Top Tier History: Falco Lombardi

Last week, I wrote about how Fox became seen as the best character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. However, throughout the game’s history, he’s been complemented by his fellow top tier and Star Fox counterpart: Falco.

DISCLAIMER: Falco has obviously developed in more ways than I could describe! Per usual, please take what I’ve read as a general overview for his character, with embellishments. Outside of what’s been verified, any opinion I have about Falco certainly isn’t the final word!

Lasers and Forward Smash (late 2001 to early 2004)
Notable players: Justin Junio, Sultan of Samitude, DA Dave, Azen

If the original Super Smash Bros. and Nintendo 64 edition of Star Fox contributed to Fox’s popularity in Melee, it also helped Falco.For 64 players who liked the hitstun and range that Fox’s laser provided him, Falco’s lasers were a good recreation. Take a look at what MMassey’s Falco guide (from late January 2002) says about Falco’s blaster.

They make a pretty big deal about his Blaster (neutral
B), which is actually one of the best edge-guarding tools
in the game since you can just eat most characters'
second jump. They can't deflect it in midair (unless they
have such a move), and that means they'll need a good 
third jump to make it back. Sometimes the CPU will try to
use the midair dodge. When you dodge in the air, that 
counts as your third jump. Instant win for you if they 
can't make it. This  works best in one-on-ones, 
obviously.

The concept of short hop lasering (frequently attributed to Deadly Alliance’s Dave) wasn’t widely used yet, but from Melee’s inception, it was clear that Falco’s lasers gave him a tool to control space better than other characters. In the next paragraph of the guide, you’ll notice another of Falco’s immediately recognizable traits.

Falco was also blessed with the game's absolute 
fastest Meteor Strike; his aerial down+A, that drill 
kick. No matter what part of it you hit with, they'll go
down if they're at 70% or so with empty air beneath them.
Here's where balancing comes into play - Falco falls 
fast. There's a great chance you'll go down with your foe
if you jumped after them to land the spike, but they'll
be going down first. To Falco, that's pretty much all
that matters. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time casual Falco player or Westballz – Falco’s downair is one of his biggest strengths. Even if it wasn’t quite developed as a combo starter or shield pressure tool, his downair was still seen as a really good attack. When you combine this with the strength of his projectile and shine, it’s clear that even in the early ages of Melee, Falco was viewed quite favorably.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wasn’t able to find something I could definitely say was the first ever video of a Falco in tournament, but based on the level of gameplay seen in the above video, I’d guess that this was taken at some point in mid-2003 at a Midwest tourney.

Although tech skill among players hadn’t quite developed, Falco still saw success early on across different regions. Consider his representation within NorCal (Justin Junio and the Sultan of Samitude), the South (Rob$) and the East Coast (DA Dave and Azen).

As Falco did well for part of Melee’s early ages, his weaknesses were also highlighted. Along with having an easily gimpable vertical recovery, Falco being a lightweight and fast faller made him an exploitable character. Moreover, while Falco had strong grounded moves and aerials, he also wasn’t particularly fast on the ground, relative to someone like Fox.

Even if Falco still had good placings across the board, it was hard to tell whether someone who solo mained him could ever become the best player in the world. Most of his players played him defensively. Suddenly, that changed.

The Pillaring Era (mid 2004 to mid 2007)
Notable players: Bombsoldier, Forward, PC Chris, Dope, Rob$, Zhu, Helios

Forward is often credited with being the “godfather” of Falco – and for good reason. Along with being the first player to consistently shine waveland to follow up on platforms, Forward also was the best player in Arizona.

Unlike other Falcos, who frequently went for things like forward smash or back air after landing a shine, Forward also linked aerials to one another and was just more consistent in actually following up on a positional advantage. Keep in mind that back then, Falco was much more of a defensive character, due to being in a meta where taking risks was frequently discouraged.

