Gameological Q&A

That’s Not Fair!

Difficulty is one thing. Injustice is another.

By The Gameological Society Staff • May 23, 2013

Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.

Inspired by an email sent to us by stakkalee, today’s question is:

“Fairness” is a more slippery concept than any of us would like to admit. Most of us claim to be fine with it when a game gives us a stiff challenge, even when the odds are stacked against us. Yet there often comes a point when a game crosses the line—when we throw up our hands and proclaim, “That’s not fair!” What’s the most memorable “That’s not fair!” moment from your game-playing past?

John Teti

One of the more infuriating instances of perceived unfairness for me was Mario Kart 64. I played the hell out of Super Mario Kart in its day, so I became familiar with that game’s tendency to give plum power-ups (like a star that granted a burst of super speed) to players who were trailing. This keeps races closer, but in Super Mario Kart, driving skill still mattered the most. After a few days with Mario Kart 64, I realized that the balance had shifted. The items had become so powerful—including a spiky turtle-shell missile that hunts down the racer in the lead—and the imbalance had become so blatant that it was almost advantageous to hang back during a race in order to pick up a killer item. (If you’re in last place, you’re practically God.) This “rubber band” setup—so called because as a player strays farther from the lead, the game tends to pulls her forward like an elastic being stretched—is banal nowadays, but it was a shock to me at the time that Mario Kart 64 would reward lousy players so handsomely. Yes, it’s done in the interest of giving everyone a chance to win and thereby spreading the “fun” around. What I didn’t understand and still don’t understand is how it’s fun to win by virtue of Nintendo’s developers giving your sorry ass a piggyback ride. Mario Kart 64 is still an excellent game, but the prominence of its anybody-can-win bullshit was disillusioning.

Anthony John Agnello
Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fun game, the electronic equivalent of a really well made pizza. You can go anywhere on the planet, from the Spanish boondocks of Monachil to downtown Tokyo, and likely find an adept combination of hot dough, pizza sauce, and cheese. By the same token, there are thousands of games about jumping over bottomless pits, but Donkey Kong Country Returns satisfies more than most, with a zesty blend of sounds, sights, and stuff to do. The godforsaken controls practically ruin it, though. Many Wii games create challenge out of the inherent inconsistency of motion inputs, but none do so as gallingly as in DKCR. Many of the trickiest jumps in the game can only be pulled off by doing Donkey Kong’s little barrel roll before leaping. In the old Super Nintendo games, you did the roll just by pressing a button. In Donkey Kong Country Returns, you can only pull off the move by shaking the damn controller, turning a precision maneuver into a crapshoot. It makes a huge percentage of the game far more difficult than it would be otherwise. When I realized I couldn’t change the controls in the game, it was like biting into a slice of cheese that had grilled cicadas cleverly concealed as a topping. In a rare fit of common sense for Nintendo, they took the motion control input out of the new Nintendo 3DS remake of the game.

Samantha Nelson
Puzzle Quest

I expect a good computerized opponent to make smart moves. It’s programed to weigh the options with a speed and precision I’m unlikely to rival—especially when I’m playing my Nintendo DS while watching TV, commuting, or waiting for another game to load. When my enemy in Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords—the Bejeweled-meets-Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game—grabbed a five-gem combo that I hadn’t spotted, I was frustrated with myself and tried to be more vigilant on my next move. This would be a fine strategy if the computer weren’t also cheating. The artificial intelligence makes moves that take into account not only the gems on the board but also the gems that will be on the board. Too often, one good move by the computer would cascade into another as just the right gems dropped into place, granting an extra turn to the monster I was fighting—all it needed to smash me. Knowing that the computer had an edge on me no matter how closely I considered the screen just made me pay attention even less.

Matt Kodner

I can’t think of a single time I’ve been able to get past the third opponent in any Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter game, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I would fault myself as an inadequate player instead of entertaining the idea that maybe these games were designed to take my quarters. I came to understand how unfair arcade fighting games were when I was at summer camp. On a routine field trip to an arcade, I watched a counselor sweep through Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. When he reached the final boss, the fight was unbelievable, and he scraped by to win the game…only to have the boss rise up and transform into its “final form,” which immediately killed my counselor three times over. There was a cinematic moment where this teenager—who I looked up to—slinked his arms down, pouted, and whined, “This is bullshit,” while surrounded by a bunch of kids. Indeed, counselor, that game was bullshit.

Drew Toal
NCAA Football

The one that bothers me most is more ephemeral, probably a figment of my highly developed persecution complex. When I play any of the NCAA Football games, it usually doesn’t take a lot of time for me to build a dynasty. Even with a difficult schedule, on a high difficulty setting, I’m a good bet to win. Still, every now and again, the game will feel rigged. Say, for instance, I administer a 63-0 beatdown of Michigan in their home stadium. Everything is working. They’re completely outmatched. I am all but unbeatable—the product of aggressive recruiting and belligerent playcalling. The next game has me matched up against a nominally lesser opponent—say, Purdue—and suddenly, the wheels come off. My star running back, well on his way to the Heisman Trophy, will fumble the ball for a third time right before a broken collarbone ends his season. Drew Toal III, the preternaturally gifted freshman quarterback, will suddenly become a slow-moving target for supercharged linebackers, and he’ll throw six interceptions by halftime. I might manage to stay in the game, but with the football gods aligned against me, I’m not confident. I have no evidence that the game schemes to force me into the loss column, but I know. Oh, yes, I know.

Derrick Sanskrit
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

This has happened to me at least once in every Ace Attorney game so far. You have a piece of evidence that you know is pure “smoking gun” material. You have a witness on the stand who will totally incriminate themselves over it. But you can’t just present the evidence and say “Mr. Blakemore, isn’t it true that you wrote this letter?” or “Ms. Weiner, isn’t this your gun?” No, you have to keep pressing on seemingly innocuous statements and get them to say more seemingly innocuous things until eventually, hopefully, they’ll slip up and mention the very piece of physical evidence that’s been sitting at your desk the whole time. Then and only then can you say, “Aha! That thing! That thing proves you’re guilty, and here’s why!” The random series of inquiries leading up to this moment feel like the adventure games where you needed a banana to open a barn door, all because some developer somewhere thought it would be funny. The supernatural elements of Ace Attorney don’t bother me at all, but the fact that you can’t just point to a piece of evidence and say, “Hey, witness! Let’s talk about that thing!” conflicts with every procedural crime drama I’ve ever watched. And it makes the whole testimony feel like a grueling and unnecessary chore.

