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"If you see a fork in the road inside a cave, most likely one way is right and the other leads to a dead end. But people can't help trying both. Do you want to go up the ladder or go down the ladder?"
An NPC in Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver

In Video Games, especially RPGs and Platformers, if you come across a fork in a dungeon or similar environment, you will usually be provided with clues as to which way to go to advance the plot or find the next boss. Naturally, you'll want to go the other way whenever possible.

Why? There might be cool stuff down there. The game developers wouldn't go through the trouble of creating a corridor with nothing at the end of it... usually. Most of the time you'll find an interesting and useful item that will come in handy when you go back down the right path. At the very least, you'll probably find an interesting monster to fight.

Sometimes you'll get a weak consolation prize, such as a healing item that can be gotten in a hundred other places. Often you'll find an item, especially a weapon, which is particularly effective against the monsters and/or boss prevalent in the area. And sometimes you'll get what seems to be a dead end until you do some careful searching (that is, bump against conspicuous areas whilst pressing the A button repeatedly).

Of course, some games and dungeons avert this, and all you accomplish is slogging through a Death Course with no payoff and wasting a lot more of your HP than you needed to. Many a dead end becomes an Empty Room Psych, to the annoyance of players. But it was worth a try, wasn't it?

This can turn into Guide Dang It under a couple of circumstances: if which way is the "wrong" way isn't explicitly clear and the game prevents you from returning to try the other path, and/or if the boss at the end of the "correct" path is almost impossible without the shield at the end of the "wrong" path that negates his status effects.

See also Only Idiots May Pass, where the correct path is indicated but you have to go the wrong way in order to access it. Also compare with a specific type of Back Tracking where a new weapon or ability allows you to acquire a treasure or powerup that was previously out of reach. Failing to go the wrong way first may lead to certain items being Lost Forever. Usually the sidetrack is a Path of Most Resistance.

Examples of Sidetrack Bonus include:

