Alright kids, sit back and let old Uncle Frezno tell you all about hard Nintendo games. Am I some sort of hard Nintendo game master? Absolutely not. I'm an old asshole with rudimentary pattern recognition who's often fueled by either tenacity or just sheer spite against whatever the hell I'm playing. Still, I earned a title or two. "Hard Game Beater". "Beast In The Shape Of A Man.". There are still plenty of hard-ass Nintendo tapes that will probably elude me forever, but I've beaten enough of the big ones that scare people. Battletoads. Ghosts 'n Goblins. Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Turtles. I could go on. Sometimes the pain of beating your head against tough 8-bit game design ain't enough. Sometimes I need to hurt myself more, Snake. That's where my hobby comes in. I like to read lists and watch videos of what other people consider to be the hardest Nintendo games ever, and then shake my head in disarray at how much I disagree. But why do I disagree?
Because of James Rolfe and the Status Quo.
You know, as an aside, I think I quietly changed out mission statements on this blog. Goddess Valya and the Dread Beast GREED have been replaced by me becoming some sort of anti-nostalgia revolutionary, waving a flag against the Way Things Are. And I keep harping on James Rolfe as I do it. Let's put that to bed: I adore the work of James Rolfe. For ten years the AVGN shtick has amused me, and his other projects are fun in their ways as well. James and Mike Mondays, Board James, Monster Madness... he is a very talented fellow who has brought me much entertainment over the years. To badly mangle a quote from The Spoony One, I don't have a problem with James Rolfe and the AVGN at all; just his fans and what they've done. And I don't even mean the mad shade they threw my way when I didn't like his pretend Nintendo game! (Although that's tangentially related.) No, I'm talking about how his rantings on Nintendo games got perceived by the masses. The AVGN is an exaggerated parody, I find. A weirdo who has nothing better to do with his time than play terrible video games and yell about them online and talk about the poopy. Which, as a weirdo who has nothing better to do on a Tuesday morning than complain about how an Internet reviewer's changed Nintendo game reception, I can empathize with. Note the key phrase, exaggerated parody. It feels like a lot of people miss that, because his exaggerated opinions on the games have led to the Status Quo declaring them the Holy Writ on what those games are like. Now, it's not entirely James Rolfe's fanbase doing this; a lot of it is just the general perceived difficulty of famous Nintendo games. It does crop up, though. I researched a few "Top 10 Hardest NES Games Ever" lists for this article, and we'll crunch those in a bit. I can tell you two games that I feel would not be on them if not for him; Fester's Quest, and Silver Surfer. Fester showed up on two of the lists, and Silver Surfer showed up on a whopping five of them. I mean, Fester's Quest did show up in Nintendo Power... but that game always struck me as more "tedious" than "difficult". I watched a longplay of it to see how tricky it could be, and it just looks like a boring slog, rather than a high-stakes hard game.
It's Silver Surfer that really pet peeves me, though. I mean, this really sets me on edge, the way people keep including this on their lists. I'm getting dangerously close to "fake hard Nintendo gamer" talk here, and I really don't mean to be a gatekeeper of what people can consider a hard game or not. I can understand why one might put Silver Surfer on their hardest games ever lists; it's just the way they explain it that drives me up the wall. It's my poster child for AVGN fans influencing Hard Nintendo Game Opinion based entirely on the aforementioned exaggerated parody of James Rolfe yelling at the game. I beat Silver Surfer. It has its flaws that can compound to make it a difficult game. Your hitbox is rather large in both side and vertical scrolling modes, and you're expected to weave through some tricky shmup mazes. Enemy fire is numerous and quick. Getting killed knocks away your power-ups, and the game doesn't even have an autofire. That's all anyone would have to say about Silver Surfer, and I wouldn't be raising an eyebrow. But no. That's not what they say, isn't it? They always, without fail, fall back on that one critique.
This game is so difficult because if you touch ANYTHING you are dead!
