When the going gets tough

It’s perfectly natural to be honest about your own failings once in a while and I’m in that kind of mood today, so here it goes…

I am a sucker for insanely difficult games, yet I am absolutely terrible at most of them. I hear about a game which is lauded as being brilliant, yet totally nails and like a fool I buy them and end up not getting very far. It’s happened more than once and will likely happen again.

But what’s to be said about tricky games? The reality is that the majority don’t sell all that well, yet enjoy massive critical appraisal. So here is my short run-down of some of the industry’s most granite offerings that, depending on the type of gamer you are, proved to be a refreshing challenge, or the reason your controller is now lying in bits on the floor due to frustration.

5 – Smash TV (Arcade/XBLA)

From the noggin’ of Eugene Jarvis, the same mastermind behind the excruciatingly testing Robotron: 2084, Smash TV was one of Midway’s biggest arcade hits in which two combatants slug it out on television with massive machine guns and bazookas. Floods of raving psychos pour into each stage and bum rush your character with relentless savagery.

It appears the bloke has become so angered by the game he’s shot his TV to bits.

The odds are always against you as swarms of enemies fly across the killing floor without any warning, almost certainly killing you every time. Now, I’ve finished this game on Xbox Live Arcade, but only because you have unlimited credits and by my count, if I were playing it in an actual arcade, paying 50p a pop, I would have spent well over thirty quid in continues – ouch! But again, it was a huge success and there was something so appealing about facing those impossible odds head first.

4 – Ikaruga (Dreamcast/Gamecube/XBLA)

Recently released on Xbox Live Arcade, Ikaruga is something of a masterclass in scrolling blasters. Your neat, colour changing ship absorbed bullets that were the same colour as you, while a single touch of an opposite projectile killed you in an instant. It was a neat system but with hundreds of bullets spraying across the screen at any one moment, knowing when to flip colour became a real trial. Factor in that for the whole of the five nerve-shredding levels you only had two lives with no continues and this is one insanely difficult title.

It’s easy to get lost in a sea of projectiles not knowing which way to turn

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I died by accident because I flipped to the wrong colour or moved a fraction of an inch in the wrong direction, only to get wasted by a laser beam or stray bullet. Infuriating stuff, but still, critically acclaimed and adored by many – we just love to lap up the punishment don’t we?

3 – Donkey Kong (Arcade/NES/Virtual Console)

It may be the game that catapulted Nintendo into the annals of gaming greatness, but were we gamers such gluttons for punishment back then. Mario’s first outing, under the pseudonym ‘Jumpman’ was an instant classic but by christ was it tough.

For someone with the tag ‘jumpman’, his leaping skills were inept at best

The menacing barrels that rolled towards you required pixel-perfect jumping to avoid, while the flame enemies moved unpredictably, meaning you had to be extra-cautious in your movement. Throw in the fact that if Jumpman fell even the slightest of distances onto another platform, he keeled over and died as if he had just plummeted several feet to his doom – not quite the reaction you’d expect from your favourite princess-saving plumber. Changed days indeed!

2 – God Hand (PS2)

The swansong of the genius-minds at Clover Studios is by far the best example of a side-scrolling beat em up done in the third dimension. So many of these action titles fall prey to button bashing, just look at Dynasty ‘hammer X to win’ Warriors. To fix this gripe, Clover made enemies incredibly smart and insanely beefy. There were no throwaway easy minions here, as every foot soldier had the ability to waste you in a matter of seconds.

This is one of those rare occasions when you’re winning. Savour it

Hammer the same button too long and enemies will always definitely counter your attack, depleting up to half of your health bar in one move, requiring every punch to be well thought out and accurately placed. Don’t even get me started on the bosses either, bloody nightmares! However, the steam punk wild west setting along with some truly madcap storytelling (reading porn to regain health anyone?) made this something of a hidden gem title as no bugger bought it, but trust me, if you liked Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 3, you’ll love this, just don’t expect it to go easy on you.

1 – Contra: Shattered Soldier (PS2)

Well, this is it. The ultra-mack daddy of tough games which I bought upon release, spending months of toil and grief memorising boss attack patterns and swearing at my television. After much pain and suffering, I finished the game only to retire victorious by trading it in, only to spend another couple of months trying to track down another copy after I regretted it.

I must be a fool.

If you’re wise you wont bet on the little guy, he’ll be dead in a second

This really is the final word in difficulty though, as each level required you to memorise where enemies would enter the screen, when they would fire and where to stand to avoid the millions of screen-filling bullets that would kill you all kinds of dead with one hit. That’s right, in true Contra fashion, the game has no health bars, two lives and two continues, but by god was it an overwhelming update. The pumping rock soundtrack, well-balanced weaponry and grimy visuals made this a run n’ gun masterclass, truly retro to its very core. In my mind this is as tough as they come without making things too irritating which is a balance few ‘hard’ games can match.






7 responses to “When the going gets tough”

  1. James avatar

    I actually like Smash TV and Ikaruka… And Dynasty warriors XD (Ever played that on chaos mode? Then youll see it at its hardest. Owtch).

    Minght I suggest another game here? Sigman Star System for the GBA is a bloody tough game to crack ๐Ÿ˜›

  2. James avatar

    Also suggest for tough games, Ghosts n Goblins (Or Ghouls n Goblins, or Super Ghouls and Goblins). Strider is also a pain in the butt!

  3. Dave avatar

    Suggestions are always good ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love Ikaruga and Smash TV loads, unfortunately they just beat me (a lot)

    I also find Viewtiful Joe 2 to be a killer at times

  4. Jake avatar

    I always thought Donkey Kong was easy… but I totally agree with you on Smash TV – great game to pick up and play but a bitch to finish without 79 million continues…

  5. Michael avatar

    Hardest game I’ve ever played to completion was Call of Duty 2 on Veteran. You have no idea how pleased I was when I saw the words “War Hardened”!

  6. Dave avatar

    I must suck at Donkey Kong, level one is always easy as it’s not so hard to peg down, but from the second stage onwards – forget about it. I fail every single time. Worst thing is I recently bought it again on Virtual Console knowing full well the same thing would happen ๐Ÿ˜›

    Yeah Michael, CoD2 on Veteran is a beast, I’ve hit a brick wall with the D-Day landings level, I’m near the end but just can’t find my way over the battlefield in one piece ๐Ÿ™

  7. Tony avatar

    I once had an ancient Commodore 64 game called “The Human Race”. It was a platformer where the idea was that you progressed through levels of evolution up to a modern day human. It was all played out on one screen per evolution section, and in the first screen you were an ape trying to make it to the goal.

    It was so impossibly difficult that only once in all the time I played it did I complete the first screen. I actually shouted and the whole family gathered round for a glimpse at the second screen.

    Of course, by then, I had only one life left, died near instantly and that was it. No-one ever made it to the fabled second screen ever again.

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