So I actually have an excuse to do this now that it turns out Shaymin's a ZSS main as well. Woo.
Now you may be thinking: MT, didn't you already make a guide for ZSS? And the answer is...yes but this is the one for the people who apparently thought that was too scrubbish or something. Just to show you how much better this guide is than that one, here's some testimonials about people who have played against/watched my ZSS in the past/played Smash Bros before.
With that kind of credibility, how can you not trust me?
So let's get started.
Zero Suit Samus (also known as ZSS, Zamus, or Metroid) is, at least in my opinion, a character that's simultaneously easy and difficult to play. Easy because most of her combos are fairly straightforward and can be picked up without too much of a learning curve, but hard because knowing when to use the moves to set up those combos actually requires a decent bit of practice. ZSS is equal parts defense and offense, and succeeding with her requires being able to switch back and forth between the two depending on the situation at hand.
ZSS's jump is the third highest in the game, and she's also incredibly light for her size, both of which are simultaneously advantages and disadvantages. She will get killed by strong attacks VERY early (a rage uncharged side smash from Captain Falcon can kill at about 60% from mid stage), but she also can live for absurdly long periods of time due to her numerous recovery options and ways to get around edge guarding attempts. ZSS has a tool for just about every situation, and if you get to know those tools and what works where, she becomes a scary character very quickly.
==SHOW ME YOUR MOVES==
ZSS is unique in that she has multiple ways of stunning her opponent outside of shield breaking. Her two (main) moves for doing so are:
Neutral B: Launches a paralyzing shot. Holding it down charges it; if charged all the way, the shot will fly slightly further and stun for slightly longer.
Down Smash: Samus points her pistol at the ground and fires a blast that covers about the area of Jigglypuff or so. If this blast connects, your opponent will be stunned for about 45 frames (3/4ths of a second). A fully charged down smash will stun the opponent for about 70 frames (a little over a second).
Against good players, Down Smash will rarely work as a source of offense if you use it repeatedly. It's arguably best used for punishing mistakes or common habits. Neutral B, meanwhile, works pretty well if thrown out every so often. It's pretty safe as well so long as you aren't throwing it out willy nilly, though some characters (particularly Sonic and ZSS) can punish it easily.
This all leads into what is arguably ZSS's biggest source of offense; her aerials. Very few characters do well against ZSS in the air, particularly when she is below them. ZSS's up air is one of, if not the, best in the game. It comes out extremely quickly, deals 8%, and can kill lighter characters at around 110-120% while easily combing heavier characters into the 150% range. It also sets up for juggle opportunities; when your opponent is at lower %s, you can jump, up air, and then immediately jump and up air them again. ZSS's forward air works as well, dealing a bit more damage (12%), although it's a bit harder to continue the combo off of. Best of all, her up air and forward air are fairly easy to combo off of her down throw (which does 7%), so you can pretty reliably deal at least 15% off any throw you can get, with the ability to go for follow ups/juggles after.
All of this means that getting throws is extremely desirable for ZSS. Only problem is...ZSS's grabs are extremely unsafe. Since she has a tether grab, her grab range is excellent, but she's left wide open for an extremely hard punish if you miss.
See where all this is headed? We need a way to make grabbing safe...such as...maybe...putting the opponent into a stunned state. Down Smash unfortunately doesn't cover a lot of range and is pretty hard to use offensively, but Neutral B works quite well. Extremely well, in fact. Something a seemingly harmless as an uncharged Neutral B can lead to a good 25% or so of damage with a positional advantage to boot. If you land an uncharged Neutral B, you can sprint grab your opponent, pummel them a few times, down throw them, and then combo off that. If you can manage to land a down smash, the damage goes even higher. A D-Smash into grab, two pummels, a down throw, and a couple up airs will do a whopping 35% damage, while leaving you in a good position as well.
This makes neutral B (and, by extension, Down Smash) a massive threat. Since it's a massive threat, though, most people are aware of it and will do their best to avoid it. That's where the rest of ZSS's tools come into play.
Side B and Zair (Pressing Grab in the air) are two excellent tools for opponents who simply try to avoid grab combos by keeping ZSS away. They reach a decent ways (Side B goes a bit farther and does more damage, but Zair has no land lag and starts up quicker), deal decent damage, and let ZSS hit people who are just tossing projectiles around from a moderate distance. If I'm using these, it's generally against opponents who are trying to zone me, and I get around this by jumping and then Side B-ing or using Zair to mix things up.
Nair, meanwhile (Neutral Air) is another good approach option. This move has Samus spinning her plasma whip around her. If you position it so that the farthest end of the whip is the only thing making contact with the opponent, it's safe on block. It can also lead into air combos as well.
==THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE...AND VICE VERSA==
The thing is, though, these get decently predictable as well after a while. This is where the balance of offense and defense I mentioned earlier comes into play; ZSS is a character that thrives on keeping your opponent guessing. If your opponent knows what's coming, you aren't going to last long. This is probably true of most any fighting game character, but even more so for ZSS. Being able to switch back and forth between these options, and choosing the right one for the situation at hand, is probably the most important part to doing well with her. Sitting back and firing a couple of shots at an opponent? Rushing in with Nair? Going after your opponent with aerials or trying to catch them with something closer to the ground? It all depends on the flow of the match. ZSS does both offense and defense decently well, but she does neither one well enough to rely upon for an entire match. Being able to do both and switch between the two is what wins or loses matches...against most characters.
==NOT SO MUCH FUN==
There are, however, a few characters that can force ZSS to play either defense or offense entirely, and I'd argue it's here where ZSS struggles the most. Characters like Villager and Pikachu can force ZSS to navigate a minefield of projectiles, and their low height means that hitting them is even more difficult. Villager's slingshot aerial in particular, if used well, makes approaching him a nightmare. In these scenarios, try not to get frustrated, block/dodge as much as you can, and don't miss opportunities to deal damage.
Other characters, meanwhile, can force ZSS entirely on the defensive, usually due to their speed. Sonic, Captain Falcon, and Little Mac (if played well) are all examples of this. Arguably the biggest tool to keep in mind here is ZSS's sprint attack and jab combo. Her sprint attack covers a good bit of ground, comes out extremely quick, and can get her away from some bad situations, and her jab combo can punish just about any whiffed or blocked attack and knocks opponents away, giving you a bit of breathing room. Generally speaking, Down Smash and Neutral B should rarely, if ever, be used against these characters; they're simply too quick or have too much armor (or both) for this to be an effective strategy. Grab punishes can be your friend here, but use them carefully, as most of these quick characters are hard hitting as well and you're probably going to take a lot of damage if the attack you try to grab punish isn't as punishable as you thought. Little Mac's dash attack, for instance, while grab punishable by most characters, cannot be grab punished by ZSS. In these cases, go for a down tilt or a simple jab combo.
Just about everything that's been discussed in terms of ZSS's attacks has been done so with the idea of simply racking up percents. Obviously, though, the end goal of any match is to actually...kill the opponent. Initially, it may seem that ZSS is pretty limited in how she can KO opponents; her only obvious killing moves right off the bat are her Side Smash and Up B, and both of these are extremely unsafe if they miss. Thankfully, though, ZSS isn't as limited as she initially appears, thanks to her aerials and her stun moves.
For starters, you can confirm a Down Smash into a Side Smash or Up B pretty easily. Down Smash gets predictable if used frequently, but throw it out occasionally and you'd be surprised how many times you can catch people. Neutral B can also be used as well; if you catch someone with a Neutral B, you can often times run up and Side Smash them (if it's charged) or Up B them.
ZSS's aerials, particularly back air and up air, work as well. As mentioned before, throws can lead into situations where you can get plenty of chances at an Up B, though the higher % your opponent is, the easier it is for them to get out of it (they fly farther off the throw, meaning that you won't be able to get to them by the time hitstun expires). You can sometimes catch people who are already airborne with an up air as well. Back air, meanwhile, doesn't quite have the same reliability on setups, but works well as an edge guarding tool or to catch people who DI after the first Up Air in a throw combo.
Down B, a flip kick, is also surprisingly strong. It's a flip kick that takes a bit of getting used to with its momentum, hitting B while in the flip kick will extend Samus' foot that does an almost absurd amount of knockback. Down B can also spike when off stage, but it's pretty easy to see coming, so don't expect a ton of success with this.
Recovering with ZSS takes a bit of getting used to. Most of her vertical recovery comes with her jump height; her up B doesn't have great recovery and misses the ledge pretty easily. ZSS does, however, have amazing horizontal recovery, and she can avoid just about any ledge guard attempt with Down B (the flip will go over most attacks) and her side B, when off stage, works as a tether recovery as well. ZSS shouldn't get gimped very often.
==COUPLE MATCHUP NOTES==
The matchup against Rosalina requires ZSS to be careful with her air combos, as Rosa's up air and down air have huge disjointed hitboxes.
The matchup against Shulk requires some caution as well, as Shulk's nair will beat out just about anything ZSS has.
Many Sonics will try to get ZSS by using his Neutral B (a homing attack). You can punish this by shielding, dashing, and up smashing, as he's in recovery for a short while afterwards.
Sheik is arguably ZSS's worst matchup, despite the fact that she, like ZSS, relies on a mix of offense and defense. The problem for ZSS is that Sheik can basically control with authority whether ZSS is on offense or defense, due to her needles (neutral B) and extremely quick aerials.
ZSS is a fantastic counter to just about any heavy character. Dedede, Charizard, Ganondorf, Bowser, Ike, and DK all have miserable matchups against her. The one exception is Yoshi, who is surprisingly heavy for his speed.
The Mario brothers and Pits are interesting matchups, as they outrange ZSS with projectiles and have very quick aerials. Mixing up offense and defense is key here.