Thursday, 20 December 2018

Smash Bros. Ultimate: The Joy-Con Cons


I was really excited to play Super Smash Brothers Ultimate (which from this point onwards will be referred to as SSBU for the sake of my fingers). But at the same time, pretty apprehensive over how well I could play the game with Joy-Cons... and their tiny analog sticks.





SSBU has been out for about 2 weeks now, so I've managed to play it with friends and CPUs for about a days worth of hours. And suffice to say I've had my fair share of both amusing and annoying blunders and misinputs; mostly from accidental SDs and smash attacks. After giving it some thought, I think I've nailed down what makes the Joy-Cons so fiddly to use.
DISCLAIMER: I don't play this game competitively, nor am I particularly great at it. I do, however, really enjoy it and have played it on each console's native controllers since the first game back in 1999! 
So first things first. What misinputs am I talking about? If you played the game with Joy-Cons, then maybe one of these situations will have affected you:
  • Attempted to recover, performed a directional air dodge instead and died.
  • Attempted to ledge drop. Crouched repeatedley.
  • Input a tilt attack, got a smash attack.
  • Successfully used a down tilt, only to do it in the wrong direction.
  • Recovered just too far from the ledge with characters like Pikachu, Greninja, Lucario and Fox, despite having the reach to get there fine.
  • Tried short hopping, but kept doing full hops.
  • Double jumped when performing an upwards aerial (uair).
So some of these inputs are more common than others and indeed are issues that have carried over from previou smash games, so I'll address them in groups, then discuss what impact the Joy-Con has on some of these.

The Problems, Explained

Since the early days of Smash, Double Jumped Up Air attacks have always been an issue. Top tip: Turn off tap jump if it really bothers you (you can assign custom control settings to name tags). The only reason why this is more prominent now, is due to another common problem: Full Hopping instead of Short Hopping, which is due to a change in SSBU that makes short hops harder to do.

Specifically, every character's jumpsquat (the delay between starting a jump and leaving the ground) is now 3 frames long. This means to short hop you must now press and release the jump button in under 50 milliseconds. There's a reason they made it so you can press both the attack and jump button to do a short hop aerial attack.


Now for some of the issues that are made more apparent by the Joy-Con itself.

Ledge Drops and Tilt Attacks are problems exaccerbated by now small the Joy-Con's analog stick is. Ideally. moving the stick from neutral to a position should be as smooth and painless as possible. The Joy-Con's analog stick tends to require a proportionally large amount of pushing force to start moving at all, sort of like having high static friction. This is most likely due to its size, but this means that simply attempting to tilt the stick "a little bit" in a direction often leads to overshooting as you apply more force until it starts to move, and then suddenly shoot it to the edge.

Dotted Line - Ideal analog stick, smooth and consistent
Line - Experience using the Joycon's analog sticks.
Unfortunately being precise with the analog sticks is difficult, especially in the middle of a heated smash battle; There is a reason why the Gamecube Controllers are so well known for their iconic clack noises as Melee players input directions at lightning speeds. And this lack of precision makes the sweetspot for performing tilt attacks that much harder. Undercompenstating in order to hit the tilts, in turn, makes ledge drops more awkward to perform.

[Image of character performing turnarounds]

Reverse Down Tilts and Directional Precision are another set of interesting problems that occur from time to time. A new feature added to SSBU was the ability to turn around when performing a down tilt by inputting a diagonal dowwards and in the opposite direction to your current facing direction. The other problem is simply controlling the correct direction to launch yourself in during the reoveries of some characters.

Both of these can be attributed to nothing more than the small size of the Joy-Con sticks, and in fact is often a reason why many players hold on to Gamecube controllers, as they sport actual notches to keep directional input like this more consistent.


The final issue was harder to work out, but particularly noticeable once discovered. The misinputs surrounding Performing a Directional Air Dodge instead of Recovering. Now before anything else is said, this concerns dodging accidently far away from the stage and oftentimes lower down, where doing so would be both, not beneficial in getting back on stage, and likely to end up killing the player.

The cause for this appears to be a combnation of rushing to hit an input (which plagued the first problem mentioned), and the ergonomics of the Joy-Cons whilst held either in the Switch Console, or freely detached. When holding a Joy-Con, the thumb lies on the front face ready to press buttons or hit the analog stick. The index fingers sit neatly on the L/ZL and R/ZR shoulder buttons. The middle finger is sometimes kept on the ZL/ZR buttons but equally commonly just supports the controller itself:
Basically like this.
The problem here is that, when pressing the face buttons hard, the thumb naturally pushes both down into the controller, and upwards towards the shoulder buttons. In a standard controller, the angled grips mean you can counteract both of these vectors by holding on with your 3 supporting fingers. However due to the flat back of the Joy-Cons, the only way to stop the upwards push from a hard press of the thumb is by pushing back against it using... your index finger... which is on the shoulder button...

Solutions

Great. So you're pressing too hard, or too fast. And the millenia old advice of "just practice" doesn't seem to help. Well there are a few solutions available, depending on your spending allowance!
  1. Adjust the sensitivity of the sticks in-game. Inside the Options -> Controls of SSBU, kept under "Other Settings" in the bottom left corner. you can change the Stick Sensitivity. Setting this to High will make the sticks less sensitive, meaning a faster flick is required to input dashes and smashes.
  2. Use a Joy-Con comfort grip. These things are relatively cheap in comparison to other products, and basically remedy the issues of the Joy-Cons being flat.
    It probably won't help much when it comes to hitting those tilts, but it will certainly stop your fingers from slipping up as much.
  3. Use the Pro Controller. Advantages include: being an traditional controller, analog sticks are larger, giving more leeway for performing tilts and aiming recoveries. The main disadvantage is the placement of the right analog stick, which makes it a more definite effort to use as opposed to the Joy-Cons where you can manipulate it with the palm of your hamd.
  4. Shell out for a Gamecube Controller, or an adaptor or whatever. All the pros use them, and their design is great for games like Smash, with large shoulder buttons, notched analog sticks and a big green A button to mash when you need to!
 That's it from me, enjoy!

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