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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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…