Ryan Smith

Ralph Nader’s keen takedown of suspicious refereeing from the 2002 Western Conference finals aside, I’ve been sympathetic but not totally convinced by the fans’ conspiracy theories that claim the NBA is rigged in favor of the league’s big-market teams and stars. But the fix is obviously in with Midway’s NBA Jam. When playing against computer-controlled opponents in pro-basketball arcade games—especially against some of the top teams—an invisible line can be crossed if you take too big of a lead. Suddenly, something snaps, and John Stockton shoves you easily to the floor like Bane tossing around Batman. Hakeem Olajuwon becomes a human brick wall and starts blocking every single shot you throw up. It feels like the conspiracy theories come to life, with NBA commish David Stern inserting himself into the code of the program, Matrix-style, to make sure that every game of NBA Jam is a close call. I’ve always loved NBA Jam despite this frustrating flaw, but it’s best played against human opponents.

Joe Keiser
Kings Quest V

Early adventure games are notorious for their unfair moments, but few are as comprehensively unfair as 1990’s King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! This is a game about exploration in which going to the seemingly empty tent on the left, instead of the one on the right, constitutes a fatal decision. It’s also a game about puzzle-solving that will not tell you you’re solving a puzzle before it drowns you for failing. But even those transgressions don’t prepare you for what the game does to you with pie. Early in the game, a custard pie can be purchased. King’s Quest V then spends hours imploring you to eat it. It looks delicious, the game says. It is the best pie you have ever tasted, the game says. There is even a puzzle where you are starving, and eating the pie will solve it. And yet once you’ve eaten the pie, you have already lost. Oh, you can continue playing, but eventually you will reach a mountain, and there will be a yeti there, and it will kill you because you do not have a pie to throw at it. Now you have to start the game over, because you did what the game asked instead of saving a pie to throw at a yeti. No one could blame you if you’ve spent the last 23 years mad about this.

Adam Volk

Long before he made a name for himself biting peoples’ ears off and threatening to eat their children, Mike Tyson appeared in pixelated form in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the NES. A classic 8-bit adaptation of the sweet science, the game is all about fair fights, as your would-be pugilist Little Mac takes down one opponent after the other—that is, until the final bout, when you go toe-to-toe with the enraged Mike Tyson himself. Unfortunately, rather than give you a sporting chance, the game is punishingly unfair, with Iron Mike able to lay you on your ass with a single hit. That means you have to pretty much play the entire three rounds without making a mistake or getting hit once—no easy task considering Tyson’s five times your size, is almost too fast to avoid, and throws out random combo attacks. Tyson delivers a K.O. to both fairness and players’ patience.

Matt Gerardi

The NES Ninja Gaiden trilogy is a masterpiece of antagonistic game design. It adheres to all of the infuriating NES conventions. Your character freezes up and bounces back a few feet when you take a hit. Enemies that blip into existence infinitely. But you know those games have it in for you when the birds show up. You see, the designers of Ninja Gaiden knew exactly where you would instinctively jump and when you would do it, and boy, do the sadistic jerks take advantage of it. Here’s an example: You’ve just fought your way through a gauntlet of bouncing boxers and ninja dogs. You’re out of the fray, and the only thing that stands between you and the next stage is a pit. You leap over it and—WHERE THE HELL DID THAT HAWK COME FROM?! The bird of prey swoops down and knocks you into the pit. It’s back to the beginning of the stage for you. This happens many times throughout the three NES Ninja Gaiden games, and unless you’re being very careful, your first time spanning one of these booby-trapped pits is going to end in bird-induced death. It’s hard not to respect the foresight that went into programming these flying bastards, but it’s a real jerk move.

Steve Heisler
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the original NES came out just when the TMNT arcade game by the same title had become a staple in my life. The arcade version was a side-scrolling action game where you played as one of the Turtles and generally kicked ass. I naturally assumed the console offering would be the same thing, but I learned after the first three seconds that it was much less spectacular. Most of the game takes place in the subterranean sewers native to the Turtles, so things are dark, enemies come out of the shadows, and there’s not much room to avoid their assault. Also, your foes are extremely powerful from the start, which would be fine if the Turtles were able to employ a full range of angst-fueled weapon-swinging. Sadly, even the long wooden stick of Donatello offers little advantage, and level one became the only part of the game I ever saw. Now, there are hard games, and there are “unfair” games. The original TMNT arcade game was certainly hard. But the console version’s refusal to give you any sort of advantage over your enemies—be it a semblance of strategy, an alternate route, or perhaps yelling “Cowabunga!” to turn Michaelangelo into an amphibious tornado—is what drives it into the latter category.

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316 Responses to “That’s Not Fair!”

  1. Colonel says:

    I always want to accuse the Pokemon series for totally favoring the AI with the random number generator but once in a while I get a well-timed critical hit and fist pump to an empty room.  I don’t know how much of this is confirmation bias but, come on, he can’t put me to sleep TWICE!

    That being said, the totally optional, extra content in many of the games are pretty upfront about dicking you over.  The enemy’s attack only has a 20% chance to hit?  You get hit five times in a row.  Your attack in 95% accurate?  Fuck you, you miss and are frozen even though you were hit with a fire attack.

    • Victor Prime says:

      Pokemon games have been proven to cheat. People have actually accessed the data from the Cheating Batard Hell post-game parts and found that the mons there have stats and moves they simply CAN NOT have.

      Can’t speak to scientific confirmation of the RNG ebign a cheating fuckstain, but C’MON everyone knows it. See Puzzle Quest above – everyone knows it cheats but the devs swear it doesn’t.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Aw man, someone got to Pokemon before me. Still, this totally validates my frothing rage at the unfairness of the Pokemon series.

