A lot of beginners look at fighting games and believe they’re hard. I agree to a certain degree. It’s easy to get lost in all of the tech and gameplay mechanics inherently bundled in a fighting game. This is especially true when you see pros talking about mumbo jumbo such as startup frames, hitboxes, hit stun, safe jumps, oki and much more, a lot of it will just fly over a newbie’s head like an opponent attempting to perform a crossup attack. Yes, that’s another fighting game term total noobs won’t understand.
I definitely resembled that several years ago. I didn’t know what was what and, frankly, as a total beginner, I didn’t have to. What I did have to know, however, were just a few do’s and don’ts in order to level up from being a total newbie to someone who’s a bit more capable at beating total newbies. I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to fighting games but I know I’m more than qualified to teach a beginner the same do’s and don’ts I had to educate myself to get better. I will even go through this list from the greatest mistake newbies make up to more nuanced lessons to improve their fighting game acumen.
This list of do’s and don’ts will work on pretty much every fighting game out in the market, by the way. Like I said, these are just the basic lessons so they should universally apply to practically all fighting games.
#1 Do remember to block
Sometimes, the best defense is… good defense.
In most fighting games, the goal is generally trying to damage your opponent so their life bar is fully depleted. This is why a lot of newbies are super obsessed in getting as much offense in as possible. What they fail to take notice is this does imply your opponent will be doing the same; they will be trying to beat your life bar to nothingness. This is why blocking is equally as important as attacking; you have to minimize the damage done to your character while trying to maximize the damage done to your opponent.
While simply playing defense can be boring and even frustrating, only going on the offensive just isn’t smart, especially if your opposing combatant knows how to block. You can’t just string together attacks and not leave yourself open forever. You’re going to eventually slip up and leave yourself open, which your adversary can and will take advantage of. Additionally, learning when to block is important when the shoe is on the opposite foot!
#2 Don’t just jump
Why walk when you can jump?
In most 2D fighters, you’re almost always going to be given the opportunity to jump at your opponent. It’s still an option n some 3d fighters but it’s generally frowned upon. In 2D fighters, well, the sky’s the limit with the number of jumping options! In the Marvel vs Capcom series, you have the option to super jump to ascend to great heights. In the King of Fighters series, you can have your characters do a different degrees of jumping to cover different distances. In games like Guilty Gear, each character can do a double jump or an air dash. With all of these options, shouldn’t you jump as much as possible?
No, you shouldn’t. I know it’s super fun to jump in a fighting game but doing so usually leaves you susceptible to eating an anti-air. Even if you can block in the air (see how to block in #1 of this list) or change your trajectory while in the air, it’s not all that smart to just jump since doing it so often will make you very predictable.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t jump ever while playing a Marvel vs. Capcom, King of Fighters or Guilty Gear game and use the jumping options. What I’m saying is you shouldn’t jump without a purpose. Most of the time, if you need to close the gap between your foe, it’s much more prudent to walk or dash forward as you can still block quickly while on the ground. Maybe you want to trick your opponent by jumping just out of range of their attacks and tricking them into trying an anti-air. It’s okay to jump; just always jump for a reason.
#3 Don’t overly rely on special moves
When you throw your first Hadouken… it’s special.
What’s a fighting game without special moves? It’s the little something which makes each character feel special and gives them their own characteristics. It’s what makes Zangief from Street Fighter a grappler, Cyclops from the X-Men fighting games a zoner and the little annoying monkey boy Kid Goku a rushdown fighter. Executing them is imperative to become good at any fighting game since you should be able to perform the special move at a moment’s notice. Doesn’t mean you have to do them all the time!
I understand, for a newbie, executing a special move can be a rush. The movement is complex and they usually cause some damage even when blocked. However, it’s like jumping (see above): you have to be purposeful when doing special moves.
The best example is the traditional Hadouken from the Street Fighter series. It’s generally a projectile that can reach the entire screen. So it’s obvious you shouldn’t throw a fireball when the enemy is close. However, you actually shouldn’t keep on throwing fireballs if the opponent is at full screen distance and you behind on life. From faraway, the fireball is rendered moot by jumping over it or the opponent tossing a projectile of their own. The best point to throw a fireball is actually around mid-screen distance. If done at the right distance, you can surprise your foe and force them to block (and take chip damage) or force them to jump over it where you can connect with an anti air attack.
Even if you shouldn’t just use your special attacks willy-nilly…
#4 Do practice executing special attacks
Because you gotta be able to do them when the right opportunity arises!
Even if I did warn you about just doing special moves, you still have to know how to execute them instantly. You never really know when you need to throw a Hadouken or be just in the right range for a Spinning Pile Driver. So, when the right time comes, you have to be able to waggle the joystick and press the correct button combination the instant the need arises. This can be daunting for newbies to do, especially the aforementioned Spinning Pile Driver.
You really do have to practice performing the special move motions as often as possible until they become ingrained in your muscle memory. It can get boring to keep on doing the same thing over and over again but, at the same time, very rewarding when you don’t have to think of doing a quarter-circle motion and punch. Instead, you just think “fireball” and your fingers just do them.
One thing most newbies do forget is to practice doing them on both sides of the screen. You never know if you’ll be facing right (for player 1) or left (for player 2). You have to be able to do them from both sides because, well, you can’t complain if you get stuck on the wrong side of the screen!
#5 Do learn what your character’s normal attacks can do
While not as flashy as special moves, normal attacks is actually where you’ll get most of your damage in. However, just randomly mashing buttons can only get you so far.
Once you pick your character, you have to understand what their normal attacks can do. While it can be tempting to just go for your most powerful normal attack, you do have to check what the weaker attacks can do. Usually, the stronger the attack, the slower it comes out. So you have to weigh in if you can connect with the heavy attack without it getting snuffed by a weaker but faster strike. Also, you have to check the ranges of each attack so you know which one would be a great way to poke at your foe at a safe distance. You also need to see if some attacks have special properties, such as hitting low or knocking your opponent down.
Finally, some normal attacks can actually cancel into special moves. This is very important when doing combos, which is how you can really pile on the damage as combos do pile on the hurt quickly. As a beginner, you don’t need to learn the really long combos. Rather, just practice on the normal attacks that work and link that with your practice of special moves execution.
Any other tips you can think of for newbies in the fighting game scene? Let me know in the comments section below!