Saturday, May 14, 2016

How To Look At Jigglypuff

Intro to how this godlike/pitiful little balloon pokemon works in SSBM

For a lot of players it is difficult to look at and understand Jigglypuff. I only half-jokingly say that it’s because her big plays usually have to do with jumping at the right time or drifting at a steeper angle instead of screaming or flashing neon lights. That is understandably a bit subtle for newer players but unfortunately the ambiguity and confusion persists even in many veterans. Such a beautiful, interesting character is so poorly represented that “bair and rest” is not a meme, it’s to some degree a popular misunderstanding.

In the following paragraphs I will address a few important to recognize properties that come together to make Jigglypuff a unique threat as well as outline how the better Jigglypuff players pull from these to create dynamism.


First, let’s talk about Street Fighter. In Street Fighter and other traditional fighting games, much of the player vs player interactions start with Footsies. Footsies is basically an intricate mixup system in which Pokes lose to Whiff Punishes, Whiff Punishes lose to Movement, and Movement loses to Pokes. This triangle of options necessarily permeates how fighting games are played and designed, even Melee. One of the implicit boundaries that keeps this system in check is the fixed length of the stage. In order to maneuver out of the range of a poke, a character must have enough space behind them to do so. The more liberally they give up space for the chance to whiff punish, the less space they have left to give up. Eventually, their back will be against the wall, removing the option to whiff punish altogether and putting them at a severe option disadvantage.

This concept translates directly to Melee. You could feasibly say that because Marth’s conversions off of grab are stronger than his conversions off of his traditional approach options (probably dtilt or fair), marth’s whiff punishes are stronger than his pokes. He’s more likely to throw rock than scissors because he nets more off of rock. Playing against a Marth, you can anticipate this by throwing paper and collecting significant stage gains. Once Marth loses enough stage control not only can he not dash dance around your approach, but he is close to an easy edgeguard situation.

Jigglypuff breaks this pattern. Jigglypuff does not need ground under her feet to be effective. Her multiple jumps and incredible drift control translate to aerial prowess and a near immunity to edgeguards. This makes stage control a less valuable asset to her. She doesn’t need the stage to move, nor is she immediately threatened by its loss. Generally speaking, throwing rock won’t net Puff much of a gain but neither will it cost much. It is a softer throw than for other characters (At this point it is important to note that while the comparison is useful, mixups are not exactly RPS situations. The timing element means that you can to usually bait, postpone, avoid, or react to commitments).

But while Puff’s walk back is significantly buffed by having a much less direct relationship with the stage length, it is not infinite. There are several balance mechanics in place. First, like everything in melee, with a hard read on drift timing you can just kill her outright. Second, for many characters, stage control can be used to indirectly threaten Puff with projectiles, forcing her to turn her butt right back around and use high-commitment approaches. Lastly, every time Jigglypuff jumps she is committing to landing eventually. She can postpone that landing as many times as she has jumps left but she will eventually have to touch ground, at which point she is extremely vulnerable. Forfeiting the stage limits the amount of space she has to keep that landing ambiguous, making landinglag punishes significantly easier. These responses and the risks involved to both players deepen rather than simplify the gameplay.

Thus far, we’ve only discussed Puff’s Walk Back. This is what people see, recognize, have a hard time articulating, and generally don’t like because it’s pretty 1-dimensional as a holistic gameplan. If that was all there was to Puff, every match would be solely a “war of attrition” that she would usually lose at the end. Thankfully this isn’t the case. Remember, Puff doesn’t lose much at a time from walking backward, but neither can she gain much. Retreating bairs just don’t combo. Time spent jumping away is time that can’t be spent on a reaction punish. These are judgements to be made in the moment. We recognize that Puff’s got a sick nasty punish game off of reads/reactions. If she gets a grab, uptilt, pound, upair, bair, dair, nair, etc in the right conditions you might just die to a 1f kill move from nowhere. Her combo potential is great and her edgeguard potential is even better. When Puff isn’t walking back It’s not a “war of attrition,” it’s a balancing act by both players. If you slip up in front of Hbox you will probably lose your stock. The same could be said for any other top player. This is to say that while Puff’s walk back is definitely strong, it is clearly not her only dimension nor is it in actuality her most important dimension. Much of hbox’s recent success has been a direct result of fine-tuning his impulses to round-out his approach and better enable his punishes.

