Forgiving Challenges

In Brief

  • The challenges in the classic games were forgiving.
    • This did not make the challenges any less difficult.
  • It merely gave the player an opportunity to instantly replay the obstacle after making a mistake.
    • This helped to enhance the feeling of speed, as the player was not continually retreading old ground.
  • Modern games lack this forgiveness.
  • This is because most challenges are suspended over a bottomless pit.
  • If the player make a mistake, s/he will fall into a pit and die.
    • As a result, the challenges are often frustrating.

It is commonly regarded that the Mega Drive Sonic games are very easy, especially in contrast to other platformers such as Mario and Mega Man. These claims aren’t without merit: The classic Sonic games don’t lack challenge, but they are more forgiving of player mistakes.

Defining forgiving challenges

Forgiving challenges allow the player an opportunity to recover from a mistake, enabling the player to immediately have another attempt at the challenge.

An unforgiving challenge usually punishes the player with death. This requires the player to replay the level until s/he returns to the challenge.

Forgiving challenges do not reduce difficulty A forgiving challenge is just as a difficult as a non forgiving challenge. The difference is that the player can instantly re-attempt a failed challenge.

Benefits of forgiving challenge

Forgiving challenges assist speed Speed is enjoyable as it allows us to quickly progress to a goal. In an unforgiving challenge, when the player dies s/he has to retread old ground to return to the challenge. This slows down progress, which goes against speed.

Forgiving challenges assist learning Most people learn through making mistakes. If a player can instantly reattempt the challenge, then the mistakes made previously will be fresh in the player’s mind. This makes the challenge more enjoyable, as the player is more able to learn the mechanics of the challenge.

Forgiving challenges reduce frustration An unforgiving challenge creates frustration, as the act of travelling back to the challenge produces repetition and boredom.

Forgiving challenges in the classic games

Death Egg is the final (non-boss) stage of Sonic & Knuckles and so is naturally the hardest level in the game. Despite this, the obstacles are still forgiving.

In this obstacle, Sonic has to use a moving platform to travel across an electrified floor.


The obstacle presents several challenges:

  1. The platform frequently changes direction and Sonic must move along with it, to avoid sliding off.
  2. The platform moves much slower than Sonic, which creates a strong temptation to jump off it and run across the electric floor, even though such an act guarantees damage.
  3. Several missile launchers are placed on the route of the platform. Missiles fire out at regular intervals and must be avoided as the bullets not only remove rings but also push Sonic towards the floor.


Although the obstacle is challenging, it offers a significant degree of forgiveness.

  1. The player only loses rings for taking damage (either from the floor or missiles). Death only occurs if the player lacks rings.
  2. The lost rings momentarily appear on the moving platform. If the player is quick enough, the rings can be re-collected, which provides protection for the rest of the obstacle.
  3. The moment the missile is launched, a sound effect is heard. This offers a split-second warning that assists the player in dodging the missiles.
  4. The platform is never too far away from the player. Hence, if the player does fall, s/he can return to the platform without dying, provided s/he moves quickly enough.


classic_good.png The elements of forgiveness do not lessen the challenge.
classic_good.png Instead, they remove the need for the player to master the obstacle.
Mastering the obstacle will be necessary for a player that wishes to complete the stage by achieving a fast time or without loosing rings.
classic_good.png For all other players, the obstacle can provide a suitable challenge without severely halting progress.

Forgiving challenges in the modern games

In the modern games, challenges frequently lack forgiveness. Consider this obstacle from Aquatic Base in Sonic the Hedgehog [X-Box 360/PS3]


This obstacle presents several challenges:

  1. Sonic has to use a ball to travel through a corridor that has no floor.
  2. Moving the ball is challenging as:
    • It quickly gathers speed
    • It cannot be stopped immediately but has to be gradually brought to a halt
  3. Surrounding the area are several oscillating electric fences The fences intersect with Sonic’s path, requiring the player to only move forwards when the fence is off.
  4. The ball will burst if it touches a fence, causing Sonic to die.


In contrast to the classic games, this obstacle lacks forgiveness:

  • It is difficult to predict when the fences are on or off
  • The 3D nature of the space makes it difficult to see the fences (the video is a good example of this).
  • If the player falls, death occurs instantly. There are no mechanisms for a second chance.


modern_bad.png The lack of forgiveness makes the obstacle extremely frustrating.
modern_bad.png The player has to repeatedly re-play the obstacle until s/he has mastered it. Until the obstacle is mastered, progression is halted.

Reasons for the differences

In the modern games, bottomless pits occur more frequently. If the player fails to pass a certain obstacle, s/he will often fall into the pit and die. This reduces forgiveness.

The next section deconstructs bottomless pits, and, as it demonstrates, the pits only serve to destroy the game by creating a high level of frustration.


  • Modern games need to make challenges more forgiving.
    • Instead of falling into a bottomless pit when making a mistake, the player should simply lose rings.
  • This will not reduce the difficulty of the challenge
  • However, it:
    • Reduce frustration.
    • Enhance the feel of speed.

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The Challenge Zone (Index) The Challenge Zone Bottomless pits


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