Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Reading Smash: Soft Combos vs. True Combos

"AUGH! How did he do that?! I didn't have time to move, even!"
-Noobs everywhere, on combos

Combos are the soul of any fighting game. In more conventional fighting games (looking at you, Street Fighter), combos are discovered and then memorised. You practice that 40% damage combo for weeks before the tournament, and then practice getting that opening. Then the time comes and you just have to go through the motions, if you manage to execute under the pressure. In this sense, it's much like classical music.

Combos in Smash (I believe it was Prog who said this) are more like jazz. You gotta improvise. You know the moves, but you never know what the other player is going to do so you gotta be able to keep up. Players are given more freedom of movement than in normal fighting games, and that makes for unpredictable, beautiful, astounding play.

The Platforming aspect of Smash is real, and it's what separates the Smashes from the MKs. Understanding the physics of platform games, and those of Smash in particular, is tantamount to victory. If you know how all the movement works, you know how your opponent can move, and you can capitalise on that knowledge to make combos.

I'll point out a few terms that you will need to know if you want to get serious about your smash game. This time I'll talk about the game mechanics and techniques for combos specifically. Next time I'll detail mechanics about the attacks that make the combos

  • DI: "Directional Influence"
    • DI means the influence a player has over its character's input when you are incapacitated. If you get punched by DK, you're going to go flying, this much is certain: how far you go, and how high, will alter slightly based on where you hold the control stick. Down throws usually involve slamming the throwee to the ground; they will bounce up, but whether they arc to the right, left, or straight up depends on the direction held by the throwee.
  • Tech: quick recovery (NOT to be confused with Technology)
    • Teching, or Ukemi (a Japanese tumbling technique) are a vital basic technique in Smash. When you get hid hard enough that you can't regain control of your character before you hit a wall, floor, or ceiling, you can hit the Shield button right before landing and quickly get up, offering a few frames of invulnerability, followed by a couple of frames of helplessness.
    • You can tech to the right, left, or in place, offering that versatility which rewards skilled play.
  • Reads: predicting your opponent's DI
    • A soft read is one which involves little risk. You know the 3 ways your opponent can go, so you move or make an attack that covers 2 or all of those possibilities. Typically, this results in sub-optimal punishment (but a successful read is a successful read)
    • A hard read is all-or-nothing: you predict your opponent is going to Tech to the left, so you begin charging a smash, and release just as they're vulnerable.
  • Tech chase: following the tech
    • Tech chase is akin to a soft read, but involves waiting to see what they do and reacting after. It is, of course, possible to jump the gun and tech chase in the wrong direction (which would be seen as a failed hard read)
  • Combos: the bread and butter
    • A True Combo leaves no chance for your opponent to escape them. They are incapacitated, and have few DI or Tech opportunities. In my reckoning, a True Combo can include soft reads, as long as they cover all escape possibilities.
    • A Soft Combo requires hard reads, or other mind games, to work. They are less reliable, but more impressive!

The folks at Smash have been nerfing the True Combo ever since SSB64, preferring to focus on the jazz-like gameplay that the mechanics want to encourage. If you learn how to read your opponents, get in their heads, and stay one step ahead of them, you'll prosper.

Check out my next article, which breaks down attack mechanics and how to know which ones to use when. 

Until then, stay mindful, skilled playa!

-mysteriosum(the deranged hermit)


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