Helpless (also known as free fall and various other names, and called "fallspecial" in game data) is a state in which characters are unable to take any action, with the exception of grabbing a ledge, maneuvering left/right, fastfalling, or climbing a ladder, until they land on the ground. Helplessness is typically associated with just having used one's triple jump, although it also occurs after using certain other special moves (usually ones which help recovery).
Helplessness most commonly ends upon landing on the ground, although it also ends if characters flinch, allowing them to attack or re-use their triple jump. A helpless character is denoted by both a black overlay and a distinct falling animation.
Curiously, the helpless state gives characters an extra ability in Super Smash Bros.: the ability to fall through soft platforms without landing on them. Starting in Melee, this can be done at any time (not just when a character is helpless).
Moves that invoke helplessness
|All||Air dodge||Melee only.|
|Bowser Jr.||Abandon Ship||Up Special||Can still perform a hammer attack and air dodge, but has no other control.|
|Villager||Balloon Trip||Up Special||Can happen sooner if balloons are popped by opponents. Based on defeated animation of Balloon Fighter.|
|Ice Climbers||Belay||Up Special|
|Zero Suit Samus||Boost Kick||Up Special|
|Sheik||Burst Grenade||Side Special|
|Cloud||Climhazzard||Up Special||If the follow-up attack is executed, Cloud will fall rapidly until he hits either solid ground, grabs the edge of a stage, or bypasses the lower blastline.|
|Ganondorf||Dark Dive||Up Special||If the move's grab connects with an opponent, Ganondorf does not become helpless and can use the move again.|
|Meta Knight||Dimensional Cape||Down Special|
|Zelda||Din's Fire||Side Special|
|Marth, Lucina||Dolphin Slash||Up Special|
|Meta Knight||Drill Rush||Side Special|
|Duck Hunt||Duck Jump||Up Special|
|Yoshi||Egg Roll||Side Special||Does not cause helplessness in SSB4.|
|Olimar||End of Day||Final Smash||Being ejected from the crashing spaceship puts Olimar into a state that is not exactly helplessness (it uses his tumbling animation, lacks the black overlay, and unlike helplessness, prevents his Pikmin from chasing him), but it is essentially the same, as the player can only move to the left and right, and cannot attack or air dodge.|
|Lucario||ExtremeSpeed||Up Special||If Lucario hits a wall during the move, it will wall cling instead of becoming helpless. However, it cannot use the move again.|
|Falco||Falco Phantasm||Side Special||Does not cause helplessness in SSB4.|
|Captain Falcon||Falcon Dive||Up Special||Like Dark Dive, if the move connects with an opponent, Captain Falcon does not become helpless and can use the move again.|
|Zelda||Farore's Wind||Up Special|
|Kirby||Final Cutter||Up Special||Normally, the move does not end until Kirby lands on the ground. However, if the platform Kirby has landed on disappears or something causes him to slide off while he is still in the landing animation (such as falling off a conveyor belt), he will become helpless.|
|Mr. Game & Watch||Fire||Up Special||Only causes helplessness in Melee.|
|Falco||Fire Bird||Up Special|
|Fox||Fire Fox||Up Special|
|Wolf||Fire Wolf||Up Special|
|Ganondorf||Flame Choke||Side Special||If the move connects with an opponent, Ganondorf does not become helpless, although he (and his victim) will fall until he hits the ground.|
|Fox||Fox Illusion||Side Special||Does not cause helplessness in SSB4.|
|Ganondorf||Gerudo Dragon||Side Special||Melee only.|
|Donkey Kong||Giant Punch||Neutral Special||Does not cause helplessness in SSB.|
|Meta Knight, Charizard, Pit||Gliding||If the user has used all their double jumps, they are put into helplessness once the glide ends (either by stalling or by attacking). Brawl only.|
|Samus||Grapple Beam||Grab aerial||Melee only.|
|Wii Fit Trainer||Header||Side Special||Only causes helplessness if the user airdodges during the move.|
|Mii Brawler||Helicopter Kick||Up Special|
|Link, Young Link||Hookshot||Grab aerial||Melee only.|
|Greninja||Hydro Pump||Up Special|
|Little Mac||Jolt Haymaker||Side Special|
|Palutena||Jump Glide||Up Special||Attacking while under the move's effect cancels the glide and triggers helplessness.|
|Rosalina||Launch Star||Up Special|
|Villager||Lloid Rocket||Side Special||Villager only enters helplessness if he rides then jumps off of the Lloid Rocket, does not hit an opponent during the ride, or if Lloid is destroyed. Based on defeated animation of Balloon Fighter.|
|Meta Knight||Mach Tornado||Neutral Special|
|Robin||Nosferatu||Down Special||Robin only enters helplessness after Nosferatu finishes dealing damage to an opponent in mid-air or over a temporary platform that is no longer active.|
|Mii Brawler||Onslaught||Side Special|
|Pac-Man||Pac-Jump||Up Special||All jumps trigger helplessness for Pac-Man and triggers helplessness for others when a fighter lands on the trampoline when it's red.|
|Peach||Peach Parasol||Up Special||Peach only enters helplessness if she decides to fastfall (which retracts the parasol) after using the move - she can also end the helplessness and resume parachuting by pressing up (re-opening it), the only character able to do so. However, if Peach was under the effects of items that make her shrink or grow while she fastfalls, she will become helpless, as her parasol disappears once she's back to normal. The Parasol item allows any character to do this in Melee.|
|Captain Olimar||Pikmin Chain||Up Special||Normally, the Pikmin Chain makes Olimar helpless after the move is used in the air. However, if he uses grounded Pikmin Chain and the platform disappears (such as falling off a conveyor belt), or he uses ground Pikmin Chain while the stage is rotating, he will become helpless. Brawl only.|
|Mii Brawler||Piston Punch||Up Special|
|Ness||PK Flash||Neutral Special|
|Lucas, Ness||PK Freeze||Neutral Special||Ness's variant is accessible via SSB4 customs only.|
