Welcome back to Mind Over Meta, everyone! A few weeks ago, we had a conversation describing fundamentals in fighting games at a basic level, and a few simple applications of fundamentals. Today, I want to take a closer look at the topic. Specifically, I’d like to think about some important applications of fundamentals in Project M, and in Smash Bros. in general. Let’s get to it!
Last time, we talked about rock-paper-scissors as a fundamental aspect of fighting games. I listed off a “classic” and simplified view of a central aspect of rock-paper-scissors cycle in these games, and in Smash in particular. That cycle was: blocks beat attacks, attacks beat grabs, and grabs beat blocks.
In response, insightful Melee player /u/NanchoMan and moderator of the Melee subreddit responded with a detailed criticism of this “classic” advantage cycle I mentioned, effectively discrediting the portrait I painted:
“The issue I have with the [attack-block-grab] circle is that there are numerous exceptions in multiple games. Frame traps for one, are attacks that are used to beat blocks. It's what they are designed to do. This circle makes it seem like blocking is a pillar of the neutral, and it's not...Blocking shouldn't be a section of the circle, but I will concede that grabs do beat blocks, but as do certain attacks.”
NanchoMan’s critique is actually entirely valid. I portrayed the cycle as being ubiquitous and a central theme of fighting games. However, as NanchoMan points out, almost all fighting games contain numerous examples of techniques that nullify or even reverse this cycle. Indeed, “In USF4, you have frame traps that beat blocking, and grabs that beat wake up moves for grapplers.” The very basic, entirely intuitive attack-block-grab cycle is not a steadfast rule at all, with probably as many exceptions as cases that follow the rule; it’s like that “i-before-e” rule in spelling.
Nonetheless, I used the attack-block-grab cycle as an example with the understanding that it was limited in its capacity. The purpose was to have a simple, concrete example of rock-paper-scissors in action. Surely there must be a better alternative; luckily, NanchoMan provides one himself.
“In Smash, you mentioned a lot of examples of exceptions to this [attack-block-grab] circle that commonly appear, and that is why my (or James Chen's) circle is a much better one to use. Here is what actually happens:
Space Control/Pokes beat Walking Forward
Whiff Punishes beat Space Control/Pokes
Walking Forward beats Whiff Punishes”
This circle is more abstract in its conception and more difficult in its application, but it is generally more accurate for both Smash and fighting games in general than the attack-block-grab circle. It is also more synthetical, in that it sums up and applies the other fundamentals that PC_Tengen offered in our first article on fundamentals. However, by picking apart the root elements, we can interpret the pieces and stitch together applications in practice.
Summary of a Summary
Before this analysis, it is worth examining how the basic three parts of this new cycle (controlling space, punishing whiffs, and walking forward) re-capture and merge the dynamic of PC_Tengen’s three parts of fundamentals (rock-paper-scissors, screen position, and converting to a favorable position).
First, and most obvious, we see a distinctly rock-paper-scissors triangle between the ongoing elements. This much is clear. But the less obvious point is how this triangle “encodes” winning stage position. To examine this, we need to go back to basics once more.
Stage position involves considering your character’s position relative to the opponent’s in how close to an edge (or how far from the center of a stage) your character is. If your character is in the middle, then an opponent is necessarily pushed to an extremity and hence is at some disadvantage because they have less room to escape to if you decide to exert pressure or threats on them. Converting to a favorable position, then, is generally the process of forcing your opponent either out of the middle and toward a ledge, or further toward a ledge if you already claimed the middle of the stage. The essential goal is to maintain the middle, because like in chess, soccer, and martial arts, the center of the stage is where the action is and therefore where the advantage is.
Of course, your opponent won’t just let you have center stage if they understand the fundamentals of the game to a reasonable degree. They’ll try to push you back as well! The weapons with which we wage war must be things that relate directly to gaining or losing space.
And this is where NanchoMan’s triangle comes in.
It turns out that, when the game is distilled down to positions of blips on a 2D board, the metagame that is left amounts to the three processes NanchoMan’s triangle describes: controlling space, whiffing punishes, and walking forward. These are, indeed, the second-simplest tools in describing what is going on, one order above PC_Tengen’s fundamentals in terms of complexity of play. This is the application of fundamentals.
