Why are retro games harder?

Retro games have the distinction of being harder than their modern counterparts. From controller snapping moments of frustration, to finger breaking button sequences. There is a special memory in all of us that remembers a time we almost threw our consoles at the wall and vowed to never play it again.

But we kept coming back for more pain.

Why are retro games considered to be so much harder? How do we keep finding ourselves coming back to them?

Why are retro games harder?

Retro Games are Better - Contra Hard Corps is a historically hard game!

Back in the 1990s the video game industry was going through an incredible period of growth. From technological advances to true competition for the first time. The console wars were in full swing and video games had never been more popular.

Wanting to capitalise on this popularity, video rental services like Blockbuster and Choice video began offering games as part of their library. Along with hollywood films, you could rent a video game at the same time. Many families would pick a movie for the adults and a game for the kids. It was the done thing.

“Deceptively difficult games meant there was a purpose to buying the game again.”

Knowing that the rental industry was going to cut into sales of their games, the developers had an ingenious ploy. Make the games harder on purpose. Deceptively difficult games meant there was a purpose to buying the game again. Afterall, it was more cost effective to buy a hard game if you couldn’t beat it in a single sitting. Yet there are more reasons why games are ‘easier’ now.

Are video games getting easier?

Monkey Island 2 - LeChucks Revenge lampooned hint lines nicely

There is an argument to suggest that video games are easier today than before. But I disagree. What people forget is that games are more accessible today than they once were.

Accessibility means that you no longer have to sit through an entire game in one sitting, call a telephone hotline to ask the Gamesmaster how to get through the water temple or even preventing you from pausing the game to pick up a physical map to plot your direction.

“Games aren’t necessarily easier, they’re just easier to enjoy.”

Autosaves are a must have feature now, minimaps and hints make the games more fun to play. Frustration at the mundane has turned to enjoyment of the break in the action. Games aren’t necessarily easier, they’re just easier to enjoy.

What are the hardest retro games?

Some of the hardest games in history have gone down in legend as unplayable. Games so hard that you couldn’t possibly finish without save states or a comprehensive walkthrough. How was anyone supposed to finish them in a one night rental anyway?

These 3 games below are some of the hardest games of the 1990s.

Battletoads (1990)

Are retro games harder? Battletoads thinks so

One of the most well known games for its difficulty, Battletoads is a triumph of the 8bit era. Released on the NES half way through its lifecycle by the legendary developers Rare. Battletoads told the story of Rash and Zit on their mission to defeat the Dark Queen.

This game was hard. Perhaps its most challenging levels being the high speed vehicle levels that raised many a players blood pressure. The player generally doesn’t get chance to play any one gameplay element for too long before it is replaced.

It quickly becomes apparent that the player is going to need more than the feeble number of lives you start with if they intend to complete the game.

The Lion King (1994)

Don't let the cheerful level fool you. The Lion King is hard

Released on almost every console in the 90’s. This is one of those games that was specifically made to be bought, not rented. Levels were made to be frustrating and require accurate timing that could only be acquired with practise. One of the games most infamous levels contains a certain ostrich.

“One of the games most infamous levels contains a certain ostrich.”

Whilst playing as the young Simba, you have to make it to the end of the level to the jaunty tune of “I just can’t wait to be king”. Admittedly, this is fun. It is one of the most interesting, colourful and genuinely upbeat levels you will ever play. Which is perhaps the most deceiving thing about it.

Without spoiling too much, prepare yourself for trial and error a plenty. Other levels are equally challenging, but none are more memorable as this one.

Smash TV (1990)

Girls, Guns and Total Carnage. I love it! Smash TV is relentless

An all time classic – Smash TV was punishingly hard even on its first level. Released on SNES, Mega Drive, Game Gear and in arcades. Smash TV is a dungeon crawler set in a gladiator-esque TV show, you will find yourself losing many a life to one of the many goons in this challenging game.

Playing like a bullet hell game but with elements of exploration, Smash TV has the player go up against countless enemies and monsters with little more than your own patience to get you through. Power ups are plentiful but last for seconds, extra lives are rare and adding an extra player in two player mode just makes things harder.

“Total Carnage! I love it!”

Not often found on a “hardest ever” list, it will give more than a challenge if you want to try to the end credits. As the presenter says – “Total Carnage! I love it!”

Anthony Jansen
Anthony is a gaming advocate. He has been playing video games since the early nineties and has a real passion for the 16 bit era. He believes that every game deserves a chance (except Treasures of the Deep - which scared him as a child).


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