Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog and it’s sequel for the Master System. Remember those games before Sonic had spin dash? Yeah those ones. Anyway the fact is these games are hard. Not hard in the modern sense of ‘Boy it’s frustrating that I’ll have to restart this checkpoint’. While Super Meat Boy is quite possibly the hardest game I have ever played, it does still come into the checkpoint category.
No when we talk about games like Sonic being hard, we do mean properly hard. Whilst the Mega Drive iterations of Sonic had checkpoints in the level, the Master System versions had no such safety net. With no checkpoints, no saves and limited lives these games, and others like them, are pretty much the standard against which difficulty should be measured.
Of course that’s not to say modern games aren’t tough, it just feels a very different kind of difficulty. I’ve heard that getting the achievement in Halo: Reach for completing the campaign on Legendary without co-op is so hard that it makes Bungie look like they were possibly spawned by some kind of hell-beast. As mentioned above Super Meat Boy is so hard that it actually made me want to send the developer a rather nasty email (I didn’t).
The difference with these games though is that when you can do something essentially as many times as you want, you’ll beat the difficult section eventually; you’ll learn how to beat that section of the level and move onto the next section. When this isn’t an option games become infinitely tougher, so tough that I can’t actually beat Sonic if I play it on the Master System. I either need one of the re-released versions that lets you save mid-level, or my Dad as he can beat the Jungle level and I always die. Sonic 2’s a different matter though, although I do struggle with the bird boss in the second world.
The fact that I can’t beat Sonic doesn’t make me resent the game though, it’s actually one of the reasons I love it and keep coming back to it. Of course there are games that we’ll repeat endlessly anyway, but for me part of the reason I just can’t kick the Sonic habit is that I can’t beat it. I’d probably still play it even if I ever manage to get all the way through on the original version, but the fact that I’m not there yet is what draws me back time and time again.
Maybe I’m just a masochist who looks at his childhood games through rose tinted glasses even when playing them now, so how do you feel about difficulty? Are modern games easier? Is there something special about a game that is mind-breakingly difficult? Or do you prefer to breeze through?