Lunchtime Discussion: Difficulty

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).

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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?

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52 Comments

  1. Have you ever seen this: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NintendoHard

    Man do I remember a few Nintendo Hard games!

  2. I think a game should be completable by anyone given time and practice while also being a challenge to even the best. To that end you need difficulty levels which are balanced and spread out. I like to play a game on whatever passes for ‘medium’ knowing that if things get too easy or too hard, I can change it.

    • yea, usually do that to. im not fussed about trophies, but if i was, doing things on the top level in some games seems far to difficult. GOW3 was hard on normal, getting to Zeus was a challenge, i dread to think what titan mode is like!lol

  3. im finding veteran mode on the black ops campaign impossibly difficult. it takes me 20-30 deaths to get though each checkpoint and i’m only on the 3rd level.

    • It is really hard. Annoyingly so. I like to play them on the hardest setting for a challenge and MW2 was tough but fair. All the infinite spawning enemies in Black Ops though are ridiculous, it means no matter how good you are, eventually you just have to run for it and hope a stray bullet doesn’t find you. It doesn’t help that your team is useless as well and most the enemies fire at you alone. Really poorly done difficulty setting in my opinion. Wait until you hit Vietnam! I’m still having flashbacks of the napalm barrels!

      • I’ve just done the napalm barrels after almost bursting a blood vessel. For at least 20 attempts i couldn’t even get off the top nevermind actually standing in the open with them damned endless sea of enemies.
        As for difficulty levels this is the first game i’ve done my first playthrough on the hardest setting, even though it’s ridiculously infuriating at times i still agree that earlier i.e. megadrive games were harder (greendog i’m looking at you).

  4. Umm, haven’t you guys already done this?

    http://www.thesixthaxis.com/2010/10/11/tsa-debate-difficulty/

    • That’s different this is a lunch discussion

  5. Games used to be miles harder than they are now.

    These days though I play games on easy for the story and progression, on the rare occasion I get chance to play a game more than once (if they’re good enough to bother) I play it on normal or hard but never the super-hard setting. CoD:BO on Veteran is impossible, surely?

    I don’t have time to keep dying a hundred times and retracing my steps, maybe when I was younger and all I had to do in a day was play, but not now – I game for the entertainment, endless retracing steps is tedious.

    ps. Never had a problem finishing Sonic back in the day though Kris

    • You echo my thoughts perfectly. Time is to short these days and we don’t have the luxury of long school summer holidays to waste away.

      • I too agree, I want enough of a challenge that I have to think about what I’m doing and use skill and planning in my approach but I dont want it to be so difficult that blind luck is my only hope.
        I haven’t tried Bl:Ops on veteran yet but if its anything like World at War then Im not even gonna attempt it. The grenade spamming and infinite enemies was ridiculous

      • Completed black ops on veteran in 9 hours, first run through. I’ve not played a CoD game in 3 years, either. It’s not impossible, just very hard.

    • agreed. if a game doesn’t have trophies for completing in normal, hard, crushing etc then i’ll stick to easy. i’m not a bad gamer, i’m not a good gamer, i’m just an adult, with responsibilities. if it’s a story driven game (and as i’ve already alluded to it, lets use uuncharted as an example), i don’t want the game getting in th way of the story. sure i don’t mind having to retry something a few times, but games that are just cruel in difficulty, have few and far between save points, or ridiculously tough bosses (dead rising 2, all of these apply to you so please stand up), i tend to leave them, half finished. it irritates me, and i have wasted money!

    • It’s only the jungle level, can never make the jumps on waterfalls and logs.

  6. I find modern games much easier than the classics personally, the only modern game I would say is brutally hard would be Ninja Gaiden 1. I kept going back to that game even though I got beat down every single time, there was something that made me keep going until I finally beat the game. I lost count of how many hours I put into that game to finally complete it fully but the sense of reward was more than worth the hours of retrying to finally get a plan of attack that worked for that certain boss or the huge group of fiends.

    Hard games are great but there is a big difference between a game being fair or cheap. A hard fair game where you lose because you did something wrong keeps me going to get it right, but a cheap game will frustrate me to the point where I don’t want to play it any more. If you do everything right but then you lose because the enemies go insane all of a sudden to a point where you stand no chance of proceeding that then becomes pointless.

  7. I like the difficulty in games to give me a sense of achievment when I complete them, not the “thank god that is over I don’t have to play that again” feeling you get when you complete a frustrating game. I’m looking at you [email protected] grenade spamming veteran difficulty and CoD BlOps on rails APC shooty level, also on vet!

    • Agreed, when games become a chore, they lose their fun.

    • im playing through WAW on Veteran at the minute and I know what you mean, stay behind a bit of cover for any longer than 40 seconds and 6 grenades come at you from all angles!

  8. Yep, games defo used to be harder, the one that comes to mind in particular is Strykers Run which was a side scrolling BBC Micro shooter, I used to bash the computer into submission after being shot for the umpteenth time, but kept going abck for more.

    On a side note, there is no way in the world I’d ever pass a controller to my Dad to see if he can contribute to a level, it would probably take me a good few hours just to explain how to hold it!

    • my dad loved the original sonic, but give him a game that requires any more than direction buttons plus 1 or 2 others (jump, accelerate, action, depending on what simple game you’re playing) and he can’t do it!

  9. Double-friggin’-Dragon

    I had a joystick with a slow-mo button that I had to use to get passed the moving walls section.

  10. I think a lot of the older games reflected their arcade heritage, platformers and scrolling shooters were pretty staple fare in the late 80s, and difficulty often correlated directly with progression through the game.
    Modern genres as a rule tend to be easier, and have difficulty settings, so as not to alienate their target audience quite so much…

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