Shieldstun is an inactionable period that occurs when a character's shield is hit. It is comparable to hitstun, in that it occurs after hitlag and only for the defending character. While the attacker still experiences the hitlag of the move, they do not undergo shieldstun, allowing them to move again before their opponent can if the ending lag of the attack is low. During the period of shieldstun, the shielding player cannot perform any of their normal out of shield options, rendering them stuck. Many multiple-hit moves that hit rapidly (such as Fox's or Yoshi's down aerials) hit fast enough to keep an opponent in shieldstun for the duration of the move, as each hit lands while the opponent is still in shieldstun from the previous hit. In addition to not being able to perform out of shield options, players in shield stun cannot release the shield, adjust the tilt of their shield, shield drop, or change their shield's density. Attempting to perform any of these actions while in shieldstun will have them happen the frame shieldstun ends instead.
With the inability to jump, grab, roll, or spot dodge out of their shield, the player in shieldstun is very susceptible to another hit or a grab. Though it is rare, this can sometimes be used to the point of breaking a player's shield, as with Fox's and Falco's pillaring combos. A combo meant to lock an opponent in shield until their shield breaks is known as a shield break combo. However, outside of SSB, these combos are not perfect, as all other combos on shield have gaps in shieldstun. Thus, the goal of shield combos in Melee is rarely to outright break shields: it is far more likely an attempt at causing a shield poke, or to bait and punish a roll, grab, or spot dodge. Still, since gaps in shieldstun must exist it is necessary to mixup where and for how long these gaps fall. Doing so covers different out of shield options that the defending player might want to use. As an example, a double shine covers the grab-sized gap that is normally left after a waveshine or a jump out of shine into an aerial, and grants the attacker the hit they were looking for.
In Smash 64, shieldstun is extremely high. When hit on shield, the majority of moves leave the defending player in such a long period of shieldstun, that another hit is nearly always guaranteed. This is especially apparent with aerials with the use of Z-cancelling. This, along with the lack of perfect shielding, makes shield break combos easier and far more frequent. Some moves, such as Kirby's up tilt, are notorious for breaking shields on their own with repeated use. The formula for frames of shieldstun in Smash 64 is
In Melee, shieldstun duration in general was reduced. A large difference to other Smash games is the introduction of analog shielding. The analog shield level used when blocking affects shieldstun: the lighter the shield, the more shieldstun the blocker suffers. The formula for frames of shieldstun in Melee is
It is possible to shield buffer some evasive options out of shield in Melee by holding the C-stick while in shieldstun. The character will then jump (if held upwards), spot dodge (if held downwards) or roll (if held sideways) on the first frame after they leave shieldstun.
Yoshi is a notable exception to this rule. While he cannot jump out of shield in this iteration, he suffers no shieldstun whatsoever, which, combined with the other unique properties of his shield, give his shield game a very different dynamic to the rest of the cast.
In Brawl, shieldstun was further reduced. Very few attacks are safe on shield (at least in terms of frame advantage). Combined with the lowered time to drop shield (taking 7 frames instead of 15), this means that hitting shields in Brawl puts attackers in a very vulnerable position. For most attacks to be used safely on shield, they have to be spaced properly, or the opponent will likely have enough time to punish. The approximate formula for frames of shieldstun in Brawl is
In Smash 4, shieldstun was originally thought to have been reduced again from Brawl, but further testing showed this to be false. The working formula for shieldstun duration in Smash 4 prior to patch 1.1.1 was originally
However, following patch 1.1.1, shieldstun from direct attacks was increased dramatically, to the point of being higher than in Melee. The new formula is
Version 1.1.3 of the game added an additional wrinkle to shieldstun: if a character is trapped in shieldstun for 10 hits, they are allowed to cancel it with a roll or spot dodge, and the intangibility of either option comes out immediately on frame 1, regardless of their coded startup. Practically, there are very few moves that can hit a shield enough times for this to trigger; the looping hit of a charging Aura Sphere is the most noticeable. In the case of said move, this mechanic allows shielding characters to escape it if they are trapped by it at the ledge, where they would otherwise be forced to shield SDI or have their shield broken.
Shieldstun has been adjusted further in Ultimate, with the new formula being
As a result, shieldstun remains unchanged for smash attacks compared to Smash 4, but is increased for direct special moves and all other ground attacks; tilt attacks in particular are noticeably safer on shield. Conversely, it is decreased for aerial attacks and projectiles, most significantly the former. The new 0.85× damage multiplier for aerial attacks performed in a short hop also further reduces their potential shieldstun. However, due to the universally lower landing lag in Ultimate, the general safety of aerial attacks on shield remains unchanged, with some of them being slightly safer. Furthermore, shield dropping takes longer (11 frames instead of 7), while shield grabbing after shieldstun has increased startup by 4 frames, and although the new powershield mechanics allow characters to retaliate against attacks faster, it is harder to pull off, as it is now triggered by dropping the shield instead of putting it up. Overall, attacking shields in Ultimate is more favorable, with options to safely punish out of shield being riskier (albeit still highly rewarding), encouraging players to focus more on offense.
The ability to cancel shieldstun with a roll or spot dodge after being locked in it for 10 hits returns from Smash 4, and is now applicable to several other moves, most remarkably every rapid jab, due to their increased shieldstun and much faster hit rate. This renders it vastly more useful in punishing such moves, as in the case of rapid jabs, the shielding character can usually roll behind the attacker, who will then be forced to unleash their rapid jab's finisher and thus become much more vulnerable. This mechanic's larger notoriety has led to it being referred to as shieldstun canceling by the community.
List of moves with shieldstun multipliers
Due to a glitch, while some moves such as Areadbhar and Skewer have a shieldstun multiplier coded only for specific hitboxes (in both cases, the sweetspots), the game applies the multiplier to all hitboxes of the move during frames where the specified hitbox is present. As a result, Areadbhar's grounded version inflicts regular shieldstun during its first hit frame (where the sweetspot isn't present), but applies the multiplier to all hitboxes in the next frames, while the aerial version applies it to all hitboxes fully throughout.