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Keeping the gameplay interesting by switching up the mechanics

My current project, Emerald Shores, was heavily inspired by platformers from the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era.

And something that I’ve always enjoyed about those platformers is the incredible breadth of variety many of them implemented, frequently changing up the gameplay mechanics throughout the course of a game.

While running-and-jumping has always been the cornerstone of a classic platformer, most of the memorable ones from that era had a tendency to take an occasional detour from the regular mechanics and present the player with a level that could very well have been its own simple game.

Disney’s platformers are some of the best examples of this. Take Aladdin - as soon as you start getting bored of jumping around and throwing apples, the game presents you with a magic carpet-flying level.

Aladdin gameplay GIF
Aladdin, SNES

The Lion King is great as well. Not only does your character transform halfway through, changing the core gameplay mechanics for the rest of the game’s duration, but it also has various minigames, like Timon and Pumba collecting bugs, and another one of these “detour” levels where the core mechanics are abandoned for a few minutes.

The Lion King gameplay GIF
The Lion King, SNES

Toy Story did the same, replacing one of its traditional platforming levels with a racecar-driving level.

Toy Story gameplay GIF
Toy Story, SNES

Keeping the gameplay interesting by switching up the mechanics here and there provides a breath of fresh air that’s needed sometimes.

Most AAA games today seem to apply this strategy as well - not just platformers. Open-world games like Grand Theft Auto have always capitalized on having a wide variety of side content to explore when the “main” content starts to get repetitive, but even action games like Spider-Man now offer players a wide variety of side missions and minigames to take on whenever the main story starts to feel repetitive.

Spider-Man gameplay GIF
Spider-Man, PlayStation 4

That’s something I’ve tried to achieve with Emerald Shores: keeping things interesting by mixing things up after every few “regular” levels, and providing a variety of side content for players to tackle whenever they need a break.

The game has a couple of minigames thrown in as mandatory levels, it has a couple of optional, hidden minigames that offer valuable rewards, it has a huge, optional, ultra-powerful boss, and there’s even a key-collecting sidequest that unlocks a large castle with its own valuable reward hidden inside.

Emerald Shores - Bootworm Racing minigame gameplay GIF
Emerald Shores, Bootworm Racing minigame (PlayStation 4)

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