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Balance, Power, Skill, Gimmick

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From the left: Jack-of-All-Stats, Fragile Speedster, Mighty Glacier and... er... whatever it is The Chick gets to drive.

When there are four player characters available in a video game, often one of the choices (usually your first pick) is a balance of whatever stats the game plays with. The second choice is at one end of the stats scale; the third choice is at the other end, opposite of the second, and the fourth choice is somehow set apart from the three others by having a completely different gimmick, often one that doesn't directly tie into the stats scale.

The standard set up is a combination of Jack-of-All-Stats, Mighty Glacier, Fragile Speedster, and then something else for variety. But "Heavy and Powerful vs Light and Speedy" can be substituted by just about anything as is relevant to the game: magic vs. physical power, range vs. melee, jump height vs. run speed, offense vs. defense, or other things.

Related to Faction Calculus. Subtrope of Competitive Balance. The gimmick is often a Master of None, though it may prove Not Completely Useless in That One Level.



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    Beat-Em-Up Games 
  • Final Fight 3: Guy as a slightly faster Jack-of-All-Stats, but Mayor Mike Haggar is the main character (and a Mighty Glacier.) Detective Lucia is the Fragile Speedster of the crew. Dean is slow and not as strong as Haggar, but he specializes in ranged grabs.
  • Ninja Baseball Batman: Captain Jose is the Jack-of-All-Stats, Twinbats Ryno is the Fragile Speedster, Beanball Roger is the Mighty Glacier, and Stick Straw is the Glass Cannon. What makes Straw the Gimmick is the half-screen range of some of his basic attacks and a wide variety of throws — both valuable tools in a Beat 'em Up.
  • The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors has five characters. Kunoichi is the Jack-of-All-Stats, Ninja is the Mighty Glacier, Kamaitachi is the Fragile Speedster, Yaksha is the Difficult, but Awesome skill/technical character, and Raiden is the Gimmick Mechanically Unusual Fighter — a huge Mighty Glacier who plays more like a Beat 'Em Up boss than a player character while also having a Stance System with a melee humanoid mode and a ranged walker mode.
  • In Streets of Rage 2, Axel is the regular street brawler, Max is the hulking wrestler, Skate is the fast kid using spinning techniques, while Blaze has catfighty moves with high range and a better knife swing.
    • In Streets of Rage 3, Max is replaced with Zan, a cyborg with electrical powers whose playstyle revolves mainly around crowd control, essentially taking the "gimmick" role while Axel is switched to power and Blaze becomes the all-around balanced character.
    • The four default heroes of Streets of Rage 4 are like so: Axel's stats are middling (Balanced). Skate's niece Cherry is the new speedy weakling (Skill). Floyd is an electric cyborg like Zan, but hits way harder (Power). Blaze has balanced stats like Axel, but better weapon skill and air attacks (Gimmick).
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time: Averting Standardized Leader, Michelangelo is Jack of All Stats. Raphael has short range but high attack speed. Donatello has long range but slow attack speed. Leonardo is the gimmick having medium range and attack speed like Mike, but has a jump attack as his fourth move in his combo which leaves him open, and a back kick that gives him quicker protection from behind than the others.
  • In Yakuza Kiwami, Kiryu has access to four different styles he can change mid-combat. Brawler is the Balanced all-rounder style, Beast is the Power style that's slow and strong, Rush is the Skill style that's fast and good at dodging but low in damage, and Dragon is the Gimmick style, which starts off with very limited options but gains more abilities as he completes special encounters, and if you really put your time into unlocking them, it eventually turns into a Master of All style.

    Flying Games 
  • Star Fox:
    • In the multiplayer mode of Star Fox: Assault, Fox has average stats all around. Falco has the lowest health, but the second-fastest running speed and the best Arwing skill. Slippy has a lot of health and poor Arwing skill, but makes up for it with the best Landmaster skill, the second-highest jump, and a blaster that charges at double speed. Krystal has medium-low stats, but gets two barriers on a new life (the gimmick). Peppy has low health and speed, given his age, but has the best jump and can charge his blaster at quadruple speed. Wolf, however, nears Game-Breaker territory, with the highest health and speed ratings, alongside the best Wolfen skill.
    • Taken further in Star Fox Command. Fox is balanced with single lasers, single lock, and a medium boost meter but may be the gimmick in story mode because he can upgrade either his lock or lasers depending on your route. Falco is Fragile Speedster having a huge boost meter and multilock but low HP and only single lasers, Slippy is Mighty Glacier having huge HP and Plasma Lasers, but no lock at all and a short boost meter. Krystal is balanced like Fox, but with twin lasers default and no potential for upgrades.

