The more I play Brawl the more I'm convinced that not only did Sakurai and team not attempt to balance Melee, but they didn't think we would take and use many of the implemented features and mechanics religiously. In my mind, I don't think they thought we would use L-canceling, short hopping, (and while we're at it) fast falling so aggressively. By relentlessly using these techniques characters like Fox, Falco, and even Gannondorf could pour pressure on their opponents with an unnatural amount of speed, power, versatility, and precision. I don't say unnatural because I think this style of play shouldn't have happened. I say unnatural because I just don't think any of the developers and play testers saw it coming, which means they didn't account for it.
This time around, such things were accounted for. So much so, that I believe Brawl was balanced "to the short hop." In order to understand what I mean by this, I'd like to describe the check list I go through when playing a character for the first time in Brawl.
1) Find the Kill moves
- "Kill 'em with a kill move!" Seems simple enough, but knowing and using a character's strong moves is essential for knocking them off the stage or knocking them out completely. The killing part of a move can be at the beginning of a move, in the middle, or at the end. Try a move out a few times a few different ways and then move on.
2) Figure out which Air moves recover the fastest
- L-canceling all air A moves was a staple for competitive Melee play. Now that moves auto cancel, I always take a little time to figure out which moves still recover quickly. As a general rule, neutral airs almost always recovery quickly in Brawl.
3) Determine the neutral jab style
- By simply hitting A over and over (or just holding it) most characters will go into combo of punches, kicks, and or whips (Ivysaur/Diddy). This standard attack is essential for breaking up jumpers, rollers, and shield grabbers. The jab combo is quick and very effective at doing one of two things: racking up damage (Shiek, Kirby, Falco, Fox) , or sending the opponent flying (Snake, Ike).
4) Determine the range and effectiveness of up tilt/up air/ up smash
- Knowing the effectiveness of their up moves is important for keeping the opponents juggled in the air where they have less strategic options. If you don't understand what I mean, check out my fifth impressions of brawl for the map of the dynamics of a Brawl battle.
5) Determine the style of dash attack
- Because wave sliding is out, players have to commit to their movements more than ever. Using your dash attack well may be the difference between winning an losing. Some dash attacks can crack away at shields. Others can kill. Others still can start combos.
6) Determine the recovery style and options
- Can you use other B moves to help you recover? Can you walk kick? Cling to walls? Do you have a tether recovery? Do you have extra jumps? Can you glide? Can you teleport? All these questions are important. Nothing can be more deadly than a predictable recovery plan.
I really want to focus on the first 2 steps in the list. Some characters in Brawl have really strong versatile moves in the air. In Melee, when such moves were combined with the short hop and pressure drop, characters could continually and quickly use their strong moves. In Brawl, the stronger and more versatile moves a character has relative to their other abilities, the more recovery lag they have when landing on the ground. But to be even more precise, the timing of the moves has been fine tuned so that the stronger moves are more effective when used in a full jump or even a double jump.
For example, Falco's forward A air attack has multiple hits and is his only air move that can send enemy forward. This move comes out quick, but has a bit of recovery lag when it lands on the ground. This is not be best move to use from a short hop. But because Falco doesn't have a lot of options to push or knock the opponent forward, he has to set things up for himself by using other moves from his repertoire in order to round out his deficiencies.
In Melee, Falco could use his incredible speed, over powered down air, and nearly broken reflector to pierce defenses and launch opponents. Though highly unbalanced, Falco's Melee style was very entertaining and what's more impressive, Falco played like a bird. He took opponents into the sky, only to drop them back to the ground, only to land on them with his talons (feet), only to repeat the process before disposing with his prey. I think Falco says it best in Brawl, "Personally, I prefer the air."
What I find most impressive with Brawl's new balance is, unique styles of play like Falco's have been preserved. Falco's down air in Brawl spikes at the beginning instead of throughout the entire animation of the attack. Though this aspect was toned down from Melee, the move still lasts a little while and recovers quickly with little recovery lag. From this attack, players can use Falco's new up tilt that spins with multiple hits. This move is highly effective at penetrating defenses and launching opponents up into the air where, as we recall, Falco does his best work.
Falco's up tilt isn't very strong and it doesn't send opponents very far, so Falco has to follow it up. Fortunately, Falco's up air also has very little landing lag. That's an option. Furthermore, now that the enemy is in the air, Falco has a great opportunity to full hop and use his forward air so the animation runs out before hitting the ground and the enemy is pushed to one side.
To make up for one or two of Falco's over powered moves from Melee, Brawl Falco has a whole line up of moves that work well together. Before we discovered how wavesliding could expand Falco's horizontal ground speed to new levels, Falco was considered a fairly slow character (horizontally). Now that wavesliding is gone, this is still true for Falco. However, Falco can use his Falco Phantasm to quickly move horizontally. This move is not only quick, but it recovers quickly, and it has a hit box that can help launch opponents as well. To provide cover for this move, Falco has his reflector and lasers that can stun, knock over, and bewilder opponents.
I've found Fox and Shiek to also be well persevered in their translation to Brawl. The obvious differences from their Melee versions are changes to reduce their unbalanced and over powered abilities. With the new hole in their play style, the rest of their moves were tailored to round them out and support their fighting spirits. Most of the moves in Brawl seem to have been carefully balanced by either adding lag animation, adding animation time to the move, reducing the knock back, the damage given, or a combination of these. Compared to Melee, it is obvious that Brawl was balanced to the short hop to make characters play more in character instead of monsters than can squash a game's mechanics on the way to victory.