greybeta: (Mario - Hard Headed)
[Author’s note: This post is in thanks to [livejournal.com profile] das_hydra who made me two excellent icons.]

I started playing video games during the heyday of the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment Systems. So I’m a bit biased, but I believe many of the harder games ever made are from the NES. Okay, maybe not the hardest games but definitely some of the more difficult ones to beat. NES games often had only one difficulty setting, often told you to obtain something with no hints, tortured you with intricate jumping patterns and less-than-fine controls that frustrated many a gamer. Also, the lack of 3-D meant the NES would recognize hits on you that you simply do not expect in today’s games.

The hardest game I’ve played and have never beaten is the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for NES. Good grief, what were they thinking back then? Yes, you have four Turtles but Donatello’s extremely long reach makes him the best by far. The enemies come from all angles and you’re quite limited in your responses. Also, in between levels you have to diffuse bombs underwater and if you fall into the seaweed you automatically lose a Turtle. I tried playing it again recently and gave up because it’s way too annoying to advance far into a level but lose all that progress because I screw up on a simple jump. I concede.

Also, I have to make a special mention for the original Ghosts and Goblins. This is a game with infinite continues and yet I could not get past the third boss. Each time you die, the map scrolls from the beginning to the end. At first, it’s pretty cool. But after you die for the twentieth time, you realize something: Oh @#$^#!, I still have three more bosses and countless enemies and mazes to go through?!? I put in a cheat code once to fight the final boss and he’s actually pretty easy. So kudos to those who actually beat it fair and square. Unfortunately, it’s one of those games you have to beat twice to get the good ending.

As far as the hardest game I have ever beaten, I’m going to say a little-known game from the NES called Silkworm. It was on the arcade for awhile as well. The story is that an evil entity has taken over the world and you must save it. How? Well, fortunately, we’ve trained a helicopter crew and jeep to defeat the armies of evil (many NES games pitted your one fighter against the entire alien force...how that worked out logistically we’ll never know).

Maph, a buddy of mine since junior high, and I one day determined that we would beat the evil horde of Silkworm. FYI, “Silkworm” was the name of the invincible missiles that would appear from time to time. He played the heli and I played the jeep. The key to the game is that there are midbosses are each level that provide powerups. If you beat them fast enough, you get two powerups instead of one. This is important because the quicker you power up, the quicker you advance your rank. Once you make Captain, you retain the two power ups of the game: Twin and Turbo. Twin doubles your shot and Turbo speeds up your shot, and both are necessary to stand a chance. Oh, and if you level up fast enough instead of power ups you get point bonuses. This is critical because you obtain an extra life for every 50,000 points you earn.

The game consists of eight waves of enemies, each with a level boss that flashes white when you hit its weakpoint (Penny Arcade would say, “These weakpoints are a f***in’ liabilitiy!”). Some of the enemies are plausible, and some are silly like the flyswatter tank that tries to run into the jeep. There are also mines that one must be aware of. However, if you shoot the mines, they can spring forth a starry invincible shield. You can either pick up the shield or shoot it. If you shoot it enough times, you can destroy all the enemies on the screen (at certain junctures you must do this or die).

You do get two continues, so it’s not completely impossible. The heli and jeep both have their pros and cons. The heli can fly around most of the screen and is more maneuverable, but it can’t fire backwards and there are more flying enemies as well including the aforementioned Silkworms (they can only be avoided). The jeep doesn’t have to worry about silkworms and you can point the cannon in five directions including backwards, but it’s harder to move around and it’s easier to run into a mine or hole.

As to be expected, the game ramps up in difficulty each stage. The stages are played at various stages of the day, from bright day to early dusk to late twilight to the pitch black of night. When you get to the boss, the background fades. The boss is announced with the warning music and then it’s battle time. The one saving grace is that when there are many enemies and bullets on the screen, the game actually slows down because the poor NES processor is trying to keep up. Although, one could argue it makes the game more dramatic and is perhaps a visualization of what happens in our heroes’ minds. Either way, it makes the game possible because you would otherwise not be able to avoid certain Silkworm formations (trust me on this one).

So one day, we managed to survive the eight waves and fight the final boss. By the way, in the eighth level the Silkworms start shooting their own tiny indestrucible missiles as they pass by. So yeah, the final boss just keeps shooting Silkworms and these annoying missiles that follow you around the level and which you cannot shoot down (you have to hope they hit the ground or fly off the screen). It’s all about pattern recognition, and once we played enough times, we got good enough to get in a few good rounds before we died. And then, one day, glory was ours. Yes, we beat the final boss. Maph and I jumped for joy!

We were eager to see what the end was going to be like. The game automatically drives your heli and jeep to the end. Then the screen faded to black and boss warning music was played. Oh noes, the real final boss has appeared! Wait a minute, he’s like HUGE. By himself he takes up a fourth of the screen, and he flies. His body reflects your bullets, which slows you down because the NES allows only so many of your bullets to be on screen at one time. His shoulders and knees fire those annoying tiny indestructible missiles. His first move was to charge forward, raise his hand, and shoot a Silkworm missile from his hand. Oh yeah, we died before we busted out laughing at the absurd difficulty of the real final boss.

Through many deaths and billions of dollars of helis and jeeps, we slowly learned the nuances of the game. One of the first things we learned was that if you got to real final boss, your continues became null and void. We could not die on the first three levels because we wouldn’t advance ranks fast enough to become Captains for the later levels. Some level bosses we knew so well that we would be firing at their weakpoints before they even came on screen. The heli and jeep need to cover each other in certain areas because the heli actually kills ground enemies easier and the jeep’s ability to fire behind the helicopter is important for the enemies that approach from the rear (of which there are many).

The real final boss is weak only at one point: His heart opens up for a second after he fires his Silkworm missile. At all other times you must crazily avoid his volume of missiles. When he rolls forward, the jeep needs to cover the heli by shooting some of the missiles that can be shot down. When he rolls backward, all you can do is pray that you’re quick enough to avoid death. Slowly but surely, we got closer and closer.

One day, in between practices for the musical Oklahoma!, Maph and I played the game to kill some time. Our good friend Riest happened to be there as well. Our teamwork was exceptional that day, as we got to the eighth and final level without using a continue. Then we purposely died to get a full stock of lives. We managed to beat the final level without losing a life. We sensed that this might be our best chance. The real final boss rolled forward, we dodged. The real final boss rolled backward, we died. Rinse and repeat a couple times and Maph has used up all of his lives. I’m driving back and forth in my jeep and blindly connecting a few hits while frantically evading missiles (with the heli dead I was more focused on not dying than hitting the boss).

Then it happened.

The boss flashed red.

He was dead.

At that point, we waited to make absolutely sure. Sure enough, the final cut scene played. And for all that effort, what did we get?

CONGRATULATIONS YOU HAVE SAVED THE WORLD!

Just a text message saying we had saved the world?

Saving the world has never been more disappointing.

July 2009

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