Enter the NES
As a Black Millennial (I was born in 79…close enough), I was part of the NES revolution. I was five when the OG Nintendo Entertainment System dropped in the States. It was the biggest thing in the history of things experienced in my five years on the planet and it was solidly the only thing that mattered in every Elementary School lunch room. We religiously played Super Mario Brothers and consumed Duck Hunt until our eyes glazed. It was a generational obsession. Other diversions lost their power.
Being a Nintendo obsessed child, I was the perfect target for every piece of Nintendo Propaganda, from Nintendo Power Magazine
To Captain N The Game Master
To the bad tasting cereal, to the other crappy hastily produced cartoons, to the poorly conceived peripherals
I eagerly consumed every property my new Japanese masters produced.
The original NES set the tone for my life as a gamer. It taught me that passion comes at a price.
There is no Hard like Nintendo Hard
Many of the games on the OG NES were punishing. Learning curves didn’t exist. Young fans were savagely introduced to failure on levels never seen. Games like Mega Man nakedly showed small children, their best wasn’t nearly good enough. Mention characters like Bald Bull II and watch Millennials develop cold sweats and tremors. In fact, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out destroyed more hopes and dreams than the Reagan Era. But it was far from the exception. Games like Ghouls and Goblins, Castlevaina and Ninja Gaiden destroyed the spirits of preteens worldwide with relentlessly difficult digital offerings. Games had limited lives, limited continues, laggy controls and no internet to glean cheats from. It was Millennials against the looming specter of futility.
16 bit takes over
The next generation of systems introduced bigger and more complex games. Though some games such as Chakan, Contra: Hard Corps and the soul crushing Super Ghouls and Ghosts were ready to break the wills of an eager audience, games were getting easier to beat. Head to Head play became more commonplace and accomplished gamers found new challenges competing against their peers. Playing against the computer was reserved for those without peers to play against so there was less emphasis on the single player experience in a lot of gaming formats.
VS The Modern Era
Modern gamers enjoy games that immerse their players in open ended quests and worldwide competition with other gamers. The stories are so rich, they can easily spawn books and movies of their own. Here’s the problem…every game is made to be beatable. Given enough dedication, a moderately invested player can beat most games on the market. Truly difficult games are so infrequent, that they gain notoriety for being difficult. Devil May Cry 3 was seriously the last genuinely “Nintendo Hard” game I’ve every played (I haven’t played Dark Souls yet, but I hear good things). It took me nearly a year to beat it on Hard Mode and I still don’t have the courage to play it on Very Hard or Dante Must Die Mode. Gone are the days of staring in to the face of a grinning Mike Tyson after he stood over Lil Mac’s lifeless body for the 27th time that day. Or hurling your controller in frustration because Level 3 on Battletoads was sadistically difficult and you were out of lives…no respawning, just dead….just like your dreams of ever reaching Level 4.
Maybe it’s Us…
As an older head, it would be dishonest to say that I didn’t feel a tinge of jealousy as I play campaign modes with clearly defined objectives and intuitive game layouts that easily guide me to progress. I came up in the Zelda II or Castlevania II days where you could literally spend weeks in the same spot without any clue from the game about what your next objective was. Epic journeys, that involved nothing but retracing your steps in the desperate hope that you will uncover something to help you move forward, jangling 8-bit music and frustration were your only companions. If you were lucky, you were rewarded with an obscure MacGuffin to propel you to the next your next chokepoint. These two games were lauded for their Kafkaesque systems of task completion and they played like really enjoyable existential nightmares. Even the tiniest amount of plot progression felt like a huge victory because of the sheer hell you went through to obtain it.
The phenomena of Nintendo Hard has conditioned Millennials to expect to be psychologically tormented by their video games. I have a hard time trusting video games that don’t actively try to screw with me or break my spirit. I expect to be punished by the games I pay my money for the rights to play. I expect to drift between loving and hating the experience of playing new games. But I do think there is a benefit of not being good enough occasionally when you are younger. As a child, playing video games that I was simply not good enough at to beat made me push myself harder to to win. It acclimated me to perspective that failure brings to your world. Finally it prepared me to take a deep breath, hit the reset button and start over from the beginning.
Feeling Nostalgic? Visit the Nerdporium to buy any of the games or systems mentioned above.