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January 18, 2012 / Jett

Universal Fighting Game Guide: Tips to Overcome Bad Character Match-Ups


In virtually every fighting game, certain characters will have inherent advantages against others. More often than not, this is just the end result of character design factors that end up dictating how easy or difficult it will be for character A to defeat character B. In some cases, you may have to put in some elbow grease as the weaker character in order to win. Other times, trying to overcome a bad match-up can feel almost impossible.

Is it ever really impossible though? Let’s talk about what bad match-ups are, why they happen and things you can do to beat the odds.

What is a bad character match-up?
To me, a bad match-up is defined by the fact that character A has to work harder than character B to win, even if they’re controlled by equally-skilled players.

Why does this happen?
Fighting game designers try their best to create fighting game characters that have variety, yet are balanced in a way where no one character can completely dominate another. Expecting perfect balance with this formula is crazy, as the only true way to have a perfectly balanced game is if every character played exactly the same. Instead, fighting games give us a variety of characters with different attributes.

Since each character has different attributes, there will be instances where certain characters will have an easier time beating others.

Factors that contribute to a bad match-up
There a number of specific factors that can make a particular match-up bad for one character over another. Some of those factors can include:

– Damage Output
– Defense
– Ability to Mix-Up
– Move Priority
– Special Move Dominance
– Ability to Control Space

All of these factors are contained within the characters themselves, which means one character may have the advantage before you even pick up a controller. That’s just the nature of the beast.

What can you do to overcome a bad match-up?

1) Know who is in charge

Fighting games are about the players; not the characters. While you must be cognizant of the properties of both characters, this is about you vs. your human opponent. While the choice of character may put you behind the 8 ball, the vast majority of matches aren’t lost at the character select screen. If you can outplay your opponent, you’ll win, regardless of character selection.

2) Know character properties and match-up knowledge inside-and-out

When you find yourself in a situation where your character puts you at a disadvantage, you’ll need to dig deep to find any sort of edge. Knowledge in this case is critical. This means knowing as much as you can about character properties (yours and your opponent’s), strengths, weaknesses, as well as potential strategies and tactics to be used by you and your opponent. Knowing this data is critical, as it’ll be useful virtually every time you partake in this match-up. Some questions you may want to ask yourself in order to do this analysis may include, but shouldn’t stop at:

– What are my opponent’s mobility options like?
– What is my opponent’s best poke attack?
– If I knock them down, and I want to attack them as they get up, what options does that character have to attack back?
– Based on their character selection,will my opponent try and rush me down? Or will they try and turtle?
– What character advantages is my opponent going to try and exploit?
– What can I do to cover or prevent my opponent from taking advantage of my character weaknesses?

Once you have that data, you need to then apply that data to the match in order to win. One of the most common character-specific pieces of data relates to Phoenix in the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 series. If her team stores 5 hyper bars and Phoenix dies, she turns into Dark Phoenix, who is the most broken and over-powered character in the game. However, if you can kill her off before her team gets 5 hyper bars, she’s no longer a threat.

Knowing that it’s a lot easier to beat a Phoenix team if she gets killed before her team has 5 hyper bars, you can then formulate that as your strategy and come up with specific tactics to achieve that. In this particular instance, I like to snap Phoenix in early, and as she jumps in, go for a mix-up. If I successfully land the mix-up, I finish off Phoenix in one combo. Problem solved.

Dig deep enough, and you’ll find nuggets of character-specific match-up information like the tip above to give you an edge. It may require you to read guides, grind it out in training mode, or simply learning from the experience of match play, but learning the character match-up data goes a long way to securing victory.

3) Read your opponent and exploit holes in their play style

Because your character is at a disadvantage as far as the match-up, it’s going to be up to you to compensate through your superior knowledge and skills. It’s on you to work harder, think smarter and make more good moment-to-moment reads in order to win.

