3/2 Frustration Factor

Part of the fun in playing a game is meeting and eventually overcoming challenges. And what, asked the programmers of these games, could be more rewarding than a near-impossible struggle against a situation that requires just the right amount of dumb luck and split-second reflexes?

I give you six of the most infuriating games I've ever played. Originally the list was to be ten, but I began to experience the most peculiar throbbing in my forehead about the eighth time I loaded Ghosts n' Goblins. Undoubtedly after posting this I'll remember a few that are even worse, but for now I'm looking at a few choice factors:

  • This game makes an effort to squash your morale completely by the third level, possibly sooner.
  • You are put in situations that would be easy if not for the game's horrifically bad play control, hit detection, etc. For example, a game where your guy can barely jump, but flies backwards about twice as far when hit by an enemy.
  • Sometimes the worst number of chances is infinite chances, as when you're not limited by a number of lives or continues, some masochistic part of the human mind MAKES you keep pressing start to go back to the same demon that killed you 90 times in a row.
  • And finally, the X-factor: This game throws something extra to kick you while you're down, like playing really bouncy happy music to celebrate your death, or the laughing dog from Duck Hunt. God, I hate him.

And, without further ado...

Morale-Crusher: Being killed by the first miniboss, a stationary gun emplacement, twice, only to be killed by the armed chicken legs dropping from the helicopter boss.

Play Quirk: Jay takes a lot of hits, and his special weapons are so useless you'll use the pistol most of the game. And yet, shooting down enemies is more likely to give you ammo powerups than life powerups?!

Chances: Three lives, three continues.

X-Factor: Jay's animations are kind of strange. When he jumps, his legs dangle like a puppet, and the way he holds a gun can't possibly be comfortable... Also, this was one of those games that was next to impossible even with a Game Genie on, thanks to that final level's series of jumps and (god damned) automatic scrolling.

#5: Journey to Silius:

This seldom-played gem is an old Contra clone/ripoff/whatever set in a distant, robot-torn future. The hero is young Jay McCray, a poofy-haired, recently orphaned young man who decides to avenge the killing of his father and build a space station. I think.

There are five levels. I would say 'only' five levels, if not for the fact that each is designed specifically to point out every single one of your shortcomings. Jay has a tendency to not want to jump again immediately after landing, which leaves him a proverbial sitting duck much of the time. Enemies appear on pretty much set patterns, and all this means is you will be killed at the same moment, the same way, many times. The few enemies with guns use them well, spraying the entire area with so much lead Jay can take like three hits from each as they merrily walk through the screen.

The final level is a run through a starship factory. Watch as Jay gets liquid metal poured on him, crushed by boxes of cargo on mysterious hovering conveyor belts, and misses the last set of jumps. The final bosses are an enormous spaceship and a rather tall robot that has to kneel to punch you, just in case you're curious.

Morale-Crusher: Level 2.

Play Quirk: Ryu has the same problem as Megaman, in that he LOOKS to be running about twice as fast as he actually is. Not to mention the fact the slightest impact launches him airborne.

Chances: Three or so, plus continues.

X-Factor: The constant stream of obnoxious enemies, especially the dogs or whatever. Not to mention bosses don't flash or anything when hit.

#4: Ninja Gaiden:

The classic ninja series with the inexplicable lasting power. This is the sort of game they build lots of clones of, and many actually come up more fun. (Like Valis: Fantasm Soldier.)

The Ninja Gaiden trilogy follows that darn ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, on his quest to avenge his father, keep the two evil statues out of suitably evil hands, and belittle women at every turn. In his path lie the forces of evil, nature, wind, gravity, and scorned women who shoot him to make a point.

Ryu must often scale walls and such to advance, which he does so with the nimbleness and agility of a (slain) mountain goat. The second level especially features a series of pillars topped with enemies who look like sword-throwing Arabs, Contra guys, and lumpy green ninja, each and every one placed specifically to knock you off the ledge.

I also think the 'dogs' may have just been guys running around on all fours, which ya gotta admit, is pretty innovative.


Morale-Crusher: Being offered the choice between playing as an EXTREME surfing gorilla or a werewolf thing in a wetsuit; surfing, or the Pit.

Play Quirk: The surfing levels are practically impossible to do anything in. If you die at a certain point in the skateboarding levels, you're stuck in front of an enormous pit with no space to work up momentum.

Chances: Too few, and yet every chance you get is another few seconds wasted with this game..

X-Factor: The game over music sounds like either something at a clown's funeral, or a baseball game. I can't tell which. Not to mention the whole game was based around a line of surfing merchandise. Also: This game had a SEQUEL.

#3: T&C Surf Designs:

What a brave new world, that has such... blatantly commercialized shit. Hailing from the previous decade's extreme sportsmen (back when it was still okay to say 'tubular' and everyone was a 'dude'), T&C combines surfing and skateboarding into one dull grey cartridge. Normally the two would go together like peanut butter and chunky peanut butter, but in this case, the combination is like peanut shells and stale chunky peanut butter with shards of glass and medical waste.

