One common complaint about games today is that they don’t provide any challenge. Honestly, I don’t fully know how I feel about that; on one hand, while many of the major games of this generation, like Halo, where your character is functionally invincible as long as you hide behind a box every once in a while, and God of War, for which you can literally write a one-sentence walkthrough for the entire series (“Hold up and mash the attack button as fast as you can until you hear the ending credits roll.”), do seem to offer very little challenge, less mainstream games, such as Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy, and even a few of the bigger franchises (most notably Call of Duty, which, while it also has the magically regenerating health of the Halo series, also presents a realistic level of damage from bullets, which makes the regeneration far less of an advantage) offer some pretty difficult experiences. However, the main thing that I’ve noticed about even the more challenging games of this generation is that most of them focus less on challenge of skill than challenge of perseverance. Essentially, it feels like, no matter how many times you die, you can keep trying again and again until you succeed, usually restarting from 3 seconds before you died.
This is where games today differ from the games of the past; in most games, you got three lives. If you ran out of those, either you could continue (a limited number of times, from the beginning of the stage, if not the entire world), or your ass could go back to the title screen. The only thing close to a “save” we had was when we converted to Christ and baptized our cartridges in holy water in the hopes of God sending His divine army to help us beat Death in Castlevania. Hey, you laugh now, but it worked once. God really sent a legion of angels. We still couldn’t beat Death.
So, in the interest of remembering the days when our electronic parent substitutes were still abusive drunks, here are some reviews of a few games that definitely kicked my ass around the block when I was a kid (and still do, for that matter):
Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts (SNES, 1991, Capcom)
Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts hit the sweet spot between “ball-breakingly difficult” and “dick-yankingly awesome”. It’s the only game I’ve ever played that sees me throwing the controller down out of fury, then immediately picking it back up and continuing to play. That’s not a joke, either; I really do that. I’ll scream “MOTHERFUCKING UNDEAD DICK BISHOP” and throw the controller at the TV, then immediately pick it back up before the next life starts, because hey, I don’t want to lose my armor right away. That shit’ll get you killed. AGAIN.
A big part of what made the game so hard was just the sheer amount of shit flying at you at once. Within just a few seconds on the first level there are enemies EVERYWHERE. They just come out of the ground. They’re unpredictable too; there’s no way to know when an enemy is gonna pop up, or if the coffin it comes out of will just pop open or start hovering, or if something’s going to fly in from offscreen, or if something behind you threw a projectile, or pretty much anything else. It would be enough to make you check into a hospital for PTSD if it wouldn’t be so embarrassing to tell a room full of war veterans and spousal abuse survivors that you’re there because the ice level was reeeeeally hard.
To make things worse, this game isn’t like most other platformers; when you decide to jump, you goddammed well better make up your mind as to where you want to go, because if you decide midway through to change directions, that’s too fucking bad. You jumped left, and god help you, you’re GOING left, whether you like it or not.
Probably the most notorious factor making SGnG so difficult, though, is that after finishing all the hard-ass levels in the game, you finally find the princess you’re trying to save… who informs you that you have to beat the whole goddamn game AGAIN. And, just in case it wasn’t excruciating enough the first time, this time you have to beat it with a shittier weapon, which is apparently the only one that damages the already-fucking-hard final boss. It’s like, come on, Capcom. There are easier and faster ways of making people kill themselves.
Despite how insane everything about the game is, Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts is a fucking stellar game. As far as run-and-gun platformers go, there are few better; as a matter of fact, I would argue that Super C (the NES version of Super Contra) and Metal Slug are the only games that can really give it a run for its money (well, except for Mega Man of course, but as far as I’m concerned NOTHING compares to Mega Man). It has Capcom’s legendary attention to balance and solid controls, and the level designs add a lot of variety to the gameplay. What’s not to like?
Oh, right. The skull-fucking difficulty level.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES, 1989, Konami)
Pretty much everybody knows about this game and it’s outrageous difficulty level, most of which centers around the dam level, and for good reason.
But while that may be the stuff every 7-year-old’s nightmares are made of, it’s not like the rest of the game is really any easier. There’s an imperial shitload of enemies in the game, and just in case there aren’t enough, they reload every time you leave the screen, just like a Mega Man game. Some of the enemies take several hits to kill, and have a long period of invincibility after you hit them, so you have to run around and dodge them after you hit them once, waiting until they’re vulnerable again. Some of the enemies only take a one-to-two hits to kill. Don’t worry, though! They come in swarms, and when I say swarms, I don’t mean 3 or 4, I mean like 7 or 8 at a time. Konami was confident that this game was going to sell strictly on the strength of the TMNT license. Most companies choose to coast on that and crank out a really shitty licensed game. Konami, on the other hand, decided to make a game that simply defied the technological limits placed on them by the NES, ignoring the fact that placing fucking 20 enemies on the screen at the same time not only made the game unpleasant to play but also made the game slow to a crawl and flicker constantly. They knew you wanted a TMNT game, and you weren’t going to look into what it played like before you bought it. Why not use this opportunity to kill any of the stragglers who survived playing Castlevania?