    • Bad Horse says:

      I noticed in Classic mode of XCOM that hit percentages seem to be overstated – a 50% shot only hits like 25% of the time, for instance, where on Normal it was more or less correct.

  2. Citric says:

    The 7th Saga is a dickhole. 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      The 7th Saga is a dickhole.  I played the demon character and made it to the priest where he just wiped the floor with me every time.  It was a rental, so I don’t know if it was a matter of grinding, but it was such a sudden and unequal fight I just got annoyed and never played again.

      • Robert_Frost says:

        Grinding would actually make it worse: the other playable characters scale to your level, but gain way more stats per level than you.  The 7th Saga is a dickhole.

      • PugsMalone says:

        The priest has a spell which fills up all his HP and MP. That’s right, MP. He’s literally impossible to beat if he has that spell.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          No.  Really?  Did a seven-year-old write up the design doc for that game?
          “He has ice power and fire power and electricity power!  And he has a shield that totally protects him and gives him energy if you hit him and then makes your hit reflect back and hit you, but a thousand times stronger!”

        • PugsMalone says:

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus I knew that there was something horribly wrong about 7th Saga when I got killed by one of the random monsters in the very first area. I’m glad that I quit then.

        • Everlasting_Godstabber says:

          And based on my experience, he’s the only one you can beat the game with. You can survive for long enough using the runes to give you unlimited health/mp recovery, but at some point (LATE in the game) the runes all change functions or you lose them or something…and you lose those abilities. At that point in the game (in my experience), you will end up using multiple healing items per fight and can only carry 9 at a time.

          I think 7th Saga is kind of awesome for the variations in the characters and the randomness of who will be in a given town and whether they will join you or fight you, but once you reach that point w/out having that specific character, it is clear you are done. 

        • drunkconquistador says:

          I know this thread is a few days old, but as the kid who saddled up the Game Genie to thoroughly destroy this game when I met the same frustrations as you fine people, I would like to contribute.

          Check out the ending at the vgmuseum website if you care to, but let me save you the trouble: (spoiler alert for decades old game) You go back in time to defeat the evil (surprise!) king who first sent you to find the runes, and when you do so the people of the past thank you profusely and say that there is no way to return you to your previous time. Sorry! CREDITS.

          Even in victory, you are defeated. The 7th Saga is a dickhole.

    • Actually one of my favorite SNES games, in part because it was so goddamn vindictive. Basically the only way to make it anywhere in the game is to play as either Esuna or the Demon, because they get the hp/mp drain skills that allow you to actually make it through the various dungeons. Probably the best partner is Kamil, because he hits pretty hard and has decent heals; the Alien and the robot guy can also be good partners because you don’t have to spend money getting them equipment.

    • Captain_Tragedy says:

      It IS. I’ve spent countless plays trying to beat it and never have. Part of my problem is that I get to the point where I’m only able to make it through battles with extra-creative use of the runes, but then as soon as you beat the world, you lose all your runes and get sent back in time– and if you aren’t strong enough to fight without them, you’re just fucked, with no other recourse.

    • Everlasting_Godstabber says:

      Just the fights against the other characters…you basically keep dying/having to load until you by chance happen to either

      A) have a fight where they don’t use their most powerful attack too much.
      B) you get lucky and dodge enough of their attacks. (and they don’t dodge yours)

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    In a unique flash of prescience, Kurt Vonnegut depicted all the characters in his dystopian short storyHarrison Bergeron as playing Mario Kart 64 to demonstrate the forced equality of the future.
       But for games utterly quittable in their terribleness; Even though I haven’t played it since one ill-fated rental from my childhood, the NES Dragonlance game still leaves a residual film of malignant spite on my brain.  That thing was such a poorly built, executed and explained mess of cystic proto-game, I’m certain it is an artifact presented to Job by the devil to make him renounce god.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

         As an addendum, I have to say living in an time of hyper-saturated game coverage is not without it’s benefits.  It is frustrating that endless scrutiny can strip the hobby of most surprises, and aggregates like Metacritic enable an unpleasant homogenization to the medium.   But I think about being a kid and getting my bi-annual video game based on no greater merit than the box art, only to get it home and find it to be a broken, unfinished mess.
         Game companies could release nearly anything with impunity simply because there was no real framework advocating for the consumer base, and a very dumb, impressionable consumer base at that.  

  4. Mr. Glitch says:

    I’m surprised Battletoads didn’t make this list. That damn game hates me as much as I hate it. I’ve never seen the other side of the snake pit, even after skipping two levels with the Mega Warp. 

    • Squirly says:

       I never saw the other side of the ice caverns. Well, I watched an LP the other day where someone completes the whole game, but I have no idea the kind time you need to invest in order to get your muscle memory to the point where you can beat the bikes, the ice cavern AND the god-awful levels after that without dying once.

      I don’t think that game was unfair though – just incredibly difficult. It never “cheated”, really.

    • Girard says:

      YES. THIS. A few years back I learned that there exists video of someone playing the game all the way through, and I was honestly surprised that anyone, at any time, had ever done that.

      • I always said that people who can speed-run through Battletoads might as well start working on the cure for cancer. They’ll probably find it in about a few days.

    • NakedSnake says:

      It’s a real shame that the first level of Battletoads is so awesome, tricking you into thinking the rest of the game will be fun.

    • Nom_de_Suck says:

      The sad thing is that the last level of the game, The Revolution, is one of the most graphically impressive things on the NES. The entire tower revolves with you, and you can even go behind the tower and circle around to the other side. It seem bizarre to make something like that and then design the game so that 99% (being generous with this number) of the people who play it never get to see the level.

    • CrabNaga says:

      Going back and playing Battletoads a year or so ago, I got to the point where getting to Intruder Excluder (the first on-foot vertical level) was practically a cinch if you abused the hell out of the mega warps. However, there are no warps once you get to that level and the game truly does save the hardest stuff for last, so you get to marathon the 2nd half of the game with bullshit instakilling rubber duckies, a heart-attack inducing race with a rat that will instakill you if he wins, having to play proto-DDR with some psychedelic pinwheel that (you guessed it) instakills you if you mess up too much, and a final level that follows the Contra method of vertical scrolling levels, where the ground below you ceases to exist if you scroll it off screen. It’s still a really fun game, though.

