A Referendum On Bottomless PitsS

A question yesterday about the comparative merits of being saved from a plummet into a bottomless pit by a beautiful woman or one's own grappling hook is occasion enough to determine: How do we feel about bottomless pits in 2009?

In my preview of Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack In Time yesterday I lamented the series continued use of the bottomless pit as a character-killer. Falling into one forces a restart at the game's last checkpoint. That is a friendlier system than that of Super Mario Bros. which, more than two decades ago, forced plummeting players to re-start the level. At least Super Mario World offered mid-level checkpoints.

As I noted in the Ratchet preview, other games have been grappling with the bottomless pit issue by offering players immediate recovery — quick escapes that return them to the last part of the game level on which their character had planted his two feet.

In last year's Prince of Persia, the prince's female companion, Elika, extended her hand to automatically rescue a prince who jumped poorly. That design element had its detractors. Wired's Chris Kohler wrote of the game's designers and their Elika no-death mechanic: "They have eliminated the lows, but also the highs. It is free of frustration, but it is also free of joy."

In this year's Batman: Arkham Asylum a player can recover from any bad fall by pressing a controller shoulder button to fire Batman's grappling hook and see the great detective conveniently climb to safety.

In Batman you can die from a fall and do have to press a button to prevent that. In Prince of Persia, salvation is automatic. But neither game exacts the harsh penalties of Super Mario Bros. nor even the milder consequences of a Ratchet and Clank.

Via Twitter, I threw the question to the public yesterday, comparing the more negative reaction I'd seen online to the Prince of Persia approach to the indifferent reaction I'd seen to Batman: "In 08, people hated Elika for saving the Prince of Persia from platforming death. Do those folks hate Batman's similar safety nets in Arkham?"

Some responses:

1) "people who hated elika's saves are stupid. Lives are a thing of the past and interrupt narrative gameplay."

2) Just like the Prince's version worked in his story, Batman's works in his. I have no problem with it if its more fun.

3) PoP felt like a platformer (where falls should matter). AA doesn't even have a jump button, so falls shouldn't hurt you.

4) (disclaimer, I <3ed POP) I think the difference is Batman's is tied to player agency (ie pressing the button) and POP wasn't.

5) I doubt it. In Batman, you feel like you're saving yourself. In PoP, someone is saving you. You maintain badassery in Batman.

What do you think?

[PIC - via Flickr]