Neutral game

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The neutral game, or just neutral, is a phase during gameplay when no player has a situational advantage over the other. In this phase, either player's objective is to "win the neutral game", i.e. land a hit with possible follow-ups, or punish the enemy for a failed attempt to do so.

Some characters have an advantage during the neutral game, depending on the matchup. For example, a projectile may be used to pressure the enemy into making a move. Other possible advantages include attack range and mobility.

The neutral game can be looked at as a triangle of sorts, like Rock, Paper, Scissors, where each vertex overrides another. Grabbing goes through shielding. Shields can block attacks and leave opportunities to punish afterward. Regular attacks can outprioritize grabs due to their generally superior range and speed. This triangle mindgame adds a new layer of strategy. Players must anticipate what course of action in the triangle their opponent will take during the neutral game. Click here to see the triangle.

This way of looking at the neutral game does not encompass the entire picture, however; players generally have more than 3 options available to them (such as moving out of the way if they feel they are too close to the opponent, or using different attacks at a time). In addition, although shields do block attacks, many high level players will often space their attacks so as to make them as difficult to punish as possible, either by placing it as far away as possible while still connecting with the move, or by overshooting behind them to limit the opponent's out-of-shield options in the case of aerials. In fact, the attacks they use in this situation could be safe (or in most cases, simply difficult to react to on shield without good prediction) even if not spaced properly, thus baiting players to preemptively use their out-of-shield options to punish the opponent (if they recognize this, they can opt to escape or continue shielding instead). Stage position also greatly affects which options are viable for either player; the player who takes the center of the stage has much better options than the player who is closer to the ledge. Thus, a player that successfully pressures the opponent into limiting their own movement by forcing them to use more defensive options or move to the ledges of the stage generally wins the neutral game, since they will know exactly how to counter these options and punish them.

A character's effectiveness in the neutral game comes down to three main factors: mobility, attack speed, and range. Good mobility grants easier movement and repositioning, and can allow a character to respond quickly when they find an opening, or retreat to escape pressure. Fast attack speed makes a character unpredictable, and can be used to force reactions and create openings. Characters with long reach in their attacks can fight at a safe distance, and range also encompasses projectiles, which are essential for applying pressure and limiting the opponent's options. While a character who is proficient in all three areas will have a powerful neutral game, some characters are dominant in the neutral despite lacking in one aspect. Falco in Melee and Brawl has below-average mobility, but his Blaster is a potent projectile, and he boasts fast attack speed as well, and his strong neutral is a large reason behind his top-tier placement in both games.

A common mistake made by beginners is to always approach the opponent with the exact same option, such as dash attack or dash grab, without putting much thought into how the opponent might also want to approach. Without any level of unpredictability or situational awareness, it can be very difficult to mount an offense against a better player.

Notable examples[edit]

Smash 64[edit]

  • Fox: Blaster is an effective projectile, as the lasers cover a long distance and stun opponents.
  • Kirby: Back aerial and especially up tilt are both fast and have large, disjointed hitboxes.
  • Pikachu: Up tilt is quick and has a large hitbox, making it good for pressuring.
  • Captain Falcon: Captain Falcon is the fastest character in the game; therefore, he can use his extremely quick dashdance to bait and outspace his opponents and quickly run in when there is an opening. Although jab grab does not work with Captain Falcon, he can opt to use any Z-cancelled aerial to pressure shields instead.

Melee[edit]

  • Falco: Blaster auto-cancels upon landing, and the shots are quick and cause flinching, making it potent at shutting down almost any approach.
  • Fox: Blaster has rapid-fire abilities, and auto-cancels upon landing. Fox has unparalleled mobility and attack speed, allowing him to easily pressure other characters.
  • Marth: Marth has excellent mobility options in his dash-dance and wavedash, and his down tilt's speed and range are excellent for poking, pressuring, and disrupting opponent's approach options.

