Sanity’s Other Side: The Case for Hard Games

It’s Super Battletoad Souls Gaiden!

Here Come the Battletoads

Back in the day, when video games were young, you had “casual” games (e.g  Tetris), decently challenging games (e.g Megaman), unfair awful games (too many to count), and supremely difficult games like the first Ninja Gaiden. You’ll find everything but the last category of video game in today’s market except the last type of game. In today’s paradigm campaign mode is something you blaze through and cut to playing on Live and besting the A.I is just a menial chore to see more story or content. So tonight, I, the Inverseman will argue that we need more “hard games”.

Super Meat Boy death sc

First off, what is a hard game? Can’t you just up the difficulty on any game to Lunatic and be done with it? True, but when I say a “hard game” I mean a game that is inherently challenging (in a fair way, so like no cheap deaths) even on its normal difficulty settings, forces the player to master the game’s concepts well, and has renown for its difficulty. Games like Super Meat Boy and Demon Souls are modern examples of hard games, as is the whole shmup (shoot ’em up) genre. These games are known for being excruciatingly challenging and are unforgiving to mistakes, but only in the sense that you need to learn the skills of the game, so any death from above is fully warned and fair, but if they’re so hard, why do we need more of them?

Ninja Gaiden original sc

If you look at any game that comes out these days, you know the internets is going to buzz about it. Every glitch, exploit, strategy, dungeon map, and whole metagames hit the net in a matter of days after a game’s release. If it’s an import game, it’ll be cracked wide-open before it even gets an English localization.

Back then in the days of yore, none of this existed. Finding Warp Zones, Special Stages, or enemy Robot Master weaknesses was up to scraping together what your friends knew, info from a monthly magazine, or later printed strategy guides. The improvement in communication has definitely let us gather intel on a game much quicker, so a harder challenge would help mitigate this growth of technology. Easier “casual games” can use our improved networks for odd social features, and “core games” have done innovative things connecting players, but a hard game brings out the richness of information technology. If more heads are connected to tackle a challenge, then we gotta raise the bar.

VS Yukari

Since more individuals are connected by researching how to beat or master the game, community develops. Even if just to find an enemy attack pattern or weakness, a hard game is like one big social experiment to get players working together or leeching off each other to find out tips and tricks.

PS4 and Wii U games could totally use some difficult games that would put the new PSN or the Miiverse to good use. Because if the only challenge to a game is knowing the Pokemon type chart (in-game Pokemon, not competitive Pokemon), you really don’t need to ask your pals if water beats fire, let alone the internet. Fret not if community and socializing isn’t your thing, because hard games still have something for you.

FE-Awakening Chrom VS you-know-who

You want to be the man (or the woman!), so you’re taking on the hard game with minimal help outside maybe an odd reference to GameFAQs once in a blue moon. You attack the game every odd time you get and diligently take note of every death or pattern you can track, until you fell the next boss or master a new combo where you breathe a sigh of relief and beam with pride. Thanks to the difficulty of the game you have become personally invested into the game.

There are many ways to become invested in a game, but a hard game gives another avenue for players to really sink their teeth into it. Simon’s whip has a certain angle and delay. In Touhou, certain parts of Yukari’s spells have homing bullets that you need to stream properly. You have trained yourself to master enemy attacks and your own arsenal, but it doesn’t stop at game mechanics. Consider Fire Emblem and the tears shed when so much as a single unit dies. Because when a unit dies, the unit is dead, and that’s it. Even if the game is not painful to play, knowing that your units could always be one step away from death makes you look at them in a different way than in other SRPGs. And it only gets worse if you invested into that character’s story too. You’re connected to the game on a deeper level, which is what a hard game does to its players, a type of connection that is exclusive to games.

Pooh's Home Run Derby title

In the days where games are a means to a story ending or a multiplayer netplay metagame, perhaps we could use a few more hard games where playing the game is in and of itself an experience (as is bragging to your friends that you mastered it). That’s not to say that games are necessarily worse off if they’re not punishing the player, but it’s just another way to bring players in when a game is “Nintendo hard”. What would the landscape of gaming look like if we have another original Ninja Gaiden or perhaps more of Winnie the Pooh’s Home-Run Derby? It would be a fascinating sight to see. Join me next time when I teach spelling to wild animals.

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The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.


The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.


  1. There are two]]several kind of gamers in this world when it comes to difficult games.
    -Those who appreciate difficult games that reward adapting after multiple failures.
    -Those who are masochistic and play hard fangames because they are fools.
    -Those who like gaming's current state of occasional challenging games mixed with more accessible ones.
    I'm more in the 3rd category. Every now and then I'll pick up a game that will make my hair out of my head but you won't hear me craving more pain. also, I've never beaten the 1st Battletoads.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Grinding | Moar Powah!

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