Old School Video Games: Unforgiving


Teenagers sitting on a couch playing video games

I was recently going back through my old video game systems, checking in on some of my favorites from way back in the day. The original Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, Mega Man – the classics on which the current video game craze was built. After dusting off the controllers, slotting the old cartridges and sitting down to relive the old glories, I came to a conclusion: These old video games were hard.

New video games seem geared towards rewarding the effort of players by allowing them to beat the game if they put in enough time. This was not the case with these old games. Sure, if you put in enough time you would eventually beat the game, but in the process of getting to that last level and defeating the final boss, you really had to pick up some skills. New games just don’t have that same skill-building requirement.

NES Controller
No ergonomics and hard corners, perfect for playing difficult games.

The old-school games, whether they were for the original Nintendo, the Sega Genesis (my personal favorite) or especially the stand-up games that used to populate the dying cultural phenomenon known as the “arcade”, did not allow you to have the same margin of error that current releases do. If you got hit you were dead. If you lost your lives you started over from scratch. No save points, no life-bars, no energy refills that you could tote around with you in case you got into a bad situation. It was your hands on the controller, flailing on buttons and dodging bad-guys and praying that you didn’t get killed at a crucial moment after you’d just spent 40 minutes making it to the end of the level.

AskMen.com compiled a list of the top ten hardest video games. Many are from the NES and SNES era.

  1. Battletoads – NES
  2. Ninja Gaiden Black – PS2
  3. Demon’s Souls – PS3
  4. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts – SNES
  5. Mega Man
  6. Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels – SNES
  7. Contra – NES
  8. F-Zero GX – GameCube
  9. Alien vs. Predator – Jaguar
  10. Zelda II – NES

I guess it’s a natural progression. Since video games have become so popular that it’s no longer just geeks that spend all their free time playing them the design has focused towards being more user-friendly. The challenge was brought down a bit and shifted. Nowadays, even the most unskilled of players can usually trudge their way to the end of the game and beat it. If you keep dying, no problem. You can simply reload where you last saved and keep trying until you get past the area that’s giving you trouble. Once you get good you can up the difficulty level of game to “Hard” or “Impossible” and test your skills for real.

In the old days, “Hard as Hell” was pretty much the default setting for every game. Some games, once you had finished them, would give you the option of playing through again with the game in hyper-active kill mode – a challenge to those who had mastered the skills required to kick the game’s butt.

While I appreciate that they’ve given players the “Easy” option, I still feel like when I play many of these new game that I’m just not getting the challenge that I used to from a game such as the first Castlevania. I can leisurely lay back and take a casual approach to most games, knowing that in the end I will beat it and that there’s no reason to get too intense about mastering all the nuances. Every once-in-a-while you can still find a game that really smacks you across the face, but for the most part the new generation of video games is just not what it used to be. I will miss all the frustration and pain that the old games used to bring me, even as I enjoy the shiny new graphics that the advancing technology brings.

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