What Happened to Hard Mode?
Posted on Wednesday, June 1 @ 09:32:11 PST by Josh_Laddin
If you played video games back in the '80s and early '90s, then you know what “hard” really is. Many of the old NES games didn’t even have multiple difficulties—they just had one, and it was brutal. Remember those impossible jumps in Super Mario Bros. that took hours of practice to master? Or the endless obstacle course of bullets that you had to wade through in Contra, when one hit meant instant death? And of course there’s always the infamous jet bike level from Battletoads…
No doubt about it, they just made games harder back then. Even “easy mode”, on the games that offered it, was often a lot tougher than normal difficulty in modern games today. Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t hard games out there now. Every now and then, we see a nice change of pace in games that add a truly hard difficulty level, such as the God, Titan, and Chaos modes in the God of War series or “Dante Must Die” in DMC.
And once in a rare while, a game comes along that’s just hard no matter how you play it, like the under-exposed but wickedly awesome Ikaruga or the die-a-million-deaths Demon's Souls. These gems definitely hearken back to the old school games that tested a player’s skill to the limit, and players like me are thankful for it. But all of these examples are, as the saying goes, the exceptions that prove the rule. 20 years ago it would be nonsensical to make special mention of these games for their difficulty, because that was the simply the norm.
Take a look at the landscape of the industry today, and such games are few and far between. Huge, sprawling adventures are commonplace, many of them offering a story that takes 20+ hours to complete. But they are, in general, a hassle-free 20 hours. I've dumped at least 200 hours into all my playthroughs of the masterpiece that is Ocarina of Time. But there isn’t a single minute in that huge playtime that’s hard enough to require more than a handful of attempts to get by. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zelda to death, but I can’t think of any moment in the entire series (post-NES, of course) that frustrated me half as much as the first level of Contra.
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