But beyond the latent threat of reaction punishes on mistakes and overcommitments ("backair and rest"), Puff has additional kill potential in her frequent mixups. This is where puff gets even more cool and even more complex. Let’s take for granted that outside of reaction punishes Puff always has the threat of a high-reward opportunity off of a movement read. Melee has blessed her in that they exist but are usually difficult to identify and risky to go for.

Edgeguarding Fox is a good example. Puff has an edgeguard opportunity vs Fox. It feels like there are a group of 50/50s in a row but there’s just one that we need to look at because the principle translates to the others. First, depending on how far Fox was thrown, he can recover high or low. Puff cannot normally cover both on reaction. She must choose. Most of the time Hbox is going to prioritize his stage control, let Fox snap to ledge ledge, and hit any high side/upB should it happen. This has the lowest net cost because should Hbox fair in front of the ledge to prevent fox from sweetspotting and the guess was wrong then Fox regains stage control at the very least. A good Fox knows this about Puff and about Hbox, so he’s more likely to sweetspot the ledge. But both players understand that as soon as they both commit to that ledge Fox loses his stock at any %. They’re both weighing the evolving risk at every instance. Eventually Hbox will strike. This principle is relatively constant throughout edgeguard situations in the MU. Most of the time Fox is going to make it back to ledge/stage and Puff will preserve a soft advantage via stage control, but if Puff makes a power play and jumps into a read commitment, one of them is probably going to die because of it. This is difficult to spot without knowledge of the situations but permeates Puff gameplay from edgeguarding to predicting jumps/shields/etc in neutral.

Picture Soft or Tekk choosing to land in front of a grounded Shiek. This situation is extremely high risk high reward for both characters. If Sheik grabs and puff crouches then Sheik dies instantly to rest, but if Sheik dsmashes instead then Puff takes crucial damage (keep in mind Sheik starts to breaks Puff's CC at ~50%, at which point converting hits into a kill is relatively easy for her). However, if Sheik dsmashes and Puff shields, Sheik can get rested OoS. Naturally if Sheik grabs and Puff shields/jumps then Sheik gets at least damage and stage position, potentially a kill of her own. Puff’s punish game, especially in regards to rest, creates high-risk high-reward mixups in a number of micro-situation.

The dichotomy between these extreme high-risk high-reward scenarios and the aforementioned low-risk low-reward footsies principles largely defines Puff as a character.

Granted, many Puff players will avoid high-risk scenarios out of discomfort and often times rightly so. Eliminating risk wins tournaments. But historically the Puffs that see high level success have all looked carefully to identify and exploit these scenarios by breaking down the dichotomy as non-exclusive. If anything at all this is what I want to impress on Puff players.

Soft has said that constantly attacking isn’t cool or aggressive, it’s as predictable as always throwing scissors. Likewise, constantly retreating is just as effective as always throwing rock. Puff can and must balance her spacing and tendencies to avoid being predictable or her patterns will be exploited. That being said, if the Puff player is attentive, they can actively use the opponent’s reactions to net much higher rewards or more favorable situations on prediction. This is the entire basis of MangoPuff. Mango’s Puff was built specifically not just to keep track of, but to condition and encourage certain reactions that could be taken advantage of at a later time. You might notice the prevalence of nair. Nair in itself is very ineffective. It’ll do 9%. Low-risk low-reward, just like retreating bairs. But no one wants to get hit with nair 4 times in a row. Eventually they stop running forward and if you can predict/encourage someone letting up then Puff gets to take stage with something akin to the other MangoPuff special, FH fair (or very low DJ fair) into a descending drift mixup. Stuff like that. In this way MangoPuff uses his low-risk low-reward commitments not just to keep herself safe but to gather valuable data and color his high-risk high-reward plays. This is not to say that Hbox does not. Hbox is doing the same kind of thing to greater degrees all the time and in the context of both more specific situations and a much more polished holistic gameplan.

Jigglypuff’s unique drift/jump mechanics and brutal kill setups combine to allow her the freedom to condition, adapt and punish in ways slightly outside of the methodologies applied to the many other Melee characters. This is what it means to play the game with Jigglypuff: balancing options, playing footsies, and predicting a strong opponent. Far from a one-dimensional gimmick, high-level matches with and against Puff can display and even amplify core fighting game mechanics.

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