Everyone that plays a fighting game competitively hears the term “neutral game” thrown left and right. Anyone trying to enter the scene might find themselves confused when hearing it for the first time. A lot of players can’t really provide many details because it is learned mostly through practice.
What is the Neutral Game?
The neutral game is a phase that happens during a game were no player holds a situational advantage over the other.
When given this precise definition, confusion may strike. To soak in what the neutral game is, a player needs to acknowledge it in the game.
A good example is the starting position in any fighting game. In this scenario, both players stand in a distance where they can’t hit each other and nobody holds an inherent advantage.
How to Win the Neutral Game
Every character plays very differently in the neutral game. Mostly, due how the different moves each character possesses serve a different purpose. Character knowledge is very important when trying to come out on top of the neutral game. Moves thrown out during this phase determine the player’s possibility of success.
As an example, committing with a move like Luigi’s side special during the neutral phase is a very poor idea. It punishes the player with a long lag time, and as a direct result, the opponent has more time to deliver a strong punish.
However, if the player commits with Luigi’s fireball, the player is now in a favorable situation. The player has limited their opponent’s options and does not offer a long window for a punish. Luigi also puts himself in a situation where he can take some time to predict what his opponent will do, and act accordingly.
To improve the neutral game, there are certain core elements that need to be mastered. These core elements are spacing, reading, and movement implementation.
Marth’s forward-tilt hits from a long distance, meanwhile characters like Kirby have very limited range. The space that players need to create depends on the character. As mentioned before, characters like Marth thrive on leaving just enough space to hit the enemy. This way, they can choose their options according to what their opponents are doing.
Spacing is the art of using the characters range to the maximum while taking the opponents into account. A poorly spaced aerial has the potential to cost a stock, so mastering spacing is a crucial part of the neutral game. Through getting to know the character, players can get better in this area and optimize their play.
Whenever an aerial is thrown out, it must have a purpose. If spaced properly, aerial attacks can pressure an opponent or lead them to a disadvantaged state.
This area by itself deserves its own piece, but let’s dip into its importance in the neutral game.
Every player has a pattern they favor. As an example, Little Mac players in Smash 4 have a reputation for rolling repeatedly. If a player uses this information to punish their opponent, then they “read” the roll.
Reading is the art of using the opponent’s patterns to predict their next course of action. By gathering information during the match, players must learn what options their opponents favor. With this data, the player now needs to find an optimal way to punish their opponent – hopefully in the form of taking a stock from the opponent.
In the neutral phase, the opponent will act in certain different ways. Good players alter their patterns to adapt to what their opponents are predicting. This is where the elite mind game begins, as both players engage in a massive mental battle.
The last important element of improving the neutral game is movement. This area has taken different roles in the multiple Smash titles. In Smash 4, movement manifested primarily through perfect pivoting and the use of extended dash dancing, while in Melee, movement expands through wavedashing, dash dancing, and many other techniques.
In Smash Ultimate, movement manifests itself in different ways. Since the initial dash animation was lengthened, it allows for characters to do almost anything out of it.
The other key movement area is the usage of air dodges. If used correctly, they can mix up the opponent. However, reckless use of air dodges will lead to death.
Where to Take this Information?
Mastering the neutral game takes a while. Absorbing all the information needed to improve is a journey that keeps on getting steeper as players get better. Only time and loads of effort will result in achieving a masterful dominance of the neutral game.
So keep on the grind. Eventually, all the effort will pay off!
Featured image provided by Screenrant
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