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LONG BLOG

Bit.Trip Beat, Difficulty and Me.

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Oh, how some people endlessly and boringly lament the decline of difficult games. There are plenty to be found, though, for those who would like to look. Mega Man 9, for example, is there for those looking for a more retro-styled experience but even more modern stuff such as Left 4 Dead on higher difficulties could hardly be described as 'easygoing.'

Then there's Bit.Trip Beat, a WiiWare release that has got me thinking about this whole issue of difficulty and forced me off the fence about it.

As an game, Bit.Trip Beat is admirably pared down. A Pong paddle which you move up and down by tilting the 'mote is all you need to play. The game sends a series of objects your way in very cleverly designed and rhythmic patterns for you to bat away. It's difficult not to marvel at the way the stages are put together and the whole thing is packaged in a delightfully retro feel.

The problem is, it's difficult in the wrong way.



Okay, let me explain this a bit. In each of the three long stages of the game, when you miss too many hits, it sends you into a black and white mode which is basically warning you 'stop making mistakes or you're out.' It's a cool effect and panic inducing in the good sense. If you continue to make too many mistakes and not enough successes, it's game over.

All of this is fine but the problem arises when the part I am having trouble with is, say, eight minutes into the stage. The way that you get better at a game, especially one like this, is by practice and that happens through repetition. So let's say I need to practice this section ten times to get it down. Well, that's going to take me eighty minutes to do and about seventy five of those will be spent just getting to the part I need to work on.

Not only that but the sooner people retry after failing (as long as it isn't in anger), the more likely they are to learn from their mistake, as they remember more clearly what went wrong. So that eight minute gap not only wastes my time directly but also indirectly - it makes it less likely that each attempt will teach me anything.



So I came to realise: it's not so much the difficulty of the gameplay - it really doesn't matter to me if an individual jump/rhythm/enemy/puzzle/whatever in a game is extremely hard. When it starts to get on my nerves is when the game takes away opportunities to improve.

Bit.Trip Beat's levels are ingenious indeed but even they are boring after too many replays in a row to get to the bit I am stuck at - and they are time-consuming too. These things are a barrier to improvement - I would like to get better and if the game gave me a better chance to do so I would still be playing it instead of on here writing about it. Even Mega Man 9 checkpointed once per level and before the boss so that I could at least give it a few quick-fire tries before being shown the door; in comparison this is just brutal.

So, games. Challenge me all you want. Bring it on. Do your worst. But when you do, you'd better make sure that my journey from pwnee to pwner is a pleasure and not a chore.

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About KestrelPione of us since 4:37 AM on 07.16.2008

Age: 30
Location: S.E. London, UK
Hat Size: Medium

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KestrelPi

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