They say that gravity is a harsh and bitter mistress. Well guess what? Certain video games are the same way. Welcome to Part 3 of Play Hard where broken dreams, dismantled egos and shattered controllers dwell.
Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii, 3DS)
The return of side scrolling Donkey Kong was meant with thunderous applause. Sure drum and racing games were fine but gamers were hungry for platforming action. Placing Retro Studios in charge of development was a very wise decision on Nintendo's part. After their success on the Metroid Prime series, who better than to revive Donkey Kong's 2D exploits? Donkey Kong Country Returns feels familiar but fresh at the same time. It even has that skull crushing difficulty of the SNES trilogy and in some respects it's even tougher than those games.
Gaining extra lives in this game is, to put it bluntly, stupidly easy. You may even scoff at the addition of hearts to allow you an extra hit. Don't be deceived into thinking DKCR is being soft on you, because it isn't. Those hearts and all those extra lives are justified when you see how easy it is to part with them.
New to the game are rocket barrel sections. These areas pit Donkey Kong on a jet powered barrel where he has to maneuver through obstacles and enemies. Now these areas may look fun in screen shots or in videos but when you're holding a controller in hands they seem like a means of torture design by Satan himself. The controls of the rocket barrels are incredibly sensitive and if you so much as collide with anything that isn't a coin, or a DK barrel and its curtains and like a SHMUP, everything is out to get you in these sections.
Remember the mine cart sections of the SNES DKC games? Those are back and somehow, Retro Studios managed to make them even more fiendishly difficult. You have to duck, jump and bounce off enemies at just the right moment to stay on track. In some cases, the mine cart sections get even wilder when rails aren't involved. One level has the cart rolling on a cracking egg while avoiding flaming enemies and sharp objects. It's every bit as crazy as it sounds and it can be murder when playing with a friend. Just ask Matt and Pat.
Just like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2, DKCR has a Super Guide. Lose seven lives and you'll get the option to turn on Super Kong to help you finish a level. Yes, Super Kong shows up to inform you of your suckitude. He's completely optionally but just having a reminder of how often you've died only adds insult to injury. You can visit Cranky Kong's shop to buy extra lives and even invincibility power ups. You may feel like some of the items he offers borders on cheating (Cranky even lampshades it) but once you see just how punishing some of these levels can get, you'll be dropping your hard earned cash on his store goods without hesitation.
You may have heard about DKCR's controls on the Wii. Yeah, it can be a bit bothersome way rolling and ground pounding works but they seldom caused me any deaths. Sure the game is unquestionably hard and at times it may even seem unfair, but most of the deaths you suffer are your own fault. The 3DS version makes things slightly easier by giving you an extra heart but even then, the game is still freaking difficult even if you aren't going for 100%, I'm sorry, 200% completion.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
Bashed by the Angry Video Game Nerd early on in his career, these days, this game is often ridiculed for being one of the most brutally hard and just plain awful NES games. But it is it really deserving all the negativity it gets? I'm going to say yes.. and no.
The story starts off with April getting kidnapped by Shredder and the Turtles having to go save her. A common plot of the 1987 cartoon series, but once you rescue April, the game is far from over. In fact, saving your busty human friend is only the first mission. Once that's done, you'll have to prevent a dam from exploding, save Master Splinter and fight your way to and through the Technodrome and peace out Shredder. It won't be an bad trip like so many critics claim, but you can bet the farm that it won't be an easy one.
Let's get into makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the face puncher that it is. When your turtles get hit, they have zero mercy invincibility so you need to get them out of the danger zone, or dispatch of the enemies quickly, lest you lose a turtle and losing a turtle can be crippling, even if it's a turtle you aren't too fond of. You can get a captured turtle back but the game doesn't give you a whole lot of opportunities to do so and if you know that you're going to lose a turtle, you're better off picking and choosing who goes and who stays. Leo and Don are great for long range fights while Mike and Raph are better off dealing with the small fry like Mousers.
The Turtles are quite the high jumpers, reaching heights that Mario and Luigi would be proud of. Unfortunately for our heroes in a half shell, this game has some pretty nasty gaps to cross and it can be very easy to flub them. You either jump correctly or you're gonna miss the mark. Even the sewers have their fair share of tricky jumps and don't think you'll be safe just because water is below a jump. Oddly enough, the Turtles lose their natural ability to swim when it comes to making jumps over water.
What many gamers and critics site as the game's biggest frustration is the Dam. Taking place below the surface of Manhattan and giving the player sucky swimming controls, you have to disarm eight bombs within a time limit of two minutes and twenty seconds. The biggest hindrance here are the crappy swimming controls mysterious sea life that reaches out and eats the Turtles alive if they get too close, and ton of electric seaweed, which is quite the nuisance to swim through. This mission is a pain to be sure, but it's certainly doable and once you get past it, you'll find that the Dam is a cakewalk compared to everything that comes after.