That's straight out of AVGN's video, basically. Touch the wall you die, touch the floor you die, et cetera et cetera. And people repeat it basically verbatim when they make these lists. It drives me goddamn batty because one hit kills upon touching the scenery are a basic fucking rule of almost every shooting game ever made. You might as well be bitching about how spikes kill you in one hit in half the platformers out there... and doesn't that just burn when you compare it to how the "new old" retro style of game fills every surface with instant death spikes? I feel like I'm living in a Mirror Dimension here! How do people keep pulling out this exact same criticism of this one? What I found real interesting was this list. Not a mention of Silver Surfer on it... and oh, it's from 2006. Pre-AVGN video. It's hardly definitive proof, but considering that it showed up on 5/6ths of the lists I surveyed (with the outlier having really eclectic shit on it like Ghoul School and Sword Master) it says something. What concerns me more is TodoNintendoS's list. Silver Surfer's #2 there, and look. "It's considered as the hardest shoot 'em up of all time". Which, where do I begin? The obvious question of "well what about any danmaku game?", sure, but also that language. "It's considered.". I fell into that same trap when I LPed Silver Surfer, but then I bothered to share my own opinions on it. Do you consider it to be the hardest shooter ever, Todo? That's what I want to know. I don't give a toss what the Status Quo says, because I'm already at odds with that.
And so it goes as we keep running into the games that show up on multiple lists. Double Dragon 3 is the hardest because you only get ONE LIFE! Which, Double Dragon 3 is some shit for doing, but you do get other characters who act as lives. And a continue or two. Hey, why not mention that Bimmy and Jimmy thing while you're at it-- OH MY GOD. Contra is impossible without the Konami Code! Which, the code is there for you to learn the patterns and then get good at the game and beat it sans code. In Ghosts n Goblins you can only take two hits and even if you win you have to beat the game twice. As if we didn't already know this. Talk about how you're committed to your jumps, or the randomness factor. Anything other than all the shit we already know. Battletoads. Now, Battletoads I agree is legit hard. But it's all hard. All you hear on these bloody lists is "The two-player is impossible and so is the Turbo Tunnel.". Which is basically all that You-Know-Who got to as well. As an aside, I'm happy that his pal Bootsy actually bothered to do an entire series on beating Battletoads. It's a step in the right direction of dispelling the frightening legend and going "No no no. This shit is possible. Here's what you gotta do.". If Bootsy does a Bootsy Beats on Silver Surfer, I'll be bloody ecstatic.
So, with all this in mind... here's 5 games I thought up that absolutely deserve to be on these lists, but usually get bumped off in favor of the more well-known myth makers of the NES era. My criteria were simple. 1) It can't be on any of the lists I researched. 2) It has to be legally playable in North America. For reference, here are the six lists I found on Youtube that I cribbed from for the "not eligible" category.
Dixie's is pretty eclectic, as I mentioned. Already this ruled out a few games I would have put on there; The Adventures Of Bayou Billy (#4 on Screwattack), Journey To Silius (#9 on Dixie), and Punch-Out (#6 on Top10View). Well then. Let's see what I cooked up here, hm?
Some Konammy game about furries in space or something. Bucky O'Hare is a pretty late NES game, from like 1992 or so. Explains why nobody played the thing, I guess. It's a legit great little jump and shoot, but holy christ is it also difficult. It feels like a greatest hits collection of video game obstacles sometimes. You've got big snakes that were plucked right out of Battletoads, fire arches from Gradius, quite a few spikes, conveyor belts, and even a shmup section near the end. It demands perfection from you at all times, but it's fair enough with unlimited continues (as well it should be.) Though you do lose health upgrades if you die, but by the later levels you're dyin' in one hit anyway so it's mitigated. I guess.
