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Games that make you want to toss your controller against the wall

By Zach Lederman
On April 8, 2014

There's something especially enticing about incredibly hard video games. Dying a few hundred times to the same mechanic on the same boss may make you want to fling your controller into controller-heaven (read: smash it against a wall) but there are few better feelings for a gamer than when you finally do conquer that boss. It's not easy to describe that level of elation - I think the closest example I can give is getting an A on a test for which you've been studying for weeks on end.
 However, one thing that rubs me the wrong way is how frequently people confuse difficulty with unfairness. Difficulty is epitomized in a game like "Dark Souls," or "Ghosts 'n' Goblins." Both of these games combine unforgiving gameplay mechanics with a lack of significant handicaps (e.g. checkpoints, progress resets on death). Unfairness, on the other hand, is epitomized in a game like "I Wanna Be The Guy," which combines twitch reactions with unfair and unpredictable traps (e.g. an instant kill mechanic that cannot be predicted). In "Dark Souls" one can actually master the game to the point that even new areas and enemies can be handled with increasingly fewer tries. In "IWBTG" no such curve exists. No matter how far into the game you are, there will never be a point where you are any better of a player than someone who just started playing.
 It's not that a game like "IWBTG" is a bad game, necessarily, just that I don't believe characterizing it as difficult is fair. Trying to breathe underwater is also hard, but I wouldn't call it difficult - I'd call it stupid. Honestly, I'm probably angrier with this than I should be, but games like "IWBTG" have unfortunately given the entire genre a bad name and are slowly, but surely eroding it. Many developers are replacing typical difficulty curves with these lazy excuses for challenges. But, regardless of that, people will play freeware games like "IWBTG" and be turned off of difficult games completely - and the big-name developers, the ones producing real games, are taking notice.
 Take Nintendo, for example. Did you know that most of the games Nintendo developed or produced for the NES in the '80s and '90s are commonly considered to be some of the most challenging ever made? It's where the term "Nintendo hard" comes from. In fact, the aforementioned "Ghosts 'n' Goblins" comes from this era. Fast-forward to today and Nintendo is producing games that many could likely complete in their sleep. Take, for example, "Super Mario 3D World" for the Wii U. Power-ups and checkpoints have become incredibly common. Dying five times in a row grants you an item that gives you permanent invincibility for the remainder of the level. I'm not saying the gameplay is inherently easier than in any other game, but the mechanics are so forgiving that there's no challenge whatsoever. What happened to you, Nintendo? Is this really the way we're going? Even the most recent "Zelda" release was extremely easy. This is discouraging in a series typically lauded for its fun and challenging puzzles and dungeons.
 Is this really the direction we're heading in? Have we, as a gaming-society, collectively wimped out to the point that actual difficulty in a game will soon be a thing of the past? I can't speak for everyone, but if I don't at least have the option to pick up a real and serious challenge every now and again, I think I'd lose interest in gaming as a whole.
 


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