First, let's define the context: One of the biggest changes in the industry was the savegame. Before, the home console industry inherited the systems from the Arcade machines, ones designed to offer some gameplay in exchange for a few coins. You basically purchased lives with coins and the games' difficulty were adjusted to make you invest your money on it. Home consoles used the premium model instead, where you purchased the whole package, making the lives system purpose to change from a monetization strategy to add replay value and game lenght. Games were short on content in a much less profitable market than today's and adding content was expensive due to the high costs of the cartridge format back then, so extending the game's lifetime through a die and retry system was pretty much appreciated by both players and the industry. But all of that changed when the savegame was introduced. It was almost a necessity in an industry with higher profits, budgets and cheaper formats (the CD rom) that allowed for more content. But once the savegame system is in place and became a standard in the industry, the lifes system became obsolete. Die and retry doesn't sinergice very well with long games and the new progression systems. Still, many games kept the lifes system during quit a long time. Why? The main reason is that, for classic franchises, the lifes system is heavily embedded in the reward systems, and changing it requires a redesign of the whole reward system to make the game work as similarly as possible to the original experience and meet the expectations. Games who doesn't ha a weaker reward system where the highest value reward is kind of pointless. So, here is where Encore Mode from Sonic Mania enters: Encore mode is one of the first tries of the Sonic Franchise to replace the lifes systems. For those who didn't have the chances of playing it, the game offers up to 5 characters each with one different skill. By finding characters you add one to your party and through other paralell systems of dual characters and swapping mechanics. Being killed means losing the currently active character and losing characters means having limitations on where you can explore. If you lose all the characters, you get a game over and you reload from the last save point. You may like the idea or not, or you could also be indifferent, but regardless I want to analyze how this answer to the lifes' problem doesn't manage to resolve the reward system problems. The Encore Mode substitutes the 1UP reward by a new character reward. This is useful when you are missing one character from your deck, but it stops being rewarding when you have the complete rooster, so it is substituted by a swap monitor. On top of the 1UP reward, you have two other monitors: the first one, swaps your current character from one backup character and the other one shuffles all your characters. It may look like the reward system has been improved with two new reward types, but there's a problem: THEY ARE NOT REWARDS. Those two monitors are actually game mechanics, not rewards. They are the button of switching character that is missing from your gamepad, the switch button that opens a door or that changes your skill, but disguised as a reward using the shape of the monitor. You don't earn anything because those characters are already on your team, but on the contrary, in order for this feature to exist, it was imposed a limitation on how can you use your characters. You don't gain anything from this trade, you lose control and reaching those monitors only randomizes the output, it doesn't return back that control. You don't feel good when finding a question mark monitor after finding a secret tunnel, but you feel bad when you need a character and you cannot use it unless you find the proper monitor. And if you don't plan on switching characters, hitting by accident these monitors is a punishment. The switch mechanic does not offer by itself a meaningful reward, although the character rooster and swap system may actually replace the lifes system with something that makes sense in our times. Does it? To answer that question we need to analyze what the reward system of classic Sonic games, and, unluckily, the reward system was much more than just a 1UP monitor. The reward system in classic games: The reward system of Sonic the hedgehog was revolving around the RINGS. The game offered a unique defense system that consists in being immune to death as long as you keep one ring with you, but if you are hit, you lose them all. It's easy to notice that the hard thing to do is to accumulate rings. The more rings you have the better you played. A good reward system is proportional to the difficulty of the task, so the game rewards according to the number of rings you accumulated: - If you manage to reach the end of the level with 50 rings or more, you can go to the special stage - If you manage to accumulate 100 rings, you get 1UP The accumulation is very important. Unlike other games like mario, you need to do it in a sequence without getting hurt. While in Mario getting 1UP is obtained through grinding, in Sonic it requires skill. On top of that there are other minor reward but, I will place the focus in the important ones: - Invencibility: temporarily you are protected from damage, hence, protecting your rings. - Shield: protects your rings once, increasing your margin of error. And all of this combined creates a neat and intuitive reward system: - Progression rewards: rings / 10 rings - Defensive rewards: Shields, invencibility, others - Ultimate Rewards: lifes, giant rings. On Sonic 2 you also have Super Sonic, another reward that substitutes the special stages when you got all the chaos emeralds and that keeps improving the more rings you get. The more rings you accumulate the more sure you won't get out of time when transforming, but also, the more you lose on a hit if you get greedy. So, how all of this is related to the Encore Mode? Encore mode substitutes lifes, but lifes are the pinnacle of a chain of rewards that begins with one ring. If you remove lives, everything falls appart: you no longer have to obtain 100 rings to get 1UP, so accumulating rings is uninteresting. If accumulating rings is unninteresting, shields become uninteresting, and if shields are uninteresting, what can you give the player for reaching new heights? Encore mode aggravates the problems. There's no lifes anymore. If you die, you are replaced by another character, hence making the game even easier because it allows up to 5 hits with 0 rings, reducing even more the value of the rings. Even starposts are less valuable since now they only work when you fall on death pits, very uncommon in Sonic Mania (and as it should be). But Sonic 3 has a save system! Sonic 3 managed to provide new rewards: elemental shields provide new both active and passive skills, giant rings hidden in the levels had become their own reward and the ring accumulation has moved to the bonus stages in the starposts. Still, the rings, who are the base of the reward system are hurted the most: getting 50 rings doesn't provide you of anything unless you have the 7 chaos emeralds and the extra 1UP for getting the lives is less valuable since you can reload at anytime from the beginning of the zone, a much softer penalty than having to restart the game. So basically with 1 ring you are good enough to survive. The value of the shields is decreased, although compensated with the passive and active skills. But in the end, in this game, having more rings and more lifes is more of an achievement than a game reward, just like score is. One