This is the first of a two-part analysis on fighting in the corner in Melee. It’s an aspect of the game that often gets overlooked in Melee but is crucial to understand. By understanding the options available to you as both the corner-er and corner-ee, you will find it easier to break down scenarios in a variety of matchups and stages. Players who neglect this aspect of their gameplay either forsake some of their character’s strongest tools or find themselves stuck in a loop in which they constantly give up stage position.
Fighting in the corner is a bit more straightforward in traditional fighting games, in which you play on a flat stage bordered by walls. There are no walls to back your opponents into in Melee - instead, you push them to or near the ledge. However, you can still apply what you know about traditional fighting game positioning to Melee, so long as you are mindful of the differences. Namely, the ledge and platforms.
But let’s start with a more general question.
Why is it important to corner your opponent?
In both traditional fighting games and in smash, the player who controls center controls the distance from which the fighting occurs. If your character has long range and disjointed hitboxes, like Marth, you might prefer to keep the fight at mid-range. At that distance, you can control the distance from which you poke - you can stay far enough away to poke an opponent’s attempt at running out of the corner, or you can push in to poke the space they already occupy.
On the flipside, if Marth is the one cornered, then the distance he can dash backwards is limited, and so his control over the distance at which the fight occurs is limited. Characters like Fox and Falco, who have stronger tools in a close-up fight, can force Marth to fight at close range where they have the advantage.
In most cases, the player who has cornered his or her opponent has more options, and therefore is more likely to achieve one of the following:
1. Start a combo
2. Tack on additional %
3. Send the opponent offstage
Falcon is another good example of a character with long range who benefits from cornering his opponents. While the opponent’s effective range is constant, Falcon can change the distance from which he uses his Nair zoning. The opponent can choose to shield or jump, both of which Falcon can catch with a grab or aggressive aerial. Meanwhile, Falcon has the option to dash back to center should he choose to disengage entirely. This option is not available to the cornered player.
Using Pokes to Create Mixups
This should be a familiar concept to traditional fighting game players. Moves like Marth’s Dtilt and Samus’ Ftilt are very powerful when the opponent is cornered, but they have to be used mindfully. In other words, these safe pokes should be timed differently in order to condition the opponent to pick a defensive option that can be punished.
Let’s use two ranges as reference: the “in-range” and “out-range” (this terminology may also be familiar to traditional fighting game players). Here is a visual example:
In the first, Samus is close and spaced at her “in-range.” In the second, Samus is just more than wavedash/Ftilt distance away, which we’ll call her “out-range.”
If Samus starts at her out-range, Ftilt or Utilt will cover any movement forward from her opponent. At mid or high %, landing this hit will start a combo or hit the opponent offstage. She can establish the threat of the poke by Ftilt-ing early when put in this position. She can dance around this range and discourage the opponent from trying to exit the corner by moving forward.
This limits the opponent’s options. The next time Samus has her opponent at this distance, the opponent may wait, jump, or challenge the Ftilt. In this case, Samus can either call out the wait with something more aggressive (like wavedashing in), call out the jump with Fair or Nair, or wavedash back to let the challenge whiff and punish.
With a more cautious opponent, Samus may choose to wavedash or walk into her “in-range.” At this range, Ftilt will hit the opponent in the space they occupy. It is more committal from Samus and she risks giving up her positional advantage, but it forces the opponent to pick an option. They can still choose to jump, or they can shield the hit. Coming in and simply waiting might even bait out the shield, followed by a movement option out of shield such as a wavedash or jump. Throwing out a hitbox with a delay after moving to the “in-range” can net some strong hits to get the opponent offstage.
If the opponent has been conditioned to shield upon moving in, you have an opportunity to grab. Some characters may need to move in a bit closer to land the grab than they would to hit a move, but the difference in distance is very difficult to react to on the part of the defender. Samus is actually a special case - with her long-range grab, she actually doesn’t need to move at all in order to reach with a grab. You can get creative with your spacing and timing mixups, and grab will cover shield from all ranges (but of course, if the grab is far enough away, it’s easier to react to the grab).
There are a number of counters to what I’ve described, and it’s important to remember that it always comes down to mixups. What will bring you the greatest net gain is a healthy set of mixups and noting your opponent’s tendencies when pressured. If both players picked their corner options in a truly random fashion, the player in center would, on average, come out with the greatest success.
The Ledge and The Platform
These are the two most distinct differences between Smash and traditional fighting games when analyzing corner fights. Every stage has the ledge in the corner, and each stage has a differing platform height, or a lack of platform height altogether.
