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Zoned In: Tough Cookies: Are video games too easy now?

March 25, 2009

Tough Cookies: Are video games too easy now?
By: Steven Hopper

One bitter, jaded gamer looks back at the tougher days of console gaming.

Combing over my game library the other day, I found myself looking through a good portion of my NES games looking for something to play. I pulled out my copy of Mega Man and popped it in the system, only to realize after about 15 minutes that my gaming skills were no longer a match for Guts Man’s construction zone stage. This made me begin to wonder about modern games versus older titles; games like Resident Evil 5 and Gears of War 2 are tough, but when compared to titles like Battletoads or the aforementioned Mega Man, they’re almost a walk in the park.

While not every video game to come out in the NES days was terribly difficult (or even all that tough, in the case of some classics like Ducktales), it seems that on average, games have gotten progressively easier, giving gamers plenty of features that help the process of completing them, be it by giving them ample checkpoints and the ability to save, luxuries that old-school gamers didn’t really have 15 years ago. So, have games gotten easier, or is it just this nostalgic writer’s imagination?


Games like Ninja Gaiden come with a substantial difficulty level, but have new games become easier on average?

One reason for this could be that in previous console generations, be it on the NES or Sega Genesis, games were substantially shorter. Due to memory and space restrictions as well as a lack of an internal battery for game saves (very few titles had batteries, and usually long form adventure games and RPGs like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior), action games couldn’t be the 10-hour long experiences that they have become. In fact, very few action games went longer than an hour from start to finish. This meant that in order for a game to have any sort of staying power beyond the initial play through, it had to be somewhat difficult.

From the development side of things, the desire to create a game that can be easily completed by the player makes a lot of sense. These developers and publishers are pilling millions of dollars into the creation of these games, from the production of the story elements and cutscenes, to its continuation and franchise potential. If you haven’t completed the first game in a trilogy, are you usually ready to jump into the sequels? After all, if you’d only made it halfway through Star Wars, would you really give a crap about The Empire Strikes Back?

That’s not to say that there aren’t still hard-as-nails games out there, or even that difficult games don’t have franchise potential. Tecmo’s hugely successful Ninja Gaiden series is an example of games that are extremely tough but have achieved enough success to have several iterations. However, aside from some notables, it seems that truly difficult games are few and far between these days.


Can games like Mega Man 9 truly ascend beyond being exercises in nostalgia?

In fact, nowadays it seems that games with a substantial difficulty level are almost put into a niche genre of their own. Titles like Mega Man 9, Prinny: Can I really be the hero?, and any number of shoot ‘em ups are titles that use their difficulty to appeal to niche audiences, the self-stylized “hardcore” gamers who feel that an insane degree of difficulty that more casual or inexperienced gamers would balk at is worth the price of admission.

While difficult titles still make the rounds these days, truly tough cookies are few and far between these days. It seems to me that the days of extremely tough games will be relegated to the past and nostalgic niche games, along with 2D side-scrollers, top-down shooters, and Virtual Console titles.

So, what do you think; is it just me or do games feel too easy these days?

Gw
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