In the world of videogames, fighting games are unique. Measuring your mastery of the mechanics isn’t just about playing through the story mode and beating all of the bosses until you win. Fighting game mastery is about toppling tougher and tougher human opponents until you either become The One to Topple, or decide to tap out of the game entirely. At some point you tackle the basics of the game, you run up against your first real obstacle, and you don’t know what to do next. If you’ve got that one friend you just can’t beat, or you’ve worked up the nerve for your first Super Smash Bros.Tournament, this guide is for you.
There are, depending on how you count it, between 69 and 78 characters in this game, and with the announcement of Dragon Quest’s Hero and Banjo-Kazooie that roster is only going to grow. It’s completely unrealistic to expect yourself to master every single one of them. So during this period of growth, settle on one character (or two if you really can’t narrow it down) and take two or three sessions, whatever that looks like for you, to really understand their ins and outs.
Smash is all about movement—you’re constantly jumping, running, attacking, walking, and bouncing, and the best way to lose is to settle into a pattern. If you’re finding yourself unable to win, maybe you’ve just become too predictable, and your opponent is just punishing the exact same option time and again. Keeping an eye out for predictability in your gameplay is the best way to break habits, and it offers you a chance to understand what the person mopping the floor with you is probably thinking about during the match.
Rolling is such a tantalizing option. You move out of the way, you’re invulnerable, and you get to roll without letting go of that beautiful safe little shield bubble, so why would you possibly pick anything else? If you dash, you’re vulnerable. If you dodge, you’re still in the same place. Jjumping? That’s how you end up in the air, and if you’re in the air you can get knocked off the stage, no thanks.
But honestly? Rolling sort of sucks sometimes. It has its time and place just like any other movement option in Super Smash Bros., but it’s not the Swiss army knife it seems to be when you first start playing Smash. As soon as the person you’re playing against cottons to your slippery game you’re going to get flung into oblivion. The big problem with rolling around is its predictability and your vulnerability. You’re always going to move a set distance, and you’re always going to have a moment of end lag (the amount of time the game forces you to wait until you’re able to take another action). So next time you find yourself in danger, or your friend is somehow always able to land a hit on you even though you’re rolling for dear life, try something else out. If you’re playing a fast character you can just outrun projectiles; if you know there’s a hit coming try spot dodding next time, and you’ll have the opportunity to follow up since you haven’t moved away; or just try staying in your shield. Really, just anything to break the rolling habit for a little bit.
They’re big. They knock your opponent into the stratosphere. It’s in the title of the game! They’re easy to pull off. And they leave you completely vulnerable if you miss. Every benefit of a smash attack is also its downfall. If you whiff a smash attack, your friend gets to go to town on your butt. If you land a smash attack but it doesn’t kill, now they’re a million miles away, and you have no way to follow up. If you rely on them, then you become predictable, and predictability is the enemy.
Smash attacks aren’t the worst thing in the world though. Just like rolling they have their place. Try saving them for when you notice your opponent rolling around just like you used to, and time a clean smash right in their face. Or maybe hold off on them entirely until you’ve racked up a good amount of damage, and they won’t see it coming at all the first time you break one out.
This one seems obvious, but it completely changed the way I played fighting games. When you press a button you know where your character is going, so there’s no reason to train all of your focus on yourself. You’re trying to beat the other person, right? So you’re going to have to know where they are and what they’re doing at all times. Next time you pick up the controller, train your eyes on the person you’re playing against, and take in everything they’re doing. This makes it easier to pick up patterns, and it gives you that extra split second to react to an attack (or a roll), and you’ll feel like a genius in no time.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is based heavily around momentum. If somebody starts racking up damage and getting in all of those hits you start losing control of the match. Once you start losing control of the match it seems impossible to win. If it seems impossible to win it seems like there’s absolutely nothing you can do to get out of a flashy combo. If you can’t avoid getting hit you might as well give up, and go back to rolling around.
Let’s take a deep breath.
If you catch yourself on a downward mental spiral and you’re able to start analyzing the match while you’re playing then you’ll start catching a glimpse of what it is your opponent is doing to make the match seem so impossible to win. Maybe it won’t lead to you winning, and maybe you won’t win a single match the whole night, but you’ll be able to notice what you’re falling for, and you’ll have the satisfaction of learning something new. That nugget of reward will extend your emotional stamina, and it’ll generally make for a more enjoyable game night with your friends.
If you’re only playing Smash against the computer characters, then you’re really only learning how to beat the computer characters. Part of the fun of fighting games is getting into your opponent’s head, and figuring out what they figure you’ve figured out about them. Tricks that are reliable against the computer aren’t always going to work against a human, and tricks that never work against the computer might be exactly the thing your friends will trip right over.
A lot of purists will tell you that playing online is the worst thing possible, but if you have a decent connection, and there aren’t a lot of people around that you can play with, don’t let the haters stop you. And if you do have a group of friends that you can play against then don’t be afraid to branch outside of that group. Just like only playing against the computer will only teach you how to beat the computer, beating your friends only teaches you how to beat your friends.
Patience is a virtue, we’ve heard it time and again, but in Smash patience has a pretty practical application. Say you’re playing against someone that hasn’t had the good sense to read these tips, and they’re rolling all over the place. They get up from the ledge, they roll, they whiff one of their million smash attacks, they roll, they roll behind you, they roll. If you take the time to wait out one of those rolls, then you’ll be in the perfect position to do whatever you want. You can snag them up into a grab and reposition them, you can throw out one of those smash attacks that you’ve learned to keep for moments just like this, or you can take a deep breath and analyze their play. Smash Ultimate may be a quickly moving momentum-based game, but even one second of downtime can turn the tables in your favor.
There are so many different control settings built into the game, and switching them around for a match or two might unlock something you weren’t expecting. When I switched the right analog stick from smash attacks to tilts I realized how reliant I was on smashes, and how much my game could improve from using tilts instead. A friend of mine remapped his jumps to one of his shoulder buttons, and that change helped him with his aerial game. Maybe flipping your attacks and your specials could be the move for you! You’ll never know until you try.
This one seems vain, but it’s not just about saving your wins. If you’ve gotten absolutely steamrolled, and you have the presence of mind to save the loss for later, then you can come back with fresh eyes and see what the match looked like from an outside perspective. It’s hard to make snap decisions in real time, and it’s nearly impossible to tell what you’re doing wrong in the moment. The ability to save replays is easily the greatest tool for growth, and it will make a world of difference.
Dale Jakes is an intern at Paste.