Striking Out

I swore to myself a long time ago I’d never come back here. There were too many scars from before, and I’d never fully gotten over what had happened. Recently, I was speaking to one of my best friends, and we reminisced about those old times; how long we used to spend, and the investment we put in, but we’d never managed to succeed. It was left uncompleted, gathering dust after we both retired indefinitely. There’s a funny thing about nostalgia, they say; those rose-tinted glasses give everything a much brighter perspective over time. Faults disappear or become defining traits, the positives sink themselves into you until they’re under your skin and begging you to come back, trying to sink you into the mire below.

It probably never helped the situation that I’m a man who thinks about the past too much; what I could have done differently, how things could have been different now, how I could have tasted sweet, sweet victory. The hooks had sunk in and were dragging me down. I needed the victory, I needed the satisfaction of success, I needed to win.

I stepped out into the field. The grass was still smelling as fresh as the last time I was here. The crowd was cheering, countless people all around desperate to see some action, and I was about to give it to them. I still knew it all. All the skills and techniques that had helped me come this far in the first place, that had taken me down this long road before. Finally, all of those wasted hours would have a use again. All of those skills and tricks would help best the others and take home that trophy and be announced the champion.

About three minutes later, I was left broken on the pitch. I’d been tackled and smashed in ways more brutal than should be imagined. I’d been electrocuted against the electric fence countless times, I’d had hundreds of things thrown at me, I’d been set on fire, stomped on, and chased by a Chain-Chomp. I’d not lost any of the skill, but I was still made to eat dirt as I had my arse handed to me on a silver tray with all the trimmings. Final Score? I can’t remember, but it certainly wasn’t a pretty one. I tried again and was, again, left thoroughly battered and broken, match after match. Winning no longer gave me a satisfaction, but served only as a reminder of the painful sacrifices and trials I had to get through to reach the finals. Attempt after attempt, hour after hour was again sacrificed so that I could take home the Striker Cup. After several failed attempts, I eventually topped the league, and found myself in the knockout stages. I used every gambit at my disposal to reach the finals, where Mario was waiting for me. Here it was, the climactic encounter. Mario Vs Bowser for the Striker Cup.

Three minutes later, I remembered why I retired in the first place: I was part of something corrupt. Something was going on behind the scenes, machinating my every failure and guaranteeing that the process was much more of a struggle than should be possible. The other team would get items or advantages that made no sense, goals would be scored against me in illogical circumstances, guaranteed goals would improbably miss, and I would be left as bruised as the last time I’d dared to take on the Striker Cup. Attempt after attempt took place, until I once more reached the finals, and took on Mario once again, only to lose with the exact same score as last time. 5-1. I had had enough again. I was tired of it all once more. I swore again to never set foot on the field. All my hard work would go back to waste, rather than be ruined by Waluigi or Daisy effectively cheating hardcore. I’d rather quit forever than let them have the satisfaction of beating me and causing me to rage in anger when they teleported past my goalie or got an impossible megastrike. I’d rather hang up my boots than let their sniggering, stupid faces have the last laugh. Seriously, fuck those guys.

I turned off Mario Strikers: Charged Football, put the game in the case, and put the case back amongst the rest of my games, where I planned for it to stay, collecting dust, never to be touched again. It would stay with every other game that I wanted to play, that I wanted to win, but couldn’t. The dust would settle and forget the game like I wish I could. A couple of days later, my friend would tell me of how he finally lifted that cup, how he had finally beaten the game outright. I wished that I could taste that glory like he was able to. I wish I could lift that cup too, to win. But it’ll never be, because the game decided as soon as I bought it that I was its new nemesis, and that I was going to suffer simply because I dared to play it. I knew there was a reason I hated football.

Difficulty in games is always a tough debate to tackle, and something that will probably never be solved to anyone’s satisfaction. Of course, in the olden days, games used to be horribly, horrendously difficult. I learnt this the hard way when I bought Ninja Gaiden on the Wii’s Virtual Console. The thrill of being a Ninja soon wore off when I realised that everything people had told me was true, and that this game was tough as balls. Rote memorisation was key with respawning enemies, pixel-perfect jumps, those fucking crows attacking you when you’re in the middle of a jump, and worst of all, getting to the end of a stage, facing a boss, and discovering you have no health left, dying, then having to repeat the level from the beginning. Sure, in the old days, this would probably be fun, and the challenge involved in beating it would probably make for an incredibly satisfying completion. But I’d never know. I think I’m still stuck on world 4-3, sick to death of trying to spend hours learning the level perfectly, then still failing because of those bastard fucking crows. To this day, I will never understand why a flying bird does more damage to a ninja than bullets, swords, dogs, mummies, and mythical bosses, but I’ll be damned if I put myself through the stress of playing the damn game to find out.

