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Knowledge Out Of The Blue

Video games tend to design their challenges around a specific ratio or set of skills. From beginning to the end, the amount of skills you need may increase across the board, but for the most part significant changes in the ratio are rare. Rare, not non existent. If you take an action game like Mega Man, getting through each level requires more dexterity, timing, and adaptation than knowledge and reflex. It's common to get comfortable to this particular skill ratio/set. Sure, some enemy or level challenges alter the ratio temporarily. For example, enemies that take a lot of hits increase the rapid fire button pressing dexterity skill ceiling. Ticking time bombs increase the timing skill ceiling. Hard hat enemies and vertical corridors lined with spikes test reflex. Boss weaknesses and other secrets/tricks increase the value of knowledge skills. But there are times when the ratio of a skill set is greatly altered. In these challenges, the skill shift can make the core gameplay feel like a shift in genre. In other words, when you think you're playing an action game, all of a sudden, you're playing a memory game like Knowledge.  

The following is a list of games with challenges that greatly stress knowledge skills so much that the gameplay shifts into another genre so to speak.


Mega Man 10 Block Devil


  • Mega Man Devils. Mega Man 2 Devil. Mega Man 9 Devil. These guys are designed to test your knowledge skills more than any other challenge in the game. By breaking apart and reassembling, the player is forced to quickly process lots of data and devise a successful strategy. Furthermore, because there's only a small period of time where the Devil is vulnerable, knowing the weakness of the Devil will save a lot of time.  Getting overwhelmed, flustered, distracted, or losing count are all things that can hinder you from learning the pattern. And because the pattern is the same every time, knowledge will ultimately make this boss easier upon subsequent attempts. 
  • Super Mario Brothers Series. Throughout the majority of the series players have learned to continually move to the right to reach the end of the level. However, in special looping levels, unless the player travels through the correct section, the level will continually loop until time runs out and the player dies. In World 8-4 in SMB, players have to carefully count pipes, gaps, and enemies to keep their bearings.  (NSMBWii Castle 2).
  • Banjo-Kazooie Game Show. They warn you at the beginning of the game to pay attention to details and various bits of trivia. It all comes down to this game show. Because the game show happens toward the very end of the game, there's a good chance that you haven't been writing down all the clues. Furthermore, there's a lot of variety of questions. Some are visual, some are memory matching games, and some are sound based. It's a knowledge intensive challenge in a platforming adventure game. It's genius.  
  • Trace Memory Memory Test. At each chapter marker, the player is forced to take a short quiz about their progress. It's like the game show in Banjo-Kazooie, but much less creative and fun. 
  • Final Fantasy 6 Opera Scene. Read the score while you still have time back stage in the waiting room. Once you get on stage, you're put to the test. Get too many lines wrong and you fail the performance. You get 3 chances to get it right.
  • The Legend of Zelda Series. This game series made up of 3 core parts; combat, puzzle solving, and exploration. Because puzzles are generally knowledge based challenges, a large part of Zelda's gameplay supports knowledge skills. A few examples include...
    • Every challenge in Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks that encourages player to memorize clues or write down notes. 
    • The Trivia game the Gorons force Link to take to become one of the tribe. Part 1Part 2. (Phantom Hourglass).
    • The Anooki village of liars (PH) and the Anooki pairing challenge (ST).
    • Whale Island turns players into a cartographer (PH).


In the same way that elegant solutions are easily disguised in games that merge two genres, significantly adjusting the skill ratio of a game has some unique effects on the gameplay experience. Being able to mentally switch from playing on edge in a platformer/shooter to reading through the depth/complexity of a puzzle challenge can be far more difficult than doing both independently. This is an issue of adaptation. The more you have, the easier the shift. Sometimes I'm so unprepared for a skill shift that I stumble through some relatively easy challenges. Some of the best examples of skill shifts alter the gameplay without changing the core mechanics. In other words, without going into a separate screen or mode, all of a sudden the gameplay is different and you may have to pull out your reserve knowledge skills out of the blue.  

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