Mario is a well-rounded fighter that has all the tools in his kit needed to respond to any situation. He is a jack of all trades character built on the fundamentals of smash and while he may be easy to pick up, his high skill ceiling makes him excellent for learning the game. Mario helps new players learn the fundamentals of Smash since he relies on them so much himself. However, a player that has a mastery of the game will be able to use Mario to his utmost potential. Even though Mario is a character whose play based on the fundamentals of smash, I don't recommend him to newer players. One of the things I see newer players struggle with the most is the off-stage game and Mario's recovery is not as forgiving as many of the other members of the cast.
Mario’s linear kit is useful for learning how to do simple combos and play the game in general, but there are some aspects that he neglects. Players with good fundamentals that do decide to pick up Mario are rewarded with a great combo and grab game. All of his moves come out quickly, deal solid damage, and have low-end lag. His speed is not the best though making him struggle against sword characters that can wall him out with their disjointed hitboxes. Luckily, Mario has tools like F.L.U.D.D. and Cape for those tougher matchups. In addition, if Mario is able to get in just once he can absolutely delete a stock with his forward air making him a constant threat. Most of all though Mario thrives by taking advantage of his flexible kit and adapting to his opponent's playstyle.
Jab: This is one of the fastest moves in the game, coming out on frame 2. Due to its speed, it is best used for breaking combos or quickly punishing your opponent. If the combo Mario is in is not true, then it is almost guaranteed that Mario will interrupt it with his jab. This attack can jab lock opponents and is just generally good for getting a hitbox out as fast as possible.
Forward Tilt: This attack can be angled and comes out on frame 5 making it quite fast. Its high base knockback makes it a good “get off me” tool at any percent, and being able to angle it ensures that it will always land. However, this high base knockback does have a drawback. Mario has difficulty using forward tilt for combos because the hit from forward tilt is too strong at low percents but not a good combo finisher either. As a result, I mainly use the downward angled forward tilt for 2 frame punishing my opponents. Its low amount of end lag makes it extremely safe, so throwing it out at the ledge is perfectly fine.
Up Tilt: This is another fast ground attack, coming out on frame 5. At very low percentages it can combo into itself, and when the knockback becomes too great, combos into all of Mario’s other aerials. Its high hitbox makes it a decently effective anti-air tool, but the lack of a ground hitbox makes it difficult to hit some shorter characters. It is also important to note that Mario’s up tilt combo can be escaped with proper DI making it a much less viable combo. Luckily, Mario is not short on combos and has the tools to make up for this weakness in spades.
Down Tilt: This is one of Mario’s most reliable combo starters. It is fast, coming out on frame 5, and deals about 7%. Unlike Mario’s up tilt, the hitbox is low to the ground making it unable to hit opponents in the air. However, its low amount of ending lag makes it difficult to punish without a read. It is also unable to combo into itself due to the trajectory of its knockback. The hitbox is also deceiving making Mario able to hit opponents slightly below the stage. Like downward angled forward tilt, this move can also two frame punish.
Dash Attack: This is one of Mario’s easiest approach options. Dash attack has an incredible amount of priority and the hitbox stays out for a very long time. Combined with the fact that the hitbox is also active below the stage makes this Mario’s best tool for two frame punishing. The only downside is that the move is active for a long time making Mario vulnerable to a counter hit if he misses the 2 frame punish. As a result, I usually use downward angled forward tilt for edgeguarding, and save dash attack for reading spot dodges and backward rolls.
Forward Smash: This is Mario’s slowest ground attack, coming out on frame 15. That being said, smash attacks are generally slow and the power of this attack makes it well worth the 15 frame startup. It can be angled in 3 different directions meaning that the downward angled one can be used at the ledge. Forward smash is Mario’s most powerful KO move, killing as early as 60% at the ledge. In addition, this attack also has two more properties that make it one of the best smash attacks in the game. First, the fireball in Mario’s hand is a disjoint. Since disjoints have priority on other attacks due to them lacking a hurtbox, this keeps Mario safe and gives the move extra range. The second property is a little more subtle. Mario steps back slightly before unleashing the attack. This is obviously not just visual, and Mario’s hurtbox is actually moved even further back than the animation shows. The deceptive amount of defense forward smash provides Mario, in addition to its power and range, makes it one of the best smash attacks in the game.
Up Smash: For a smash attack of its power it is quite fast, coming out on frame 9. Up smash covers a good amount of space above Mario making it a good anti-air and KO option, KOing at around 100%. Like Mario’s forward smash, this attack also has some great defensive capabilities. First, it gives Mario Invincibility frames around his head making it a pseudo disjointed hitbox. Secondly, if it is spaced properly this attack is actually safe on shield. That is rare as far as smash attacks go since they are usually powerful attacks that sacrifice agency for power. Finally, its fast start-up makes it a great out of shield option. This also means that it is able to hard punish cross-ups, giving Mario a tool to deal with a rush down characters like Wolf.
