I always wondered why Balrog was top tier in both SF4 and SSF4 yet never won major tournaments. After some thinking I believe I’ve found the answer. To keep it simple Balrog has bad offense and defense but good zoning. In fact his zoning is so good that everyone overlooks how bad is offense and defense are. Lets break it down:
Offense- He doesn’t have much of a high/low/throw mix-up game since his only high attack is dash swing blow which is easy to react to and punish. He entirely lacks any kind of cross-up (unless you count corpse hops with head butts) or command throw. His only reliable way to deal chip damage is a well spaced jab dash straight but that can be punished by a focus attack. Of course you can play a guessing game though by mixing in dash smash, but unless you’re burning ex meter to do it then the guessing game isn’t in you favor. The only positive side to his offense is his ability to lock down an opponent (especially in the corner) with jab pressure, but with none of the above what is he going to do out of a lock down? The inevitable throw? A frame trap to bait throw techs? That can get predictable very fast.
Defense- Now defense is pretty universal across all characters, you block attacks and break throws. The only defining characteristics are a characters reversal options. Now Balrog has quite a few viable reversal options between head butt, super, ultra, TAP, and ex dash punches. All of those options have one critical flaw though, they can all be safe jumped. The fastest ones are jab head butt and super, both come out at 8 frames which are easy to safe jump. The only thing saving Balrog’s defense is his 3 frame jab which allows him to interrupt block strings that are normally safe against other characters.
Zoning- This is the one area that makes Balrog good. He has one of the best set of normals in the entire game. His pokes along with dash punches allow him to control mid range very well. Off beat jab dash straights can throw off a players timing and ex dash punches can beat out random pokes. He even has good anti-airs to complement his ground game with crouching fierce and head butt. He’s also surprisingly hard to zone with fireballs since TAP, head butt, ex dash punches, super, and ultra can all go through them. He even has some tricks like option select armor cancels and dash super/ultra to ensure that fireballs aren’t a threat to him.
Now with all of that said I still think Balrog is a good character but he seems to fall apart at higher levels. Balrog depends on gaining a solid life lead to force his opponent to come to him and deal with his zoning game which ends up widening his life lead. Of course this can be turned around and if the opponent can obtain a solid life lead first then play some good defense then they will beat Balrog. Admittedly though it is very hard to gain a solid life lead against Balrog because his zoning is good, but if a player can get past it then it becomes much easier because Balrog had bad defense, and once the opponent establishes a solid life lead it becomes hard for Balrog to come back because he has bad offense.
Any comments are welcome. On a final note, I’m switching to Dan.