Last week I randomly indulged in a nostalgic whim and picked up copies of Super Star Wars and Super Empire Strikes Back off Ebay. If I remember correctly, I used cheats on these when I was a kid, and I think it was justified.
These games have something that we simply donít get anymore, and I donít think it would be allowed. They are punishing and unforgiving. You do not want to die, and you will die. Both games are not amazing, but play fairly well, probably averaging a low 80s in my book. But even on easy these games are hard. You miss a jump, you die. Bosses will kill you if you are not damn careful. Enemies hurt you bad, and only the plentiful health-power ups prevent you from dying. There are occasional cheap deaths, Wampa freezes you, then whacks you, you slide into spiked pit an die. Yet I donít feel totally cheated, as it was my own stupid ass fault for getting frozen and trying to frontally assault a Wampa. Yes, this game says ďbe careful, take your time, there will be no coasting through this game please.Ē
And I like that. Itís been a long time since I have screamed Ďdamn it!í and other stronger words, and cursed the game. But itís my own damn fault. This was what most of gaming was like in the 2-d era, especially Nintendo. Yet the negative reinforcement of punishing a playing for being stupid doesnít really exist anymore. Odin Sphere is hard, but death is of no consequence, you just restart the stage, and you die a lot. But I certainly donít feel there is a penalty for death, except maybe having to play for 10-15 minute to beat a stage.
Least to say there might be a wider cultural thing going on here, with positive reinforcement being the way to train your dog, children, etc. Not that I disagree with the method, but the absolutism against negative reinforcement seems a bit much to me. Itís useful and quite necessary here and there, and yes I want my games to punish me for playing badly. I do not want to automatically reload after running and gunning to the moment just before I went running and gunning (yes Halo I am talking about you).
In the Super Star Wars games, if you die, you lose all power ups, both health bar expansions and blasters. On each new level you start with minimum health, through retaining blasters. And often bosses are way harder to beat without blaster power-ups and health extensions. Even on easy. So basically, DO NOT DIE. And I like this brutality, it keeps me interested, it keeps me challenged, it makes me want to prove myself by going back and beating the game on hard. There is a real sense of accomplishment when there is more at stake. Beating Halo and games with the similar instant respawn mechanic just becomes more of a chore than something worthwhile. Game death is a passive experience, with nothing at stake but some time.
Perhaps look at it this way. Why is gaming so damn addicting and rewarding? Because so much is at risk. Yes, risk is a fundamental gameplay mechanic that seems to be dying, and I think I am sad to see it go. Sure itís not for casual gamers, who would be turned off by the frustration, but this i why I keep going back to my SNES and NES. There is just something there that I canít get in games of the past 10 years, something really rewarding and satisfying, feeling like I conquered a game, rather than just played through it.