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Thoughts On: Smash 4 Demo

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As those who follow my twitter probably know, I’m really into the Smash series. I follow the Melee and Project M competitive scene religiously and I compete a bit myself. Obviously I’m excited for the next entry. As per usual with my blog, this article is impromptu with no planning; I just wrote down my thoughts in real-time and I’ll probably be rambling a lot. So I included a TL;DR at the end.
I know it’s silly to expect the level of depth and complexity that Melee’s gameplay had, since it’s been known for a while that Sakurai didn’t want that from the game. So I’m not gonna compare it to Melee, that’d be unrealistic. Smash 4 is not Melee, and it doesn’t need to be like Melee to be good. Instead, I’ll be comparing it to what I consider to be a satisfying experience. Mostly I’ll be pointing out the things that weren’t “good” or satisfying to me, and I’ll try to provide insight on how it could be improved.
Another thing to note is that I’m not gonna be talking about Smash 4 as a whole just yet, I’ll probably have another article altogether on that. I’ve only played the demo so far, so I’ll only be talking about the demo.

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The first thing I noticed when I started playing was the massive amount of landing lag (I think they call it “recovery frames” in traditional fighting games) on aerial moves, though it wasn’t a surprised. We knew about this since the first playable demo at E3. Some landing lag is a good thing, as it allows for punishes. But it feels way overboard in Smash 4. There’s so much lag that I never even want to use an aerial move because I know I’ll have to watch my character recover from it, whether I hit with it or miss. That having been said, there are also a lot of aerials that can be auto-cancelled. Obviously this will lead to the auto-cancellable moves being used predominantly, while the aerials with massive lag will be rarely used. In a worst-case scenario, one could even predict that this will eventually lead to the characters with a large amount of auto-cancellable aerials being used more than the others, effectively limiting the list of viable characters.

The worst part about this whole thing is that they already had the perfect system for this. L-cancelling in 64 and Melee made sense: aerials have a reasonable amount of lag, but if you time your L-cancel perfectly, then the recovery time is cut in half. If you miss it, then you have a higher chance to be punished, and it’s your fault. There was no reason to change this system.

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My next issue was the movement. If you ask a Melee player their favorite thing about Melee, and what separates it from other fighting games (even other Smash games) they’ll say it’s the movement. Melee’s deep and difficult movement options are the key to spacing and positioning, both of which are vital to the metagame. L-cancelling, dancedashing, wavedashing, wavelanding, SHFFLing, shield-dropping; these advanced techniques are what make Melee unique, and they play a large part in the reason why Melee can be taken to such a high skill level. Much like Brawl, most if not all of this movement options are taken away from the player in Smash 4. You can run, jump, and use attacks. That’s pretty much it. Because of the removal of these options, I don’t feel like I have complete control of my character in Smash 4 (granted, it may be partly because of the 3DS circle pad; I’m sure it’ll be a bit better when the Wii U version comes out). That’s my biggest problem; I can’t express myself through my movement properly because the options to do so don’t exist. Everything feels slippery. I can’t cancel my dash animation with a SHFFL or a wavedash, so I have to slip and slide everywhere. This, combined with the intense lag time, leads to a largely unsatisfying experience.

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Going into the demo, I thought the thing I’d dislike most about the game would be the lag time. Turns out I was wrong. The biggest problem with Smash 4, by far, is that it’s extremely difficult to KO. There are a few reason for this, the most pertinent being the fact that the blast zones on every stage to be taken seriously are absolutely huge. In far too many cases, I’ve had an opponent at extremely high percents, (150-180%), and I’d hit them with an attack that should kill them. They’d fly far away, really far, and they just didn’t die.
This leads into the next point: it’s far too easy to make it back to the stage. Edgeguarding, an important component of the Smash metagame, is nearly non-existent in Smash 4. Since the blast zones are so big, the character gets more air time to DI and air-drift back to the stage. Also, following Brawl’s trend, all up-B recoveries are far more effective overall, making it extremely easy to get back to the stage when knocked off for most characters. To top it all off, the new “ledge” system ensures that you grab the ledge even if it’s already occupied by another character. Edgeguarding used to separate the good players from the not-so-good ones. With effective edgegaurding, you could get early kills through skill and stage awareness. Now it’s virtually gone. RIP in piece.
Another huge problem with the game is the unbalanced knockback from attacks. Generally, aerial moves are less effective for KO-ing. By less effective, I mean, have fun trying to KO with an air move before 150%. It seems like Sakurai really wanted you to use Smash moves to KO, as they seem to be the only reliable way to get kills at a reasonable percent.

Knockback is a big issue. To sum it up, Smash 4 has the unfortunate combination of the knockback being generally too much to get follow-ups, hit confirms, or combos, while being not enough to KO at reasonable percent. This leads to long, drawn-out, boring matches. At this point it seems Smash 4 will follow the “hit once, run away, reset situation” Brawl-esque style of play. Then at higher percents, players will spend most of the time fishing for stray smash attacks for KOs. Blegghhhhhh.

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So here’s the TL;DR:
– too much lag time on aerials that don’t autocancel
– lack of movement options result in being unable to express myself properly
– blast zones are far too big
– up-B recoveries are too effective for edgeguarding to be meaningful
– aerial attacks are generally too weak to get kills with; using smash attacks generally seem to be the only way to get KOs at reasonable percents
– knockback is generally too much to get follow-ups, hit confirms, or meaningful combos, while being not enough to get kills at reasonable percents

Before I end this article I want to get a few disclaimers out of the way first. This should go without saying, but the game is brand new (it isn’t even out yet, in most of the world). It will take some time for players to adjust to the new engine. Hopefully the game will become more fast-paced as players get better and get used to the new engine. Also, who knows, there may be some important undiscovered advanced techniques that radically change the metagame for the better. These are just my first impressions on the demo.
When I compared Smash 4 to Melee when I talked about movement options, I wasn’t trying to imply that Smash 4 had to be like Melee to be good. If anything, I was implying that it needs movement options in general to be satisfying, at least in my opinion. It doesn’t have to be Melee’s options, it could be techniques that are unique to Smash 4. But as it stands now, the movement in Smash 4 is insufficient for me to be able to properly express myself.
It may seem like I’m being overcritical, but I’m not complaining just for the sake of complaining. I love Smash and I want to to be as good as it can be. I’m critical because I’m passionate.

Lastly I want to say that even though this article consists mostly of being a hypercritical turbonerd, I’m sure Smash 4 will be fun. Brawl was fun with items, custom stages, 4 players, etc. I’m sure Smash 4 will be the same. I just don’t see a competitive future in it as it stands now; no matter how hard the Smash community tries. Before trying to force it to be competitive like they did with Brawl, they should first evaluate the game and ask, should there be a competitive scene for this game?

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