But then there’s F-Zero GX. Sometimes considered one of the most difficult Gamecube games around, as it’s single player campaign was tougher than my attempts to find a suitable, hilarious analogy. Despite only having about nine stages, it was an incredibly tough campaign which managed to have plenty of variety, but also be stupidly tough. Yet, there was always an element of possibility to it. Yes, it was unfair at times, but there were always multiple ways to complete the level and a variety of ways to achieve that. Memorisation played a key part, but you rarely felt like you were unfairly robbed of a victory, even though as I need to emphasise, beating the campaign was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a gamer.

Harder though, was trying to beat COD4 on Veteran. I’d already beaten the game on Hardened, so there wasn’t an overall pressing need to beat it again on Veteran other than the achievements and the fact that I thought the campaign was well put together and fun to play. An opinion that was instantly wiped out about halfway through the Veteran campaign. Gunfights took much longer, with a much smaller margin for error. The game stopped feeling so well made, and the flaws became more and more apparent as I continued. Grenades would improbably inundate my location, enemies would endlessly respawn, and less encounters were beaten due to skill than me realising I had more chance reaching the next checkpoint if I legged it instead of shooting. From the flashback missions onwards, every level would take hours and hours, if not days to beat. It wasn’t fun anymore, it was memorising when everything would happen mixed with luck, and more colourful language than even Gaminglives would let me get away with. It stopped being a game, and started being a stressful encounter that left me angry, hurt, and feeling useless. I could have stopped at any time, but I had not gone this far to die now. I fought and struggled tooth and nail until I’d finally reached the finale on Veteran. I didn’t feel any kind of satisfaction or happiness. It was just another victory, and one I didn’t feel like I’d earned, just thrown myself at again and again until the universe got tired of me sucking and let me win out of pity.

Then, there’s Mario Strikers: Charged Football. The game that inspired this. The Road To The Striker Cup mode is the focus of my ire. There are three cups, and the first two are easy. Almost insultingly so. The learning curve is so if its your first time playing, the first two cups are easy enough to get through the first couple of times, but they’re an utter cakewalk when you’re skilled enough at the game. After about twenty-three matches which are three minutes in length, you finally find yourself in the Strikers Cup. However, at this point, if you’re not prepared, the learning curve turns into a brick wall that you’ll run face-first into. While it’s not impossible to progress (in fact, getting to the knock-out stage is easy, seeing as you need to be in the top 8 of 10 in the group), getting anywhere seems like a massive, frustrating cycle of torture. At times, the computer’s ‘cheating’ will be so obvious, but there’ll be nothing that can be done. Skillshots that would normally guarantee goals will randomly stop scoring, but will work every time for the computer. Characters with terrible shooting stats will score goals they have no business scoring. Opponents will teleport into the goal, jump over the keeper, get impossibly good items while all of yours miss for no reason, will save all of your megastrike shots while they’ll get the best possible megastrikes, and when you realise the game doesn’t want you to win the match, you’re better off taking your pants off and leaning over the barrel before the game does it for you. It should be mentioned, you can’t change your team, unless you want to start from the first cup. So if you mess up, you have to start everything over again. You can imitate the computer, and learn how to jump the keeper and teleport past the Keeper. It feels stupidly cheap at first, but then you learn that exploiting the game in such a way is the only way to win some matches, as the game is otherwise so intent on your failure that you’re wondering what the hell it caught you doing to its mother. Victories become hollow because you know you’ll be knocked out in the knockout stages. The game becomes vicious when it wants you to lose. It may think its providing challenge, but the only thing the unnecessary difficulty is doing is knocking years off of my life expectancy, pissing me off, and making me regret the purchase.

Now, it may be that I’m not actually amazing at videogames. I’ll accept that, because I know there are a lot of games that I’m not amazing at, styles of games I won’t play, and so forth, so I’m clearly not the best gamer around. A lot of my enjoyment comes from playing videogames, and if a game decides to be needlessly difficult, it takes me out of my comfort zone, stops the game being fun, and turns what should be a nice distraction from the outside world into something that turns out to be a bigger grind and a more boring chore than reality. This doesn’t mean that I love easy games that give me no challenge, because I find them boring to play, too. There needs to be challenge, yes, but its how the game straddles the line between challenge and fun, and makes it worth the effort you put into it that counts. If it’s going to be difficult, it should always be in a way that makes you want to try harder, knowing you can get it right this time, rather than making you want to give up because it hates you just so, so much.

