I am designing enemies for a platformer, and want to have enemies which the player utilises to get through levels.

I like the idea of jumping on enemies to platform across gaps, but it's problematic if they die. It feels really bad to put the player in an unwinnable state, having killed their means to platform across a level. It just feels messed up to be like, 'You've killed the enemy you needed to get across. Now you have to die and retry'.

What are some ways of fixing that problematic game state?

  • 34
    \$\begingroup\$ If they're required to make it through the level, you shouldn't let the player kill it. Unless you're just mean, and making a game that's mean that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stephan
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 17:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well it is a monster so it must die \$\endgroup\$
    – Casanova
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ This reminds me of doodle jump. In doodle jump the first time you try a level and get to a section like this, where you have to jump on monsters to progress, you just have to restart if you kill them before you use them. But then you learn and get it right the next time. \$\endgroup\$
    – minseong
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Depends if you are Jonathan Blow. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 23:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ How much of the level does the player have to redo? How obvious is it that you'll need the enemy to progress? This is a fairly common situation in Crash Bandicoot games and it works fine, but your game might have factors that make it not work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kat
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 1:13

6 Answers 6


Just have them respawn

Have an enemy spawner which will either spawn enemies that fall to their own deaths or just respawn the enemy once you killed it (e.g. drop it out of a pipe like in the original Mario Bros).

  • 33
    \$\begingroup\$ You can even trigger the respawn with a volume trigger on the "near" side of the jump. That way it can respawn exactly when needed to get across, and players who get it right the first time never even see the respawn, so they get to feel like they succeeded without a safety net. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ See Braid for a whole game built partly on this concept. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin: Braid is about being able to reverse time when you get into an unwinnable situation. It has nothing to do with this suggestion... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think Wario Land 3 handed it perfectly: you needed enemies to advance, but they respawned every time you went out of the current room... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 10:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what super mario odyssey does. Generic enemies will stay dead once you kill them, but anything required to progress will respawn after a little while. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pyritie
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 13:19

When you are designing a game, you are in control, don't forget that.

If you have enemies that can be killed which are crucial to traversing the level, why are they able to die in the first place? There is no reason to kill them if you have to start over if you do so.

Perhaps allowing you to 'stun' but not kill them, still allowing you to use them to platform is a good solution.

On another note, Super Metroid is what this problem reminds me of, the game had these turtle-like enemies that move left and right. They could not be killed, using an ice-beam you could freeze them, this allowed you to jump on top of them and use them to reach higher areas.

  • 31
    \$\begingroup\$ Making them unkillable also helps to indicate that they serve a special purpose. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 21:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a slight correction: the Rippers (and Ripper IIs) can be killed with Screw Attack. The Tatori (the big turtle in Maridia) is unkillable, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – user73594
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alternatively, make progress-critical enemies drop "corpses" of some kind which provide the effects needed for the player to advance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 0:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego Doesn't really matter since by the time you can kill them you have infinite mid-air jumps. Even if you somehow accidentally get the Screw Attack early, they respawn if you re-enter the room. Not that it matters, because if you can get the Screw Attack early you also know how to wallkick and bomb jump and don't need the Rippers in the first place. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doval
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 4:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego the point is they are unkillable as long as you need them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian H.
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 10:06

Have the killing of the enemy initiate another way to cross. The way that happens depends upon the specifics of your game.

If your game is fast paced, maybe killing the enemy makes a platform appear that now makes the jump possible.

Perhaps the enemy drops an item that gives a one-time-use double-jump mechanic.

Perhaps the enemy drops items that now let the player compete the level in an entirely different way.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly! Games benefit from being less linear anyway: if every puzzle has multiple solutions, the player is less likely to get stuck. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bram
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 22:01

You could design an alternative route with less reward.

Killing the enemy to drop down a level and walk to the goal = easy.

Jumping on the enemy, up or across to next level and get reward, walk to goal = skills.

Jumping on enemy without pause, so you also catch that weird mech-bird-thing before it flies away, get reward, walk to goal = super mad skills.

There is then intensive to play the game well, instead of lazily, but it also becomes more ... inebriation friendly!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Level design in the Genesis/CD Sonic games did this a lot, with a high-risk path toward the top, and multiple other routes the player could fall down to and keep proceeding without getting stuck/backtracking if they missed a tricky connection. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also worth noting that it's important to design these routes in a way that the player doesn't feel forced to explore them all not to miss something. Otherwise you make them mandatory and it can feel both repetitive as well as backtracking (even if not meant to). \$\endgroup\$
    – Mario
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 18:38

The decision really depends on the tone of the game.

  • If the game is one of those hard-as-nails type, let the player wander around in their failure. I Wanna Be The Guy et al. have a reset button that loads the last save, and you typically encounter a lot of similar situations where you need to use it.
  • If the narrative requires it, show a message that some enemies are better left undefeated and offer an option to retry.
  • In other cases, have the stage loop, either via resurrection, respawning, enemy reciprocation, or leaving to another clone of the room.

Think about what the player will expect, having played up until this point and do that. Or don't, twists are sometimes good too.


If possible, put the player on a strict timer mechanic that will kill them if they screw it up.

Some examples; the platform they are standing on collapses, the game screen moves to the right and will push them into the pit, water rises up and drowns them, etc.

This denies them the ability to hang around in the "trapped" state because it will move to a "dead" state in a few seconds max. (This was a pretty common way to do it for old NES platform games)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd actually consider this bad design, because you're punishing the player twice. First they fail the jump (bad experience and punishment on its own), and then – to add insult to injury – you shove them down into the hole. In this case it would be better to kill them straight away. "Trapped" doesn't have to be permanent to be bad for the experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mario
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 18:35

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