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Comeback Mechanic
"There needs to be a way for players that have fallen behind to catch up. A game becomes frustrating if a player feels like he or she has no chance to win."
Mark Rosewater, head designer of Magic: The Gathering, Ten Things Every Game Needs

Video games can be cruel sometimes. After all, The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. However, some games feel sorry for a player who might need a positive shove. When done well, this creates a motive for less experienced players to keep playing and a deeper layer of strategy for more experienced players. When done shoddily, it will needlessly drag out a match longer than it should. If done extremely poorly, then the trope overlaps with Do Well, but Not Perfect where players that play too well will constantly be harassed by players that are falling behind and possibly lose because of the mechanic. In general though, the purpose of such mechanics is to keep the game close so that less experienced players aren't left in the dust, which can have disastrous results in the game's popularity.

There are two ways a game can go about comeback mechanics: The first is to give an advantage to a losing player. That is, it allocates privileges among players at any given moment, with more given to those whom the game feels is more likely to lose. The second is to give an advantage to a player about to get eliminated. All players can use this mechanic, whether they're winning or losing, but they either favor players close to the losing condition in a game (such as having low remaining health) or can only be used by such players.

Comeback Mechanics are most commonly seen in genres where matches end quickly. Fighting games and racing games are prime examples of these, with matches rarely exceeding a few minutes. Games with time limits for multiplayer will also often have Comeback Mechanics regardless of genre. This is because there is little to no harm in extending the matches a bit longer. Comeback Mechanics are less common in genres that traditionally don't have a time limit and tend to take a long time to complete a match, such as shooters, puzzle games, and turn-based strategies.

This is different from a handicap, which is specified by the players before a match to be specific amounts. A Comeback Mechanic is integrated into the game itself and is present in all multiplayer.

Most examples of comeback mechanics are in video games, but there are a few examples outside of it, most notably in Tabletop Games (this includes board games and card games too), though some sports do too.

A supertrope of Desperation Attack. A subtrope of Anti-Frustration Features and Mercy Mode. Compare Rubberband AI, which is when this is applied to the computer players but not to human players; and Dynamic Difficulty and Critical Status Buff, applied to a single-player mode (though not necessarily for the latter). Turns Red is a Comeback Mechanic applied to a boss. If a game has a particularly strong comeback mechanic, this may invoke players to Do Well, but Not Perfect. A Golden Snitch is a Comeback Mechanic run amok, where it's so strong that performance outside of this one mechanic is pointless. Contrast Unstable Equilibrium and Kill Streak, which is when a game gives advantages to the winning players.

