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. My dads nearly 50 and he has his own 60gig ps3, he has completed the god of war collection and tomb raider underworld lots of times, the only thing he can’t do is run and aim in a fps or he couldn’t get into uncharted because of it. On topic now i think games have gotten harder i tried demon’s souls and i couldn’t even get past the bloody dragon to get to the tower knight boss or whatever, i managed to get across once and got killed by it straight away.

  2. @foxhound_solid get the sega ultimate collection on ps3 alex the kid is on that

  3. While I agree that games have become much easier in recent yearsand there were some stupidly hard games in the past, I have to say that Sonic on the Master System is not one of them.. Maybe it’s because I used to play Sonic on the Megadrive a lot, but when the Master System version came out, I finished it on my first go.

  4. Like most gamers, I don’t have enough time on my hands to buy and finish every game I want so I’m thankful that most of them aren’t too hard. As each generation evolves we’re seeing far great emphasis on narrative/plot/etc; the adventure of the title. Much like a good film, I want it to whisk me away into the land it creates and carry me along the journey and story it wants to tell.

    Outside of these titles, there’s still scope for hardcore gamers to enjoy titles built purely for them. Often a flimsier plot but a gaming premise core to the beliefs of the more serious gamer. To some degree, digital downloads might play a big part in this as they often don’t need (or pretend) to be glorified disc-based titles with the assumption of plot development, etc. Although, perversely the simpler games often tell the most beautiful stories.

  5. the reason games where harder back then is that games where shorter these days. the space on whatever medium the game was on was less and it probablywasnt as profitable as now to invest massive amounts of money into game developement, so they had less time to finish a game. also people didnt buy as many games as now. i have my PS3 for a few years now and have at least 5 times as many games as i had for my NES, which i had much longer. and if you have a game that would be completed in maybe an hour with a perfect run, you just have to do something to get hours and hours playtime out of the game.
    so what do you do? you make the game hard and make it so you have to start over again if you lose all your lifes. so suddenly you have 20, 30, 50, 100 hours playtime, but not because your game is long, but you force people to play the same parts over and over again.
    today, games are (or should be) long enough so that you get enough time out of them without always starting from the beginning.

    we weren’t more hardcore back then. we had to become hardcore if we wanted more than an hours worth out of a game…

    • Very interesting last sentence from you. Today we’re getting better games, not games we have to be better at. I can’t help but concur for the majority of titles.

      • after a look in the dictionary to see what “concur” means, i am now able and willing to thank you for your comment :)

  6. I always play on the easyiest difficulty on my first few playthroughs. A game should get a bit harder as you go along and not start out as impossible. TSE4 allowed you to chose your own difficulty and i think that every game should have that type of system.

  7. I used to play the smeg out of the Sonic games on the Master System back in the day – me and my mother used to have competitions on who could complete it in the quickest time with the highest score. It resulted in both of us being able to complete the game in under 2 hours (my record was an hour and a quarter), collecting every ring, every emerald, killing every enemy, and without losing a life. We did the same for Sonic 2, and Sonic Chaos. :D

    Those were the days! And to think there’s almost two generations now who likely haven’t heard of a Master System. I suddenly feel rather old…

  8. I like a challenge in games but not something that takes the absolute mick…I agree modern games arent as hard as older games unless it’s demons souls,resident evil,ninja gaiden and dmc…all of which are tough!!! But for older games…the original ninja gaiden and early platfromers are brutal

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