      • I’ve managed to get to the sewer level without game genie (but I did need warps and the extra life code)

        Even with infinite lives, however, I could never get past that damn psychedelic orb.

    • The only thing I consider “unfair” in Battletoads is the randomly spawning elements. Everything else is just REALLY PRECISE muscle memory. Cruel and unforgiving, but not unfair.

      • George_Liquor says:

        OK, how about the cruel reality that two players can–and often do–hurt each other. Battletoads is the only game I can think of that’s actually more difficult in co-op.

        • Captain_Tragedy says:

          Isn’t Battletoads actually unbeatable in two-player mode because of a bug in a later level?

        • @Captain_Tragedy:disqus If I’m not mistaken, there’s an area in Turbo Tunnel where you have to manually jump the gaps, but the 2nd player can’t make these jumps because the game can’t recognize the landing detection for both characters at the same time.

        • Kevin Irmiter says:

          There are a lot of bugs making 2-player gameplay exceedingly difficult throughout the game, but the second-to-last level is where it becomes literally impossible. The second player just won’t move, and keeps getting killed by the orb thingie until all his lives are gone.

          Although I seem to remember somebody using a glitch to get through it… and I believe there is a warp somewhere that lets you skip the level.

    • Goon Diapers says:

      I could never beat the boss on Intruder Excluder. 

    • Brian Stewart says:

      I was forged in the fire of Battletoads for NES. I believe it gave me the very specific psychic power to predict when rock walls were headed my way. I used to close my eyes after a marathon game session and I’d still seem them, closing in on me. 

  5. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Burnout 3: Takedown was a great game, but the rubber banding in the races was ridiculous. On a fair number of the challenges, you could wreck your opponents’ cars until the cows came home, but slip up once yourself and you’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of their tail lights before the end of the race.

    • CNightwing says:

      I’ve got a chaos theory for you!
      There’s a wine party going on!
      Damn I loved that stupid DJ chatter at the start of events.

    • NakedSnake says:

      Yea really. I eventually came to accept the computer cheating as part of the game. But what really pissed me off was that there was no equivalent cheating when you were behind. In fact, it seemed like the opposite. So it was either ‘you win by a car length’ or ‘opponent beats you by 2 laps’.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       Unless I’m playing a kart racer, designed to keep your children and less-talented friends interested, rubber-banding is horsepoop. I would have loved to play Sled Storm, but I was warned ahead of time by OPM that it was rubber-bands all the way down.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

      Yes but with the game’s hit-or-miss soundtrack there was a 10% chance that THIS* song would play right as you catch up to the other cars making for the most badass chase in history.  Nothing like powersliding into oncoming traffic, slamming into the back of the racer in front of you and watching them hit the stratosphere, all to the tunes of some catchy-ass Swedish Girl Punk.


      • The_Helmaroc_King says:

        For all I could complain about the AI, there’s no denying the soundtrack was pretty bitchin’. Hell, I even grew to like the DJ chatter @CNightwing:disqus mentioned above.

    • Shain Eighmey says:

      Last year I set out on a quest to unlock the Hotrod in Burnout 3: Takedown. I failed at the last challenge because it is IMPOSSIBLE!

    • djsubversive says:

      Wait, Burnout games had racing?

      • The_Helmaroc_King says:

        Not sure if serious, but yes! Making your opponents crash was a big part of the races, but you still had to be the first across the finish line.

  6. vinnybushes says:

    S.O.S. (or Sepentrion in Japan) for The SNES stacks the odds against you so heavily you might have a better chance of escaping from the actual Titanic. It drops you into the middle of a sinking cruise ship, in a different spot for each character no less, and then constantly reorients the level based on how much time you’ve taken to escape. Oh, that’s right, there’s a time limit! Only one of the characters has a map, the controls are goddawful, and to get the “good” ending you have to turn the game into one continuous search and rescue mission and escort survivors with some of the most idiotic A.I. to ever grace computing (once you actually find them). My friend picked up the game used for a second hand snes back when I was in high school, and we had a good chuckle, followed by confusion, followed by a simultaneous rage quit. It’s basically Prince of Persia designed by a sadist.
    The Game Center CX episode it features in speaks for itself.

  7. caspiancomic says:

    Pokemon. Like everybody else in recorded history, Pokemon was a big part of my childhood and adolescence, but Pokemon White is the only game in the series I’ve actually beaten. The games have a beautiful (and identical) difficulty curve up until about 4/5ths of the way through (say, after collecting 6 or 7 badges), and at that point I find that the same sorts of shit always starts to happen.

    1. The RNG cheats. Straight up cheats, and nobody will ever convince me it doesn’t. Attacks that hit 2-5 times will score 2 hits if you use them, and 5 if the computer uses them, almost without fail. If your ‘mon would have survived a normal attack, but a crit would kill it, the computer will crit. Attacks that have a chance to debuff or impart status effects just won’t, not ever. Unless the computer is using them, in which case the odds of a debuff activating soar to 175%.

    2. Moves and ‘mons become so ludicrously powerful that most battles become a race to one-shot every dood in your opponents lineup before s/he can one-shot all of yours. Without grinding, endgame battles tend to involve, at best, sending out your guy, having him walloped down to critical HP, using your next turn to heal him, only to have him walloped back down to critical again, forever.

    3. Your team will by this point consist of four or five killing machines and one underlevelled dork saddled with as many HM moves as it can learn, making it a total liability in combat. Sure, you can swap him out for another killer to bring your overall strength up, but the endgame dungeons require pretty frequent use of HM moves to traverse anyway.

    4. There was like, one game that allowed you to have rematches against trainers you had already beaten. Rad idea. Trainers are probably your best source of EXP, and are the least tedious battles in the game. In most of the Pokemon series, though? Once you’ve beaten a trainer, you’re forced to grind on cheapskate wild Pokemon for EXP, who give up like no EXP. And you will need to grind, see point 2 above. Also, I swear to God these games know when you actually want to encounter wild Pokemon, because whenever you’ve got places to be they’re everywhere, but when you’re trying to grind for EXP suddenly they all get social anxiety.

