Falco (ファルコ, Falco) is a hidden character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. He is a clone of Fox, with many of the same moves. However, some of his moves have different properties, making their playstyles somewhat different.
Falco is currently ranked 4rth on the Melee tier list, making him the highest ranked clone character, and newcomer all while this being his best placement in the series marginally. Falco has many combo openers and the options to extend them, most notably a frame 1 launcher in his Reflector and a frame 5 down aerial that spikes powerfully. These tools allow him to easily chain together highly damaging strings that are hard to DI out of. He also possesses very effective edgeguarding options, such as his back air, forward and down smashes, and his aforementioned down air. Falco also has one of the best neutral game options among the entire cast with his Blaster, as it allows him to pressure from afar and approach noncommittally.
Falco, however, is not flawless; he suffers from being light yet having extremely high falling speed and low horizontal air speed. These flaws make him extremely vulnerable to chaingrabs and combos, while his low weight makes him among the easiest to KO horizontally. Additionally, both of his recovery options travel very short distances, giving Falco one of the worst recoveries in the game. Regardless of these flaws, Falco's strengths greatly overwhelm his weaknesses and he has amazing matchups, lacking any negative ones (making him and Fox in Melee, Pikachu in Smash 64 and Meta Knight in Brawl the only characters with no negative matchups) and having only a handful that are considered even.
Due to being a clone of Fox, he possess a similar archetype: he possesses rather high speed to quickly overwhelm the opponent as well as a slew of effective finishers both on the ground and in the air. Contrary to what Falco's in-game trophy says, he does not sacrifice offensive power at all to gain increased jumping prowess; in fact, Falco seems to have gained even more options for KOs, attacks, and combos at a variety of percentages over Fox. Falco's attributes include high traction (giving Falco a somewhat short but quick wavedash), the highest falling speed in the game, and low air speed without momentum from his dash accounted for.
Falco's primary strength is his raw ability to KO without compromising too much speed or combo ability; many of Falco's KOing moves are very fast yet powerful with relatively low startup and ending lag. Falco's sliding forward smash covers a good distance, KOs easily at 90% and makes for a good edgeguard option. Falco's down smash is a powerful semi-spike that is also useful for edgeguarding. Falco's down tilt can KO some characters at as low as 90%; although it is a short ranged attack, it also comes out quickly. Falco's aerial KOing options are also highly varied; Falco's neutral and back aerial attacks are fast with high knockback and duration, and his down aerial is among the most feared attacks in the game; with no sourspot, high speed, spike properties, and a long duration, Falco can quickly and efficiently KO almost any character at low percentages if used correctly. A grounded down aerial can easily combo into a forward smash for yet another deadly KO option.
Falco's approach is also highly effective; with a very versatile projectile in his Blaster, Falco can perform the short hop laser technique, either as a pressure option or as a way to approach. Performing this technique close to opponents almost guarantees free grabs, smashes, or ways to start shine combos. Coupled with low-lag aerials, a short short hop and a high falling speed, Falco has among the best SHFFLs in the game, giving him an incredible aerial approach. On the ground, many of Falco's attacks, while short-ranged, pack good power and relatively low ending lag; despite a short wavedash and an average dashing speed, Falco can still use these two to his advantage, with them being integral to his superb combo ability.
Falco sacrifices a bit of his clone's speed for power, but still excels at performing devastating combos. Many of Falco's approach options also make for great combo starters as well. The core of Falco's combo ability lies in his good SHFFLs and ability to waveshine. Falco's primary form of comboing comes in the form of his pillar, which is notorious for wearing shields down quickly. Pillaring, in its most basic form, is simply chaining the upward vertical knockback of Falco's shine into the spiking hitboxes of his down aerial. To keep his moves fresh, Falco can combo into his other moves, most notably his down and up tilts, wavesmashes, his up throw, and his back and neutral aerials. Falco's down tilt and up throw are viable substitutes for his shine, while his up tilt racks up damage and segues directly into more shines. His smashes also rack up damage quickly but also make excellent KO options after enough beatings from the pillars have been dealt. Jump-canceled shines combo directly into back aerials and neutral aerials. Should the opponent DI close the ground, Falco can chase his opponents with multiple waveshines, depending on the direction. Falco can alternatively wear down shields by weaving back and forth with waveshining.
Additionally, Falco's grab and throw game is decent. Falco's grab range is above-average (tenth longest in the game), and his throws have multiple options; his down throw can potentially combo into a down tilt or start a shine combo, his up throw can start up aerial combos, and his forward and back throws can start edgeguards. However, although he can chain throw floaty characters with his forward throw, he lacks a reliable chain throw, his throws have poor damage output, and his down throw can be teched, leaving him vulnerable. Furthermore, unlike Fox's up throw, which can reliably set up into aerials at certain percents, Falco has a harder time securing follow-ups from his up-throw. This is because the lasers Falco shoots during his up throw animation have hitstun; and therefore, they can be SDI'd by the opponent.
