After a year of analyzing competitive fighting games at a high level, I am now of the opinion that the super meter is the single most ingenious, elegant addition to the genre since character variety.
First of all, super moves not only add to a player's arsenal, but affect all the non-super moves and abilities as well. Let's consider the Ryu vs Blanka matchup in Street Fighter 4:
No-meter Ryu vs. No-meter Blanka
- Ryu's fireball is SAFE against Blanka outside slide range
- Ryu's uppercut very UNSAFE against blocking Blanka
- Blanka's horizontal ball is SAFE against blocking Ryu
- Ryu's fireball now UNSAFE against charged Blanka (threat of EX-Ball)
- Ryu's uppercut now SAFE against blocking Blanka (via FADC)
- Blanka's horizontal ball still SAFE
- Ryu's fireball still UNSAFE against charged Blanka
- Ryu's uppercut still SAFE against blocking Blanka
- Blanka's horizontal ball now UNSAFE to blocking Ryu (punishable with Super)
Meter changes the dynamic of the match enough that it presents a new metagame: to be in control of the super meters is to be in control of the match. This presents meaningful choices to be made other than the basic objective of "Deplete the opponent's vitality," presenting far more options to the player in a given situation.
- Sacrifice combo damage to save meter?
- Sacrifice offensive pressure to bait meter usage from opponent?
- Sacrifice ability to block to whiff moves and build meter?
- Sacrifice meter (i.e. offensive capability) to avoid damage?
- Use meter to recover from mistakes?
- Intentionally allow opponent to win a round by using meter in order to have meter advantage the following round?
Compare this to a 3d fighting game, where the player has every option available to him at all times. In a 2d fighter, the options available to a player change considering what he had done earlier in the round, and what he plans to do later on. Rather than a string of unrelated puzzles, a fight that involves meter must be thought of as different parts of the same story, complete with the arc of a beginning, middle, and end (translating here to "learn opponent, anticipate opponent, and kill opponent"). Giving "guess" situations this level of context is exactly what makes high level play meaningful.
At the end of the day, modern fighting games really are just fast-paced games of rock/paper/scissors. The role of super meters is to redefine what rock, paper, and scissors all mean within the context of the match, in addition to giving more meaning to the guessing game itself.