The Games That Challenge Us

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First of all play the video below as you read this. You’ll like it, I promise.

Remember those old days of playing Kid Icarus and throwing your controller at the screen when the eggplant man attacked? Remember pouring hour after hour into Mega Man, Contra, Battletoads and the like? I do. I remember putting so much time into some of these old retro games that I literally had the levels memorized, down to the key changes in the music.

Then the games started changing. No longer were your favorite games exercises in futility and memory recall. Instead they became about twitchy trigger fingers, health packs and super powers. And somewhere along the way, we lost something I consider important: a challenge. More on this after the jump.

Well as one would expect with the rising popularity of games, developers gradually began to stop torturing gamers with insanely difficult levels. I mean, who wants to buy a game where you might have to spend 3 hours on the first level to memorize the fire patterns of the enemy soldiers right? I think this is especially evident in today’s generation of console games where the game holds the hands of the players and lead them through the game. The new Prince of Persia is what I’m really thinking of when I say this. It’s a beautiful game, but incredibly easy and really disappointing after the previous PoP games which actually made you plan your steps and forced you to practice the sequence of events you needed to execute to get through the traps.

Sorry, I digress.

One thing that I think has changed the difficulty of games considerably is the addition of selecting the difficulty. Old games never even gave you the choice, it was just that hard and you dealt with it. Now gamers can keep the difficulty low and complete the game in record times. What this has done over the years is weaken skills when confronted with a hard level or boss. Years of playing on easy/medium makes us feel frustrated instead of challenged or determined when faced with difficult situations.

Another advance in game design was the advent of the 3-D world. No longer are gamers constrained to a side scrolling, contained environment. Now we have the freedom to roam all over the world the game developers give us. The game developers also now have a beautiful new way to show ust he world they had envisioned for the game itself. But this advancement came at a price. In most current gen games, a 3-D world lends freedom to the player. Now not all games have a GTA-like world, obviously, but even the more confined games has a much larger area to move around in then anything before. This freedom given to the player to explore, also gives them the ability to get around those difficult situations the developers dreamed up with ease. Example?

In Halo 2, which has been the reason for all this deep thinking about game difficulty, has a portion of it’s first level taking place in zero gravity with several Elites wandering around with jet packs. Now, most gamers would try to fight these creatures, even on legendary. Me and my roommate decided to just run for it and we made it without firing a shot. A difficult and challenging battle completely avoided. Some would say, “Well that’s the freedom of choice the game gives you.” I think it’s a direct result of the technology games are using now.

As I said above, the reason for all this deep thinking was that this week me and my roommate began working our way through the Co-Op campaign in Halo 2 on Legendary difficulty. Now we are both experienced gamers and so we entered the first level with confidence and energy. Three hours later, the level was still incomplete, we both were feeling frustrated, yet determined at the same time to not let this game (and Bungie) beat us and force us to give up. We did finally start working like a team and fighting patiently instead of going all Rambo on their asses like gamers normally do in an FPS, and completed the level. Currently we are 2/3 of the way through the second level in a lot less time than the previous one, although we still have yet to fight the scarab.

I realized while playing, that I hadn’t felt this determination to finish something like this in awhile and I began thinking when was the last time I really felt challenged like this. I mean, sure Street Fighter 4 is incredibly hard on even Medium, but that kind of game isn’t really what I was thinking of. I was thinking more of the games that are so difficult they require large amount of memorization and patience.

Here are a few that came to mind for me:

Mega Man 9
Now granted this game is really a throwback to the older Mega Man games, but it feels like it leaped right out of the days of the NES to hit us here in present with a master blaster. The levels are so well done, the bosses are just as impossible as ever, and Mega Man himself is made out of glass. Everything about this game brings back memories of our old retro days, as it should.

Halo 2 & Halo 3
For all of the hate that the Halo series receives, it does do one thing right; it keeps the player confined in a small area most of the time therefore forcing the player down a specific path to the ultimate end of the level. But in doing so Bungie forces the player to deal with the enemy face to face. There is no way around them in most cases which is why I give the guys at that game studio many props. But the absolute worst part of Halo 2‘s co-op is that both players must make it from checkpoint to checkpoint. Unlike in Halo: CE where your partner could spawn back if you got out of combat, Bungie decided to really fuck with their fans on Halo 2.

Ultimately, it’s not the developers fault, it’s ours. Gamers are inherently lazy and so we choose the easiest difficulty just to beat the game. We have to have a reason to play a game on the hardest difficulty when the easy one is available. Enter M$ ‘s achievement system and gamer score counter. While not perfect, some people who are motivated by numbers, now have a reason to play a game on Insane difficulty.

Those were just the most recent games that came to mind that made me feel this way. What do my whores think? What current-gen games makes you feel like you are actually playing a retro game? Am I completely off base here?

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