Games that support losing players

  • All Mario Kart games will bestow more powerful items the further behind a racer is. This was at its most potent in Mario Kart Double Dash!!, where characters have powerful special items.
    • This extends to Battle Mode's Balloon Battle in Mario Kart Wii: When a player runs out of balloons, they are considered knocked out, and that player's team loses 1 point. The fewer balloons a player has, the more likely an Item Box will yield something powerful. If one team has a substantially higher score in any mode of Battle Mode, the game will give the losing team a powerful item, such as the Lightning Bolt or POW Block, which hits all members of the opposing team.
  • Although the item system is not as strong as in Mario Kart, each character in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed has an "All-Star Move", which shows up when they're falling behind. All-Star Moves give the character an increased top speed and allows him or her (or in a few cases, them) to attack racers they pass by. This is not available online, howevernote , so it winds up as a kart racer without a strong comeback mechanic.
    • All-Stars Transformed also introduces the Swarm item, which is a densely packed group of giant hornets flying out in front of the lead racer, serving as stationary obstacles for anyone to drive into. It's intended to slow as many drivers down as possible in front of the user of the item, who's immune to them. The comeback mechanic is still not that strong in Transformed, however, because the game has a very shallow item curve: The main difference between a racer in 2nd and a racer in last is that the last place player is more likely to get double or triple items, not stronger ones.
  • Crash Team Racing (along with sequels such as Crash Nitro Kart) use a similar item curve as the Mario Kart series, especially noticable since a lot of items work in the exact same manner as those of the latter series.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • Brawl has the Pity Smash, which is given to someone who has been knocked out multiple times without inflicting a knockout. It allows a free use of a powerful Final Smash.
    • Also in Brawl, Lucario has this as a unique character mechanic. The more damage Lucario has, the more damage his Aura based attacks will deal, with his power capping when his damage meter hits 170%. Lucario's current standing in a match also affects how powerful his attacks are; if he's one stock (or one point in Time matches) behind his opponent, his attacks will be 20% more powerful, and if he's two or more stocks/points behind, his attacks will be 40% more powerful. On the contrary, if he's one stock/point ahead, he'll be at 90% of his usual power, while being two or more stocks/points ahead will leave his attacks with 80% of their usual power. For one more bonus, the size of his neutral special, Aura Sphere, directly correlates with Lucario's current power standing.
    • The fourth game adds an additional comeback, in that the higher a character's damage percentage the more knockback is added to all of their moves (although damage dealt is unaffected). For Lucario this stacks with his existing comeback power, making a weakened Lucario a truly dangerous threat.
  • In Mario Party, Bowser will normally take Coins or Stars from players. If a player reaches Bowser with no Coins or Stars, however, Bowser will give the player 40 Coins.
    • Most Mario Party titles also present an event when there are 5 turns remaining where the player in last is invited to spin a roulette wheel (actually a spinning item box), of which most of the results are in that player's favor.
    • In Mario Party 9, most possible outcomes of landing on a Bowser space will benefit the player in last, and one outcome is an extremely high-stakes minigamenote . We're talking "whoever wins this wins the board" stakes, so it can cause comebacks.
    • The first few Mario Party games had the Chance Time space, which had the player roll three dice. Two picked a player, and one picked something that happened. This could include everything from "give Player A twenty coins" to "give Player A all your Stars." Chance Time was also viewed as a Scrappy Mechanic, and titles from the Gamecube onward didn't feature it.
  • In the Modern Warfare series, they added Deathstreaks; much like it sounds, it's a bonus given to players who're doing particularly bad. If they die multiple times in a row without ever getting a kill, the game will give them a buff of some sort (such as increased health or dropping a grenade upon death) to help them out.
  • In Pokémon, the move Pain Split adds the HP of the user and the target, averages it, and changes both monsters' HP to that amount. Logically, this means that the less HP the user has than the target, the more effective it becomes - although since some Pokemon have naturally low HP, they don't really have to be losing to take advantage of the move.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Stairway to the Destined Duel, if a player loses the card duels too often, Mokuba Kaiba, an extremely easy opponent, starts popping up to give some quick victories.
  • TimeSplitters has a "Monkey Butler" mode in multiplayer, where the player with the lowest score gets an army of monkeys to help them out. There's also "Shrink mode" where the lower your score, the smaller you are and thus the harder you are to hit.
  • In the Capital Conquest multiplayer mode of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the losing team gets the option to use heavy bombers against the winning team in a last-ditch attempt to turn the match around.
  • In Dissidia: Final Fantasy and its sequel, the summon Magic Pot changes your Bravery (attack power, which is extremely highly variable in this game) into that of your opponent's. If your opponent is able to land a finishing blow on you, odds are you can do the same to your opponent with Magic Pot.
