Most Platform Games feature a type of very common gravity-defying pickup item that levitates in the air and populates all the game's stages. They're always small, shiny, and make a catchy sound when you grab them. Additionally, there's always a counter, usually shown on-screen, of how many of these items you've currently picked up. Levels can contain hundreds of these items just begging you to grab them all, and you may see tens of thousands of them over the course of the entire game.
They always look the same whether you're jumping through the Intro Level or the Final Castle, and no explanation is ever offered as to what they're doing floating in the air throughout the whole of the game's world and why hasn't anyone else collected them already. They're just there, and you just grab them. It's just what you do. Also, don't ask where your character stores all of them.
The name comes from the coins in the Super Mario Bros. series, unarguably the most well-known version of this type of pickup. You might even say the rest of the games ripped them off.
It is common for level designers to use these coins as a guiding hand, drawing paths with them to show you which way to go. Hence, Follow the Money. You will undoubtedly find yourself jumping, soaring, and falling through streams of these coins as you traverse the level.
Sometimes, they might tip you off to things that aren't immediately obvious, such as the location of an invisible path or other secret. They also might visually demonstrate just how the heck you're supposed to pull off that tricky jump. Sometimes there are even arrows drawn out of these items to guide you.
Ironically, sometimes these coins are just about the only thing the game can think of to reward you with. Found a secret nook in a wall? Followed that obscure, tricky path of coins into a previously unnoticed "treasure room"? Surprise, it's filled to the brim with — you guessed it — more coins! If not, it might contain a 1-Up or two (Wait, aren't those what the coins are supposed to be for anyway?)
- In the first Harry Potter game for the PC, Harry had to escape from the rampaging troll set loose in the school on Halloween. The route he must follow is extremely dangerous, and includes a staircase with many holes in the floor. Luckily for the player, someone has already traced out the safest path using a trail of Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans (the game's currency), so all he needs to do is dash along, scooping up beans.
- In the LEGO Batman game, a trail of studs can often show you exactly how and where Batman's Glider suit is best used.
- In fact, all the LEGO games do that and sometimes lead to minikits, from whom there are 10 in every level, which give you... MORE STUDS.
- Inverted with the unlockable extra "stud magnet", where money follows you.
- Rule of Rose has a very cruel version of this, where sometimes trails of health restoring items can lead you to get swarmed by a group of enemies.
- Parodied on Chatterbox FM in Grand Theft Auto III, where a caller complains about how video games are teaching children to go around chasing money.
- Used as Shmuck Bait in one early section of Luigi's Mansion. There's a trail of coins on the floor leading to a door. Attempting to open the door will have it swing out and smash Luigi against the wall, causing him to lose money and health.
- It could be said that Pac-Man uses this Trope, as his pellets were chiefly undefined and were basically just collected like games which made heavy use of this trope in more modern ways (Mario's coins, for example).
- In the Pac-Man World series, certain pellets cause Pac-Man to automatically devour his way across a twisting path of pellets. It's like Follow the Money on autopilot.
- Glider has clocks as bonus items, though none of the games keep count (in fact, Glider PRO allows them to be destroyed by triggers).
- The developer's commentary in Half-Life 2: Episode 1 reveals that the designers place health and armor strategically through the more hectic parts of the game so that the player will run in the right direction, if a certain path or jump wouldn't otherwise be obvious.
- Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion had Life Force, floating, rotating yellow diamonds. Collecting 100 of them would actually increase your health by 20, but for the most part, they often lead you on the obscure paths forward, including climbing up and walking across the girders of a building under construction to jump onto a rooftop in a small section of city whose focus is on the zombie-ridden streets.
- Turok: Evolution would use a more subtle version of the trope with small ammo pickups.
- Doom uses a variation at one point: a secret area in E1M6 is pointed out by an arrow made up of small armor pickups pointing towards a wall.
- Serious Sam uses a different variation, where picking up a health pill or armor shard will spawn another one just ahead, continuing for a short while until the player is lead into an ambush.
- In LittleBigPlanet, one can place Score/Prize Bubbles anywhere in Create Mode, so it's possible to go this route. It also works for multipliers-5 score bubbles, prize bubbles, or enemy brains increases the multiplier by one.
- The coins in the Super Mario Bros. games. It was subverted in Luigi's Mansion, though: trails of coins would lead you to traps.
- Super Mario Galaxy adds Star Bits, but keeps the coins, making it one of the few examples of a game having multiple kinds of this. Coins refill your health meter, while star bits can be used as weapons and chucked at enemies, are the game's currency and give you extra lives if you pick enough of them. Oddly, the first Galaxy has very few coins around, which looks odd on a Mario game; the sequel has more coins.
- Super Mario World had this with the standard coins and Yoshi Coins, the latter giving you a 1-Up if you found five in a level. Some levels even had more than five, giving you additional lives for each extra one.
- The coins in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins certainly performed the main functions of Follow the Money, but instead of automatically cashing in for extra lives every time you accumulated 100, you could hold up to 999. A cave near the castle has four wheels within, each of which allows you to trade a different amount of coins for prizes (items or extra lives) which you spin up on the wheel.
- In Super Mario Bros. 2, the coins (pulled out like vegetables while in Sub-Space) are used for extra turns on the slot machine.
- The coins in Yoshi's Island point out exactly where you need to throw eggs to ricochet them off walls and into bonus items. In addition, some coins are actually disguised red coins, which are needed for 100% Completion (the others are only used to get extra lives, like normal Mario coins).
