By Dustin Seibert
These days, I play every video game I purchase on the “Hard” difficulty, because I like to feel as if I got as much as I could for my hard-earned dough. Such was the case with the new Strider game, which dropped last week as sort of an extended “remix” of the 1989 arcade and Sega Genesis classic.
After more than two decades since I touched anything Strider-related, I’d clearly forgotten how balls-to-the-wall tough the original game is, because I got my ass handed to me more times in my first couple hours of play than Peyton Manning in the last Super Bowl. Between the ridiculously sparse save checkpoints — if a boss takes you out, you have to replay three-fourths of the goddamn stage again to get to him again — and all the stray lasers grazing my nuts from all directions, I’ve sworn at my television more in the past week than I did during all last season of Michigan Football.
Truth is, many games from the era of the original Strider were frustratingly difficult. Though contemporary console and PC games are longer, richer, and…well…better, they’re loaded with tons of save points that allow you to play like a candy-ass knowing that you won’t have to start the game over after you die. Sure, games like Contra took only a half hour or so to beat, but if you grinded hard just to make it to the last boss and he snatched your last life and continue from you, you’re screwed — back to the beginning with thee!!
I’ve been a gamer for nearly 30 years, so I’m not ashamed to admit that there are a few games throughout the years that brought a tear or three to my eyes. Here are just a few of the ones I remember well:
(Ah, the ’80s.)
1. Contra (NES, 1987): I ain’t e’en gon’ tell a lie: I got to a point where I didn’t even attempt to beat this game without getting my “up, up, down, down, down, left, right” on at the menu screen. Like Strider, this is another arcade classic that made its way to a console with the same lack of forgiveness designed to make you part ways with your allowance in 25-cent increments. Ten stages, three continues with three lives each, and a gajillion stray white dots as bullets trying to tear your ass out the frame. You could play Contra on 2-player with the model T-101 manning the second controller and you still probably wouldn’t make it past that stupid waterfall stage without losing a continue.
2. Battletoads (NES, 1991): There is a reason this game is on the top five of everyone’s “hardest fucking games ever” list. Battletoads is the antichrist of games. It is the Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate of games. It’s the Commodus, King Joffrey and that old bastard from Braveheart all rolled into one, of games. I’m not sure what sadistic programmer made it so you could make an amphibious creature on steroids hopping around on a jet hover vehicle making jumps that he CLEARLY HIT only to fall into the ether. Despite the heavily masturbatory appeal of the game’s final boss, this game frustrated many 80s babies into submission. If anyone ever told you they beat it alone without the use of a Game Genie, THEY LIED TO YOUR FACE.
3. Mortal Kombat (Game Boy, 1992): Never mind the fact that I actually once somewhat enjoyed playing a fighting game on a muddy, pea-green screen that looked like a slightly larger version of a Seiko Computer Watch. The worst thing about the Game Boy port of Mortal Kombat (and the list of awful things about it isn’t short) was its impossibly terrible, wonky controls. Transferring an arcade game with a 360-degree joystick and several attack buttons to a directional pad and Nintendo’s iconic “A, B” action buttons was a joke. Wanna do Scorpion’s harpoon move? Yeah, right. Prepare to just stand in place slapping the air over and over like a six-year-old girlfight while the computer beats you into submission.
4. The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES, 1989): This game had a place in my heart when I was but a sprout because it takes place in Louisiana — my dad’s home state — and features some regional Cajun elements I haven’t seen (and have yet to see again) in a video game. But it also made me wanna hold my Nintendo over a stove’s open flame. The game might be the only Nintendo game ever that combined a Double Dragon-style platform beat-’em-up, a driving section and a section that utilized the NES Zapper in a way that didn’t involve shooting computer ducks. The difficulty level was just insane, though: alligators came out of nowhere to suck the life from your power bar and the hayseed bosses were just stupid hard to beat. Actually making it out of the bayou section to the French Quarter and within spitting distance of the end of the game was reserved for the elite. I was never able to save Billy’s girl Annabelle. This I regret.
5. Ninja Gaiden (Xbox, 2004): Perhaps one of my favorite games on the original Xbox — considering it’s still in my collection while any console that can actually play it is long gone — the Ninja Gaiden remake is difficult as hell, but it’s the best kind of difficult. It rewards patience and immaculate timing, and as such will grind your sorry, button-mashing ass into Soylent Green. After my 234,755,832,638,543th defeat at the hands of the very first boss, I was prepared to mix a few cyanide pills in my blueberry Slurpee. But I stayed the course, and it eventually became one of few games I played through more than once as an adult. But on normal mode though, you know…because I’m not entirely insane.
6. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (SNES, 1991): Look, I…I just don’t wanna talk about it, okay?
7. All Madden mode in any Madden game: Think back on the most recent Super Bowl: Imagine Peyton Manning was Justin Bieber and the Seattle Seahawks were the army of the Dark Lord Sauron. That’s what it’s like to play on the All Madden difficulty setting of any Madden game. Deep passes are a joke — prepare to get picked off damn near every time. Blitzing is bloody near impossible — you’re more likely to become Paula Patton’s rebound dude. Only a Zen Buddhist-like concentration and an overall masochism will allow you to get slaughtered over and over by the likes of a computerized Tim Tebow in an attempt to master All Madden. If you do, however, none of your friends will be able to fade you.
8. God of War III (PS3, 2010): Sigh. This game has a special place wedged in my dark, black soul. Because it’s still so new, you know? So ripe. I haven’t had a chance to properly heal. I played this game on “Spartan” mode — as I had all its predecessors — and all was going well until I hit the Scorpion, the game’s penultimate boss. I couldn’t whip him. I just couldn’t do it. Frustrated, nonplussed and starting to resemble late-model Howard Hughes, I passed the controller to my cousin when he came to visit. A couple hours later, he couldn’t get him either. Lots of swearing and cursing the name of our Lord God took place. It stands as the only game I started and could not complete as an adult. Fuck me…I’m getting the shakes just typing this.