    • There's also a more conventional version of it in form of skills and accessories that activate when you're losing and Cosmos Judgment, which aids losing players.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog series:
    • Many Sonic platforming games that support multiplayer races will usually have a feature that swaps two players' locations in the stage. Naturally, this is only useful to a player who's fallen behind.
    • In Sonic Rivals and Sonic Rivals 2, any racer who isn't in 1st place gets an increased top speed. There are long empty sections in each stage to allow them to catch up.
    • The head-to-head multiplayer in Sonic Lost World has each stage divided into segments. When one player reaches a checkpoint, however far behind the other player was will be roughly however far ahead that player will be when the next segment begins.
    • In racing mode of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle if a player gets killed he will respawn at the checkpoint with an ability ready to use. This can be problematic if there is a long stretch of no rings after the checkpoint as players may commit suicide specifically to fire a Sonic Wind/Chaos Spear at the opponent. A stalemate can occur if both players repeatedly do it to each other. The only end to this is when the time runs out or one player gives up.
      • Keep in mind that a stalemate of this nature is not as easy to pull off as it sounds, as the power-up you get is based on the distance between the two racers. If you're within close distance, you'll usually only get a Speed-Up, medium distance gives you a special attack and long distance gives you a time stopping power. There are not that many levels available that allow for the kind of distance traveling necessary to cause an endless cycle of attacks.
      • This also shows up in the treasure hunting mode where your character, upon revival, is given either their Interface Screw special attack or, if they're an emerald behind, their paralyzing move.
      • The comeback mechanic also becomes enhanced by distance in the race modes. If the two are neck and neck, they'll cycle through their specials normally. If a character is far behind, they'll only get Sonic Wind/Chaos Spear and Chaos Control/Time Stop while the person far ahead will only get Speed-Ups and the odd Chaos Spear/Sonic Wind.
      • There are also unlockable alternate outfits for all of the core cast that give them infinite access to one skill every 20 rings instead of cycling between the three.(For example, Shadow gets access to 5-second Chaos Controls and Sonic gains access to Sonic Wind) The character is, however, able to access their other powers after death thanks to the comeback mechanic.
  • League of Legends has a minor example. Players who die without killing enemy champions decrease the amount of gold awarded for killing them, while players who kill without dying are worth increasing amounts with each kill. This doesn't counteract the game's Unstable Equilibrium, but mitigates it to a degree.
    • Recently added was more experience for a champion of a lower level killing a champion of a higher level - which helps mitigate that aspect a bit.
  • In the Nintendo Wars series, each time a unit is damaged, the defending team gets twice the CO Power charge from the attack as the attacking team.
  • World of Warcraft reintroduced world PvP in Wrath of the Lich King but soon face the issue that on realms with large population disparities, the more populous side would always win. "Tenacity" was a scaling buff introduced by Blizzard to balance this. Unfortunately, sheer numbers could still carry the day with ease.
    • When Tenacity failed, Blizzard implemented a different Comeback Mechanism. Player entry into battles was limited at a one-to-one ratio. The smaller faction would face a group of the same size, evening the battlefield.
  • In Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, the Substitution Jutsu gauge, which allows a character to teleport away before getting attacked, refills at all times except when attacking. This means a player on the constant offensive will replenish his or her Substitution Jutsu gauge slower than someone being attacked.
  • In the game Atomic Runner, if a player lost 5 lives in the same location, on the next respawn their character would have all power-ups. This would continue to be the case for further respawns until they managed to clear that section.
  • NFL American Football tries to maintain long-term competitive balance by making the order in which teams are allowed to select what college players they want to take on run from the bottom to the top of the year's league table.
  • The board game Go uses komidashi (or komi), a small amount of points always given to the player designated as white at the very beginning of a game to compensate for having to go second (black moves first in Go). This overlaps with a handicap, however, as komi can be raised or lowered for skill gaps between the players.
  • In TowerFall, players lagging behind on Versus Mode get shields at the start of the round. This mechanic can be lessened or taken off with certain variants.
  • A Pinball example: Multiplayer games in Lights... Camera... Action! use a Catch-Up feature; each round ends with all players receiving the score of the opponent immediately ahead of them, while the leading player gets an extra 1 million points.
  • In the past few WWE video games, if certain wrestlers are getting whooped enough and has no finishers stored up, the aptly named "Comeback" mechanic allows them to do a quick time event inolving a sequence of moves; if successful, a signature move is automatically available.
  • MechWarrior Living Legends had a large issue of Unstable Equilibrium which was rectified in the final update via a comeback mechanic. Players in cheap vehicles would get more money and points (for themselves and their team) when firing at players in more expensive vehicles. It's possible for the winning team to shoot themselves in the foot by upgrading to more expensive and larger BattleMech too soon in a match, causing the enemy team to get craploads of points whenever they shoot them.