Triforce of Power, Wisdom, and Courage
Let’s pick apart NanchoMan’s triangle piece by piece.
Controlling space means laying claim to a certain piece of land on the stage. Of course, just that this spot is your homebase doesn’t do anything; you need force to fend off your opponent’s attempts to usurp your area before you can successfully say you control that space. Declare your territory with threat and action!
It’s helpful to refer to Sethlon’s Project M Roy guide for a better explanation of space control (for the umpteenth time!). Specifically, we need to think about the idea of threat zones that Sethlon explains. In his words: “Every character in the game has a space that they control, and a space where they work their best magic.“ By “best magic,” Sethlon means that the character has tools that effectively and safely can punish any character that dares treat in certain areas. Sethlon calls these pictures “threat zones,” and visualizes them with colored bubbles in his guide:
If Meta Knight decides to try planting his flag anywhere in the left side of Pokemon Stadium 2 without thinking carefully, he’ll likely meet a face full of the Sealed Sword! Red bubbles indicate areas where Roy has quick and potent attacks to demolish unwary opponents, black bubbles are places where he fends off the opponent’s moves but doesn’t convert to a combo or threaten KOs, and yellow is a region where he can further keep out opponents but requires either some endlag or vulnerability, and hence Roy is not comfortable keeping his pressure there for long (NB: there are other zones Roy can control which are not shown). The threat zones represent the space your character is currently controlling, and in principle it also incorporates the distance your character can potentially move with little, some, or high amounts of vulnerability or exertion (e.g., space you might reach with a dash-dance grab, or a wavedash F-smash). Threat zones can even reach deceptively long distances with projectiles, long limbs, or advanced movement techniques! Poking into the opponent’s space with ranged moves is the natural way to exert your space control in a tangible way. If the opponent gets too close, poking at them can make them back away and give up ground for you to close in on.
To contest his opponent’s grand space control, Meta Knight will attempt to goad Roy into using an unsafe move or giving up some of his space. That is, he will try to exert a counterpressure to force Roy to misplace a forward tilt, grab, smash attack, or some other committal move. When Roy’s composure finally breaks and he lashes at the air with a poorly timed poke, Meta Knight has a chance to capitalize on the opening, perhaps using a strong aerial, a dash grab, or a run-and-dtilt to start a combo as his punishment of choice. Taking advantage of a whiffed move in some way is the second pillar of NanchoMan’s rock-paper-scissors cycle. Traditional fighting games are somewhat stilted in baiting out whiffed moves since movement is comparatively constricted. But in Project M, dash dancing around the edges of Roy’s threat zones erratically or unpredictably is considered the most default, defined way to accomplish this. However, other techniques like careful use of shielding or (sometimes!) rolling and spot dodging can yield similar results. Incorporating wavedashes, special moves, and other movement options will continue to strengthen your whiff-baiting abilities tremendously.
But while Meta Knight is trying to cheekily outsmart Roy’s space control and get him to use a misplaced attack while Meta Knight skirts the borders of Roy’s threat zones, Roy has another potent option: just move in closer. The third piece of NanchoMan’s cycle, walking forward, is a simple response to barrel through Meta Knight’s wily instigation. Why risk missing a move and leaving yourself seriously open? If Roy just steps in closer, then suddenly, the threat zone Meta Knight was just tiptoeing around has engulfed him, and Roy need only strike with a grab, smash attack, or dtilt in order to make Meta Knight pay. If Meta Knight retreats further to the ledge to avoid Roy’s meaty blade, then Roy takes a victory nonetheless by gaining ground and controlling even more territory. Approaching the opponent and closing the distance between you and your opponent forces the opponent to react, and therefore gives you the upper hand by dictating the pace of the action. Unlike trying to punish a whiffed move, pushing forward into the stage territory is proactive, not reactive; rather than waiting for the opponent to mess something up, you make a forthright move and then challenge the foe to oppose you.
