Top 5 Most Excruciatingly Difficult Games. That I have played, of course.

Roar.

Roar.

Okay, own up. Who has actually broken down into an inconsolable mess while playing a video game? Liars. Whether be it Heavy Rain for its emotional resonance or the universally maligned Amy for its inhumane atrocity, gaming has the capacity to irk some form of negative response out of the player. Difficult games are a split divide for many; it can either draw you back if the challenge is presented in increments or, in most cases, cause you to chew the controller in sheer, unadulterated rage.

Anyway, here are my top five most dastardly gaming experiences that shaped the way I would forever look at my favourite pastime. Please note – this is my dainty, insignificant little list and only represents the games I have played only. Enjoy!

Blinx: The Time Sweeper (Xbox)

Not so moewjestic.

Not so moewjestic.

A beleaguered mascot in every sense of the word, Blinx was Microsoft’s attempt at broadening their demographic with a title that was somewhat comparable to Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank and, naturally, Mario. The finished product however was anything but – featuring a then-innovative 4D mechanic which was only possible on the Xbox’s built in hard drive, players could pause, stop, rewind, fast forward and slow down the environment in real time. Conceptually ambitious in scope, Blinx unfortunately had its fair share of shortcomings; this has got to be one of the most unintentionally difficult platformers in recent memory. Firstly, the camera is wildly sporadic and had a frequent tendency to lock behind a wall or enemy, a common issue found with many of its contemporaries. The only real issue with this is that Blinx is precision gaming at its most infamous – one hit and you’re dead, unless you have a few spare hearts remaining. Another insufferable irk is that Blinx’s ammunition is in the form of everyday household items that is sucked up with his ‘Time Sweeper’ – this can become overwhelmingly sparse in times of dire need, not to mention killing every enemy is imperative to finishing the level.

And the boss battles? Not only are they finicky with its spongy controls and broken camera work, but the final boss actually has the ability to manipulate time at its disposal, completely bending the rules in the process. Blinx is undoubtedly one of the most unforgiving games in its genre, and while it may be deemed a cult classic to hardened original Xbox fans, its consistent barrage of flaws hinders an otherwise curious experience. Plus it’s brutally difficult. Obviously.

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor (Wii)

So pwetty.

So pwetty.

A subversive force in the typified nature of Wii games being developed at the time, Star Successor is a ‘shmup’ that shares similarities to Treasure’s previous titles, most notably Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. But while those said titles follow an overhead camera mechanic, Sin and Punishment is an incredibly dynamic change of format – utilising a third person on-rails style of gameplay, Star Successor is twitch gaming at its most visceral.

Upon inception, it pulls no punches – waves of enemies seer through the screen with little time to react, bullets shower the environment with an impressive sense of scale – it’s a sensory overload while being visually striking simultaneously. As mentioned before, the formula offers a wide variety of combat styles, most notably melee combat, ground battles and classic 2D side scrolling levels that are akin to Gunstar Heroes. All of this allows the player to change up their strategy, not to mention force them if things become particularly heated. Boss battles are also wildly difficult, especially when the relentless transformations allow little to no time to replenish health or react.

It may sound infuriating, and times a little unforgiving, but Star Successor is a game that is perfectly crafted in almost every facet. Unlike the aforementioned title on the list, every mistake in undoubtedly your own, despite the screen being an unfathomable explosion of polygons and technicolour at times. An oft-overlooked gem in the notoriously mediocre Wii library, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is a game absolutely worthy of your time. Just don’t let your Nan play it, for goodness sake.

Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)

ninjagaidenblack

Biff.

Okay, so while the original NES trilogy is considered as nearly impossible by many avid 2D aficionados, Ryu Hayabusa’s Xbox debut is equally as comparable in many respects. In fact, you know you’re in trouble if you can barely defeat the game’s first boss – the tone is set almost instantly, creating a split divide between gamers due to its harsh nature. Gamers are suplexed straight into the core fighting mechanics, a firm reminder of set pieces to come; defending and parrying is not only integral to the gameplay, but also suggests one of the game’s biggest assets: its lack of reliance on button bashing.

Ninja Gaiden is an action title about precision and skill. Beat ‘em up veterans need not apply – while it may somewhat function like Dead or Alive in terms of button layout, the overall aesthetic is fluid, free roaming and intensely chaotic. Multi-tasking is one of the key components that define Ninja Gaiden’s combat – The Aquaduct, a level that strikes fear into the hearts of gamers, is perfectly indicative of this. Boss battles require strategy and patience, which sounds like an actual Ninja ethos, but simultaneously require perfect timing and quick reactions. It’s an anomaly of all things unholy, but due to its near-flawless design, it’s also hugely rewarding.

