Not Every Videogame Should Be Easy

When I was in third grade the most important thing in the world was whether or not you had a Nintendo or a Sega Genesis. Could you play Sonic or Mario? Friends were all upgrading to the Super Nintendo or the Genesis around that time which wasn’t a big deal because I could play those consoles at their house. Plus my mom wasn’t going to buy me a copy of Mortal Kombat anyway. The NES was my sole option until the summer of 1995.

By then I was in fifth grade and read Disney Adventures magazine which was filled with ads for SNES and SEGA Disney games. Saving up birthday and Christmas money I had scraped up around one hundred dollars. By then the genesis was getting old, games were still being released for it but the Playstation and N64 were right around the corner. That summer there was a bundle deal with the release of the Lion King. You could get a new Genesis system with a copy of the Lion King game included. I didn’t need anything else.

A few months later we loaded up the minivan to Circuit City to go buy the system. Yep. Circuit City. They had rows of cameras, tape recorders, and CRT monitors. At the back of the store was all the HIFI and car audio system equipment mounted to the walls with the push buttons and such. Then just before the checkout area was a glass display case of all their current videogame consoles. Circuit City had weird stuff like the Atari Linx and the handheld Genesis the Nomad (not the Game Gear!) And there tucked away with the flashy new Sega Saturns and such was the Lion King bundle. We had the guy come open the case and take it to the register where I handed over the wadded up $10’s and $20’s to my mom.

I didn’t open the box to the system until we got home that night and promptly plugged it into the 10 inch dial tv in the bedroom. After figuring out how the Nintendo connected years before, the SEGA wasn’t difficult at all. I put the game in, turned it on and the music started. We had the movie on tape and had seen it a hundred times by then, I had played the first level at a friends house already, and made it right through the first hyena boss.

Then the second level appeared. The neon pink and blue “Just Can’t Wait To Be King” level. I quickly died trying to learn the timing on the giraffe heads, but easily made it to the first monkey puzzle. You roar at a monkey and it changes the direction it throws you, changing the puzzle. Easy. Then monkey chucks you to the hardest part in the game, the first ostrich race.

I got this game in 1995. I did not successfully beat the ostrich race part of that level until sometime in 1998, my freshman year of high school. By then I had acquired a handful of other games like Mikey Mania and Pitfall, neither of which I could beat but could certainly get past the second level. Ever so often I would plug the Lion King back in and attempt the ostrich race to see what I was doing wrong, restarting when I ran out of lives because there are only one or two extra ones that early in the game.

Now, it wasn’t that the level was strategically difficult or required some twitch response mechanics, what I was doing wrong was simply not pressing jump twice. You see, during the level you are riding an ostrich which you control as it runs through some trees and pink baby rhinos. When a baby rhino appears you press jump to jump over it, and when a tree branch shows up you press down to have you and the ostrich duck under it.

The last part of the race places both a branch and a pig in your way. Ducking killed me, and jumping killed me. When I finally realized that I had to jump TWICE, something you can’t do in the game otherwise, the rest of the game became a cakewalk. I made it to the second monkey puzzle, on to the second ostrich race and a few days later I was at the adult Simba levels.

The Hakuna Matata level? Yeah, it took some time to work out how fast the logs dropped and when to wait and when to jump but it wasn’t an issue of not knowing to double jump. I didn’t have any game magazines with tips or walkthroughs on that. They told me where to find hidden extra lives and live/roar bar extending insects but nothing as obvious as HEY, JUMP TWICE HERE. So by the middle of high school, I was able to finally beat the game. The stampede level has a set line to take, when to jump, etc that just becomes muscle memory. Actually, towards the end of that level after the second set of double rocks, you can just run to the far left of the screen and stay there the entire rest of the map. (I’ll check later as to exactly when and update this.)

The maze of hyena caves when you’re an adult did take some time to figure out but once you knew the paths it was simple. By the end of High School I could come home, turn on the game, and run through it in about 16 minutes. Every movement was memorized. I could have given up completely on the game back in 1995 like I did with Home Alone 2 Gameboy game or any of the other weekend rentals I attempted as a kid. Those stupid ostriches made me feel so angry I was compelled to work through whatever puzzle or technique was required until I got through it.

I only bring this up because folks are saying every game should have an ultra casual mode where you just watch a cinematic with options instead of play a game. We already have Visual Novels for that. I haven’t played Cuphead or Dark Souls, I know I won’t be able to play those as I’m not that skilled at the quick reflex games. Those games just aren’t for me. I did play Mass Effect 1-3 on casual because I’d trip up on combat, but it wasn’t impossible.

Boss fights in Skyrim are hard for me but I still finished the game. I don’t feel like I should be handed the ending of Dark Souls on a plate because the game is too hard. Even then, if I REALLY wanted to finish a game I could just take the time to get better at it, even if it’s years. I think with the advent of youtube video walkthroughs, as opposed to the TXT file ones we had back in the day for FFX sphere puzzle rooms, you can watch how other people get past more difficult parts of a game and try to emulate their technique. Kind of like double-jumping over a pink rhino and a tree…

But I get where folks are coming from, a few years ago I picked up The Witcher III for $20 during a holiday sale. I was told that similar to ME3 it wouldn’t be the end of the world to skip the first two because the mechanics are different. The beginning was easy enough, I made it to a few little mini-boss fights just fine. I was really enjoying the story and pacing of the gameplay until I got to this forest clearing filled with these wraiths that were doing constant knockback attacks until I died.

Just like the Lion King game I assumed I was doing something wrong. A quick youtube search showed how to fight them by making sure to have a certain buff active and attacking a certain way. I can’t remember what it was but it just didn’t work for me and I put the game down for a while. It’s not the end of the world, I went back to playing Skyrim where anything can be killed with a stealthy arrow at 1000 yards because that’s the kind of game for me. 🙂

But getting back to the Lion King, apparently the game was supposed to be difficult in the second level. According to the lead developer of the game itself, they were told to ramp it up in certain parts but not the ones I exactly ran into trouble with:

This kind of makes sense because in both the Hakuna Matata level and the second puzzle in the Can’t Wait to be King level both have the sinking log mechanics. As you run across the logs they stay afloat for a few seconds before sinking. The majority of the HM level has these both on the river and the waterfall. Wait to be King has them floating in the watering hole you have to cross to get back to the first part of the second puzzle once you’ve reset one of the monkeys. And yes, there is a second ostrich round after that puzzle.

I’ve seen other video reviews of people trying to play this game and just by watching them you can see that the guy attempting it is probably doing so for the first time. They run directly into the path of mobs, they wait too long in timed areas, and they take entirely too long to swing from rocks/ledges. You can spam the buttons on those and Simba will spin right to the next one instantly without issue.

Now, in the video, they mention that the Aladdin game was also hard. But the Aladdin game has a set of codes to skip levels if you need to. At the beginning of any level press and hold START, followed by ABBAABBAABBA you’ll hear a completion jingle followed by the next little cinematic and the start of the next level. This quick skip mode isn’t an option on the Lion King, forcing the player to “git gud” by memorizing every button press to get through a level.

But is that bad? Both the Lion king and Aladdin are difficult and are composed of the same format. One has a quick cheat option and the other doesn’t. Should every game have Aladdin cheat codes to bypass a hard level or should you have to push through and figure each level out? While it’s nice to be able to skip that 500mph magic carpet ride level it’s not impossible. You CAN beat it. You don’t NEED to skip it. It will take time and effort to memorize when to press up or down but that’s what platformers are. Games are about figuring out problems and solving puzzles, even if it’s just memorizing the steps.

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