So I’m almost done playing Mega Man 10. It reminds me of the old days. Ah, the old days. I remember when I was a youngster. My folks would plop down some cash to buy me a game for the NES. I’d blow in it, power it up, and like an everlasting gobstopper I would never actually get to the end of it. Now that was value. It isn’t that it was a very long game. It probably was only eight levels, not that the last three even mattered, because I’d never see them. The game was hard. Not just normal hard, Nintendo Hard.
We’ll begin by saying the term is not mine, it comes from the fascinating and physically addictive tv-tropes page. Don’t go there unless you have a few weeks of your life to lose. The long and short of it, though, is that way back when we didn’t have gigs of space, megaflops of processing power, and millions of colors, if you wanted a game to last more than a few hours, you had to play dirty. You made the game as near to impossible as you could manage without resulting in a legion of children beating down the door of your game shop and killing you. AI couldn’t be smart, your system didn’t have the CPU for it. So it had to cheat. Enemies were flung from every possible corner, in huge numbers, faster than human reaction time can cope with. You either had to be a psychic, or be playing it for the thousandth time. That sir, is called replay value.
I always thought I sucked at games back then. I mean, three years before I even got to see the last boss of Contra? Even WITH the Konami code? What other explanation was there? Time started to roll on, and I started seeing the ends of more games without the benefit of the nefarious Game Genie. I must have been getting better. I was also getting save codes. Then infinite continues. Then save files. Then infinite lives. Then regenerating health. Sure, we were getting dialogue, cinematics, and two hours of cut scenes in place of a few lines of poorly translated dialogue. We were also getting soft, sitting idly by as the industry started to tick down the difficulty. Look at the games we are playing now. The average NES game would be ashamed to call them easy mode, for those that even offered one. Not convinced? Let’s to a point counter point.
Battletoads is a notoriously difficult game. It was a sidescrolling beat’em up, and a good one. The art was good, the controls were solid, the gameplay was engaging. On the first two levels there was a vertical level, warps, rideable vehicles, tons of enemy types, even a second-person boss fight. All on the first two levels! And it was a good thing, too. Because level three was the turbo tunnel, a level that strikes fear into the hearts of a generation of gamers. This was a level that whipped by you faster than a Sonic the Hedgehog straightaway, flashing obstacles that had to be dodged, jumped, or jumped off of respectively. Screw up once? Instadeath, and you had to start over at the checkpoint, if you were lucky enough to reach one. If you were good, you might have five lives saved up. Five tries. Oh, and if you want to play multiplayer, you both have to survive that mess. The level was a two minute long quick time event. It was a sideways Guitar Hero level that you had to gold star. Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.
Rare, makers of the game, have been hounded by fans to bring a new installment. They are evasive, claiming that they want to try new things and such, but they also claim that modern gamers don’t want to play a game with such an unforgiving learning curve, and a game that was any easier wouldn’t be a battletoad game. They have a point. Now we’re turning out games like the Gears of War series. Say what you will about the quality of the game, all you ever have to do if you want to survive is hide. It is a cowardice simulator. And if you die in co-op, all you need is a helpful tap on the shoulder from a friend. Megaman couldn’t hide! If he wanted energy he had to find an enemy dispenser and kill his way to good health like any self respecting hero should! And in those games that offered multiplayer, half of the time it wasn’t co-op. You took turns, which meant you were essentially rooting for your friend to die so you could have a turn. That, my friend, was hardcore.
Let me be clear. I don’t miss the good old days very much. Games back then were as often as not an exercise in controller snapping frustration. I vastly enjoy the games of todays era, but beating them isn’t the same. It is a foregone conclusion, not a triumph. If you want to get better at any game, you need to play against someone who is better than you. And no one was a better opponent than the NES of old. Beating a game back then wasn’t just Nintendo Hard. It made YOU Nintendo Hard. (Unless you were attracted to Samus Aran, in which case you were hard for a different reason.) So take a dip into the 8bit era, or failing that, try out one of the new wave of retro re-treads. You don’t want your gaming reflexes to atrophy, do you?