Of course, simply pushing into the opponent’s space doesn’t always work. You might get hit instead of gaining an advantage! Indeed, this is because the opponent is still controlling space with their movement and their potential to throw out moves at any moment. While trying to line up the opponent within your own striking range, it’s quite likely that you fall straight into theirs. In attempting to encroach the opponent’s space, it’s imperative that you pay attention to how the opponent is controlling space and how that contests with your own space control. Finding an opening is key. Thus, we see how the dynamic power struggle for stage dominance comes full circle. Just as NanchoMan explained, we see how the triangle of threat zones, punishing baited moves, and approaching opponents really forms a cycle akin to that of rock-paper-scissors.
Felt, Not Taught
By this point, I have described the theoretical groundwork of fundamentals relatively clearly (hopefully). However, I have not addressed the most important question in discussing fundamentals: how does one improve at applying fundamental skills?
If discussing fundamentals in Smash concretely was a difficult task, discussing how to improve your fundamentals is a labyrinthian trial. For the most part, players will boil down the process to simple adages like “space better,” “bait attacks out more,” or “don’t get hit.” While these general principles are helpful in focusing on overarching mindsets, they fail to offer the specificity needed for low-to-mid leveled players to pick out what exactly they need to improve on.
Unfortunately, I can’t do that much better. In my experience, fundamentals have been something that can be shown, but not taught. I can explain what fundamentals are like, and what the core principles are, but I cannot learn it for you. Fundamentals in Smash and fighting games in general are something that must be acquired through conscientious, focused play. It requires building up a relatively extensive understanding of the game, as well as acquiring hours of experience, trial and error, and confidence. We can only really see the results of fundamentals training, but we cannot feel that result unless we reach that point and feel it ourselves.
If this doesn’t make much sense, consider an analogy. Having a conversation with people is often unintuitive and difficult, especially for people who are not used to it. Children generally learn how to converse with others through trial and error and imitation, and through acquiring an intuition of language via practice. But even though we can break down a conversation into structures and parts, the entire sense of conversations as an experience is hard to convey, because it’s an experience that emerges after many different conversations in thousands of different contexts.
Indeed, a fighting game match is a conversation between two players, and learning the language requires conscious perception and adaptation to the structures of the fight.
But with all of this apologizing out of the way, there are still things I can recommend toward improving your fundamentals, with more specificity than a quick mantra: concentration, conscientiousness, and competence. These points are things to apply during bracket matches, of course, but are more important to apply during practice sessions in preparation for tournament play. The only way to improve in Project M is through thorough and focused practice. I don’t claim that the following points are the only ways to improve, or are guaranteed to help you improve, but I do think that these encompass a lot of aspects of focused and mindful play that can help you to improve.
Concentration: First and foremost, in order to play Smash against a human, it is imperative that you force yourself to pay full attention to what the opponent is doing. Many, many players will try to play Smash as if they are the only person in a tournament full of robots. This mindset most apparently arises from players practicing almost exclusively alone against computer opponents, but can also come from practice that is simply not attentive in general. They treat the opponent like a dummy, instead of recognizing that the opponent is a human with whom they share a goal: beat the other player. This causes endless frustration in real matches, when human opponents have the audacity to not follow predictable routines, or to DI out of combos or kill moves. Every trick you are trying to pull, the opponent can try as well.
And you can take advantage of that! It is true that human players are (generally) not easily stumped by the same tactic over and over; they can adapt and push themselves to extend their boundaries, unlike a piece of code. But this ability comes at a cost: humans can become confused, flustered, or overwhelmed. Playing attentively means trying to watch what your opponent does, more than what your own character is doing, and reacting in response.
This fits into our improved image of fundamentals nicely in a few ways. It turns out that in rock-paper-scissors, one can cheat by glancing at the opponent’s hand just as they pick their choice of throw. In Smash, however, certain tactics require commitment times, or specific ways to set up the tactic, that can inform an opponent of the intended tactic. By being very careful about watching how the opponent moves and where they are trying to place their character, you can predict and preempt what they want to do, countering with the appropriate action. For example, if a Marth is dash dancing around the edge of your zone of influence and suddenly rushes in, that could be a signal that they are looking to grab you. With quick reaction speed, you can back away and slap the Marth back for missing, but this is only possible if you are entirely focused on the opponent. And even further, while peeking at an opponent’s hand is disallowed in rock-paper-scissors, it is not disallowed to catch onto your opponent’s “tells,” or signals indicating which throw they will use, and then counter their throw appropriately. For example, if a Meta Knight always attempts to use a side-B or down-B to approach when you dash dance around them in neutral, if you realize this by paying close attention to patterns, then you can catch their missed attack and punish accordingly, or even shut down the move before it starts by timing your counterattack well.
