Smash Ultimate, and 2019

Part three of my turn-of-year recap.

Smash Ultimate

Since DPOTG, I have played Melee once. For 20-30 minutes. The rest of the time, I’ve been playing Smash Ultimate. The full month I went without playing Melee is maybe the longest I have gone without playing in years. I quite literally cannot remember the last time I went that long without touching the game.

I feel like I’ve already played Ultimate for more hours than sm4sh. One of my main gripes with sm4sh was that it never felt like the type of game I could sit down and grind. Even Brawl I would have days where I would play WiFi for hours on end. In sm4sh, my interest would get lost pretty quickly. The most joy I got out of that game was doing cool things that no other player was doing in front of a crowd or stream. In fact, my Kirby played noticeably differently on the Xanadu stream than off-stream. You could tell that I was playing it up to the viewers and getting in my opponent’s head with wacky options, but I didn’t go for those things as much off-stream.

The best explanation I have for this phenomenon is that movement-based games are more fun. They keep your attention longer because it feels like the better you get at the movement, the better you are at the game as a whole. In sm4sh, the movement was very limited, so you had to basically start from scratch with every new character. But in games like PM, Rivals, Slap City, and Melee, each time you play you get a deeper sense of satisfaction as you approach mastery.

This is the feeling I’m getting with Ultimate. Each time I make a breakthrough in the game, it feels like I can add three new characters to my arsenal. It very much reminds me of how I felt in the early days of grinding PM with Junebug, where I’d enter Xanadu every week and show off a new character. Dashing, running, jumping all feel better in Ultimate than any smash game besides Melee. More characters have good aggressive options, defensive tools have to be used much more sparingly, and every character feels satisfying to play. In sm4sh, a lot of characters felt meh to play. Even in Brawl the characters felt like they were able to showcase more personality. But I feel that Ultimate really embodies what smash is about in that you can pick your favorite Nintendo character and get an immense feeling of satisfaction from playing them.

I was actually getting pretty frustrated at around a month into playing the game. I was having trouble settling on a character, which I felt pressured to do in order to get results. It was harder for me to reliably find good opponents, since most training circles from sm4sh carried over and I’ve been retired in that game for almost 3 years now. It’s especially rough given how spoiled I got in Melee – people seek me out to play Melee, but in Ultimate I have to put a lot more effort into getting practice. Being busy with work and other aspects of life, too, make it difficult to really put in the hours that I want to commit to improving.

But about a week ago things started to click better for me. I decided to forsake the need to settle on a main, and to instead focus on mastering as many elements of the game as I could, trusting that characters that fit me would reveal themselves over time. Since I made that mental change, I have felt so much better about the game and have been improving much more rapidly. I’m focusing on a few characters at a time and I keep finding more that I want to try. After playing Pichu for about a month, I played Link for a week, and then a week later I entered Glitch going almost all Wario. I’ve also been working on my Falco, I discovered I like playing Mewtwo in this game, and so forth. I feel the gears turning and it feels amazing.

Another exciting aspect of the game is the introduction of new character archetypes. Maybe not new if you played sm4sh, but definitely new if you play Melee. For example, I sometimes feel like a scrub when I fight projectile-centric characters like Villager and Duck Hunt. You don’t have to deal with characters like that in Melee, so it’s a new challenge for me. At the end of day 1 at Glitch, I let my ass get beat by a Villager for upwards of an hour because I wanted to learn how to fight him so badly. Eventually I realized that instead of jumping every time he shot a rocket, which would inevitably result in me getting hit in the face with a slingshot pellet, I could shield the rocket and wait, or roll through the rocket and take position. A basic mixup it seems, but we have other ways of dealing with projectiles in Melee such as initial dash shield and powershielding. In Ultimate, you can’t shield during initial dash, so it’s a much heavier commitment, and you can’t reflect projectiles with a powershield (you actually can’t powershield at all anymore).

I’m actually staying away from true sword characters in general so far. I might give them a shot if I find some fun, but it’s hard for me to imagine any of them are as fun as Melee Marth. The only exception would be a character like Chrom or Ike where it’s really satisfying to land those heavy hits. Link doesn’t feel like a true sword character in that regard either, as his gameplan revolves so heavily around projectile and remote-bomb play. That in itself makes him feel like a totally new character archetype.

I like Pichu a lot, and early on was saying that Pichu felt like Melee Falco and Pikachu in the way you set up mixups using your projectile then pressure your opponent’s shield with spacing and timing mixups. The way you use Nairs on a defending opponent will feel very familiar to Melee players. I’m actually finding that more and more characters can pressure in this way as I get better at the game, and it’s something I hope to see develop as time goes on. Link even feels like he has something akin to shine pressure when you mix in Bomb Dthrows and Z-drops with aerial catches. I would really like to see more Melee players give Ultimate an honest try, because I think the game has so much potential depth to it that will only be unlocked if players from all backgrounds push the game.

