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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.
    • In Streets of Rage 4, Axel and Adam are two sides of the Balance coin note . Skate's niece Cherry takes his place as the quick, weak Skill. The huge, slow Floyd is a classic Power guy. Blaze, the Gimmick, has the most range and her moves are easier to combo with.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time: Averting Standardized Leader, Michelangelo is Jack of All Stats. Raphael is 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.

    Flying Games 
  • Star Fox:
    • In the Star Fox: Assault multiplayer, Fox has average stats, while Falco is fragile and has the best Arwing skill, Slippy has a lot of health and has poor Arwing skill, and Krystal has medium-low stats and tends to get barriers a lot (the gimmick).
    • 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.)
  • The first Sonic Advance has a unique variant of this. Sonic himself is more of a balanced type, going without any of the gimmicks his friends have; Tails and Knuckles respectively have the best vertical and horizontal coverage with their flight and gliding (and Knuckles himself is something of a power-type, being the only character with a punch attack); and Amy is the gimmick, as she forgoes the usual spin jump and has to use her hammer to attack enemies.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • In Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario is balanced, Luigi has jump height on his side, Toad has movement speed and lifting power on his side, and Peach is different from all three in that she can hover for a short period of time. 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: Crash and Cortex are balanced, Tiny and Dingodile are slow-acceleration high-speed racers, Coco and N. Gin are bad-handling high-acceleration racers, and Polar and Pura are slow-moving but excellent turners. Unlockable racers follow this pattern as well, with the exception of Penta Penguin in the PAL version where he's a Master of All.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

    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.


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