Paying attention is a skill that people harp about an awful lot in life, and its importance is undoubtedly central to success in Smash. Indeed, attention lets you play both reactively and proactively in fighting games. However, few people actually explain how to pay attention. In past Mind Over Meta articles, I have introduced “S.L.A.N.T,” a mnemonic device my high school English teacher taught me, for the steps of paying attention, but it’s worth briefly reiterating it here (and noting that this is not the definitive advice for paying attention):
Sit up. Proper posture is central to focusing on the action and eliminating distraction.
Lean forward. Leaning toward the TV focuses your body to the game and unconsciously signals to your mind that the important thing right now to pay attention to is the game.
Ask questions. This keeps you engaged in the game and ready to adapt if needed, and ensures that you are absorbing the gameplay enough to ask good questions.
Nod yes and no. Answering the questions you ask, or affirming good combos or tactics you or your opponent uses forces you to evaluate the gameplay at hand, keeping your mental faculties occupied by the match instead of other, irrelevant things.
Talk with teachers. By teachers, I am referring to past experience or videos you have seen other people do. Consulting the advice of other players, or rethinking matches or games you played in the past to search for flexible strategies and how to apply them in the current match, requires you to continuously look for openings or vulnerabilities in both your opponent’s strategies and your own.
I cannot make a person pay attention, and neither can this advice, but it can certainly help you focus on the match better if you internalize the tips I presented here.
Conscientiousness: Paying attention tells you what the opponent is doing. However, competitive Smash is a (usually) 2-player game; you’re still playing, of course! Conscientiousness is the process of adjusting or applying your own strategies and following through in those strategies, and is closely related to concentration.
Committing to a strategy is important. This does not mean that a player should make committal strikes against the opponent, as that would obviously leave a player quite vulnerable. What I mean by commitment to a strategy is being confident and thorough in its application. If you half-heartedly or uncertainly apply a strategy, you can expect half-hearted rewards. By strategy, I do not refer to a particular kind of action, but a pattern of smaller tactics which can include several mix-ups or option coverages, or flowing between one kind of tactic or another. By commitment, I am not talking about commitment to these tactics, but parts of your mental state in applying the tactics. Conscientiousness means security in your plan and its application. It means understanding what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Conscientiousness is about being certain of your decisions and your motivations behind them. Why are we standing in this spot? Why am I dash-dancing now, and what am I trying to gain from it? Being conscientious applies even outside of the neutral game, where fundamentals are less applicable. Should I use an up-air or a nair here? What will be the opponent’s reaction? What could I gain from either? Understanding your own reasoning behind your actions is a huge step toward improving as a player, but having the reasoning thought process to begin with is critical to analyzing that reasoning.
To exemplify this, consider a classic edgeguarding scenario against Kirby; the Kirby is offstage, and slightly below the horizontal level of the ledge. The opposing player has to keep the Kirby offstage, but Kirby’s multiple jumps and tricky horizontal and vertical recovery moves make edgeguarding a challenge, which requires quick reactions to Kirby’s movements, or a hard read. A scared or wavering opponent may find themselves unprepared to deal with Kirby’s recovery. A mental inability to contest Kirby’s offstage maneuverability and hold down control of the stage will probably result in Kirby slipping through the opponent’s uncommitted attempt at edgeguarding as the player throws out unfocused moves. The player may fear the Kirby approaching directly, and consequently leave the ledge open for Kirby to steal. Or the player could try to grab ledge, and then anxiously jump off immediately in an attempt to undo their choices, again resulting in an unguarded ledge. Or perhaps, the player sits on ledge but is unsure what to do from this position because they fear getting hit by Kirby’s up-B move, and hence allow the Kirby to recover directly onto land for free. The player isn’t sure of what they are doing, or what they ought to be doing, and hence effectively chooses to do nothing when the opponent makes decisions, because they fail to address those decisions. Properly conscientious play requires being aware of both your and your opponent’s options in a situation and understanding the consequences of your possible choices.