Once you make it to the Technodrome, a battle ensues. Yes, unlike later TMNT games, you actually have to fight the Techodrome. The one eyed tread machine tries to electrocute you, riddle you with bullets and even throws Foot Soldiers at you. The Technodrome may look small on the outside but once you go inside, you see that it's actually quite spacious. The fight with Shedder can either be one of the easiest final bosses on the NES or the Yellow Devil of the game. If you have the scrolls or know just when to attack, Shredder is a joke. If not, well, have a nice death.
Is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one of the hardest games on the NES? Without a doubt. Is it a bad game? No way. It is a flawed game, yes, but it doesn't deserved to be lumped in with so many terrible licensed NES games like Back to the Future and Fester's Quest. Give it a shot. Just keep a pillow near by so you can have something soft to punch.
Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)
Nintendo's games frequently get labeled as kiddy despite being some of the most enjoyable titles in the medium. Sadly, catching the kiddy label also carries with it the belief that it must be easy because it looks kiddy. Nintendo's games have always been accessible to people of all ages but they also don't treat the players with kid gloves as you press on further. On rare occasions, some titles slap you in the face early on. Super Mario Sunshine may not be as evil with it's difficulty as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, but it's pretty freaking close.
If anyone is in need of a vacation, it's Mario. He's one of the hardest working men in the gaming world. Do you recall what happened the last time Mario tried to take a vacation in Super Mario World? That's right, he ended up working. In Super Mario Sunshine when he lands on Isle Delfino's airstrip, he's accused of a crime he didn't commit and forced to clean up the real culprit's mess. Oh, and the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom gets kidnapped for the umpteenth time. Mario just can't catch a break even when he wants to.
The second major 3D Mario game, Sunshine introduced us to FLUDD, a mechanical talking water pack invented by Professor E. Gadd. FLUDD assists Mario on his quest to clean up Isle Delfino. With the aid of FLUDD Mario can hover in the air, rocket to into the sky and clean up all the filthy messes that his doppelganger (which is really Bowser Jr.) left behind. Since FLUDD is powered by water, your supply of H2O is plentiful.
As much as the game was designed around FLUDD's use, his inclusion was one of the most common complaint's among fans and critics. So it's rather ironic that a plethora of hidden areas in the game must be completed without him. Most of the courses in the game have one or two episodes where Bowser Jr. goes GTA on FLUDD and Mario is left to rely on his famous acrobatic jumping skills. This may sound simple but these levels are very liner and fiendishly designed, featuring fast moving blocks, disappearing platforms and rotating platforms where you have to keep moving or fall to your doom. Your one saving grace in these levels are the two 1-up Mushrooms you can pick up along the way, but at times these things are placed in spots that place your life in even greater danger. Interestingly, these levels have an a Capella version of the famous Super Mario Bros. Ground theme.
Those FLUDDless sections aren't Sunshine's only method of frustrating you. Picture if you will, a giant sandbird soaring through the sky with seven red coins in the area. The sandbird twists and turns as it flies through the air and you have to be careful not to fall off while trying to collect the red coins. Even with FLUDD on your back to help you stay in the air a few seconds longer, this red coin mission is enough to test the durability of the often thought indestructible GameCube controller.
If you thought Super Mario 64's camera was bad in later courses, wait until you see the camera work of Sunshine. To put it mildly, this game's camera is atrocious. Yeah, you get a silhouette to see just where Mario is when you can't get the desired angle, but in a few episodes, the shoddy camera work will get you killed. The game's horrendous camera work is demonstrated quite well in Pinna Park Episode 5: The Runaway Ferris Wheel. In this episode Mario has to climb atop the ferris wheel to reach the Shine Sprite. Electric enemies stand in your way as you try to ascend but the camera fights you more than anything else and it's easy to lose your place and fall down, forcing you to make another attempt. Several tries of this will make you think the camera wants you dead more than any electrical adversaries.
Super Mario Sunshine remains one of Mario's most controversial games. The camera work is headache-inducing the platforming sections where you don't have FLUDD are some of the toughest levels of any Mario game and many of the games later episodes can leave GameCube controller marks in your walls. It isn't really a bad game but it is quite challenge, even though some of the challenge is artificial.
The Belmont clan and anyone else in this series that has risen up against Dracula are in my humble opinion just as much BAMFs as Bill Rizer and Lance Bean from the Contra series. Sure, Simon and company may not be packing heat but when you can save the world with a whip, you've earned yourself the respect of throngs of gamers, especially when you can go through a huge castle that throws such an unfathomable amount of obstacles at you. There's no one thing that makes NES Castlevania the ball buster that it is. Everything about Castlevania is the reason it will make you see red.
