About ten years ago, I had a brief period of nostalgia where I chose to revisit some of my favorite NES games from my childhood. I cound’t stand to play most of them for more than 20 minutes. Thinking about it now, I believe the reason for this was that I was a little too young for the NES and the SNES would ultimately serve as the definitive nostalgia console of my life. Anyway, the one game in the pile that actually compelled me to spend hours trying to finish it was Mega Man (now available on the Virtual Console). I was familiar with several of the sequals but didn’t remember much at all about the original. For some reason (the intense difficulty level being a large part of it), the original Mega Man stood out from its sequals: I was able to recognize it as less of game about defeating Dr. Wily and the Robot Masters and more as a series of tough rooms designed solely to test your skills as a video game badass. With each completed stage (featuring such elements as platforms that move, shoot at you and/or drop out periodically, sequentially appearing/disappearing blocks and the statue boss that moves from each side of the screen piece by piece for you to dodge (what an asshole)), a feeling of great accomplishment and pride was immediately felt.
Fast forward to my purchase of Contra 4 for the DS. At the time I was coming to terms with the fact that RPGs, formerly my favorite type, were not satisfying my needs in a game anymore. It took me a while to realize the genre was becoming more of the same 30+ hour, zero difficulty drift of rehashed plot points that, upon completion, just make you happy because it’s finally over (A very notable exception is Shiren the Wanderer, a personal fav of mine which has consumed well over 100 hours of my life). Contra 4 made me feel good about making progress in the face of seemingly impossible odds again. In fact, I never even finished the game on ‘normal’ difficulty. After I unlocked the challange mode, that’s all I would play. My thumbs went raw trying to do them all and when I did, I felt like I had actually done something worthwhile, which, I don’t have to tell you, is remarkable for a game to do. Something about the small scope of the individual chalenges made Contra 4 more enjoyable to me than when they were strung together in a lenghy (but slightly less difficult) sequence.
Last month, two games were released for the DS that take this series of tough rooms/challenge mode idea and boil it down to a formulaic level. Every level of N+ and Bangai-O Spirits is essentially a single room with a single goal and that’s it. Both games are so formulaic that each comes with its own level editor making every element in the game besides the basic engine available to you at once. This concept of endlessly varying, bite-sized challenges really hit home for me personally and I have enjoyed both games immensely. Bangai-O Spirits, in particular, has quickly become one of my favorite games of all time. What’s so frustrating is that these great games will probably fall into relative obscurity due to the fact that only a handful of people are buying them. A quick lurk over to the Gamefaqs forums shows a bunch of whiners complaining about the difficulty with the few diehard fans urging them to give the game a chance/stop being a pussy. I want to say thank you to these people right now, and urge them to keep making new levels for us play. Lastly, I want developers to know that fans of this genre are out there, whatever it is… Give me more.