Critical Play – Balance in Games – Eunji Lee

Name of game, creator, platform: Switch Sports by Nintendo (for the Switch)
Target Audience: 10+

Switch Sports is a game that is very fun, largely because it is very balanced for many audiences. It does a great job balancing for asymmetry among individuals, especially those who have different levels of dexterity, athletic ability, and experience using controls on the Switch. It is possible to play single-player (although I did not play that way), which can be done by playing with a CPU that adjusts for ability (there’s an easy, medium, and hard mode). For multiple players that have different resources starting off, the game balances for differing abilities by having a limited range of motions that will win points (such as only up/down for volleyball, parallel and perpendicular for swordfighting, and side to side for tennis). Furthermore, missing some of the movements by a little bit still gets the player some form of progress (even if the movement is done incorrectly) – if they’re timed just right, it’s usually a boost. This allows even inexperienced players to have fun and participate!

There are also ways to balance strategies and resources within the game – more so strategies than resources. Most of the multiplayer games feature two players, which means that the players can either choose to attack with the first or second player, depending on where their positioning is. As with many sports, there often isn’t a right answer as to where the best position is or what the best shot is; it’s partly luck and partly knowledge about what your opponent will do (which is impossible to predict if one of the opponents is a CPU).

Transitive relationships are used in this game to balance the benefit of using powerful attacks versus the cost of losing energy. For games such as swordfighting and soccer, there are very powerful attacks or boosts, but they use energy faster, meaning they cannot be sustained for that long in comparison to the standard methods. Intransitive relationships are used far less – we don’t get to directly choose items or resources among a set, so there is less of a this-is-better-than-that-but-worse-than-the-other-thing relationship. “Fruity” relationships are best described using the strategies the player can choose between in a game. For example, in tennis, you can use the player in the back, which will likely make the ball go further, but if you use the front, it’ll go with a greater speed with a shorter distance. There’s no direct comparison to be made between what is better or worse; it depends on the situation and what has been working so far against the other player.

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