    Man, Pokemon games are so fun for so much of their total duration, but whenever I hit that wall in the final leg of the game, it gets so tedious and unfocused, and the battles lose all sense of strategy for me. I’ve at least dipped my toe into every generation, and without fail I get six or seven badges deep before the difficulty just soars, and I can’t handle it any more. And don’t even talk to me about EV and IV training.

    • Matt Kodner says:

      I’m loving the rebranding of HM Slaves as simply dorks. It’s so much more eloquent. 

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I’ve only ever tried to beat one Pokemon game, and I found tht the only way I could really do it was with the Legendary Kyogre I’d caught. The other Pokemon were all roughly the same level, but they didn’t pack much of the same punch.

    • PugsMalone says:

      Trying to catch a Feebas in Gen 3 was ridiculous. In an entire river, there were something like 6 squares where you could find one.

    • Pokémon Black/White was structured in such a way that, outside of one story-demanded Cut, you absolutely never needed to use HMs to progress. There were no (other) obstructive shrubs, Strength boulders only unlocked shortcuts – and were permanent once you did so, and there was no reason to Surf, Rock Climb, or Dive anywhere unless you wanted extra content.

      When Black 2/White 2 had a mandatory Surf route (and I believe at least one required Strength rock) I was saddened by the backslide.

      Here’s hoping that X/Y keep moving in an HM-free direction.

    • NakedSnake says:

      So I guess I can remove Pokemon games from my game backlog, then. Now I don’t feel bad about never having played them.

      • DrFlimFlam says:

        Nah, you just find the latest one and play it. And it’s all right but none of them are GREAT.

    • JokersNuts says:

      “Like everybody else in recorded history, Pokemon was a big part of my childhood and adolescence”

      Not at all, by the time Pokemon was popular I was a college student. 

    • zzyzazazz says:

      Well no, EV and IV training are impractical in the course of the single player game. They’re really only concerns in multiplayer.

    • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

       Shit, Pokemon did not become a thing until after I was in AIT in the Army.

  8. TheBryanJZX90 says:

    …oh god, is Drew a Ohio State fan? Ugh.

  9. The_Misanthrope says:

    The goddamn Medusa heads and flea men  in the Castlevania series!  I can get behind the challenge in the series, but they just piss me off.  I generally hate any kind of continually spawning enemy and the erratic movement–yes I suppose the Medusa heads move in a wave-form so they *should* be easier to predict–just makes it harder to pick them off as they chip away at your health.

  10. FF 12, The Zodiac Spear.


    • flowsthead says:

      Every single fucking FF game and RPGs in general tell you to open all the chests. The NPCs tell you, the manuals tell you, your fucking common sense tells you to break every single barrel and open every chest you see, even if some of them are traps.

      And this fucking game decides that 4 nondescript motherfucking chests not being opened get you the best weapon. FF12 is one of the reasons I never feel bad about playing with a walkthrough. I don’t have time for that bullshit.

    • CrabNaga says:

      The Zodiac Spear wasn’t even that good. It would only hit a maximum of 2 times and hitting the damage cap was so easy with practically any other weapon type near the end-game. My weapon of choice for the endgame was the Masamune, since it hit a staggering 12 times per attack if you kept whoever was using it in critical health and berserked.

  11. evanwaters says:

    Ultima II’s is a more insidious difficulty. All the Ultima games work on a sort of grind-clock- you have to go out and fight monsters to get gold so you can buy food, so you don’t starve to death. Fighting also takes away your health so you have to find resources to get that back.

    Most of the time Origin programmed things well enough that the difficulty curve is forgiving. In Ultima II, on the other hand, it’s like an allegory for the plight of the working poor. The enemies give out scant gold and the prices for food and healing are fixed high enough that you inevitably end up in a downward spiral, exacerbated by an RNG that rarely ever lets you actually hit your enemy. (Of course “solving” the game involves a series of utterly insane solutions nobody would ever think of, but that’s a different meta level.) Fortunately there’s now a Save Game editor which lets you cheat. And you have to.

    • Chronomage says:

      It’s probably been 20 years since I played it, but I remember thinking that there is no way you could have beaten Ultima II without a cheat book (which I happened to have.) I also seem to remember that flying and landing the rocket ship was very awkward and difficult.  Fortunately the player-friendliness of the Ultima series took a giant leap forward in III and IV.

    • Kevin Irmiter says:

      Actually the game becomes quite easy once you get a blue medal, and then commandeer a ship. When you are on board a ship everything turns in your favor and things will instantly turn from a losing battle to fight the clock to you being able to farm enemies for gold at your leisure.

      If you know this, it’s just a matter of being lucky enough to commandeer a ship before you starve, which I would say you can pull off more than 50% of the time, and anyway we’re only talking 5 minutes lost if you don’t pull it off. So while having a save game editor is certainly helpful, I wouldn’t call it necessary.

      Whether the game is worth the trouble, of course, is another question. Speaking as someone who loves the series and counts Ultima 7 as my favorite game of all time, I don’t know if it’s even worth bothering if you use the save game editor to skip to the end.

  12. Henry Maler says:

    Fire Emblem owns this thread. 

    “Hey you know how the max hp in this game is 60, and only about 3 or 4 people can reach that assuming that the RNG didn’t decide to screw you over? Well how about we throw a final boss at you that’s guaranteed to do almost 2/3s of that each time and it more or less can’t be dodged and it has three spaces of attack and if you can’t do more than forty damage normally right off the bat, you’ll straight up do 0 damage to it. Is that OK?”

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       God, I love Fire Emblem.

    • Chronomage says:

      It may be that I’m just a terrible player, but I could never keep my Pegasus Knights alive.  You had to expose them to some risk to level them up, and I guess I kept doing it wrong because baddies just snuffed them out with ease.  So frustrating.

      • Henry Maler says:

        Peg Knights are such odd units. Either they become vicious mage killers that can destroy armies, or they just suck. I can’t think of a single peg knight that’s somewhere in the middle. Also, their weakness to bows is infuriating, of course.

  13. Victor Prime says:

    In before some jerk inevitably posts some screed about how he can beat all these games without trying and we just need to suck less, hur hur.

