Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Kid Icarus; difficulty in Video Games


On a whim, with the music of level one rolling around in my head, I decided to search for Kid Icarus on the web, to see what web sites were out there. Kid Icarus, for those who are unfamiliar with video game history, was a game originally put out for the 8 bit Nintendo system. It followed by a sequel for the Game Boy, but that was about it. It dealt with the hero, Kid Icarus, fighting mythological monsters in an attempt to rescue some fair damsel in distress. The normal fair for computer games. But anyway, I found a site that reviewed the game, since now you can play those classic games on the Wii system. The review went on and on about how hard the game was, how repetitive the levels and how annoying some of the jumps were. This got me to thinking, because I loved the game, and found it to be fairly easy. What makes an old 8-bit game like Kid Icarus a difficult game, while modern day games, while dazzling in graphics and action, seem fairly easy? My answer is this... that people now a days, with the instant availability of game walkthroughs and cheat codes, find that any game with any difficulty at all is too hard. There is no balance in a game, no thrill in beating a boss that, when you finally take away that last life meter, makes you exhale and feel like you've truly slayed a monster.

But that's not to say that all video games from that era are easy... there were different games with different difficulty levels, and the truly great ones were the ones that could keep the plot line and story detailed, with the action and the skill level not easy, by any means, but not extremely difficult, either. Let's take some of the greatest series in video game history for examples. The Mega Man series, which has now infiltrated every console system and the PC available, started out with Mega Man 1 and 2, which were amazing games, challenging and fun. Mega Man 3 was a little harder, but still beatable. 4 through 7, however, for the 8 bit system, were ridiculous. I couldn't get past even one level, and only managed to beat them using cheat codes. Ninja Gaiden for the 8 bit was impossible, as was NG3, but the second installment was thrilling, and when I finally beat it, after several hours on the same level, it was marvelous. Castlevania 2 was great, and I beat it after many hours playing it, but 1 was hard, but playable, and 3 was impossible. Luckily, when the Super Nintendo came out, Mega Man and Castlevania came out with amazing games. We're still waiting for NG. Zelda was the only game series that had the balance right the whole time, as far as the games that I have played. The Legend of Zelda series has some of the best video games ever made (1, 3, and Ocarina).

But now there are cheat codes for everything, and the games are usually so short because they have tried to up the graphics to such a point that there is more glitter than substance. One notable exception is Half-Life, which is the only first person shooter I'll play, mainly because it actually has a plot line. Also, play American Mcgee's Alice sometime.... an amazing plot line with a balance that I've not seen in quite a while. (Okay, so we had to use the god code for the last boss, but that's okay. The story line was completed, and that's the main thing.)

So balance, just like in life, is essential for a video game to continue it's life cycle beyond one system. And those video games which have the correct balance have become a part of our culture. Everyone knows who Mario is, or Zelda. And you put a copy of SMB1 in front of someone, even today, and they'll get hours of pleasure out of it. Thank goodness for the emulators to bring back the ability to play games that I have gathering dust in my closet, so that the memories that they contain can always be renewed... like visiting an old friend.

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