How the hell this avoids so many lists, I don't know. It's not even that obscure of a game. Adventure Island is like Super Mario Bros. if Super Mario Bros. were goddamn vicious. 32 levels, tricky enemy placement, a constant timer counting down to your doom (that really gives you no room to breathe on certain levels), and some really quite ludicrous jumps. It really is a product of the Famicom era, a sadistic piece of software made for god knows what reasons. On the Japanese show, Game Center CX, it took an Assistant Director 28 hours to clear the game in full. 23 of those were spent on the final eight stages, and nine were spent on one hellish segment with falling platforms requiring perfect jumps, along with swooping bats. Holy shit.
SUMMER CARNIVAL '92 RECCA/SUPER MARIO BROS: THE LOST LEVELS
Okay. A lot of these lists stick with just games that were released in North America, opting against imports. Hell, Screwattack specifically says this in order to not include the Lost Levels or "Takeshi's Castle". (They mean Takeshi's Challenge, but whatever.) I don't see the point of it, myself. So they can showcase what would have made kids of the NES era frustrated? Okay, fine, so explain how their #8 is Battle Kid; a goddamn homebrew released in 2010. Those rules don't matter, and the two imports I picked here are still technically eligible because both have been released on 3DS Virtual Console. They are legally playable in North America. Okay then. So, Summer Carnival '92 Recca is one hell of a thing. It's basically a high-speed 60FPS danmaku shmup for the NES. Look at this shit. Now this is a goddamn hard shmup. None of this "if you touch a wall you die" shit. It makes Silver Surfer look like a silver slog with how fast and furious the shit comes at you, and it being part-danmaku, the bullets are fast and furious as well. It almost feels Treasure-ish with its use of multiple bosses per stage, and it's really great. But also hard as balls. You die in one hit, by the way. Which, as we know, makes a game impossible. As for The Lost Levels... well, I lied up there. This is Super Mario Bros. if Super Mario Bros. were goddamn vicious. The first goddamn powerup in the game kills you. It is Super Mario for expert players, and it shows. Poison mushrooms, wind, red piranha plants that can come up from pipes even if you're standing on 'em, reverse warp zones. Oh, and you're scared of Ghosts n Goblins because you have to beat it twice? There's a bunch of special worlds in this game. To get to one set, you have to beat the game without warping. To get to the other set, you have to beat the game eight times. Terrifying, ain't it?
The last time I got snarky at these lists, I made one of my own. It was all games, not just NES. Mine had a few games in common with these lists; TMNT 1 and Battletoads. Which, I still get mad at their inclusions on lists because those are only scratching the surface. Anyway, my king champion back then was Metal Storm. An interesting lil game in which the central gimmick is swapping gravity. Fuse VVVVVV with Contra/Mega Man/any other robot jump n shoot and you've got the idea. It's pretty tricky. Then it won't give you the good ending until you try a game for experts. Which, on the one hand you don't have to, but if the other list makers are going to say that "this story is happy end" is the actual ending of Ghosts n Goblins, we have to play by those rules too. GnG on NES, on the second loop, really is just the same damn game twice. Metal Storm on the second loop is brutal. It requires split-second perfection at all times or you're just dead. Again, one hit kills you so it's obviously the hardest! Metal Storm on Expert is just goddamn ridiculous, and I don't know if I'd give it the Hardest Game Ever award if I did one of those lists again, but it's an experience I won't soon forget.
So that's that. Did I exorcise my hard game list pet peeve hate? Probably not. All it'll take is someone else citing the Silver Surfer defense to make me grit my teeth again. Please. Just give the games a whirl. All I'm asking for is for list makers to use their own personal experience with the old video games as their template, rather than what a bunch of people online think makes them the hardest games ever. We don't need an echo chamber. Silver Surfer is possible. So is the Ninja Turtles dam. So is the Turbo Tunnel. I've done it, and I'm an asshole who just complained about hard Nintendo game lists. You can do it too! I believe in you, and I just want you to try the games. That's all. I should peace out of here before we all get too mad. Maybe next time I should talk about something happier.