For years, competitive Smash has existed without the tacit approval of Nintendo and emerged, despite the wishes of series creator, Masahiro Sakurai, into a thriving eSport. Yet, for newcomers to the competitive side of Smash, the game can seem a mashup of bairs, ftilts, true combos, and kill confirms too incomprehensible to truly understand. With over seventy characters, countless playstyles, and a bevy of already good players, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may seem difficult to understand.
However, that’s not actually the case.
With its ever-increasing popularity, competitive Smash has never been easier to get into. With a bevy of streamers, pro players, fact-checkers, and helpful fan communities, Smash’s community is the best place for newcomers to learn how to play–well–Smash. With that in mind, here are five simple ways that anyone can improve their Smash gameplay.
Pick your Control Scheme and Controller Early–and Stick to It
At its core, Smash, like any other fighting game, is a game reliant upon muscle memory. While players aren’t generally expected to perform the crazily complex moves that one might find in a game like Street Fighter, with its half-circles and other arcade zaniness, Smash still demands that players know their controller on a fundamental level.
Because of that, it’s best if you find a control scheme that you like early and stick to it. Play around with several different controllers and see which one you like the best. Many players pick the GameCube controller, with its contoured buttons and sacred place in the Smash community. However, the Switch Pro Controller is the best alternative that Smash players have ever had, with shoulder buttons that are much better than the GameCube’s and two Z buttons. It’s wireless, virtually lag-free, has over forty hours of battery life, and doesn’t require the out of stock GameCube controller adapter.
Once you’ve picked your controller, it’s important to fine-tune your settings in order to find a comfortable control scheme that you won’t have to change as you play. Most players turn tap-jump off, but, besides that, it’s mostly preference. However, a change that I personally recommend is setting stick sensitivity to High and setting your second stick to tilt attacks. While most people will have no problem pulling off Ultimate’s high-powered smash attacks, performing tilt attacks, particularly when turning around or out of a run, is difficult. Once you’ve picked a controller and control scheme, it’s best to try and stick to it. Muscle memory builds over time and it’s better not to change in the middle of developing it.
Find a Main Character
A main, within the world of Smash Bros., is the character that you play the most and feel the most comfortable playing. For example, I have played Ganondorf since Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and continue to play him in Ultimate. Deciding a main is, often, the most time-consuming process of beginning competitive Smash and Ultimate’s enormous roster doesn’t make it much easier.
I found Ganondorf by using him for the Home Run Contest in Smash 4. I found that I liked how hard he hit and the incredible strength that I felt when playing him. I had never been very good with fast characters, so his poor speed, and lackluster recovery (i.e. how he gets back on the stage), never bothered me. Once I played him online, I knew I had made the right choice; he just felt right.
Most people, however, discover their own main through trial and error. It’s recommended that you play as many different matches with as many different characters as you can to get a feeling for what you like playing. It often helps to find an archetype of character, for example, I like heavy characters, and then test to see which one you like the most.
That isn’t to say that you can’t play other characters, (after all, I have a pretty mean Young Link to go along with my Ganondorf), it simply means that you need to find a character that fits your playstyle the best. Once you’ve found that character and played them a lot, then you can start picking up and playing other characters.
Learn Your Character’s Game
Picking a main isn’t much use without learning how to use them. Thankfully, in the modern world of online Smash, there is a multitude of excellent resources that can be analyzed for learning how to improve your gameplay. Learning your character’s game isn’t simply knowing what each button combo does, it’s achieving a sense of how your character approaches a given conflict and understanding how to react almost instinctively to any given situation. Like any skill, it takes some time to master. However, there are three complementary means to learn how to play your character better more quickly.
The first is to find a prominent Smash player who uses your main and to watch them play as much as you can, absorbing knowledge about your character on the way. With some characters who aren’t played as much, it can be difficult, but there are at least a few players using your preferred character in regional and national tournaments. For instance, I follow the matches of Ganon master Vermanubis and take mental notes during his matches to see what sort of combos, mix-ups (variations in attacks/movement), and approaches that he uses. Watching someone who is really good with a character (like Vermanubis is) is essential to improving as quickly as possible.
