Everyone likes a challenge in their video games. Without some kind of difficulty a game becomes stale within a couple of hours. The challenge is what gives us all a sense of reward and accomplishment at the end of a mission, and eventually the end of the game. But there have been some massive changes in video games since their beginnings.
Look at any top ten hardest games list and the majority of the titles are going to be for old consoles like the NES, SNES, Genesis, or Atari. So why are games so much easier now?
Checkpoints and Saving
Our games nowadays have lots of checkpoints and auto save features. Games on the first couple generations of consoles didn’t really have these. Take the original Super Mario Bros games, the first Mario title for the NES. You started out with three lives, and once you ran out you were done. You had to restart the game completely. Then we jump forward to the first SNES Mario game, Super Mario World. There were checkpoints in this game, but they came after castles and ghost houses. These checkpoints were far enough away that you might have to try 30 times to get to the next checkpoint.
Then we jump to Mario 64, for the N64 of course and we start have saves after every star. That’s 120 saves throughout the game. This set-up makes it so you get an unlimited amount of lives for each level. If you go through your first set you reload with five new lives to try again. Now every game from Halo to Guitar Hero has checkpoints and saves after every level and minor event.
The inspiration for this article came from the remake of the original Combat Evolved Halo. I was playing through the campaign on Legendary and forgot how difficult the missions are, especially compared to Halo 2 and Halo 3. But the difference between games like Halo compared to famous retro titles is the difficulty setting.
How many games on the NES had difficulty levels? What about the SNES? The N64 had difficulty settings. But some games still limited the use of these difficulty settings. Like Castlevania, which is a classically difficult game. You have the option of playing through the game on easy, but you’re not able to actually finish the game. In order to unlock all of the levels you have to play the game on hard.
But the reason early games didn’t have difficulty settings is because they were hard enough as it is. Contra and Battletoads didn’t need to get any harder because I don’t think I’ve finished either of them yet. It’s the current gen games that need to have the option to make the game harder, because the normal difficulty is still too easy.
Gamers nowadays have so many titles to choose from. If a game is too hard they can easily return the game to the store and pick out one of the hundreds of other titles hanging on the wall. When the NES was first released there were only a handful of good games out there. In 1985 if you didn’t want to play Tetris or Pinball than you sunk hour after hour playing Super Mario Bros or Gauntlet at the arcade.
The point is that developers have to tailor to what players want. And players these days want games that are easy enough to finish in a week or two. We want that sense of accomplishment faster and more often. Because there is a new major title coming out every week it doesn’t matter if you complete a game in eight or nine days. Unlike the 90s we can complete 50 games a year and not even put a dent in the library of titles available.
There is no denying that our games have gotten easier. But we need to keep ourselves from falling into the cushy trap that is an easy next generation of games. So when you pick up a new game that’s giving you a hard time, stick with it. It’s defiantly no Contra.