Bayonetta certainly has taken a lot of inspiration from such a landmark release – non-linear level design, varied set pieces and wildly over the top gameplay mechanics have cemented Platinum Games’ wonderful homage to such a fantastic title, albeit being more flamboyant in tone. Ninja Gaiden is not only one of the greatest action titles of the noughties, it’s also one of the most teeth-grindingly difficult. But with gameplay this darn good, does it really matter?

Mega Man 9 (Wii)

Time to fight Dr. Wahwee

Time to fight Dr. Wahwee

Just check out some of the reaction videos on Youtube. That is the perfect indicator of what to expect from Capcom’s seminal throwback title. A gleefully nostalgic piece of work, Mega Man 9 is the culmination of the series’ achievements, lovingly condensed together and spat back out for a modern audience – the sprite based 8-bit visuals, wonderfully addictive soundtrack and utterly meticulous level design all translate perfectly after the missteps that were Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8. Oh, and the difficulty is still in tact. In full force might I add.

Mega Man 9 is not only one of the best iterations in Capcom’s longest running series, but it is also undoubtedly the most hair-raising, nail-biting subversion of the senses. Precision jumping is an absolute necessity throughout as the level design allows little room for error – in fact, Mega Man 9 is a game that will punish you for being too careful and, paradoxically, too hasty. It is a game that rewards the player with multiple attempts; it eventually becomes muscle memory, but only after hard work and patience.

Mega Man games have always been notorious for their finales and Mega Man 9 is without question the most devastating medley of twitch-based obstacles, death-defying platforming and bullet-ridden boss battles the series has ever mustered; the latter is truly one of the most unforgiving aspects of the game, albeit can certainly be completed after some serious practice. The final four level stretch upon the build up to Dr. Wily is only outrageously difficult for one reason and one reason only – the inability to save or shop for items in between. It must be completed in a single playthrough so ensuring to saviour each life is one of life’s biggest understatements.

But damn, once completed, it can certainly be considered as a great gaming accomplishment. Mega Man 9 is a masterfully developed 2D platformer that is multi-faceted both technically and emotionally – it is an existential journey that forces you to search deep inside the core of your being and effectively makes you a stronger person in the long haul. A little too philosophical perhaps? Don’t be silly, this is Mega Man 9 we’re talking about here. Prepare to die.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

Sorry Zelda, hunny. You're just not worth it.

Sorry Zelda, hunny. You’re just not worth it.

Words cannot fathom my utter disgust for Zelda II. It’s a crying shame as the core gameplay is wonderfully fluid, not to mention the inclusion of industry standard innovations such as an overworld, NPC’s and stat-based elements that allowed Link to develop in an RPG-esque way.

But that’s where the fun ends as Zelda II is not only the black sheep of Nintendo’s deservedly prestigious series, but also the most relentlessly difficult to the point of being almost maniacal. In fact, my five year old self could never understand the reasoning behind such a design choice – the first temple was always taxing enough due to my lack of comprehension behind the character building EXP mechanics, but once understood, nothing could ever prepare me for the behemoth that was Death Mountain.

Now for Ocarina of Time veterans, Death Mountain is a symbol of all things grandiose and epic. Not here. In fact to introduce such a level this early on in Zelda II is perhaps the most absurd design choice Nintendo has ever made. Yes, even more so than the entire development process of Wii Music.

Not only is Link critically underpowered at this point, but the difficulty spike is disturbingly jarring – it’s completely unclear where to go, the enemies are significantly tougher than before and, most shockingly, the game starts you back at the beginning when you reach Game Over. True, the statistics are saved onto your next playthrough but this is hardly a redeeming factor to what could have been another landmark title.

Maybe I just need a little more practice? However with a game as punishing as Zelda II, there really is little incentive to go back despite the quality of the overall gameplay. Shigeru Miyamoto recently openly admitted to making ‘one bad game’ and many people have speculated it could be Zelda II. And two broken NES controllers later, I might have to agree with them.

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And there we have it! For those who feel that my choices are completely off-base, please leave your feedback in the comments section – sadly due to financial constraints I have yet to play the likes of Dark Souls and other infamous games that people deem impossibly hard. But hey, these are just my personal experiences of games that truly nearly gave me a nervous disposition. And a hernia.

