway to improvement. Talking about this game in a deep and thoughtful manner is a really enriching and fun experience. And sometimes you can learn something really valuable, even if you’re just chatting. You may learn something really insightful while talking. Sometimes the way a person thinks about the game can be a giveaway to their style of play. I’m not saying go strike up a conversation just to try and get information like this, but it can come out sometimes.

HAVE FUN

At the end of the day, we’re all here to play Super Smash Bros. It’s a passion. You play better when you’re enjoying yourself and having a good time. If you’re not having a good time, I would argue that the wins aren’t even worth it.

——

Remember to come say hi to me if you’re attending Mashfest 3 this weekend! 🙂

Just Sayin’.

Link to the event page for Mashfest 3: https://www.facebook.com/events/1566491593667206/

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
X – Practice Methods I
XI – Practice Methods II
XII – Practice Methods III
XIV – Practice Methods BONUS IV
XV – Game Flow

Improvement in Smash 4 BONUS XI – Practice Methods II

**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.

Last time, I talked about things you can do to practice by yourself. Now it’s time to talk about ways to practice when with a friend (or two, or three, or etc…)!

You can practice all the things you can practice on your own – 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

You should try and learn all kill throw/combo % ranges with good DI when you’ve got a friend. Again, I suggest recording these with and without rage at key points of a stage.

Learning to fight against a character can be a double-edge sword here. You want to focus on move interactions/spacing, and habits that a player of said character might develop. While against a bot you can just practice move interactions and range, with a human you can practice spaced move interactions and the options that are opened/closed in the MU compared to fighting a bot.

It’s a good idea to talk about what the MU between your character and their character. Test out scenarios, get into the theory of it. Just don’t sit there and talk without doing anything. Just talking isn’t going to get you anywhere if you’re making assumptions about the way the MU should work. And don’t forget that your play style and its importance in the character MU should work its way into the discussion. With a human, I think talking is more effective than playing when it comes to MU training.

Technical Ability

I’m going to be honest – I don’t think this is really the ideal way to practice your tech when you’re trying to become proficient at first. This is further along the road, once you’re comfortable executing in the middle of a match vs bots. When you’re playing with a friend, the goal here is to be able to incorporate your tech without messing up. You’ve already practiced becoming efficient in a controlled setting (Training Mode) and have some comfort in performing it on the fly (against bots, I hope), so now you can feel the pressure of someone reacting and playing to your tech. Does messing up cost you the stock in friendlies? It might be time to get back to execution in a controlled space. It shouldn’t matter when it’s useful – the goal here is to be able to execute it flawlessly mid-match with the pressure of another player looming over you.

This is really crucial – you don’t want to mess up execution when in a tournament match. As someone who played Project M, missing any kind of execution can and will result in the loss of your stock.

So make sure you play against friends as much as possible when getting to the home stretch of technique execution.

Fundamentals

If you need a refresher on what fundamentals are, go check out my very first post on improving in Smash 4. Most of the fundamentals are easier to practice with a friend since a lot of them involve your abilities against another player.

The two you can practice on your own, Reactions & Punishes and Option Coverage, can be explored differently. Instead of exploring the mechanical side of them, you can simulate situations with a friend and test out different punishes, option coverage moves, etc… I still suggest you practice your reaction time, but with a human I suggest exploring the more open aspects of these two fundamentals. What options is a player feeling afraid likely to take, and how would you try to cover them? Can you react to their panic options? What’s your most optimal punish at x %? These are things a human player can help you simulate much more effectively than with a bot.

As before, try and practice both of these at the same time when playing normal friendlies.

Before I go into the ones you can practice with a human, I want to make a note here: watching a match with a friend (or friends) and discussing the match can be really helpful and beneficial instead of watching on your own. It’s not required, but it’s definitely something to look into.

Now onto the other fundamentals!

Practicing your Spacing is pretty simple. Test out maximum ranges for your character. Can you be punished? Is there an advantage to spacing close instead of at maximum range? This is very MU dependent, so make sure you’re practicing this and exploring your spacing against a lot of different players.

Positional Awareness is something I think is very hard to practice mid-match. This should be a heavily conversation-based. Start playing a friendly and when you feel like you don’t understand your advantages or disadvantages at that point, pause the game and start talking about it. Your opponent can voice his thoughts on the subject and a conversation can start about it (obviously, make sure you and your opponent are okay with the both of you suddenly pausing). While whether on the offensive or defensive can be apparent at times, it’s good to employ this during neutral and see if you truly are in neutral or on the defensive. The duration of true neutral (that being a point where neither opponent has an advantage or a disadvantage) in a single game can be as little as 10%.

Identifying Habits can be practiced by playing an opponent and trying to predict moves based on habits, but I think the best way to truly practice this is to watch a video with your friend (or watch two players play in front of you) and try to pick up on the habits of both players. Talk about it, see if you’re correct or incorrect. This is a great time to employ all the other fundamentals you’ve learned to try and pinpoint habits and when they’re exploited.

Obviously, you’ll need to practice identifying them mid-match or mid-set, but you need to create a solid foundation first.

As for Neutral: to be honest, practicing this is simply practicing everything else and being thoughtful while playing. Be thoughtful while practicing. Neutral, to me, is the combination of every other fundamental. It’s a skill that is the most important during true neutral. If you can’t win in true neutral, you’ll be disadvantaged more than advantaged, and that leads to losing. My advice for practicing this is playing friendlies and trying to employ everything you’ve been learning.

——

To reiterate: all of your fundamentals tie into MUs and your technical abilities. Remember that you need to combine all three together at some point to morph yourself into a truly great player.

Next time, I’ll be talking about training partners/groups.

Just Sayin’

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

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.

——

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).

——

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’

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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