The original Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii did a great job of emulating the challenge of the classic DKC trilogy on SNES–in that they were way too difficult for a good 70% of the people who played them. So when Returns hits the 3DS in May, it’ll include New Mode, which increases the number of hits you can take before you die, and adds items that offer a lifeline when your partially clothed simian leaps straight into a pit.
Don’t worry–the original difficulty mode will be left intact in DKCR 3D, for those who want to experience brutal platforming while holding a delicate handheld system in their increasingly sweaty and agitated hands. But New Mode sounds like it could be a godsend for those who want to play a great game without going all-in on conquering its laborious trials. Come to think of it, too many amazing games have been glossed over by the general populace, simply because they were just too damn punishing to enjoy. These are some classic games that, if re-released or ported, will absolutely need to cater to the non-hardcore with some kind of Easy mode.
Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
As the spiritual successor to the revered (and equally reviled) Ghosts ’n Goblins series, it was a given that Maximo on the PS2 would be demanding. But even if you had mentally steeled yourself for a challenge, few were prepared for the titanium-coated brick wall of difficulty that arose halfway through the game. This spike in toughness was coupled with a save system that, if you weren’t preparing for it, could leave you broke and stranded late in the game.
The bait-and-switch was the paid save system. The cost to save required the same coins that bought abilities and lives–and you could only access savepoints on the second level of each world. If you couldn’t pass the first level, sucks to be you–because continues also cost money, and the price increased substantially every time you continued. All that a hypothetical Easy mode would have to do is remove this godforsaken save system–and just like that, the game would go from grueling to tough-but-fun.
F-Zero GX had it all–the spirit of the classic SNES racer, a huge assortment of characters and vehicles, and retina-searing visuals and framerates that made the GameCube seem like an unmatched graphical powerhouse. What it couldn’t offer, though, was the will to continue playing even after you came in last place on your seventeenth tournament attempt. Also, if you’re prone to dry eyes, forget it–blinking for even a moment during a race would ensure much crashing, burning, and sobbing into your controller.
Trust us, we know what it’s like–because we were dumbfounded when we couldn’t beat the second stage in the game’s Story Mode. And you know that sensation of racing cups in games like Mario Kart and Gran Turismo, when you’re in too deep to quit, but there’s no way you’re taking home a trophy? Cups in FZGX are like that, and they span five or more tracks, not the typical four. If only Nintendo had made the game’s AI less cutthroat, or ensured that a single crash wouldn’t derail your entire attempt, maybe we could’ve gotten our money’s worth, instead of quitting for good after six hours of mind-numbing frustration (five hours and fifty minutes of which were repeating the same track over and over again).
OK, show of hands. Who here loves Hotline Miami? Excellent, us too. Now, who here beat the final boss as Jacket and cleared all of the Biker’s missions? …Yikes. With those numbers, there’s no point in even asking who collected all the purple pixels and revealed the true ending. Yes, even with unlimited lives, ample checkpoints, and infinite chances to conquer an army of armed guards, many players neared the end of this action-packed acid trip and simply gave up. You know who you are.
That’s a shame, because some of the most mind-blowing bits of story happen when you see your murderous mission all the way through to the end. Not to mention the fact that, if you’re not determined to beat the game, you’ll never get to try out all the cool animal masks and experiment killing stuff with their unique effects. A save-anywhere system is all that’s needed to make hordes of Hotline Miami players stick with it through the tough sections–though we’re guessing that won’t be a feature in the game’s upcoming PS3 and Vita port.
“But wait!” you scream. “God Hand did have an Easy mode!” Ah, but what was Easy in name was nothing remotely close to it in function. Think of God Hand’s “Easy” as the hardcore gamer’s “Normal,” and the everyman’s “Very Hard, to the point that it feels like Capcom is punishing you for a past transgression you’re unaware of.” There was no blocking or shields to be had in God Hand’s abundant fist fights; evasion was the only way to ensure that you would live long enough to damage your opponents.