This game is a unique case for me, though, because there’s a specific part that has a particularly memorable challenge that endures in my memory even today. I can progress pretty quickly through most games that I remember being really challenged by as a kid, but TMNT has one section that still raises my hackles anytime I think about it. In fact, I actually hate it more than the underwater portion, even with its turtle-killing electric spaghetti.
Now, I think we can agree that being killed in a video game because you aren’t good at it, while frustrating, makes you angry at yourself, and not at the game. That’s the rational reaction to have, because you’re the one who isn’t good enough; that’s what keeps you playing. You want to build your skill. That said, I simply cannot jump over this stupid goddamn fucking gap.
At the end of the first part of the Dam level (more like the GODdamN level, amirite), you come to a gap that is situated extremely high up in the level. It isn’t very long, but it’s just long enough that it becomes very difficult to jump across, because for some reason the Turtles can get fucking airborne in this game. In fact, they can jump from the ground almost to the top platform in the picture above (remember this, because it’s important later). You jump so high that even if you just barely tap the A button, you end up hitting the fucking ceiling and falling down the gap.
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if you could just jump back up and continue on. But remember how I said you could jump “almost” to the top platform? Well, over to the right there’s an entire half a level, so they couldn’t let you jump all the way up there. And if you miss this ridiculously hard to accomplish jump? You have to do the WHOLE GODDAMN AREA AGAIN. Oh, and for extra credit: what did I say happened to enemies that you killed previously? If you said “they stay dead and don’t come back”, then, well, you just failed this extended metaphor I’ve carried on way too far. In fact, I would wager you’re being a smartass and deliberately saying the opposite of the correct answer to be funny. That’s not funny. Just like this test metaphor.
For some reason a lot of people knock this game these days. Most of the criticisms revolve around the game’s difficulty, and rightfully so, but just like with Battletoads, just because a game’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not fun. It had one of my favorite NES soundtracks, and it was decently playable. This game isn’t Battletoads, though. It’s not even Conflict Amphibians (because turtles are reptiles, not amphibians). It’s a good game, but the Turtles control pretty stiffly, and there isn’t much to break up the action, despite the neat overworld system that links the little mini-levels that make up the main game. It was a nice try, giving you little areas to explore for extra items, but the items didn’t really include much other than pizza, which refills your life. This would be a blessing if it wasn’t for the fact that these side areas were usually so goddammed hard that you’d lose more life getting in and out of the pizza areas than you’d get back from the pizza. Add that to the fact that you really only had two useful turtles, Leonardo and Donatello, and you’d have to choose between giving the pizza to them when they had a lot of health and giving it to Raphael or Michelangelo so they could continue being your hit shields, since you could only get turtles back after they died in one level. In fact, you know what? Fuck you, Teenage Ninja Turtles. I’m changing your score.
Retroactive Score: 6/10
Cadash (Arcade/Genesis/Turbografx-16, 1989, Taito)
Cadash is a weird game, a platform-RPG similar to Zelda II, but one which was made for arcades. It’s fun, but ball-crushingly difficult. The game is based around a system of going into dungeons, collecting experience and gold, then coming out and spending it on items and equipment, just like an RPG, but it doesn’t work out that well in-game. In my experience with the game (the Genesis version), the equipment you buy just barely keeps you up with the power of the enemies you’re fighting, particularly the bosses, and even worse, the shitty healing items are outdated by the end of the first dungeon and cost far more than the equipment. Imagine if you played a Final Fantasy game and the only healing item was the potion, but they cost 5000 GP (or gil, or whatever) each, and they still only healed 50HP at a time, and bosses had regular attacks that did 25-30 damage every hit. On the plus side it’s called the “medicinal herb” and WE ALL KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS! YEEEEEAH BOY! DON’T FUCK UP THE ROTATION! PUFF PUFF PASS! And so forth.
The arcade version is apparently even worse, because while the herbs are cheaper, they’re also considerably weaker. In addition to that, for some reason the developers thought that making the game extremely fucking difficult wasn’t enough, so they made the game timed. In order to continue playing the game, you had to go into shops and purchase magic hourglasses that extended the length of the game. This was awesome, because they kept becoming more expensive every time you bought one, until they literally cost half of the maximum value of gold the game could store. Keep in mind you had to buy these in order to continue trying to win; they didn’t guarantee success or anything. In fact, they probably inhibited it, considering they were so more expensive than most of the other items in the game. It’s like giving a loan shark all the money you have on you so he’ll give you another 2 days to pay him the actual debt you owe him so he won’t break your legs.
Cadash is a pretty average platform-RPG with some neat features. That’s really just about all I have to say about it. However, I’m going to do a follow-up about it in another feature at some point. Or, just as likely, it’ll be one of those things I promise and never follow up on.
Want to solve the mystery of the forthcoming Cadash article? Then stay tuned!
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