An article series by Jay "Viscant' Snyder.
This week Capcom released Alex, the first of the 6 announced DLC characters for 2016. And until they get the zenny store up and running he's even free to play so most people have taken him for a spin by now. So this week we're going to go over Alex in general with some first impressions on his basic tools and a few advanced tactics that the community has uncovered in the first week of play.
The most common first impression of Alex is that he's Laura with buttons. Another common impression is that he's Birdie with Mika's towards+HP. While neither of those are 100% accurate, the fact is that the SFV grappler set all seem to have many things in common and Alex fits in. None of them have a true reversal outside of critical art, none of their command throws have strike invulnerability, all are 5 or 6 frame startup. All of them have some kind of armor move that doesn't activate on the first frame to act as their reversal substitute. We're beginning to see some of the deliberate design decisions that Capcom made regarding grappler and semi-grappler characters in SF5 and while Alex isn't exactly like any of the others, he does fit in with his peers.
Alex has a very good set of normals with crouching MP, standing MK and towards HP standing out as particularly notable. Both crouching MP and standing MK are good range pokes with fairly good recovery, both 15f. Both are safe on block (-1 for crouching MP, -2 for standing MK) so they're similar to Birdie's standing MK in that they're strong normals you can throw out while setting range without taking a major risk. Crouching MK also has surprising range but is a little slower on whiff (18f recovery) and is a little worse on block (-3).
Standing MP and standing LK are good footsie tools as well. Standing LK is 1 frame faster (5f startup vs. 6f startup) but the tradeoff is that standing LK doesn't combo into a light flash chop without counter hit whereas standing MP does. So if Alex is playing footsies with standing LK it's a little bit more expensive since you'd probably want to be buffering EX flash chop behind it. If he has the meter stored up, it's the better choice due to faster startup and shorter recovery.
The initial impression of Alex's anti-air was that it wasn't very good because he doesn't have a one move solution like a shoryuken or Birdie crouching MP. Instead he has to choose between different options depending on range and timing. Crouching HP in this game is 3 different moves with down-back, down and down-towards all changing the move slightly letting him deal with different jump angles. Standing LP has a high hitbox and serves as anti-air similar to Chun-Li's standing LK complete with the followup reset opportunity. And if EX air knee smash has a hurtbox once he's fully off the ground, I can't find it. It's entirely possible he doesn't have one for a short duration. In a week of play I've yet to see aerial Alex trade or lose to a standard jump in with that move. So the air is mostly covered in neutral, it's just a matter of picking which move for which situation. Since EX air knee smash has 5f startup though, he can be jumped in on somewhat easily on his wakeup and he has no real option other than block. Against ambiguous crossups on wakeup he can use EX elbow's armor to escape similar to what Balrog would do in SF4 with the EX dash punch but even that's risky since armor won't activate first frame.
Most of his other specials function more or less as expected other than stomp. The move is a bit of a disappointment as it's -5 on block with only 2 active frames. It doesn't cross up and with only 2 active frames, it doesn't knock opponents out of the air either. So even though it seems like head crush vs. stomp should be a mixup, it doesn't really work that way, jump straight up beats both options on reaction. Stomp seems to be anti-fireball only in this game. The exception is EX stomp which is actually a pretty good move. It's aimable and +2 on block meaning that if Alex is getting zoned out and wants to bypass the neutral, he always has the option of spending a bar stomping in from half screen and further knowing that even if he misses the window and it's blocked, he still can get a mixup opportunity.
And if you haven't had the opportunity to look at his combos yet, check out this video by Desk.
Lariat and the magic number
Towards+HP (lariat) is probably Alex's best move and it gets its own section. The move itself is something of a cross between Zangief standing HK and Mika's towards+HP. The move hits high enough to act as anti-air but also will hit all crouchers who are close to him. It's a crush counter move with 10f startup making it good to use for meaty pressure but it also works well as a move to beat the fuzzy jump option select. And with all of that, the move is not only positive on block, it's +3, Alex's magic number.
I call +3 Alex's magic number because when Alex is +3 he can reduce the other side's options to a guessing game. Since his standing MP and power bomb are 6 frame moves, at +3 if he inputs either of them on the first frame, he can beat wakeup 3 frame LPs. Since all jumps have 3 pre jump frames at a minimum (4f minimum on jump straight up or jump back), a standing MP against someone holding up will keep them on the ground for a combo. Against characters without reversals, you can reduce this situation to a pure 50/50. If they do anything but jump or backdash, power bomb. If they do those, standing MP. This mixup gets even more dangerous around corners. Obviously the mixup can get more sophisticated; if you read backdash as a viable option you can follow one blocked lariat with another to hunt for the crush counter. If reversals are on the table you can follow with safer setups to bait out the reversal as well. But when learning a new character, especially a new grappler character, I find it helps to simplify things as much as possible in the beginning.
