Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Have Games gotten Easier? Take a look at this!

A couple of days ago, I dusted off my old NES and rediscovered a certain gem. It was Batman: The Video Game loosely (and I do mean loosely) based off of the 1989 Tim Burton film. Well, I popped that bad boy right in and for a good hour or so, I got stuck at stage 3. It totally whupped my behind. Right then and there it was painfully obvious that game developers as a whole don't make them like they use to. Batman is one of the NES's most challenging games ever, and this was a MOVIE GAME! Game developer Sunsoft pulled no punches. This was a seriously challenging game that made you use your wits and skills to progress further.

So to make my argument today, I'm not going to write a top 10 list of this or a 5 games of all time of that. Rather, I'm just going to present evidence Phoenix Wright style that proves my point that they just don't make em like they use to. And since I have Batman shown up here, why not start with that?
Batman NES

Batman: The game based off the movie. If the movie was made by Sunsoft, the most vilest men and women to walk the earth.
I would love to see how the developers sat around and came up with this game. "So, Mr. Saki-son. How about we add whole bunch of things that were never even in the comic books, nevermind the movie?" "Like what?" "You know, killer pottery, random guys with guns, Sucker-Punch Machines, Hopping Sewer mutants and Tanks?" That basically sums up Batman. Except take those enemies, and put them in the worst possible places in the history of platforming. I'm serious. I can't describe how hard the level design in this game is. One stage requires you to climb up a conduit of some sort. However, there are dudes with flamethrowers EVERYWHERE. Once you somehow kill the guys who occupy the only space you have to land on, you find out that at the top of a narrow staircase is a conspicuously placed tank. Ain't that the pits!? Sunsoft seemed to follow Nintendo's policy of starting you off easy with the first two stages and offer no transition of difficulty afterwards. By the time you make it to stage 3, you'll wish you hadn't. Its here where Batman encounters the most ludicrous platforms and enemies to date. Of course, a great game is as only as good as its bosses, and you didn't expect them to be pushovers. I recall the boss of stage three aptly being named "The Executioner." And why is that? For one, he can shoot a boom out of his electrical rod arm twice the size of Batman's sprite. Just how are you suppose to beat that?

The game does a magnificent job of outdoing itself, because just when you think it can't get any harder, it does tenfold. If you ever do manage to reach the top of the clocktower, you'll have to face Firebug. And may you pray to the deity of your choice, because Firebug can easily obliterate you in .5 seconds. This game's number one reason for existing was to make sure no one beat it. Let me put it in perspective for you folks. My brother and I have owned this game since it came out. Nearly 20 years later, I managed to beat the game only a couple weeks ago. How did I accomplish such a feat? I honestly couldn't tell you. But I can tell you this. If I had put that much work into my college work, I would have been a bloody Professor at the age of 21.

Contra: For the love of God, find a second player. Preferably one that doesn't suck.

Ah Contra. The original run and gun action game. Many consider Contra to be one of the defining 2 player games of all time, and its not hard to see why. You and a partner took control of Bill Rizer and Lance Bean and fought against the invading alien forces. This offers no mercy whatsoever. One hit is all it takes to off either you or partner, and you get shot by everyone and everything. This game was most surely an a elite game. Everything about this game screams intense. From climbing the waterfall in stage 2 while simultaneously being shot by enemy forces to facing mammoth sized bosses, this game had it all for an NES. I couldn't possibly explain the feeling you get when you get shot by a stray bullet or beam which would promptly end your turn as you either watched your partner go on or steal one of his or her's life. This game is also difficult depending on who you play it with. (Which would be an obvious, no brainer but it really honestly does.) If you're saddled with someone who is Contra-challenged, then you can kiss your luck goodbye. The last thing you need is to carry a sub-par soldier around the battlefield who gobbles all of your lives and takes all the good weapons, right? You're pretty much ensuring your own end. You wanna talk about frustrating, go right ahead, but don't forget to mention this game.

Super Mario Bros. 2: Better known as Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels: It's Murder Time.
This game is downright vile. I almost shouldn't even write anything as a testament to how God-awfully hard this game is. For those of you who believe that Nintendo games for the most part have always been easy obviously never owned a NES or a SNES.

Everyone knows and loves Super Mario Bros! Who could forget the side scrolling hop and bop adventures of our middle aged slightly plump yet mysteriously athletic plumber? I don't think there is a man or woman on earth who can play Mario. I do believe however, that there are very little that can BEAT Mario. This one game in particular just maybe the hardest Mario game they've ever made. Gone is the two player and in its place are the character specific attributes. Mario runs faster and can stop quicker, and Luigi can jump higher but has worse traction. Add in some trick Poison Mushroom blocks that will either shrink you or kill you, and you've got a fantastic Mario game already. So the mechanics of the game hasn't really changed. Its the everything else that has. Namely, the stage design. There are levels where I swear, you begin to question your own existence. One stage I can think of in particular starts off with you coming out of the little brick house. All you see in a green spring. That's it. They expect you to jump from spring to spring, while a HAILSTORM brews calculatingly, yet unexpectedly. Surprise Jerkface! And for the love of God, DON'T take any warp zones. They'll send you back to where you came from. Its Nintendo's personal way of saying "Ain't no body gonna cheat with me."