This short clip from a Pennsylvania weekly helps to show the kind of uncertainty I am talking about. Notice how the Sonic player attempts to gimp Kirby with a spring early on while trying to edgeguard, even while the Kirby is far from ledge. Was he sure of what he was doing? Why did he try to go for a somewhat risky strategy that leaves the ledge unguarded? Further, Sonic sits and back-airs repeatedly instead of forcing Kirby onto stage, meaning that he gives up the ledge for free. In short, it looks to me as though he is not committing to edgeguarding, instead trying to randomly gimp the opponent or catch Kirby jumping too high. While both of these players are quite fantastic in their own right, and Sonic eventually nails a kill after giving up the edge, I think that this specific scenario could be better played had Sonic been more conscientious about his edgeguarding.
Similar scenarios can happen in the neutral game. A player that does not feel committed to outplaying his opponent’s particular strategy can quickly leave themselves open to being overwhelmed by that strategy. For example, if a player gets confused by Roy’s sudden dash-dance approaches and doesn’t feel comfortable reacting pre-emptively or baiting out Roy’s high-endlag attacks, they may weakly attempt a dash dance but not plan in advance enough to avoid a sudden mix-up like Roy’s downtilt or quick jab attack. I call this a non-committal response strategy, because the lack of foresight probably caused the player to feel unsure of their actions and therefore leave them unable to react properly. This is what causes players to feel overwhelmed by things like projectiles or pressure. They are put on tilt and cannot respond to the opponent because their lack of commitment to any particular strategy leaves them vulnerable to sudden changes in what the opponent does. Their insecurity and lack of self-reflection is a weakness.
As a quick example of good conscientious edgeguarding play, we can look at this quick clip from Melee players Mango’s and Abate’s match at The Big House 5. Notice how Fox covers Luigi’s possible options and both proactively eliminates certain options (like stopping Luigi’s offstage approach with an ftilt) while reactively contesting others (such as jumping over Luigi’s offstage Fireball to shine-spike), even being aware of the possibility of a misfire enough to react to Luigi’s ledge-canceled misfire and punish accordingly. Fox is fully aware of what his goals are, what Luigi’s options are, and how to thoroughly achieve his goals in spite of Luigi’s play.
Of course, these are difficult questions to ask in the high paced action mid-match. Respawn platforms or less tense moments in the neutral game offer time to self-evaluate strategies, but these moments are brief. A player also may not be able to consciously evaluate every single possibility at every moment; some things require simple muscle memory. Hence, experience playing against matchups is vital to being conscientious in Smash, so that players know what strategies are common. And what’s more, the confidence needed to play conscientiously is only present when a player is proficient enough to consistently apply their strategies in appropriate situations. This leads me to the last point I want to discuss.
Competence: Good fundamentals can be theorized about for days. However, it takes a player who understands the game well to put it in practice. A competent player is one who knows their characters abilities, properties, and options in various scenarios inside and out. Further, they greatly understand the same things of their opponent’s character, as well as facets of stages that help and hinder them, how to maximally exploit Project M’s physics to their advantage, and how to synthesize all these things in practice during a competitive match.
Like the other advice I brought up, competence cannot be taught. Competence has to be earned, more than any other part of improving. Only practice, both alone perfecting technical abilities and with others perfecting the application of mental and physical technique, can improve your competence. Researching characters, stages, and matchups goes a long way toward improving your ability as a player, but information is useless unless it can be applied to competitive scenarios. That is, it must be practiced in order to be competent.
On the surface level, the importance being competent in Project M is obvious; if you can’t push the right buttons, there really is not much chance of success. But competence goes deeper than simply understanding techniques. You need to be proficient at understanding mechanics, movement options, and matchups. When a player comes into a match with little understanding of the game or its characters, it shows clearly and the player often pays for it by suffering in the game, or even losing (this problem tends to plague many Melee experts who try their hand at Project M and are blindsided by new threats!). Then competence is in part a matter of preparation, and in part a matter of consistent execution.
