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Enable Hard Mode
Written By: AJ Middleton

Every now and then, we veteran gamers get tired of this Next Generation console mess and go back to older stuff on the NES, SNES, and maybe even N64.  I tend to do this whenever Iím done with my second or third files in Metroid Prime or Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, or just when Iím feeling nostalgic.  Whether I go back to Super Mario Brothers or Donkey Kong Country 2, I always stumble upon the same realization when playing the platformers: these games are EASY.  I suppose a number of factors would influence this, but itís almost ridiculous to see me whip past a level without getting hit once.

The reason I limit this conclusion to platformers is because there isnít much in-game development.  With an RPG, you gain more knowledge of the levels and items needed to beat certain points, so naturally, things get easier the second and third times through.  With puzzles, the difficulty stays constant depending on the AI level.  But the platformer never has anything in it to make the game harder or easier the second time around.  That impossible jump is still impossible.  That bonus coin is still between those two baddies.  The final enemyís weakness is still in the same spot.  Of course, we have the advantage of remembering these surprises the second and third times around, but it doesnít remove obstacles and it shouldnít make things THAT much easierÖor should it?

Maybe, back then, we were just a little slower.  Take, for example, Super Mario World for the SNES.  Iím sure everyone remembers final Bowser at the end.  Weeeell, when I first got to him, hahaha.  Who KNOWS how many game overs I got before finally beating him, but it definitely wasnít a one-try thing.  Now, when I go back, I can beat Bowser without getting hit once.  Is it an experience issue?  It had to have taken tons of tries to beat him when I was 7, so THAT experience didnít help much.  Then why can I come back about 10 years later and beat him so easily?  Is my memory that good, or am I just used to harder now?

Another example is Donkey Kong Country 2, which I happened to start a new file in recently.  Tell me why I eased my way through the first two worlds, with all Kremcoins, all DK coins, 20+ banana coins, and 33 lives.  Maybe I lost about 10 lives, 8 of which came from the first Lost World level.  Add to that the fact that I havenít even played DKC2 in probably 5 years.  I could NEVER have achieved that feat when the game came out, so how can I now?  Is it a matter of memory?  But how can I retain information about a videogame from over 5 years ago, but I canít remember the due date for an English assignment given that day?  What the heckís going on here?!

And itís on the NES too.  I can speed through Super Mario Brothers in a heartbeat.  Even the more difficult sequel doesnít provide a strong challenge anymore, and I didnít even play it that much as a child.  But this decline in difficulty stops with the N64.  N64 games still provide a challenge, and where it gets easier itís definitely all due to experience, not a low difficulty level.  Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 still manage to drive me crazy at certain points.  So what is it?

Of course, some of you are saying ďits experience and memory, loser!Ē  But me, I think the simplicity of old SNES and NES platformers can be attributed to the fact that we are used to much harder stuff now.  Those games worked on two dimensions with limited moves.  You could move only on the x and y-axes, jump and squat, and occasionally the characters could throw objects, pick up others, or fly.  But now we have these 3D games that allow you to move on all 3 axes, and the number of actions is far greater.  But, we have learned from the old games.  Donít you have to master the left and right movements in order to be able to spin all of the way around?  And isnít perfecting simple flying a stepping-stone to Kazooieís wings?  The basics must be mastered in order to tackle todayís challenges, so when we go back to the simple games, weíre set.  Also, studies are showing that the games of today increase the playerís visual skills and reaction time.  SNES and NES platformers definitely didnít need those abilities as much as Metroid Prime does, so in a way, when we go back, weíre over prepared.  Itís this mix of past experience and being used to harder challenges that help to make old games that much easier.

Then again, not all old 2D platformers are made easy by todayís adventures.  The second section of Super Mario Brothers 3ís Dark World may go down in infamy as the hardest section of an NES platformer yet.  What level of difficulty will have to be reached by games in order to make THAT easier?  Be prepared for the developers to enable a SUPER hard mode J.

Posted: 9-20-03



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