Streets of Rage 3: This is your left, that's your right, this is your right, that's your right, this is your left, that's your left, this is your right, You're Gonna DIE!
You know, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Beat Em Ups. I've been fond of Battletoads, Doubledragons. Battletoads and Doubledragons. Golden Axe 1 and 2. But it was the Streets of Rage series that really took the cake for me. Maybe I'm a glutton for pain, but these games were pretty ruthless. 3 in particular. You can play as either Axel, Blaze, Skate and the usually useless Dr. Zan (I always played as Blaze.) as you patrol these "streets of rage." And it was exactly that. Swarms of enemies emerge from the shadows at they all punch you. At the same time. You would loose your health bar faster than Samus being drained by a metroid. But that's not even the tip of the iceberg. Don't even forget the fact that each and everyone of these enemies have a specific purpose if you think about it. Garcias for example have a tendency to run a around with machetes and stab the first thing that feels like flesh. Donovan's rill rise inexplicably from sewer holes and dark alleys to crack you in the mouth with kitchen pipes and prove to be your anti-air by offering you an uppercut for your thoughts. How about those motorcycle folks who make it a point to run you down and toss grenades as if they were tossing caution in the wind? And don't get me started on Jet. Jet's a great enemy because he comes equipped with a jet pack. Oh that's right. You read that right. This is a sidescrolling beat em up, and someone brings a jet pack to the fray?! Jet and his cronies named Mach and other horrible names won't even go toe to toe with you. No. They'll just carry you into the sky and drop you on your head. Now, put this game on Hard Mode, and you'll have 4 of them to fight at once. Sshyeah. This was certainly a test for the ages.

Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom


Mega Man: I seriously can't think of anything witty to say to this piece of garbage.
Like most of these games on this evidence list, Mega Man is a just a classic. What could be possibly cooler than a futuristic robot blowing up other futuristic robots while combining intense platforming elements? The world simply fell in love with Mega Man's charm, but apparently the folks at Capcom didn't really like the cut of his jib. So you know what they did? They made it as exceedingly difficult as possible. Sure, the game was one of the first to employ a level select and a rock, paper, scissors element to it, but all of that didn't matter! Because the world was out to get you! Take a look at the screen shot for example. That flying blue guy on the left? You wouldn't be able to tell from this alone, but he moves in a sporadic left to right fashion making it nearly impossible for you to perform even the simplest of actions. Like what? I mean climbing a ladder. Jumping from a different platform. (And don't even THINK about sliding off that platform, or you'll sink faster than a lead balloon in a pool of Mercury.) Figuring out this pattern lead to many an aneurysm for many game players of old and even new. And by the way, Wily's Fortress was the one of the most demonic structures ever to test the fragility of the weak and frail human shell we call bodies. After beating horrible machines like the Yellow Devil, you're treated to fighting these robot masters (the bosses) again in no order, WITH the life bar that you have. Imagine that you have to fight Dr. Wily right afterwards and if you fail, its back to the depths for you! What a fun little adventure this was. Too bad its one of the hardest games ever.

While it may be true that the later Zeldas have maybe gotten easier, nothing can take away from the fact the hardest game in the series is the original. There's no doubt about it. The game that broke the way for the series also aimed to break you back and humble. Seriously, I don't know what to say about this game that made it so hard. Was it the Stalfos Skeleton Knights that were tenacious as heck? Or was it those wizards that would appear at random points in the dungeon? Or maybe its the fact that there isn't a human soul around to tell you where to go after you beat on dungeon? Maybe its because the entire dungeons of the game were nothing more than trails to see who could get frustrated faster? Regardless, The Legend of Zelda remains one of the hardest games to date with seemingly impossible to beat bosses (and no hints mind you) and the only game that would would fool you into using a small key on a fake door, then scrounging up enough rupees to actually buy a new one. The enemies in this game were overly strong to the point where it wasn't annoying to get him by them, but rather life or death. And speaking of life and death...

Super R-Type: Or How I learned to lose

What can I say about R-Type that isn't obvious? Developer IREM obviously hates humankind, and so they developed this piece of treasure. If you haven't played R-Type, its a basic sidescrolling shooter where you take control of a spaceship and blast the alien forces on the opposing side. Seems simple right? It is, until you're attacked by every single thing ever. I mean surprise alien thingies from the planet's surface to weird alien claw things from the ceiling and onward. I honestly cannot sit here and tell you how many things actually attack. Oh and you get one hit. ONE HIT! (As are most standard shooters, but man.) You can collect power-ups and whatnot but you know what--it don't even matter. The amount of power-ups you collect will never protect you from bullets coming everywhere at once. That is, unless you collect a shield. But I'm not even sure that's in this game.

