Are Games Getting Too Easy?

Seriously, are they?  Over the years, I’ve been noticing that an increasing number of new games take less and less effort to beat nowadays.  I never have to wonder if I’ll be able to beat a new game or not.  In the past, I had many games sitting around that I needed to return to and finish.  Now, it is quite uncommon for me to start a game without being able to finish it.  When the rare game comes along that I can’t beat on my first playthrough, I’m rather surprised.  Such things never happen anymore.

I remember games definitely used to be much harder.  Back when I was playing a bunch of Super Nintendo games for the first time, I couldn’t beat any of them.  Finally, I got through “Donkey Kong Country 3”, but the second game stopped me near the end, at the stressful Castle Crush level, while the first game of the series stopped me earlier still at world number three.  It took quite some time before I was good enough to beat those games.  And to this day, I can’t beat any old “Mario” games except for “Super Mario World”, with help.  I have not beaten one game on the “Super Mario All-Stars” collection.  Not one.  Even “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” was hard, and it wasn’t even part of the platformer genre that used to cause me so much grief.  You remember that big worm centipede boss thing where you have to hit the tail, and it keeps pushing you off the platform, forcing you to start the battle over again?  Yeah.

But, nowadays, I beat games without tons of trouble.  Of course, I’ve gotten better, as I’ve had years of experience, but I know it’s not quite that.  The old Super Nintendo games continue to be quite a challenge for me.  The new ones may take effort, but they are no longer impossible.  The old “Super Mario Bros.” games are impossible.  No amount of playing will ever allow me to beat those.  I just never will.  I’ll never, ever, ever succeed in allowing Mario to simultaneously traverse ridiculously precarious ledges while avoiding weirdos throwing hammers at me (I mean, who does that?) and Bullet Bills and whatever else the sadistic minds at Nintendo decided to invent.  Just not happening.  But, I can beat “Super Mario 64”, “Sunshine”, and both “Galaxy” games 100%.  I’m not saying they aren’t hard, but I can actually finish those.

So what’s going on?  One theory I’ve had for why games originally got easier was the switch from 2D to 3D and control pads to analog sticks.  Games like “Mario” are so much easier, I think, now that games are played in a 3D space rather than 2D.  Trying to get Mario to jump onto a centimeter wide platform in a 2D space (which he’ll still inevitably slip right off of if he does succeed in landing on it) seems so much harder than getting him to jump onto an object with actual width AND length, you know.  And then when it comes to games that always took place in “3D” spaces (like “Zelda”), there was that pesky control pad.  It’s just not as easy to move with that.  Your movement is much more limited, being confined to only four directions.  Try running in a circle with a control pad.  Up, right, up, right, right, right, down, right, down, right, down, left, down…okay, you get it.  I feel I am much more competent at maneuvering around my enemies when I have an analog stick and can actually move in the direction I want.  Watch me do circles!  Watch me do figure eights!  Watch me trace out the Mona Lisa!  It’s now all possible!

After, that, though, I think they’ve just been making games easier and easier.  I understand games aren’t as fun when they’re absurd, but they aren’t as challenging as they used to be.  I still like a challenge, but many series have been getting much easier.  Take “Ratchet and Clank”, for example.  I remember 10 years ago, they used to be hard.  Seriously, the final boss of “Up Your Arsenal” was vicious.  I spent hours and hours trying that battle over and over again.  But, more recently, the games are just plain easy.  I had the final boss battles of “A Crack in Time” done just like that.  I died more from being stupid and falling off platforms than anything.  And the older games were mean in other ways, too.  You spend all this time in a brutal boss battle and beat the boss to within an inch of their lives only to die and have to start from the very, very beginning.  You die in the middle of the battles in “A Crack in Time”, and you just come back to start over that particular section.  I suppose that’s nice, but it’s a bit too nice.  The “Zelda” series isn’t very hard anymore, either.  I breezed right through “Skyward Sword”.  It was fun, but the main challenge came from Ghirahim constantly blocking my attacks, which was annoying more than anything.  I’m sorry if I still don’t totally understand the mechanics of these new controls!

And in addition to games getting easier, I’ve been seeing easy modes in games a lot more often now, too.  I used to never see that.  You got normal mode, and sometimes you got hard mode, but not easy mode.  So many games have that option now.  “Ratchet and Clank” added it (I can only imagine how easy the simplest mode is when normal mode can be done whilst making a complex sandwich to keep you entertained during the final boss, with some left over for the credits).  “Halo 4” had it, too.  And “Final Fantasy XIII-2”.  Why, when games are becoming easier, do they add easy mode, too?  With these easy games, I half wonder if easy mode plays through the game for you.