Brawl[edit]

  • Diddy Kong: His Banana Peel is effective at creating stage-control and setting up other moves.
  • Falco: Blaster shots are fast, long-ranged, transcendent, and auto-cancel upon landing, making it great for disrupting approaches and pressuring.
  • King Dedede: His back aerial is quick, long-ranged, has a lingering hitbox, and can be done twice in a short-hop. Waddle Dee Toss can be used to block opponents' projectiles.
  • Marth: Forward aerial can be done twice in a short-hop. Its speed and range make it an excellent spacing tool and approach option.
  • Meta Knight: Mach Tornado grants excellent protection and long horizontal distance. Forward aerial is quick, long-ranged, and auto-cancels in a short-hop. Lastly, he has a fast and hugely disjointed down aerial, which, combined with his jumps, can be used to pressure and air camp.
  • Snake: He has the most projectiles in the game, including his Hand Grenade, and his up smash gives him the longest DACUS in the game. All of these can be used to approach, create stage control, and disrupt opposing approaches.

Smash 4[edit]

  • Captain Falcon: He has the longest dash grab in the game. Back aerial auto-cancels in a short-hop, allowing it to be used for approaching and pressuring.
  • Cloud: Cloud's Buster Sword gives him a long attack range on almost all of his attacks. Combined with favorable mobility traits, fast frame data for his range, and an immediate pressuring tool in his Limit Break mechanic (with which he can either bolster his mobility even further, or use enhanced special moves, all of which can be tricky to punish), Cloud is one of the most difficult characters to approach in the neutral game.
  • Corrin: Corrin's naturally long range and great move in Dragon Lunge allows him to cover a lot of space at once despite his below average mobility. This is complimented by the fact that almost all of his ground moves and aerials can be used to combo in some way, and similar to Marth, his smash attacks and the initial part of Dragon Lunge deal more damage at the tip of their range. Forward aerial can be autocancelled when done in a short hop, and back aerial automatically pushes Corrin away from the opponent, making it difficult, if not impossible to punish for most characters.
  • Diddy Kong: Banana Peel is useful for stage-control and setting up combos. Down tilt is a perfect move for comboing into KO moves and pressuring the opponent in their shield. Forward aerial comes out very quickly, autocancels in a short hop fast fall, and covers a wide range, being able to hit most characters at an angle they cannot cover as quickly.
  • Fox: Blaster no longer auto-cancels, but Fox retains his great mobility and fast, low cooldown moves from previous titles. Landing an up tilt in particular can lead to deadly juggle situations with multiple short hop up aerials.
  • Kirby: In certain circumstances, forward air can chain into itself and carry opponents off-stage. All of Kirby's tilts come out and end quickly. His crouch is low enough for taller character's grabs and certain projectiles to miss him.
  • Link: Bombs are very spammable (by virtue of Link having the overall fastest item throw animations) and can also be used to boost Link's otherwise lackluster mobility with bombsliding. His other projectiles, Hero's Bow and Gale Boomerang, can cut off several angles of attack, making it difficult to approach Link. His tilts, while on the slow side, are fairly reliable due to their range, with forward tilt being surprisingly strong for its relatively low cooldown.
  • Luigi: Fireball is useful for approaching and pressuring. Forward aerial is quick, has good range (compared to his other attacks), and auto-cancels in a short-hop.
  • Mario: Many of Mario's attacks come out quickly and have relatively low cooldown, making it difficult to challenge him despite his below-average range and merely slightly above-average mobility, complimenting his punish game, particularly with grabs. Like Luigi, Mario's Fireball is also useful for pressuring, though it has more ending lag.
  • Pikachu: Quick Attack helps Pikachu approach opponents. Thunder Jolt is also a useful projectile.
  • Sheik: Needle Storm's speed, range, and transcendent priority make it effective at harassing opponents from afar. Forward aerial is quick, long ranged, and auto-cancels in a short-hop, being an all-around useful move for approaching, pressuring, and starting combos. Almost all of Sheik's attacks are extremely fast and hard to punish, making Sheik one of the safest characters in the neutral game, especially when considering her excellent mobility.
  • Sonic: Spin Dash, Spin Charge and grabbing are effective for racking up damage. Up aerial is good for combos and auto-cancels in a short-hop. He also has excellent mobility, which is further complimented by having the fastest dashing speed.

Demonstration video[edit]

See Also[edit]

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