Metroid: The Original Undisputed Queen of Frustration

I originally thought about putting "Undisputed King" of Frustration, but doing that would probably make the game seem less hardcore. Metroid may take the cake here for one of these single hardest games in the history of mankind. You can't deny it. Try playing it. Try it. Really. See what happens. I'll tell you what happens. You'll lose. You'll die. You'll toss your controller in angst. Everything about Samus's first adventure I swear was meant to be her last. You play as this seemingly genderless cyborg named Samus (***SPOILER*** and if you don't know, that genderless cyborg is revealed to be a woman at the end of the game. But I doubt you'll ever beat the game so go ahead and read this line anyway.) whose mission is to infiltrate the Planet Zebes and exterminate the Metroid threat, as well the Space Pirates base and Mother Brain. Pretty simple for an adventure. But just like every other game listed in this pretend list, the party gets a little crazy. I shouldn't even name it a party. Its more like an execution.

Samus starts off her adventure by only being able to aim in to general directions. That's up and her neutral position. Fabulous, especially for a game that involves deep exploration and versatile enemies on every side. But it gets better. Samus apparently until she gets an upgrade, can only shoot as far an inch. Great. So what do we have so far? Can only aim up or neutral and shoots horrendously weak pellets as far as an inch. Super Duper. Is there anything else I haven't recalled yet? Oh yeah, flying enemies can hit you while you pass through doors (which is suppose to be a 3 second safe haven) and there is no map whatsoever. That means you gotta get out there and tough it at, with as almost as much handicaps as our good friend Mega Man has on the higher part of this page. Oh well. At least he has a life bar. And to let you all know, I've never beaten the original Metroid, because I'm not a superhuman.

Super Ghouls 'N Ghost: The Coup De Grace

This may have done it right now. Super Ghouls 'N Ghost may be the single hardest thing I've ever played in my entire life. I beat Batman, beat Mega Man, and even the Legend of Zelda. I have yet to beat this kidney stone.

I don't even know where to begin. Artur, the knight you play as, may very well be the weakest protagonist of all time. Imagine what would happen if you took Mega Man (no love for the blue guy) force him to ingest a thousand poison mushrooms. Couple that with his inherited Batman's
better-know-where-you're-jumping-because-now-its-a-commitment ability. Everything about Arthur screams "HIT ME". Allow me to explain. It only takes one hit, one misjudged jump to strip Arthur of all of his armor. The next hit will kill him. It doesn't matter how much uberly awesome super armor Arthur picks up to enhance and charge his weapons. One stray hit and you'll be back in your undies.

To convey how hard this game is, let me guide you through the first level. It starts with you scrolling the side with no problem right? Kill the first red haired zombie you see, and the game's difficulty is magnified by an instant 32045150248540840 billion percent. Skeleton snakes pop up from the ground and blow fire at you, there are fake treasure chests that will have a magician emerge and change you into a baby. A BABY! Oh, and the only salvation you have from your drift jump is another mid air jump. Good luck trying not to land on an opening coffin.

So assuming you got past the graveyard looking area as presented in the image. You'll make it to a quite random ocean with what looks like stable ground. Make first jump, and I swear on my holy diver that an instant tsunami is summoned. And I mean instant in the sense that Version FiOS is instant. All the ground that you see is wiped away and the only platforms you have to jump on have mutant demon clams that shoot eyeballs out at you.

Okay, so you make it past the ocean of anguish somehow. Welcome to the Jungle. They're not playing games. You'll be greeted by a jungle of vines and a skull cart that aims to run you down. Why? I have no idea. But it gets worst. If you somehow have magic armor, kiss it goodbye! Even fruit tries to attack you. I'm serous! Random pink inflated fruit vines grow and follow you till they explode or you explode them. Odd? Yes. Dangerous? You bet. Unfair and challenging? No doubt.

I'd love to tell you more about this stage, but I honestly can't even remember what the boss looks like. I've only been able to get this far a handful of times. My greatest feat is that I somehow someway made it to the 4th stage of this game. But that was only once.

My point is being this. You've seen the games I've listed, and while there are the occasional hard ones every now and then (Devil May Cry 3 for the PS2 and Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox) they just simply don't make them as hard or as challenging and rewarding as they use to. Don't get me wrong. Some current generation games like Rainbow Six Las Vegas offer a pretty deep, challenging experience. But its not Metroid levels of hard. I'm talking so hard it that only the select few would be able to beat it. Nintendo every once in a while likes to churn out these games as a reminder to how ruthless they use to be. (Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and F-Zero GX to name two.)

Even with these ones mentioned, there are still an entire slew of games guaranteed to make you cry. I didn't mention Rygar for NES because I haven't spent enough time with it. There is always Gradius and Castlevania Bloodlines for the Genesis. Don't forget about Contra: Hard Corps.

But hopefully this list will tell the youth of today that games aren't as hard as they use to be. Not by a long shot. If you disagree with me, I dare you play these games. I DARE YOU! You will most likely change your mind.