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Compromised Mechanics

I’m fascinated by game mechanics that seem to have been rendered nearly pointless due to what looks like design by committee.

The last few Super Smash Bros. games have had “Challenges” that give various rewards for accomplishing various in-game goals. They’re basically Smash’s Achievement system, but some (generally minor) game content is also locked behind particular challenges.

Each Smash game with challenges also provides players with “golden hammers” that can be used to clear challenges without actually doing them. The challenges feature most or all of the game’s various modes and range widely in difficulty, so if someone doesn’t like a particular gameplay mode or isn’t capable of mastering it hammers let them skip those particular challenges without missing out on whatever content is locked behind them. But only a handful of hammers are available, so the challenges are still a meaningful goal for completion. Players can just file off the roughest, least appealing parts of that goal - which will vary from player to player. And hardcore completionists can still get bragging rights from clearing all the challenges without using a hammer. This is great!

But it seems like somebody didn’t want the individual challenges to lose their potential for bragging rights, because some challenges don’t let you use a hammer - usually the hardest ones for each game mode. As a compromise, this almost completely destroys the value of the hammers. Now you can’t just file off the roughest parts of the challenge completion goal - and why bother filing off the less-rough parts? If you can beat the hardest challenge in a mode without using a hammer, then you can beat the easier challenges in that mode too. And if you can’t, then you’ll never completely clear the challenges anyway, so why bother hammering any? Now the only reason to use a hammer is if you want the specific content locked behind a specific hammerable challenge that you can’t do for real or don’t want to bother with.

Not only have I never used a single golden hammer in any of the Smash games with challenges, when I realized in Brawl that the “Boss Battles” challenges that I knew I’d never beat on the higher difficulties didn’t allow hammers, I lost interest in all the other challenges too. I had a similar experience in the 3DS Smash. It looks like Ultimate is the first Smash where I’ll actually finish the challenges (all I have left are the grind-out-online-matches ones) but the hammers still didn’t help.

I have to wonder whether Nintendo is particularly susceptible to this, because the other example that comes immediately to mind is the Super Guide that can help stuck players in certain Mario titles but carries a lot of weird restrictions. It really should have been permanently available but activated from a menu; instead, it becomes available when you die a certain number of times, guaranteeing that players who want it will need to suffer through the requisite amount of frustration first and that players who don’t will see it as the game mocking their failures.