The Irresistible

Whenever an airship boss is defeated in Super Mario Bros. 3, a wand drops from the top of the screen. Picking it up is required to move on to the next world, but doing so in mid-air is not.

Despite this, jumping for the wand is a common behaviour. It’s fun to sync up Mario’s ascent with the wand’s descend, fascilitating a dramatic grab that culminates with Mario falling back down to earth and saving the day.

It’s a very satisfying moment, but there are no gameplay ramifications to simply letting the wand settle on the floor before picking it up. Jumping for it is simply hard to resist.

irresistible, adj.

  1. A representation of an optional action that does not result in any significant gameplay reward, yet is commonly carried out by a large percentage of players.

Let’s take a look at a couple more examples.

Mega Man

In the original Mega Man games, end-level bosses are always prefaced by an empty, single-screen room with two doors. These are a clear indicator that the end is just beyond the next turn, at which point many players choose to jump straight into the boss’ lair.

When Mega Man connects with the door, the action freezes as the entrance opens up and the screen scrolls to reveal the final segment of the map. There’s no reason to jump at the door, but it results in some areal acrobatics that firmly deposit Mega Man in the next area with punctuating, “It’s on!” flair.

Street Fighter III

Many fighting games used to disable collisions or simply cut-off player input whenever a round of combat ended. Street Fighter III was one of the first to buck the trend, enabling the victor to execute a few extra moves following his opponent’s loss. This proved quite satisfying as it allowed the winner to finish off a combo — a naturally stylish string of attacks. Furthermore, it represented a contrast to the rest of the game by providing a short window of time during which some free hits could be scored.

I don’t believe these “bonus shots” increased the super bar meter or affected the end-battle grade, but if they did, the rewards were minimal.

Metroid Prime

Doorways in Metroid Prime are triggered by the player shooting them, at which point they open up after a variable amount of time (usually between 0-6 seconds). The reason for this is to hide data being streamed in the background, which leaves the player largely idle. At this point, concern over whether the shot was registered — and plain frustration — tend to set in, resulting in more blasts bombarding the door.

Unlike the other two examples, this is more of a “get on with it” behaviour that helps to vent frustration rather than being satisfying in itself.

These irresistible actions seem to be largely accidental; as far as the games are concerned, there’s no reason for players to engage in them. They can be quite important to the overall experience, though, and once identified, they often become a defining part of a series or genre.

Are there any “irresistibles” you engage in on a frequent basis?


  • In Yoshi’s Island, eating enemies and making them into eggs is pointless if you’ve already maxed out with ammo. Spitting them out (usually) eliminates them just as effectively and is significantly faster… but lacks the immensely satisfying “gulp-pop” sound effect that accompanies the egg-making process.

    I’m tempted to mention the rocket start in Mario Kart games, as it provides a negligible advantage in grand prix races while ensuring that you get the worst items at the first set of item boxes. The pointlessness of the rocket start is debatable, though, so I’d classify it as a borderline case of “irresistible”.

    You can find people doing all sort of silly things in Team Fortress 2 while they wait for the gates to open. The one thing you’re guaranteed to see, though, is a Scout throwing baseball balls against the wall with his Sandman and trying to catch them before they fall to the ground.

    • Yoshi’s Island is good example. I also kept consuming enemies to get eggs just to make sure I had a “full cupboard” at all times, but the satisfaction of the accompanying effects certainly didn’t hurt.

  • Not sure if this qualifies, but my OCD compels me to collect all ammo stashes regardless of whether I need them. I suppose a clean playing field makes it easier to parse it for dangers and rewards, but I find myself doing this even in cleared out arenas.

    • Ditto on the OCD part. Most games don’t let you pick up ammo/health/etc., if you don’t need it, but I sometimes wish they did just so I could get rid of all the clutter.

  • This may not be directly on point, but I often find myself trying to break (or at least make ridiculous) game events such as dialogues & cutscenes, by throwing things around, jumping in the air, casting a silly-looking sustained magic spell, or activating some timed explosives just prior to initiating a non-interactive event. Deus Ex (1) is probably the first game I’ve played that let me do this to an absurd extent. I’ve gone as far as to balance heavy objects on people’s heads before talking to them.

    I also trying to find myself trying to cause the most violent multiple-car collisions possible while crossing the finish line in any sim-style racing game. Nothing is more satisfying seeing “You got 1st place!” superimposed over an orgy of vehicular violence.

    • I think the finish-line catastrophe is another great example. There’s usually no reward or punishment for doing it, but it’s quite tempting to set off a chain reaction of destruction whether the game avoids collisions or encourages them.

  • I guess more on point, I’ve died plenty of times in various action games trying to finish off an opponent with the flashiest move I have. It’s hard to resist trying something awesome when you see just 5 hit points left on their meter.

  • My two favorites:

    One of the best parts of the old NFL Blitz series was making a ridiculous dogpile after a down. Mash on that tackle button and teammates will crawl out of the woodwork to make a flying butt bomb onto the pile!

    In the vein of Mario’s wand-catching, in A Link to the Past I would always try and stand where the heart piece appears, and then run to the middle of the room to catch the amulet as it falls.

  • Here’s a real world example I have observed sooo many times. I am an avid Volleyball player and frequently travel to tournaments held at other universities over a weekend. It’s very common to have idle periods between 2 matches, but those are neither long enough nor perfectly predictable in timing to leave the premises.

    Each and every time, idling teams and players are drawn towards the Basketball hoops to play around a bit, either using Volleyball techniques or just throwing Vollyballs into Basketball hoops to kill some time.

    There is something irresistible about those hoops suspended in mid-air, something very closely related to another design term, Affordance.

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