“The essence of fighting is the art of moving” – Bruce Lee
Movement is one of the most basic functions in video games, so much so, that there is a dedicated part for it on controllers. Brand new video game players quickly learn to do their first jump in Super Mario Bros. and can even learn to amazingly chain dashes in Celeste. But when it comes to fighting games, new players tend to just move anywhere they can (usually by jumping around).
Here we’ll take a closer look at movement to understand why new players tend to do this and how Bruce’s wisdom applies to fighting games.
Good Movement Fights Our Impulses
As mentioned above, most new players tend to go wild when moving around in fighting games. They dash around or jump everywhere seemingly without rhyme or reason. The problem for newer players is two-fold.
First is that, unlike most games, fighting games have almost zero markers informing the player of where they should move. The Goomba in Super Mario tells the player they need to jump over or on it. Fighting games don’t natively tell players to stand right outside of sweep range to bait and whiff punish. It is arguable that a fireball communicates to jump like the Mario Goomba example, but getting dragon punched out of the air tells new players otherwise. It’s much more complex to factor in reading fireballs, spacing, and timing. So why learn all that when someone can just go ape on the opponent and throw out whatever hoping it hits?
The second issue is having directional inputs tied to performing special moves makes people try whatever they can to do them. Oftentimes when a brand new player gets on the controller, they’ll mash both the directions and buttons. This is mainly because they want to do cool special moves.
The typical scenario goes like this:
- The new player starts the session by flailing around and attacking like crazy.
- After a few games, they turn and ask “how do you do that special move?”
- After showing them the input, they mash the input for a few more games.
Whether or not players actually perform the move correctly, an attack will come out from a button press. So there’s no perceivable negative consequence for a new player, because to them, more attacks equals more potential damage. It’s also more fun like a virtual Rock’em Sock’em Robots.
Shifting Perspective on Movement
Fighting game players who understand the game know that this wild approach will get new players killed. The paradigm has to change for these players to not think of movement like driving a bumper car but like driving a destructible car. If someone swerves wildly and puts the pedal to the metal while driving, they’re likely going to crash and die. Movement in fighting games has similar consequences in that poor movement will almost guarantee a loss. You are always in danger of taking massive damage for even a slip. But this danger is also part of the thrill and fun once you are able to take control like a race car.
How to Move in 2D Fighting Games
A player who wants to do remotely well in fighting games needs to focus and be deliberate with where they want to move. A major goal of movement in fighting games is to be in places where your character’s moves work to your advantage or where your opponent’s moves are ineffective. This is difficult for a brand new player to grasp because deeper knowledge of characters’ move properties is needed.
Even so, there are some basic things you can do without deep character knowledge:
- Try to stay out of range of the opponent’s attacks that you’ve seen
- Jump to attack when you think your opponent can’t knock you out of the air
- When walking or running forward, occasionally block in anticipation of an attack
- Dash / Air Dash when you think your opponent won’t or can’t attack you
- Try not to be predictable of where you want to move, especially on defense. (e.g. Mix up neutral jumping, blocking, and jumping over projectiles)
- Try not to back into the corner (you don’t want to be there)
- Be willing to stand still to wait to see what your opponent does (hold downback to block and stay still)
Remember that in fighting games, good movement involves some risk, so you will sometimes get hit even when making good deliberate movements (just not as often as you will if you’re making bad movements).
Learning movement in fighting games is a continuous process no matter what level of player you are. So try not to feel discouraged if it’s not clicking right away. If you need more help with understanding movement, you can check out match videos of high-level play with your character and pay attention to where they choose to be. You can also reach out to players on Twitter, Discord, and Twitch and they’ll almost certainly be willing to help. Rest easy in the fact that you are now more mindful of the practice of movement and it already makes you better than the average player. Bruce would be proud.
Choysauce plays as many fighting games as possible and writes about how to play them. He also helps with management for toptier.gg. Catch him on Twitter @choysauce85.