Those who did take the time to master the controls were rewarded with an awesome brawler, one as over-the-top as Bayonetta and as satisfying as TMNT: Turtles in Time. Like any bitter challenge, it’s an acquired taste–but if you think you’re a beat-‘em-up stud, you’d do well to pick it up on the PlayStation Network.
Aban Hawkins & the 1,001 Spikes
This XBL Indie/soon-to-be Nintendo eShop game is a test of your self-respect–and ashamedly, that’s exactly why it needs an Easy mode. See, when the game starts, you’re given a literal 1,000-life reserve to make your way through an ancient temple riddled with booby traps. Within minutes, it will become apparent that your one thousand chances (plus 100 more when you clear a chapter) may not be enough. When you’ve reached the lowest lows of self-pity after your hundredth death on the same screen, you’ll discover that you can actually skip any level you like. But should you?
We’ve lived through this tempting situation, and it isn’t pretty. Once you know you can skip anything, you skip everything, refusing to put the slightest bit of effort into making your way through a tough stage. Once you’ve skipped ‘til you can skip no more, you’ll face the final boss–but any victory you claim will be the definition of hollow. Instead of inducing self-loathing in players looking for some respite, an Easy mode could simply remove some particularly tricky deathtraps, or make the tempo of incoming blowdarts a tad slower. Better that than having us hate ourselves for caving.
At first, Dustforce doesn’t seem so hard. The dreamy, janitorial platformer eases you into the swing of things, where sweeping up every last particle of dust is just as important as nailing a jump. But as you play, you start to realize that nothing less than perfection will do. See, to obtain the keys that unlock later levels, you’ll need to achieve an S/S grading–which requires a spotless level with nary a single death. That’s not so bad in the early stages, but later levels will have you restarting runs until you’ve reached your wit’s end.
And yet, Dustforce is a game that, in our humble opinion, everyone should play. Its music is uplifting yet soothing, its graphics are oh-so-stylish, and its level design is superb. It’s just that, y’know, maybe you don’t have to perfect every level before you can move on. You may not get top billing on the leaderboards, but at least then you’d have the satisfaction of completing an amazing game.
Donkey Kong Country wasn’t Rare’s first punishingly difficult rodeo. Before the Kongs, there were toads–and the trials and tribulations they faced would haunt NES gamers for years. Given the cartoony nature of the character designs, you’d think that Battletoads was aimed at kids. Then you play it, and you realize that Rare was apparently trying to corner the market for vicious masochists who also enjoy video games. If your eight-year-old self thought you could blow through this in a weekend, all that awaited was cruel disappointment.
An Easy mode for Battletoads wouldn’t be a one-step process. For starters, infinite lives and continues would be a must. Also, include the option to skip the snake-ride platforming and the infamous Turbo Tunnel–because, after all, this is a a beat-‘em-up game. And for the love of all that is holy, remove friendly fire from two-player co-op. Nobody asked for that, Rare. Nobody.
Two years before Ninja Gaiden made Xbox owners drop to their knees and weep, Shinobi taught PS2 players that life as a ninja is no cakewalk. In this instance, “no cakewalk” translates to “a ruthless gauntlet of tenacious enemies and blood-curdling platforming sections.” If you don’t believe us, go download the Classics rerelease on PSN and tell us how it goes. Five bucks says that, within the first five levels, you start to question your values and what it is you’re doing with your life.
And that’s too bad, because those that stuck with it got to experience a stellar action platformer, exploring a near-future Tokyo overrun by demons and slashing ninjas and zombie dogs by the dozen in spectacularly violent and stylish fashion. Hotsuma was a downright cool protagonist, made all the more so by the physics of his bold red scarf. Because even when you’re cursing your creator after falling to your death for the umpteenth time, there’s always time to appreciate a trendy scarf.
Please go Easy on us
So which great games have you pining for an Easy mode? Which worthwhile purchases did you have to put down when the difficulty was just too much? It’s OK to share; we won’t judge you or call you a sissy. We can’t say the same for the Internet at large–but who really cares what those fools think, anyway?
If you’re looking for more tales of tremendous challenge, check out the most ruthlessly punishing indie games and Why do we love the games that hate us?
By Lucas Sullivan
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