Games that support near-elimination players

  • Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has the X-Factor mechanic, which boosts the speed and attack power of the current player character. The fewer characters the player has remaining on his or her team, the stronger X-Factor becomes.
  • Street Fighter X Tekken has Pandora. This allows a player 10 seconds of infinite super meter (and changes the character to black with glowing purple, including the clothes), at the cost of disabling the partner character and losing the match once Pandora wears off.
  • The Pokémon moves Reversal and Flail do more damage the less HP the user has, and Endeavor reduces the opponent's HP to be the same amount as the user's.
    • The Pokémon Trading Card Game, during the 2nd-generation, had Pokémon-star cards. Most of them had one attack that had pitiful strength but became overwhelming if the player is about to lose the game.
    • Among the abilities introduced in Gen III are Overgrow, Blaze, Torrent, and Swarm, which respectively increases the power of Grass-, Fire-, Water-, and Bug-type moves by 50% when the user is down to 1/3 (or less) of their HP.
  • Tekken 6 has "Rage Mode", which activates when a character is low on life and does more damage the lower their life gets.
    • In Tekken Tag Tournament 2, it returns but tweaked so that the losing character's partner is the one who gets "Raged" and the only way to get the buff is to tag them in. Also, it goes away after a certain amount of time and there are moves the opponent can do to end Rage Mode instantly.
  • Street Fighter IV has the Revenge Meter, which fills the more damage one takes. Once it's filled halfway, an Ultra Move becomes possible and when filled all the way, the Ultra does more damage. Like Super Moves in Street Fighter II, Ultra only lasts one round.
    • Street Fighter IV also has a very subtle mechanic in that characters receive less damage depending on how much life they have left. With less than half their life remaining, they take slightly less damage from each attack. With less than a quarter of their life remaining, they take significantly less damage from each attack.
  • In the Video Game/Capcom vs SNK series, the most obvious examples are S-Groove (based off of King of Fighters 94 and 95's super bar system as well as the one used in 97 and 98' Extra fighting style) which let the player use level 1 supers infinitely and allowed for Max level supers when the bar was filled up when the user was at low health, and K-Groove (based off of Samurai Shodown's Rage Gauge system) where the bar fills up when you take a hit, and when filled allows the user to perform a MAX level super as well as giving them a damage buff.
  • Bloody Roar: Primal Fury aids losing players by expediting the rate at which their beast gauge fills, regardless whether inflicting or receiving damage. Meaning, the lower their health, the greater the gain per hit.
  • Soul Series examples:
    • Soul Calibur IV allows players to assign skills to custom created characters, among them are will power and hysterical strength. Both are passive abilities that activate when the player's health dips below a certain point.
      • Will power - requires the player to be in critical status (low health) and causes the character to glow red, when active. It sharply increases the user's stats for the remainder of the round.
      • Hysterical strength - only requires that player's health drop below half and only offers a boost in attack power; noted by a greenish yellow glow when active.
    • In Soul Calibur V, a player that is one round away from losing the match gets one free soul gauge stock in the next round. This only happens once though- they'll have to carry themselves the rest of the way.
  • Some house rules for Monopoly give a certain amount of money to a player who gets bankrupted, allowing them to keep playing. Additional requirements vary between houses. This isn't always a good thing: since the only way to end the game is for one player to completely dominate the others, methods of lessening that domination often just drag out the inevitable.
  • The "Second Wind" feature in Borderlands, whereby if you manage to kill an enemy as you're in the throes of death yourself, you gain a small amount of health back, and can continue.
    • This mechanic is also present in Guild Wars 2, to help ease player frustration.
  • One item in Tetris Axis switches your playing field with that of the opponent. This is most often used to transfer what should be an inevitable loss to your opponent.
  • In the Naruto Storm series, every character has an Awakened Mode, which offers either increased speed and attack power or a new, more potent set of abilities. However, it can only be used if the character has less than half of his or her total HP, or in the case of particularly strong Awakenings, less than a quarter or even one-sixth. It's Changed up a bit in Storm 3, where it can be used at any time as a form of a Lag Cancel as opposed to just a Comeback Mechanic, though it can still be used this way.
    • Also, in the Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution series, there are Latent Ninja Powers, an additional bunch of moves for each character triggered by being below a certain HP.
  • Punch Out on the Wii has two examples:
    • If the player is about to go down from a KO or TKO, mashing 1 and 2 or shaking the Wiimote and Nunchuk can help bring Little Mac back into the action and not lose, coming back with about 1/4 of his energy. However, the mechanic has a great chance of failing if said mechanic is relied on too much in a single round.
    • If Mac takes a hit that will normally knock him out, he may reel back, let out a yell, and pull himself back into the fight. This will happen very rarely, however.
  • Mortal Kombat 9's super meter seems to work more on the side of damage intake rather than output. Beating up your opponent won't earn near as much super energy as simply getting smacked around yourself. Charge it all the way up and retaliate with a big combo full of EX moves or one powerful X-Ray shot.
