Negative Aspects of SSBM

By Kevin “PPMD” Nanney of Evil Geniuses

Hey there smashers! I’m going to write about some different topics in the coming installments because of all of the commotion circulating in the Smash community right now. Today my post is about negative aspects of SSBM as a game. Taking aside arguments such as “Melee players are stubborn and don’t like new things” for now, I think it is best to inform people of more correct arguments to use against the game and not just the players. This post was inspired by a discussion I had with a Brawl Backroom member in a Twitch chat the other day when he told me that no one seemed to be allowed to talk about Melee’s faults as a game. I am personally either ambivalent toward the faults or even like them so I certainly have no trouble discussing them here in the interest of fueling more intelligent discussions about smash games. I hope we can make and read posts like this with an open mind and encourage a greater informed opinion in the smash community. Anyway, let’s get to the weaker aspects of SSBM as a game, starting with the most common arguments and moving to the least common arguments.

To begin, I generally see people bashing L-canceling and Wavedashing (WD’ing) calling them unnecessary mechanics which make the game harder “for no reason.” L-cancel is much less defensible as a game mechanic than WD’ing is since L-canceling does not necessarily confer more advantage as opposed to the same lag-reduction for no input. It feels like technicality and button-mashing for button-mashing’s sake, essentially. Regardless of how one feels about each game mechanic, it is very true that SSBM’s technical barrier to entry is very high. This is especially true for the space animals, or Fox and Falco. One cannot even begin to engage with an opponent mentally without putting in at least several weeks of practice just to move and attack. This technical requirement never really gets much easier either, as top-level players often struggle with technical ability even after intensive training for events. A game that is extremely difficult in just the technical requirement, leaving other attributes such as precision alone for now, is very discouraging for newer players and even those who have been playing for years. When choosing between a game where the attacks and movement are the same for everyone on day one or day one thousand and SSBM, it should come as no surprise that difficulty of execution will play a crucial role.

Easily another factor that can and should affect players’ game choices is balance. Balance is related to how many viable characters there are, typically relative to the cast as a whole. If only half the cast is worth using in tournaments ever because matchups are too uneven beyond a certain tier point, then that game might be said to be relatively unbalanced. If every character could be played successfully in tournament, then that game would be relatively balanced. In SSBM, there is some debate on proper viable criteria, but suffice to say that the typical number of given viable characters is 8 out of about 26, with only about 4-5 having consistent major tournament-winning potential. This would make Melee very unbalanced. An extension of this fact is that players have less tournament-typical matchups to learn in order to be successful. This fact can also affect the game’s spectating and how fun it is if players are playing and watching the same few matchups in slightly different combinations rotating throughout an entire, multi-day tournament. When choosing a game to play, it may be helpful to consider how much a tier list will truly impact which character you play and if you can still pick one you like and win with it.

Lastly, for the most uncommon argument against Melee – Crouch canceling (CC’ing). To define the mechanic quickly, CC’ing(or its partner, ASDI down), works by punishing someone for hitting you. Essentially, if you CC then your character does not get knocked back as far and is much more likely to not leave the ground or go into stun at all when attacked. The mechanic varies by percent and whether your character was in crouch animation or not, but consider the effect on gameplay this mechanic has. Hitting someone when they make a mistake suddenly becomes a guessing game instead of a free opportunity for outplaying someone at times. How can I know if someone is holding down when they mess up? This creates strategy in avoiding CC punishes, but it arguably reduces depth by having to space around CC punishes or using moves (such as small-range grabs) to punish opponents instead of combo-starters. Ultimately, CC’ing attempts to violate a fundamental fighting game principle of punishing the opponent when they are outplayed and converting that opening into an advantage.

It is my sincere hope that these arguments against SSBM can and will be used to give potential and current smashers more information to choose a game they really want to play. It is also my hope that in the upcoming arguments about which game people “should” play and how to even put forward love of one’s own game that these discussions and statements are made realistically and rooted in game understanding. Talking about the balance, technical barrier, and CC’ing elements of Melee is something not to be ignored but to be accepted no matter which side of the pro-SSBM or anti-SSBM fence one comes from.

Follow Kevin on twitter @EG_PPMD

  • Bolt$p

    Nice write up PP.

    I’ve never really thought of crouch canceling in a game breaking negative way, but what you said makes sense. The positives are really neat though; defensive options you wouldn’t normally have, being at lower percent is more meaningful, certain baits and setups are possible, etc.

    The character stuff is interesting as well. Personally, I like the characters at the top so much that I don’t even mind having them dominate the game.

