This is a continuation of A Dissection of Falco's Options on Shield, which can be found here.
Part 2: After the Shine
After Falco approaches an opponent in shield, he generally does one of three options. We covered in part 1 that those options are to grab, to dash (or waveland), or to put out a shine. As in part 1, we’ll ignore some of the other mixups you could do at this point which might be suboptimal, such as laser approach into a smash attack, and instead act as though the option we have chosen is shining the opponent’s shield. There are a couple of reasons for choosing this: grab instantly ends the opponent’s shield, and thus we enter a different state of play. Dashing or using movements tricks, while not necessarily forcing the opponent out of their shield, does put pressure on the opponent to make some kind of action. Since the tomahawk movement options are really just about moving near a shielding enemy while not directly attacking them, fundamentally speaking the same effect could be done by standing still just outside the opponent’s range. And so, there’s very little counterplay on the part of the opponent beyond recognizing the proper moment to act.
This leaves us with just attacking their shield outright. Theoretically, if Falco approaches with a laser or aerial, he is not obligated to shine immediately following them as his attack. He could just as easily choose to do another attack such as a fading aerial or a smash attack. However, shine allows Falco to do all of his safe and optimized options on an opponent’s shield, and it has the added benefit of being an additional, threatening hitbox. Thus, we will treat shield pressure sequences as beginning with a shine right after Falco’s approach.
The first thing to understand is that the moment shine connects on an opponent’s shield, a clock starts. That clock, beginning with shine’s frame 1 hitbox, counts the individual frames that an opponent has before they can act out of shield and punish Falco’s offensive play. Frame by frame, that clock progresses until one of a few things happens: Falco either strikes the opponent’s shield again and adds more time to the clock, Falco earns a shield stab or grab and thus ends the opponent’s shield play, or Falco retreats out of reach of any of his opponent’s options.
The second thing to understand is that of those three options, only disengaging is actually safe for Falco. Every option he can take in an extended shield pressure situation has counterplay to it, and so choosing which options are the correct ones becomes an intense game of both reads and conditioning. This is the most important factor in understanding Falco’s on-shield game; his offensive options are mathematically unsafe.
For example, his safest option after the shine is to do an immediate, fading Nair. This is not safe in the sense that the opponent can do nothing; Fox would be available to act the frame that Falco leaves the ground, which means that he is free to spotdodge out of Falco’s Nair. Moreover, if the opponent shields the early aerial, they will be capable of wavedashing towards the opponent and punishing them while they are stuck in their aerial animation. So instead we can say that the immediate fading aerial is safe due to the fact that there is no window between the shine and aerial where the opponent can counterattack; any attempt to do anything but buffering a spotdodge will likely lead to a punish.
Aerials in general are the safest options Falco has in terms of pressure, and they allow him to choose whether to continue the offensive or to retreat and bait the approach of his opponent. However, because the spacing of the fading aerial necessitates putting him at the furthest distance possible from his opponent, this also ends the offensive on their shield. What then is the point of a fading aerial after the initial shine? Simply put, there are one of two things it accomplishes.
First, early aerials after this shine catch an opponent who tries to act out of shield once the shine connects. Even though spotdodge would allow a Falco to escape in the ditto, Falco’s long jumpsquat means that anything but a spotdodge or a roll would be hit by that Nair or Dair. Even Falco’s shine out of shield, one of the fastest offensive out of shield options in the game, would still lose to that early aerial. This means that the early aerial forces the opponent to either spotdodge, roll, or stay in shield to counter it. Roll and spotdodge are reactable, though the latter is a very difficult reaction against the spacies due to spotdodge shine. However, if the opponent stays in shield against the fading aerial, then the second possible objective might be met: to bait out a poor out of shield option. If the opponent attempts to shield grab, or is too late at reacting with an approach, Falco will have enough time to prepare a counter. Counting frames, there is barely enough time to wavedash towards the now-spaced Falco and attack before he can get a move out, and so if the opponent is unprepared the only safe options are to retreat or wait in shield. Furthermore, Falco is put out of range of a followup, both of his own or an opponent, and so fading aerials are an ideal post-shine bait.
+ Catches all immediate OoS options except spotdodge and roll. Fox’s frame-perfect shine OoS and Samus’ Up-B OoS will come out successfully (due to invincibility), but can be spaced so that they won’t hit you. Also Fox’s frame-perfect shine OoS is extremely difficult.
+ If they remain in shield, baits out poorly spaced and timed out of shield options.
- Cannot follow up safely, essentially resets the situation if the objectives aren’t met.
- If the opponent is prepared to react, there is enough time to advance and punish an early aerial out of shield.
