Super Smash Pro - Interview with Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma
Hungrybox celebrates a win at the Nintendo Super Smash Bros. Invitational at E3. Photo courtesy of David Zhou and Polygon
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U have both been huge critical and financial successes for Nintendo, but how does the competitive community feel about them? I spoke with Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, one of the top five Super Smash Bros. Melee players in the world, about his experiences playing competitive Smash and his initial feelings on the new games.
This interview was conducted shortly before the release of Super Smash Bros for Wii U
Game Informer: Tell me a bit about yourself. What is your gaming background, and what led you to play Smash competitively?
Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma: Currently I’m a senior chemical engineering student at the University of Florida and I’ve been playing Smash competitively since about 2007. I just started playing in fifth grade with my buddy because we were both really competitive. We destroyed our first few tournaments, and we really enjoyed the experience, so we pretty much just kept going to the events. Eventually he had to go to school but I kept going and eventually I started placing well enough to make some money because I started playing a lot with my friends and I started traveling more often. One thing led to another and I was in the right place at the right time. Because of that I was able to get really good at different match ups. I had a crew called WATO that was really supportive and really educational. So it was just a situation of being in the right place at the right time.
Through that I just had more ability to become really familiar with the game and now somehow I’m in the Big 5, worldwide. One of the top five players in the world. It has been good receiving that level of respect and at the same time it’s been hard because I have to live up to a certain potential each time I do go to an event, but I enjoy it. I do enjoy the fact that I am a representative in the community and I do what I can to make sure I commit to that spot.
Do you play games outside of Smash for fun?
I used to back when I was in middle and early high school. I don’t really have time to play any other game, really. The funny thing is I’m not a gamer, I’m a Smasher. I don’t play any other game other than Smash. So because of that I focus on what I’m good at – studying and Smash Bros. When I finish school I might get back to gaming because there are a lot of cool titles. The only other title that I bought ever was, I bought a Wii U for Christmas last year with Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario Bros U. I’ve loved Mario games since I was little so I bought those and those were a lot of fun. I beat them all over the summer, and over winter break.
I’m a Mario fan as well. I always have to buy the new Nintendo consoles so I can play those games.
Yeah, my killer app system was the Game Boy Advance and I just loved it. I bought every top platformer on GBA. The Mario ones, the Kirby ones, and I think actually those platformers is what got me pretty good with spacing and all that. So because those games taught me how to move my character it definitely influenced my style with Jigglypuff in Smash Bros. So I was well equipped for that whole thing, it sort of helped me get good at the game.
You think playing platformers made you a better Smash Bros. player?
Directly. Ask any top Smasher if they were a gamer before they became really good at Smash Bros. Any other applicable strategy that could have been used in other games I’m sure we’ve figured out some way to apply, whether it's mind games, spacing, tricking people, or doing offensive rundown or sort of the rhythm of being offensive.
You mention Kirby which is another game that Sakurai works on. Do you feel like there is a similarity in the momentum of the characters in Smash and characters in Kirby games?
The Kirby games are really interesting because they sort of do teach you that when you have different powers or when you absorb different enemies each hat or move that you get, some are better than others. Some have really good strengths and are really good in certain situations, while others aren’t.
There’s one game – I think it's Kirby and the Amazing Mirror – one of the moves you get in the game is called Smash and it actually is the same moveset as Smash Bros. Side B is hammer, Down B is rock, and all that. It’s really cool because you can use those moves against a variety of other characters. Even though the game doesn’t really teach you directly how to be good at Smash Bros it still helps you to familiarize yourself with the facets of recognizing how certain movesets can have strengths and weaknesses, and sort of getting around those.
How much time do you think you’ve spent with Smash 4 so far?
I would open my 3DS right now and look but it’s in Japanese, I have no idea. Honestly I play Smash 4 whenever I have a free moment, which is very far and few between. I think I’ve played 100 matches on ranked so far. Not too many, but I’ve been playing a good bit. And I played another maybe 50 with my friend Lewis. He’s a Little Mac player, really good from Maine and we play online. So I’ve been learning the game, its ins and outs and such. I use Jigglypuff, and Kirby, and King Dedede in that game. So similar characters to what I used in Brawl. It’s definitely growing on me. So I hope to familiarize myself as much as I can before the actual console release.
How did you feel about the game after you got to play the Wii U version at E3?
