Limited Lives is a Killjoy for Today’s Games

Ah, the old arcade. Remember those places? Countless machines lined along the walls, a ski-ball set in one corner, a pinball machine in the other and adjacent the games was a stand where you could trade in tickets for cheap plastic prizes.

At each of these arcades was the player that could get to the “kill screen” of Donkey Kong, or Pac-man. These gamers became legends. Their hard-earned allowances to buy quarters for these machines are the same quarters that could buy them extra lives and save them from the dreaded Game Over screen.

From KillScreen with Love

From KillScreen with Love

Tapping into the “just one more” addict behavior, these companies made gangbusters. That’s what lives were for in games, to keep the quarters coming.

Now it’s 2011, and the era of the Arcade has been replaced with the era of the home console. Game companies no longer make profit off quarters, but off actual games. The industry has shifted, but still the linger use of the “lives” system is still in place, and it’s frustrating as hell.

Nintendo is the developer that’s most guilty of this crime. Being one of the grandfathers of video games, most of their titles got their first launch in the old arcades. With such titles as Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong, which had the life system as a core gameplay mechanic, it seems almost nostalgic to have a life system. However, the feeling is short lived after constantly receiving a “Game Over” screen, and having to try the level again.

Seen in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns, Nintendo has implemented a feature called the “Super Guide,” which becomes available after dying a certain number of times. In this mode, the character falls under the control of the computer, allowing the computer to finish the level. However, there is an option for the player to tap back in any time.

It's Bizaro-DK!

It's Bizaro-DK!

In my opinion, this only adds to the frustration. While playing the Co-Op mode of Donkey Kong Country Returns this break, there were many times when we ran out of lives and needed to start the level over. The option for Super Guide appeared and after using it once, we decided that it wasn’t fun watching a computer play the level for us; we wanted to do it ourselves. We played the rest of the game and all its levels without the handicap, and eventually completed it.

At their very core, games are meant to be fun. If you’re playing a game and not having fun, you’re more than likely to not finish it. There is nothing fun about dying in games, and there’s even less fun in having to start over due to the archaic life system.

More modern adventure games such as Infamous, God of War and the Uncharted series do not use the life system. Granted, you can still die in these games, but you’re simply respawned to the nearest checkpoint. This system still pushes the gamer to improve, but not punish them for trying new methods of doing so.

Infinite lives give gamers the ability to explore, and not be penalized. By having the freedom to try different solutions to figure out puzzles leads to more immersive and satisfying gameplay. Having a certain number of tries only boxes the player in, trapping them into playing the game a particular way.