With the release of Super Smash Bros 4 on the WiiU and 3DS, my friend group has a new found interest in fighting games. My group is probably somewhere between casual and competitive, as we enjoy playing the game without knowing everything about it, but also like learning about how our characters work. The problem I find, however, is that my friends and many other players that are new to fighting games make very similar mistakes both in game and out. In an attempt to help newer players, I want to explain the five biggest problems I find when a beginner picks up a fighting game, regardless of whether it’s Smash Bros or Street Fighter.
Jumping in most fighting games is the quickest way to get from point A to point B, but it also comes with a series of very serious side effects and should be used wisely instead of randomly to traverse the battlefield. In some games, like Street Fighter 4, you can’t block in the air and you move in a very strict arc, meaning that a badly timed jump can lead to taking serious damage. The qualities of a jump change depending on what game you play, but the philosophy is always the same; jumping is a specific tool to be used when necessary, not randomly as the most basic form of movement.
Just like jumping, doing just about anything in a fighting game is a risk. Obviously, this is at opposition with the first instinct that new players succumb to when playing fighting games. Players want to do cool stuff and knowing how to do the moves gets in the way of that, which leads to some players mashing frantically on their buttons in an attempt to have fun. Although acting randomly is a mind game of its own, each random move thrown out puts you at disadvantage and makes it easy for your opponent to punish you. Fighting games are all about punishing your opponents mistakes, so punching and kicking without any thought does absolutely nothing for your offense, while also leaving you completely vulnerable. Instead of jumping into the game guns blazing, sit down with a friend or in training mode and look at what your character’s moves look like. Their usefulness should be relatively obvious (a crouching upward punch is probably a good anti-air and should only be used when an opponent jumps in on you, for example). Once you’ve figured out what is in your character’s arsenal, go into a match and think before you attack. Each attack should be a calculated assault, not a random barrage of buttons.
“But, Tom! I play games to have fun. I don’t want to have to do homework before I can enjoy my fighting game!”
That’s true, Adrian (or whatever your name is…), but, like all games, you need to learn the rules before you can actually play. Would you sit down to a chess table and start throwing your pieces around the board? No. You’d learn what each piece does and use them appropriately. If you take the short amount of time to learn your character and the basic game mechanics you’ll get so much more out of your game and be able to play against better players without feeling completely inept.
At this point you’re probably at least taking your fighting game of choice seriously enough to know how to do a few moves and win a few matches. You might have even watched a view match videos of high level play. Thanks to those videos you’ve picked up some fighting game jargon and heard pro players talk about how strong certain characters are against others. “Character X is high tier! Don’t play Character Y, he sucks,” you might say to your friends the next time you get together.
Wrong. You suck, not Character Y. Tier lists only make any sense when both players are at their peak performance. The only time that tier lists are even remotely relevant is at high level play and mistakenly thinking otherwise is going to seriously hinder both your performance and your enjoyment of your game of choice. Playing with a character you enjoy and work well with will help out your gameplay much more than picking whatever character the professional players pick. Tier lists differ from region to region for a reason, because players that pick the character they like show that character’s true potential through studying and training and then players counter pick other characters based on the specialists in their area.
It is true, however, that a new player might find it easier to win with a high tier character, but that’s entirely dependent on the game. A new player playing Eddie in Guilty Gear would get completely destroyed against a new player picking Potemkin because piloting Eddie takes a thorough understanding of fighting game mechanics and timing, while randomly hitting heavy slash with Potemkin will deal seriously ridiculous damage to an unsuspecting opponent. Don’t start shouting about who is high tier or low tier in an attempt to sound like you know what you’re doing. Pick a character you like and stick with it until you get to the point where the character is holding you back more than you already are.
Once players get a grasp of how a game works, they often figure out what of their character’s moves are better than others. The problem therein is that a move is almost never useless. Take Hugo, for example. Although his jab, short, forward and strong are decent enough, his crouching fierce and roundhouse are awful and should rarely be used. The key word here is rarely, not never. Obviously determining what moves are good and what moves are bad is really helpful, but mind games are equally as important and completely omitting one facet of your character’s gameplay can seriously hinder your ability to mess with your opponent. It is true that a highly choreographed parry move is probably not that useful, but, in certain situations, it could catch an opponent off guard and completely turn around a match.
If you only play games to win, fighting games might not be for you. Try Solitaire instead. In every fighting game there is a winner and a loser and your chances are very slim as a beginner to be wining more than losing. Each match is a learning experience that will make you a stronger player in the long run, so you better get used to getting your ass handed to you. If you get “salty” (i.e. frustrated and upset) easily, then you might want to consider funneling that energy into training mode and using it as fuel when you grind out combos and look for new tech. Make rivalries among your friends and level up your game to match theirs rather than getting angry after your first loss and leaving.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. We fight in games for the joy of competition and the thrill of an equally matched opponent, not to get salty and throw a hissy fit when we can’t get our way. Remember that you’re only as good as the people you play against, so beware of thinking you’re the best in your local area when you’re just a larger than average fish in a sea of sharks. Instead of conceding to that fact, enter local tournaments and prove that you’re the best. Once you’re the best in your region, go to major tournaments and prove your the best in your country. Then once you’ve done that, go to EVO and prove you’re the best in the world. Until then, just keep on fighting.