There are other situations where Alex can get to +3. The MP flash chop leaves him at +3 on hit meaning that his most basic meterless jump in combo (Jump in HP, standing HP, MP flash chop) leaves them at point blank for a mixup. A meaty standing LP, standing MP or crouching LP is also +3 on block (those moves are +2 when not meaty). A meaty EX stomp is +3 on block. So on and so forth. Light slash elbow is +3 on hit but won't leave you close enough for a power bomb in almost all common situations making it unsuitable as a mixup starter.
Just hunting for blocked lariats and other situations to get to +3 seems to be a pretty effective early game strategy for now while people aren't used to Alex's mixup game. It will likely lose effectiveness as the game ages but with so many characters without fully functioning reversals a true 50/50 will never go completely out of style.
If Alex is going to end up a strong character, his v-trigger is going to be a major reason why. On paper this is one of the most exciting v-triggers in the game. A 2 bar install with good duration that gives him access to better combos, a parry and an unblockable setup. I mean, on paper it just doesn't get much better than that, both an offensive and a defensive upgrade with unblockables. Let's unpack the v-trigger a bit.
This is a short video showing Alex's primary unblockable setup. I use the v-skill to create a hard hit before the sweep but a normal crush counter sweep works the same. On the timing I used in the video there isn't time to hold up and escape the setup by jumping, you can see that Mika is holding up but still took the hit while considered grounded. The sledge hammer does hit out of the air so if the setup is off by a couple of frames it'll still work. As you can see on the third pass though, the damage is significantly reduced on the followup if blocked just like Ryu's unblockable denjin setups. So if you're defending against an Alex unblockable setup and you don't know what to do, just blocking and taking the guard break reduces both the followup potential (+4 advantage on guard break vs. +11 advantage on taking the hit) and the damage. The final part of the video shows that most characters DO have some kind of a counter as the sledge hammer doesn't break armor so even characters who don't have a true reversal can still escape the setup.
So far this is the only consistent way found to set up the fully charged sledge hammer. Unlike Ryu, setups that depend on the other side quick rising or back rolling are not really a good idea to go for. If Ryu guesses wrong on a wakeup option he can just release the denjin once he realizes the setup isn't going as planned and usually stay safe. If Alex guesses wrong due to long whiff animation he is going to be punished for it. So it seems like using the v-trigger for unblockables is more of a gimmick than a long term strategy. The long term viability of v-trigger will come in other ways.
A couple of the pokes we talked about in the beginning of this post aren't special cancelable but they will cancel into sledge hammer. Standing MK and crouching MP need a counter hit to get the combo but this isn't a problem due to Alex's v-skill. If the opponent backs away once you activate v-trigger all they're doing is giving you an opportunity to convert crouching risk pokes into big damage.
The part of the v-trigger with the biggest potential is the parry. It doesn't activate on the first frame, it activates on the second frame so it can't be used as a reversal but it improves Alex's defense by quite a bit especially in the approach game. In v-trigger he becomes much harder to keep out with projectiles in the mid-range and mid-range extended. He becomes harder to frame trap in close as well. Plus every move he successfully parries increases the duration of the v-trigger. So while the gimmick aspect of the v-trigger will probably fade in a few weeks time, I'm pretty sure this is still going to end up being very strong in the long run.
Okizeme and setups
This is an area of Alex's game that disappoints me a little bit. For grappler and semi-grappler characters the followups you get from basic combos and throws is almost as important as range and damage. And for Alex some of the followups just aren't very good. DaFeetLee put together a pretty comprehensive video detailing most of the situations I'm going to go over here plus some others so give this a look:
We'll start with followups after LP flash chop. All versions of the flash chop are -4 on block and LP flash chop is +2 on hit. So on paper this looks promising; it's safe-ish on block and on hit gives you a strong reset situation. The problem is the range. If the chop isn't done at point blank range, you aren't close enough to get an immediate power bomb meaning that the upcoming mixup just isn't very good. For example, the crouching LP into standing MP into LP flash chop frame trap. If the crouching LP isn't directly on top of the opponent, the followup power bomb isn't going to connect. Same with the standing MP, standing MP into LP flash chop frame trap. There's no range you can hit the initial standing MP to get a power bomb followup. The mixup you get in this case becomes more of a timing mixup, as in WHEN Alex is going to hit the next button as opposed to if he's going to go for a strike or throw.
Followup to the power bomb also looks better on paper than it is in reality. After a power bomb if the opponent quickrises, Alex is +15. Since his dash is 19 frames, a dash following a power bomb is technically unsafe! For right now the orthodox play following a power bomb is either standing HK hoping for a crush counter or light slash elbow. The problem here is that neither of these leave you positive on block. Even being neutral on block is like being negative to Alex since he doesn't have a 3 frame attack. Going for either of these and having them blocked usually means the end of Alex's momentum making them inferior to other grapplers post command grab followups. The followups are roughly similar after a regular forward throw except Alex is +17 on quickrise. This means that a followup dash in is not punishable but it's still not a great idea.