Around August 2005 came the breakout of a little-known, but technically proficient Falco named Bombsoldier. If you’re an old-school player or somewhat familiar with Melee’s history, you’ll know of his legendary second-place performance at the Jack Garden Tournament.  Though there’s a popular misconception that Bombsoldier was a nobody – he was still one of East Japan’s best – his placing was still impressive, especially since the JGT featured the best of East Japan, West Japan and the United States.

Although he eventually lost in grand finals to Ken, Bombsoldier’s Falco pushed the character in ways that people didn’t think was possible. It’s discussed more in-depth here, but the difference between Bombsoldier and every other Falco was remarkable. For example, most American Falco players preferred to run away, shoot lasers, run away and use single hits to conservatively follow up a shine.

Bombsoldier was different. In addition to mixing up consistent SHFFL aerials on shield with grabbing, Bombsoldier converted off hits harder than any other Falco. Even though he never replicated his JGT success, without Bombsoldier, Falco isn’t the combo-heavy character we think of today. You could argue that his innovation goes beyond Falco – it effectively showed that Melee was deeper than anyone expected.

In the same way that Zelgadis inspired countless Fox players to step up their tech skill game and push their character, Bombsoldier looked like he came from the future. Falco was still considered one of Melee’s best characters, but before Bombsoldier, it was hard to envision a Falco ever coming close to beating someone like Ken, let alone playing so quickly.

Before the world knew it, PC Chris, a then-rising Falco and Fox player from New York, defeated Ken twice at MLG New York Opener 2006. Here, he showed a mix of Bombsoldier’s punish game, Forward’s ability to keep pressure on his opponents and PC’s own style. By the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Falco was a far more aggressive character than he was in the past. You can check out one of the oldest written Falco guides on Smashboards here. Highlights include a lot of “teh.”

In early 2007, Zhu released a combo video that’s still today one of the most watched combo videos ever.

He wasn’t quite a top player yet, but Zhu had ideas for the character that set the basis for what the next era of Falco players would look like. These included, but weren’t limited to using tools like jab effectively to follow up hits, how Zhu held center stage against his opponents and his creative edgeguards.

The Long Reign (early 2008 to mid 2013)
Notable Players: Mango, Dr. PeePee, Zhu, DaShizWiz, Lambchops, Eggm

Melee was coming close to its end – and with it left a lot of the game’s premier players. But what if Bombsoldier didn’t maximize Falco? What if there were even more ways you could push his character?  Was there even more to Melee that the pre-Brawl players hadn’t figured out?

You can look at Lambchops as one of the forefathers in one particular area: his unrelenting use of lasers. When combined with his tendency to prioritize winning neutral-interactions and strong hits over going for guaranteed punishes, it’s easy to see how Lambchops, as seemingly crazy as his playstyle looks, was influential to other Southern Falco players.  His lasers were especially difficult to deal with because no one back then could consistently powershield.

Under his tutelage came the rise of another Falco player: DaShizWiz, who was one of Florida’s best players and had solid placings, but hadn’t broken out yet. That changed at FAST 1. Watch the game below, in which he three-stocks Mew2King: a man who many still thought was the best player in the world at the time. If you’re interested, you can also watch the full set, which is still considered one of the most exciting Melee sets of all-time.

DSW took Falco’s aggression, but somehow dialed it up to yet another level, calling out his opponents with strong hits, using Lambchops-esque lasers, extending his combos in creative ways. This doesn’t mean that some of the traits never applied to other players, but like Bombsoldier and Forward, DSW set the groundwork for the kind of Falco that people looked up to for inspiration.

As if lasers, tech skill, speed and extending combos weren’t enough, soon Falco began to grow in yet another way: aerial drift. Guess who also mastered manipulating Falco’s attack timings on shield, revolutionizing how the character could be used to both overwhelm an opponent and keep them frozen in fear?

