Neutral game

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The neutral game, or just neutral, is a phase during gameplay when no player has a significant advantage over another. The goal of all players is to "win the neutral game", i.e. gain a positional advantage or capitalize on an opponent's mistake. A strong neutral game is crucial at top level play, as it is necessary to put the opponent in a disadvantageous position.


Every game starts out in what can be considered a neutral position: a medium distance away from each other relative to the size of the stage. This theoretically means that no character starts a game with a positional advantage. However, this is not always the case in practice. Some characters will spawn in the exact position they want to be at, putting them at an advantage. This can come down to the size and shape of the stage and what port a controller is plugged into depending on the game.

Being in a neutral position means that no player can use their abilities as effectively as they can against being somewhere else on the stage. 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. Characters typically are either decently effective with all three attributes, or greatly excel in one attribute and lack in the others.

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, and regular attacks can outprioritize grabs due to their generally superior range and speed. The strategy comes in trying to anticipate what the opponent will do next and planning around it. This way of looking at the neutral game is a bit reductive, 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). Each attribute also, despite naturally having an advantage over the second and a disadvantage over the third, does not mean a character that excels in that one attribute will automatically win or lose a specific matchup, as the skill of the individual player is still the ultimate deciding factor.

The goal is not to stay in a neutral position forever, as the game would grind to a halt and go to a time out. Both players are looking to "win" the neutral game by whatever means they deem fit. A common way to win the neutral game is to get around the opponent and into a positional advantage, i.e. wherever a character's attacks are the most effective. Characters with fast attacks and good grabs would want to be as close to the opponent as possible. Characters good at zoning and setting traps would want to get as far away as possible. Characters with long and disjointed attacks would want to be just far enough away to hit their opponent but they can't hit back. Another way is to force or trick the opponent into making a mistake or risky action, then capitalizing off this bait with a strong punish. There are also some characters that excel in a neutral position depending on the matchup, such as those with strong projectiles may be used to pressure the enemy into making a move. The stage also plays a factor into this strategy, as characters can exploit certain geography and stage hazards to make winning the neutral game easier.

A common mistake made by beginners is to always approach the opponent with the exact same option without putting much thought into how the opponent might also want to approach or if they aim to punish these options. Without any level of unpredictability or situational awareness, it can be very difficult to mount an offense against a better player. Understanding the difference between engaging the opponent (i.e. approaching through movement to win neutral by positioning) and actually attacking them is a key point in neutral and not grasping it will hurt the player more often than not.

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.


  • Falco: His laser auto-cancels upon landing, and the shots are quick and cause flinching, making it potent at shutting down almost any approach.
  • Fox: Fox is known for having one of the strongest neutral games in Melee, in large part due to his strong mobility, possessing one of the fastest dashes, dashdances, jump squats, and SHFFLs. His offensive neutral game is particularly powerful, as he has both a fast SHFFL that beats crouch canceling (using his down aerial) and grab that leads to guaranteed followups on every character (via his up throw).
  • Marth: Marth has excellent mobility options in his dashdance and wavedash, and his down tilt's speed and range are excellent for poking, pressuring, and disrupting opponent's approach options.


  • 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 complemented 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, complementing 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 complemented by having the fastest dashing speed.


  • Roy: Roy sports fast air speed and frame data that compliments the attribute of his sword dealing the most damage up close. His Up aerial in particular is good at launching opponents away from him while also serving as a safe approach tool for crossing up shields, as well as being used to initiate combos.
  • Wolf: Blaster fires a transcendent projectile that is extremely useful for forcing or disrupting approaches. Forward aerial is fast, has decent range, and autocancels in a short hop. He has excellent aerial mobility, with one of the fastest air speeds in the game as well as good air acceleration.
  • Olimar: Pikmin Throw is a great tool for creating long-range pressure and forcing the opponent to approach, in which Olimar's long-range grab and decently safe up smash can start combos after opponents commit to unsafe approach options.

In competitive play[edit]

The neutral game is an integral part of any match, with professional players essentially being required to master its intricacies. Knowing which characters excel at which ranges and how to get into said ranges is extremely important in a competitive setting, as putting oneself at a disadvantage without a solid gameplan is never a good idea. There are many ways to win the neutral game; one common technique is to throw out quick and safe moves to entice the opponent into making a gambit, sometimes doing something slightly more committal as a bait for the same purpose. If the opponent makes a big play but misses, they hand over a prime opportunity to punish them. Another strategy is to gradually encroach into their side of the stage, restricting their options and eventually forcing them to make a risky play. After conditioning the opponent like this for a while, a player can surprise said opponent by being immediately aggressive and bypassing the neutral game entirely to catch them off guard. Depending on the character, a player can also simply run away until they are far enough away to start their zoning. However, all of these strategies have the inherent risk of backfiring if the opponent anticipates them and counters, and sometimes turns the tables by using these very strategies for their own purposes.

See also[edit]