It’s fun to be challenged by videogames. Through all of the frustration, the satisfaction of finally beating that one hard level or boss fight is unlike anything else. This is an experience that doesn’t appeal to everyone, however. There are plenty of people who prefer to just sit back and enjoy playing a game with minimal challenge. This is for a multitude of reasons, which this article will discuss. Some developers have been focusing on appealing to this specific audience by implementing an Assist mode into their games.
An Assist mode is an options feature that allows players to tailor gameplay to make it more suitable for themselves. For example, invincibility can be turned on but auto aiming can be left off. Rather than lowering a difficulty level and affecting the whole gameplay, players can customise their experience. It’s important to note that this is not the same as accessibility options. That menu’s primary purpose is to make games accessible and comfortable for people with sight, hearing and mobility disabilities.
With some popular titles from the past few years featuring Assist options, it’s time to discuss whether more developers should take notice. Let’s also look at those games that are ahead of the curve and how they have benefitted players.
Under Our Control
One of the most recent games to include an Assist mode is Remedy’s Control. The multi-time 2019 Game of the Year is known for its highly enjoyable but challenging gameplay. Some players criticised it for difficulty spikes and a lack of checkpoints, which the developers themselves acknowledged. In 2020, Remedy added an Assist mode in a free update in an effort to make their product more appealing. People are now able to customise the difficulty by enabling invincibility and/or increasing Jessie Faden’s energy recovery rate, for example.
From my own experience with Control, making Jessie invincible enhanced the game’s enjoyment. I even decided to achieve 100% completion. Her supernatural abilities were a joy to play around with. The lack of irritating boss fights allowed me to focus on the intriguing narrative and create some cool combat moments. For other people, the Assist options can benefit them by lessening their time within the bureau. People have families and work full-time jobs. They can’t commit as many hours to games as teenagers can. It would be a shame for that audience to miss out on a great game, simply because they couldn’t put in the time to get past a boss fight.
Earlier this year, Remedy released statistics to show how they have allowed Control to be enjoyed by a wider crowd. As of February 2021, 64% of players turned on at least one Assist option and completed the campaign while keeping it enabled. This, along with other stats, arguably prove that the feature works. Players picked the game back off their shelves while others chose to finally give Remedy their money after initial hesitation. A look at the game’s Reddit page emphasises how the mode has had a positive impact.
Make Sure the Kids are Alright
Nintendo threw their cap into the Assist mode ring in 2017 when they released Super Mario Odyssey. Their Italian plumber’s primary franchise is the highest selling of all time in gaming, captivating families worldwide. Mario is beloved by children thanks to the games’ bright nature and their accessibility. Any child could pick up Mario Kart 8 or Mario Party and have fun. The Super Mario subseries, though, are specific to the less family friendly platform genre. Platformers like Odyssey are typically challenging and require thinking and patience. The latter are characteristics that children can struggle with. This means that they might not find these titles as accessible as an older audience.
Odyssey‘s Assist mode comes with a variety of choices to make the game less difficult. These include guide arrows, more lives and the inability for Mario to fall to his demise. Of course, there are older players who would find these useful for their own benefits. This mode is especially useful for youngsters, though. Those who lack patience aren’t punished by a bad jump, or get frustrated when they get lost in an open area. Parents also benefit because they don’t have to calm down their emotional children when the struggle becomes too much. With this feature, young gamers may feel more encouraged to branch away from the Mario series and experience the genre that made the character an icon in the place.
It’s absolutely important to encourage young people to challenge themselves so that they gain skills. They shouldn’t be put through needless frustration and stress, however. It’s good to give them the choice of altering difficulty in games so that their experience is an enjoyable one.
No Shame in Taking It Easy
Some people are reluctant to activate Assist mode or lower their difficulty level because of the stigma that it’s shameful. It’s something that a few games have even encouraged. The Wonderful 101, for example, presents their easiest difficulty as being “the easy way out”. Developers like Extremely OK Games have attempted to erase this by offering their difficulty options in a manner that isn’t condescending. Celeste states that it’s designed to be demanding, but accepts that it won’t be accessible to all players. The team just want as many people as possible to enjoy their game. That’s what really matters at the end of the day.
Celeste's "Assist Mode" is such a clever way of making a difficult game accessible to a wider audience. It's framed perfectly too – not insulting, not condescending, just accepting. pic.twitter.com/errjcE5TcQ
— Matt Rolycoly (@matt_roly) January 25, 2018
There’s been a long-term debate surrounding ‘Soulslike’ games and whether they should include an Assist mode of some kind. Titles like Bloodborne are marketed as being ruthlessly challenging, which is unappealing for some people. They still fare well in sales, proving that the audience of players who love being tested is a wide one. Personally, I stay away from these games because I don’t have the time or patience to dedicate hours to a boss fight.
The likes of Dark Souls feature interesting lore and expansive worlds, and it would be good for more players to experience them. Some fans, though, are against adding Assist options because they fear it would affect gameplay fundamentals. It’s understandable that the main appeals of the Souls franchise include the fear of losing and creating strategies against bosses. Fans believe that the ability to team up online is enough help.
Videogames should be accessible for anyone to play. Yes, it’s good to challenge ourselves to get better at gaming but not everyone shares the same circumstances when playing. The likes of Bloodborne should adopt the Assist mode feature. It’s up to developers like From Software to figure out how to implement options without alienating their loyal fanbase by making major gameplay changes. It’s not fair for someone to miss out on incredible storytelling or a breath-taking world for difficulty-related reasons.
Control and Celeste have done well to help bring this topic to the forefront. Titles like The Last of Us Part ll have meanwhile been revolutionary with their accessibility options for people with disabilities, encouraging other games to step up in that area. Giving non-disabled parents, children, full-time workers, etc. a little helping hand is the next task to ensure that gaming continues to extend its audience.
Do you think Assist modes should feature in more games? Let me know in the comments below!
(Video Source: Steve Saylor)