of the biggest problems are the bosses and minibosses. Once you reach the boss, the rings lose their value: if you didn't reach the 100 rings you probably won't do it anyway, so, what's the point of keeping them? No point, so you can basically blast through the boss defenses, getting hurt as much as necessary in order to take him down as soon as possible. Most bosses are easier and faster by abusing of your invulnerability time. When the best strategy is to lose, there's something wrong with the design. This also applies to previous sonic games and it's probably one of the biggest problems in the classic saga as a whole. Many critizise the bosses due to their simplicity, but this simplicity is, at least partially, because of the kamikaze tactic being in most cases the most efficient solution. In sonic adventure games the reward system is even more obsolete: you only replay the last level if you lose all your lifes, so gathering rings is actually not that interesting. Then, the shield becomes also uninteresting as a reward and the magnet shield ability is just magneting rings which are also useless. On top of that, there's no more bonus stages, no more hidden special stages, no shield powers... the reward system is completely broken. Sonic Adventure games and forward are games whose core is about traversal, losing this important layer of exploration. Yeah, there are 1UP boxes here and there, but they work more as an achievement than a real reward bonus to increase the chances of survival. Heck, if instead they were collectible cards it would have worked better. In future games a ranking system was added due to the obvious lack of secondary objectives due to a poor reward system. Right now, encore mode, while it adresses the problem of lifes, substituting it with a character swap mechanic, fails and aggravates the problem of the rest of the rewards of the game. The lifes were just the tip of the iceberg. In order for a life-less system in future sonic games to work at the same level as the Sonic 1 reward system certain CONSTRAINS must be met: - There should be consequences for dying. losing 20 seconds of gameplay is OK for die and retry games where you die a lot. - There should be rewards for accumulating rings. NOT FOR GETTING RINGS. In sonic rush you refill your boost by getting rings, which is OK, but getting rings is not hard: accumulating them is, and the big reward should be here. - The player should need to bring as much rings as possible to the end of the level while not overriding the, probably, best reward of the game: the hidden giant rings. In Sonic Adventure 2 the number of rings you have at the end of the level allows for puchases in the chao garden. That's OK, but it is completely unrelated to the rest of the game. A good design will have the feature integrated in the core game structure. Brainstorm: What could be an example of a good feature? Well, I have no real good one, but I think one starting point is recovering the rewards at the end of the level of Sonic 1 from Game Gear. This reward sign will appear after you defeated the boss. But in order to make it work the game progression needs to have a twist. The core idea would be inspired, surprisingly in a roguelike. Specifically in Spelunky: There's no savegame nor lifes: if you die, you return back to the main menu. You can quit and reload from the quit point, but your progress is lost on a Game Over. You can use the character you want and swapt between the ones you found without restriction. You can have in your team up to 3 characters. Once you have reached a new level, you can start the next game from that level or any previous one. You can start as any of the characters you previously had in your previous play. Just like with spelunky, you can play from the level you want and explore it at will, but, the only way to reach the true end of the game is by playing the game from the first level and get all the achievements in one go. Not in an artificial way but by being able to pass information between levels: The rings, shields and characters you got in the first act of the zone carries over to act 2. Once you reach the end of the level and defeat the boss, you will have a reward according to the number of rings you possess, just like in Sonic 1 8-bit. You could have an elemental shield, rings that will be carried on to the next level, robotnik's fart, or even a new character. There's many characters in the game, but you can have only 3 that are given to you according to the number of rings you have when reaching the end sign. By making each character reward to be given in a specific range of rings, the players can plan ahead who they want their team to be. There are no starpost respawn anymore. On crush or pits you will lose your shield or all your rings and return back to the last "safe point". If you have no more rings when you are hurt you get a game over and have to return to the main menu. Starpost still exists as a gambling machine: according to then number of rings you have you will be transfered to a bonus stage. The number of rings you require to enter will be removed but the bonus stage should allow to multiply that number, obtain shields or even some characters. Instead of lifes, the biggest reward is the golden shield. A golden shield will transform into a regular shield when receiving a hit, which means it protects your rings twice instead of once. if once you have a golden shield you take an elemental shield, you will get a golden version of the elemental shield: they behave like the regular elemental shields but they become an elemental shield when hit instead of disappearing. You cannot upgrade an elemental into gold (if you take a gold monitor when wearing an elemental shield it becomes a regular golden shield), but you can upgrade the gold into elemental. With this, you have a choice when wearing an elemental shield: safety or skill. On top of that you will meet the ring gate. If you have enough rings, the ring gate will suck your rings and keep them safe up to certain quantity. Your ring counter will decrease but those rings are safe. When defeating the boss, the ring gate will appear and give you all the rings you saved before the end of level reward. If you were to get a game over, the ring gate will appear an sacrifice itself instead of you. If you manage to have more than, let's say, 150 rings at the end of act 2, you will have as end of level reward a secret bonus act named special act. In the special act is when you will really progress in the game. Name it super emeralds, name it hard boiled eggs' true hideout, name it whatever you want, but the objective of the game is to complete these acts. The special act shows a different color palette to distinct themselves from the other acts. You can still play without knowing the existance of these acts having a regular sonic 3 like experience, but here we reward the players with new content (hence, new levels) for being able to accumulate enough rings. On top of that, we reward the players with the true final zone and the true ending for being able to complete all the special acts in one go. This leads into the Spelunky type of progression: you can play the levels and practice them as much as you want, and once you know well the game, you have to make everything in one go. Once you have completed the true ending you have available the new game+ when starting a game, which means, you start the game with the progress of the previous game, so this way you can play supersonic from any act and have any combination of 3 characters. You can even start the game from any special act if desired.