Oh, and sometimes, it kind of does.  In a few Wii games, I noticed a thing called Super Guide.  This appears in “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Donkey Kong Country Returns” (not sure of any others).  In each game, when you die enough, you have the option of allowing Super Guide, either Luigi or some ape dude respectively, play through the level for you so you don’t have to.  Now I can see that it would be nice to continue a game rather than be stuck on one level, never to be allowed to proceed further unless you finally manage to make your way through it, but honestly.  Should games really play themselves?  You could go through all of those two games without ever completing a single level on your own if you wanted to.  It seems like they should show you the level, then, make you do it yourself, at least.  Video games are not movies.  They are meant to be played, or you should watch a friend play, but you shouldn’t just watch the computer play through for you.  (That’s why people got upset with some of the newer “Final Fantasy” games, because the battles basically play on their own.)  Of course, it’s up to you whether you use Super Guide or not, but it seems to almost defeat the purpose of playing a game or a game being challenging if you simply let the game skip the challenging levels for you.  But, that’s just me.

Anyway, there are definitely still challenging games, and I certainly don’t want games to be impossible like those Super Nintendo “Mario” games, but it still seems like a good number of games have gotten easier than they were in the past, and it’s disappointing playing a series that used to be hard, but is now easy.  I like my games to be challenging.  Not ridiculous, just challenging, so when I finish something hard, I am satisfied to have gotten through it.  I suppose different difficulty settings are fine because some people like easier games, but I don’t think a game’s only setting should be easy, and normal mode shouldn’t be easy, either.  I chose normal over easy because I didn’t want easy.  Does anyone else think games aren’t as hard as they used to be, or is it just me?

A Duck That Wants a Challenge That’s Not Too Challenging, But Not Too Un-Challenging, Am I Being Picky?

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Walters says:

    I can’t really disagree. This is a well thought out post. I would just add that hey, technology has improved from those SNES/Genesis days, in addition to the adding of the analog stick. And with casual gamers now playing games, developers need to make sure they can cater to them as well as the hardcore ones. That means trying their darnedest to make sure they can play a game.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I understand they want to appeal to casual gamers, too, so I suppose having different difficulty levels is a good idea. I just don’t want hardcore gamers getting forgotten. Some companies seem to focus more on new gamers rather than the ones that have been playing a long time, and they need to focus on both groups.

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  2. Very interesting post. I partially agree with you. I remember Serious Sam had ‘tourist’ mode where one’s health automatically regenerated at the speed of light, making it almost impossible for a player to be killed. The player barely had any need for the health packs.
    Some games are easy, however I disagree that they are all unanimously becoming too easy. I also believe that the ability to change the difficulty setting is incredibly useful. If a game is too easy one can increase the difficulty and if it is too hard the player can go the other way. I remember in F.E.A.R, a game where I began on the ‘normal’ skill setting, I quickly changed it to the hardest after a couple of levels to increase the enemy AI and damage taken to my character.
    Also, Halo has had an ‘easy’ setting since the original back in 2001, although if you are looking for a challenge in general I might recommend playing every game on the highest skill setting. I still haven’t been able to successfully complete Halo 4 on legendary because I found it to be that intensely difficult. A single shot from a plasma pistol fries at least a third of your shields.
    Again, very interesting discussion, although I believe it comes down to player’s choice. If they want a bigger challenge, play the game on a harder skill setting. If not, that is additionally a gamer’s prerogative.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Yes, not all games are easy nowadays (“Rayman Origins” was insane sometimes, insane!). It just seems like more games are easy than in the past, and series that used to be hard are now easy. Like I mentioned with “Ratchet and Clank”, the series has gotten too easy. I get it, they want to make the game easier for less-experienced players to enjoy. But, normal mode should be the same difficulty the series has always been. Why add an easy mode, plus make normal mode easy?

      About the game where a player’s health comes back. “Banjo-Tooie” has a cheat code you can get in the game to restore your health slowly. I usually didn’t use it, because I thought it made the game too easy. But, I admit, I did often have to use it for the final boss, and even then, I still managed to die. When I first started “Halo”, I also thought it would be easy when the Chief’s shield could just regenerate. I quickly found out that was not the case. Darn my arrogance!

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  3. cary says:

    I agree that games are easier than they once were, but I don’t mind that. For most games that have difficulty choices, I’ll usually first play on easy. If I like the game and have time for another playthrough, then I’ll bump up to normal or hard. That said, I don’t want my easy games to play themselves. I did try the Super Guide a couple times in New Super Mario Bros. Wii – but I thought it was just to show you how to navigate the course. So I only watched enough to know how to get through a certain part. Overall I like the challenge of more difficult games, but I don’t want to break stuff because of them.

    Along the lines of what Walters said, developers these days are catering hard to the casual gamer, so games need to have a wide appeal. Sometimes this comes at the expense of a games’ difficulty. Whether that’s right or wrong is a pretty heated topic of debate.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I used Super Guide to show me what to do, as well. Then, I’d stop it and try the level on my own. I have a terrible confession to make, though. Once (just once, I swear!), I used Super Guide to finish an entire level of “New Super Mario Bros. Wii”. I was ashamed of my naughty-ness. I think I may’ve returned to the level later and completed it myself, though, which eased my self-inflicted guilt. And I definitely agree that I like games being easier than the Super Nintendo days, but I just don’t want too easy. Too easy makes me sad. So does too hard, though. So maybe I’m just being picky.

