Link stumbles into final room of the Dark Palace. A familiar for dominates the room: a large orange beast with a spiked, whippy tail and a large helmet.
Having just a acquired a hammer, Link pounds on the beast’s . A small piece chips off the helmet a a few strikes later and no more damage appears to be done.
It’s been a few years since having fought the Helmasaur King, maybe Link should try bombs? He remembers using bombs against this thing before. Or was that on the 3DS?
He tries bombs, but the explosions hurt and knock him back into range of the tail. Before he knows it, Link is dead.
Death or cake
At this point Link, or the player, have a few choices because this version of A Link to the Past has a rewind feature: go back to the beginning of the dungeon or rewind to the beginning of the fight.
Going back to the start doesn’t serve a purpose other than to punish the player and take up time. And taking up time was an important part of early console games like this. Longer games felt like a better value, this was especially important when Link to the Past came out in 1991, as $60 was worth almost double what it is today: $113.
Taking up time also makes games feel more difficult, even if it’s just slogging back through the dungeon you came through. It’s not challenging, but like a poorly designed JRPG boss, it takes up your time and because of that it feels more difficult than it really is.
We know today that games can be difficult without being so punitive to the player. Celeste, for instance, starts you right back at the beginning of the screen, removing as much punishment as they can from death. Still the game is super hard, it’s just not tricking you into thinking if harder than it really is.
So really, the choice is pretty easy. Be kind to yourself, and rewind!
If you want. I mean, it’s optional. But what I’m saying is that it’s a great option to have.
As a gameplay mechanic
So rewind is cool as a feature in retro games, but what about as a mechanic in a contemporary game?
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and Fire Emblem Three Houses both feature a limited rewind feature that can save the player from wasting a ton of time with soft resets. But as a mechanic, it encourages risk taking, more aggressive play and more experimentation.
I really liked how rewind worked in Braid, and how the game was built around it. And while I’ve never played Prince of Persia, I feel like there’s a lot of unexplored territory using rewind functions as a gameplay and story mechanic.