Akira Yuki (Virtua Fighter) for Super Smash Bros.

The day that Ryu from Street Fighter was announced for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U was a milestone: the first time a traditional fighting game character would appear in Nintendo’s iconic crossover series. But if Ryu is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of the 2D fighter, then Akira Yuki from Virtua Fighter would be my pick for 3D fighter’s poster boy. After all, Virtua Fighter was the series that introduced 3D fighting games to the world.

Akira represents a unique challenge in terms of translating his character to the world of Smash. While he has many surface similarities with Ryu—both are short-haired, Japanese, bandana-wearing martial artists focused heavily on their craft—they have almost the exact opposite functions in their respective games. Whereas Ryu is generally considered an ideal beginner’s character who’s easy to learn but whose mastery teaches the fundamental aspects of Street Fighter, Akira is meant for experts alone. The Virtua Fighter character is notoriously unforgiving to use, as it is absolutely necessary to master his extremely tight execution requirements to do any combos or damage. In fact, novices don’t even have the benefit of button mashing and hoping for the best, because his design actively prevents button mashing from being effective.

Capturing this “advanced players only” quality in Akira, as well as the general gameplay and feel of his fighting style in Virtua Fighter, is what I would prioritize when making him into a Smash character. Virtua Fighter itself is considered a game with fairly simple controls (3 buttons, 1 joystick) but whose competitive depth makes it feel like you’re outwitting your opponent first and foremost, even when characters like Akira have such high execution requirements. That’s also why this entry is so much longer than previous Smash character concepts—it’s necessary to show how Akira would embody Virtua Fighter.

Fighting as Akira should feel like you’ve out-thought your opponents, and your reward is a highly refined punish game consisting of short and sweet combos that nevertheless do scary amounts of damage. Fighting against him should make you feel bad for getting called out over and over for your predictability. At the same time, execution shouldn’t be too difficult, as it goes against the spirit of Smash Bros., but should be tricky enough that you can’t just buffer and mash and succeed. In terms of general stats, Akira would be heavier and slower than Ryu, and would of course lack a projectile move. He would be below mediocre in the air, given that Virtua Fighter characters are typically not known for their leaping prowess, and would be vulnerable to edgeguarding. On the ground, however, Akira would be a menace in a way Little Mac isn’t. He would have fast attacks with poor recovery time, rewarding intelligent exploitation of rock-paper-scissor scenarios but punishing Akira for bad decision-making and guesses.

Specials and Other Attacks

The special moves depicted above are meant to show that Akira has multiple options open as one attack flows into the next, but there’s usually a choice that’s 1) more powerful, 2) more difficult to execute, and/or 3) comes at a higher price. Take Akira’s side special, for example. If you tilt the stick, you get Hontei Goko Hazankou, a multi-part attack similar to Marth’s Dancing Blade. It does decent damage, and the initial kick can actually negate the intangibility on rolls and directional air dodges (but not side steps or neutral air dodges). The third part of the attack is Akira’s signature Tetsuzankou body check (and Bayonetta’s forward throw!), which does decent damage and can KO at very high percents. However, if you do a smash side-B, it becomes a raw Tetsuzankou, and like in Virtua Fighter, it is much, much more powerful.

In particular, there is an initial Tetsuzankou hitbox very close to Akira’s body that does massive damage (something like 30%) and can KO at early to middle percents. Even the late hitbox as Akira moves forward can do around 20%, but it’s highly punishable on dodge or shield. Another variant is that if you smash side-B back (as in the opposite direction that Akira is facing), he performs a back-turned Tetsuzankou, which is just as strong as the forward-facing one, only a few frames faster. In other words, roll past him at your own peril.

Perhaps Akira’s most famous technique is the “Houken Youshi Senrin Soushou” combination, known to English-speaking fans as the “Stun Palm of Doom.” In the Virtua Fighter games, this move is notorious for being difficult to execute, requiring precision and timing that could make even some Melee fans recoil. To reflect this challenging element of the move, hitting neutral-B alone would not do the full move. Instead, you need to hit neutral-B, down-forward-B, then back-B in that exact order at a very specific timing for each part. And unlike with Akira’s Tetsuzankou, you want to perform this whole thing successfully every single time, though stopping at Youshi Senrin (the second part) can open up certain options that can potentially lead to more damage. Also, the move is extremely unsafe on block, so you can’t just spam it and hope the opponent will get hit. You need to be confident that the Houken is going to land, because you pretty much need to execute the rest before the first part has even landed.

