In order to be successful in Street Fighter IV, and of course, any fighting game, a large amount of time is demanded by the training room. Because modern fighting games have in-depth training rooms that allow you to change the properties of your bot, you can use the training room to practice on different targets, like crouching enemies, standing enemies, and jumping enemies as well.
Spending time practicing combos is absolutely essential to pulling them off in match situations and using your character to their fullest potential.
Getting the most out of Training Mode
First of all, hitboxes change depending on whether your opponent is standing or crouching, and no two characters have the same hitboxes. In some cases, characters like Abel and Balrog have strange standing hitboxes that don’t get hit by some combos, but have fat crouching stances that’ll eat anything. Conversely, standing Chun Li can eat a lot of combos, but crouching Chun Li can avoid a wide variety of attacks aimed higher up. Cycle different characters through your training regimen every time you sit down to train, and make sure you spend a healthy amount of time practicing combos on standing and crouching opponents, to be absolutely sure which strings are capable of hitting opponents depending on their state.
Also, though you might know the range of your own normals, the horizontal and vertical hitboxes of other characters in different positions might not be totally aware to you. Use this time to figure out if a characters’ hitbox is deceptive and could be used to your advantage in a footsie battle. Training mode is a great means of figuring out exactly which ranges are the best for your character, but it depends on the matchup.
The most important attribute of training room in my eyes is the ability to practice hit confirms. Of course, it’s important that anyone spends a long amount of time practicing combos to ensure that any hit can be turned into a powerful combo, but hit confirming provides an absolutely necessary part of any character’s offense that I feel is widely understated by most players.
I’ll use Vega as an example. His crouching medium kick is an amazing opener in terms of grounded offense, as it comes out in six frames, reaches very far, hits low, and leads into combos on hit and has good frame advantage on block. Hit confirming out of crouching medium kick is very useful as since the move has good data on block, you don’t want to waste a blocked crouching medium kick by always performing the ideal follow-up, crouching medium punch. Instead, you have to be ready to adapt and notice that the crouching medium kick was blocked, and choose your offense carefully afterwards. By not practicing hit confirming you can sacrifice valuable offensive pressure that comes off of good pokes such as crouching medium kick and Vega’s stand light kick.
After a crouching medium kick, you can connect with crouching light punch, crouching medium punch, crouching fierce punch, and stand light kick. Each of these options are useful in different situations – I could tell you exactly why, but following up with each of them happens because of reasons that are part of niches deep in Vega’s moveset. The point is, any time you have a move that can be followed up with another move, your job is to figure out how you can apply them. Each of the four moves Vega can follow up a connected crouching medium kick with have their own purpose, and function together to make crouching medium kick a more effective move on its own.
But doing these moves every time someone blocks a crouching medium kick means you are using crouching medium kick to only 50% effectiveness. The move is +2 on block and the recovery has enough time such that you can react to whether it was blocked or not, so this window is available for you to maintain follow up pressure. If your opponent blocks a crouching medium kick but were to get hit by the next move you did, what would you do? Can you combo from that range? What if they block the next move instead, but you want to maintain offensive pressure? Spending time in the lab beating on a dummy with random block will eventually solve all of these questions, as long as you are making an active, concentrated effort to hit confirm your moves.
Even a bot can be unpredictable
For that reason, I spend a great deal of time in training mode with the dummy on random block. Hit confirming for a poke-based character like Vega is too important to ignore, and in truth, every character in the game has hit confirms of their own. This goes for Marvel and King of Fighters as well – putting your dummy on to randomly advance guard in Marvel is an additional element that allows you to feel out situations that will be reproduced in matches often. Being comfortable with these situations before they happen is a necessity.
In fact, the more options you have to “randomly” occur so as to replicate the action of actual matches, the better. Turn them all onto random. For Street Fighter, you can also use Random Counter Hit and Random Quick Rise which adds more elements to your training. Counter hits open up new possibilities in terms of combos, and if you can react fast enough to hit confirm off of single-hit moves like Vega’s crouching medium kick, you should begin to learn how to counter-hit confirm off of the message that appears on your “Player” side of the screen.
Some counter hit confirms, like off of a single jab or short, are simply impractical. Evil Ryu can perform a combo into a crouching fierce off of a crouching jab counter hit, which allows him to force his opponents to stand and eat heavier combos from a further distance than the bread-and-butter close fierce. However, the recovery time of a jab is so small that hit confirming into a crouch fierce only if it’s a counter-hit and a close fierce if it isn’t requires faster reactions than I think possible. For this reason, some counter-hit strings are designed to “fish” for counter hits as opposed to poke someone, react to the fact that it was a counter hit, and change your combo from there. Simply tightening the execution of counter-hit combos like Evil Ryu’s crouch jab to crouch fierce is a more realistic option than to counter-hit confirm it.
Step up your efficiency
Practice all of your strings – any possible combination, repeatedly, and find ways to maximize damage off of it. Confirm that if your opponent blocks, you will follow it up with something other than the move you usually combo with – in addition to that, use overheads to get a better sense of their spacing, practice kara throwing, and jump at them, hit confirming off of your jump. Practicing with random block on not only gives you a better sense of hit confirming your own moves, but will also improve your reactions in the long run. By practicing hit confirms on certain moves which require sharp reactions, you’ll rely more on your own reactions more often, enabling you to react faster in other situations as well.
Training mode is also an excellent opportunity to practice more setups on your opponent. I know that since Vega knocks down an opponent for 60 frames after an EX Flying Barcelona, I have a myriad of setups. If I want to hit someone meaty reliably, I know that I have to hit them on the 60th frame – therefore, if I know my frame data well enough, I can actually construct a set up that will allow moves with certain startups to hit on later active frames and be meaty. All it takes is the knowledge of your characters’ hard knockdowns and consulting your frame data.
If you consistently go for a meaty combo that you know works only if the move hits in later active frames, keep practicing the setup with your opponent on “No Block” until the combo connects. Figure out a set up for every conceivable knockdown you can get – both throws, sweeps, special moves, as much as you can. Continually practice setups that you know work only if you are doing moves meaty – and trust me, every character is going to have them somewhere.
The real test: facing down other players
By practicing hit confirms and setups on downed characters, you are essentially ensuring that every time you are successful with something in a match, you have a follow up. Any connected move becomes a full combo, while any blocked move is coupled with a reactive adjustment to your offense. All knockdowns and throws serve to compound your momentum and provide a bigger payoff for your correct guesses. Training mode is important for those reasons – though it’s hard to practice zoning and really learn matchups in training mode, what you can always do is enhance your own technical play. It increases your potential.
Though training mode is important, practicing on a moving target is essential. Give casual matches a purpose – practice hit confirming with the same moves you strung together in training, and use all of your setups every time you gain a knockdown. You can spend time on something for days, but not gaining the presence of mind necessary to replicate it in a match is going halfway. Otherwise, how else will you be able to rely on your secret tactics in a tournament match? Training mode is a Street Fighter’s gym. Use it as an athlete would use their own gym.