When we were younger we had all the time in the world to play games. The problem was, we did not get that many to play. This was not because everyone had to wait for the next big game, we just had to wait for… well, anything really. A smaller market meant that there was often large gaps between releases, so by necessity, what we had to play with needed to last us for longer than games today do. This often meant making games difficult, sometimes almost impossible. We complained, but we became better players through our struggles.
As the video games market has grown over the years, the difficulty has gone down. The mobile market has had a large role to play in this as well. It is not uncommon to spend an hour or two completing a free app, only to move on to the next one. Many new casual gamers have joined the market through Facebook, mobile phones, or buying a Wii. Adults can be found playing and enjoying games primarily aimed at children. Hand these same people anything more difficult and they will soon walk away in frustration, yet these people are now a significant portion of the consumer base. We are in an era where games are being developed for people who have no love of challenge.
This fact is highlighted in the recent Ni no Kuni. Over the course of the game the protagonist, Oliver, picks up new spells to solve the problems and puzzles that are spread across the world. Each spell has a very useful description that explains what it does, often making the solution to a puzzle obvious. This does not mean Oliver can walk up and just cast the right spell, oh no. Oliver has to interact with an object, then his companion, Mr. Drippy, will explain that Oliver has a spell that he could use in this situation before automatically bringing up the spell book. A game should not have to hold the players hand as much as this.
Some games have an average level of difficulty, but have paid DLC that can make the experience easier. Both Mugen Souls and Rainbow Moon are guilty of this. Both games have the option to power up characters for a price, or in the case or Mugen Souls, completely for free. The removal of any sort of challenge from a game leads to people moving from fight to fight in an effort to catch the next piece of story. Very little actual gameplay is left in this situation, leading me to wonder why they would pay for the game in the first place.
There are some games out there that still offer the challenge many of us desire. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls both offer a challenging game to those that still desire it. Death is not the end of the game, but can be punishing if the player cannot get back to where they died before they die again. And die the player shall, often. There is no shame in failing to spot traps, because it teaches us be wary. Harsh lessons taught in games like these force players to adapt quickly and learn new skills.
Taking the challenge one step further, there are games that force the player to start over when they die once. The rogue-like Faster Than Light offers different situations each time it is played. As each choice could reward or punish the player there is some luck involved, but the ship combat is mostly about skill as a player need to make decisions about how best to control their ship. There is no time to hang around either, as an alien army is chasing the player across multiple maps.
Lastly, I have to mention my Diablo 3 hardcore character that I wrote about last week. After reaching the level cap (no paragon levels though) and making it to inferno difficulty, he was killed by a champion pack of creatures. Despite putting in thirty-seven and a half hours of play into the character, he is now gone forever. This is the challenge that I seek though, and while there are a couple of games with this level of difficulty released each year, it is still not enough to satisfy the hardcore gamer. Challenge need to make a comeback.
Readers, what challenging games have you played recently? Would you enjoy harder games? Let me know in the comments!