Conversely, while the earliest aerial catches opponents by surprise, the latest aerial is the ideal option for continuing the offense. This was demonstrated in part 1, and many of the pros and cons of that option exist here as well, however there is also the added danger of being in range of more out of shield options. It is dangerous if the opponent is reacting to what Falco is doing instead of fearing being hit out of shield. If we look at the option of early aerials, by doing early and safe aerials repeatedly Falco can condition the opponent into thinking that he will always aerial early. If the opponent either chooses to spotdodge or hold shield whenever shine connects, then Falco can get away with a late aerial; this will deal far more shield damage (making shield stabs more likely) and also allow Falco to continue following up on his offensive play safely. In the case of spotdodge, a late aerial is also a direct punish.
+ Late aerial -> shine is mathematically safe and allows for followup pressure
- Dangerous if the opponent hasn't been conditioned to respect the threat of early aerials
In terms of aerial followups, Falco could also choose a halfway aerial, performing a Nair or Dair halfway between the earliest and latest timing possible. This is actually the most sub-optimal type of shine-aerial pressure, as it is neither safe between the shine and the aerial nor between aerial and landing, however the window to punish it safely is much shorter. While “balanced” shine->aerial pressure can therefore be used in some cases, in general it is what I call “blanket pressure”, or shield pressure intended only to generally pressure the opponent instead of pressure performed to specifically target certain options or to condition the opponent to expect and prepare for a specific kind of maneuver.
+ Smaller windows for counterattacks before and after the aerial
- Accomplishes very little in terms of conditioning, is instead more of an execution test for the opponent
With aerial options covered, let’s take a look at another set of options: multishines. Multishines come in a few different variants, namely doubleshines, westballz shines, and platform escapes. First, let’s look at doubleshines. Unlike Fox, who can theoretically doubleshine until the point where an opponent is forced to get hit by the shine or have their shield broken, Falco’s doubleshines actually give the opponent time enough to buffer a spotdodge. While this means they are not airtight pressure, their grounded nature also means that a great host of options are available after the second shine. If, as in the example of early aerials mentioned above, the opponent buffers a spotdodge after being hit with a shine, the second shine may miss, but Falco can turn that shine into a guaranteed shinegrab or shine->Upsmash on reaction. Due to the grounded nature of doubleshining, if Falco were to multishine continuously he would be able to wavedash out and follow up on the shine which inevitably connects. Even spotdodging continuously will not allow an opponent to evade multishines forever. It should go without saying that even though this is the mathematically safest offensive option Falco has on shield, it is punishingly difficult to execute consistently, and a tech flub while attempting it is almost certainly guaranteed to end up in a punish.
+ If performed perfectly, can only be avoided with spotdodge, which can then be followed up.
- Single-frame inputs are required for every consecutive multishine
To that end, an innovation has been made on multishines to perform their intended function while also allowing for some technical leeway. Westballz has made his multishines a staple of Falco’s offensive game, and they involve Falco jumping slightly into the air before the second shine comes out, then jumping out of the second shine and immediately wavedashing down into the ground. On the surface, the drawback is obvious: a wavedash incurs ten frames of landing lag before Falco is actionable again, which means that depending how high up the second shine is on the opponent’s shield, a whole host of out of shield options become viable as a punish, from Fox’s shine OoS to shield grabs. However, much like how late aerials rely on the opponent fearing Falco’s early aerials in order to become a good option, Westballz shines are spectacular against the opponent who fears and respects Falco’s on-shield game. The frame window to punish Westballz shines is very tight, and by putting himself on the ground and directly on top of his opponent, a slightly mistimed out of shield option could lead to taking a shine (and thus a potentially devastating punish). Since getting a shield stab with shine is ordinarily very difficult, Westballz shines allow shine to be the ever-present threat in any offensive maneuver, and thus are spectacular for getting the opponent to remain in shield for too long.
In the event the opponent recognizes the Westballz shines and attempts to escape, the maneuver also provides the best manner of following up on a roll or spotdodge. The wavedash puts Falco on the ground and ready to access his entire moveset, from shining again to moving to follow up on a retreating enemy, to even whipping out a smash attack or laser followup. It is likely the most versatile option Falco has in his offensive toolkit, mitigated only by its difficulty of execution and the noticeable window for punishment.
+ Threatens Falco’s best attack and combo starter better than any other option.
+ Can follow up on any attempt to roll away or spotdodge better than any other on-shield option.
- A noticeable window of vulnerability exists that can be punished; if the opponent is ready for it, they can take advantage with almost every good out of shield option in the game.
- Difficult to execute
In the event that the opponent adapts to Westballz shines by waiting for the window to punish them, Falco can also mix it up by doing platform movement. Or, in the case of FD or some other stage with no accessible platform, double jump approaches. This essentially is a retreat option which allows Falco to remain in range to apply pressure. By wavelanding onto a platform or jumping high above the enemy, Falco can bait out the opponent’s out of shield attempts and go in with a hard punish, typically a Dair. Despite the reward for doing this, platform escapes don’t allow for extended pressure and are best used only if the opponent is getting too accustomed to your grounded shield pressure plays.
