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).


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?



  1. Well I remember how hard I found Silent Bomber on ps1, and also Driver 2. Dont let the gunman get away, by that we mean half way down the road from u. If u do then we stop ur car and u have to restart, over and over again. I think I put a small crack in my bedroom wall because of that game, and then I got a ps2 and don’t remember gettin annoyed/wildly angry at anything. Bet Driver: San Francisco isent that hard!

  2. I tend to play games on easy or medium, mainly because I am more interested in the story than getting better in playing the game. Having said that, I absolutely loved demons’ souls. If the difficulty enhances the overall experience of the game, I’m all up for it.

    • Always Medium for first run through for me too

  3. I play on easy setting first go, just to get the plot of the game. Once finished on easy move up a level.

    • I did that with Just Cause 2 (don’t normally buy that genre). Played through on normal first then on hardcore. There was very little difference between the two.

      • This is one area where it helps to get a game slightly later than release as you have time to see the forum posts bemoaning the lack of challenge on harder modes. You have to take it with a pinch of salt but it can help you decide to start on a harder level.

      • Never thought of that, may do that next time.

  4. I’m dreading Monster Hunter P3… one of the new bosses looks ultra-hard

  5. Hummmm..

    I dont think games today are easier. I just think when we were younger we were less distracted. No online, no trophies, no multiplayer [unless it was split screen]

    This made you sit and really fine tune your skills on a game. I was honestly the best fighter on Street Fighter 2 and Turbo when I lived. I played it constanly on the SNES, I used to play at our local arcades – Galaxy and The Diamond Horse Shoe. As a young ‘Fro’ I used to fuzz my way around kicking ass. I used to play my brothers and my friends all the time. I remember completing Turbo without getting hit once on the hardest setting and getting the special ending out. Havig my mates round to see it was all kinds of awesome.

    Today being 30 and having proper responsilbities I could spend a full weekend perfecting my techincal trickery with Ryu.

    Back then we all schooled, ran about with a footy after school, then console, then bed.

    With winery weekends filled with Ryu and Ken mocking each other. HADOO – HADOOO KEN!

    God, great days!

    Wish I still had my master system too. Would love a blast on Alex the Kidd…..

    • *where I lived

      • **Having and Couldnt

        God I cannot spell today….

  6. Street fighter 2 on the snes top level (was it 9 or 10?) was just too difficult for me. That M.Bison was a cheat I remember. Beat him til he was one punch from death then BAM! attack after attack after attack……How many broken controllers?!?

    • It always amazed me how much punishment those controllers could take. I can’t remember what it was called but I had a transparent 3rd party one and it did more damage to my bedroom wall than I did to it.

  7. A lot of older games were harder as they were more often than not on arcade machines. Since that era, the retched life and game over system has basically been buried (thankfully).

    • Why is it a good thing? I like a game to properly challenge me. Surely the best choice would to be to have the option, as we do in modern games with difficulty. It’d just be another variable.

      • Because it wouldnt work like that. It’s not the same as just turning up the difficulty. Having a lifts system in most modern games would break the whole structure of the game. If you want a challenge choose the game accordingly and ramp up the difficulty. Or do it one-handed with your eyes closed.

  8. I agree with the article, the main factor when we analyse the apropriate difficulty of a game is the time we have to play it. But there’s one more thing, imo. Some games are actually very fun to master, so you may overlook the toughness because you’re having so much fun everytime you get derrière kicked. That was my case in DMC4. I never played a dmc before, so the first run was a bit tough, even playing on easy. But the game grew on me, I had so much fun slicing enemy after enemy, that I couldn’t stop playing until got to beat the game in every difficulty level, and I still play it.
    For the other games, I usually play them a single time on hard (not the hardest, just the first level above medium), bcos I don’t have enough spare time to replay all of them.

  9. I really dont know … i think they are easier, but that could be because im getting older and wiser

    • Maybe… The experience makes us “get” games faster nowadays, but some older games are still very hard… Like Pulstar (neogeo)… I used to say this game gives you ONE life, bcos after you die and lose all upgrades, it’s virtually impossible to continue playing.

  10. I miss games like Jet Set Willy , Hungry Horace , 3-D Deathchase , Spy Hunter , Monty Mole , Ant Attack and The Great Escape where if you lost all your lives it really was GAME OVER and you had to replay it all from the very very beginning .
    Its kind of like one of the important messages of childhood in that if you fail you must keep trying until you succeed and not to give up , maybe this is one of the reasons why so many people in their 20’s think that everything should be handed to them on a plate . No bloody fight in them anymore and they are always saying “whatever” , I chatted to one the other day in work who explained he wasn’t going to wear or even at least buy a poppy because he never asked for the soldiers in the last 2 world wars to go out there and do what they did. (really made my blood boil that).
    I wonder if he would be saying “whatever” if he had no choice and was conscripted to go and sit in a trench to wait for his inevitable death.

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