The cool thing was that I guess I was a part of the first 20 people in public to ever play the game and that was a really cool experience a bunch of Melee players and a few Brawl players that was the group that was invited to E3 for the big invitational tournament. So going in the first thing you wanna do is see if it’s like Melee or if it’s like Brawl and I saw it on everyone’s face. The first reaction we realized, “Oh wow, this is really really Brawlish,” which wasn’t exactly exciting. I’m sure you’ve heard of all the qualms that happened with Brawl, especially recently. But when you play it a little more and you sort of go a little more in depth with it you realize that, yes, it’s the Brawl engine, but there’s definitely a lot of changes to it. There’s a lot less cheese in the game. Brawl was a lot of cheese. You had Ice Climbers infinite grab, Meta Knight in general. You had characters that were way too crazy. This game, it seems like it’s generally balanced. Not that there’s one really good character, but there’s also 11 other really good characters. People were crazy about Little Mac, but then Rosalina won a tournament, but then Duck Hunt Dog won the first regional I attended, but then I’m playing Jigglypuff and beating everyone, and then apparently Sheik is awesome.
This just keeps happening. People are just discovering more and more characters, and until someone discovers a game changing strategy, like an infinite, which I don’t think will happen because I think Nintendo really focused on that, it’s generally balanced so far. That’s what’s really cool about it. It’s a lot more based on punishing your opponent so aerial combos aren’t really a thing anymore. You can sort of do it if you’re in the right situation, but generally it’s about being grounded and really using your character's strengths. I think that’s best illustrated with Little Mac, because Little Mac is so terrible in the air, on the ground he is insanely good. Nintendo even gave him what’s called Super Armor, which is when you can do a move, and sometimes you will clash moves, two players will hit each other at the same time, but as Little Mac you will take percent and take damage, but you won’t budge and instead your move will go through and actually hit the guy backwards and maybe kill him. So, that is just one way Nintendo I think is really focusing on every single aspect of a strength and a weakness of a character. I thought Ganondorf was terrible, next thing I lose to some random Ganondorf on ranked, so I’m just excited to see what everyone is going to do.
You mentioned a lot of the changes you liked over Brawl. Are there any big changes you wish weren’t there? Anything as bad as tripping?
They took out tripping which is awesome. One thing I’m sort of not getting too used to is the edge mechanic where you can’t edge hog people anymore. For those who don’t know, edge hogging is when you grab the edge and the person Up Bs through you. When you grab the edge you have invincibility. In Melee and in Brawl the player in free fall falls down, you grab the edge and they fall to their death. In Smash 4, that’s just absent now. If you’re on the edge and a person is trying to Up B through you, they replace you on the edge, you get popped off with no damage. So that’s definitely Nintendo sort of appealing to casuals, but that takes away a huge aspect of trying to be strategic in that game. Now it’s just like, how well can you edge guard? Also everyone’s got much better recoveries. It’s just, it further goes closer to Brawl in that respect.
Are you finding that your old mains are working well for you in Smash 4?
I’m liking Jigglypuff a lot. She’s extremely different from Melee, but she’s similar to Brawl, and I think at one point I was considered the best Jigglypuff in Brawl which didn’t mean much really at all since she was horrible in Brawl, but now they took that Brawl Jigglypuff and sort of gave her a couple of buffs here and there, made her a little stronger, made her a little faster, made her Rest a little better. Because of that and the way the game actually handles she is pretty viable now in my opinion. So because of that I'm liking her a lot. Still figuring things out, but I'm getting used to her.
Who are the characters who you think will end up being the top tier? Or is it too early?
In my opinion, early on I think there is no one that is overly broken. I think if one person can discover one very good strategy for a character it will happen, but currently it doesn’t seem to be that way. But if I had to make a prediction I think Duck Hunt Dog is really really good. I think the fact that he can remote control a projectile is incredible. He’s got an incredible amount of range, a really good recovery, just a really really solid character. Rosalina and Luma have the same amount of potential because of the ability of Rosalina and Luma to sort of tag team and do things similar to Ice Climbers, that’s always scary. It’s just way too early to tell apart from those.
Has Smash 4 been popular at Super Smash Bros. Melee tournaments?
It’s the talk of the town, pretty much. Everyone is always really excited because a new Smash is like just another way to express what you wanna do with the medium of the game, and people are excited. But then again there are some people who are bitter at the game. Some people really like Melee, have passion for Melee, and whenever Nintendo makes a game like this they are sort of alienated by it, which is understandable but like, I know for a fact that even if it isn’t truly Melee, there’s still cool aspects to it and they know what they are doing and they are going to include a lot of really fun stuff. You gotta get used to some new stuff, but it will be cool. For Brawlers it’s a dream, for Melee players it’s either a nightmare or something pretty cool if you give it a chance.
You challenged Reggie Film-Aime to Smash Bros. at E3 and he said he was going to "come back next time and kick your ass!" How are you preparing yourself to take him on?
I mean, Reggie is a coward and a fraud. At EVO he said No Johns (Smash Bros. slang for “no excuses”) right after he John’d when I challenged him at E3. So to Reggie I say, I will take you on any time you want in any game you want.
HungryBox is sponsored by Curse Gaming. You can watch his livestream at twitch.tv/juanthefatty. For more on Smash from professional players, check out our interview with the Super Smash Bros. 3DS National Open Tournament Champion Sam “Dubuz” Buzby here.