Neutral Game Part 1: I Ain’t Pickin’ Sides!

So this is the beginning of a small tutorial series that details a lot of fighting game player’s weakest point: The neutral game. I’ll be breaking things down as best I can in a somewhat steady 4-piece installment. I don’t claim to be the guru of any point of this, just giving what knowledge I can on the subject. If you have comments/questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Please note that the ideas expressed below are for a basic “street fighter-esque” type of game, and that games with other mechanics may bend these rules to some extent.

Neutral Game

To begin, when you start a match, you are at the neutral game. You and your opponent are just standing there out of each other’s range. The only way either of you can hit each other is from the front via footsies, or from the air via a jump-in. Let me say that again in case that didn’t sink in.

The only way either of you can hit each other is from the front via footsies, or from the air via a jump-in.

That’s it. There is no other way you can be hurt in the neutral game. That being said you have two jobs. The first is to watch against a jumping opponent. Jumping poses a significant reward for your opponent, but they can’t block, so if you hit them they will never be able to block it. The second job is to play footsies. Footsies basically boils down to controlling the space on the ground. This series covers for the most part footsies and briefly, at the end,  jumping.

There are two very basic types of footsies. Offensive footsies, and defensive footsies; a decent player should have knowledge of how to play into these roles as well as understand them enough to defend against the other.

  • Offensive Footsies

Offensive footsies are characterized by the use of long reaching, quick normal moves or “pokes” to hit your opponent. This is predominately done by momentarily walking forward into a range where you can strike your opponent using the appropriately length normal. Fireballs also tend to fall into this category, because of their ability to control space from such long distances. Though typically much slower than normal moves, fireballs force a reaction out of your opponent from nearly any point on the stage, and for this reason act as a great offensive tool. In a match, if two characters have differently length “pokes”, the person with the longest reasonable move is likely to be the aggressor and utilize offensive footsies.

  • Defensive Footsies

Defensive footsies are characterized through the term “whiff punishing”. This involves walking out of the opponents “poke” range or out of the range of a long reaching normal, evading the move when it comes out, and then hitting the move with a normal of your own during its recovery period. This is typically difficult for beginners to pick up and so requires practice and  close attention to your opponent’s movements. In a match, if two characters have different length “pokes”, the person with the shorter reasonable move is likely to be whiff punishing and utilize defensive footsies.

Stay tuned for part 2!

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4

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