In a similar vein, wavedashing away from the opponent after a shine can be a useful option to bait out the antsy player from a safe distance. While it won’t work against every character all the time (Marth’s grab in particular doubles as the best projectile in the game), it still allows an additional mixup to keep the opponent guessing as to the exact time when your offensive play will continue. By conditioning the opponent with hit-and-run tactics such as platform escapes or approaching shines into wavedash escapes, you can trick your opponent into trying to act immediately after an approaching shine...a trick which can then be exploited to take advantage of several of the other options listed above.
+ Movement options are great for hit-and-run tactics and conditioning
+ Difficult to punish and can bait out highly punishable actions
- Not perfectly safe against all characters and options
- Can't safely follow up from an escape option, essentially resets to an advantaged state of play
With movement options, multishines, and aerial pressure covered, it’s time to bring it all together with the lynchpin of Falco’s pressure: shinegrabs. Up until now, all of the options we’ve discussed are designed to either keep the opponent in shield or punish them for moving out of it. While keeping them in shield for extended periods would eventually open up opportunities to shield stab and start punishes that way, the reality is that for most characters their shield will last long enough to find the opening in offensive pressure that would let them counterattack. We have discussed no options which explicitly punish staying in shield even one move too long, and that’s where shinegrabs come into play. After the initial approach into a shine, that could be the moment when they have sat in shield for too long and can be punished for their error.
Grabs end offensive strings, but they are the ultimate tool to break down the opponent’s defenses. By conditioning the opponent with late and early aerials, multishines, and lasers, Falco can make the opponent feel like the safest option they have is to wait in shield and look for the tiny openings Falco has in his offense. If Falco did not have shinegrab, he would be unable to directly disincentivize them from doing this, since Falco is capable of starting combos or netting kills off his grabs depending on the opponent’s % and DI. As long as the grabs are well-chosen and well-timed, it can take away the one option the opponent feels will be successful against Falco’s pressure; this is when panic and habits set in.
This is when opponent start compulsively spotdodging or rolling, and it’s at this point that Falco can get devastating reads. A compulsive spotdodge after the initial shine, in expectation of a shinegrab, can instead lead to getting hit with an aerial...or for a more psychological impact, a charged shine -> Upsmash. A roll can be reacted to and caught with a SHFFL’d aerial or a laser followup, or at worst a loss of stage control. Paying attention to the options which did and did not work the last time you approached the opponent in shield is critical to understanding when shinegrabs will be effective; if performed perfectly, only out of shield options six frames or faster can come out between the shine and grab. This is a single frame input for most options, and leaves only spotdodge and roll as the most reliable for most of the cast. If used correctly, the shinegrab is the crucial part of Falco’s offense that allows all of his other options to be effective.
+ Punishes the opponent for remaining in shield without focusing on stabs or breaks.
+ Applies tremendous pressure with proper use
- Always ends shield pressure strings, and if unsuccessful leads to either being punished or a return to neutral
This is the basic overview of Falco’s offensive options on an opponent he has conditioned to shield when he approaches. A common misconception of the offensive games of Fox and Falco is that there’s “nothing you can do” against them. As I hope to have demonstrated, the offensive game of Falco in particular is full of holes that an opponent can exploit. There are only a small number of mathematically safe options, yet even those options contain some form of counterplay. This means that far from being an unstoppable juggernaut of aggression and hitboxes, Falco’s offense is instead based around understanding the options an opponent is likely to choose. At the higher level, this is done with conditioning, by repeating an option multiple times until the opponent is doing exactly what you want them to. At that point, you can take advantage of their behavior to implement a counter to their new behavior, ideally with a read that you can convert into a deadly punish.
There are, of course, dozens of options I have not and could not explore in the space allotted here. Some players might be particularly susceptible to shine -> SHLaser pressure, while some characters may sit in shield for so long that a shine -> Upsmash can perform the coup de grace to break their shield. On a character like Puff, whose shield is exceptionally poor and for whom a shield break is instant death, this may be a strategy worth exploring further. Feel free to get creative with Falco’s offensive options; the things I’ve written here, while a cursory glance at high-level play, are but a framework for you to play around with. Perhaps, like Westballz, you too may find yourself innovating tiny elements of Falco’s offensive game to further widen the mixup web that takes place whenever Falco approaches. Or perhaps you are content with taking the information contained here and working to perfect it, to optimize Falco’s offensive game as far as it can go. Regardless of what you do with this information, I hope you have found it informative and I thank you for reading.
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