From 2008 to early 2010, Mango’s Falco could have been argued to be around the same level, if not as good as his Jigglypuff. Somehow baffling opponents in how mercilessly fast it was, while still always being in a safe position to react to their options, his Falco was somehow both aggressive, while also being smart enough to avoid getting hit. His other characters were the same way, but Falco gave him a character with the kind of vertical speed that Mango could manipulate to dazzling effect.

Around this era was when people (especially Mew2King) wondered if Falco was the best character. Though Fox still technically stood at the top of the tier list, Falcos like DSW, Zhu and even Mango were routinely defeating other top Fox players of their time.

Falco was successful, fun, fast, exciting and seeing more development in his direction than any other character. You could argue that for a long time, his potential played a huge role in Melee staying alive (in contrast to the popular perception of Jigglypuff, though Falco certainly had his share of haters). While tech skill videos and good players existed for almost every relevant character, it’s hard to argue that anyone other than Falco saw as much of a jump in players, success and playstyle changes.

Dr. PeePee was notable before, but around 2011 was when his style of Falco became the standard for other players to watch. Emphasizing discipline in how to control stage, safely follow up on hits, dash dance and more, Dr. PeePee quickly grew into one of the world’s best players, as well as its best Falco main, winning Pound V and several other tournaments.

The set above used to be considered the greatest Falco ditto of all time. While some of the gameplay is outdated, take a look at how Dr. PeePee and Mango play the character. This is a good representation of what the highest level of gameplay looked like within the United States back then.

The Decline (late 2013 to now):
Notable players: Dr. PeePee/PPMD, Mango, Westballz, Zhu, Santiago, Squid

It’s not as if Falco hasn’t seen any development within this era. In fact, he started off fine, with Dr. PeePee/PPMD and Mango winning many tournaments in the “post-documentary” era. But even those two have needed to dual main (PPMD’s Marth and Mango’s Fox), if not play more of their other characters in order to win.

As time keeps passing by, it becomes harder to ignore that the once glorious bird has gone through a national decline. Even Westballz brings out Fox for certain matchups.

This doesn’t mean that Falco hasn’t developed at all. For example, Westballz is an example of someone who’s represented Falco well in the modern era. Along with pushing his punish game further than any other Falco,  Westballz has also revolutionized a new way of playing defensive.

It’s difficult to categorize anyone as a solely “defensive” or “aggressive” player, but Westballz deserves quite a bit of credit for having a stellar defensive game, along with his mind boggling punish game. Most people categorize defensive play with lasering or platform camping, but to this day, Westballz DI’s hits and converts off crouch cancel better than nearly any other Falco player.

There’s also reason to believe that Falco is due for another breakout. He still has good regional representation, with players like Santiago, Squid, Trulliam, Porkchops and more being highly regarded. If any of these players breakout on a national scale, suddenly the narrative of Falco being “unviable” changes.

The biggest problems for Falco, however, are Peach (particularly Armada) and Jigglypuff (Hungrybox). Depending on your perspective, these matchups are either solidly in those characters’ favor or simply underdeveloped from Falco’s perspective. You could even argue that the recent rebirth of Marth, Sheik and Ice Climbers has also hurt Falco. As Fox becomes more and more successful, it’s harder to tell: has Falco already been solved or is his recent lack of national representation just a result of his dwindling player base?

No one knows the answer for sure. On one hand, it’s difficult to deny that in the current meta, Fox simply does better in nearly every matchup. But on the other hand, this is only shown by recency bias. As PPMD mentions above, back in the post-Brawl era, those same results could have easily shown that Falco was the best character in the game. You could say that Fox has been more developed and has more players, but it doesn’t mean that Falco can’t win.

If Melee history’s taught its fans one thing, it’s to never think the metagame is solved. Predicting Falco’s future is near impossible, but it’s undeniable that he’s played one of the biggest roles within both Melee’s growth and rebirth. How fitting would it be – if someday it’s on the brink of death again, only for Falco to save it?

Posted In

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s