    Hack and Slash 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara started in Tower of Doom with the powerful Dwarf, the balanced Fighter, the skilled Elf, and the gimmicky Cleric.
  • Data East's Gate of Doom, also known as Dark Seal, has the Knight as the strongest and the Wizard as the most adept with magic, with the Bard balanced between them; the Fragile Speedster Ninja is the gimmick.
  • In Gauntlet, the Valkyries tended to be balanced, Warriors emphasized heavy damage, Elves/Archers emphasized speed, and Wizards were the gimmick, emphasizing magic.
    • In Gauntlet Legends and its remake Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, there are eight playable classes instead of the usual four, but they all still conform to this trope. Knights and Valkyries have pretty well-balanced stats, Warriors and Dwarves are quite strong but slow and not very good with magic, Archers and Jesters are very fast but a bit frail, and Wizards and Sorceresses make themselves the gimmick by being the best at using magic.

    Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean Online:
    • The four ship types can be classified as this. There's the Brig taking on the Balance role, the Frigate is the Power, the Sloop is the Skill, and the Galleon is the Gimmick, being a ship focused on carrying a lot of treasure and players rather than firepower or speed.
    • The four different types of swords - the basic Cutlass is the Balance (simple combos, moderate damage), the Broadsword is the Power (slower combo attacks, but generally higher damage and can hit multiple targets), and the Sabre is the Skill (low damage for each hit, but their combo tree utilizes fast attacks). Cursed Blades are an interesting variation of the Gimmick, since a Cursed Blade will technically be a subset of one of the three primary Sword types, but they'll have special elemental or spectral attacks and abilities.

    Platform Games 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures: The Nerd is balanced, the Bullshit Man has the most powerful weapon and the slowest run, the Couch Guy has the fastest run and covers the most area with his weapon, and Motherfucker Mike is the only one who can see and break through destructible walls.
  • Dragon: Marked for Death: the Empress has balanced speed, movement capability, close-range and long-range offense. The Warrior is the Mighty Glacier specializing in tanking and dealing high damage in a few strikes. The Shinobi is the Fragile Speedster with both high movement and attack speed, as well as quick ranged attacks. The Witch is the gimmick, who focuses on her "spell" mechanic to deliver various magic attacks.
  • Ganbare Goemon: Goemon is the most balanced, Ebisumaru is the slowest and strongest, Sasuke is the fastest and weakest, and Yae has the most specialized moves (such as turning into a mermaid).
  • Little Samson: Samson is balanced (you can complete every level with him alone, but it's far easier with the other characters' specialties), Gamm has the most powerful attacks (but the slowest movement), KO is a textbook Fragile Speedster, and Kikira is a Lightning Bruiser of sorts whose shots move at an angle.
  • Mega Man ZX uses this in a Multiform Balance variant: Model ZX is balanced, Model FX is about power, Models HX and PX are about dexterity and speed, and Model LX is about movement in water. (It can be used outside water, but its performance is lackluster.)
  • Sonic Advance Trilogy:
    • In the first game, Knuckles was the Balance, with a moveset oriented both for exploration and speed; Sonic was the Power, with a moveset oriented entirely for plowing through enemies and getting to the goal without frills; Tails was the Skill, with a moveset geared for exploration (both flying and swimming); Amy is the Gimmick, since she cannot curl into a ball like the boys and must attack and maneuver with her hammer, which has completely different mechanics and range.
    • Inverted with Advance 2, which pushes Amy into the background as a Secret Character and introduces Cream the Rabbit as the fourth main character in her stead. Cream is not a Gimmick character but a Master of All, with maneuvering ability second only to Tails and batter attacking options than the other characters thanks to Cheese.
    • Zigzagged with Advance 3, where all five characters can mix-and-match attributes depending on who they Tag Team with.
  • Sonic Heroes: Team Sonic is the balance, having the least frills and medium-length levels; Team Rose is the power, with a Team Blast that gives them invincibility, a barrier, and a Power-Up for each member; Team Dark is the skill, with a Team Blast that stops time so they can bypass threats without reaction or running up the clock; Team Chaotix is the gimmick, with unusual mission-based levels and a Team Blast that provides them with rings (which in most cases only fuels the next Team Blast).
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • In Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario is balanced; Luigi is the Difficult, but Awesome skill character, with the best jump (which in a platformer means the best exploration potential), but low traction; Toad is the power character, last in jumping ability but first in running speed and lifting strength; Peach is the gimmick character, with her iconic Parachute Petticoat letting her arrest her own descent so she can extend her jump or fine-tune her landing.
    • They use the same set up in Super Mario 3D World, but lifting power is standardized (and instantaneous) since it's no longer a core game mechanic; the game also adds a second Gimmick character: Rosalina. She has Peach's low running speed (apparently it's the heels that do it), a jump as high as Luigi's, and a special Spin Attack that only she has access to. Thus, she combines the other characters' skill sets and adds a gimmick of her own.
    • Super Mario 64 DS has Mario being balanced, Wario being the strongest, Luigi having an assortment of movement skills, and Yoshi having a unique gameplay style. In this case, Mighty Glacier Wario is the character who's almost entirely useless unless the stage specifically requires his abilities.