Down Smash: This is Mario's fastest smash attack, coming out on frame 5. That’s as fast as all his tilts! Its viciously low launch angle combined with its deceptively low hitbox makes it great for using around the ledge. I generally use it while dashing in and punishing whiffs. If an opponent rolls behind Mario while he is using down smash not only will they still get hit, but they will actually take more damage since the back hitbox is stronger than the forward-facing one.
Neutral Air: This is Mario’s fastest aerial coming out on frame 3. In addition to being fast, it also has a lot of active frames. This move is also very safe since it only has 6 frames of ending lag. These properties make it a great tool for approaching. If you fast fall with it, you can stuff jumps and out of shield options or cross up your opponent. If your opponent tries to shield grab and you don’t cross them up, you can interrupt it with another neutral air or down tilt. If you land it then can lead to a jab, dash attack, down tilt, or grab. In addition to being a good approach option for Mario, it is also a good out of shield option for him. Unlike up smash, it does not leave Mario vulnerable if the opponent spaces well. Its most common use though is as a combo extender. Using it in between up airs allows Mario to carry opponents horizontally, leading into a devastating forward air combo finisher.
Forward Air: This is one of Mario’s slowest attacks, coming out on frame 16. It is an infamously powerful meteor smash guaranteeing a KO past 45%. Only the sweet spot spikes, but luckily Mario is able to finish a lot of his combos with it. His combos also have a lot of horizontal carry potential, thanks to back air and neutral air, so Mario has no trouble getting his opponents into position for a stock ending spike. Forward air can also be used to approach from a full hop, but its long ending lag makes it less ideal and riskier than the other moves in his kit.
Back Air: This attack has a fast startup with low ending and landing lag making it a great tool for spacing. It comes out on frame 6 making it very fast. It is a great option for spacing and allows Mario to poke the opponent while looking for an opening. If landed Mario is guaranteed a combo. It can combo into forward air, down tilt, dash attack, or down air. It is also very useful as a horizontal combo extender. However, I prefer to use neutral air for this since it carries them forward rather than backward, giving Mario more follow up options.
Up Air: This is Mario’s best combo tool, coming out on frame 4. It covers a good arc above Mario and combos into itself and along with neutral air, back air, and forward air. Up air is extremely useful for allowing Mario to juggle opponents. It is the core of all of Mario’s combos and can even combo into itself up to 8 times with the use of platforms. These up air strings are often ended with an up special which can kill at ridiculously early percentages if Mario is able to carry his opponent high enough.
Down Air: This is Mario’s only multi-hit attack making it great for crossing up opponents. It has low start-up and end lag, coming out on frame 5. At low percents, like a lot of Mario’s kit, it serves as a combo tool. However, at mid to high percents it transitions into a KO move. It is most useful as a combo finisher for this reason.
Neutral Special: This is Mario’s slowest attack coming out on frame 17. It’s a slow-moving projectile that has a lot of ending lag. Its slow movement is actually very useful because it allows Mario to approach along with the fireball. Mario’s fireball does not travel very far horizontally unless it is in contact with the stage or platform making its trajectory fairly unpredictable. Mario is also in full control of his aerial mobility while using the fireball allowing him to keep himself safe if used in the air. It is best used for covering Mario’s landing when he is recovering high, approaching, and gimping opponents. You can sometimes throw a fireball off stage to try and snipe someone's double-jump if they are recovering low. This can earn Mario some very early stocks when combined with the vicious launch angle of Mario’s down smash.
Side Special: This is one of the most unique moves in Smash. It has a 12 frame start-up and is a reflector. However, if you land this attack on an opponent, it will turn them around and reverse their controls for a brief moment. This attack, combined with his down special, makes some matchups almost unplayable for Mario’s opponents. Characters with strictly vertical recoveries like Ike, Chrom, and Cloud are easily gimped by the cape leading to early stocks if they are forced to recover low.
Up Special: This is Mario’s recovery and is very fast coming out on frame 3. It has intangibility frames on startup making it a useful out of shield option. I personally go for neutral air or up smash though since whiffing it will put Mario into free fall. It is useful as an up air string combo finisher due to its solid vertical carry potential. If the Mario player is able to get the opponent close enough to the blast zone with an up air string, an up special will carry them past it securing the KO. As a recovery, it doesn’t have much vertical of horizontal range making it essential that Mario keep his double jump when off stage. Mario can make up for this by wall jumping to recover, but only on certain stages that have the walls required to do this.
Down Special: Another unique attack in Mario’s arsenal, Mario unleashes F.L.U.D.D. and charges up water to launch at his opponent. This attack deals no damage but has a significant amount of range. Instead of dealing damage, the attack pushes opponents making it very versatile. It can be used to gimp characters with poor horizontal recoveries. However, in most matchups, it is used to create space and disrupt an approach. Mario can angle F.L.U.D.D. which allows him to aim the stream according to his opponent's approach.
Forward Throw: A standard forward throw. This attack can be followed up by a dash attack at early percents but is mostly used to set up tech situations and throw opponents off stage to set up an edgeguard.
Back Throw: This is Mario’s kill throw. It kills at the ledge as early as 120% and from center stage at around 160%. Because it kills so early at the ledge, I usually try to set up for it by shield grabbing. Even if this attack doesn’t kill, it is still useful for giving Mario time to set up an edgeguard. Most will try to go for a forward air afterward, but I would advise against it can be easily reacted to.
