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Nintendo-Hard

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By Nelson Schneider - 03/25/12 at 12:28 PM CT

The MeltedJoystick team has been playing quite a bit of “Rayman Origins” lately, which is a challenging, traditional 2D Platformer. The fact that this game has a bit of challenge to it has prompted Nick and myself to get into an argument about whether or not it should be classified as ‘Nintendo-Hard,’ with Nick voting in favor and me voting against that designation.

So what exactly is Nintendo-Hard? No, it’s not what occurs in a Nintendo Fanboy’s pants when he sees a mint condition copy of “Little Samson” in a pawn shop for $5. Nintendo-Hard is a term applied to 8-bit games on the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (which was commonly called just ‘The Nintendo’ by its users). Typically Nintendo-Hard games weren’t even made by Nintendo themselves (though there were a few), but by other long-haul Japanese developers like Capcom and Konami, or even clueless Westerners.

According to TVtropes: “The game mechanics that make a game "Nintendo Hard" were often transported from arcade games that required the player to spend more money to keep playing after his character was killed. Except that when they got ported over to the console, there was no coin slot, leaving you stuck with a fixed number of lives and highly limited or non-existent continues.”

I have talked about this concept before, terming it ‘Arcade Mentality,’ and it is truly the defining feature of what makes a game actually qualify for the Nintendo-Hard badge of shame. A challenging game is just a challenging game; it’s beatable either by improving one’s skills through practice, or by relying on dumb luck to get through a particularly difficult section. With Nintendo-Hard, those two methods aren’t exactly the best options, as failure means going back to the very beginning.

I’ve played and beaten challenging games. I have not beaten any Nintendo-Hard games just because dying in stage two only to get booted back to stage one (which was challenging enough the first time) crushed any desire I had to keep playing. Being forced back to the beginning of a game and losing all progress also triggers a common human response of getting sloppy and wanting to rush through early areas to get another crack at the new areas, only to make numerous mistakes, lose a lot of lives, and wind up unable to accomplish anything in the new areas (or even reach them again).

In modern gaming, Nintendo-Hard is all but dead. It’s not a commercially viable business model to torture customers and expect them to pay for it, so the modern occurrences of Nintendo-Hard are tied to free Indie games that border on deconstructionist parody. 8-bit gaming had the out of being new and novel; Fake Difficulty is no longer acceptable. Sure, there are a few hold-over masochists whose misdirected nostalgia for 8-bit games makes them think they’re having fun when they’re not, but they can’t move the numbers a game needs to be successful. They may continuously harp on “Demon’s Souls” as the greatest, hardest game ever, but that game isn’t even Nintendo-Hard as it saves constantly, features character development, and allows for unlimited respawns. “Demon’s Souls” is just an intentionally challenging game propped-up on a steaming mountain of Fake Difficulty.

“Rayman Origins” is much the same way: It features the entire laundry list of Classic Video Game Screw Yous, but the unlimited lives, constant saving, and closely-spaced checkpoints make it merely challenging. Anyone can beat “Rayman Origins,” given enough time. Few people can beat “Battletoads” without going insane.

I, at least, am glad that the days of Nintendo-Hard are behind us. Instead, we can look forward to a bright future of well-designed games with tight controls, properly engineered learning curves, and the option of revisiting earlier stages rather than being forced to revisit them in order to continue. Non-Nintendo-Hard games still take skill and require some degree of dedication to complete them. The difference is the inclusion of actual fun and the ability to see the entirety of the product we paid for.

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Chris

Wrote on04/01/12 at 11:59 AM CT

While I wouldn't quite classify Rayman Origins as Nintendo Hard myself, I have to admit that some of the levels (mainly those running ones and the "bonus" level) certainly could inspire controller-throwing on the scale of Nintendo. The main thing that keeps it from being Nintendo hard is the unlimited lives and respawn points.

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Nick

Wrote on03/31/12 at 12:40 PM CT

I still think that Rayman Origins is Nintendo-Hard for today's type of games.

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