Ironically, his Final Smash, Toryu Tenshin Hazankai actually does less damage overall compared to Houken Youshi Senrin Soushou.

As for Akira’s other moves, Utankyaku is pretty bad as a straight-up recovery move (but it has its merits on offense) and Tsuutenhou is a unique “counter” move of sorts. Hitting up-b once makes Akira do a leaping kick called Utankyaku. Hitting the b button again results in a second kick, turning the move into Akira’s Renkantai. Both parts are capable of KOing, and the question as to whether it’s going to be one kick or two can mix up opponents. As for the down-B Tsuutenhou, it’s an upward strike that can knock opponents off balance if it’s used to interrupt an attack, and can lead to devastating follow-ups, but it’s sort of a backwards counter as it’s more effective against quick attacks than slow ones. If Akira can’t do a powerful punish in time, he can hit down-B again and default to Moukou Kouhazan, a simple palm strike. Akira also has a crouching dash like in the Virtua Fighter games, though in this case it’s performed by just smashing down-forward or down-back.

Akira actually has one other “hidden” special move that’s an Easter egg of sorts for Virtua Fighter fans. By hitting B and shield and letting go of shield after exactly 1 frame, Akira can perform Teishitsu Dantai, a quick knee strike that pops the opponent up and makes them vulnerable to combos. And for the sake of keeping this already long description from being more unbearably wordy, I’ll briefly say that most of his most iconic moves will be found in his normals. His smash attacks, for example, would be Byakko Soushouda, Chouzan Housui (negates side steps and neutral air dodges and does heavy shield damage if charged), and Youshi Saiken. Certain attacks (such as Tetsuzankou) would be able to power through projectiles uninterrupted, making playing keep-away fairly effective against Akira but not a guaranteed success by any means.

Overall

The resulting character is one that would really rewards players who love challenging execution and challenging mind games alike. If there are heart, body, and brain players each representing different tendencies in approaching fighting games, Akira Yuki would reward the body player who can also master the intuition of the heart and the disciplined research of the brain.

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How Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Decisions Support Both Casual and Competitive Players

E3 2018’s come and gone, leaving in our wake the juiciest details about the new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. The goal is clear: to make this the most complete Smash game ever, most evident in the fact that every playable character across the franchise’s almost 20-year history is back, along with newcomers Daisy and Ridley. I have a million thoughts about the new game, in no small part due to the sheer amount of information coming our way. Not only were there 25 minutes devoted to Ultimate in the Nintendo Direct, and plenty of Nintendo Treehouse play sessions at E3, but there are also official introductory video clips for every characters, filled with tidbits if you look carefully.

My major takeaway from following all of this news is that Ultimate is embracing the idea that a game can truly be capable of excelling in both competitive and casual environments, instead of having one compromise the other. Many decisions made for the current build benefit players of all stripes.

New Dodge Decay Mechanic

One brand-new change in Ultimate is that rolls and dodges get less effective if you overuse them. While I personally believe that their power in Smash Bros. for Wii U is quite manageable for the most part, there is an environment where rolls are the bane of everyone’s existence: wi-fi play. Thanks to the inherent lag in online play combined with the fact that players had no control over who they connected to, rolling became much, much more powerful. For Glory mode became infamous early on for being filled with players who roll over and over, relying heavily on the inconsistency of variable online connections.

But while highly skilled players, especially the pros, have mastered punishing bad rolls, it’s not as if they fail to benefit from having dodge maneuvers being limited by decay. Playing at the higher levels means having a thorough mastery of all aspects of the game, and now rolls and dodges have an added wrinkle to them that encourages players to use their other fundamental tools, like walking and running. Moreover, these evasive techniques are now a resource to be managed. Do you use more rolls now to guarantee getting out of a sticky situation if it makes you more vulnerable later?

Tournament players now have another skill they can improve, and newer players online can avoid frustration dealing with lag. It’s win-win.

The Hybrid Air Dodge is Gentle Yet Harsh

In the history of Smash Bros., there have been two different types of air dodges. The first is the directional air dodge, originally from Super Smash Bros. Melee, which allows players to become invincible for a brief period and move a short distance more in any direction they choose. The penalty is that you become unable to do anything but plummet down afterwards, leaving you vulnerable. The second type is the unlimited air dodge from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which lets players use repeated air dodges but prevents them being able to do a quick juke like the Melee directional air dodge does.

