The Super Smash Bros. series are fighting games unlike any other! Even to a seasoned fighting game veteran, the gameplay of Smash is very different. However, the mechanics of the game is quite simple, and even the most novice players can get a good idea of how to play within a few minutes.
The basic objective
Unlike other fighting games, Smash Bros. does not have a life meter. Instead, it has a damage percentage, which is usually visible on the lower screen in the 3DS version, or at the bottom of the screen in the Wii U version. Whereas health meters usually go down, the damage percentage of every character goes up instead whenever they are hit. The higher a character's damage is, the further they will be launched. If a character is knocked so far that they exceed the boundaries of the battle arena, they are KO'd.
Getting a KO doesn't mean a player is out of the game, and is not necessarily the requirement for winning. After a KO, the player will usually be brought back on a hovering respawn platform which will disappear after a set amount of time, although one can choose to get off by moving or attacking. Your character is invincible while on the respawn platform, and for a short while afterward.
Characters in Smash Bros. have several forms of locomotion, which makes movement fairly flexible and free. Be familiar with movement options because good mobility is the key to a good offense and a good defense.
Walking is the most basic form of movement available. Simply tilt the control stick left or right to move in that direction. The more you tilt the control stick, the faster your character moves. Walking is not a very quick mode of travel, but you have many options out of it. You can do any grounded attack at any point during the walk, as well as other commands such as jumping, ducking, grabbing or shielding. This video compares every character's walking speed (as of 8/9/15): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EXABq5nTUE.
Dashing (AKA "running") is done by tapping the control stick left or right quickly. A dash is faster than a walk, but your options out of a dash are more limited. Using standard attacks while in a dash will usually result in a dash attack, but you can still use special moves without any problem. You can also jump, grab or shield out of a dash. Learning how to fully utilize your options and overcome limitations during your dash is one of the most important ways to improve as a player. This video compares every character's running speed (as of 3/17/15, excluding Mii fighters): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mGNcOxaMyw.
While you can turn around at any time during a walk instantly, dashing is a different case. Whenever you initiate a dash, you will enter a brief initial dash state, before advancing to the continuous run state. During the initial dash, you can instantly reverse your direction without penalty. This is called a "dashdance", but its timing is very strict, so it is often only used once or twice to fake out your foes before committing to a dash. There are many techniques related to this initial dash state, but they will be covered a bit later down the page.
If you reverse direction after the initial dash, your character will perform a turnaround animation. This act of turning around is called "pivoting". Different characters have different pivot durations and animations, with some able to use repeated pivots to confuse opponents and make themselves more slippery, with Rosalina being a good example. Your options are mostly restricted during the pivot animation, but you can use a Strong Side Attack, a Side Smash or a grab to cancel the pivot.
Ducking and crawling
While ducking isn't really a form of movement, crawling certainly is. Tilt the control stick down to duck. The main purpose of ducking is to lower your character's profile, making you harder to hit. The effectiveness of ducking varies from character to character, ranging from useless in the case of Ganondorf and King Dedede to very effective for characters like Kirby and Wii Fit Trainer. This video compares the ducks of every character (as of 4/21/15): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EMP6nkGULs.
Every character can duck, but only a select few can crawl. Crawling is much slower than walking or dashing, but it allows our character to stay low on the ground while moving forward or backward. While you can change direction, you will always be facing the same direction during a crawl, depending on where you were facing when you started crawling. Crawling is seldom used, usually in brief moments to dodge under projectile while advancing forward.
Jumping is your primary way of taking the fight to the air. Unlike traditional fighting games, Smash Bros. is very conducive to air battles, with more freedom in your jumps and aerial mobility. Of course, this is to complement the King of the Hill-style gameplay of the series, which will often see you going offstage to secure a KO.
Every character in the game has both a starting jump whenever they're on the ground, as well as one double jump or midair jump. Some characters like Kirby have additional midair jumps. You are locked into the direction you're facing when you make a jump, unless your character has more than one midair jump, in which case you can choose to turn around after the first jump.
There are additionally two types of grounded jumps. There's the normal jump that you'll usually get by pressing the jump button, and the Short Hop or Low Jump that is half the height of the normal jump, done by tapping the jump button briefly. Short hops are often employed when you want to use an aerial attack against a grounded foe, or to make quick leaps over projectiles.
Instead of fixed jump arcs, the Smash Bros. series allows for fluid aerial movement. In the air, you can direct your character left and right, letting you maneuver and land with precision. Different characters have different lateral air speeds. Characters with high air speed like Yoshi generally fare better in air battles than characters with low air speeds like Luigi. Additionally, each character also has a set fall speed that determines how fast they fall. Generally, heavyweights fall faster while lightweights are floaty. Tilting the control stick down while falling will greatly increase your fall speed, usually used to make a quick landing or adjust the placement of your attacks. This video compares the aerial movement of all characters (as of 2/25/15, excluding Mii fighters): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMWRRzwSHag.
The components of an attack
Almost every attack has two major properties, their damage and knockback. Whenever an attack lands, a set amount of damage is added to the character's damage percentage. This damage number is not absolute, and it can be influenced by where and when it strikes, as well as several attack and defense modifiers. For most of the game, every player must focus on building up damage so that opponents are easier to KO, whether incrementally with projectiles or in large chunks with powerful attacks. Curiously, moves often deal damage in decimals, but they are always represented as integers in-game.
While an attack's damage doesn't deviate often or with great magnitude, its knockback is much more malleable. An attack's knockback is composed of two values: the base knockback and the knockback growth. The base knockback of an attack is how much knockback the attack initially does. At 0%, the base knockback alone determines which attack will send foes further. On the other hand, a move's knockback growth determines how much the knockback increases with damage. Assume two moves with the same knockback hit at the same damage percent, the move with higher knockback growth will launch foes further. Attacks with no knockback growth are said to do "set knockback".
Basic Ground Attacks
Pressing the attack button without tilting the control stick on the ground causes the character to do a certain attack. Some characters like Kirby can do a rapid jab, which consists of multiple hits. The rapid jab eventually transitions into a finishing hit that can send foes flying. However, the character will gradually move backwards when doing it against a wall.
Tilting the control stick on the ground while pressing the attack button causes a character to do a tilt. There are three kinds of tilts: up tilt, down tilt, and side tilt. Each cause a different amount of damage.