Alex DOES get good followups after the EX air knee and the EX stomp. EX air knee is +23 on quick rise so you get dash into +4, the optimal reset situation. EX stomp causes a forced hard knockdown giving him 43 frames to work with. This gives him plenty of options, either he can do a double dash into a +5 situation, or a dash into meaty lariat or walk forward into either an air attack or empty jump low.
So overall his midscreen okizeme is a mixed bag for now, but this is a bit of a disappointment because a mixed bag isn't good enough; this should be an area where he shines. He gets significantly better options from uncommon situations than he does off his most common situations, the light flash chop, the power bomb and the forward throw. If Alex scientists can find better options than what people are using right now then this is a major opportunity for the character to improve overnight but it doesn't look like the math is going to work out. If you're fighting against an Alex player though, this is a reminder to quick rise as often as possible; if you stay down all you're doing is giving him options the designers didn't want him to have.
Random charge tricks
In theory the headbutt is one of Alex's best moves. Unfortunately it requires a down charge and the moves that you'd want to cancel into headbutt are standing moves. So in this video I put together I show a couple different setups, with different ways to get the cancel.
The first one is a cancel off the standing LP giving Alex an immediate mixup off an anti-air situation. As you can see from the inputs, the method I use to do this cancel is to build the charge, release to neutral, hit the button, then finish the motion with up+LP. Think of it as a 4 step process done as quickly as possible. The mixup itself works because LP cancelled into headbutt does not look all that different from LP into a normal jump looking to set up a crossup or an empty jump setup. If you get in the habit of using this setup, occasionally throw in one of the normal jump options just to throw them off and keep the opponent thinking “block” as a wakeup option. As mentioned earlier, it seems like stomp would be another good thing to mix up with, but since both stomp and headbutt lose to jump straight up, mixing in stomp probably won't raise your success rate long term.
The second example shown here comes off a basic frame trap, the crouching LP into stand MP 4 frame gap. The method I used for this cancel was more of a rolling method, building the charge on down, rolling to back+MP, then finishing the motion with up (in this case up-forward because I was mashing) into LP to complete. For whatever reason, canceling standing moves into headbutt hits a blind spot with most players; most players just aren't doing a good job avoiding this for right now. Whether it's the surprise of seeing a down charge move coming from a standing position or just general unfamiliarity with the character, this is working right now. It may be a week 1 gimmick but it's something to look at more closely.
If you plan on making standing moves into headbutt a part of your game, I recommend using the first method and going into neutral before completing the motion. The second method comes dangerously close to the command for power bomb and you really don't want to whiff that in close. In the end though, whatever you'll be most consistent with is the best solution.
The final video for the day comes from Gilley and it's a demonstration of how Alex can dash forward into EX elbow slash. Like the previous video this isn't Alex specific tech—the same sort of thing works with Chun-Li where she can do dash into EX kikoken and since her dash is 4 frames faster it's easier with her—but it has special uses for this character.
If dash into power bomb is a part of your gameplan, this is another trick you should work on. The standard responses for dash into power bomb are buttons and back dash and since elbow has a hit of armor, this technique will beat both of those counters. The execution on this is not easy; since Gilley showed this one off, I've been working with it and my success rate is around 10% but just because something is hard now doesn't mean that it can't be mastered.
Obviously one week of play is not enough time to make any kind of overarching pronouncements about how a character is going to play or what their endgame is going to look like but there are positives and negatives here. I question how Alex is going to do long term against characters like Chun-Li and Ryu, characters that as of now are very important to the balance of the game. Characters who have projectiles to bother him in the mid-range until he can build up v-trigger, characters who take advantage of his lack of a reversal and lack of a 3 frame LP in the pressure game, and characters with functioning reversals to attack his mixups and resets. It's possible that these matchups could get easier in time as we learn more but there are factors that strongly suggest that Alex will have the same problems in these matchups that a character like Laura has.
On the positive side it doesn't seem like Alex is a weak character. If he ends up struggling with Chun-Li and Ryu, then he can join the club; those two seem to be either the 2 strongest in the game right now or at the very least 2 of the top 5. Against characters who don't have these tools that bother him, he can put up big damage very quickly; if he's holding v-trigger he really only needs one jumpin or one crush counter and a reset to put the opponent in immediate danger of getting stunned and losing the round. He has the same snowball damage potential that R.Mika has, with buttons borrowed from Birdie and Zangief.
But therein lies the rub. As I said earlier, he may not be exactly the same as any of the other grappler characters, but he's not dramatically different. If you were looking forward to Alex because you wanted to play a grappler but didn't like how any of the existing SF5 grapplers played, I don't think Alex's mix of tools is going to change your mind. He may end up a little bit better than the other 4 or a little bit worse, but he's part of the family. Take that for what you will.
That's all for this week. Next week we'll get to that piece on wakeup LP that was promised for last week. See you then!