- The rings in the Sonic the Hedgehog games. In addition to the typical uses of this trope, these also help Sonic avoid dying in the first place, as enemy attacks normally just make him drop the rings he's carrying. Rings are also used to turn into Super Sonic, provided you have all the Chaos Emeralds.
- Beginning in Sonic Adventure, Sonic (and other hedgehogs for some reason) can perform a technique called the Light Dash, in which Sonic would collect a line of rings by automatically flying through them, even if they were in mid-air. This sometimes made literally Following The Money the only way to get to certain areas.
- Also started in Sonic Adventure were missions where you'd have to collect a certain amount of Rings.
- The Ring Races in Sonic Heroes do this as well.
- The bananas in the Donkey Kong Country games. One of the rare situations where the bananas (but not the floating) is explained: in the first game the bananas were the colossal mess the Kremlings made while trying to steal DK's Banana Hoard and get away with it. In the later games they were dropped by the kidnapped DK to lay a path, making this an Invoked Trope. Throughout the series, Bananas are often used as hints to where the bonus stages are; in some areas, they spell out letters suggesting a specific controller button to press. Chances are if grabbing that banana will be hazardous to your health, it may be prepping you for a Leap of Faith.
- Donkey Kong 64 takes this to a new level by having different colors of bananas - one color for each playable character, which can only be collected by the matching character. The bananas end up not only outlining paths, but also indicating which character you have to use for each area.
- Bananas are in Super Monkey Ball, but it's not necessary to get them to do well, since every stage is a very tightly Timed Mission.
- The tings and lums in the Rayman games.
- Musical notes in the Banjo-Kazooie games, though collecting them is justified by certain numbers of notes being needed to open Locked Doors in Banjo-Kazooie and acquire necessary moves in Banjo-Tooie.
- Pearls in the Densetsu no Starfy games.
- Coins in Sly Cooper And The Thievius R Accoonus; while they still exist in later games, the move towards a stealth-platformer discarded this trope. Interestingly, the coins have different designs on their faces in each stage.
- Wumpa Fruit in Crash Bandicoot would often guide the way through various platforming setpieces and the quickest route through a multi-path level. Certain areas in the original game would only hint at a secret path by leaving some Wumpas floating in mid-air, implying invisible platforms.
- Gems in the Spyro the Dragon series, which can lead players into more covert areas, whereas much of the game itself is very free-roaming in nature. The origin of the gems is briefly explained in the first game: Gnasty Gnorc has turned all the gems into monsters. Guess who has to get them back. Picking up the gems on the floor also presumably prevents further monstrism.
- Used with Precursor Orbs in Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. The game doesn't have lives, but you trade orbs for power cells.
- Opals in TY the Tasmanian Tiger. They changed color depending on the area for the first game, but obstinately stay red in the second and third.
- Dream Stones in Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil give you a 1-Up when you get 100, but if you collect 150 in one level then you unlock bonus stuffs.
- The frozen bubbles in Icycle are just there to guide you and for 100% Completion, though they were apparently the inspiration for the game.
- Diamonds in Kid Chameleon. Unique in that they gave you unique powers depending on what mask you were wearing. Also unique in that there was a 99-diamond cap, after which point no more could be collected.
- Toy Story had Tin Stars (as in, the kind of star a sheriff might wear on his vest). There were about 50 of these in each level; collecting 50 would earn an extra life, and about every 100 would earn a Continue.
- In Tesla: The Weather Man, these take the form of parts and raw materials, and collecting enough of them allows Tesla to research an upgrade.
- Inverted with Streemerz on Action 52, where the money kills you.
- In Disney Princess Enchanted Journey, gems serve no purpose other than telling you where to go.
- In Disney Princess My Fairytale Adventure, gems often show you where to go and can also be collected to customize the castle.
- Kao the Kangaroo: The coins in the first and second game. In the latter, it's even pointed out by the Exposition Fairy right before a chase sequence.
- The Brazilian game Aritana and the Harpy's Feather uses guaraná scattered through the levels, pointing to places of interest or revealing secrets when collected. The ones in the Spirit World are really just there to confuse you, though.
- In an unusual RPG example, Kingdom Hearts II features mini-games in 100-Acre Wood where you have to guide Sora through some sort of obstacle course. In each case, following the "honey spheres" which line the way is the best way to figure out how to avoid obstacles.
- The collectibles in Xenoblade bear similarities to these, appearing as glowing blue orbs that are scattered all over the landscape, occasionally in lines and trails. You get a random item from each one you pick up, which can then be used to fill out a collection page for rewards, given as gifts to party members, traded to townsfolk, or sold for money. It can be a little hard to resist the urge to gather every last one of them. In one instance, they are actually used to provide a clue to a secret area, however. There's one levitating off the edge of a particular platform in the Mechonis Field that's indicating a spot you can safely jump off at for the purpose of reaching an unique monster far, far below.
- Fur Fighters, a third-person shooter for Dreamcast, later the PlayStation 2, and recently various iOS platforms, had the inventively-named Tokens. Little golden pyramids, they both provided health and opened the route to later levels, with each level requiring a certain number to unlock (meaning you sometimes had to replay levels to find Tokens you missed). Since the game's levels were huge, and often partly non-linear, the Tokens often indicated the way you should be headed next.