Friday, July 31, 2009

Mango vs Armada grand finals

so i didn't get around to watching these for whatever reason for quite  a while. not really sure why. just seemed like something i should save for the right occasion. anyways, i've watched them now, and holy cow - best sets of melee ever. i've been playing a lot of more traditional fighters lately - sfiii/iv, mvc2 (if you can call that traditional), etc - but these matches have completely reaffirmed my love for smash.

mainly because these sets illustrate something about smash that you really can't find in other fighters - the idea of momentum. you hear the term being used for other games, they never really have the same meaning as in smash. in smash, there's so many variables and possible moves that your emotions seem to weigh into it much more; confidence is such a huge thing, and if you're shaken, if you've lost the momentum, your game is damaged in a very subtle and profound way. there's so many tiny decisions the smash player has to make constantly that they give no thought to - things like spacing, or when to rush - that are usually judged and preformed automatically without any active consideration. this is in sharp contrast to most fighters, where all of your actions must be more deliberate and there are less opportunities for you to simply act autonomously. Puff provides a great example of how Smash sometimes plays itself, watch how Mango in many situations can simply spam back airs or how naturally things like chasing after a kill come to him.

It may sound like I'm knocking Smash there, but I actually think it's a very brilliant part of the game, because these situations are where your momentum really shines through. Unless you're really, really shaken up, you aren't going to mess up the really technical, really hard, really strategic moments. You aren't going to stop punishing precisely or nailing your recovery or following up combos even if you've lost that essential momentum. That stuff is still decided by skill. What changes are the moments you used to take for granted, there you begin to falter, and the way someone's game can fall apart starting with the basics while leaving the most advanced skills intact is really quite amazing to see.

You see it a lot in the first few matches. Mango is still playing with absolute genius skill with impeccable spacing and smart advances. He isn't making any mistakes, but Armada still simply bowls him over. Mango's lack of momentum and confidence very subtly affects how he plays. He loses exchanges due to minute hesitation, he doesn't attempt any rests, and he doesn't play with the same aggressive spirit that we love from Mango. It's this very tiny change in attitude that loses him the first game.

Of course, momentum can easily swing around, especially when you've got a gigantic crowd chanting your name. Mango first chips his way back to a victory, and then, after the rest on battlefield - one of the greatest rests I've ever seen - has the entire game in the palm of his hand again. He starts playing like one of the Gods of Smash again - because he is. He gets cocky, takes big risks, and luckily enough for him, Armada is completely shaken and unable to punish him for it. He misses a rest and tries Rollout, for crying out loud.

But Armada really does turn it around in that match of that last set and displays some of the best playing I've ever seen. He uses one stock to take off two of Mango's and almost a third, not playing against a skittish player who he can put on the ropes, but against the world's best player playing with more confidence than I've ever seen in him. Sure, Mango made mistakes, but he also played so aggressively and powerfully that it's downright amazing that Armada lived as long as he did. He was fighting against a full out Puff assault.

Really, though, I think Armada's key is that he understands some aspects of Peach that I don't think anyone else utilized, or at least never utilized as well as he did. Obviously he knew how to win aerial exchanges, punish Mango whenever he jumped, edgeguard, abuse the float cancel and recover in spite of Mango's edgeguarding attempts - those things are predictable. What amazed me the most is how, even against an entire continent's tide, he could change the momentum back so he could take the offensive.

I think the key thing to look at his how in Smash you have periods of pseudo-downtime where you aren't actively being pressured by the opponent. Usually this comes between spawns or when you've hit your opponent far away and they're recovering. And usually the best action is to take the initiative and go offensive and start pressuring your opponent. This isn't the best move if you don't have momentum, if you don't have any control over the general flow of the match. And it's in understanding this that I think Armada really shines - Mango would always just attack, even if he wasn't feeling confident, leading him to lose some really key exchanges. Armada, though, has other options. Not only does he prioritize being properly spaced even when he is in an offensive position - something that Mango doesn't seem to want to do often and always gets punished for it - he can pull a turnip.

Armada's vegetable play is nothing short of brilliant. In all the matches, I only saw Mango interrupt him pulling a turnip once. Just once, and I think it ended up hurting Mango more. Isn't that amazing? And Armada pulled a lot of vegetables - maybe not atypically high for a Peach player, but he definitely used them atypically well. The number of times he used them to force Mango into doing something is too high to count, and each time it reflected an absolute Einsteinian level of knowledge about the game. Consider the times where he would lob a vegetable at the right height for Mango to back air it after a short hop. Normally, this would seem like a wasted turnip because of how easily it would be to deflect without risking anything. But time after time again, Mango followed up that back air with a second full-jump back air or some other risker aerial assault, and Armada, knowing somehow that that very response was coming three moves away, would punish him for it. It's half having the best reflexes I've ever seen in Smash, but it's half his careful study of Mango's Puff and his ability to read into how he's likely to play, which is a talent you have to appreciate.

But yeah, it was just an amazing series of matches. For Armada to come that close is simply unbelievable. He probably could have won it had he pulled some more stitch face turnips, or stayed Peach and regained his composure, or if just one of Mango's rests had missed. I really can't express how much I'm looking forward to seeing Europe again at a future tourney.

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