Until next time…

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An Ode to Starfox

GO TEAM

GO TEAM

For some gaming franchises, the transition to another generation can be a daunting undertaking. From a 2D landscape into the polygon-fuelled world of the third dimension, some iconic characters have stumbled when compared to their contemporaries – Sonic the Hedgehog is a renowned example of this, with Sonic Team failing to successfully recapture the essence of what made a 2D Sonic title so playable upon inception.

Strangely, Starfox has been a mixed bag of experiments and half-baked concepts over the years, beginning life as a technical showcase that demonstrated the power of the Super Nintendo’s 3D FX chip while eventually turning into an in-house behemoth production for the Nintendo 64. After the critical and commercial success of Starfox 64 (known as Lylat Wars in Europe due to licensing issues), the prospect of a next generation Starfox title for the Nintendo Gamecube sounded incredible in its inevitability – the result was a Legend of Zelda clone, namely Starfox Adventures, and a Namco developed action-adventure hybrid known as Starfox Assault. While Starfox Command for the DS attempted to reign in on the experimentation, it still featured overbearing touch screen mechanics that became integral to the map-oriented gameplay – it truly seemed that Nintendo’s affection for pushing ideas forward have somewhat hindered a perfect formula.

Classic.

Classic.

Now, it’s unfair to say that the aforementioned games are poorly designed; they all have moments that worked and should be commended for trying to branch the Starfox universe into something more varied and grandiose. However the core gameplay mechanics are what defined the series – games like Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were incredibly successful in sustaining that original feel while expanding the world simultaneously. Starfox has sadly delved into a amalgamation of different play styles – third person shooting mechanics, dungeon exploration, puzzle solving – it’s quite frankly a mess. Starfox Assault was a game that seemed intent on pushing the series forward, and while it seems admirable in retrospect, it ultimately falls short by a lack of focus.

And that’s the key issue that the Starfox series has suffered with over the generations – the lack of coherency in terms of mechanics, story and characters. Where Starfox 64 had a patriotic and gung-ho charm that helped drive the story, Starfox Adventures’ fictitious language and obnoxious voice acting took it one step back. Where the core gameplay was focused on set pieces and inventive brick-laying level design, other mechanics deterred from this foundation and included a Tamagotchi style pet in the name of Tricky or a non functional vehicular control scheme that makes on ground missions a real pain.

Broken.

Broken.

Starfox 3D is what many could ironically consider the rebirth of the series, despite being a remake of the legendary Starfox 64. The fact that it plays flawlessly after all these years suggests a game series that is in dire need of a resurrection – it encapsulates what made the original so thrilling with its new lick of paint and 3D slider-effect. In essence, what Nintendo needs to do is understand what made the game such a hit – the idea of heart-thumping boss battles and on rails obstacles with the power of the Wii U would be a fantastic addition to the series, not to mention online co-operative play and multiplayer. While Shigeru Miyamoto has been tinkering with the second screen integration for the Starfox tech demo for Wii U, it needs to be addressed that a blockbuster experience is really what the console needs, especially when games such as Bayonetta 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles X are paving the way for action gaming on the system.

Zelda.

Zelda.

Over the years, Nintendo have been highly successful in morphing the overall format of certain games while keeping its charm and atmsophere. Starfox desperately needs to go back to its roots if it wants to maintain relevance in the company’s grand canon of franchises. A focus on characters, acting and set pieces are a must, with current generation standards such as online and co-operative play – all these features would be the push it needs. To take a step backwards and understand what made the game such a massive hit in the 90’s, Nintendo must reassess what works and what does not.

At the end of the day, sometimes less is certainly more.

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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)

Yarrrr!

Yarrrr!

When it comes to truly shock inducing gaming controversies, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker certainly made quite a splash back in 2003. Coming straight out of what could be a 90’s renaissance Disney film (but with less musical numbers), Link’s new look created a cel-shaded wave of cynicism that failed to enlighten even the most hardened fan of Nintendo’s flagship series. In hindsight, however, The Wind Waker’s valiant shift in style and tone is as triumphant as Link delivering a mighty sword attack into Ganon’s ghastly face, and seeing it again in glorious HD has never been more at home in 2013.

