Friday, June 8, 2012

The non-necessity of lives in modern platformers



As long as we have had platformers there has been some limits placed on how many times the player can miss his jumps and fall in to the abyss until he is presented with a Game Over screen. In the early platformers like Super Mario Bros this strict limitation made sense, their short length made it a necessity. With the next generation of platformers like Super Mario World, levels were instead too plentiful to force the player to start over from level 1-1 if he was bitten by a Piranha Plant one too many times. So the player was allowed to save his game at some select locations, for example after finding that well hidden exit in those all too confusing Ghost Houses.

After playing a fair bit of Rayman Origins I have come to feel that this half step was a bit too conservative; there is in fact no need for lives at all in today platformers. Rayman Origins has a system where the player is allowed to respawn at the latest checkpoint as many times as necessary to beat the level, there is simply no concept of lives at all in the game. The surprising thing is that this works perfectly fine and takes nothing away from the experience. One could argue that this would make the game less challenging, but it is a cheap way to turn up the difficulty.

In many ways limiting the number of tries the player is restricted to forces the developers to turn down the difficulty. With a system without such restrictions some truly difficult near impossible scenarios can be designed, since the player will be allowed as many tries as needed to master them. This is a type of difficulty that is better fitted to platformers. They are not meant to offer a survival horror like experience where the player fears death, but one where the player feel totally bad ass for having pulled off some super tricky jumps sequence. I can't help to wonder if Super Mario World and many of its contemporaries from that golden age of platformers would have been more enjoyable with a system more like that of Rayman Origins.

17 comments:

JJS said...

In modern Mario games the penalties for dying are so small and the chances to rack up lives so plentiful that I really believe they're only there because they used to be. You could go through a Mario game and basically ignore any coins or 1-Ups, but it would feel a lot emptier if they weren't around to grab along the way.

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