Falco’s place in Melee’s meta is one of the most hotly debated topics over the last several years. Despite his strong neutral and punish game, his fragile recovery and lack of reliable kill setups have earned him the title of Melee’s “Glass Cannon.”
In my last article, I pointed out that Peach is well-represented at the top level despite a number of flaws and losing matchups. In a way, Falco suffers from the opposite. Although he is generally regarded as a top three character, he is one of the least represented characters at top level – most top Falco mains supplement him with a secondary, usually Fox.
Why does it feel like one of the three best characters in the game struggles to compete at top level without a secondary?
One theory I’ll explore is that the specific skills needed to win some matchups with Falco are not quite as developed in most players as they are with Fox. It’s also possible that Falco players have more fun in those matchups as Fox. Regardless of the reason, I feel that the state of the meta has left many mistakenly believing that Falco cannot compete with characters like Peach and Puff.
I’m going to do the same thing I did with Peach in the previous article – examine the skills I believe will yield the maximum results for Falco players. With a character like Falco, however, the “given” attributes of the character are not as upfront as they are with Peach. For example, I would consider Falco’s defensive game and punish game to be “given,” but they are not quite as available right off the bat as Peach’s ability to hit an opponent offstage. So although this write-up will not delve into those attributes in too much depth, Falco players should keep them in mind.
Controlling (S)pace, and the Rubber Band Theory
Falco is not Fox with a different punish tree. His jumps are different, his aerial mobility is different, his hitboxes are different. In turn, his zone control is different. Lasers are highly disruptive, and Falco’s fullhop is one of the best disengages in the game. Throw in some big, fast hitboxes, and you have a recipe for very strong space control and pace regulation.
Let’s first talk about space. I’m calling this the “Rubber Band Theory.”
There are three components to this theory, and they all intertwine.
1) Falco can and should lock down the stage. The area of each stage he should lock down varies.
2) Falco should imagine a rubber band that draws him back to the core of each stage. This is not necessarily center at all time – it can change depending on opponent’s position and the % of both characters.
3) Falco should imagine a second rubber band that ties him together with his opponent. This band must always be considered in conjunction with the first band that ties Falco to the stage. How far are you willing to stretch the former in order to come down on the latter? Keeping these visuals in mind will help Falco manage his decision-making when it comes to picking an aggressive option versus locking down neutral.
The idea here is that the less strained the rubber band is, the more comfortable Falco should feel. If it gets stretched too thin, he should consider repositioning. So you don't want to get too far from center, and you don't want to let your opponent get too far away.
The reason I have listed space control as one of the skills for maximum yield with Falco is that is requires a great deal of active decision-making. The concept overlaps with proactive positioning in the way I described it for Peach. Rather than purely focusing on one’s own position, like Peach does, Falco should be considering ways to lock down his opponent. This means he should be positioning himself so that he nullifies as many of his opponent’s offensive and defensive options as possible.
For example, Falcon has a good deal of trouble dealing with lasers. Falco can virtually nullify Falcon’s horizontal approach options through lasers and either act aggressively to force Falcon into shield, or defensively to force Falcon to try and find another angle of approach. Although the counterplay to lasers is evolving in this meta, one must consider that Falco is always the instigator in these exchanges. If the opponent is trying to time a powershield, Falco is the one who dictates the height and distance of a laser, and whether the laser comes out at all (feint lasers can net Falco free grabs).
This concept applies to all of Falco’s matchups to an extent, but applying it to Peach and Puff can prove troublesome. This is where I want to emphasize the idea of the rubber band. Both Peach and Puff are relatively hard to pursue, and in Puff’s case, can disengage from almost any scenario virtually at will. This is where Falco must overcome the temptation to chase, and instead lock down space. If Falco chases down his opponent, the band attached to center stage will wear too thin, and eventually snap. Let center pull you back in and resume zoning. Continue to minimize as many of your opponent’s options as possible and prepare for the next exchange.
The idea is the same across the board but takes longer against floaties. I find that utilizing visual tricks like this can help keep you engaged in the process, rather than mindlessly shooting lasers and hoping to avoid stray hits.
There are some ambiguous scenarios, such as the one pictured below, where this type of visual trick can help make clearer. You have just landed a Dair on Samus and she is knocked down – what next? The rubber band visual would dissuade you from threatening roll away, as you would stretch your band from center-stage too thin. In general, it’s much safer for Falco to cover the in-place and roll-in options. If she rolls away, Falco maintains position and pressure. Of course, there are ways to reaction tech-chase, and this type of scenario depends largely on % and stage and matchup, but I urge you to consider this next time you fight a floaty with Falco. You might find it helps you better engage with the slower aspects of the matchups.
This image shows that the farther away from center Falco is, the tighter the rubber band gets. In the second image, he is jumping toward an offstage Peach, so the band gets very tight. You don't want it to get so thin - you want to be stubborn in keeping the strong position, and not overcommit.
With regard to controlling space, Fox’s ability to stuff jumps and move around the stage and Marth’s ability to dash under high lasers and beat most of Falco’s hitboxes with the sword, even the playing field a bit. But in both cases, Falco’s decision to play defensively or aggressively, and in what manner, still largely dictate what the game will look like. As a Falco player, you can choose to test your opponent’s ability to match a variety of paces.
Let’s say Falco is having trouble dealing with Marth’s laser counterplay. Falco can decide to completely change the pace of the game by jumping to the top platform on many stages. If Marth decides to hold ground, Falco can either wear him down and try again, or try attacking from the sky. There are some scenarios that turn into complete guesses from this position, and in general Falco benefits more from stray hits than Marth, especially at high-%.
