Most of the time, when I play a difficult or challenging video game, I like to think that my level of gaming skill is the only factor playing a role in whether or not I am successful. When I defeat a boss in Elden Ring, or survive a heavy firefight in a shooter with just one pixel of health left, the sense that I was lucky and skillful enough to win is a great feeling.
However, a lot of the time, video games are using subtle unstated tricks to help us survive their ever more challenging worlds, reducing the friction between what we wanted to do, and what would have actually happened in reality.
Many of these little tricks employed by video games have existed for years, assisting players and helping them have a more enjoyable and less stressful gaming experience, often without the player ever knowing.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and some of the lies that game tells the player in order to make the series move to 3D more accessible to gamers used to 2D games. We’re going to show you how some of these gameplay tricks work, how they are applied regardless of difficulty modes, as well as discussing some of the other tricks video games use to make themselves quietly more accessible to the average player.
Let’s start off by talking about Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and the tricks it employs in order to remain accessible for 2D series fans.
Kirby and the Forgotten Lands is a 3D Kirby adventure, but much like Super Mario 3D world it uses fixed camera angles to control how you view its 3D environments. While the player does have some limited camera control tied to the right analogue stick, this gentle tilting is within strict limitations. For the most part, players will see Kirby’s world from predetermined vantage points.
Many of Kirby’s signature copy abilities were designed with 2D level design in mind, and when moving to a 3D space, players who don’t play many 3D action games will have to more carefully aim their attacks in three dimensions. While most copy abilities have a very wide hitbox and range of area around kirby they will strike, the game also uses its forced perspective to lie to the player, just a little bit, about whether or not an attack hit its target.
Iif Kirby tries to attack an enemy and misses, but from the default fixed camera angle it looks like the attack hit, then the game will register it as a hit, within a certain range.
This doesn’t in practice mean you’ll be hitting enemies miles away across the level accidentally, but if an enemy is near enough, and your attack was close enough to look like it connected with the enemy, rather than having it miss and the player be disappointed, it will register the hit to keep the gameplay feeling satisfying and lower frustration.
Now, since footage of this has started doing the rounds on Twitter, a lot of gamers have been complaining about it, saying that they don’t want the game to lie to them, and that they would rather attack that miss simply miss as they should do. And, to them, I say that this has been happening in games for years, in some cases literally sold to players as desirable mechanics, and they’ve likely not even thought about it before now.
Coyote Time is a term colloquially used by video game developers to refer to an amount of time, usually measured in frames, where a character can technically have already stepped off a ledge, but if they press the jump button they will still execute a jump correctly, as though they had done so with their feet still on the platform. Many of the world’s most satisfying to play platformers, including most of the Mario series titles, make use of this mechanic extensively. It’s barely perceptible, but it helps the game “feel” right, without needlessly punishing you over a matter of pixels.
Kirby and the forgotten Land does something similar too, with jumps when you are near, but not quite yet on the ground executing as a fresh jump from the ground, rather than a hover over it.
A lot of first person shooters will have enemies deliberately miss their first couple of shots at you if you’re looking away from them, so that you have a chance to know they are present, and can react to fight back rather than being downed by an attack you didn’t know was imminent.
In games like Elden Ring, these kinds of player experience friendly lies are sold as features to be exploited. Invincibility Frames, sometimes known as I-Frames, are a window of time, usually during a dodge animation, in which your character becomes literally invulnerable to all damage. This allows players to survive otherwise fatal attacks, and feel like it was due to their amazing skills. Which, you know, it is, dodging in Elden Ring only gives a very limited number of invincibility frames, but that’s still a window of frames where an attack is hitting you, and the game doesn’t count it as damaging, so you can be cool and take down the big boss.
In many games, including several competitive fighting games, the last little slither of your health actually represents a larger amount of health than it would appear to. Sometimes referred to as the magic pixel, this allows players to have the experience of feeling like they have clawed back victory when they were impossibly close to death, by disguising how close to death they actually were.
Some game series, such as the Borderlands games, will allow you to do more damage when you are struggling. If you are downed in Borderlands, and manage to get back up and keep fighting, your character will for a brief time deal additional damage, to help you win a fight it knows you were previously at risk of losing.
I highlight all of these examples not to suggest that you, the player, are not actually good at games, but to highlight that Kirby lying to you about whether or not an attack truly hit isn’t some abnormal case of a video game making things really easy because it’s Kirby, and Kirby’s afraid to be challenging.
Video games constantly lie to us, and that’s okay. If you’re a skilled player you’ll never know it’s there, and if you’re a disabled player struggling to handle something like 3D action combat, you’ll hopefully get an experience where every hit that looks like it makes contact does make contact, seamlessly allowing you to feel powerful without breaking that immersion.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land has challenge if you’re looking for it. I beat the game’s final post game boss on hard mode the night before recording this video, and it wasn’t easy. Offering a little lie behind the scenes didn’t lessen the game’s challenge, and makes the game more accessible to disabled players, and that’s a win win in my book.