To see what I mean, just check this short clip from a match between Zero Suit Samus maven Arcana and famous Fox master Mew2king. Zero Suit Samus manages to steal a quick and cheeky stock due to Mew2king’s unsafe approach (coincidentally very similar to how Mew2king’s Marth revels in low percent gimps!). The hasty rushdown exposes Mew2king’s unfamiliarity with this particular matchup, despite his towering skill level, while Zero Suit Samus’s well rehearsed counterattack and KO rewards Arcana’s time spent learning how to play against Fox. It shows that any player is vulnerable to incompetence no matter their record or skill if they do not put in serious time learning the facets of the game. Even if they do work hard, players can frequently find themselves surprised by sudden new tactics, especially in a game as unexplored as Project M currently is; any player who is not a master of every character in the game to the utmost degree is, in some way, incompetent, because they can potentially be overwhelmed with some strategy they did not prepare for. Adaptation comes into play in these scenarios, but adaptation still relies on proper technical preparation for a player to have maximal access to potential improvisation toolkits.
Fixating on the technical aspect of competence leaves a player vulnerable to being unprepared for a tournament match against particular strategies. Fixating on understanding characters and matchups leaves a player liable to mess up executing techniques and pay for it in bracket. It is necessary to have competence in execution and knowledge to succeed consistently.
As I said, the only way to improve is through practice. Indeed, the only way to improve in fundamentals at all is through focused practice. While practicing, pay close attention to the action and continually analyze decisions and scenarios to investigate whether bad situations could have played out differently, or good ones could have been even better. Ensure that your skills are in peak condition and that you can consistently execute tactics you intend to use. Competence breeds confidence, which gives conscientiousness, which allows concentration.
I do have one more suggestion to help you improve fundamentals. This is based largely on my own opinions and philosophies, and while I could be incorrect in this theory, I hold by it.
A common complaint I see of many players in Project M, and even Melee, Smash 4, and fighting games in general, is that certain competitors “lack fundamentals.” Their success, some will allege, is only due to exploiting easy or overpowered aspects of their characters, and that in different circumstances these players would not be so lucky, even perhaps bad at the game.
We see this any time a player performs well with a previously undiscussed character. Sonic, Ike, Mr. Game and Watch, and Captain Falcon are among the characters in Project M which various groups have claimed are unfairly powerful. Their toolkits, or even particular moves in their repertoire, are criticized as doing away with the need for fundamentals, as they allow their character a “win button” automatically.
Even in Super Smash Brothers: Melee, this complaint has been lodged against a variety of characters. Some salty players will often bemoan the Ice Climber’s wobbling ability, in which a grab can be converted to indefinite damage and a KO. Other salty players criticize Falco’s lasers, as they stop the opponent in their tracks from across stage, Fox’s shine spikes, which can kill many characters offstage easily offstage, and even more if the Fox can grab ledge and edgeguard proficiently, and Sheik’s chaingrabs, which are entirely inescapable for multiple characters until death percentages.
I see some validity in a lot of these claims; characters do have varying abilities to win the neutral game, or convert massive advantages off of single smaller advantages. In Project M, every character has at least one tactic that can propel them to dominate nearly any matchup, provided the players are effective in exploiting that tactic. Against unwary opponents, any character can gain such an “unfair win.” Even in Melee, almost everyone from Fox (with shine spikes and powerful smash attacks), at the top of the tier list to Kirby (whose swallocide abilities and wall-of-pain aerials leave many players upset) at the very bottom has some kind of tactic which can be exploited excessively for an easy win unless the opponent is aware to counter it. Almost everyone.