The skateboarding is alright, even if it takes some (a bit) of getting used to. Jumping with your board involves tapping back and A at the same time, if you don't hit back at the right moment, you jump off your board, leaving it to slam into whatever the hell you were dodging. Collect the coins, avoid the hazards, and just forget about coins that tend to appear INSIDE hazards. If you're not going fast enough, you'll fall in the big mid-level pit, then start again just short enough of it that you won't be able to make enough speed to clear even the short part.

The surfing game is about the most awkward and mindless thing I've ever seen, though. The buttons don't seem to do much of anything, and pressing up and down makes your guy turn around and/or bail. I've never even been hit by the birds of innertubing fat guys. I just fall straight into the ocean. You don't wanna smell wet gorilla.

Morale-Crusher: Either Mothra being stuck in the lower left corner while a squid hops up and down, inflicting no damage, or Godzilla being overwhelmed by tiny jet planes.

Play Quirk: The tiniest impact sends your monster flying. I mentioned that being bad in Ninja Gaiden, but when it's the result of a tiny projectile slamming into a 50-story moth...

Chances: Two. One with each monster.

X-Factor: Everything in this game is annoying to some extent. There is truly not a blesséd thing in this game that doesn't grate the nerves even just a bit. Hell! The title should be King of Monsters, even!

#2: Godzilla: Monster of Monsters:

Everyone's favorite inexplicable dinosaur is back on the NES, and he's brought friends, and a MechWarrior hex map. Sounds like a party, right?

Godzilla and Mothra have decided to save Earth from Planet X for some reason, and somehow travel from planet to planet, fighting monsters, airplanes, et al. Unfortunately, they're mired in some of the boggiest gameplay ever devised. Every time you move your monsters and they land in a hex, any hex, you're treated to a sluggish, intermitable side scrolling stage. Park next to a monster? You'll fight the army AND the monster. You can accurately simulate the majority of this game by wading through hardening cement while being pelted with baseballs.

I find Mothra does most of my heavy lifting. He can easily fly past all the tiny enemy sprites, and being practically the only airborne monster I can think of gives him an edge against the bosses. Godzilla is large, slow, and awkward, and sending him through most areas is a death certificate. Stage One-Earth pits you against a giant squid and Moguera, neither of whom I remember from any movies. Moguera has no frames of animation, but insists on moving around a lot. I guess we'd call him handi-capable.

Another aggravating factor is that there seems to be only one or two background music tracks. Strangely, it stops to load these every time you enter an area in spite of it being the same theme.

Morale-Crusher: The building with all the fire-puking giant toddlers in level 2.

Play Quirk: Nobody ever mentions when Arthur kneels, he kind of 'sticks' in place for an instant.

Chances: Unlimited continues.

X-Factor: Fighting Satan in your skivvies doesn't quite make up for the fact every time you resume the game, it makes you look at a map of all the levels ahead of you. When you've spent twenty minutes getting killed by the same creature in every conceivable angle, the last thing you need to see is a slow pan of the six levels you have yet to clear.

#1: Ghosts 'n Goblins:

The horror... the horror. Don't get me wrong, this game has its pluses. It had some decent sequels and was enough to merit a mini-game in Neo Geo Pocket Color's SNK vs. Capcom. But even die-hard GnG fans concede the original was maddeningly difficult.

It wasn't enough to give you two hits points to face the undead kidnappers, and pit you against an endless onslaught of enemies and awkwardly designed levels. After you literally go through hell and defeat Lucifer, you have to do it all again.

Also, Arthur, if I may be so bold as to ask- why picnic at night in your underwear with the princess? Couldn't you fool around in the castle?

Morale-Crusher: Speeder bike chase.

Play Quirk: Awful, awful depth perception, not to mention the game changes modes in very level.

Chances: Never enough and yet too many.

X-Factor: Where to begin?

WINNER: Battletoads:

Battletoads. You could spend all day curled up in a ball, sobbing, "Why, Rare, why? Do you hate us that much? And what did you do with Howard (of Howard & Nester fame- god knows the guy kept that little prick in check)?

In case you managed to survive the advertising juggernaut, scattered action figures, and of course various games without having heard of this game, I'll bring you up to speed. Three fun-loving toads of indeteriminate origin (I've heard that they came from space, or that they were three video game-loving geeks who get sucked into some game) take the lovely and completely out of place Princess on a date, and allow her and their bigger bro Pimple to be abducted by the much taller and hotter than the both of them. Rash and Zitz then set out to perpetuate the stereotype that toads cause skin problems while fighting anthropomorphic rats and pigs.

The whole affair drags on for roughly a hundred levels. Trying to alleviate the tedium that would inevitably come from doing the same thing over and over, they made sure that no two levels were exactly alike. The first is like Double Dragon, the second a vertical-scrolling rappel down a crater, followed by the infuriating Speeder Bike stage. I can't express with words how much this game ticks me off. If I had a hammer, a nail, and some urine, maybe that could help. Subsequent levels make the toads surf, ride unicycles improperly, climb up a wildly improbable elevator shaft, and fly tiny airplanes over a lake of lava. The whole thing comes off as watching green Shriners beating Disney mascots, which might be fun if not for the fact the game is TOO FREAKING HARD.