I have no problem with games that have some really difficult bits, but only as long as they’re possible to play through with a few attempts without feeling like it’s just purposely hard to increase the games longevity. I like missions like the Bank Heist in GTA4 because they’re hard but varied and fun. I hate the Striker Cup because failure is all-too common for reasons that end up feeling out of my control. If I fail, I want to feel like it was because I did something legitimately wrong and messed up. Maybe I didn’t bring the right gun, or I didn’t notice that guy behind cover, or maybe I just took too long. If I fail, I don’t want it to be because its written into the game’s code to break into my house, prevent me from impregnating women in future, steal my friends, bring up my insecurities, publish my diary on the internet, and then stealing all my ex girlfriends and showing them a better time than I ever could, before giving me one last stomp to the nuts while stealing my possessions for the horrendous crime of buying the fucking game in the first place.

There’s always an element of wanting to change the past. Sure, things could have panned out better if you did something else, but all your mistakes, all your investments help make the person you are now. I’ll just be damned if I know what the hell all this time wasted on needlessly difficult games has done for me other than guarantee a raised blood pressure, abundance of stress and an early grave. Thanks, you pricks.

Last five articles by Edward



  1. UselessJack says:

    I feel your pain Bro, I feel your pain. I tried to finish the Striker Cup and I failed so hard that I cry when friends, who happened to be there and wittness it, mention the abomination calling itself a Sports Game.
    Failures like that ruin the entire fun. Like the worst navigtion system ever in Burnout Paradise or pretty much everything but the graphics in Final Fantasy 13.
    Thats why it’s good to come back to games you’re good at, even if friends won’t play it anymore with you. Because you’re just too good in it.

  2. Lee says:

    oh mate i feel for you, I’ll rage quit most games eventually and they end up back on gamestations shelf with a 2 for £20 sticker on them

  3. Samuel Samuel says:

    I understand that feeling of frustration all too well… many the Mario Kart race has been ruined at the very last minute by an unavoidable blue shell, entirely out of my control, and that kind of cheap nonsense is infuriating. I’ve not played Mario Strikers, but it makes sense that similar sorts of twaddle posing as added difficulty exists in those games too.

    For me, a game’s difficulty should be able challenging the player, not just forcing them to play for longer. But there is a certain satisfaction involved when you do finally get over that last artificial hurdle.

  4. Rook says:

    I’ve not played a football game since the Commodore 64 days of Microprose Soccer and if Mario wasn’t enough to entice me. I have however, played all the COD games on Veteran and Modern Warfare was indeed a tough one, with much rage building up inside. Thankfully I completed it and felt overjoyed at the end of it all.

    I also refuse to change the difficulty on Ninja Gaiden to an easier one. I’ll beat it on normal, although I haven’t gone back to it in a while.

    However, like you, I would rather fail at a game because I made the mistkae or I wasn’t concentrating and not because the game difficulty gets raised to ridiculous levels.

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    The last football game I ever played was Kick Off 2… and I’m not going to find out what year it was as I can’t imagine it’ll make me feel very good about myself. I was never a fan of football games, but I DO like games which push the personal envelope somewhat so you’re always challenging yourself. For me, the only game that’s REALLY done that in the last thirty years or so is Trials HD.

    Having said that, it’s beyond humbling… actually it’s INFURIATING… to watch some of the replays from the worldwide leaderboard and see people completing the Extreme tracks in 43 seconds with no faults when Rook, Pete and I were literally spending thirty minutes and almost 500 faults on the same tracks. As far as I remember, Ben actually gave up and handed the controller back. I’m not surprised.

    Watching others playing my OWN custom Trials HD tracks always gives me that immense feeling of guilt, knowing that I’m solely responsible for them wasting thirty minutes of their lives being abused by my twisted sense of fun.

  6. Richie richie says:

    Some of those old games were unbelievably uncompromising. To a point that is almost broken. Even now I consider the hardest games on True Achievements to be effectively broken or unplaytested.

    For me the best games are easy to beat but have scoring mechanisms that make them hard to master. Something like Omega Five on XBLA. I can rinse the game pretty easily but I kept going back to improve my score. I’d prefer that over a bullet hell mess like Ikaruga.

  7. Tania Tania says:

    The older games were made so much worse by not being able to save them! After spending all those hours slogging through all those levels to the final one, only to use up all your lives trying to reach the final boss and having to start the entire game over from the beginning. All you could manage was a strangled “NOOOOOOO!”
    Thank goodness for modern technology!

  8. Lorna Lorna says:

    Feeling your pain there, Ed. Difficulty spikes are one thing, but cheating computer AI is another entirely. Worms stands out as a seriously shitty offender in this respect, and while it was bad back on the Amiga, I discovered not so long ago, that the XBLA games are still pretty awful. Perfect bazooka hits when firing backwards against the wind? Piss off. Perfectly aimed and timed grenade hits where the thing will bounce off half a dozen bits of jutting scenery to land exactly beside you, just at the exact moment that the timer hits zero? Fuck you.

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