Frametraps and Blockstrings

What do you think of frame traps?

I love frametraps. Frame Advantage is a really fun concept to play around with, because it’s so variable. You can have more or less of it. Like how Ken is fucking +21 on a V-trigger canceled fireball. Frame advantage allows you to give the defender narrow or wide windows to perform actions, like backdash, dodge, jab, etc. By setting them up at a disadvantage, you can limit their options and condition them as a setup for mindgames. Being +1 on block and +5 on block are very different scenarios.

If a character has a really fast move, it’s even possible to sort of reverse frametrap people. You might be at frame disadvantage, but you can use your fast attack to catch them so fast that they can’t get anything out in time. Sol Badguy in Guilty Gear can do this with his 5K, since it’s out in like 3 frames, fastest normal in the game.

All the frametraps in Smash Bros work on this principle. Since you’re limited in what moves you can do out of shield, it’s possible for many characters to set up with a move that’s not very minus, then trap you with a followup that has a fast startup. For example, Samus can jab, crouch cancel it, and ftilt as a frametrap. The Jab is minus on shield, but only barely, and the F-tilt has such a fast startup, it’ll catch out of shield actions. Other characters that can do this are Falcon with his Knee (+0 on shield) or Sheik’s nair, if properly spaced (also +0). Peach can do it out of a hover cancel (+2 to +4 on shield, one of the rare cases you can be + on shield).

In this way, frametraps in Smash bros work sort of like the Fireball trap in Street Fighter, you throw a slow fireball first as the setup. If it hits them, or they block it, you can then throw a fast fireball, and they have no option but to block it, trying to do anything else will get them caught. You have one attack as the setup, and one to close the trap.

Where it gets tricky is that you can, instead of closing the trap immediately, reset the trap. Because the opponent knows about the fireball trap, they’ll just block and you won’t get much reward off that. If a samus jabs, then Ftilts every single time, I’ll just wait and grab them on reaction after the Ftilt. However what the attacker can do instead is bank on their opponent staying passive and blocking to reset the trap. You know he’ll block the fast fireball instead of jumping, so just throw another slow fireball. Samus knows you’ll block the Ftilt and punish it, so Samus just cancels the jab and throws another. One time I actually got my shield broken from blocking too many jabs!

Part of what makes Fox and Falco so powerful is they have one of the rare traps that can extend for 3 hits on shield. They can hit you with an aerial, then shine you twice guaranteed (multishining is possible, but stale moves reduces the shieldstun, so you can buffer a roll out). Because they have this strong pressure, they can mix it up with a grab to beat your shield, leading to a rare true block string in smash bros.

What’s your opinion on block strings?

Block Strings are cool. What’s neat about blockstrings is, after every time you hit the opponent, there’s this branching factor. You can follow through on your blockstring, or you can try another option to either reset your blockstring or break their guard.

The basic way blockstrings work is, you have a sequence of moves, each of which leaves you plus on block. Some characters might have a few different blockstrings they use depending on the situation. Usually blockstrings are made up of moves that will also combo on hit if any one of them lands, but that’s not always true, as in 3rd Strike where no normals will link with each other unless they cancel, so most blockstrings are made up of frametraps and are purely trying to see if the opponent will press a button for a little extra damage, or let go of block (and since there’s parrying, blockstrings aren’t as good an idea in 3s, especially since they’re so low reward).

There’s a difference between True Blockstrings and Frametraps. During True Blockstrings, the defender is in blockstun the entire time and has no chance to act. During Frametraps, the defender has a chance to act, which if they try to do that, will be interrupted by the next move of the blockstring. True Blockstrings tend to result when the blockstring is from canceled moves, like a target combo in SF, or combo chains in most anime fighting games. Frametrap blockstrings tend to result when the move is linked, as with most combos in SF. Linking your attack instead of canceling it can lead to this in fighters with more common combo chains.

But what makes the blockstring cool is the branching factor. If you hit their block and get frame advantage, they know you can follow up with another attack, so they’ll be inclined to block. So instead of attacking, you can do other things to break their guard, such as walking up and throwing them, or doing an overhead. Since they’re expecting to block the full string, they won’t always expect you to do these things. If you do it after a jab, then they won’t have time to react to you trying to throw them, and it’s effectively a guessing game whether you’ll continue the blockstring or throw at that point. Another thing you can do is drop your blockstring on purpose and walk, dash, or jump in at them to start another block string. This means you can keep exerting control over them for longer unless they can call you out at the point where you decide to reset pressure. Some characters like Karin in SFV even have moves dedicated to this, she can cancel her normals into a command dash, which will get her in again for another blockstring if the opponent doesn’t press a button.

The defender has options too during blockstrings. If they have an invincible special move, like a dragon punch, they can try to reversal in order to overpower their attacker. This is high risk, low reward however. If the attacker just stops their blockstring, the defender will eat a lot of damage on a punish combo.

You have all these different options after each time you hit the opponent’s block to get frame advantage. You can try to throw them, mix them up, reset your blockstring, or do nothing and block. You could even do silly things like jab them, walk up and jab them again if you’ve conditioned them to be scared enough.

On the defender side, they need to be mindful of your pressure options and choose to do the right thing in response to them. They can block the next attack in the sequence, or they can press a button to try to shut you down if you’re going to mix them up or reset your blockstring, or they can reversal to force their way through your blockstring. All of these carry different levels of risk and reward. They’re biased in favor of the attacker, the one with advantage, but can be more or less biased based on the amount of frame advantage on block.

In anime fighters, there’s usually additional defensive options, like pushblock, just defend, parry, alpha counters, and guard cancels. Pushblock can end the blockstring faster by pushing them out of range. Just Defend/instant block can reduce the frame advantage of the attacker, allowing for a counter attack. Parry can neutralize the opponent’s frame advantage completely or force them into stun. Alpha Counters and Guard Cancels can force the opponent off using an attack, like a reversal, just it cancels the blockstun, preventing the attacker from stopping their attacks to block. Instant Blocking is probably the standout here, as it changes the frame advantage of the move it blocks, and also reduces the pushback, so it can turn advantaged on block moves into disadvantaged on block, it can turn disadvantaged but safe moves into unsafe moves, and it can turn true blockstrings into frametraps, allowing reversals inbetween.

Another cool factor is Counterhits, which are a reward for frametrapping. When you land a counterhit, hitting the opponent’s move during startup, you get bonus hitstun, making moves that normally wouldn’t link begin to link, so blockstrings can go on longer than normal combo strings and become combos if the opponent presses buttons. In some games there’s even more powerful counterhits, like SFV, which reward you for hard reads in frametraps.

Anime fighters also give the attacker more pressure options in the form of Roman Cancels or Rapid cancels, which let you empty cancel anything on hit, resulting in silly blockstrings like Sweep > Sweep > Wild Throw with Sol (courtesy of Final Round XV).

I’d like to see more single player games toy with these concepts of frame advantage and blockstrings, but so far the only one I’ve seen trying it was Furi, which had different blockstrings on some bosses, and you had to react to the animations to tell where it was interruptible and exploit that hole successfully. The Edge was the master of this, and consequently a really fun boss.

If you need more help with frametraps, this guide is great:

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