|Lucas, Ness||PK Thunder||Up Special|
|Pit, Dark Pit||Power of Flight||Up Special|
|Pikachu||Quick Attack||Up Special|
|Ike||Quick Draw||Side Special||Does not cause helplessness if it hits someone in SSB4.|
|Captain Falcon||Raptor Boost||Side Special|
|Little Mac||Rising Uppercut||Up Special|
|Palutena||Rocket Jump||Up Special|
|Diddy Kong||Rocketbarrel Boost||Up Special|
|Diddy Kong||Rocketbarrel Barrage||Final Smash||Does not cause helplessness in SSB4.|
|Jigglypuff||Rollout||Neutral Special||Only causes helplessness in Melee, as for the latter games Jigglypuff will keep rolling and won't be able to move if it hits while mid-air (making it literally helpless until it lands or takes knockback).|
|Samus||Screw Attack||Up Special|
|Screw Attack (item)||Item||When this item is thrown at opponents (Melee only), they will involuntarily execute a Screw Attack and thus become helpless.|
|Ryu||Shin Shoryuken||Final Smash||Ryu becomes helpless after he executes the final attack, whether it connects or not.|
|Meta Knight||Shuttle Loop||Up Special||In Brawl, while the initial execution of the move does not make Meta Knight helpless, he does become helpless if the glide ends. In SSB4, gliding does not exist and Meta Knight is made helpless after the move concludes.|
|Ryu||Shoryuken||Up Special||The helpless animation starts after Ryu falls below his starting point. Before that, Shoryuken is unique in that it allows none of the usual maneuvering (making Ryu literally helpless).|
|Link, Young Link, Toon Link||Spin Attack||Up Special||Normally, the Spin Attack makes Link, Young Link, or Toon Link helpless after the move was used it in the air. However, if he stands on the platform while using grounded Spin Attack and the platform disappears (such as falling off a conveyor belt), or he used grounded Spin Attack while the stage is rotating, he will become helpless.|
|Donkey Kong||Spinning Kong||Up Special|
|Ice Climbers||Squall Hammer||Side Special|
|King Dedede||Super Dedede Jump||Up Special||Normally, the move does not end until King Dedede lands on the ground. However, if the platform King Dedede has landed on disappears while he is still in the landing animation (such as falling off a conveyor belt), he hits a ceiling while using the move, or the move is cancelled by the user, he will become helpless.|
|Wii Fit Trainer||Super Hoop||Up Special|
|Mario, Luigi, Dr. Mario||Super Jump Punch||Up Special||Their helpless animations are based on the Mario Bros.' death sprite in games such as Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3.|
|Mii Brawler||Ultimate Uppercut||Neutral Special|
|Ivysaur||Vine Whip||Up Special|
|Bowser||Whirling Fortress||Up Special|
|Captain Olimar||Winged Pikmin||Up Special|
|Pit||Wings of Icarus||Up Special||Pit can also avoid becoming helpless by using an aerial attack when using this move. Brawl only.|
|Wolf, Fox||Wolf Flash||Side Special||Fox's variant is accessible via SSB4 customs only, and doesn't cause helplessness for him.|
Landfallspecial and "superdashtechnique"
As a unique animation is used for falling while helpless, characters enter a different animation than usual once they land on the ground. This is called "landfallspecial" internally in Melee. Because air dodging enters this state and wavedashing involves air dodging into the ground, when wavedashing is performed in Melee's debug menu, "landfallspecial" appears for the character state. This originally led some players to believe that the "landfallspecial" designation was specifically designed for wavedashing and that developers put wavedashing in the game intentionally, further fueling the various debates over wavedashing's legitimacy. At one point, the myth morphed to where, instead of just "landfallspecial", there was purportedly another debug mode designation, cited as "superdashtechnique", "superdashattack", or other supposed variants, created solely for the wavedashing animation. All incarnations of this story have been proven false, and should not be themselves taken as evidence that wavedashing was intentionally put or left in Melee.
- The moves Fire, Robo Burner, Spring Jump, and Cypher do not cause helplessness in Brawl, although they do restrict the user's choice of moves until they land - Mr. Game & Watch and Snake simply cannot use the recovery move again, while Sonic cannot use any special moves and R.O.B. cannot air dodge. Through a programming oversight, this condition prevents them from using their recovery move again if grabbed and released without pummeling before touching the ground (except for R.O.B.).
- If Kirby copies a move that causes helplessness, he will be affected just as the original character would be.
- In Brawl, certain characters are unable to naturally become helpless, as they lack any moves that cause it. These characters are Jigglypuff, Sonic, Mr. Game & Watch, Snake, R.O.B., and Zero Suit Samus.
- In fact, R.O.B. is not programmed to have a helpless state in Brawl, and attempting to see it via hacking causes the game to crash. All other characters have a helpless state, even if they cannot enter it without hacking. In Smash 4, Pac-Jump's red trampoline can put any character in a helpless state, and so all characters, including R.O.B., have one in Smash 4.
- In Brawl, since Jigglypuff's and Mr. Game & Watch's air dodge animations carry over from Melee, pausing just before the animation ends allows the player to see their helpless state.
- Additionally, whenever Link, Samus, and Toon Link perform a grab aerial, it's possible to see their helpless animations by pausing just before the animations ends.
- Meta Knight is the only character whose entire set of special moves leaves him helpless.
- Meta Knight is also the only character with two different helpless animations; one with his wings, and one without.
- The unique animation caused by landing while helpless is the cause of the landing lag glitch.