Falco (ファルコ, Falco) is a hidden character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. He is a clone of Fox, with many of the same moves. However, some of his moves have different properties, making their playstyles somewhat different.
Falco is currently ranked 2nd on the Melee tier list, making him the highest ranked unlockable character, clone character, and newcomer all while this being his best placement in the series marginally. Falco has many combo openers and the options to extend them, most notably a frame 1 launcher in his Reflector and a frame 5 down aerial that spikes powerfully. These tools allow him to easily chain together highly damaging strings that are hard to DI out of. He also possesses very effective edgeguarding options, such as his back air, forward and down smashes, and his aforementioned down air. Falco also has one of the best neutral game options among the entire cast with his Blaster, as it allows him to pressure from afar and approach noncommittally.
Falco, however, is not flawless; he suffers from being light yet having extremely high falling speed and low horizontal air speed. These flaws make him extremely vulnerable to chaingrabs and combos, while his low weight makes him among the easiest to KO horizontally. Additionally, both of his recovery options travel very short distances, giving Falco one of the worst recoveries in the game. Regardless of these flaws, Falco's strengths greatly overwhelm his weaknesses and he has amazing matchups, lacking any negative ones (making him and Fox in Melee, Pikachu in Smash 64 and Meta Knight in Brawl the only characters with no negative matchups) and having only a handful that are considered even.
How to Unlock
Players can unlock Falco by completing 100-Man Melee with any character within any time limit. Alternatively, players can take part in 300 VS. matches to unlock him.
Due to being a clone of Fox, he possess a similar archetype: he possesses rather high speed to quickly overwhelm the opponent as well as a slew of effective finishers both on the ground and in the air. Contrary to what Falco's in-game trophy says, he does not sacrifice offensive power at all to gain increased jumping prowess; in fact, Falco seems to have gained even more options for KOs, attacks, and combos at a variety of percentages over Fox. Falco's attributes include high traction (giving Falco a somewhat short but quick wavedash), the highest falling speed in the game, and low air speed without momentum from his dash accounted for.
Falco's primary strength is his raw ability to KO without compromising too much speed or combo ability; many of Falco's KOing moves are very fast yet powerful with relatively low startup and ending lag. Falco's sliding forward smash covers a good distance, KOs easily at 90% and makes for a good edgeguard option. Falco's down smash is a powerful semi-spike that is also useful for edgeguarding. Falco's down tilt can KO some characters at as low as 90%; although it is a short ranged attack, it also comes out quickly. Falco's aerial KOing options are also highly varied; Falco's neutral and back aerial attacks are fast with high knockback and duration, and his down aerial is among the most feared attacks in the game; with no sourspot, high speed, spike properties, and a long duration, Falco can quickly and efficiently KO almost any character at low percentages if used correctly. A grounded down aerial can easily combo into a forward smash for yet another deadly KO option.
Falco's approach is also highly effective; with a very versatile projectile in his Blaster, Falco can perform the short hop laser technique, either as a pressure option or as a way to approach. Performing this technique close to opponents almost guarantees free grabs, smashes, or ways to start shine combos. Coupled with low-lag aerials, a short short hop and a high falling speed, Falco has among the best SHFFLs in the game, giving him an incredible aerial approach. On the ground, many of Falco's attacks, while short-ranged, pack good power and relatively low ending lag; despite a short wavedash and an average dashing speed, Falco can still use these two to his advantage, with them being integral to his superb combo ability.