Project M graced Roy with consistent combos and powerful tools in his aerials, dash attack, Flare Blade, and Double Edged Dance among other moves. However, in Melee, Roy was… lacking, to say the least. I argue that he has effectively nothing to exploit in Melee. Neutral B is extremely underwhelming. His aerials are severely underpowered, and his combos are short and generally escapable. The only saving graces that Roy has are his down-tilt, which pops up opponents to expose them to his weak aerials, his long and somewhat powerful dash dance, and his forward smash, which has relatively long startup and endlag. Even worse, many moves, notably his dash attack simply do not work properly; they appear to be missing hitboxes due to programming oversights. Roy is simply devoid of tools, and is immensely frustrating to play. Even his most imposing and difficult tactic, using his down-air spike to secure an offstage KO, is unbelievably wimpy, and more often leads to Roy’s own doom than earns a kill. His recovery sucks, and his kill options are limited.
As a result, Roy is beautiful in Melee. Sethlon’s guide to Roy in Project M describes the character as “fundamentals-based.” But with Project M Roy’s consistent and powerful options, new players can easily become overly-reliant on certain exploitable moves. In Melee, Roy has almost nothing. He is a blank canvas for you to paint whatever sort of picture you like on him, and fundamental fighting game skills are your watercolors and brush.
Roy’s usable dash dance and deceptively long grab give him a useful way to earn an advantage, as certain DI mixups can lead to a neutral B, or even forward-smash against certain characters. His down-tilt opens up opponents for quick successive hits, and even a forward-smash in some scenarios. Since Roy cannot rely on dash attacks, he must learn how to dash dance effectively in order to earn an opening with either a grab or a tilt attack. His edgeguarding ability is limited mainly to tilt moves and an occasional forward smash, so learning proper edgeguarding procedures like grabbing ledge when appropriate is a must for Roy to hold down his KO opportunity. And Roy’s awful recovery necessitates immaculate DI for survival at medium-high percents. In short, Roy has to play good to be good.
I have, in the past, argued that using a variety of characters in non-competitive practice can provide benefits in perspective and various technical skills which can then be applied to other characters. I think that Melee’s incarnation of Roy showcases the pinnacle of this concept: no character must work harder for an advantage than Roy, because Roy has no tools to give him an easy advantage. He is fundamentals-based in the strictest sense, in that he must apply fundamental skills to get anywhere. It’s the ultimate training weight in Smash. If you play Roy in Melee, you are condemned to frustration until you learn to improve your fundamental skills in Smash. Hence, this experience is the most boiled-down fundamentals training experience I can think of in either Melee or Project M.
I realize that not everyone has access to a copy of Super Smash Brothers: Melee, and that not everyone enjoys playing it. However, consider my recommendation to practice applying fundamentals with Roy as an afterthought to this week’s article. I have passed this notion to a variety of players, and almost all of them tended to agree with the sentiment. While I can’t guarantee an improvement from labbing serious hours exploring Roy’s style of play, and consequently your own style, I can say confidently that the skills you learn will give you a more aware paradigm for Smash as a whole, and what it means to commit to an option, poke at an opponent, or expose a foe’s vulnerabilities in the neutral game. Because for Melee Roy, and only for Melee Roy, if you do not learn these things, you lose the game. I recommend you consider it if the option is available.
Fundamentals in fighting games are deceptively complicated. Two fairly long articles (perhaps our longest articles thus far!), a fair bit of theorizing and discussion, and great difficulty on my end in formulating good, measured advice and analysis should attest to that. Fundamentals involves a complex dance on the physical level and on the psychological level which is somewhat difficult to put to words, but which speaks to something that transcends Smash, something innately human and deeply tied to the aspect of competition between persons.
It took us over an entire year here at Mind Over Meta to really attempt addressing the topic of Fundamentals in Project M, and while this seems like a good break point for now, I doubt we are done talking about it. In the future, with feedback and more insight, incubation, and interdisciplinary discussion, I would like to revisit this topic with new thoughts and outlooks. For now, though, I hope this article helps you improve your gameplay over time, from the core outward.
-- Orangegluon & the Mind Over Meta Team.
How have your fundamentals improved over time?
What do you recommend doing to improve fundamentals? What have I missed?
Are there things a player can do to avoid losing grip of their fundamentals?
What steps should a new player to Project M take to improve fundamentals from the start?
Is there anything I have been incorrect about, or that you disagree with?