What Makes A Good Super Move?


A well-designed super move strikes a balance between being a rewarding game-changer and not so overpowering that it dulls the strategic depth of the rest of the game.

Key insights

The Balancing Act of Supers

Super moves are intended to be the peak of a player's power in a game, offering high rewards for strategic gameplay. The challenge for developers is to ensure these moves are powerful without making them so dominant that they overshadow all other strategies. Balancing can be done through various means, such as risk, timing, resource management, or opportunity costs.

Super Meter Systems

Many games rely on a super meter that players fill by engaging in combat—the better and more consistent your performance, the faster the meter fills. This kind of system is seen across genres, from fighting games where successful hits charge your super, to multiplayer games like Splatoon where inking terrain builds-up your special weapon.

Risk and Reward

Games like Punch-Out use simple super meters but add depth with high-risk maneuvers to obtain powerful star punches. Soul Calibur 2, on the other hand, uses unblockable super moves that are accessible at any time but carry the risk of being slow and predictable.

Supers as Transformations

Games like Devil May Cry feature transformation-based super moves, known as Devil Trigger, that enhance combat abilities temporarily. The Kingdom Hearts series offers Drive Forms, which provide powerful combat states but carry the risk of falling into a much weaker Anti-Form if overused.

Passive and Cooldown-Based Supers

Final Fantasy IX's Trance and Dragon Quest XI's Pep systems highlight super moves that activate passively, without player choice, often leading to unpredictable and sometimes inconvenient combat enhancements. Conversely, cooldown-based supers in games like most MOBAs allow for scheduled powerful moves, essential to game strategy.

Catch-Up Mechanics

Advance Wars uses CO Powers as catch-up mechanics, allowing struggling players to potentially tip the scales. F-Zero 99 introduces the Skyway system, giving lagging racers a chance to gain ground. However, the contentious X Factor in Ultimate Marvel VS. Capcom 3 shows how powerful catch-up supers can sometimes feel unearned and unfairly penalize players who perform well.

Spectacle vs. Strategy

Kingdom Hearts 3's Attraction attacks and Smash Bros' Final Smash moves are examples of supers that prioritize spectacle over strategy, providing visually stunning attacks that can sometimes disrupt the flow of gameplay.

Key quotes

  1. "Supers are almost by definition the most powerful moves a game is going to offer you."
  2. "An overwhelming super move dominates the rest of the game’s strategy and makes any other option almost meaningless in comparison."
  3. "The super meter can be even simpler and still generate a lot of depth in combat."
  4. "The biggest problem at the game’s release was how often the option came up and how easily you could hit it."
  5. "Proper balancing is essential, as seen in F-Zero 99's Skyway, a brilliant piece of game mechanic balancing that helps solve a nagging catch-up problem."

Make it stick

  1. "Ya Punch Bison, then ya get spicin’" - Charging up super moves through combat is often as straightforward as dealing damage to opponents.
  2. "Devil Trigger’s strength is balanced by its brevity" - The power of transformation-based supers is often kept in check by limiting their active duration.
  3. "The Skyway Comeback" - F-Zero 99's Skyway system embodies the principle of giving lagging players a powerful yet limited means to catch up.
  4. "Final Smash Hysteria" - Smash Bros' Final Smash moves showcase how over-the-top the spectacle can become, sometimes at the cost of balanced and strategic gameplay.