    A pre-emptive “fuck you and your whole family” to that guy.

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

      Glad we got that cleared up.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      “Bah, kids these days don’t now how easy they have it. In my day, we didn’t have dozens of high-poly guns with enough bullets to fight an army. We had pixels! One at a time, and they took three seconds to cross one screen! You think developers aren’t giving you enough health in your health bar? Sweet jumping Jehoshaphat, we never had health bars! One hit, one kill, until you ran out of lives and it was back to the title screen with you. If you were lucky enough to survive, you got to do it all over again, but faster, and we liked it that way!”

  14. TheKingandIRobot says:

    Any fighting game where you have to choose one of two attacks and the computer has to choose one of two defenses.  The first one to come to mind is Dissidia Final Fantasy with the air dash sequences.  You dash towards the enemy and have to choose to either swing light for momentum or heavy for damage, and your opponent has to guess and guard against whichever.  It’s not telegraphed so it should be 50-50.  Guess what becomes 97-3 on the harder difficulties?  That dumb game.

    • rvb1023 says:

       As someone who loved Dissidia, the AI in that game was so unfair the only way to beat the game was to spam HP attacks that could still hit after someone dodges twice or added a slight homing effect. That and they are given ridiculously stacked items.

  15. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    Really, any of Sierra’s “Quest” games are ridiculous.  Thanks to gog, I tried replaying quite a few recently.  I remembered really liking the stories.  I forgot how irritating the actual gameplay was.  When I was a kid, I was a lot more likely to believe the puzzles were fair and I was just not very smart.  Now I want to send a message back in time that says: “hey kid, you’re alright.  It’s these puzzles that are shit.”

    • George_Liquor says:

      They used to dead-end you like crazy, too. Often, you’d make it all the way to the end of the game only to discover you’re screwed because you missed some crucial little doodad way back at the beginning.

      • George_Liquor says:

        …which, as I go back and actually read this article, I now realize that was exactly Joe Keiser’s point. Sorry, Joe.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       It’s funny now to think that the LucasArts graphic-adventure games saw some backlash from enthusiasts initially because they were often designed specifically to avoid the trial-and-error, unwinnable-by-design style of Sierra games.

      • NakedSnake says:

        I remember being confused when I first realized that the LucasArts game wouldn’t kill or dead-end you. I was like “how can this be a game if I can’t lose”? But then Monkey Island and then I never looked back.

        • Maniac Mansion could quite certainly kill you. Not sure about dead-ending, since that game has so many variables, but death was a definite option in a couple of areas. Usually involving Dr. Fred’s nuclear reactor/alarm system.

          • NakedSnake says:

            I didn’t play that until later. But I guess I think that killing the player is fine, as long as you don’t put them in ‘no win scenarios’, which LucasArts seemed determined not to do. It’s funny, I was so traumatized by Sierra games that pretty much the whole way through Day of the Tentacle (and even many games after that), whenever I was stuck, a voice in my head screamed ‘it’s no win scenario!!!!’. I would eventually calm myself down, reminding myself that LucasArts doesn’t do those. But in my heart I could never completely abandon the suspicion that a no-win scenario was just around the corner.

        • @facebook-100000590707081:disqus : It’s definitely possible to get “dead-ended” in Maniac Mansion, especially if you pick Jeff. He’s so useless.

        • Robert_Frost says:

          Yeah, being brought up on ‘didn’t get the single pixel fishhook hidden in a multi-screen desert island in your time-limited single chance, then intentionally get thrown in the dungeon at one specific, arbitrary time even though at every other time it’s instant game over, then use the fishhook on the teensy hole in the wall in the short time before you get cut-scened out never to return?  Unwinnable.’ type Sierra games, every time Day of the Tentacle would pause to show a newspaper headline or something I was convinced I had run out of time.  I knew in my head I could trust LucasArts, but my heart, she had been hurt before.

          • NakedSnake says:

            Going out on a limb here, but it sounds like there was one game in particular that did you wrong.

      • Captain_Tragedy says:

        It’s weird, when I was a kid I loved those Sierra adventures (well, specifically Space Quest III) and didn’t much care for the LucasArts ones. (It helped that the death screens were usually hilarious, at least in the Space Quest / Leisure Suit Larry games.) Now, that seems crazy.

        • Kevin Irmiter says:

          The death scenes were one of the best parts about Sierra games! Although LucasArts had the right idea, I do think the adventure game genre went too far with the “no dying” trend. Making it so you can’t accidentally get yourself irreversibly stuck and not know it? I’m totally on board with that. But I think losing the ability to die took away some of the dramatic tension, and anyway it shouldn’t be that big a deal just because your character dies sometimes. Just have the game rewind to before you did to get killed.

        • Captain_Tragedy says:

          @kevinirmiter:disqus Yeah, I was never bothered by the deaths (although auto-rewinding to the spot right before you died, instead of having to load a saved game, is much better) so much as the logical impracticalities of some of them (like falling off a staircase because perspective makes it narrow). I could understand getting frustrated with the fact that the games often put you in a world with very little information, where experimenting and exploring were necessary, but also where doing so frequently got you killed.

    • Fluka says:

      I would just like to thank Good Old Games for teaching me that lesson, and for removing any remaining angst I had over my childhood battles with the Quest series.

      I would also like to apologize to my coffee table for brutally overturning it during the learning process.

    • Chronomage says:

      King’s Quest III.  Near the beginning of the game, you had to walk this winding, narrow path down a mountainside.  Of course if you step one pixel off the path, you fall and die.  Trying to do it with a clunky Apple II keyboard and boxy pixel graphics was insane.

  16. Nudeviking says:

    The day when I beat the dam level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the greatest day in my life up the that point.  The game’s difficulty seems to drop off drastically after the dam if I recall…until you get to Shredder, who was impossible.  My friend had a Game Genie and even with infinite life we couldn’t beat Shredder…

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       I thought the game was much harder, at least for me. I could get to the dam, and beat it, with three or four turtles, and then it all went downhill.

    • zebbart says:

      I can remember for sure getting all the way to the boss of level 5 but I don’t remember if I beat it or anything about the last level, so probably not. I really hated that game, mostly for being so ugly to look at and clunky to play, and mostly played for the sense of revenge I got from beating each bit and because I didn’t want to let it have the last laugh.

