Comeback Mechanic

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"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."


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. 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).

A supertrope of Desperation Attack. A subtrope of Anti-Frustration Features and Mercy Mode. Compare Rubber Band 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. Contrast Unstable Equilibrium and Kill Streak, which is when a game gives advantages to the winning players.

Examples of Comeback Mechanic include:

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 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, however, so it winds up as a kart racer without a strong comeback mechanic.
  • 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.
  • 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 the Call of Duty: 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.
  • Time Splitters 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.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Advance 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 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.

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 7 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.
  • Lucario in Super Smash Bros.. Brawl does more damage and receives larger hitboxes (areas that inflict damage if an opponent touches it) the more damage he takes without getting KOed.
  • 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 Capcom vs. SNK Millennium Fight 2000 series, the most obvious examples are S-Groove (where an opponent gains infinite meter while close to death) and K-Groove (which behaves much like Rage from Tekken 6 and Revenge from Street Fighter IV (attacks do more damage and they receive access to a Super Move) but only lasts a limited amount of time and ends the moment the Super Move is used.
    • S-Groove's meter is based on The King of Fighters's original gauge (which eventually got turned into "Extra" mode for '97 and '98), which has the same property near death (which is partly why super moves in KoF are called "Desperation Moves").
  • Bloody Roar: Primal Fury aids losing players by expiditing 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, 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.
    • 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 this a mechanic for the player. If the player is about to go down from a KO or TKO, mashing 1 and 2 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.
  • 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 less damage, gain 50 more points of super meter (which means one extra super can be executed in the same bar), and have access to an "Awakening" move.
  • 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 XIII 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.
  • Some of the events in Galactic Civilizations II are designed to help a player who is behind or hinder a player who is ahead.