It was a risk worth taking – a mantra that rings true with Nintendo as a company – as The Wind Waker has since become a highly touted fan favourite, offering an unprecedented level of humour, personality and swashbuckling high-sea adventuring. In fact, the inclusion of pirates alone is incentive enough for any angst-ridden naysayer – this is a game that will throw you into the vast blue and mercilessly taunt the player with its gigantic array of sub quests, goodies and treats. Like a great big Nintendo themed piñata.

Relax those arms, seriously.

Relax those arms, seriously.

Upon inception, it becomes increasingly apparent that Link’s technicolour world is a work of virtual art. Colours pop with intensity, character animations are inconceivably smooth, level design is cinematic in scope – at times it’s difficult to believe that The Wind Waker is a ten year old Gamecube game. The same can also be said about the controls – Link’s spectrum of moves and manoeuvres offer more in the way of precision and tactics compared to previous games in the series, with more combos and spin attacks than you can shake a master sword at. It’s incredibly satisfying and makes combat all the more enjoyable when faced off with an enemy that requires strategy. A word of warning: button mashers need not apply.

Interestingly, The Wind Waker is also the only Legend of Zelda title that offers fully fledged camera controls – while the Wii lacked a second analogue stick, the Wii U’s gamepad utilises this feature effortlessly, perfectly emulating the smooth overhead feel that made the Gamecube original so easy to manipulate. Couple this with a rousing musical score and you have a game that seems intent on making you weep with sheer unadulterated joy. All the while kicking some serious Ganon bottom, of course.

A damn hot selfie.

A damn hot selfie.

However, in typical Nintendo fashion, The Wind Waker offers far more than fancy technical prowess and flawlessly integrated controls. There are a detestably large number of innovations and tweaks that propel the game into legendary status, most notably the wind and sailing mechanic. As soon as Link commandeers his own boat, the entire game branches out into an overworld that is nothing short than epic. Wind is also a vital factor in both the world of Hyrule and puzzle solving in dungeons, forcing gamers to use physics and momentum to succeed – it’s a gameplay twist that never grows tiresome and seeing Link float through thermal currents Pilotwings style while using a leaf as a parachute is always a joyous delight.

While some have complained that the Gamecube original is overwrought and cumbersome in its approach to these mechanics, others have vehemently argued that exploring the vast ocean is what makes The Wind Waker the epitome of an ‘adventure’ game. Nintendo have addressed these qualms for the Wii U re-release however, effectively streamlining the overall experience with the gamepad by making the maps and inventory easily accessible on the second screen. It’s a noteworthy addition and requires no pause button but a mere flick of the finger. Miiverse is also brilliantly conceived throughout, allowing players to communicate by either sending messages in a bottle or, more importantly, the ability to send selfies in glorious new media fashion. It’s downright hilarious, especially when players are daring enough to send a Facebook style snap in the midst of a heated boss battle. It’s just a shame that Ganon and his minions aren’t particularly photogenic.

The Wind Waker is an important landmark for a number of reasons. It fearlessly altered the Zelda formula despite consistent backlash and remarkably, ten years later, it still stands as a timeless piece of work that transcends the medium into the realms of art. It is a game that constantly inspires and excites – every corner features something new, something intriguing, something so uniquely Nintendo that it becomes a daily task to refrain yourself from leaping into the television screen. No matter what generation we enter over the coming years, it will become an inevitability that The Wind Waker will never age. And like a fine wine, it will only improve in time.

Here’s to another ten years.

Rating: 10/10

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An Introduction…

The existential years of a post graduate, eh? The constant barrage of expectation, the sleepless night of formidable unknown, the sheer terror of rejection – this comes with the territory. However, while I have yet to create a clear focal point in the vast world of multimedia, there too also becomes a fresh starting point. Enter Second Opinion, my official foray into retrospective gaming, movies and all things musical.

So the purpose of such a blog, you ask? The idea of nostalgia has forever been a concept of intrigue – we are drawn to certain things due to being a reminder of past memories, however are we truly more cynical when we become older or is the mind more logical in its overall deconstruction?

Hopefully the philosophical nature of my intention will change the depth of a typified retrospective review – have we been looking through rose-tinted glasses with a warm filed glee all these years? Does it still hold up well today? It’s time to delve deep into our childhood psyche and see if your second opinion is still the same!

I sincerely hope you enjoy the upcoming content and, naturally, feedback would be greatly appreciated :)

Josh Gimblett – Head Writer for Second Opinion.

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