Special Attacks are an integral mechanic in 2D fighting games that was made popular by the early entries of the Street Fighter series. They are attacks unique to each character that often deal more damage than Normal Attacks, Command Normals, and Normal Throws, but not as much damage as Super Attacks. In most fighting games, Specials are activated with a series of three or more joystick inputs followed by a button press.
Though early martial arts games such as Shanghai Kid contains moves similar to modern-day special moves, most aspects of modern Special Moves originated in the first game of the Street Fighter series. The game's three special moves, Hadoken, Shoryuken, and Tatsumaki Senpukyaku, dealt massive amounts of damage; however, performing these moves consistently required a certain level of precision. Street Fighter II made special moves easier to perform, thanks to an "input buffer" that ignores many irrelevant inputs made by the player, but reduced the damage that they inflicted.
Street Fighter II also introduced "2-in-1", where the player can cancel the recovery time of a successful normal attack with a Special Attack. 2-in-1s, combined with the unintended ability to strike the opponent with multiple normal attacks in a row, led to the creation of Combos.
Types of Special Moves
Special moves allow characters to perform all sorts of attacks; some are mundane, while others are neigh superhuman in nature. These moves can, for the most part, be divided into several different categories:
The most famous type of special move, the projectile and its importance is arguably the key difference between 2D and 3D fighters. Projectiles are used to either deal damage directly or force the player to move into a disadvantageous position.
The Anti-Air, made famous by Ryu's Shoryuken, is a move designed to punish the opponent for taking to the air. Many of these moves cover a great deal of vertical distance.
Screen Traversal moves such as Ryu's Tatsumaki Senpukyaku cover a great deal of horizontal distance. Instead of attempting to hit an opponent, players might use a screen traversal move to safely position themselves.
A Command Grab, like a normal grab, is completely unblockable. Command Grabs can therefore be used to punish opponents that repeatedly block attacks. Zangief's Spinning Piledriver is arguably the most famous command grab.
Rekka moves, named after Fei-Long's Rekkaken, are moves with followup attacks that are activated via extra input by the player. Some Rekkas only cancel into themselves (Rekkaken), some Rekkas has multiple potential followups (Karin's Guren Ken and Abel's Change of Direction), while nearly the entirety of KOF fighter Angel's moveset could be considered a giant rekka.
These moves are not designed to deal direct damage, but instead interact with the opponent's attack. Geese Howard is infamous for his physical attack counters, Rose can reflect projectiles, and Juri can quickly reposition herself if hit during Kasatushi.
Some characters can activate a powerup with a special move. Examples include Sagat's Angry Scar, Juggernaut's damage increase, and Hurricane Polimar's poses.
Special Move Inputs
Unlike Normals (which simply require a button press) or Command Normals (which require a single directional input and a button press), Special Moves usually require at least three directional motions and a button press. If the game's control scheme separates Punches and Kicks, then the button press will either be a Punch or a Kick, with each button strength (Light, Medium, Heavy) offering a different variation on the move. Inputs are often used as a method of balancing character attacks; for example, Zangief's Spinning Piledriver would likely be considered overpowered if it were given the same motion as Ryu's Hadoken.
When writing down the inputs required to perform a move, English-speaking Capcom and SNK fans often use "Capcom notation," while other fighting game communities use "Numpad notation." Capcom notation shortens the most common input patterns into three-letter abbreviations, while Numpad notation maps the directions of the joystick to the 3x3 Numpad present on many keyboards.
The following lists the representation of the 8 possible joystick directions in each notation:
Special Move inputs can be broken into several categories:
Rotating the joystick in an arc, or pressing the D-pad along a similar sequence, followed by the press of a button. The advantage of this form of move is its quick initiation. These moves can be further subdivided into several subcategories:
- Quarter-Circle inputs are either Down, Down-Forward, Forward (QCF/236) or Down, Down-Back, Back (QCB/214). Quarter-Circle moves are the easiest to input. Quarter-Circle-Forward is the most common input for Projectile attacks.
- Half-Circle inputs require the player to roll the joystick downward from Back to Forward (HCF/41236) or vice versa (HCB/63214). These moves are usually stronger attacks; command grabs are often mapped to HCF, while "safer" moves use HCB (as players can easily block instead of completing the input).
- Shoryuken/Dragon Punch inputs require players to either draw a "Z" or reversed Z with the joystick. The forward variation is Forward, Down, Down-Forward (DP/623) while the back variation is Back, Down, Down-Back (RDP/421). This type of motion is almost exclusively used by Anti-Air moves or attacks that otherwise behave like Shoryuken.
- Full Circle inputs (labeled 360 in both notations) require the player to rotate the joystick until it touches all four cardinal directions. This motion is reserved for powerful command grabs.
- HCB, F (632146) is an input that is usually only seen in KOF. It is a command grab input that is used by Iori, Kasumi, and Elisabeth, among others.
Press a certain direction for roughly two seconds then press its opposite together with a button. Can't be used quite as spontaneously as motion-based moves, as the player must prepare it first, but they are usually easy to use on reflex.
The game will accept diagonal inputs; if the move requires that the player hold Back, holding Down-back or Up-back will be accepted as well. Also, the player can perform other attacks while charging the move.
The player holds down a certain number of buttons for a short while. The attack triggers if the character is able to attack when the player releases said button(s). Attacks of this type include Balrog's Turn Punch and Cody's Zonk Knuckle.
The least common form of input, these moves are executed by pressing an attack button three or four times in quick succession. These usually can't be initiated immediately, as they take several button presses before they start.
Press two or more buttons together to initiate these moves. They can be initaited quickly and easily, but are relatively uncommon. Zangief's lariats use this type of input.
Mortal Kombat Special Moves
Mortal Kombat's Special Moves do not follow any of the above input rules; motions do not use diagonal inputs, moves require a specific attack type/strength combination (for example, an attack might require a Right Punch button press in MK, while it would simply require a Punch in other fighters), and the number of directional input possibilities is drastically increased.
As Mortal Kombat's Block button prevents crossups (attacks that force opponents to block in reverse), the series features many attacks that strike the opponent from behind.
Super Smash Bros. Special Moves
Another series that breaks special move conventions is Super Smash Bros. In this series, normal attacks are relegated to the A button or right analogue stick, and special moves are all activated by simply inputting the B-button combined with a direction on the left analogue stick. Each character has a neutral special activated by pressing B without inputting a direction, as well as an up special, down special, and side special. In most cases, a character's up special is also used as a second midair jump.
Special moves in Super Smash Bros. are usually used to reference a character's abilities in the game or franchise from where they originate. For example, Mario's special attacks include throwing a fireball, swooping his Super Mario World cape, charging and firing his F.L.U.U.D. water cannon from Super Mario Sunshine, and a jumping punch which makes a coin sound effect.