Up Throw: At low to mid percents this is a fantastic combo throw. It can lead to neutral air, up air, down air, and back air. My go-to combo out of a grab at early percents is up throw into down air. It deals a lot of damage and puts Mario in a situation where he can try to catch his opponent with up airs as they are trying to land safely.
Down Throw: This is Mario’s go to throw at mid percents. It can be followed up by an up tilt and up air string leading to some insane damage. In addition, it can also lead to up special, neutral air, and even forward air. Forward air is a special case though as you have to use a down throw near the ledge in order to have the amount of fall time required to land it.
Mario is one of the very few characters in Smash without a single bad move in his kit. Each move has a purpose and gives Mario the flexibility he needs to adapt to almost any situation. He has solid projectiles with his neutral special (fireball) and down special (F.L.U.D.D.) to disrupt and assist him in dealing with unfavorable situations. His combo game is also insane allowing Mario to kill early off of fairly simple combos and steal the game from out of seemingly nowhere. He does not have any glaring strengths or weaknesses, but rather simply relies on the player's mastery of the game's fundamentals.
Mario does not have any overtly powerful tools in his kit to abuse like many other characters. For example, Ike has neutral air and Joker has Arsene. Instead, Mario has to take full advantage of his simple and versatile kit and to play around the powerful tools at his opponent's disposal. However, this means that Mario can also apply this same strategy to take advantage of his opponent's weaknesses. Mario will always be behind in some aspect of the game, but he will also always be ahead in another. Mario is all about playing around the areas in any given matchup where he is behind while taking advantage of the areas that he is ahead in.
Mario does not possess the insane ledge trapping ability that other characters do. Like I said previously he doesn't necessarily excel at anything in particular. That being said he still has some unique ledge options that I believe are worth talking about. For starters, his neutral air. This attack’s hitbox stays out for a very long time allowing Mario to stuff get-up jumps without needing to perfectly time the attack. Even though it has long end lag, if the opponent is patient, they can still punish the neutral air. As a result, I usually like to drift back when I go for this option in order to avoid any punishment and reset neutral.
The second position I use is shielding at the ledge, However, I make sure that my back is facing the ledge. Usually, you want to face forward because if the opponent get up attacks you can shield grab them and if they roll you can back air them. Mario’s back throw is significantly stronger and if you face forward then you have to use forward throw. In addition, Mario can also reactively use up smash and if he is facing backward this covers a lot of options. Up smash covers, regular get-up, attack get-up, and a shield grab covers the roll get-up. Jump get-up can be covered by up special, or any other good out of shield option but it is difficult to react to.
Mario has tons of combos and it would be impossible to go over all of them in this guide. However, the most important thing to know about Mario is his ability to create combos on the fly. Practicing Mario in the practice tool will give you a good feel for his moves and help you understand their knockback and what generally combos into what at different percentages. Up air combos are the easiest and most effective combos in my opinion. The only thing is that they require platforms in order to be deadly, so Final Destination stages really hurt Mario for this reason. Mario needs the platforms to reset his jumps otherwise the ladder combo won't make it to the blast zone. To perform the ladder combo simply up air the opponent two or three times while following their DI. If there are platforms, use them to reset your jumps every two or three up airs until you carry your opponent up to the blast zone. This should take about eight up airs. After that just finish the combo with an up special to carry your opponent the rest of the way, past the blast zone securing the KO.
The second combo type I would like to discuss is the horizontal combo. These are slightly more complicated and involve neutral airs in addition to up airs. Every one or two up airs you want to weave in a neutral air. This neutral air is what carries the opponent horizontally, and prevents the opponent from going too high up. When the opponent is just past the edge you want to end the combo with an up air followed by a forward air. This combo can be a little tricky to get the hang of, so I recommend going into training mode and trying it out a few times there first. It is important to remember that these combos are both dependent on following your opponent's DI and reacting accordingly. As a result, when you practice in the training mode do remember that the combo will need to be adapted slightly to work on real people since bots don't DI.
One of Mario's only weaknesses is his bad matchup against Sword characters. Sword characters like Lucina and Chrom have fast attacks with low amounts of end lag just like Mario. The key difference is that their sword swings are all disjointed hitboxes that allow them to reliably space and attack without putting themselves in much danger. These characters are also much faster than Mario, making it difficult for him to get in when he is being walled out by their swords.
These bad matchups can be dealt with using F.L.U.D.D. and the cape. These two special attacks give Mario the ability to gimp these characters at early percents but the setup can be difficult. In these matchups, I usually start by charging up F.L.U.D.D. and unleashing it when my opponent full hops. This pushes them off stage and allows Mario to set up an edgeguard. Here, Mario is able to potentially gimp their recoveries with the cape and kill his opponents fairly early. This is obviously not guaranteed though and certainly not something that can be relied on. Other than that, the only reliable way for Mario to get in is to whiff punish. However, Mario's flexible kit allows him to play this style quite effectively. As a result, these matchups are difficult, but not completely one-sided as Mario does have the tools to deal with them.