      But, I do wish developers wouldn’t forget about the gamers that have been playing for a long time. The difficulty levels should be a great way to appeal to everyone, but then they make even normal mode easy. It seems that should be left alone. It’s normal mode. It should be, normal. Sniff, don’t forget about the less casual gamers. We need love and attention, too.

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  4. Great post! Not having played the tougher games of the past (deprived childhood and stuff), I appreciate Casual mode. I’m particularly bad at shooters. But it’s soooo frustrating when the only challenge in a game is QTEs and bad mechanics that test your patience rather than your skill… like what you said about Skyward Sword!

    However, I can imagine how it must feel to find games becoming easier and easier just to appeal to casual gamers… when it’s the brave, long-time gamers who always crave more challenges and games! The highest difficulty settings should offer insane challenges. Even I, who am not great at all types of games, want a massive challenge for my favorite games that I play over and over… otherwise, they get boring, especially if I already know the story by heart.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Yes, I don’t like games that are challenging in silly ways. I don’t like games where you must press buttons just exactly right or you fail, like in the drawing in “Okami” or the rocket barrel levels of “Donkey Kong Country Returns”. That’s not fun to constantly fail because you weren’t exactly perfect. You should be allowed to make some mistakes and still win. I find many of the most satisfying times in games when I really mess up, but still find a way through. Not these games that demand you press buttons exactly right or it’s over. My reflexes are slow. Don’t punish me for that.

      And QTE’s always stress me out. I panic and press the wrong buttons. I think I kept failing at the end of “Halo 4” and “Uncharted 3” because of some such thing. (It also doesn’t help when it’s unclear what button they want you to press. They use very vague symbols sometimes. Is that the front trigger or the back? How can I be expected to press the right button when I don’t know what button they are even showing?)

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  5. austriaal says:

    I think this is why there’s actually a market for Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls. God those games are difficult 😥

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Sometimes difficult games are nice, despite the extra stress they put us through. “Rayman Origins” was likely the hardest game I’ve played in a while, and while it made me mad quite a lot, getting 100% in it was so much more satisfying than beating the easier games. The stress probably shaved off a few hours of my life, but the joy of beating those levels probably lengthened my life, so now I’m even. I just wish one level wasn’t so dang hard because of a glitch.

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  6. You are correct in that the dilemma comes from both your extensive experience in playing these games, the shift from 2D to 3D, and a move towards easier games.

    I love the old-school SMB games, but do not spend extensive amounts of time on them due to the nagging ‘been there, done that’ thought at the back of my mind.

    The narrow ledge and hammer brother is from level 8 part 4 of the original SMB right? The frustration of the scene was updated quite nicely with the final level in SM Galaxy 2. That took me at last 200 tries to complete, and always because of the overwhelming bevy of Hammer Brothers across the flip squares and small platforms, A intense dance of gamer completion joy accompanied my finally beating them and jumping into the final warp star =)

    Games are easier due to their 3D layouts, while the skill level has lowered somewhat. This is likely aimed at encouraging people to take up more regular game playing, and not scaring them off with frustrating difficulty. Most games have super-hard forms, such as ‘Hypermode’ in the Metroid Prime series and (correct me if I am wrong) ‘Horde Mode’ is many sci-fi war games?

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Oh, yes, those “Mario” games don’t disappoint on difficulty, at least. The old ones are still the hardest, but “Super Mario Galaxy”. Wow. Some levels were insane. I believe I remember the area you mentioned in the second “Galaxy” game. Oh, how I hated that. Enemies are bad enough, but when you must jump around while they toss things at you. And sometimes I stop where I think I’m at a safe distance, while I rest and plan out my next move, only to find I am actually standing too close, and a hammer lands on poor Mario’s head. I certainly don’t want games to be that hard.

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  7. therogueliker says:

    I also think that there is a shift towards easier games. This opinion is based on what I have experienced with the games that I have played through the years, but I can make a very quick example. During the last months, I played through Skyrim with no problems (normal difficulty, never lowered), before that there was Dragon Age, before that Oblivion. Then I moved to Dark Souls. Dark Souls brought back memories of when games where challenging, and I felt immense satisfaction everytime I beat one of the many bosses of the game (sometimes it was a bit more than challenging: it took me 4 months to beat the Four Kings). I suddenly realized how much I had gotten used to games with convenient saving systems, “intelligent” companions doing a lot of the fighting, and quest systems that take you by hand by telling you exactly where you need to go to move to the next part of the plot.

    This realization is what pushed me to start playing games from the past, where it is you that needs to discover, fight and solve problems. I am currently playing Lords Of Midnight from 1994, and enjoying it immensely.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Yeah, those old games could be tough. I was really impressed, though, with a game from not long ago, “Rayman Origins”, because it was very challenging (check it out if you want a challenging newer game). Like your “Dark Souls” game, it reminded me of when games used to be hard, and every time you beat a level was so satisfying. Unlike with most easier games, I felt so proud whenever I beat a hard level. But, most of the time, it is the old games that are hard. Sometime, I’ll need to start buying more old games so I can have a challenge.

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