    Racing Games 
  • Crash Team Racing: "Balanced" Characters are "balanced" (in reality they have poor acceleration, poor speed, and the second best turning) "Speed" Characters have high top speed, but poor turning and acceleration, "Acceleration" Characters have high acceleration, subpar turning (only better than a Speed character), and the second highest top speed, and "Turning" characters have poor top speed, subpar acceleration, but the best turning. It could be considered, in order - Balance, Skill, Power, and Gimmick (as its competitors at the time only had 3 classes, so a turning class is unique to CTR).
  • In Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, a post-launch gimmick class was added - the "Drift" class. This class has subpar acceleration and handling, and okay top speed, but is unique in that it has the best handling of any engine class... when drifting. The other engine classes have limited turning that depends on their normal handling stat, but Drift class can take tight turns or straighten out completely while drifting, depending on the direction held.
  • In the F-Zero SNES game, there are four cars to play as. The Blue Falcon is average, the Golden Fox has fast acceleration but is fragile and has low grip, the Fire Stingray has high top speed and is durable but has low accelaration, and the Wild Goose is durable and corners well, the gimmick.
  • Sonic Drift:
    • Tails was the Balance character, having neither weaknesses nor strengths; Sonic was the Power, having good speed but poor handling; Amy was the Skill, having good acceleration but poor speed; and Eggman was the Gimmick, having poor acceleration but good speed. In Drift 2, Knuckles became a variant Balance, with average stats and both attack and dodge abilities; Fang the Sniper and Metal Sonic are both variant Power characters—Fang's vehicle has nearly identical stats to Sonic, while Metal Sonic takes Sonic's strengths and weaknesses to even further extremes.
    • For their Special Abilities, however, the lineup changed subtly. Tails's Jump imitates the spring item, allowing him to avoid obstacles and protect him from disruption, keeping the Balance spot; Sonic uses the Dash, which takes his high speed and lets him go even faster, keeping the Power slot; Eggman uses Mines that deal Collision Damage and cost the opponent rings, which makes him the Skill character; Amy's Heart Attack disrupts their controls and slows them down, an effect unique to her in the first game, making her the Gimmick.
  • Sonic R: Knuckles was the Balance, having the best overall stats; Sonic was the Power, with great speed but poor cornering; Tails was the Skill, with good acceleration and cornering but poor speed; and Amy was the Gimmick, whose Cool Car was capable of driving over water and getting excellent use out of boosts.
  • Super Mario Kart: the Bros (Mario and Luigi), while actually having a good top speed making them heavier by default, are average everywhere else (balance), the Dragon and the Lady (Peach and Yoshi) have high acceleration, but poor traction with average weight and top speed (skill), the Showdown (Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr.) are the heaviest drivers with the best top speed, but also endure this with a poor acceleration and a weak traction (power), and the Small Guys (Koopa and Toad) have good acceleration and turning while being lightweight and lacking a good top speed (gimmick). The following games fused the gimmick with the skill, making lightweights with a high acceleration AND handling, but enduring a poor top speed, making a skill, balance, power Competitive Balance.
  • In Stunt Race FX: 4WD is a sturdy truck that has good acceleration but a low top speed. Coupe is well-rounded, with average acceleration, top speed and durability. The race car styled F-Type is fragile and slow to accelerate but has the highest top speed. 2WD has average acceleration and a high top speed, but, due to having two wheels, can have issues with balance.
  • Wave Race 64: Ryota is balanced, Ayumi has low top speed but high acceleration (Fragile Speedster), Dave has high speed but low acceleration (Mighty Glacier) Miles has medium stats but extremely high turning (gimmick).