  • faithinpeace

    But at the end of the day, this is what makes SSBM, SSBM…
    If we wanted to play a game that’s “simpler mechanically” we could play another SSB or even another fighter in general.
    It is true that some might see these arguments as negative influences on the game, but it is also what makes it so unique!

  • Evan Mcdregan

    “There’s no depth to L-canceling because there’s never a reason not to do it” well there’s a lot of thing like this in the game that I think brings depth to it. You always want to SDI a Fox uair. You always want to sweetspot when going for the ledge. You always want to wall tech when edge guarded with a strong move. But no one ever complains about those because they require precision and are punished otherwise, bringing depth to the gameplay. Just like L-canceling.

    And I’ve never seen complaints about short hopping. Short hops are absolutely required for Fox but require a ton of practise to do consistently under pressure. There’s not really any reason why you couldn’t have short hop on Y for example.

    • Jerg McGerg

      Having the option between shorthop and fullhop creates depth because they’re both viable movement techniques that serve different purposes.

      Having the option between Lcancel and a laggy landing does not because you never want the former.

      • Evan Mcdregan

        PP mentioned two things regarding why some people dislike L-canceling. The first was that it lacked depth because you always want to do it, which I tried to address with the first paragraph. The second thing was that it created an artificial skill barrier which I tried to address with the second paragraph.

        What you’re trying to do is associating the first issue with the second paragraph which makes you miss my point.

        • meowmachine

          Yes, but all of those are options, even if they are very good options. You want to SDI a Fox Uair, but SDI allows you to decide which way you go. You don’t always want to sweetspot the edge, maybe you want to recover high. L-Cancelling is pointless since it does not create a choice. If you want to do it 100% of the time, it should not exist or be the default. L-cancelling does not create depth since you always want it. There are situations where teching is not the optimal solution. There is no situation where L-Cancelling is not the optimal move. In any game, depth is determined by how many chances you can interact with an opponent to gain an advantage or lose an advantage. L-cancelling fails to interact with an opponent, making it a mechanic which adds no depth to the game.

  • Jerg McGerg

    While I agree with what you said on L-Cancelling, here’s the thing…

    If all aerials auto-L-Cancelled, then there would never be the question of “is this lightning Melee?”
    Players wouldn’t feel like they were unlocking an entire different world of Smash by learning L-Cancelling. I honestly think that a huge part of this game’s popularity lies solely in the appeal of having a “secret” way of playing really really fast…at least for people who just start learning.

    This is not to say that the mechanic is good or has that much depth…but it’s like, if it wasn’t there, we might not be in the Platinum Age of Melee, y’know?

  • mimimimi

    How you come to the conclusion that CC reduces depth i don’t understand. Just imagine how the game would be played if the option to CC was not there. Saying it’s a guessing game doesn’t really fly. As most fighting games are based on execution, until execution is no longer improvable, then it’s purely up to the guessing, or reads if you’d like.

    About balance and viable characters. The less the better imo. It’s close to impossible to balance all characters, in a fighting game. Unless you do constant patching, but then you end up with an evolving meta instead of a stable one, which has it’s downsides. If you wanna draw parallels to SF4 or UMVC3, it’s the same if not worse there, amount of viable characters capable of winning a major. The difference there was they updated it, and characters became viable, but in a way resets the meta, and doesn’t allow for the type of development that melee has. Melee is very similar to Brood War in this way, that they stopped the patching, and let the meta evolve, into ridiculously high skilled gameplay. Players can hone their skills without having to worry about mechanics changing.

    The L-canceling, it’s repetitive yeah, unnecessary? no way. I think of it as something that separates the dedicated from the casuals, and being able to do them 100% of the time is a skill in it’s own. To be able to do all the technical difficult things in melee, while keeping a cool head and still do the mindgames, is what makes melee such an incredibly good competitive game to play and watch.

    From a more casual viewpoint, it might be horrible, i don’t know that side.

  • smashplayer

    The vast skill gap of Melee between casual and competitive play is what inspired me to get good at the game. My eyes would gloss over watching the way professional players moved and acted as a new player, because it was other-worldly to me. Mechanics like wavedashing and l canceling are what awed me because it was like discovering ufo technology: At first you see it and have no idea what it is or how it works, but soon find that it is far more advanced than anything of this Earth. To me, it’s the high difficulty of execution that gives these mechanics this value, and I believe passion is the fuel. I also like the fact that there is only a handful of champion characters, because generally speaking, less matc hups equal better balance. I don’t know of a single good fighting game with a fully-balanced-30-character roster. As far as CC goes, not once did I ever perceive it as detrimental to the game’s meta. Like others have said, it gives low percentage more value and forces attackers to consider other spacing and approach options.

    But that’s just me..