Tuesday, February 25, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I heard a rather silly complaint from the community manager of a site that I won’t name about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’s boss fights, “Why didn’t they just put in checkpoints during boss battles so that I don’t have to do the whole thing over again?”

Well, I thought it was rather silly; but my simple answer to such a simple complaint was, “Because it’s a boss fight.”

Implementing checkpoints is both a technical and creative decision to make. Have the developers figured out how the system would be able to handle remembering where your character is, how much health they have, how much – if any – damage was done to your enemy, and how many – if any – of your foes have been defeated? Or, what is it that they’re demanding from the player’s skill?

The boss fights in Tropical Freeze weren’t the greatest, certainly less memorable than what was seen in Wii’s Donkey Kong Country: Returns; but much like Retro’s predecessor, it’s still a tough game. This new age of Donkey Kong Country titles, much like Rare’s originals, withholds a design with a certain expectation. Don’t know how to duck, or jump at the right moment? Come back, or die a few more times until you figure it out.  

Part of challenge is knowing what’s at stake. If I fuck this up, I loose time and progression. That’s what makes genres like rogue-likes and titles like DayZ and RUST so popular. Tropical Freeze isn’t even within the same hemisphere as the aforementioned genre and titles, it’s just a challenging platformer. But even in such types of games, which also include titles everywhere from Super Meat Boy to the later levels in Super Mario 3D World (20 star challenge level anyone?), while the stakes are much lower, they still hurt.

My biggest complaint about Tropical Freeze is that a straight shot from level 1-1 to the final boss was easier than its predecessor. The stages were less demanding of advance moves, and they attacked me, the player, with less ferocity.

After digging up some of the bonus stages, the game began to hold back less, offering levels that had no checkpoints at all. Inserting checkpoints would defeat the point of their challenge as trials that are meant to be attempted in short bursts. The game is also sure to broadcast examples of what to expect ahead at the beginning of each stage which is designed around its no checkpoint formula. It ultimately comes down to self-fulfilling bragging rights that you’ve defeated this challenge from start to finish without dying. Checkpoints aren’t for every situation in every game, certainly not this one.

Checkpoints have their appropriate place in different types of experiences. One of the most common examples are games that fail to autosave or offer a period of a save state before a long unskippable cutscenes. But some games intentionally keep them out, refusing to budge on their difficulty until you meet its expectations.   

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