    Real-Time Strategy Games 
  • In Warcraft III, the four playable races were Humans, Orcs, Undead, and Night Elves. Orcs emphasized the brute force of their units, while the Undead emphasized strength in numbers. Humans struck a balance between these two, and the Night Elves were different from all three in that they emphasized magic and ranged combat.

    Role-Playing Games 

    Shoot-Em Up Games 
  • Touhou Project games with four characters tend to follow something like this:
    • Touhou Eiyashou ~ Imperishable Night has the Boundary Team as the closest thing to balance, with Reimu's wide-ranging attack for standard enemies and Yukari having strong, focused shots for bosses, though they their own gimmick in the form of homing attacks. The Magic Team emphasizes damage at the cost of coverage. The Scarlet Team, on the other hand, is all about coverage, with Sakuya having wide but (very) weak attacks, and Remilia having a more powerful, focused shot but familiar she can have attack for her wherever she wants. Then there's the gimmicky Ghost Team, which reverses the usual setup, but making the attacks stronger than other teams. It's the half-human Youmu who has the focused shots, while the Youkai side Yuyuko is the one with spread-out shots. They're also the only team whose Youkai meter maxes at 50% Human.
    • Touhou Shinreibyou ~ Ten Desires works similarly: Reimu is still nominally balanced with unfocused homing shots and a strong focused shot and Marisa is still all about raw damage, Sanae replaces the Scarlet Team, and is a pure spread type, and Youmu is even weirder here. Youmu's unfocused options are ghosts that trail behind her, while her focused "shot" is a charge attack that will release a series of huge sword slashes.
    • Touhou Kanjuden ~ Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom has Reimu and Marisa in their usual roles, and Sanae is even better at killing everything on-screen, but it has a new gimmick character in the form of Reisen. Reisen is generally weaker than everyone else with the only thing of real note being that her focused attack pierces (this is mostly useless)... and that her bomb doesn't offer invincibility or clear bullets, but instead gives her a three-hit shield that lasts until the end of the stage.
    • In Touhou Tenkuushou ~ Hidden Star in Four Seasons, each playable character is associated with a season, and can also use a different sub-season to attack. Cirno/Summer shoots lots of tiny weak icicles that covers a lot of area, while Marisa/Winter shoots powerful, but narrow lasers. Aya/Autumn shoots windbursts whose power and coverage are between the two. Meanwhile, Reimu/Spring is the gimmick, with homing cherry petals.
  • Einhänder has three ships (plus one unlockable) fitting this trope: Astraea Mk.I is able to use two gunpods at the same time, allowing players to lay down the hurt. Endymion Mk.II carries three different gunpods for versatility. Endymion Mk.III can only carry one gunpod (but compensates with a double standard machinegun), making gunpod choice the difference between breeezing through a level of not. Schabe gains more and more firepower for the default machinegun and gunpods (which have infinite ammunition) the more gunpods you collect.

    Turn-Based Strategy Games 
  • Mordheim: City of the Damned does this with the base four warbands:
    • The Empire Mercenaries have decent all-rounder units with a very good selection of weapons and armour (particularly missile weapons, so they're actually more of a ranged warband if anything). You can run armoured spearmen, lightly-armed city raiders with daggers, maces and bows, big guys with hefty greatswords and warhammers, handgunners, riflemen, you name it.
    • The Skaven rely on ratmen skirmisher units who have low health and only light armour but conversely have high initiative, good jumping and climbing skills and the highest movement range in the game, so flanking, ambushes and picking off isolated units is the order of the day and protracted brawls are something best avoided.
    • The Sisters of Sigmar are a warband of robust, heavily-armoured female Magic Knights who move as slow as molasses and have no options for missiles (apart from brought-in Mercenaries marksmen only available in the late game or a DLC hero unit), so while they do hit like a truck in melee, they can also be outmanoeuvred and picked apart if you're not careful.
    • The Chaos Cult has above-average offensive power, really good magical support for their units and their hero units get random mutations that can be either very powerful or detrimental. The Cult requires a lot of forward planning, daring and maybe luck to work successfully and depending on how the early game plays out, they can grow to be very powerful indeed.
    • The two DLC warbands, the Witch Hunters and the Undead, have more caveats: the Witch Hunters play like a slightly squishier, more melee-centric version of the Mercenaries with access to less equipment but access to other things like healing magic and fearless henchmen; the Undead have versatile and powerful heroes with very strong melee and magical backup, but their henchmen are largely talentless and unable to equip missile weapons or armour, and the warband has many units immune to adverse effects like poison and psychology.

