The Interplay of Mario Strikers Charged
Monday, May 4, 2009 at 11:20PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Action, Clean Design, Critique, Depth & Complexity, Interplay, Mario Strikers Charged

The interplay of Mario Strikers Charged (MSC) runs incredibly deep. The game is designed around a core of natural and dynamic counters in a 2D top down space (with a bit of sub 3D gameplay as well). Nearly every move and feature in the game is designed to influence the positioning of players on the field. Whether some shots have the highest success closer to the goal or they take a long time to charge up, each choice takes up a unique design space considering factors like positioning, timing, strength, and accuracy.

Passes, dekes, slides, tackles, charge shots, and each captain's super move all mostly "play by the rules" of form fits function and exhibit a variety of dynamic effects. All dangerous moves (except slides and tackles) have the ability to harm opponents as well as teammates. In other words team attack/friendly fire is on and the field must be controlled in such a way as to limited your opponent's options without harming or getting in the way of your teammates. In addition to playing by the rules, each of these moves have some kind of limitation or counter.

The power and control in a match swings back and forth like a pendulum with every change in ball possession. Because the game is played with only one ball, when you charge the ball and a turn over occurs, all of that invested energy can be used against you. Besides this feature, unused items that have been earned carry over between goals creating suspension that works to create strategies that can stretch over greater amounts of a match.

The video below showcases several examples of the different types of counters and encounters in Mario Strikers Charged.



Special Case: Blocking mega shots. Chip shots and goalie AI.

Abstract: Bomb invincibility for the character who activates it. Star invincibility passes through Chain Chomps and Goalies.

Natural: Every animation down to the tiny details are rendered and calculated in 3D space. If a character hops off the ground to shoot at the gaol, that hop has the potential to dodge incoming items or attacks. The whole game is a push-pull fight for field position.

Decay: Ball charge. Items on the field will disappear eventually. Duration of super moves. Being burned (Goalie/player). Star power duration. Mushroom duration. Goalie possession. Teammates can be knocked out of the arena or temporarily incapacitated by electricity. Boo deke cool down time.

Preventative: Sliding, checking, or using items early to prevent the opponents from obtaining ball possession or any other kind of positional advantage. Defensive dekes.

Quasi: Sacrificing ball possession by taking a hit in order to obtain an item and visa versa. Knocking yourself and an opponent into hazards.

Reactionary: Just before being hit, throwing your body weight into a direction that will knock the ball into your teammates/goalie. Using items after being knocked down.


 Chip Shots, Speed, and the Depth Controversy

The chip shot has been hard coded as a sort of special case counter. Unlike when passing or shooting, the goalie doesn't react to chipped balls as defensively/aggressively. In fact, sometimes it looks like the Goalie isn't even aware that the ball is casually rolling toward him. This, combined with some careful timing and the zippy auto aimed quick kick animations, makes most of the following tricks shots possible.



Why speed is always a powerful if not the most powerful attribute in spatial games? The dynamics of space only work to create interplay (natural counters) through the limitations of time. The very act of dodging something means moving out of the way in time of an incoming force that's committed to its direction because of its momentum/inertia. Moving through space takes time. In this way, space and time are linked. This is true for real time and turned based games. 

In Mario Strikers Charged, Toad, Boo, Dry Bones, Daisy, and Waluigi are so fast they can cover very large areas of the field with basic movements. By simply reacting, they can successfully cover the ball to a much greater extent than any of the medium to slow characters. Initially, these characters seemed to be balanced because they're poor shooters. However, with techniques like the chip-trick shots and dekeing past the Goalie, these character can now pass very quickly, maneuver very deftly, and score. And because field positioning is a large part of the game, it seems that the only characters that are capable of countering these speedy demons, are themselves.

I haven't played Mario Strikers Charged competitively online since before Super Smash Brothers Brawl came out last year, so I'm not qualified to comment on whether or not the chip shot techniques are broken or have limited the game in some negative way. Regardless, it's interesting to note that the chip-trick shots are so effective because of how the goalie uniquely has been designed to react poorly to chips shots. In a game that's designed and balanced around natural counters, one element of an abstract or special case counter can throw everything else off. It's the same way with Brawl. Brawl is designed around dynamics and decay so that the viability of each move becomes a part of the ebb-flow/push-pull interplay between players. However, a single element that's not dynamic (dependant on factors like damage, positioning, DI, etc) easily works to undermine the design of the whole system. Dedede, Falco, and the Ice Climbers chain grabs combos/infinites are egregious moves that don't blend with the design of Brawl as a whole.


Sirlin's definition of game depth.

A multiplayer game is deep if it is still strategically interesting to play after expert players have studied and practiced it for years, decades, and centuries.

The problem that I have with this definition is that it's to vague and it only speaks to the end result of a metagame without considering the layers have built it up. The words "interesting" and "expert players" can describe a variety of strategies, games, and people. The quality of being interesting alone is too subjective for a proper/functional definition. Furthermore, putting a time factor into the definition is odd and technically unsound. Isn't it possible to take a group of players and study/practice a game 3 times as much as any normal player therefore earning years worth of experience in under a years time? Isn't it possible to study a game no one plays and discover its depth? Of course it is. This definition is great from a common sense point of view, but falls far short of describing a game by my standards.

By looking at a game's interplay systems and how the interplay evolves from the mechanics, to tactics, strategies, gambits, and back again, what makes the game deep (interactivity) is more exactly described. Also, by looking at depth through this critical framework, we can accurately describe a game's depth from any point in time, or from the point of view of any stage in the metagame. So, if, for example, the chip shot is a very emergent mechanic that is truly too powerful bending the design of Mario Strikers Charged away from natural counters of push and pull and toward a fast pace game of aggressive pushes, we can look at the gameplay dynamics pre-chip shot and deduce if the game had more interplay. After all, games are filled with glitches, exploits, and potential that the world will probably never fully uncover or realize. It's a shame to dismiss a game's depth as being strategically uninteresting just because a new style of play emerged at some point over the years, decades, or centuries. Was Street Fighter II Turbo a deeper game before Akuma showed up?


Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
See website for complete article licensing information.