If you’ve ever played Super Street Fighter IV’s trial mode, then odds are you’ve run into the type of challenge displayed above. After the challenge mode covers each character’s special moves, they go into a section on link combos. Pictured above is Cammy’s level 8 trial, which asks you to combo crouching hard punch into crouching medium kick. For the uninitiated, this seems like something that would be very easy to do. After hours of switching from character-to-character to see if these would get any easier, I gave up in frustration. I thought I was the worst Street Fighter player of all-time for not being able to make two button presses combo into each other. However, as I started to investigate, it turns out there’s a lot more to this than simply hitting two buttons in succession.
Street Fighter IV Series and Link Combos
Each fighting game has a series of mechanics that dictate what moves can connect to each other as a combo. I’ve outlined many of these core combo mechanics in one of my previous Universal Fighting Game Guide posts. The Street Fighter IV series in particular relies heavily on the use of link combos, which allow a second move to combo from the first move thanks to the opponent being in hit-stun from the first move. If you’re unsure what that means, the easiest link combo you can do for most characters in the Street Fighter IV series is to mash on the light punch or light kick attack repeatedly. That string of light punches or light kicks will link into each other, because the time it takes for the next light attack to come out is shorter than the time it takes for the opponent to recover from the previous light punch.
However, when you want to start linking attacks of varying strengths (particularly from a weaker attack to a stronger attack) the timing window of opportunity to make those moves connect shrinks dramatically. In the Street Fighter IV series, most of the link combos requiring you to connect stronger attacks together only give you a timing window of one-to-two frames, which is very small. I don’t know exactly what the timing is on Cammy’s crouching hard punch into crouching medium kick combo, but I’m certain that it is a one-to-two frame link.
Wait, what are frames and why do they matter here?
I guess before I go into why one-to-two frame links are tough, let’s talk about what frames are and what they mean in this context. For fighting games, frames refers to the frames of animation used in order to make everything move. The Street Fighter IV series of games animate at 60 frames per second. Therefore, you can also use the term frame as a unit of measure. In this case, 1 frame = 1/60th of a second.
Why does this matter? For Street Fighter IV, a game where a large number of link combos have a timing window of one-to-two frames, that means that you only have 1-to-2 60ths of a second to connect moves together. That Cammy combo example at the top of this post? You have a one or two 60ths of a second window to hit the medium kick in order for it to properly combo from the crouching heavy punch. Needless to say, this is not an easy feat to do at all, let alone consistently.
The mistake I made in interpreting one and two-frame links
When I started reading up on one-frame and two-frame links, I misunderstood exactly what that actually meant. Let’s use the Cammy crouching heavy punch into crouching medium kick that is in the video above. I interpreted links as, “If this is a one-to-two frame link, I have one-to-two frames after my first button press to input my second button press.” This is wrong. What this made me do was mash the crouching medium kick button as fast as i could in order for it to come out on time. Once in a blue moon, I’d get the kick to link with the punch, but the vast majority of the time nothing would come out.
The trick is, that one-to-two frame window to input the following attack isn’t immediately after the previous button input. The time in between any two given attacks will vary depending on what attacks you want to link. However, regardless of the timing between the two inputs, the one-to-two frame window in which any two attacks have in order to combo into each other stays constant (for the most part, but that’s a different discussion). That being said, it’s not about mashing buttons in order to make the crouching heavy punch connect into the medium kick, it’s about knowing where that one-to-two 6oths of a second window is in order to hit the medium kick button in time. Needless to say, finding and consistently hitting any given one-to-two 60th of a second window between any two moves is not easy.
The joys of priority linking (plinking)
Hitting a link that has a window of one-to-two 60ths of a second is hard. However, in the Street Fighter IV series, there is a way to expand that timing window just a bit if you press your buttons a specific way. This particular technique is known as priority linking (or plinking for short). I’m no expert on plinking, but I’ll explain the concept as best I can. I’ve also included a tutorial video above on what it is and how it works.
Due to the way Street Fighter IV was designed, there’s a quirk in how the game reads inputs. If you hit a punch button, and hit a punch button of one level of strength lower immediately after (almost like a piano roll, but faster), the game will read the stronger attack as being inputted twice in succession, even though you’ve only hit the stronger punch once. If you’ve done it properly, the game will read your plink like this:
Note that only two buttons were pressed, but the game reads this as three if you properly plink it.
What does this mean? Let’s go back to the original example again with Cammy’s crouching heavy punch into crouching medium kick combo. If the timing of that link is 1/60th of a second, and you plink the medium kick, it will give you two chances to hit that link instead of one. Essentially, it turns one frame link windows into two frame links, and two frame links into three frame links. While this doesn’t sound like it would help much, with a lot of practice, plinking can absolutely help your Street Fighter IV execution.
My experiences with plinking
I’ve known about the plinking technique for quite some time. When I first discovered it, I noticed that it did help a bit, but I could never get my links down consistently enough to get me to keep trying. In a game of Street Fighter, dropping a combo can cost you the match, and I felt more confident in going with the shorter, less damaging combos I knew I could hit consistently rather than taking a risk and going for a bigger combo.
I’ve grown quite a bit as a competitive fighting game player in terms of my knowledge, strategy and tactics. After my experience at T12: Toronto Fighting Game Championships though, it became readily apparent to me that I would need to incorporate more link combos into my game for bigger damage if I wanted to compete at tournament level. Since then, I’ve been working hard to incorporate plinking into my game, while eliminating some bad habits in the process.
Below is a video I made of myself playing as Cammy. I’ve been practicing this with Cammy in particular as large link combos are a huge part of her game. While these combos aren’t going to make Daigo jealous, these are definitely more intermediate-to-advanced combos. I run through a handful of combos and also show each one in slow motion. Notes on each combo along with timestamps are below:
1) (0:00-0:10) Crouching light kick, linked to crouching light punch, plinked into crouching medium punch, cancelled into heavy spiral arrow. Note the inputs on the left how the game reads medium punch (yellow) twice, with the upper one alongside the light punch (blue). This shows that I properly executed the plink. I’ll show this for the other combos in this video as well.
2) (0:10-0:17) Standing medium punch, plinked into crouching heavy punch
3) (0:18-0:30) Crouching light kick, linked to standing light punch, plinked into standing hard punch, cancelled into hard spiral arrow
4) (0:32-0:47) EX instant cannon strike, linked into standing medium punch, plinked into standing heavy punch, cancelled into heavy spiral arrow
Over the past few days, I think I’ve made great strides in my ability to plink. I’ve gotten myself to a point with my Cammy where I’m able to pull some of these combos in actual matches. If I keep at it, I may be able to make this a part of my game across all characters.
Do you plink? If you don’t and play Street Fighter IV, does this post help you at all? Let me know in the comments!