The Twilight Ledge
We’ve all been there or not been there. You’re running across the screen of your favorite platformer, you see a jump up ahead, you prepare yourself for the jump and right at the edge, you mash the jump button to leap across the chasm… only to fall to your death. You my friend, have likely just encountered a “Phantom Ledge” as I call it. These ledges are invisible, yet have a physical manifestation. But then sometimes they don’t manifest at all. Welcome… to the Twilight Ledge.
Let me see if I can explain myself better. In certain 2D platforming games, ledges and platforms often extend further than their visual representation would have you believe. Sometimes they can extend an entire character’s length beyond their physical form. If you’ve ever paused and noticed that your character has only a toe physically on the platform you’re “standing on” and the rest of him is seemingly suspended in the air, then congratulations, you’ve witnessed a Phantom Ledge.
Despite what their name would imply, Phantom Ledges can be found rather easily. To find one, all you really need to do is tip-toe toward the edge of a platform and see how far you can walk off it before you actually fall. Unfortunately, Phantom Ledges are also tricky little ghouls and aren’t always there when you need them. Sure, you might be able to run a little further off a ledge & increase the length of your jump, but that platform you’re jumping onto? Oh that one you have to fully land on the physical representation of it; no Phantom Ledge for you. The unreliability of Phantom Ledges makes precision platforming games incredibly difficult and frustrating. If a game is going to ask for absolute precision by it’s player, THEN IT ALSO BETTER DELIVER ON ITS END OF THE BARGAIN!! Seriously, how many times do I have jump onto a platform as Mega Man, yet miss because my toe was the only thing that landed on it? Sure, I could’ve cheesed the Phantom Ledge I was on to get a bit more distance, but I was a little distracted because said platform was in the process of collapsing.
More games need to be like Donkey Kong Country; the visual representation of the platform is exactly in line with its physical manifestation. No voodoo Phantom Ledges to be found in Kong Country. I would Phantom Ledges are exclusively an 8-bit problem but I have see them appear in later generation games. What I can say is that Phantom Ledges seem to occur more often in games with large character sprites that don’t have a lot of sophisticated animations, but those are just my personal observations.
Have you ever encountered a Phantom Ledge? Did it affect your gameplay?