  • Persona 4 Arena has Awakening mode, which kicks in at the back end of your character's life bar. In this state, you take reduced damage (roughly one-third less), gain 50 more points of super meter (in both the senses of getting free meter and increasing your meter capacity), and have access to an "Awakening" super move. However, since Awakening only triggers once your character returns to a neutral state, if the player is trapped in a combo upon that threshold, damage reduction won't occur until it ends. The sequel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, changes the mechanic slightly in response to the introduction of Shadow-type characters; only normal-type characters can access Awakening, but Shadow-type characters have access to their Awakening super from the start of the round and gain more meter from being hit, which makes it easier for them to activate Shadow Frenzy and cause massive amounts of damage.
  • In Panel de Pon and all its spinoffs, clearing a garbage block turns it into regular panels (or in the case of larger garbage blocks, the bottom row turns into regular panels while the rest turn into a smaller garbage block). If you can line up the panels underneath before the clear animation finishes, the new panels can fall and create a chain. As a result, matches between top players usually turn into garbage tennis - each player sends a maximum-size garbage block to the other, who clears the block while using it as ammo to create another massive chain that generates another maximum-size garbage block. Repeat until one player can't clear the garbage block within the two-second grace period.
  • A similar case occurs in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, where each time a player drops a piece, all the Counter Gems (garbage blocks) on their side count down by 1, and turn into regular gems when they hit 0, turning them into fuel for counterattacks. Additionally, clearing gems higher up on the screen generates more Counter Gems sent to the opponent. Thus the definitive strategy is to send one giant attack that KOs your opponent in one hit - but that's easier said than done.
  • Baroque in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom allows you to deal more damage in a combo—how much more depends on how much red health the player's current character has. As red health increases with damage taken, the more damage the character has taken, the stronger Baroque becomes.
  • The King of Fighters series, during 94 and 95 as well as 97 and 98's Extra fighting styles, used this trope where if one player was low on health, they were allowed infinite use of any normal D Ms to attempt a comeback. Later on, '98 and 2002 onward has a more subtle mechanic- with its 3 vs. 3 fights, later fighters will be able to store one more super bar. Therefore, the first character in a team can stock up to three bars, the second stock up to four, and the last up to five. It allows for more damaging combos or escape attempts, but it won't single-handedly turn the tide of battle.
    • In KoF '99 and 2000, power stocks remain the same all throughout but with each downed character, the next fighter will be able to call in strikers more frequently, some of which can be potential game breakers.
  • Some of the events in Galactic Civilizations II are designed to help a player who is behind or hinder a player who is ahead.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the Dark Ascension expansion has cards with a Fateful Hour mechanic. These cards have additional effects which kick in only if you have 5 or less life (usually out of an initial 20) remaining.
  • Blaz Blue Chrono Phantasma swapped out gold bursts for Overdrive mode, which applies a buff that differs for each character. Overdrive lasts longer if the player activates it while low on health.
    • All versions of BlazBlue give players automatic Heat (super meter) gain when low on health.
  • When most characters get low enough health in Jojos Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle, they enter Rumbling Mode, where their health meter turns red, and they gain increased attack and defense.
    • A select fewnote  instead get Resolve Mode at low health, where their health meter turns yellow, and they get super armor while not attacking and increased defense. Fugo also gets a new move that he can only access while in Resolve Mode. This move lets him evolve Purple Haze into Purple Haze Distortion without spending meter, when he can usually only do so by using his Great Heat Attack.
    • Ikuro Hashizawa, aka Baoh, gets his own low health effect: his health automatically regenerates, but only up to 50%.
    • Jonathan, Bruno, and Valentine also deserve special mention. Jonathan has a move called "My final Ripple" that can revive him from defeat with 20% health and give him permanent Ripple-infused attacks at the cost of locking out his HH meter. Valentine can expend 3 HH bars to have D4C replace him with a full-health Valentine at the cost of all his corpse parts and the usage of his HH meter. Bruno auto-revives in Resolve Mode if he's about to lose the match for one last chance to win.
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle allows Travis to recover from 0 to 3 HP if the Wiimote and Nunchuk are aggressively shaked. It works up to four times, but if the last hit before the potential death is landed when Travis is knocked on the floor, or is One-Hit Kill, Travis will invariably die.
  • The Xbox One version of Killer Instinct:
    • Each character has access to Instinct Mode, which gives each character a specific buff, like increased damage or gaining super armor. However, the respective Instinct Meter builds only when you take damage or successfully perform Combo Breakers, so you have to be beaten down a few times before you can activate it.
    • T.J. Combo has an additional "Last Breath" mechanic to go with the Instinct Meter - if it's full when he runs out of health, he punches the ground, causing a shockwave that knocks the opponent back, and gets back up with a small amount recovered and a half-duration Instinct Mode for one last chance to turn things around.


Sliding Scale of Collectible TrackingVideo Game RewardsCompletion Meter
Close Range CombatantPower at a PriceComes Great Responsibility
Combatant Cooldown SystemVideogame TropesCommon Tactical Gameplay Elements
Breather LevelVideo Game Difficulty TropesCrutch Character

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