  17. Drunken Superman says:

    Ugh, Ninja Gaiden.  As if the birds weren’t enough, when you die int heg ame you go back to the beginning of the stage, which is fine.  When you get to the final boss in 6-4, every time you die it takes you allll the way back to 6-1.  Sadistic Tecmo jerks.

    • boardgameguy says:

      Birds in Ninja Gaiden really were the worst. I recall teh first time I made it past the pit. I had spent so much time failing to do it in the past that when bedtime came, I refused to turn off the Nintendo because there was no save feature and I had no confidence that I could ever time the jump right again. Eventually my parents turned it off and all was lost. I’ve still never beaten the game.

      • Kevin Irmiter says:

        I like how the birds take off 4 points of health, while the guys shooting what looked like BAZOOKAS only take away 2-3 points of health.

  18. The_Misanthrope says:

    Yeah, early adventure game designers were just dicks about unwinnable game states.  I often find myself tempted to play some old Infocom IF games because, nostalgia aside, they are just well-realized worlds that I just want to get lost in.  You really can’t, though, since fucking too much will get you in trouble.  Through a lot of messing around, I had finally gotten pretty far into Enchanter and I believed I was close to beating the game, except for one thing:  My character was out of food, had no way to get more, and would starve to death before the endgame (the early Infocom games still carried some RPG-ish elements).  There was exactly one loaf of bread in the game that acts as a sort of timer.  Admittedly, having gone through a walkthrough, you could probably run through the game pretty fast–before the loaf is even half-gone likely–if you knew exactly what to do.  But that’s the problem, really:  you might be smart enough to puzzle out some of the game right away, but it’s really part of the nature of puzzles that you have to screw around about to figure it out.  Imagine a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces would  if dissipate to nothing if you didn’t join them to another piece within 10 minutes of starting the puzzle.

    Also, Enchanter had a malevolent force that would steal stuff you needed to finish the game if you didn’t cast a protection spell on it before you slept.

    • Girard says:

      They lampshade this a bit in the Hitchhiker’s Guide game with the Babel Fish puzzle, which basically requires you to keep alternating between ejecting a Babel Fish from a dispenser, and then using an item to remedy some unpredictable way it gets lost. (i.e., you push the button, it goes down a grate, you cover the grate with your towel, push the button, it bounces off of the towel and richochets into a garbage disposal, you close the disposal, push the button…)

      Except that you find out that there are only, like four fish in the machine, and the puzzle has, like, eight steps, so you pretty much have to reload and re-do the puzzle without ejecting a fish each time, because otherwise you run out of fish halfway through. Luckily,that puzzle can’t actually get you stuck, unless you save after running out of fish or something.

      While those games were punishing, I never found them as grueling or un-fun as the Sierra -Quest games, though. You could make up lost time pretty quickly in a text game, and they were typically so well-written and interesting I didn’t mind back-tracking (and your frequent deaths were often hilarious).

      • Matt says:

         The Babel Fish puzzle in Hitchhiker’s Guide is bad enough, but the sandwich thing is even more of a pain in the neck.  If you don’t feed a dog a sandwich, very early in the game, you’re screwed. In the end game, you get teleported to a tiny spaceship, and if you didn’t feed the dog the sandwich, the dog eats the spaceship and you lose. You do get a chance later on “fix” not doing it at the start, but there’s no way you’d think of giving the dog the sandwich if you didn’t know you had to.  The Babelfish puzzle at least has some logic (cover this hole, etc.) and you don’t have to backtrack to the start of the game.

        • Girard says:

          That puzzle never stood out to me, but I just realized that’s probably because I’d already read the books and listened to the radio plays, which both prominently featured that plot element. Without that prior experience, I guess that’s kind of a total non-sequitir. (Though I forget, when you’re in that ships does it make it clear that you’re being eaten by a dog? In that case, you may make the connection…)

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          The WORST part of Hitchhiker’s Guide, is there are several tools you can pick up during the game.  Near the end, there is a place where you need one of those tools to perform a repair.  Which one of them is required is random…unless you missed one, in which case the game ALWAYS picks the one you forgot!

      • The biggest problem I had with Sierra puzzle games were that the interface was such a chore. Being forced to start over wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t need to go through the awkward walking and typing all over again.

        Later games (like Space Quest IV) used a point-and-click interface, thankfully.  

        • Girard says:

          That’s a big part of why I don’t begrudge text adventures so much. Going back through King’s Quest or something, you have to walk around, listen to dialogue, etc. etc. While text games could be as forgiving or require as much backtracking, getting back to where you were was just a matter of typing W, W, W, N, N, EAT CAKE, U, U, U, VOMIT IN BIRD MOUTH, etc. Without reading the descriptions or checking inventory, etc. re-treading a text game takes way less time that going through it fresh. Replaying a graphical adventure often takes a more serious chunk of time.

  19. The_Primordial_Dr_Zoidberg says:

    The other side of the coin are the games that you could completely ruin for yourself by just playing random dice rolls over and over an over until you lucked out and won.  
    I remember one of the Baldur’s Gate games where some wizard you met turned out to be a giant red dragon in disguise and it was possible to encounter him 2-3 hours into a 20 hour campaign.  Well, determined (and bored) 14 year old Zoidberg realized it was possible to win this (endgame) battle by strategically placing everyone and lucking out with avoiding attacks.  So I just kept loading the save and trying again and again for a few hours and wound up defeating the dragon,  winning myself obscene amounts of gold and +3 (or 4) items for little Paladin Zoidberg.  The rest of the game was a complete joke after that.  Anyone either remember this or a similar encounter in a game that broke the rest of it for you?

    • caspiancomic says:

       Not exactly the same thing, but there’s a battle in the original Disgaea that your team is supposed to lose (against the alternate dimension dragon Overlord thing), only to have your multi-hundred-level NPC butties roll in and win the battle for you. You still control your own units during the round 2 curb stomp battle, and if you play your cards right you can have one of your characters (levelled in the low teens by this point) kill off one of the level 75 enemies, immediately rocketing up like thirty levels. That one unit can basically slaughter his way through the next several chapters single handed.

