What are your favorite examples of latent/hidden abilities in games?

One of my favorite devices in video games is when the player discovers, either through a late game reveal or simply toying with the possibility space, that they had some latent ability all along.

The two examples that immediately come to mind for me are wavedashing & hyperdashing from Celeste, which massively increase your mobility and are ultimately necessary to complete the endgame levels, and the in-world line tracing from The Witness, which reveal that the basic puzzle-solving verb has actually been applicable to the breadth of your surroundings all along.

It’s so impactful for me to have a moment of realization that an entire facet of the game was at my disposal the whole time, but its presence eluded me. I find it adds a richness and tangibility to the world, in that my capabilities have expanded purely based on my understanding of its functionality and limitations, rather than unlocking them.

Do you have any other examples of where this idea was effectively deployed? How do you feel about the concept in general?

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This is something I really like too but I can’t think of too many instances where I’ve run across it in a game I’ve played myself.

The only two I can think of are the example from The Witness you mentioned (which is extremely cool!!!) but there’s also Thumper which has a handful of techniques that aren’t tutorialized until later in the game but are still available to you no matter what level you’re playing on. These mechanics are jumping off of notes and slamming down on notes while you’re in the air.

There are specific uses for these abilities during boss fights, if I’m remembering things correctly, but if you play around with them outside of those you can turn regular notes into the notes that recover your shell that normally appear at each checkpoint, which is one of the ways you can get lots of bonus points if you’re aiming for high scores! The moves are also really fun to pull off when you hit them perfectly too!

Another general example of this is learning about highly specific ways to break or exploit systems in your favor in roguelikes. This varies from game to game but I think even knowing that there are specific things you can do to game systems that are based on random chance (whether it’s through bugs or a more deliberate manner) to secure the outcomes really changes how you can approach those sorts of games from run to run.

A pair of highly specific and somewhat recent examples I can think of come from Spelunky 2 :whipping the dice in the gambling dens so that they always result in a 1 or 6, making it easier to land on 7 and getting the featured prize and Dicey Dungeons: learning that you can make certain equipment/gadget setups with the Inventor that’ll let you trigger endless damage if you get a single die!

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Blue Gravity Gun in HL2

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Thumper is a great example, going back to earlier stages with those techniques is really helpful to get S ranks in everything! I’ll have to check back in on your Spelunky 2 example after I finally get around to playing it haha.

Oh, all fighting games is my favorite example. Theoretically you all have the ability to combo, frame trap, block, and run strike/throw from day 1.

This is a sort of fringe case, but EVs in Pokemon. Basically, any time a Pokemon gains XP from defeating another in battle, it also gains a certain number of points in a specific stat, and at each threshold of points (I believe it’s 4), that stat rises permanently by an extra value.

What this means is that a trained pokemon of a certain level will be noticeably stronger than a wild pokemon of that same species and level, and when you don’t know the inner workings of these games, it’s a way the game subtly tips the scale in the player’s favor, feeding into the power fantasy.

Of course, you can manipulate these by training against specific pokemon and using certain items — that’s a huge part of the competitive scene. And more recent games have made them more transparent. But in the GBA and DS eras, the games never told you this mechanic existed, and it just felt like the act of bonding with the pokemon itself was lending it this nebulous, additional power.

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