The Anatomy of Platformers, Part 3: Enemies, Hazards, and Obstacles

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I am about to cover the last component found in most platformer video games: enemies, hazards, and obstacles. These are different things, but all serve the purpose of challenging the player by obstructing progress. I will break up this article into three parts to make it easier to read. Like the other articles in this series the topic discussed here can be found in most other games as well. If you want to read the other parts of this series, you can find part 1 here The Anatomy of Platformers, Part 1: Playable Characters and part 2 here The Anatomy of Platformers, Part 2: Collectibles.

Enemies:

Enemies frequently resemble living creatures that just so happen to try and defeat, capture, or most often, “kill” the player character. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and difficulty levels. Their basic behavior comes in a variety of intelligence levels too, though most of the time there is a way to take advantage of an enemy’s intellectual “blind spots” and movement patterns to either defeat or avoid them.

The variety of enemies that frequently appear in platformers come in some of these flavors: simple foes who are easy to defeat, flying foes who fly and can be a nuisance based on what kind of actions the player can take. There are spiked foes that exist in games where jumping on an enemy is the main way to attack. These can often be killed using a different form of attack in these games. There could be aquatic enemies in games with water levels, with varying behavior. There are also tougher enemies called mini-bosses, often halfway between the beginning of a new area and the toughest enemy in an area, the boss. There’s also the final boss, the last foe to defeat before you finish the game. In rare cases there are invincible enemies that cannot be stopped and must be avoided entirely. Such foes could be situationally invincible, but otherwise resemble sentient hazards with artificial intelligence. Many more flavors of foes could exist too, but these are the main ones that come to mind in platformers.

Hazards:

Hazards, like enemies, can kill the player. The main difference is that hazards do not resemble living entities, and usually can’t be destroyed. A few examples include bottomless pits, (usually a one hit kill if the player falls in. This hazard can also be a lava pit, water pit if the player can’t swim, or spike pit), simple moving objects that hurt the player, and projectiles that come out of cannons or the like. In some games, there could be a platform that rotates in such a way the player could fall to his or her doom. There are clearly more types of hazards out there that do not come to mind at the moment.

Obstacles:

Obstacles, like hazards, are not living things, and while they can limit progress, they do not injure the player, at least not directly. They could present navigation challenges, such as platforms that need to be jumped towards to get further. Another example could be a locked door that requires a key. On that note, they can also present a puzzle of sorts, such as a switch that temporarily opens the way forward. Even a short wall could be considered an obstacle if the player has to jump on or over it.

Other obstacles that come to mind include floors that are slippery due to ice. There could be sticky floors that require jumping to move, or that slow the player’s movement speed. Some obstacles can be destroyed, such as a breakable wall that requires a certain action to remove it. Other obstacles move, and thus they can carry or push the player, sometimes across a pit, sometimes into the pit if the player isn’t careful! Conveyor belts can move the player as they stand on it. A Trampoline can get the player to jump higher and clear obstacles or hazards…or launch the player into a hazard! There’s so much variety here that it is impossible to name them all in this article.

Here are a few takeaways concerning enemies, hazards, and obstacles in platformers:

  • Enemies resemble living creatures, have some sort of intelligence, and actively try to kill or capture the player character.
  • Hazards do not resemble living creatures, but can still injure or kill the player character.
  • Obstacles do not resemble living creatures, and usually just slow down progress for the player. Some can injure the player indirectly.
  • All three components serve the purpose to challenge the player by slowing down progress.
  • Enemies come in many types, and can vary in difficulty, movement patterns, and attacking patterns.
  • There are usually ways to avoid getting hurt by enemies and hazards.
  • The final boss enemy is usually the final challenge in platformers, and in many video games as well.

Well, that about wraps up what I have observed in platformer video games. I hope this series has been informative to players and potential game designers. Platformers are one of the classic video game types that many players have played, and are somewhat foundational as many ingredients found in these games show up in other game types as well. With any luck, this will get the creative juices flowing for anyone interested in game design! Have fun!


That was a look at the many pieces that make up platformer video games. Did I miss any major enemies, hazards, or obstacles worth mentioning that could be found in a platformer? What is your favorite or least favorite enemy, hazard, or obstacle? What is the most unique variation of these things you’ve seen in a platformer? Let me know, and it might get mentioned in a revision of this article! If you enjoyed this analysis, then click that like button and share on social media. To keep up with That’s All Games, you can subscribe via email or WordPress. Until next time, have fun gaming!

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