Falco sacrifices a bit of his clone's speed for power, but still excels at performing devastating combos. Many of Falco's approach options also make for great combo starters as well. The core of Falco's combo ability lies in his good SHFFLs and ability to waveshine. Falco's primary form of comboing comes in the form of his pillar, which is notorious for wearing shields down quickly. Pillaring, in its most basic form, is simply chaining the upward vertical knockback of Falco's shine into the spiking hitboxes of his down aerial. To keep his moves fresh, Falco can combo into his other moves, most notably his down and up tilts, wavesmashes, his up throw, and his back and neutral aerials. Falco's down tilt and up throw are viable substitutes for his shine, while his up tilt racks up damage and segues directly into more shines. His smashes also rack up damage quickly but also make excellent KO options after enough beatings from the pillars have been dealt. Jump-canceled shines combo directly into back aerials and neutral aerials. Should the opponent DI close the ground, Falco can chase his opponents with multiple waveshines, depending on the direction. Falco can alternatively wear down shields by weaving back and forth with waveshining.
Additionally, Falco's grab and throw game is decent. Falco's grab range is above-average (tenth longest in the game), and his throws have multiple options; his down throw can potentially combo into a down tilt or start a shine combo, his up throw can start up aerial combos, and his forward and back throws can start edgeguards. However, although he can chain throw floaty characters with his forward throw, he lacks a reliable chain throw, his throws have poor damage output, and his down throw can be teched, leaving him vulnerable. Furthermore, unlike Fox's up throw, which can reliably set up into aerials at certain percents, Falco has a harder time securing follow-ups from his up-throw. This is because the lasers Falco shoots during his up throw animation have hitstun; and therefore, they can be SDI'd by the opponent.
Falco's properties, however, also compose his weaknesses. As with Fox, Falco is light (the 6th lightest character in the game), and is therefore able to be KO'd through the sidelines without difficulty, despite Falco being difficult to KO through the ceiling because of said falling speed. Additionally, despite his high jumps and ability to wall jump, Falco's recovery is among the worst in the game; due to a low air speed and a high falling speed, Falco cannot maneuver effectively off-stage. His up special move, Fire Bird, is also short and easy to gimp; due to its linear nature, attacks such as Marth's Counter, Link's Spin Attack, and Mario's Cape can easily knock Falco away from the ledge when using the moves. Additionally, due to its inability to harm attackers while it charges, Falco is vulnerable to any attack while using the move, particularly meteor smashes or spikes; with correct timing, opponents with reliable spikes, such as Marth or even another Falco, can easily gimp his recovery. As such, Falco is primarily reliant on his side special, Falco Phantasm to recover; however, even that doesn't travel a significant distance, and it still suffers from the linear problems of Fire Bird. To his merit, however, Falco can angle his Fire Bird in many different directions, and he can additionally shorten his Falco Phantasm to avoid going on stage and into the edge, mixing up his recovery options and leaving the opponent guessing. Additionally, Falco's recovery moves have slightly shorter startup lag than Fox's, which can be useful when mixing up the opponent.
Falco's high falling speed also makes him a target for chain throws, especially from characters such as Marth and Peach, though it also gives him the 3rd highest vertical endurance among Melee characters, despite being tied for being the 5th lightest character in the game (only Captain Falcon and Donkey Kong, two much heavier characters by comparison, surpass him in this regard). Falco, along with Fox, has the dubious distinction of having an entire combo named for KOing him easily simply due to his high falling speed (the space animal slayer).
Overall, Falco can be considered to be a slower, but stronger and more combo-heavy version of Fox; while his overall speed is only average among the other characters in the game, his attack speed remains very fast and he can easily land very damaging combos in a short amount of time, sometimes even leading to death for the other player if they cannot DI correctly. Combined with relatively safe approaches against nearly every character in the game, it is possible to make defending against Falco difficult, even at top-level play. Falco has many tools for offense and defense, so players should use his arsenal accordingly to gain the upper hand.
Similarities with Fox from Super Smash Bros.
It has been said that Falco's play-style in Melee is very similar to Fox's in Super Smash Bros. His special moves are arguably the most obvious. Below is the list of similarities:
Like some other characters, Falco received minor changes in the PAL version of Melee. Although these changes slightly nerf him, they do not significantly impact his competitive viability.
