There once was a time where I played almost every game on the hardest difficulty. I didn’t always start that way, but if it was a sequel or I was already familiar with the gameplay mechanics, then I ramped it up to Veteran, Extra Hard, Crushing, Extreme, or whatever the most ridiculous level of difficulty was called.
These days, I play games almost exclusively on normal mode, barely ever revisiting them, and playing on a harder level only if I’m finding it too easy or if the review demands that I do so. I’ve convinced myself that games are better that way, and that it’s the best way to experience the story without having to constantly restart sections and ruin the pacing of the game.
Yet I’ve now reached the later levels of Trials Fusion, which has now been out for over a week, and it’s taught me that a higher difficulty level can be part of the fun.
Trials Fusion isn’t an easy game, even during the early stages. It’s literally about balancing your rider on the bike, and if you strive for Gold medals like me, you’ll often find that you have to aim for very few faults, where you restart at a checkpoint and try again rather than replaying the whole level. If you exceed a certain number, you’ll only be getting a Silver or even Bronze medal. You have to be fast too, and while that’s fine in the earlier levels, most of which don’t take many retries at all, the “hard” stages are ridiculous.
It’s compelling, though, and ridiculously fun as well as extremely anger-inducing. The Icebreaker level, for example, in the Skill Showcase set of levels (which acts as the third to last set) was near impossible when I first tackled it. I’ll always do one playthrough without restarting from the beginning, to gauge the difficulty level, and my total number of faults was 77. To imagine that I could get this under 15 for Silver, and then take that down to under 5 for Gold, with a time under two minutes seemed ridiculous.
At this point, I was playing with two friends of mine, and we were taking a turn each, swapping the controller to the next player as soon as we got to 15 faults, which seemed like a fair deal. It took ages before any of us got close to that magic number, and we even failed by reaching the end with 16 at one point. But one of my friends did it, and we had the Silver medal. That wasn’t good enough, though – I needed that Gold. So, after some perseverance, I managed it, and you can see that attempt below.
It might have taken a lot of time, but the thing with Trials Fusion is that Silver just isn’t good enough. If I complete a game on medium, that’s fine, but if I don’t get a gold medal? Then I’ll be trying again and again. It’s the same with most racing games, so that ultimately the true test of difficulty is how it makes sense in the game world. If I’m Nathan Drake, and keep dying time and again, only to appear round the corner, that doesn’t make sense and would ruin any first playthrough in my eyes, but if I’m a nameless bike rider in the future, then resetting my position somehow feels more normal.
It’s also about having that smooth difficulty curve, which eases you into the game before presenting you with some excellent challenges. I don’t like Dark Souls – that’s just hard for the sake of it – but I love genuinely challenging games, especially if it gradually increases the difficulty and makes sense within context.
So, while I don’t think I’ll be going back to playing every game on the hardest difficulty with the promise of a gold PSN trophy at the end, throw some leaderboards in, the promise of medals as accolades, and a really well designed reset system to encourage that one-more-go mentality, and I’ll be set. It’s nice to just play games for the story with no qualms, but it’s just as good to find that game which encourages you to excel and beat your friends with a ridiculous level of difficulty.
Just like the central gameplay mechanics of Trials Fusion, it’s all about the balance.