Falco's properties, however, also compose his weaknesses. As with Fox, Falco is light (the 6th lightest character in the game), and is therefore able to be KO'd through the sidelines without difficulty, despite Falco being difficult to KO through the ceiling because of said falling speed. Additionally, despite his high jumps and ability to wall jump, Falco's recovery is among the worst in the game; due to a low air speed and a high falling speed, Falco cannot maneuver effectively off-stage. His up special move, Fire Bird, is also short and easy to gimp; due to its linear nature, attacks such as Marth's Counter, Link's Spin Attack, and Mario's Cape can easily knock Falco away from the ledge when using the moves. Additionally, due to its inability to harm attackers while it charges, Falco is vulnerable to any attack while using the move, particularly meteor smashes or spikes; with correct timing, opponents with reliable spikes, such as Marth or even another Falco, can easily gimp his recovery. As such, Falco is primarily reliant on his side special, Falco Phantasm to recover; however, even that doesn't travel a significant distance, and it still suffers from the linear problems of Fire Bird. To his merit, however, Falco can angle his Fire Bird in many different directions, and he can additionally shorten his Falco Phantasm to avoid going on stage and into the edge, mixing up his recovery options and leaving the opponent guessing. Additionally, Falco's recovery moves have slightly shorter startup lag than Fox's, which can be useful when mixing up the opponent.
Falco's high falling speed also makes him a target for chain throws, especially from characters such as Marth and Peach, though it also gives him the 3rd highest vertical endurance among Melee characters, despite being tied for being the 5th lightest character in the game (only Captain Falcon and Donkey Kong, two much heavier characters by comparison, surpass him in this regard). Falco, along with Fox, has the dubious distinction of having an entire combo named for KOing him easily simply due to his high falling speed (the space animal slayer).
Overall, Falco can be considered to be a slower, but stronger and more combo-heavy version of Fox; while his overall speed is only average among the other characters in the game, his attack speed remains very fast and he can easily land very damaging combos in a short amount of time, sometimes even leading to death for the other player if they cannot DI correctly. Combined with relatively safe approaches against nearly every character in the game, it is possible to make defending against Falco difficult, even at top-level play. Falco has many tools for offense and defense, so players should use his arsenal accordingly to gain the upper hand.
Falco is one of two characters in the game to have no disadvantageous matchups whatsoever, along with Fox, but has more even matchups than most other top tier characters. Falco has seven even matchups, soft counters three characters, counters seven, and hard counters eight. He has the tools to beat every character, though he is particularly vulnerable to chaingrabs from characters such as Marth and Peach, and is very easy to gimp and edgeguard. These disadvantages give him some trouble against characters who have effective edgeguarding tools, such as Jigglypuff, Marth, and Fox. He tends to do well against characters who do not have the tools to properly respond to his combo openers, such as Captain Falcon, and does very well against characters with a lack of reliable horizontal finishers and/or edgeguarding ability, such as Young Link. Overall, Falco's matchup spread is among the best in the game.
Some topics of constant debate in the current metagame are Falco's matchups against Fox and Marth. Falco is one of the only characters in the game that can be argued to have a winning matchup against Fox. His lasers allow him to restrict Fox's movement, and his shine followups on Fox are generally easier to execute than extended combos from Fox against Falco. However, Fox edgeguards Falco much more easily, and the advantages that Falco's lasers provide diminish as players improve and learn counterplay against it. At the top level, though, both characters can usually heavily damage (if not KO) the other as soon as they force an opening. Marth, on the other hand, was long thought to have a close to even matchup against Falco, owing to Falco's superior neutral game. However, Falco mains have been struggling to defeat Marths of similar level in recent times, as he is punished far harder for making a mistake and can easily be gimped at low percentages by Marth. This suggests that risk-reward of interactions in the matchup is against Falco, and many now consider Marth to be a soft counter to him. Two matchups that Falco used to dominate in, though still winning matchups, are no longered looked at as so, with the two characters, Yoshi and Pikachu, metagame advancing in recent years. Pikachu's chain grab and strong edge guarding game having caused players to no longer consider Falco to destroy the character, though the matchup is still considered to be in Falco's favor due to his strong neutral tools and strong punishment game. Another match that was considered unlosable was to Yoshi, who in recent years, his own metagame has been improving. Yoshi has a strong punishment game, strong tools to send Falco off stage to his doom or to set up an edge guard along with having tools to projectile camp Falco himself from the ledge. Though Falco still wins the matchup due to his strong projectile game, strong combo game and having certain tools to break Yoshi's double jump armor which leaves the matchup slightly in Falco's favor, but not considered as unbeatable as it once was.