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Are Games Crippled By Easy Modes?

When you start up some games for the first time you have a very important decision to make (once you've passed the loading screens and company logos). What difficulty to play on?

Chris Dunson, Blogger

December 13, 2013

10 Min Read

When you start up some games for the first time you have a very important decision to make (once you've passed the loading screens and company logos). What difficulty to play on? Take it easy and make your way through the story? Or play it on hard to truly challenge yourself?

A rose by any other difficulty would smell as sweet?

Rayman games are known, by the few people who play them, for their difficult platforming. Many platformers allow you to jump at various heights depending on how long you hold the button down, but Rayman is one of the games that will send you to the game over screen if you use your high jumps too frequently.
For a long time, in games, it has been a common principle that there needs to be obstacles for the player to overcome. By learning the rules of a game and honing their abilities, players can surpass any challenge.
But what if there is no challenge? 

The original Final Fantasy XIII, which I wish was the last story of its saga, was the worst game I think I've ever played in my entire life. And I've played Barbie Super Model for the Super Nintendo.
In an attempt to make the game more accessible to new gamers, Square Enix cut out practically everything that makes a RPG a RPG. There are essentially no NPCs to talk to in the game, the bulk of exploration takes place in narrow hall ways, and each character only has three stats. The only thing the game has going for it is that its probably the most aesthetically pleasant game on the PlayStation 3. The lack of challenge and depth left me completely appalled and keeps me hesitant from trying newer titles in the Final Fantasy franchise. 


There are games without challenge that I find myself able to enjoy. Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing are both games that I enjoy even though I don't have to dodge bullet fire.
These games do a wonderful job at presenting unique themes, introducing interesting characters, and placing the player in a role that generally can't be found in other games. In Animal Crossing I found myself really enjoying coming across the random villagers that made up my neighbors. These creatures all have their own odd behaviors and choice of words.
I could tell the game had a powerful hold over me when one of my favorite neighbors had moved away to a friend's town. I was so sad to see her go, but as an awesome last gesture she had sent me a letter along with a piece of furniture. That piece of furniture just so happened to complete the set I was going for. I couldn't of asked for a better memento to remember my virtual friend.

Master Of Your Own Destiny

The white tanooki suit in Super Mario 3D World seems to be generating some distaste amongst 'retro' gamers. For those of you who don't know, the white tanooki suit is an item that appears after dying multiple times in a row within the same level. The item makes you invincible from enemies and spikes that would normally knock you out. The complaint I see the most is that people who beat levels using the white tanooki suit didn't 'earn' their victory. I honestly look at this as a very out dated line of thinking.
Back in the NES days there were a lot of very difficult games. Not everyone wants to spend hours upon hours learning the exact positioning and timing required for intense platforming moments. In today's age of gaming, developers try their best to make their games as accessible as possible so players of any skill level can have fun.
A very young player might get frustrated with a particular difficult challenge and the white tanooki suit is there to assist him. A more patient player who finds themselves failing a few too many times will also see the white tanooki suit appear, but by no means is the item mandatory. If you prefer the challenge and want to learn from your mistakes you can ignore the power-up and focus on the problems ahead. It's simply a choice for you to make. 

It's not always apparent to most players, but ignoring certain items is a great way to ramp up the difficulty if it fits your fancy. I've yet to try a 'No Mushroom' run of a Mario game, but I have tried the 'Three Heart Challenge' in Zelda and 'Minimum Level' boss fights in Kingdom Hearts II. By keeping my health low in one game and my experience down in another, I'm able to turn simple hindrances into nightmare inducing spawns of true evil.
Player created challenges like these really require you to learn the ins and outs of the mechanics of the game. A single missed dodge or mistimed attack can be your last. This maybe exactly what you're looking for if you feel you need more challenge from your games.

Pick Your Poison

Now some developers literally have you choose between modes of difficulty. Far too few games actually change the game in meaningful ways when you choose a difficulty setting. More times then not the game merely alters a few values such as damage and health.
I really enjoyed playing Tomb Raider with my partner in love and crime. When ever she was silly enough to put the controller down I'd steal it for myself and shoot some arrows through some unsuspecting hats. I eventually decided to give the game a go by my lonesome on the hard difficulty. It took me quite some time to figure out what the changes were. I was really hoping for end game enemies and attack patterns to turn up early alongside new threats. Much to my dismay the only differences I could note were my opponents dealt more damage and had more health.
Having already played the game a bit I was more then accustomed to dodging molotov cocktails and enemy projectiles. Increasing the damage of these attacks literally has no effect on me since the attacks are unable to land. I'm no Robin Hood but I was having no problem aiming for instant kills with my bow and arrow. Increased health, or not, a killing blow is a killing blow. Even on hard mode action scenes felt too easy and had become repetitive. 


Then we have the beautiful game Catherine. This game has you climbing up a tower of blocks as it slowly collapses. You have to utilize several block pushing/pulling techniques in order to ascend. Trick blocks and annoying fellow climbers will slow you down as the tower seems to collapse that much faster.
If puzzles aren't your strong suit I heavily suggest playing it on easy. This game is definitely one of the more challenging ones made now a days. Rather then just changing the amount of time you have to climb the block towers, the difficulty settings actually have their own puzzles. The techniques you have to employ in order to rise from one level to the next change with each difficulty setting.
I really wish more games had differing content between modes. Not that I'd cheat on Catherine to be with them. That would be wrong.

This article was originally posted on my gaming discussion website: Berathen Games

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