Many game mechanics come and go depending on popularity (both in games and in popular culture), trends, and sales figures. For a time, developers thought it was a good idea to use silent protagonists because it was believed that players would be able to relate to them better if they didn’t speak. Another was using cell phones for just about any kind of communication. Because why wouldn’t you want to get a text message when you cruising down the slopes of Diamond Mountain at the local ski resort.

One that seemed to enjoy itself in the 8 and 16 bit generation is the power bomb, or maybe better known as the screen clear. It came in the form of a Special Attack of Napalm in Streets of Rage or as a Power Bomb in Star Fox for the Super Nintendo. It was a game mechanic designed to clear the screen of any and all enemies if the player was becoming overwhelmed. It was a quick breath before jumping back into the madness on screen.

That was then.

Now, with titles like Dark Souls and DOTA 2, becoming overwhelmed with enemies and filling the screen with chaos and destruction is part of the fun. Letting up just once comes off as cowardly and an inch that the developer believes the player doesn’t deserve. We are always searching for that next challenge and finding it in a tough platformer or RPG seems to come up as an answer more than not. This is also one of the reasons that Nintendo is seen as a children’s console: that there aren’t any “adult” games. Everything is too easy.

And part of me agrees with that statement. Take, for instance, the Super Leaf in Super Mario 3D World. It only appears if the player loses five lives in a single level giving Mario invincibility throughout the level, ultimately making it easier. If you can’t be hurt, then what’s really stopping you except a timer?

This is a game mechanic that echoes back to an ancient time. A time when developers were desperate to separate themselves from the arcades to the consoles. When you work in an industry that pays on every quarter you put in, how do you design a game that only fulfills a single purchase but must entertain for hours? The answer may have been to help the player along. To help them get through the game, to enjoy it, to see the ending.

Does the power bomb still have a place in gaming today? Sure, there are tons of indie games that have some sort of screen clear mechanic or another, but modern gaming has left it to deaf ears. What would a power bomb look in this day and age of a new IP, I wonder.

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Eric M Hunter

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