Nothing is worse than fighting your way through a particularly sticky battle, failing to identify a single bullet from an enemy, and meeting an untimely death. That is unless… the game starts you back at the beginning of the level to do it all over again. For me there is nothing more annoying in the world of shmuppin’ it, than having to restart a level from scratch.
For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, please read the following:
In the world of video gaming, there are two choices that game developers use to continue game play upon the players death. They are restart and respawn. When faced with those two choices, I will almost always opt for the respawn option any day of the week.
So why then do I choose to go with the respawn option? Simple, I feel like that option moves the game along a lot quicker. Let’s face it, with some longer games, it’s better to keep the game moving along, rather than bog it down by replaying sections over and over again. Oh sure, there are usually check points associated with the restart option, but you still end up replaying sections of the game repeatedly.
I remember the first experience I had playing through Konami’s shoot ‘em up game LifeForce when I was in Junior High School. My friend Ben owned a copy of the game on his NES, and one fateful afternoon he invited me to play it. I had never heard of it before, but was immediately captivated by the game’s graphics and music. I also loved the co-op 2 player style that allowed us to both play the game at the same time. Tossing in the “Contra code” as we called it, only sweetened the gaming experience, since it provided us each with 30 lives. What followed was nothing short of absolute gaming brilliance. In a matter of about 30 to 45 minutes we had that game completely beaten. Although we probably used at least 2 continues in order to do it, but that sucker got PWNED!
I also remember a time during my elementary school years when my friend Ryan and I beat one of the Ikari Warriors games. I think it was the second one, (Victory Road) although I could be wrong considering that was over 25 years ago! And while the exact details of the game are a little fuzzy at this point, what I do remember was that the game respawned your character whenever you did something stupid and found yourself eating a shit sandwich.
In both cases, the respawn feature that was used in these games allowed for me and my friends to keep plugging away, learning from our mistakes, and eventually achieving that ultimate gamer goal: WINNING!
By comparison, when I think about the first time I played Gradius on the NES, I found myself growing more and more frustrated by that game’s use of the restart option. Progression in the game seemed to come at a lot slower pace, and I found myself giving up on it a lot sooner than I should. Don’t get me wrong though, I still enjoy Gradius to this very day, but I honestly feel like the game play is bogged down and less fun as a result of the use of restart rather than respawn.
While I was researching this article, I played through a variety of SHMUP games (I assure you it was all for the sake of research, and I didn’t enjoy a single moment of it). One of the games I decided to a play was Salamander, the very game that LifeForce was based off of. Just for curiosity’s sake, I decided to play both the TurboGrafx 16 (TG16) version, as well as the PS1 version that was part of the Salamander Deluxe Pack. What I found as a result was quite remarkable. Even though they are the same game, the TG16 went with the restart with checkpoints mechanic, while the PS1 version used respawn. I found myself replaying and enjoying the PS1 version a lot more simply based on the respawn feature.
I often wonder how much different an experience I would have had with those first two games if the developers had chosen to use the restart option instead. Would the games have flowed as smoothly as they seemed to? Would we have gotten bogged down and eventually turned the game off in a fit of rage due to having to constantly replay through the tougher sections of these games? How then would my opinions of shoot ‘em ups and video games in general be different than what they are today? I don’t know if I want to think about those things too much. I love video games, especially the SHMUP and platform varieties from the 8 and 16-bit eras, and part of what made some of those games so great was the ability to respawn upon dying.
In conclusion, I will always have a special place in my heart for games and the developers who choose to utilize the respawn upon death feature. I know there are many fantastic and much beloved games that use the other options when it comes to continuing the on-screen action, but for me the quick redemption/recovery after an untimely death and progressing the game at a much quicker pace makes it that much more enjoyable.