If Marth chooses to pursue Falco on the top platform (which I would advise against), Falco can either counter-attack with a shield drop (depending on Marth’s chosen offense) or immediately reposition. Once Falco is on the top platform, it’s pretty dangerous for Marth to overcommit. It’s more sensible for Marth to threaten Falco on his way up there, but once the nest has been made, the game must slow down.
I would like to point out that going for the top platform, while frustrating for his opponents, is not necessarily ideal for Falco. The strength of this option is in Falco's choice to disengage and take a breather when necessary. If he successfully holds center, his mixups will be generally more favorable than the pure "guessies" of fighting from the top platform.
Let’s go back to the idea of the two rubber bands with regard to this scenario. How would you visualize it?
The first of these images is how I described the idea initially. But from this angle, the band connecting Falco and Marth is not particularly useful. If we add an additional layer to this framework, however, we can shed some light on Falco’s objectives.
What if, anytime Falco is outside of the central zone and his opponent has access to it, the band connecting Falco and his opponent were replaced? Instead, we consider only Falco’s position relative to center, and the opponent’s position relative to center. The latter band, in this case, represents Falco's current objective of claiming center in order to better threaten his opponent.
Consider this position, where Marth has forsaken access to center:
Because Marth doesn't have access to center stage from here, Falco can choose between claiming center and fighting Marth. This decision would depend on a number of variables, such as Marth's drift, number of remaining jumps, %, and so forth. In most cases, I would say Falco should go for center and fight from there. But if Marth hasn't demonstrated that he really wants to take center, there is an argument to be made for fighting in the air.
There are ways to tweak this framework so that it more cleanly covers all cases, but my goal for this article is to introduce the idea of a visual that encourages Falco to fight for center-stage and not overcommit from weak positions. I hope to hear some ideas on how to develop this framework.
Falco’s airtime on shorthops allows him access to countless options. Even if we look strictly at aggressive jumps, there are mixups on horizontal drift, vertical drift (i.e. fastfalling), move choice, and move timing. He can get enough momentum to reliably cross-up his opponent’s shield or hold his ground and space around the opponent’s shield. Here are a couple basic examples of how Falco can mixup a Dair-shine approach:
An additional degree of strength to his mixups is that he has two moves that true counter ASDI-down and crouch-cancels: Dair and shine. This means that an opponent attempting to move out of shield while holding down – which is quite common in this meta – is susceptible to Falco’s mixups. One is on the ground, and one is in the air. At worst, landing one of these moves gets a knockdown. At best, you start a combo or get a kill.
Beyond the creativity required to change up the options you use is the confidence to actually go for it. Too often we see Falco mains lean on his safe, defensive moves in neutral and only choose one or two relatively low-risk approach options. I think actively and boldly going for aggressive mixups will lead to a net positive outcome for Falco, so long as he sticks to the principles I outlined regarding space in the previous section.
Falco wants his opponents to feel like they cannot access center-stage, and that they are always at risk of getting opened up when Falco approaches. The emotion I associate with optimal Falco play is this: a desire for control and a willingness to gamble.
There isn’t too much more to say on aggressive mixups specifically. The most important takeaway has to do with your mental state and objective. Many Falco players are desperate to find an opening or get too comfortable sitting and lasering. You want to be somewhere in the middle – not too cautious, and not too reckless.
I think it’s always important to consider not only how to improve with your character, but how your opponent will be strategizing against you. If I’m correct in my assessment of what skills Falco players need, then the counterplay should be the reverse.
If Falco aims to lock down center stage and minimize his opponents’ options, other characters should be fighting to keep Falco out of his hot zone, and claiming that area of the stage for themselves. This, ladies and gentlemen, is neutral. Constantly fighting for position using whatever means necessary in order to achieve your objective.
If Falco fullhops out of pressure, the onus is on the player with center stage to maintain control and not overcommit - you don’t want to chase when you already hold the stronger position. The way you deal with Falco on the top platform will vary from character to character, but in general you want to demonstrate you’re willing to threaten him while cutting off his escape routes back to the ground. If he shows he’s willing to camp the top platform, you need to be mindful of ways to cut off his retreat to that spot. If you can catch a double jump off him, you’re in a good spot to find a kill.
Once you have Falco without a jump, or knocked down, most high tier characters have a strong punish. It only takes one or two stray hits away from center to knock him offstage, anyways, and Falco’s recovery options are limited.
Some of this may seem obvious, but it helps to view ideas articulated from different perspectives.
Applying This Analysis
I highly encourage aspiring Falco mains to watch videos critically. Try and weigh the actions taken by your favorite Falco mains against the framework I’ve laid out here. And don’t stop there - if you can improve this framework yourself, more power to you. This is an introductory pass at analyzing Falco in the meta, and an article at least twice as long as this could be written for each of Falco’s matchups.
I highly recommend watching any Mang0 or PPMD video. I think PPMD sticks most closely to this framework. In fact, I’ll recommend games 1 and 2 of this set specifically:
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Note the variety of aggressive mixups PPMD uses from a strong position, and how he often calls out Armada’s movement from the corner with a Dair toward center. Even when these Dairs whiff, PPMD reclaims center after a commitment to the corner. Also take note of when PPMD and Armada seem to be actively fighting for center, and how hard they hold it once it’s been claimed.
As for Mang0, check out any of his Falco videos from any year. He is the absolute master of inventing new aggressive mixups. I feel like I see a new one every time he plays.
That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this analysis. Please let me know what you’d like to read next! I have a lot more topics in mind and would even be willing to revisit Falco’s spot in the meta.
As always, thanks for reading!
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