Battletoads, Castlevania, Cheat Codes, Contra, Donkey Kong Country, final fantasy, Game Genie, Konami Code, Mega Man, Metroid, Nintendo Entertainment System, Punch Out, Rockman, Super Mario Bros, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, The Legend of Zelda
How can I tell I am beginning the slow, inevitable process of turning into an “old man”? That’s easy. I’m starting to love lecturing young people on how easy they had it. Nowhere is this more evident in video games.
Anyone remember Cranky Kong from “Donkey Kong Country”? In another ten years when he’s dead and buried I’ll be able to take his place on that rocking chair in front of that old shack and lecture young folks about how their games are ridiculously simple compared to mine in between beating large gorillas over the head with a cane. And, assuming the gorillas don’t rip me to shreds for doing that, I’ll be perfectly happy doing it.
I myself grew up during the third and fourth generation of console games. The third generation was dominated (at least in North America) by the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), while the stand-out aspect of the fourth generation was the war between Mario and Sonic, or, more accurately, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis. The latter especially stands out in memory.
“Console Wars”, in my opinion, are pathetic nowadays. Who cares if you pick Microsoft or Sony? Practically all the games worth playing are on both consoles. Back in the fourth generation, one developer would be on one console and one developer would be on another. So unless you had enough income to buy both consoles, you picked a side and defended it with your dying breath. And the two sides would get nasty too. It would seem every new game put out or advertised was designed to mock a game on another console or discourage people from buying it. The slogans and taglines in the late fourth generation seemed to challenge the players to be able to hold onto their very souls after playing their game, which was supposed to be so intense that even looking into the Ark of the Covenant couldn’t compare.
Which was, of course, completely ridiculous. They stopped making games like that in the third generation.
Nowadays, three days after a couple friends buy a new release, they’ll go up to each other and ask each other if they’ve beaten it yet.
Back in the third generation, the discussion went more like this:
“Hey, I was playing Contra the other day.”
“I got all the way to the fourth stage.”
“Only took me two years.”
There’s a reason back in those days we as gamers clambored for magazines full of cheat codes, stage selects, invincibility, and, of course, the ‘Holy Grail’ of cartridge games…the notorious Game Genie. The average gamer needed that crap. Nowadays, you don’t. The “Super-Duper-Mondo-Easy Version” is already built into the game. Of course you don’t need cheat codes anymore.
Some people would even say the reason cheat codes, such as the infamous Konami Code, were created was because games like Contra were all but impossible without them. To that, however, I simply smile, chuckle lightly, and then lean over to gently pat the person on the head and tell them: “…You’re thinking like a fifth generation console player, young padawan. You’re acting like the game wants you to win. Very silly of you.”
So, for you silly young people with your silly ideas of what difficulty is and your silly notion that having more buttons and sticks on a controller somehow makes a game harder instead of easier…I present to you a brief retrospective on yesteryear.
Yes, I shall slip into this rickety old rocking chair and further edify how, yes indeed, “everything was harder when I was a kid”. And it was, too. Chairs were harder. Cars were noiser and less safe. Air was more difficult to breathe. Water rose up out of the faucet and tried to drown you. You had to drag the sun over the horizon and hold it there if you wanted any sunshine. And, of course, games hated you.
“Super Mario Bros.” – You young people with your monotone female robot voices making bad jokes and your darn fool cake being lies and what not. Real gamers never say: “The cake is a lie.” to express an ultimate letdown. They say: “But our princess is in another castle!” And this is before 3D landscapes, you young whippersnapper, and you can only go forward in the world, which means you have to take the path of most resistance and make darn sure you didn’t take the wrong path or miss the 1-UP block. And you’re so used to Mario having a life meter too, aren’t you? Well, we didn’t have life meters back in my day! You ate a mushroom to survive a hit, and then you died on the next one! And you’re so used to getting easy lives too, ain’t you? If you want more lives, you just repeat some easy world, right? Well nuts to you! In our day we searched high and low for coin rooms, and we were lucky to get 20 of them out of the damn thing!
“The Legend of Zelda” – Look at you running around with that elf kid who always dresses the same. Look at you with all your gadgets and such. Back in my day, we only had eight of the things and we were lucky if half of them even did anything! We wanted to buy something, we went out there and we earned rupees, damnit! By walking halfway around the world! And we were lucky if we would end up with 15 rupees when we were done! Oh, you could go blow up the door to some old fart’s house and ask them for money, but half the time they’d just make you fix the door! And look at those enemies…bah. Ever hear of something called a Darknut, son? How’d you like to be shoved in a room with eight of the blue versions of the damn things and only four hearts? Some sissy like you would never last more than ten seconds.
“Castlevania” – When I was a lad, play control was terrible! You’d have to mash a button two, three, hell, sometimes five times before the darn sprite would do what you wanted! Plus everything respawned! You just had to deal with it! Take this game for example. Some young punk like you would never get past the second stage. Those Medusa Heads would knock you on your butt every time you tried to jump over a plank, and it’d be straight into a watery grave for your little speedo-wearing whip-cracker.
