Untapped Potential: Stop breaking my balls

[It’s time for another Monthly Musing — the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. — CTZ]

A lot of people have been complaining about Nintendo’s idea of giving games what is essentially an easy button. Decrying Nintendo as further abandoning their loyal fan-base in favor of the casual market, some people are straight up outraged.

Personally, I don’t feel threatened at all by this fact. In fact, to me, this is one of the best things any game company could have ever possibly done. Not because I need an easy button, though. Far from it in fact. I’m a videogame masochist. It’s because I’m a videogame masochist by CHOICE, and what Nintendo is doing is further giving people the ability to choose their own experience. Whether you get a pleasant afternoon in the park or pimp slapped across the room, so long as you get to choose I call it progress.

To me, videogames are something that I would prefer to share with others. I love searching for a truly unique and interesting experience, and I’d further love to show it to others and blow their minds. Difficulty will always be an issue when sharing games. Everyone has a different level of skill. It’s not their fault in the least, and I am always grateful when there’s a game that tries to accommodate them. New Super Mario Brothers for the Wii is currently exploring one option, and to add to that I will explore some others. Each and every game in this blog is what I personally consider one of the finest examples of gaming this world has seen, and part of that has to do with the unique way they approach difficulty. 

God Hand is coincidentally, a game that just blew my mind. The wacky Fist of the North Star style ass-kickings you can administer in this game are some of the funniest things I’ve seen in my damn life. The above political cartoon — however — portrays what exactly would happen to my poor friends were I to try to share this game with them. I’m pretty good at action games, and God Hand killed me 292 times on NORMAL before I beat it. The game was kind enough to tell me just how hard it kicked my ass.

The ironic thing is that while God Hand is quite easily one of the best examples of a game where its extreme difficulty will prevent a lot of people from realizing just how great it is, at the same time it has one of the best ideas for how to approach difficulty seen in a while. Aside from choosing the standard Easy-Normal-Hard at the beginning, the difficulty changes dynamically depending on how well you’re doing. As you do better and better, a bar at the bottom of the screen will fill and eventually the enemies will begin to fight differently. The only problem is that the game doesn’t get easier, it just gets harder. Kind of like how under Chuck Norris’ beard there is no chin, just another fist. Still a great idea and a great game.

This method of difficulty doesn’t account for everything. It really only has to do with the enemies. Still, the concept of opponents dynamically becoming more or LESS aggressive depending on performance would greatly aid many games in making them more accessible and enjoyable to play.

Likewise, Gitaroo Man is a treasured title for me. One of the nicest things it contributes is being a rhythm game with an entirely original soundtrack that subtly changes every time you play. That aside, Gitaroo Man actually IS a game that’s rather easy to share with other people. Difficulty-wise, it’s really rather low for this type of game. That’s how it looks anyway. The curve is slow but the climax IS decently hard, and after you beat the game you unlock a difficulty called Master Mode.

It’s not quite what you’d expect. You basically pick up right where you left off. The first song on Master Mode is more difficult than the final song on Normal. The way the two difficulties flow into each other is — to me — brilliant. While most people can beat Gitaroo Man on normal and experience the great music and quirky story, Master Mode is a stark contrast of brutal challenge. It adds an immense amount of replay value to be presented with this sudden daunting task where the difficulty just ramps higher and higher beyond the final stage.

It’s interesting because Master Mode does not even seem like it’s meant to be beaten. It’s more you’re meant to see just how far you can manage to get. Personally I’ve only made it to stage 7 out of 11, and I’ve been at it forever. Still, the way the game accommodates for beginners and then tries to turn them into experts in this flowing manner is very interesting, despite the lack of a middle ground. It’s actually more interesting because there is no middle ground, though this method would certainly be more elegant if there were.

Silent Hill 2 was a pretty revolutionary game. Compared to the original this game isn’t fucking scary at all, but the thing is the sequel went in a different direction. Lack of horror aside, It’s awesome when sequels do something to set themselves apart. What Silent Hill 2 did was add an emotional and thought provokingly tragic story. Difficulty-wise however, Silent Hill 2 will get a quick shout out for having multiple difficulty levels.

It’s the first time I’d ever seen it, really. Aside from being able to pick the standard Easy-Normal-Hard for the game itself, you are likewise able to choose to change the difficulty of the PUZZLES. For so many this had to be a damn Godsend, especially because some of the riddles in the original game were so hard to figure out. Puzzles are the sort of roadblock where mere skill will not save you. If you can’t get in the right mindset to solve it, you’re screwed. The fact that Konami tried to save people the frustration of being stuck in this manner is great.

If you really need a reminder of what an incredible blessing this sort of aid is, go to the Water Temple in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Let’s hope you don’t get stuck. Maybe try to beat Professor Layton and the Curious Village without using a single hint while you’re at it.

There really is nothing quite like Rez. It’s practically interactive art just as much as it is a really sweet rail-shooter. Rez is already a fairly user-friendly game, what with being simple in concept and going so far as to have a “How to Play” option in plain sight straight from the title screen. That aside, there is another reason why Rez is without doubt the easiest game in my library to pull out and entertain just about anyone with. The reason is Traveling Mode.

Traveling Mode may as well be like sticking a GameShark into my PS2 and turning on infinite health. You cannot die. Some people might think this is a travesty, but other people really do just want to experience a game for something other than challenge on occasion. In fact, sometimes turning the game onto Traveling Mode can make the experience MORE enjoyable for certain guests. A lot of shit comes flying at you, and for the unacquainted player this can be pretty stressful. A couple of people I gave the game to didn’t even realize the musical aspect until I took away the impending threat of death. Suddenly they were bobbing their heads and trying to keep a beat the same as I would.

Maybe going so far as to completely remove the challenge is going a bit much, but for some games it works. The idea’s been around since I was a little kid, really. I remember the days when the GameGenie was just the coolest fucking thing ever. In the end a lot of games don’t necessarily NEED to be challenging to be fun, which is why features such as Traveling Mode can do nothing but help. Traveling Mode in itself is an unlockable, which Rez is chock full of, but it’s a very open minded and good idea for creating your own gaming experience.

Thanks for Reading

If you managed to make it this far, congrats. I’d be very interested to see how many people did get through my little speech, so do feel free to leave a comment. What’s more, if you can think of other examples of games that do something different when dealing with difficulty I’d love to hear it.