    Other Games 
  • The four playable characters in Slay the Spire eventually fell into this pattern. At launch, there were three characters, but they were Power, Skill, and Gimmick. Later, a fourth character was added who took the Balance role:
    • Balance: The Watcher, who emphasizes balancing big attack and defensive stances, and can be equally good at either.
    • Power: The Ironclad, who's about scaling and doing lots of damage fast. He seems to land on Balance first because he's good at accumulating block, but he's uniquely able to use that block to attack.
    • Skill: The Silent, who relies on card draw/discard, poison, and other slow-playing techniques.
    • Gimmick: The Defect, who is built around a system of attack, defensive, and support orbs that is nothing like anything the other characters have.
  • Sonic Adventure 2 Battle: In the revamped multiplayer, the characters of the 1P campaign are the Balance, while the two multiplayer-exclusive characters are the Power and the Skill. The Gimmick role is filled by the unlockable Palette Swaps of the main characters.
  • Everspace's player ships fit under this. The Interceptor is the middle-of-the-road option, the Scout has the fastest engine but lower weapon capacity and the lowest max hull, the Gunship has the most hull, weapon slots, and can equip turrets, but has the slowest engine and can't use conventional shields, and the Sentinel has average hull and speed and the lowest number of weapon slots, but has the most device slots, energy capacity, and energy regen.

    Non-Video Game Examples 
  • The four major pitch types in Baseball roughly fall into this. Interestingly, the power-pitch fastball is the most basic part of any pitchers repertoire, seeing use of at least 40% at minimum, all the way up to Mariano Rivera's whopping 99.1% fastball rate over an 11-year career.
    • The easy-to-throw fastball is power, since it moves the fastest out of all pitches- pitchers with good hard fastballs are even called 'power pitchers'. Major League fastballs tend to sit around 93-97 MPH for starters, and upper 90's or even triple digits for late-inning relievers. Most contending teams will have at least one pitcher who touches 100 at least occasionally. The same grip as fielders use, and a basic motion to put as much force behind it as possible makes throwing the fastball the go-to in most pitchers' repertoires.
    • Breaking balls, such as curveballs and sliders, are skill, since their main purpose is to move, or 'break', away from where the batter thinks the ball will be and get them to whiff. They're also more difficult to throw and control than fastballs. Every pitcher's breaking ball will break differently, even if it's supposedly the same pitch- a Stephen Strasburg curveball doesn't look like a Trevor Bauer curveball doesn't look like a Clayton Kershaw curveball, all breaking at different points and and different angles.
    • The changeup is balance. Often the first offspeed pitch (i.e. anything other than a fastball) a young pitcher learns, they don't have the sharp movement of a breaking ball or the blistering speed of a fastball, but they do look like a fastball and throw off a batter's timing, and tend to break just enough that they aren't hit cleanly, resulting in the batter 'rolling over' and hitting an easy-to-field ground ball. Changeups are a useful part of most pitchers' arsenals, making fastballs and breaking balls seems even more dangerous than the would otherwise.
    • Trick pitches, such as the eephus or knuckleball, are just that- tricky. The knuckleball is the only one considered a viable pitch as a regular part of a pitcher's arsenal, but having a good knuckler alone can propel an otherwise unremarkable player to success. The reason for this is that the knuckleball is thrown by holding the ball with one's fingertips, then flicking them at the point of release to counteract the spin, resulting in movement so unpredictable that nobody knows where it's going- not the hitter, not the catcher, not even the pitcher. Knuckleball pitchers are rare- there are only two in the major leagues as of 2020- Ryan Feierabend and Steven Wright. On the other hand, knuckleballers generally have very long careers; slowing down with age is much less of a factor for them. Out of the 119 Cy Young Awards (One for all of Major League Baseball from 1956-1966 and one each for the American and National Leagues since) given the the best pitchers in baseball, the only one given to a knuckleballer was the 2012 NL Cy Young Award given to R.A. Dickey.