“Metroid” – Women these days always got to come with all these accessories. In my day, Samus wouldn’t even shoot a beam all the way across the screen until you got a power up for her! And you couldn’t get that power up until you found some missiles! And you youngsters are never willing to get your hands dirty. Why, when you go up to Ridley or Kraid, oh you’ve just got to have a way to beat them without even taking a hit. Well you’re too thin skinned! In my day you had to have enough energy tanks to either get in their faces or get a lava bath! Oh, and you young folks just have to have it all, don’t you? Well, beams cost money, dagnabbit! You can have an Ice Beam or a Wave Beam but you ain’t getting both!
“Mega Man” – And speaking of accessories, you young hooligans with your Justin Beaver and Big Time Flush or whatever it is you listen to, you expect your robots to do all sorts of stuff at the get go, don’t you? Yeah, you want them to be able to slide and charge their Mega Busters or what not… Hell, your newer models got to be able to cling to walls, don’t they? Well back in my day, our robots did two things: they jumped and they shot! And if that wasn’t good enough for you, then you were fresh out of luck, weren’t you?! And you lily-livered punks are too wimpy. If you got to fight your robot masters a second time, you’ve just got to get some energy refills in between and have a nice break that saves which ones you killed. Well, nothing doing, you spineless young wimps! In my day you did a chain battle royale! If you couldn’t whack four robot masters with no breaks, no recharges, and no energy tanks, you had no business controlling a blue robot in the first place!
“Final Fantasy” – Well look at you, Mr. Fancy-Pants. All you do nowadays is program your little fight routines in on your configuration screens and then just sit back and watch your characters fight the damn battle for you. In the 80s, if we wanted to watch a fight without having to do anything, we went to the movies! If we wanted to play an RPG, on the other hand, we told each character in our party what we wanted to do! And we took care of each other, too. We had to. In my day we didn’t have any of your fancy-schamancy Phoenix Downs. If you were some low-level party, you had to drag them to some old guy in a church to bring them back from the dead. Plus you young folks just save up your items and they’ll let you get through any dungeon. Well not here, you whippersnapper! You’ll run out of items long before you get to the final boss! Hell, the final boss didn’t even have to be much of anything! Just getting to him was what killed you!
“Contra” – Sit down and let me tell you something, young fella running around in that Modern-Warfare-whatnot you’re playing. In real life, you get shot by even one bullet, you’re dead. You’re killing all those bastards running around on screen with one bullet, so why can’t they do the same? Durn idiot…thinking you can just run in guns blazing and not have to worry about dodging gunfire… In my day we’d have five guys shooting at us at once along with these suicidal bastards who could kill you just by touching you, and all while some gun emplacement was pinning you down on the ground. And we were THANKFUL for it.
“Battletoads” – Bah…all you young people who have to beat a game in a week. All you young people who have to get halfway through a game before something finally kills you for the first time. All you young people who have to be able to pick up right from where you got whacked. We didn’t have any of that crap when we were kids! We had two stupid frogs that could kill each other if they weren’t careful riding this deathmobile hovering motorcycle from “Return of the Jedi” through some flesh-coated tunnel that we couldn’t get through if our lives depended on it and we had five years to practice! And that was only the third level! Damn game had fifteen or so levels and none of us ever knew it because no one ever got past the third level! And they just kept getting harder after that one, you 90-pound jellyfish! Wouldn’t matter if there were a lot of 1-Ups in that game because you could only carry five of the damn things! Nowadays you young folks aren’t happy unless Mario can carry 999 of those!
Phew…glad I got that out of my system. I could go on, though. (i.e. “Startropics” AKA Zelda for MEN, “Ghosts N’ Goblins” AKA The Cake is not only a lie but a F*** You) Really, it’s remarkable that the video game industry ever managed to take off at all considering how much they tortured us back in the day.
But, as I alluded to in other posts, kids were bigger masochists back in the 80s and early 90s. We tolerated more pain and suffering. The one good thing about it is when you did manage to beat a game, you felt fantastic. You felt like you just won the Super Bowl. And since games were so hard and seemed to be keyed in to only be beatable by that one guy whose brain operates in that one way, there was a good chance you were that only dude in school who could beat a game. And that made you a minor “gaming god” in the eyes of everyone else. My personal claim to fame is I beat Mike Tyson in “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!” without a Game Genie.
Yeah, I’m a badass like that. 🙂
…Don’t ask me to do it again, by the way.
It’s kind of distressing when you think about it, really. Typically, as games get “younger”, they seem to get easier. Usually if a game is too difficult, it’s blamed on the designer as a flaw rather than just “accepted”. I understand that it’s not necessarily a good thing to have games be so damn hard that it takes you a couple days to clear the first level or world, but at the same time they don’t have to become too easy either. A decent amount of challenge is rewarding in its own right, you know. How much glory is there nowadays in satisfying one of those “Achievements” that are touted so high on modern consoles by simply mashing buttons or wiggling a stick?
Well, I could talk more about this, but I’m afraid I need to get going.
They’re doing a Bob Hope marathon at the retirement center.