It is difficult to determine whether Falco is better or worse than Fox, as they are top-tiered clones. Falco is heavier and falls faster than Fox does, aiding in his vertical endurance. Falco's combo ability, particularly against fastfallers, is superior to Fox's; his shine and down aerial can extend combos in ways that Fox's moves cannot. Additionally, Falco's lasers are quite powerful in neutral because they cause hitstun, allowing them to be used as a powerful disruption and approach tool in the neutral game instead of just a passive maneuver to rack up damage.
However, Falco's ground mobility is inferior to Fox's, as he has slower ground speed and a shorter wavedash. Additionally, his recovery moves, despite possessing more power, travel much shorter distances than Fox's; while this does allow for a safer near-stage recovery, it makes it impossible to recover from afar. Fox's shine and down aerial can lead into an up smash, and up throw can lead to almost any aerial. However, since most of Falco's moves are geared towards comboing, he lacks many of these guaranteed setups into his own KO moves. This is especially prevalent against floaty characters, such as Jigglypuff and Peach; Fox hard counters them due to the ease in which he can combo them, then KO them vertically, while Falco must rely on his superior neutral game and edgeguards to keep the match even.
Overall, Falco's strategy at top-level play differs considerably from Fox's. Falco is more reliant on stage control and punishes; he is more suited to locking the foe down with lasers and damaging, guaranteed combos, and must maintain stage control at all times due to his poor recovery. Fox, on the other hand, is more reliant on edgeguarding and neutral resets due to the launch angle of his shine and his shorter, usually simpler punishes. Thus, while Falco and Fox may be indistinguishable from each other at low-level play, their general playstyles vary drastically at the tournament level.
Grabs and throws
For a gallery of Falco's hitboxes, see here.
In Competitive play
Falco is one of two characters in the game to have no disadvantageous matchups whatsoever, along with Fox, but has more even matchups than most other top tier characters. Falco has seven even matchups, soft counters three characters, counters seven, and hard counters eight. He has the tools to beat every character, though he is particularly vulnerable to chaingrabs from characters such as Marth and Peach, and is very easy to gimp and edgeguard. These disadvantages give him some trouble against characters who have effective edgeguarding tools, such as Jigglypuff, Marth, and Fox. He tends to do well against characters who do not have the tools to properly respond to his combo openers, such as Captain Falcon, and does very well against characters with a lack of reliable horizontal finishers and/or edgeguarding ability, such as Young Link. Overall, Falco's matchup spread is among the best in the game.
Some topics of constant debate in the current metagame are Falco's matchups against Fox and Marth. Falco is one of the only characters in the game that can be argued to have a winning matchup against Fox. His lasers allow him to restrict Fox's movement, and his shine followups on Fox are generally easier to execute than extended combos from Fox against Falco. However, Fox edgeguards Falco much more easily, and the advantages that Falco's lasers provide diminish as players improve and learn counterplay against it. At the top level, though, both characters can usually heavily damage (if not KO) the other as soon as they force an opening. Marth, on the other hand, was long thought to have a close to even matchup against Falco, owing to Falco's superior neutral game. However, Falco mains have been struggling to defeat Marths of similar level in recent times, as he is punished far harder for making a mistake and can easily be gimped at low percentages by Marth. This suggests that risk-reward of interactions in the matchup is against Falco, and many now consider Marth to be a soft counter to him. Two matchups that Falco used to dominate in, though still winning matchups, are no longered looked at as so, with the two characters, Yoshi and Pikachu, metagame advancing in recent years. Pikachu's chain grab and strong edge guarding game having caused players to no longer consider Falco to destroy the character, though the matchup is still considered to be in Falco's favor due to his strong neutral tools and strong punishment game. Another match that was considered unlosable was to Yoshi, who in recent years, his own metagame has been improving. Yoshi has a strong punishment game, strong tools to send Falco off stage to his doom or to set up an edge guard along with having tools to projectile camp Falco himself from the ledge. Though Falco still wins the matchup due to his strong projectile game, strong combo game and having certain tools to break Yoshi's double jump armor which leaves the matchup slightly in Falco's favor, but not considered as unbeatable as it once was.