Retreating to the ledge can be quite strong for the player in the corner and can nullify some of the mixups that the player in center is using. This greatly depends on character matchup. Fox, for example, has an invincible ledgedash after which he can shine, Nair, or run to center. Peach, on the other hand, has virtually no safe options to escape the ledge and is at a strong disadvantage.
When dealing with an opponent on the ledge, you will inevitably change the distance from which you play. Against Fox, you might back all the way up to center to account for his invincible ledgedash Nair range. Many players are tempted to be too aggressive when Fox is on the ledge and end up punished. It’s important to remember that even when giving up space to account for Fox’s ledgedash, he is still in the corner and you can catch him when he’s vulnerable.
Other tactics to watch out for when the opponent retreats to ledge are things like Samus’ Aerial Interrupt and the Haxdash from Falcon/Marth. These will be covered in more detail in the second part of the article, but in terms of counterplay, the idea is largely the same. You can back up to give Samus some room so you don’t get hit by AI Ftilt or dash attack. If you hold your ground against a Haxdash, you retain position and can possibly hit the Falcon or Marth out of a jump.
The platform is a potential escape route for the cornered opponent, so one must consider ways to cut the cornered player off should they attempt to use it. The shorter the platform is, the easier it is to get to that platform for both players. So while it’s easy for Fox to get onto the side platform of Yoshi’s Story, it’s just as easy to cover the entire platform with Falcon Uair or Sheik Bair.
The platform is another concept that will be explored further in part two. But if you stick to the framework initially laid out, you should see that the escape to the platform is inherently linked to the opponent’s jumps out of the corner, so you have some options the discourage them from jumping.
What characters are strongest at cornering opponents?
This is an approximate, unordered-within-tiers list of characters ranking their ability to corner opponents:
The S tier characters are the best by a solid margin when it comes to cornering an opponent. The gap between A and B, in my opinion, is not very large and far more up for debate. In any case, the exact orders don't matter very much. I’ll list a few tools each character has and you can judge for yourself.
Falco: Lasers are an incredible tool for controlling the corner. Falco has access to an autocanceled Bair and big Utilt that make his out-range very powerful. His Dair and Shine make his pressure very strong, as most stray hits lead to a combo or positional advantage, and Falco can retreat with Dair to cover rolls in.
Marth: Dtilt is probably the best poke of any high tier, given its low lag, good range, and disjoint. Fair is great for calling out jumps, and Marth’s long grab helps make his decision to swing or grab very ambiguous at the in-range.
Fox: Very fast aerials work as a pseudo-poke from the outrange, and Fox arguably has the best shield pressure. He can go for shine-grab or a shine followed by spaced aerial to bait out a defensive option. His full-hop and double-jump Bairs also allow him to control platforms and give him access to strong drift mixups.
Peach: Float-canceled Fair gives Peach true mixups on shield (FC Fair -> Dsmash or grab or FC Nair or jab, and so forth). When Peach controls the corner, she, unlike most of the others, prefers to start in the air, floating. Her dash attack is also a zone-breaker that can heavily punish jumps.
Falcon: Short-hop Nairs are great zoning tools, and Falcon has several drift mixups with his Bair, both from the ground and from the platform. He lacks a strong grounded approach or poke, but his aerial range compensate somewhat.
Puff: Puff’s Bair is another contender for best poke, given how safe it can be made by drifting away after the hit. It, like Marth’s Dtilt, has great range and disjoint. It can also be placed in the air. Puff’s mixups with safe Bair, close Bair, and empty-land Bair/grab are strong by themselves.
Sheik: Sheik’s short-hop is high, which has pros and cons. She has some good drift mixups, but it can be dashed under if spaced too closely. Her Ftilt is a decent poke but lacks range and disjoint. Sheik is typically stronger when counterhitting in neutral, rather than applying pressure, which makes her slightly weaker than her fellow high tiers in this area.
Yoshi: Yoshi is high tier now, I guess. His Dtilt has set knockback and can kill some characters at any percent but is pretty slow. Yoshi’s openings in the corner are high reward, but pretty difficult to set up. Egg can be used to pressure the opponent if they’re near the ledge, and can even be used to cover rolls in. Yoshi can also jump toward the opponent to feign an aggressive action, then double-jump-cancel a Nair or Bair back to center to catch any movement in from the opponent.
Samus: I had trouble deciding whether Samus would be in the A or B tier of this category. She can have trouble catching an opponent who decides to escape vertically, but otherwise she has very good tools. Strong missile can force jumps. I described in detail how her Ftilt can be used as a poke to create mixups.
You can learn a lot from studying other fighting games, and I hope this article serves as an example of that. If you have other ideas on how to formulate a framework on corner play, please let me know! In the meantime, stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll talk more about how to actually fight out of the corner.
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