Although they may have gotten more complicated and deep over the years, videogames have definitely not become more challenging. Not to say that is a negative thing by any means, it is just hard to compare the tutorial-filled games of today with some of the ego-crushing creations of gaming past.
But were these old games more challenging simply because they were better designed? Not necessarily, and not usually, to be honest with you. Most of these ridiculously hard retro games relied on primitive trial and error techniques that were more than unfair for the player.
The most memorable moment, for me, of trial and error based, mind-numbingly frustrating gameplay occurs in one of the hardest games ever created, Battletoads for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Although the game is awesome, it still doesn’t change the fact that some sequences are downright impossible to complete your first time through.
Let’s remember the king of these impossible moments, a level that I will never forget, if only because of the amount of controllers I almost broke while playing it.
Battletoads may be a true classic, but it has one of the strangest concepts in videogame history: in the game, you play as either Rash or Zitz, two humanoid toads that have to travel and fight through many varying levels to save Princess Angelic and their friend Pimple from the evil Dark Queen. Yeah, it’s all a little strange, to say the least.
One of the great things about Battletoads is how different each level is. While most of the stages are classic beat-‘em up style (a la Double Dragon), there are a handful that involve riding on vehicles, rappelling down caves, and climbing up 3D rotating towers.
On top of the welcome level variety, the art style of Battletoads can’t be beat. Set to resemble a cartoon, all the characters in the game have a distinctive style and awesome, over-the-top finishing moves that include your toad’s various appendages becoming oversized for that extra satisfying final blow.
The first couple levels of Battletoads are pretty tough, but never offer the level of impossible challenge the game is notorious for. It isn’t until you reach level 3 when you finally realize how unforgiving the game can be.
And this is when the next Memory Card moment occurs. If you remember it as well as I do, you might want to bite down on something hard before reading further: just thinking about it is already getting me angry.
The third level starts off pretty basic, as you jump over a couple of pits and fight back a few simple enemies.
But all of a sudden you come across a set of speed hover bikes that you must mount in order to continue.
Once you jump on a bike, it quickly moves forward, the level around you automatically scrolling to the left as you gain speed.
At this point the level turns into a full blown test of your reflexes. As you are driving along on your hover bike (only being able to move up and down, speed up and slow down, and jump), different obstacles race at you from the right that you must avoid.
Once you begin it’s not as hard as you think, since your vehicle is not going too fast and the obstacles are few and far between (they also blink for a second on the edge of the screen to prepare you for what is coming).
About halfway through the stage, however, it becomes a little absurd. Not only do you start traveling at a ridiculous speed, the obstacles come on the screen so quickly that you barely have time to react.
Of course, the level goes on way too long, as you continually gain speed and things just become harder and harder by the second.
Through myriad amounts of almost required trail and error, you eventually memorize the pattern of things and finally make it to the end of the level, only to continue to another stage almost twice as hard. Congratu-freakin’-lations. Ugh.
To relive the pain, you can watch the entire brutal level right here (take note of the very last section – are you kidding me with how impossible that is?):
This Memory Card series is all about the most memorable moments in the history of videogames. Yeah, this sequence in Battletoads may have been unbelievably infuriating when playing it for the first time, but that doesn’t mean I won’t remember it for the rest of my life.
Heck, Battletoads is a great game with a lot of memorable content (snake maze!), but when I think about the game, this hover bike stage is the first think I remember, hands down.
But why is this level so memorable? What makes it stand out so much from the hundreds of other seemingly impossible videogame stages from that period of time?
Well, first of all, the level is just flat-out unfair. Most challenging videogames are challenging because you, the player, have not mastered them yet. After becoming a better videogame player in general you can usually come back and improve upon your past skills (or lack thereof).
This is not the case with the hover bike sequence; your skill almost means nothing. Sure, having spot-on hand-eye coordination helps tremendously, but the level basically just comes down to trial and error and how well you can memorize patterns.
The perfect example of this is during a few of the level’s required jumps. If you reached a pit and just had to hit the jump button to clear it that would be one thing, but each gap you have to leap over in the stage varies in size. One pit may require a simple press of the button, while another may require you to also hold forward to gain some extra distance.
But how are you supposed to know this? There is never anything indicating that one jump will be short or another will be long. Only in redoing the stage over and over again can you even think about completing it.
And don’t even get me started on trying to master this level during two-player simultaneous play. If one person dies at any point in the stage, both players have to go back to the last checkpoint and try again. Completing this stage by yourself is an accomplishment unto itself, but having to do this twice at the same time? Brutal.
While the nightmares of this level still pollute my happy retro dreams to this day, I have to admit, I still love playing it. The sequence is a killer, yes, but without impossibly challenging games like this the memories of the original Nintendo would never be the same. Love it or hate it, Battletoads will always be remembered as one of the most memorable titles in videogame history.
The Memory Card Save Files
- .01: The return of Baby Metroid (Super Metroid)
- .02: Palom and Porom’s noble sacrifice (Final Fantasy IV)
- .03: The encounter with Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
- .04: The heir of Daventry (King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human)
- .05: Pey’j is captured (Beyond Good & Evil)
- .06: The Opera House (Final Fantasy VI)
- .07: Attack of the zombie dog! (Resident Evil)
- .08: A twist on a classic (Metroid: Zero Mission)
- .09: A Christmas gift (Elite Beat Agents)
- .10: To the moon, Mario! (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island)
- .11: The Solitary Island (Final Fantasy VI)
- .12: Wander’s brave friend (Shadow of the Colossus)
- .13: The submerged letter (StarTropics)
- .14: The legend of Tetra (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
- .15: Snake pulls the trigger (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
- .16: Riding under the missiles (Contra III: The Alien Wars)