Unlike traditional fighting games, players don’t just fight until one player deals enough damage to the other. Rather, in Smash Brothers the goal is to knock your opponent (or opponents) off of the stage. If they happen to mess up and stumble off on their own, that’s great, but usually you’re going to have to force your opponent off the stage. That’s where the life percentage comes in.
Dealing damage is important in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it’s a means to an end rather than the primary goal. Deal damage to make your opponent fly further and further back with every hit. Eventually, you’ll land a hit and they’ll go flying off the stage.
Players start with their life percentages at zero. As they take hits, the percentage number goes up. The higher that number is, the further you’ll knock your opponent into the air when you hit them. The best way to illustrate this is to use the same move repeatedly on a training dummy. As you can see above, the more damage Link takes, the further he flies.
Landing a smash attack on a player at low percentages doesn’t push them very far, but it’s a different story once they have some damage built up. When a character is a bit over 100 percent, smashes start to hit them for life-threatening distances.
As such, the basic theory is to use quick attacks to build up damage on your opponent at the start of the match. Once you’ve built up some substantial damage, you can start to bring out the smash attacks to send them flying.
Weight and blowback
Blowback is a complicated subject, and there are more factors at play than just the life percentage or the strength of the attack.
Most obvious is the weight of the character. Lightweight characters like Pikachu and Fox are going to fly farther on impact than average-size fighters. Likewise, heavyweights like Bowser and Incineroar are going to be much harder to lift off the ground.
Our video above illustrates a bit of an extreme example: The super-light Pichu uses his side smash against the super-heavy Bowser, barely moving him. On the other side of the coin, Bowser uses his particularly powerful charged side smash against tiny Pichu, who goes flying.
Every fighter is unique in this regard, so experiment with as many characters as you can. This is one of the many cases where the trajectory guide in Training mode, which shows you exactly how far your attacks will launch the opponent, comes in handy.
A few moves cause just enough blowback and leave opponents just open enough that you can follow up with additional hits from which the opponent cannot escape. This is traditionally called a combo or “true combo,” as it’s actually inescapable. Smash players often call patterns that are difficult ( but not impossible) to escape “combos” as well, but we’ll be sticking with the first definition.
For example, at zero percent damage, Inkling can follow up a down throw with her neutral attack chain against most characters. This is a great follow-up because the damage is guaranteed, and her opponent is left covered in paint, making Inkling’s next attack more powerful.
However, if your opponent has taken any damage, the blowback increases and thus this combo will not work. Experiment with your character to figure out combos of your own. Use the combo counter in Training to verify your combos: If the counter keeps counting up and doesn’t reset back to one, it’s impossible to escape and is thus a true combo.
Offensive pressure: Following a launched opponent
There will be times when you launch your opponent way up into the air with an up throw or smash, and they’ll slowly drift back down. Your opponent is very vulnerable during this free fall. If you can follow your opponent up, it’s one of the best times to deliver some damage.
The big hit to go for in this situation is an up attack. Since your opponent is already in the air, a big hit aiming up has a strong chance of knocking them off of the stage. However, because it’s such a strong option, many opponents already know that you want to land an up attack. Once you approach, they’re going to try and escape with an air dodge.
Here’s where the real mind games come in. They know you want to land an up attack, and you know they know that, which means that you know they want to do an air dodge as you approach. Keeping in mind that an opponent is wide open right after an air dodge, you can approach as though you’re going for an up smash, bait out an air dodge from your opponent, and then hit them with a side attack in the direction they dodged. This is a common Smash rock-paper-scissors scenario, and if you get well acquainted with it you can do a lot more damage and knock your opponents out much faster.
Characters like Sonic and Fox excel at this kind of pressure because of their fast movement speed. Their opponent is falling slowly and has only a few movement options, but a fast character on the ground can cover their every route of escape.