Our vampire slayer, Simon Belmont feels as stiff as a board. I know it was 1987, but even Mario felt like he had more freedom in his movements in Super Mario Bros. Not only does Simon feel like a moving plank, but his jump is sadly true to real life jumping physics. When Simon jumps left or right, he's stuck going in either of those directions until he hits solid ground. Someone also forgot to tell one of the world's most revered heroes that it's OK to jump off of stairs because he lacks the ability to do so. This is especially bad when you see some oncoming enemies that are headed your way. Simon also suffers from knock back when he gets hit, but it has got to be the worse knock back I've ever seen. My guess is that all of Simon's pain receptors are activated all at once when he takes damage and the pain he experiences is magnified times 100 because he really, and I mean really flies back when he gets hit. God have mercy on your soul if you get knocked by while trying to make a jump over a bottomless pit.
The enemies. These have got to be some of the most tenacious mofos in the history of mooks! Hardly anyone or anything in Dracula's army is a C or even B lister. This game is the reason a gamer can't think of Medusa without cringing in horror. The Medusa Heads that fly by continuously in their wavy patterns have cost many a Castlevania player countless lives and game overs. The small but annoying Fleaman love to tackle you and sometimes they do it in groups and their erratic patterns make them very hard to hit. Ax Armors may as well be mini bosses. They take more hits to kill than any other normal enemy in the game and they just love to mix it up between high and low ax throws. These guys get really aggravating near the end of the game where you have to deal with a long hallway full of them.
Now some of you that have never played Castlevania may be thinking, "The levels sound insane, so the bosses must be easy, right?" Ha ha ha, NO! With the exception of the first two bosses, Konami decided to give the player the finger from stage 3 onward. The end of stage 3 has you going up against two, two mummies who each take quite a fair bit of punishment before going down. If you have the Stop Watch for your sub weapon, this fight is so much easier. Stage 4 ends with you going up against Frankenstein's Monster, who is actually quite easy but he's accompanied by Igor, who's constantly pounces on you make the fight the annoyance that it is. The game even throws Death (the Grim Reaper if you prefer) at you, a boss so unbelievably hard that most players just opt to use the Holy Water and III power up to cheese the fight. Dracula, the lord of all vampires isn't any easier, especially once his head flies off and he transforms into his second form.
It's as if the designers at Konami went over every conceivable thing that could make a gamer rage quit and put it into Castlevania. And yet it is widely viewed as one of the greatest games of the 8-bit era. Yes, it can cause controller throwing fits, but it's still a well crafted game and every bit worthy of the praise it gets.
Final Fantasy (NES)
The game that kept Square in the game making business has been ported to more systems than I care to list but for this feature, we'll be sticking with the original NES version. Extremely light on character development (read: none), the first Final Fantasy charges the do gooders with saving a decaying world from four elemental fiends. Well that sounds simple enough. In fact, saving the world is ultimately the goal of just about every RPG in existence. But the baddies of Final Fantasy have every intention of bringing your world saving shenanigans to a screeching halt. When I say baddies, I mean the standard random encounters just as much as I do the boss battles.
Final Fantasy is an old-school RPG in every sense of the word. Items and equipment are terribly expensive, which means you'll spend a good amount of your time on the world map fighting to gain money to just to get your band of light warriors the best goods. Getting into a fight in this game is extremely simple due to the abnormally high random encounter rate. It isn't uncommon to walk four steps, get into a fight, win the battle, walk two steps and get into another random battle. I hope you like Final Fantasy's Battle Scene tune because you'll be hearing it a lot. The designs of the dungeons, save for the Temple of Fiends in the present are rather large with lots of dead ends. (I did mention Final Fantasy's ridiculous random encounter rate, didn't I?)
The monsters on the world map and especially the ones in the dungeon don't screw around. If your levels aren't high enough or you don't have the proper healing or recovery items it is easily possible to meet your demise at the hands of a common group of monsters. You can never have too many items to cure status aliments, especially in a place like the Marsh Cave. If you're halfway through a dungeon and your White Mage his kicked the bucket, turn around and high tail it back to the nearest town to get her back up and running. You have to use caution in targeting enemies in battle. If you had your characters select to attack an enemy that is no longer there, they won't automatically target the next enemy in line, but will swing at the spot of the fallen enemy, resulting in a strike that will always miss.
Would you believe that there's an enemy you can encounter in normal battles near the end of the game that's more powerful than the final boss? Even with your whole party at level 50, WarMech can still wipe you out. Fights with WarMech, if they can even be called such quickly turn into struggles just to stay alive, whether you came in prepared or not.
I really do love the original Final Fantasy but this particular version isn't my favorite, and this is definitely not the version I'd recommend to new comers. The random encounter rate is likely to drive novices insane and it isn't hard to get a gamer over in the middle of a mad dash back to town to revive fallen party members. However, if the aforementioned things don't deter you, proceed with extreme caution.