Tier placement and history
Throughout the Melee tier lists, Falco has always been in the high/top tiers along with Fox and Sheik, with his lowest position being fifth place. In the beginning of Melee's metagame, Falco players had not yet discovered his strong combo potential. As such, they relied only on zoning out the opponent with his Blaster in the neutral game, while largely ignoring his punish game. While this defensive style of play was reasonably effective and gave Falco the results he needed to stay in the high tiers, Falco was widely considered to be not only inferior to Fox, but to other top tiers such as Sheik and Marth as well, as those characters' metagames were advancing faster than his.
However, this perception changed drastically after the Jack Garden Tournament, where players worldwide were introduced to Bombsoldier and his extremely aggressive interpretation of what was once considered a purely defensive character. Falco players soon realized that their approach to the character was suboptimal, and began implementing many of Bombsoldier's strategies into their own game. In turn, Falco's results began improving dramatically. New Falco mains, most notably PC Chris, soon began pushing him to levels of play exceeding that of even Bombsoldier's. PC Chris was even able to win some of the most prestigious tournaments at the time, proving that Falco had all the tools to succeed and come out on top at the highest level of play.
With PC Chris retiring soon after Brawl was released in 2008, and with the concurrent rise of KoreanDJ and Mew2King (who both played Fox, among other characters), Falco saw a dip in popularity for a brief period of time. There was noticeable debate over his position at 2nd on the tier list, and he fell to 4th in a 2008 revision. However, his metagame was revitalized by new world class players, such as Mango, PPMD, Westballz, and DaShizWiz, who all gave Falco results at the top level once again. Falco players continued to place extremely well, and for some time until 2014, even won more large tournaments than Fox players. This led some players at the time, such as Mew2King, to believe that Falco was a better character than Fox, with the argument that Falco succeeds in notable tournaments more consistently than Fox, while Fox's perceived superiority was based more on potential than performance.
However, since then, there have been very few majors, if any, won by a Falco main; Fox players have since taken 1st place in many more majors, even in PAL. This is mainly due to PPMD's hiatus, the rise of Fox mains such as Leffen, and more top players electing to pick Fox in high-level tournament matches for his superior matchups against floaty characters. The Falco counterplay metagame has also advanced considerably, as professionals have greatly improved their DI and powershielding skills that make it much harder for Falco players to win the neutral game and combo opponents. As such, while it is agreed that Falco can still succeed at the top level, his position at 2nd in the tier list is once again extremely debatable.
Like several other characters who, by coincidence, would years later be known to be top tier, Falco was nerfed in the PAL version of Melee. His powerful down aerial spike now only has the spike hitbox during the first 10 frames of the move, while the weaker hitbox sends opponents on the Sakurai angle instead. This makes timing Falco's down aerial more key to success in tournament play. However, this nerf does not significantly affect him, as most Falco professionals train to hit with the strong hitbox anyway, and the duration of said hitbox is still enough to approach the enemy with it and wear down shields. Thus, Falco's viability in PAL is more or less the same as in NTSC, barring a slightly easier matchup against Fox due to Fox's own nerfs in that version.
In Single-Player Modes
In Classic Mode
When unlocked, Falco can appear either in ordinary one-on-one matches, in a team with Fox or Captain Falcon, as an ally in team and giant battles, or as a metal opponent in the game's penultimate battle. With the exception of being on a team with Captain Falcon and the metal battle, Falco appears on either Corneria or Venom.
In Adventure Mode
In the game's Adventure Mode, Falco can appear in Part 2 of Stage 6; when unlocked, the player has the possibility of fighting against Falco in the stage, instead of Fox again. However, Falco wears the red Alternate costume (his first alternate costume); instead of default color.
In All-Star Mode
In All-Star Mode, Falco and his allies are fought on Venom.
In Event Matches
Falco appears in the following event matches:
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