The second is to jump onto a forum somewhere, like Smashboards’ character-specific forums, and find out what sort of combos or approaches players have been labbing (i.e. discovering through repeated trial and error in Training Mode). Even if you’re not the sort who is into posting there, Smashboards is an invaluable resource in staying on the bleeding edge of the competitive scene. It’s also a good idea to keep track of Smash technique YouTubers like the Beefy Smash Doods, Izaw, My Smash Corner, and Henke, whose channels are full of interesting, entertaining, and unique videos that build knowledge about the game.
The third is to play…a lot. The more you play and the more your hands can develop the muscle memory related to your character. You’ll start to think about how your character would respond to certain situations and build recognition of how to handle certain problems with your character’s toolset. If your character is good at projectile play, you’ll begin to think about how to set up your projectiles in order to force your opponent to do what they want. If you play a heavy character with short range, like Ganon, you’ll begin to think of how you’ll patiently wait for your opponent to make a mistake before wailing on them. Once you’ve reached that point, you know that you’ve reached a certain point of progress with your character.
Learn How to Read Your Opponent
Arguably the most important skill to develop as a Smash player is the ability to read your opponent. I’ve had the experience of being completely dominated by players online, not because there was a vast mechanical difference between our ability to play (although that has happened too) but because they were able to predict what I was going to do (every jump I was going to take, every time I was going to shield, etc.) and make adjustments to their gameplay based on those facts.
Honestly, this is one of those fundamental skills that is hard to overemphasize. Reading your opponent opens up pretty much every other aspect of competitive Smash. If you can predict your opponent’s movement, then you can respond accordingly. Do you know that they are going to shield? Grab them. Are they grabbing too much? Punish them with an attack. Are they attacking too much? Shield and then punish them after their attack is done. Do they like to roll? Know where they’re going and punish them for it.
It sounds easy, but reading is a skill that has to be built up with time and practice. Some characters’ gameplans, like Ganondorf’s and Incineroar’s, are more dependent on it than others, because their moves are so slow that they rely on reading the opponent and baiting them into an attack rather than executing frame perfect combos. Because of that, learning how to read your opponent can take different amounts of time depending on what character you play. However, no matter who you play, predicting your opponent’s next move is essential.
Practice Patience, Play Persistently
This one goes without saying, but bears repetition: if you want to improve, you have to play the game. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking taking a character online for the first time when you don’t know how well you’ll do. Yes, it’s aggravating when someone spams projectiles for an entire match and you lose. However, behind each of these frustrating, nerve-wracking, or exciting situations lies a chance to learn.
I recommend saving your replays, even from terrible matches. I know, I know. I’d rather forget that Pichu who disrespectfully three-stocked you too, but, if you take the time to rewatch your very worst matches, you’ll begin to notice the bad habits that the other player noticed and used against you. Maybe you rolled every time you felt threatened, maybe your recovery was predictable, maybe you just picked the wrong character. Whatever was the case, if you take the time to watch your matches, even the sad ones, you’ll notice the problems quicker. If you’re like me and enjoy getting feedback from others, consider converting replays and posting them on places like Smashboards and /r/CrazyHand to see what other (probably more experienced players) have to say about your gameplay.
Playing persistently doesn’t mean that you have to play eight hours a day, like professional players or streamers do, but it does mean that every time you play, you should be trying your best, and looking to improve. That means not playing when you’re tired, tilted, or otherwise distracted. Trust me, I’ve lost tons of matches simply because I wasn’t in a good mental state to play. Part of improving is realizing when you need to take a break, collect your thoughts, or just put the game down for a while.
All that being said, the more you play Smash, the better you’ll notice yourself playing better and the more you’ll be inclined to play. If you approach Smash with this sort of positive, can-do attitude, and try to spot your mistakes through replay reviews, you will be surprised how quickly you can improve.
With a new game, an unsettled meta, and a bevy of fun, new characters, there’s never been a better time to get into the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competitive scene. It’s an exciting time to be a Smash player and, if you keep in mind these simple ways of improving, you’ll notice yourself improving in no time. Becoming great at anything takes
What are some tips you recommend for improving your Super Smash Bros. Ultimate game? Sound off in the comments below.