Annie Lee (Twitter)
I’m going on memory here to answer this question, because instantly my thoughts went to Adventures of Link for the NES. I’ve played a lot of other difficult video games since then (Bloodborne is definitely a difficult game I’m currently playing), but Adventures of Link was the first time I remember clearly getting frustrated over and over. Having played it when I was younger, I can’t evoke the exact levels or bosses I fought that brought out my “gamer rage”, but the repeated deaths made me abandon the game for a while – only to remember I still had to overcome the same parts when I picked it up again days later.
Adventures of Link wasn’t the first Zelda game I played. I started off with the Oracle series, then Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and Link’s Awakening. Adventures of Link still remains a vastly different game to the others, and I was somewhat thrown off by this after getting used to the Zelda formula. There is a general consensus that Adventures of Link was a hard game, although there is the group that disagrees and says it’s most likely because of how different the game stands to the others in the franchise. Perhaps, but I played the game as an 11-year-old angry at the fact that my button mashing didn’t work. Maybe Adventures of Link isn’t as difficult as I remember it. I’ll have to go back and replay it, as it’s one Zelda game that I haven’t gone back to replaying after the first time.
I don’t exactly like difficult games enough to play them all the way to completion – I often don’t feel that rewarding sense of accomplishment many players do for surmounting a harrowing virtual experience – so my answer will likely be met with some amused scoffs, but Shadow of the Colossus gets the nod from me here. It’s not a particularly difficult game, I admit, but it is the most difficult one I’ve actually completed. It took me an absurdly long time to get used to the combat mechanics that really centered around grappling, climbing and hanging, while trying to conserve as much stamina as possible. It was a small, but substantial gameplay change compared to the types of platforming and puzzle games I’d been used to.
The tortoise-like Basaran and the eel-like Hydrus presented the most challenge for me. The former required some fairly precise timing just to make it vulnerable to attack (by leading it to a geyser to flip over), then quick reaction time to actually get the chance to climb up it and damage it, while the latter was just a huge pain to hold on to as it swam furiously around its stage (water levels have always been the worst and swimming in video games is rarely a polished experience; this is no exception).
The fact that I didn’t pay attention to the benefits of tracking down the white-tailed lizards, which increased the initially restrictive stamina gauge, just raised my overall frustration with the game. Then again, after watching some ridiculous speedruns of it, it’s entirely possible I’m just not very coordinated to begin with. Either way, despite the frustration I felt while playing it, Shadow of the Colossus was way too beautifully realized and executed for me not to complete.
Daniel George (Twitter)
There was a time in my young-ish gaming life when first-person shooters based on non-fictional events were a prevalent go-to genre. Whether it be the large-scale historical recreations of Battlefield 1942 or the thrill ride of Medal of Honor: Frontline, there was a strong fondness for all things shooters. It waned as publishers stopped production of said games, but the last great challenge I sought out was to complete the Call of Duty: World at War campaign on Veteran difficulty.
Those who didn’t play the game might be wondering, “What makes that campaign more difficult than the others?” First off, because it takes place in the Pacific Theater and Eastern Front of World War II, each with its own special types of nightmares. When fighting against Japanese soldiers as a US army private, at times the Japanese combatants would ambush you with a banzai attack, rushing at you with bayonets to skewer you to death in just one hit. Their guerilla warfare tactics in jungle climates made them difficult to spot, as well, where 3-4 hits would kill the protagonist quickly.
The greater challenge, however, comes when playing as Dimitri Petrenko on the Russian side, as most combat came as part of Shock Troop-like formations through urban warfare, coming to a head in the second-last level of the game. “Heart of the Reich” is where everything goes to hell, as the difficulty level’s task of “throw grenades at the player if they’re not hitting checkpoints or objectives fast enough” becomes overwhelming. At the final push towards the Reichstag, the fighting takes place on a narrow strip of land propped up by segments of makeshift cover.
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Enemies pour in from all directions. The objectives to detonate are heavily guarded. Grenade spam has no meaning before and after “Heart of the Reich,” as World at War’s Veteran difficulty is defined by this nightmarish hellscape of a level. It took me 3-5 hours across multiple play sessions alone just to overcome the main stretch of land, let alone the entire level. The reason I pitched this week’s topic is purely because I wanted to lament about how much of a monstrosity this game’s Veteran difficulty can be to an impressionable young adult’s mind (at the time of play).
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