  • The Yoshpet forest area in Okami is notable because you have a time limit, and there's always a character pointing the correct way. But if you take the wrong path, you'll always find a treasure chest, some of which you'll need if you want One Hundred Percent Completion.
  • Happens a few times in Dragon Age. In the Ruined Temple, for instance, you can make the right turn and skip going straight. You'll also lose out on one of the best swords in the game, and the only one geared specifically for Arcane Warriors. The game warns you you're entering a boss area by doing an auto-save...usually a good time to check and see if there are other rooms you should investigate before proceeding.
    • Overlaps with Guide Dang It. Taking certain dialogue options with the Gatekeeper will drag you past a possible sidetrack with several bonuses. You will have to backtrack for it. Woe betide you if you take the dialogue options with the Lady that take you directly to the elven camp...
  • In Saga Frontier, during the quest for the Shield card, exploring the caverns in Mosperiburg a bit leads to a Bonus Boss fight with a red and black dragon duo, guarding a hoard of treasures and items.
  • In Warcraft 3, when you meet up with Jaina for the first time you are to proceed toward a town. If you backtrack the way Jaina came from there is an artefact for you.
  • In Dungeon Keeper, completing certain objectives will almost invariably either a) unlock new, harder objectives (objectives that will in all likelihood thoroughly kick your ass), or b) result in your missing out on certain spells that are nigh-essential for completing the game (especially Transfer Creature or Locate Hidden Level).
  • A Boy and His Blob for Wii is a major offender. (Although a lot of levels do provide you with fireflies pointing out the path for treasure.) In fact, one level in world 2 is extremely straightforward if you're just going for the exit... and almost maddening if you go through it looking for the treasure.
  • Very common in the Ratchet and Clank series. Nearly all planets have at least two 'missions'. One is obviously what you came there to do, but the other will most likely net you a new gadget or weapon. (or co-ordinates to a new planet... where you'll most likely find a new gadget or weapon) But if you only do the first, then leave, you'll eventually run into an obstacle on a later planet that, surpise, is only passable if you have the Sidetrack Bonus from before, forcing you to backtrack. Long-time players of the series know to always save plot-vital objectives for last.
  • This makes up the majority of Final Fantasy XIII's exploration. Thanks to the game telling you where you're supposed to go and generous automapping, it's very easy to tell which paths are likely to have treasure (though not all do).
    • Almost every Final Fantasy has some variant of this--typically, the paths keep splitting in two, with one path leading to a dead end that may or may not have a treasure chest, and the other leading further into the dungeon. Usually, there's no way to tell which path will be a dead end, and if the paths get more complicated than a two-way split, it can be impossible to tell whether you're going the wrong way and will hit a dead end soon, or you're going the right way and should head back immediately to check for treasure. And you will want to check for treasure, because the weapons and armor in those chests are often significantly more powerful than anything you can buy in stores at that point in the game. Final Fantasy II is one of the worst offenders here, since going through some doors teleports you to the center of an empty room in which the random encounter rate is significantly increased, forcing you to fight two or three battles just to get back out and try the next door in the hopes that this time you'll get a room with a treasure chest. Final Fantasy VIII, on the other hand, mostly avoids this both through linear dungeon design, and through not having any treasure chests (when the game does give a sidetrack bonus, it's generally a spell.)
    • Final Fantasy VII manages to have a very notable one where you have the choice to take an elevator or the stairs on a tall skyscraper. Naturally the elevator is quite fast but if you take the stairs you'll pick up a few nice items and some interesting dialogue to boot.
  • In the Blue Cave in Quest 64, there are actual arrows pointing to the right way on most crossroads. Naturally, more often than not, the other way gets you a chest and/or a spirit.
  • In Torchlight, you need to cover every square inch of a level to be sure you've gained the maximum experience, fame and loot from that area. Same applies, of course, to the Diablo series it apes/improves on.
  • From Legend of Dragoon, backtracking to Lohan after picking up one character lets you buy their Dragoon Spirit about two discs earlier than they would normally get it.
  • Clive Barker's Jericho is an aversion only notable for having so many forks in the road leading nowhere. No pickups, no plot coupons, no clues that you're heading into another gratuitously added dead end.
  • This is a good way to find Power Nodes, ammo, and sudden Necromorphs in Dead Space 2
  • Bearing in mind that the main point of the Monkey Island games is to access as many jokes as possible, it's usually more rewarding to try dialogue options and item combinations that you know aren't going to work, just to see what happens, especially since almost nothing you do can get you killed or render the game Unwinnable.
  • Borderlands featured a LOT of this. In one area, there were literally even some giant neon arrows pointing you through certain doorways. And yes, these doors usually led to the next story-advancement area. But if you zigged when the game was trying to get you to zag? Your payoff was often gun chests, items and/or ammo.
  • Often averted in Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas. Quite frequently, there were areas that looked to be full of chests, crates, cabinets and cases...All of which had nothing but random, worthless crap in them, if anything at all. Usually, it was stuff that wasn't even worth the weight limit cost to pick it up as Vendor Trash.
  • This is very noticeable in The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword. The game's dowsing feature makes it easy to tell which of a set of path leads to plot advancement, so you can explore the alternatives if you want. Though most of the time you'll run into a Door to Before.
  • Left 4 Dead is quite linear, but there is usually a small side room or the like that may contain weapons or healing items if you take the time to explore. Since the game randomizes where and what items will spawn, you'll never find goodies in the same room twice in a row.
  • The Tomb Raider series is generally linear with items strewn along the path, but each level usually has a side room or area that is hidden, difficult to reach, or the area itself contains traps. The hidden areas, usually called secrets, contain extra ammo, health kits, or even weapons. Finding every single secret area isn't required to finish the game, but the bonus items they provide can help. Finding secret areas is almost a must in the console version of Tomb Raider III since most of the game's Save Crystals are found in secret areas.
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