I’m trying to keep my eyes on the horizon and ensuring that every experience I have with the game is contributing toward long-term improvement. I haven’t taken any smash game as seriously as I take Melee, so applying what I’ve learned in the past year from Melee to Ultimate will be a fun challenge. I’m training myself to recognize good gameplay so that I can reinforce strong habits within myself and identify areas that need to be worked on.

For example, I had been focusing a lot on movement and neutral options over the past week with my characters. But when I arrived to Glitch on day 2 to play my bracket matches, I felt that I needed to push my punish game a bit harder. I got comfortable moving around with Wario, but wanted to be a little more selective in my move choice so that I could make sure each neutral win was worth a little more. My Uthrow combos and juggles got significantly stronger as I focused, but I realized that I need to get stronger kill setups. I need to work on my waft setups and, after watching Tweek, realized I need to explore when and where to use Ftilt. Tweek gets a lot of Ftilt kills, so I’ll be working on that.

Right now it feels like I can make leaps and bounds of improvement in Ultimate. There is lots of opportunity to do cool movement, get creative with combos, and learn new characters. These are all things I love about platform fighters, and that’s why I’ve spent so much time playing Ultimate in the past month.

So… what does this mean for 2019?

I’m not totally sure yet. I see a few possibilities for 2019 right now. And I don’t think any of them involve as much focus on Melee as I saw in 2018.

For one thing, I want to limit how much I travel this year. Last year, if I saw a tournament that fit in my schedule, I would almost always make it happen. I would go through 1-2 month stretches of a tournament every weekend or every other weekend. It was a lot to maintain. There are other parts of my life that I really want to focus on in 2019, and I simply cannot do that if I’m traveling with as much frequency as I did. Most likely, I’ll be limiting myself to two travel weekends a month, maximum. Right now I’m thinking: nothing in February, Full Bloom and Collision in March, one event in April (not Pound), GOML(?) in May, Smash’n’Splash in June, nothing in July, EVO and one other in August, Big House in October. Everything besides that is TBD or locals.

I’m also wondering about how I want to approach Melee versus Ultimate. I think I want to put some serious effort into improving at Ultimate, but not quite what I did with Melee last year. I want to have fun with the game but I want to leave room to breathe. I don’t have as much motivation to grind Melee with the intent to improve right now. I’m really, really proud of what I accomplished in 2018. And it’s not like my competitive drive is any lower, it’s just that I have to consider how much time I physically have to dedicate each day toward my goals. The way Hugo described it is apt – every improvement in Melee right now, at our level, is incremental, but there is a great deal of improvement to make in Ultimate. It’s a different type of rewarding, and a different type of fun that I’m having.

So that’s why I say I don’t see myself only focusing on Melee this year. That leaves a few open questions, though. Should I still enter Melee events? If I do, should I go Marth? I wonder about this sort of thing. Does it feel right to enter a tournament and play as Marth if I’m not pushing myself the way I did last year? Would it be better for me to pick another character and see how that goes, while I focus on Ultimate?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions yet. I need to play more Melee to see where I’m at. I should say, though, that the 30 minutes of Melee I played since DPOTG, it felt like nothing had changed. I went in as Fox with 0 warmup and missed basically no tech after a game or two. And my Marth was still moving like no time had passed. It’s almost like 15 years of Melee doesn’t disappear overnight.

I’m wondering how well I would be able to compete in both games at once. I think I can do it, especially because I’m still plugged into the preparation for competing and constantly working on my fundamental game skills. The drawback right now is that I’m heavily into the “learning mode” for Ultimate right now, where I need to master game knowledge in order to properly apply my skills. Once I reach that point, I think competing in both at the same time would be much more manageable. Switching between games is a skill I learned long ago, as I’ve competed in multiple games before. No, I don’t typically have issues with confusing muscle memory between games. I had one slip-up at DPOTG, but this is a skill I would refresh and be honing just like any other should I decide to keep competing in both games seriously.

I’ve also considered doing something like focusing on Melee teams instead of singles, but that would require a static partner and I can’t really rely on lloD entering tournaments anymore. I’m teaming with Chillin at Genesis, but there’s a chance I’m dropping out or we’re going joke characters depending on the scheduling. Something I didn’t note in the DPOTG post – I wanted to practice Ultimate, but because I was inevitably making it far in both Melee singles and doubles, the vast majority of the time that could have been spent practicing Ultimate with actual Ult players was spent in Melee bracket. This is an element of improvement that I sort of forgot about, since my Melee practice would get more concentrated over time. But people go to majors to experience new playstyles and types of opponents, and that’s the sort of thing I’ll need if I’m serious about making strides in that game. So committing to both Melee singles and doubles might not be the way to go.

I genuinely want to know what my friends, supporters, and fans want to see from me. A lot of this has been swirling around in my own head, but it’s nice to get some outside perspective too. So if you have thoughts on what you’d like to see from me, please hit me up on Twitter (@rishissb) or Discord (discord.gg/rishi) with your thoughts! I’m pretty easy to reach.

Thanks as always for reading. 🙂

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rishi

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