If you’ve done your homework going into the match, you’ve already put in the thought around how the characters stack up against each other. That means, the only remaining variable is your opponent. The goal now is to pay close attention to your opponent’s play style, wrap your head around what your opponent wants to do and exploit every hole in their approach. If you can find a lot of holes in their approach, you’ll break your opponent.

What type of holes are you looking for? Start with tendencies. Look for something they tend to do frequently and punish them every time they do it. For instance, one of the match-ups I hate as a Fei Long player in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is against Zangief. I find that Zangief’s spinning pile driver beats out a lot of Fei Long’s offensive options; making that fight excruciatingly difficult for Fei Long. However, many Zangief players jump in the air prior to executing a spinning pile driver as a side-effect of having to input a 360 motion on your joystick or d-pad. When I see a Zangief player jump in the air towards me, I either jump in the air to hit them out of the sky, because I know they’re more concerned with winding up the pile driver, or get out of the way of where Zangief will land, as that pile driver command is coming out the moment his feet hit the floor.

Knowing your opponent’s character and your opponent’s play style can also help you condition your opponent into committing certain behaviours. Let’s use the new Mortal Kombat as an example. You’re playing as Sub-Zero, and your opponent is looking for you to toss that ice ball. When they see you crouch, they jump in, cause they assume the ice ball is on the way. Knowing this, you can crouch to make your opponent think you’re going to throw the ice ball, and when they jump, unleash the ice clone instead, leaving them to jump right into it.

Though we’ve talked a lot about strengths and weaknesses of of the characters, it’s worth noting that human opponents have weaknesses, too. This could be anything from consistently dropping a certain combo, or not being able to block a cross-up attack. Be extremely observant in your opponent’s play to spot these holes in their approach and tear them to shreds accordingly.

4) Gain the tactical advantage by knowing all of the potential scenarios

Tactics become extremely important when your opponent has the character advantage. For me, I want to be in a place tactically where I understand every possible scenario that I could find myself in and have the ability to make the judgment call on what to do based on the scenario itself, my understanding of the characters and my understanding of the player. To explain how intricate this thought process can be, let me break down an image as if I were playing as C. Viper.

In the picture above, Hakan is in the process of oiling up, while C. Viper is in the process of whiffing a burn kick. Hakan has a fairly big life lead and a slight advantage on EX meter. C. Viper has an ultra on deck, while Hakan has a ways to go before he gets his ultra. If Hakan has just started oiling up, and you, as C. Viper land, what do you do? Do you dash in and ultra? Do you do a combo that leads to a knockdown and a mix-up opportunity? Do you execute a throw for the knockdown and mix-up opportunity?

If you can break down the match-up to the point where you know as of the possible scenarios at that level of detail, you’ll be in a much better position to outplay your opponent from moment-to-moment.

5) Counter-pick

If you feel like you playing as your main character has no chance in hell against your opponent’s character, then maybe you might want to consider turning the tables by choosing a character that is tough for your opponent’s character to beat. In theory, this would instantly make it easier for you to win.

However, this practice comes with a lot of challenges. For one, you’re most likely learning a brand new character from scratch. You’re going to have to put in a lot of work to get your new character up to snuff; work that could be put into making your main character better. This may also fail you in the crunch if your opponent has done their homework on how to overcome your counter-pick. Lastly, and this is particularly of importance if you play in tournaments, if you’re playing a 2 out of 3 set, lose game  1, then win game 2 with a counter-pick, your opponent has the opportunity to then counter-pick you in the final game.

Generally, I advise against counter-picking, as I feel that learning a new character simply for the sake of a counter-pick may be more work than its worth. However, this is coming from someone who goes out of his way to learn a number of characters to minimize being in this situation. Go with what works best for you.

In Summary

– A bad match-up is defined by the fact that character A has to work harder than character B to win, even if they’re controlled by equally-skilled players.

– You can overcome a bad match-up by outplaying your opponent

– Outplaying your opponent is going to require you having a lot of match-up knowledge in your back pocket beforehand

– Counter-picking is an option, but it may come back to haunt you in the end

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