Way back, before turn of the Millenium occured and the Y2K bug destroyed the entire planet, annihilating its population in less time than it takes to boil an egg, there was a popular song called (Everbody’s Free to) Wear Sunscreen. It was a motivational track that captured the hearts and minds of the general public. Its lyrics inspired them to be better people, even in the face of their own impending doom. I, however, don’t buy too much into those lyrics about how how great I am and how my individuality makes me a better human than the next individual human.
There are quite a few games that have provided me with significent challenge, and this is something that I can respect in a title. Sure, I do enjoy games where I my character grows to such a extent that I almost feel like a god, crushing everything beneath my heel with the greatest of ease. It’s fun to be the strong guy, and it often makes it easier to digest the storyline too as you generally progress through the game quite rapidly. But the other side of the coin can also be fun for a host of completely different reasons. Not being a humoungus force of nature means that you must thread more carefully. Being the little guy in a world of big guys means that you must fight harder to achieve your goals. This kind of difficulty makes for some excellent gameplay and a whole lot of game over screens. However, outside of Dark Souls, it’s just not very common any more. To really appreciate tough gaming at its finest, you must go back much further than that Sunscreen song. All the way back to an era when a man wearing a leather jacket automatically meant he was a bad guy, wearing sunglasses indoors was cool even if you weren’t blind, and the video for Take on Me by A-ha featured the best special effects on the planet. It was also a time when people played short games for hours on end because they were so bastard hard that it seemed impossible to just beat the first level in them.
I missed out on many of the games from those days that are now regarded as timeless classics. My NES library, for example, was crompised entirely of three borrowed gamed which I played on the equally borrowed system. Two of these titles were even on the same cart. The advances in gaming lead to many of these games becoming instantly downloadable on more recent consoles. That’s pretty much were I jumped on board and found myself getting my sunscreened ass firmly kicked. I’ve decided that if I’m going to have it kicked, I might as well have it kicked into shape. I want to learn, not just how to beat the ruthlessly difficult games of old, but how to beat them in style!
More recently I had the great pleasure of watching my on-screen sprite exploding multiple times in Megaman II. Here’s a retro game that really separates the Megamen from the Megaboys. It’s a cute 8-bit affair that doesn’t give a flying fuck how many times you chew on your NES pad out of sheer frustration. It also isn’t too bothered about the amount of hair you tear from your head in the process either. No, it’s a wall that every gamer must climb at some stage in their lives to see if they can prove they’re worth their salt or if they are just salty.
I suited up for my first game of Megaman II by downloading it through the Wii’s Virtual Console. I knew this game was considered a legend and that the series is reknowned for its simple mechanics, yet rock hard gameplay. I had to find out what all the fuss was about and see if it could be beaten by the lowly likes of me. It seemed like a David-Vs-Goliath scenario, except David was a tiny, blue, adorable robot man and Goliath was everything fucking else! The game’s simpicity really is its charm. Its a two button workout which will keep your thumbs in tip top thumb shape. The platforming is some of the tightest I’ve ever played, the enemies are plentyful and the bosses are fucking lethal. This game has the power to make you its bitch at any given second, and because of that it breathes a constant air of urgency and rush of adrenaline.
These are the kind of games that take time to master. They strike out so fiercely that they make me want to respond in kind. I want to become a better Final Fight player. I want to be able to break out that bad boy and beat it on a single credit. I want to know the correct manoveure for every possible scenario and I want to be able to execute them with accute percision. Lining thugs up and slapping them with lead pipes like a deranged plumber without mustache, that’s my goal. It doesn’t end there either. Although I can beat through Megaman II, I want to be able to do it with ease, knowing the entire game like the back of my hand and being able to traverse its levels like a thumb propelled machine. I won’t be happy until I can engage in Megaman II speed runs. It feels good to beat the odds and finish a game in this manner. I’ve done it before with past games, but none of this calibur.
And so this is my goal. Beat these difficult games and others like them with skill. To do this though, it takes a whole lot of that fourth gaming attribute- Time. It’s a long learning process that’s not for the faint of heart. Why do I pour hours into tough games in this post-Y2K ravaged world? Because I enjoy it. I feed off of the challenge and the street chickens. The speed trills me as adrenaline rushes through my viens, entralled by the fast paced action I’m engaged in. The coordination keeps me on the edge of my seat, desperately trying to ensure that every move I make is the optimal one for my given position at that moment, and that no two moments are the same. The skill constantly keeps me in awe as I learn how to interact with the game world, avoiding its agressive advances on me and retalliating in a fluid show of style. And the time? Well I don’t feel the hours whiling away when I’m gaming at this level. They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and the word “fun” doesn’t even begin to capture just how much I enjoy challenging myself while playing video games. They also say “Wear Sunscreen.”