The Wrong Kind of Difficulty
The alternate title of this article was Ã‚"Japan Enjoys Your PainÃ‚". That's really what I'm feelin on this side of the pond. After giving up on Viewtiful Joe because of frustration with the save point system and occasionally ridiculous bosses I jumped head first into Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. It probably would have been a better idea to jump head first into an empty pool. At least that would have involved fewer convulsions and less blood squirting from my eyes.
At several points in both games I asked myself Ã‚"Why? Why did they just make me do that?Ã‚" The only answer that seemed to explain the facts was that all Japanese game developers were in a conspiracy to force me to commit suicide by subjecting me to cockteasing game after cockteasing game. It seemed pretty reasonable to me at the time. However, I came up with another theory after the liquor wore off. Click "Read More" if you want to, you know, read more.You see there for a while games were getting pretty easy. The big trend a couple of years ago was Ã‚"lure in the massesÃ‚". Get everybody and your mother playing your game. Not everybody followed this to the letter, but from the cheap seats it looked like the crowd of developers was taking it easy on us. After all, some newbie gamer might come in and actually lose, which would make them stop playing.
Then there's the matter of increasing cost of production. Games are getting too expensive to produce, so the solution was to make the game shorter. Ã‚"Short but sweetÃ‚" was another trend a year or two ago. Not that they were all sweet, but that was the idea. Make the game graphically rich and have very few levels. The end result was the average game got shorter and shorter and easier to get through.
Then the backlash. Gamers get upset, nostalgic. Ã‚"Remember the good ol days?Ã‚" we'd all begin muttering around our various internet forums. Ã‚"Why, when I was but knee high to a grasshopper it'd take us forever to beat a game. Remember
For some strange reason, developers listened. Why the hell they decided to listen to that particular snippet I'll never know, perhaps karma is a bitch. All the gamers whining and moaning about games being delayed, then whining about the patches for the games that weren't delayed - well, they probably had it coming.
So developers went to their developer caves and asked their chieftain what they should do. Ã‚"I'll show them the good old days,Ã‚" the chieftain said, Ã‚"I'll bring back side scrollers! I'll even bring back Castlevania! Though I can't combine them because that would make too much sense.Ã‚" The developers would all stroke their beards as if that was a wise thing to say. Ã‚"We'll give them jumping puzzles like they've never seen! And save points! Oh the save points! We might let them save, if we're feeling merciful.Ã‚" The entire cave erupts in comically evil laughter as the shadows behind the developer chieftain grow taller and more ominous. There was much beard stroking that night let me tell you.
So, back to our story. Well the result of that night was the current crop of games. Viewtiful Joe has several problems like this despite the fact that it's an otherwise excellent game. The save points have already been lamented by several gamers, around here they're generally not liked. Usually my main contention with them is that if it's not a cheap attempt at forcing you to play their game many times over it's just laziness at not coding in a Ã‚"save anywhereÃ‚" feature. Since Viewtiful Joe is so well done it's probably the former. Here's a hint, if I want to play your game again I'll hit that handy little button on the main menu that says Ã‚"New GameÃ‚". Until I do that I only want to play the game once, quit trying to force me to play it again simply to sate your taste for my pain.
Castlevania has so many problems I don't know where to start, though I'll get into them a bit later with some first impressions. Suffice to say jumping puzzles are plentiful and they use save points. Now the save points are frequent, but annoying because they are the only way to get health in the game. Then there's the repetition of the levels. Every other room looks the same. These similar looking rooms are separated by more varied but still repetitious rooms. However bad those are, they're all topped by the jumping puzzles. Your timing has to be perfect, and I mean perfect. Of course if you screw up, just start over right? I mean it makes the game longer, that has to be good. Final Fantasy and Baldur's Gate has like 80 bazillion hours of gameplay and everyone loves it. Right? Right?
Here's the problem from where I sit, again in the cheap seats. Making something difficult means the player spends more time on it. The problem is, you want them to spend that time doing something fun. Somehow that last sentence got lost in the noise and developers are thinking Longer == Better. So you get stuff like Castlevania and to a lesser extent Viewtiful Joe, they make the game longer by forcing you to do sh*t you have already done. Make the game longer by making the puzzles intellectually challenging, the enemies smart and varied, the levels interesting and detailed. Make me want to play the game again or play the game longer, don't force me to.
I know it's easy to jeer and catcall from the cheap seats. It's easier said than done. That said I'd still gladly pay money to anyone who makes a game that doesn't try to force me to play it. In fact I quite often do. So please, let me give you money. I'll even cook you dinner. Maybe even a movie afterwards but no touching below the equator, Mister.