A core aspect of difficulty in video games is the resulting punishment a game delivers if the player is unable to beat the game’s difficulty standards and progress pass it. In most games this takes the aspect of character death, which more than often proves to be a minor setback to the player and is a light tap to the wrist of the player to urge them to perform better and triumph over the challenge they are facing. But there are games that sway from the typical pattern of death as a punishment by implementing their own creative twists to these deaths.
For the basic example Hyper Light Drifter is an Action Role Playing Game that puts you in control of the Drifter as he adventures through a large land and engages in combat with various different enemy creatures. Combat is very swift and punishing, relying on the player to quickly dart in and out of combat avoiding taking damage. If the player fails to avoid enough attacks, their health points drop to 0 and their character dies. In Hyper Light Drifter, death is but a minor setback for the player as it will reset the player back to the start of the room they died in, or at a nearby checkpoint. This requires the player to repeat a challenge of a room, even if it contains various rounds of combat, from the beginning. While a minor inconvenience, this makes the player have to overcome a challenge from the beginning instead of taking it in bite-size chunks. Outside of this setback, Hyper Light Drifter offers no other penalty for death on the player, encouraging the player to get up after being defeated and immediately attempt the challenge again.
Enter the Gungeon, an interesting Shoot ‘Em Up that contains various Rogue-like aspects to it handles the punishment of death very differently than Hyper Light Drifter. As the genre “Rogue-like” tends to imply, Enter The Gungeon employs a system of ‘Permadeath’ on the player. So while Enter the Gungeon fires a barrage of bullets and explosions in the direction of the player, the player must dodge for their lives as only a few small mistakes can prove deadly to the player and result in a quick death for the player.
When a player’s character dies in Enter The Gungeon they are not brought back at the beginning of the room, nor are they brought back at the beginning of the level they were on. Death in Enter The Gungeon will bring the player to a results screen where they can view various statistics about their run, and then the player is returned to the main set-up area of the game where they must completely start off the dungeon again anew. Because of how Enter The Gungeon operates, every new entry into the dungeon is entirely new and randomly generated so even if the player has experience playing the game each encounter is different. So each death is an entirely new start and very tough punishment on the player. One that most players try to avoid for as long as possible.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn has an entirely different approach to its punishment to failure. To be precise, Kirby’s Epic Yarn doesn’t punish its players for failure. Falling down a pit fall, taking damage, none of these are punishments to the player more than a slight tap on the wrist. Instead Kirby’s Epic Yarn has a sole focus on progress and a collect-a-thon for the player. A challenge where the only possible failure is the standards at which the player holds themselves to.
Its an extremely casual approach to the punishment of the player, which often leads Kirby’s Epic Yarn to be labelled by players as a children’s game. The game seems not challenging to those that are used to having a failure state in death. But Kirby’s Epic Yarn is more about the adventure the designers have crafted for the player to enjoy.
3 different approaches, each with their own principles and ideas behind their logic. While there is no real best approach to the punishment of failure. Knowing of different examples and the reasons behind the madness of each approach can let you experience and enjoy them for what each is worth.