Melee’s Out of Shield Balancing Patterns

I’ve recently picked up DBFZ, and when looking up the framedata in DBFZ, one interesting thing I noted was that every single character had a 4-frame jump startup. Which then got me thinking… is there a reason why Melee characters have 3–8 frame jumpsquat animations? This is an idea I’ve entertained on long car rides before, but I think I have identified a pattern.

The almost-universal grab out of shield is active on frame 7. The best out of shield options are faster than shieldgrab, with most of them becoming active on frame 6. I will classify out of shield options into the following categories:

  1. Faster than shieldgrab with followups (Active on 6f)
  2. Faster than shieldgrab with no (known at dev) followups (Active on ≤5f)
  3. Slower than shieldgrab (Active on ≥8f)
  4. Tied with shieldgrab (Active on 7f)

I will be only discussing the first two categories (faster than shieldgrab) since I haven’t put that much thought into the last two.

I will be using this Smashboards post for reference:

As far as I can tell, 6 seems to be the magic number for top tier characters’ best options out of shield. Just looking at the framedata listed in the Smashboards post highlights a number of powerful options that fall into this category that are known as some of the most prevalent counterattacks out of shield in Melee: Sheik’s nair, Falco’s shine, Jigglypuff’s rest, ICs dair, Pikachu’s up air…

Note that I don’t include Marth or Bowser’s up Bs in the 6f category because they are 6f regardless of jumpsquat timing. All of the attacks in this category have one major thing in common, and that is that they are either kill moves at high percents, or lead directly into kills.

This leads to a little bit of insight into how Melee was balanced: I believe that a lot of these characters have longer/shorter jumpsquats specifically to make these out of shield counterattacks become active on frame 6. This is especially clear if you look at the characters with longer jumpsquats: Falco and Jigglypuff. Jigglypuff’s rest out of shield is one of, if not the hardest OoS punish(es) in the game, and Falco’s shine starts death combos at low percents and combos directly into kill moves at higher percents (and at even higher percents, it outright kills).

This raises some questions:

Do the ICs have a 6f dair OoS because the developers knew about dair grab, or is this just coincidence? Even if they didn’t know about wobbling, surely they knew about desyncs and the ability to let one climber grab the enemy and the other f/d-smash.

I believe that the 5f jumpsquat characters were given longer jumpsquats on purpose to balance their OoS options vs the standard 4f jumpsquat characters. Were the 3f jumpsquat characters like Sheik and ICs given their shorter jumpsquat animation so that they could compete with the others out of shield as well? Or do I have it backwards, and 3f jumpsquat was the starting point, and the 5f jumpsquat characters were changed to not outclass them out of shield?

Why do the really bad characters have REALLY long jumpsquats that don’t seem relevant to their out of shield options? Why does Roy have a 5f jumpsquat when his OoS options are worse than Marth’s (who at least has dolphin slash OoS)? It seems intentional that Link/Zelda/Ganon all have the same jumpsquat, but good god Sakurai did them dirty by giving them 6f jumpsquats… and then Bowser has 8f. I guess Bowser at least has his up B OoS… (why doesn’t Link have a 6f grounded up B?)

Bowser’s 6f up B seems to stick out like a sore thumb. It seems like it should share startup times with Donkey Kong’s up B…

And the last question: Why does Fox have a 3f jumpsquat when he also has a shine? That is one of the most prominent questions that I will try to answer in this next section:

The only move that is truly in this category is Fox’s shine. However, there are a few other moves (all up B moves) that seem to have similar design philosophies behind them: Donkey Kong, Dr. Mario, Non-Dr. Mario, and Samus, though Samus’ Screw Attack is active on frame 5 and not 4.

The defining condition of this category of OoS counterattacks that beat even the infamous 6F category is that these attacks were designed to have no followup, and do not lead directly into kills. Obviously this is not how it turned out because 2018 Foxes can waveshine out of shield, but it’s how it was designed.

I am considering this with the following assumptions about the design team’s knowledge of Melee’s advanced mechanics:

  • They knew about wavedashing to an extent since the waveland is basically a hardcoded solution to prevent clipping through the stage when airdodging into the ground.
  • They did not predict that people would use wavedashing on purpose. By extension, they did not know about waveshining.
  • The Falco trophy hints at the fact that the design team knew about Falco’s pillaring, as it states that shine is his fastest attack and can be followed up with his aerials. By this logic, even if they didn’t know about the exact pillar combo that Falcos use today, they knew about how powerful shine dair and shine bair were.
  • Fox’s shine was not known to have any followups. As far as the design team knew, Fox could only go up (by jumping) after a shine, which sent the enemy to the side. Again, they didn’t realize waveshining was possible. To the design team, the worst thing that could happen from Fox’s shine OoS was a shine spike at the ledge.
  • Shine spiking was intentional. Not only was it present in Smash 64, but it wouldn’t even be hard for a QA tester to execute.

Falco must have started as a total clone of Fox and had small adjustments such as jumpsquat during the balancing process. If you look at balancing Fox and Falco’s shine out of shield from this perspective, it makes sense to extend Falco’s jumpsquat to 5f while keeping Fox the same. Falco’s shine is deadly even without waveshining, and Fox’s is just a reset to neutral. I believe that it is for this purpose that Fox’s shine is as fast as it is out of shield.

Dr. Mario is in a similar situation as Fox: His 4f option out of shield only has followups through an exploit (Up B cancel). Mario and Samus can both use their up Bs to escape pressure, but provided no ledge cancel setups are in play, it is nearly impossible to follow their up Bs up into a combo. DK’s up B will kill at very high percentages, but otherwise it fails to even reset to neutral (similar to Bowser… I wonder why Bowser doesn’t also have a 4f up B?).

That’s about all I have thought about on the subject.

  • Slow jumpsquats are in the game to balance strong OoS options.
  • 6f is the golden standard for an OoS option.
  • Any moves that are faster than 6f OoS were not designed to have any followups.
  • Fox’s Shine ended up having followups because waveshining exists.

Thanks for reading!

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