Air dodging in Ultimate is a hybrid version between Melee and Brawl. Players can choose to shift their direction during an air dodge or fall naturally, but there’s a period during which follow-up actions are impossible. It doesn’t put you in a helpless state as it would in Melee, but only one air dodge is possible before landing.

The air dodge in Brawl was changed in the first place likely so that it would be easier to use and understand for newer players—especially Nintendo Wii owners who were playing video games for the first time. It even introduced the concept of dodging in the air and counterattacking, something that wasn’t possible in Melee. Certain characters, namely Mewtwo in Smash for Wii U, even excelled at this strategy. However, fans who love Melee competitively often dislike this air dodge because it means juggles and combos were easier to escape. In their eyes, being able to air dodge repeatedly took away from one of them franchise’s best features.

Ultimate‘s air dodges leave a player vulnerable but not overly so. Using it eats up an option and makes one more susceptible to getting juggled, but the player can still attack out of it. Reports say the stationary air dodge allows faster recovery, which means the Mewtwos of the world can still do their thing. Directional air dodging vs. stationary air dodging also provides an added layer of decision-making, and gives characters like Yoshi and Little Mac who traditionally have suffered from limited recovery options to do a bit more.

Simpler, Freer Movement Benefits All Levels

One of the other new features of Ultimate is the ability to do pretty much anything immediately out of an initial dash. Past games restricted your options, but now everything from smash attacks to tilts to specials and more can happen out of a dash.

The probable reason this was previously not possible was because it made dashing into more of a commitment, and players ideally worked around it. In practice, newer players tend to just charge headfirst into things and then complain when their predicable option gets called out.

Melee is something of an exception to the rule of restrictive dashes because of the existence of wavedashing, an advanced technique that allows characters to slide while standing still, granting greater access to their arsenals while advancing or retreating. The lack of wavedashing in other games is a huge sticking point for many Melee fans, and is part of why they prefer those other games less. However, the execution of a wavedash requires a good amount of timing and dexterity. While most Melee players will claim it’s simple and easy, for many people it’s not, and failing to learn it actually significantly impacts your ability to succeed in that game.

By having these “dash cancels” (or whatever they’ll be called) come out of a more natural tendency to run ahead, it potentially makes less experienced players feel like they have more control. At the same time, it also fulfills at least some of the functions of wavedashing while being a more simplified command. Just dash, pause briefly, and attack.

Buffs Across the Board

Balance for a test version is of course not finalized, but from all reports so far it’s clear thay they’ve aimed for competitive improvements to nearly every character. Zelda suffered from being unable to act out of her Din’s Fire and Farore’s Wind special moves in past games, but now they no longer hold her back. Ryu always faces his opponents 1v1 (just like in Street Fighter) and can now back dash to improve his footsies. Little Mac can use both of his recovery moves, allowing him a little more leeway getting back on stage. Ganondorf’s attacks are surprisingly quick. The only exceptions seem to be Fox, Cloud, and Bayonetta, who are more limited in what they can do. Notably, Bayonetta’s infamous combo game and Witch Time ability have been made less effective, and Cloud’s Limit, which granted him improved specs as well as access to souped up specials, now only lasts 15 seconds instead of being potentially infinite.

Characters are getting quality-of-life changes and things specifically targeting their crippling flaws in previous games while also making them easier to use. There’s a clear desire to bring everyone up. However, what’s also important is that it shows on some level an acknowledgement of the skill found among stronger Smash players. Likely the reason Zelda’s Din’s Fire caused a helpless state when performed in the air was a fear that using it offstage, especially against weaker players, would be too powerful. No more—now, the game acknowledges that it might be really strong in those scenarios, but so what? “You can handle it,” says Ultimate.

A Game Already Loved

Despite being a mere test build, praise for the gameplay has thus far been near-universal—something that didn’t happen with Smash Bros. for Wii U when it was revealed in 2014. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate appears to be on track to giving almost all players what they want, and it’s thanks to mechanics that seem to reward skill without making the learning process daunting for less strong players. Unless something goes terribly wrong between now and the December 7 release date, it might become the most successful Smash game ever, both financially and competitively.

For more details, as well as some of the sources I used to get info for this post, check out the following.

Abadango’s thoughts on the new Smash (Japanese)

Full Breakdown of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Mechanics

VGBootcamp VODs