      • Uthor says:

        I was battling the biggest dragon in Dragon Age, had him down to nothing, and my fucking dog jumped in and got the last hit.  Forever after, his stats said that he killed the dragon even though my character did 99% of the damage.

        No experience loss or anything like that, but it pissed me off.

        • djsubversive says:

          But that dog is awesome. Best party member by far, because he doesn’t whine at you about his life. He just wants to kill monsters and play fetch.

          I named mine Fang because I had just seen A Boy And His Dog, but “Barkspawn” is a pretty good one (thanks, Penny Arcade).

    • Girard says:

      I used to do this with save states on emulated games, which is how I discovered that sometimes random things are less random than I thought – or are randomized at different points.

      Like, trying to scrape through a dungeon without dying in Breath of Fire 2, I had the bright idea to save state, and reload if I got into any random battles. However, I discovered I was ALWAYS getting into a random battle on my 6th “step” after loading the save. I eventually determined that the way it did random battles was, apparently, at the conclusion of your last battle, it calculated a random number which would be the number of steps until your inevitable next “random” battle.

      • itisdancing says:

        Most early consoles had neither a system-level random number generator nor a hardware clock, so the only source of “randomness” to seed and perturb the psuedorandom number generator is player input.

        This means most games in (at least) the first three generations of consoles can be made completely predictable by fiddling around with menus, moving in particular ways, etc. It’s a core technique in tool-assisted speedruns of RPGs.

    • NakedSnake says:

       The Gothic games definitely let you do that, to a certain degree. I loved how they to the anti-Oblivion approach to leveling. The monsters were way more powerful than you in a lot of places. They acted as effective guards against you getting great items before you had reached a certain level (where you could beat them). But if you were smart/quick/sneaky enough, you could sometimes get around these high-level guardians to get some items that gave you a real head start in the game.

      • djsubversive says:

        Risen does this as well (not surprising, since it’s made by the same people, sort of). Also unsurprising, I love those games (well, Risen and Gothic 3, the first one I played – didn’t care too much for 4).

    • One that frustrated me to no end back in the day was a required fight in one of the old SSI Gold Box games (probably Curse of the Azure Bonds) with this super-powered Drow with insane spell resistance.  I had played through from Pool of Radiance, so my party was all pretty high level, had great equipment, etc.  But every time, that lone Drow would tear through them like butter.  And, the encounter was set up so that once you entered a certain area, you couldn’t go neither forward nor backward until you triggered it, and, of course, I managed to save after after entering the “no going back” area.  I almost gave up, but managed to finally, on like the 20th attempt, get a Hold Person spell to work on him, and then killed him instantly.  Now, so far as I know, the game wasn’t technically cheating during the battle, but the developers really stacked the deck to make it nigh impossible even if they didn’t put their thumbs on the RNG.

      (Okay, looked it up, and it was CotAB; the Drow had 100+ hp and an AC of -7, meaning he was almost impossible to hit with melee attacks; took many, many hits to kill; and was practically immune to magical attacks.  I don’t know how anyone could have killed the SOB without reloading until Hold Person worked.)

      • djsubversive says:

        was it Drizzt? I bet it was Drizzt. He’s a dumb min-maxed DM-PC who gets all the best toys and can’t ever lose.

        • Nah, it was just a “Drow Lord”.  Technically “Curse of the Azure Bonds” is post-Drizzt, but just barely—it came out in 1989, while the Icewindale Trilogy was 1988-1990—but I don’t think Drizzt really took off to epic-level fandom until the Dark Elf Trilogy (1990-91).  So, this was still pretty much the era of Drow as evil bastards.

  20. Flying_Turtle says:

    A thousand times yes on Puzzle Quest. I would get to Bane and make some nice inroads against him, and then he would unleash this half-hour cascade of gem matches that would tear my character apart while I watched helplessly. When I finally beat him, I–an otherwise moderately respectable adult–jumped up and down and shouted in celebration like a complete doofus. You took my dignity, Puzzle Quest!

    • Ziegfelding says:

      It never bothered me in PuzzleQuest. I don’t recall seeing the CPU pass up a good move in favor of a poor one that led to a cascade (though at the early levels they often would just pass up good moves in general). And I certainly never complained when all I did was match 3 blue mana and got a massive chain from offscreen. Always just figured complaints about it came down to when I’m lucky, I’m lucky, when the game is lucky, its cheating.

      • John Teti says:

        I’m pretty sure this is right, as the developer of Puzzle Quest has pointed out that it would be a lot of extra effort to program a CPU player who could “peek.” But I guess unfairness, as you rightly point out, is subjective.

    • Alexander Peterhans says:

      The devs have always sworn that the AI doesn’t cheat, but that it’s a psychological effect where we tend to gloss over and forget about the times when the advantage goes to us.

      In fact, if I remember correctly, they said that next time they’d make sure to create an AI that cheats in the player’s favour, so that it would at least seem fair to the player.

      • Yeah, I think more games cheat in the player’s favour than vice versa. “Dragon Quest VIII”, for example, balances its slot machines so that the player is more likely than not to come out ahead.

    • Celebith says:

       I often felt like my opponents were in cahoots with the RNG on Puzzle Quest and its sequels / offshoots, but never cared much.  It was easy enough to build your character in such a way that you had the advantage even if they did cheat – maximize whatever stat let you get the first move and some skills and items that almost ensure you’ll get extra turns.  The first one did have a known problem with the “RNG” in that if the board started in a certain configuration, the rest of the drops were guaranteed to be the same every time.  I can’t find a link to it now, though.

      • Flying_Turtle says:

        It was really only the last battle where I felt like I was at some sort of disadvantage, and when I finally won, it was, just as you said, a matter of a build that provided lots of chances at extra turns and anything else to keep Bane away from the board along with good luck. Sure, he’s the big bad guy, and he’s supposed to be hard to beat, but the difference was so jarring that it sure felt like shenanigans were afoot.

  21. All this without one mention of “I Wanna be the Guy” or “I wanna be the Boshy?”

    For shame.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       I’m pretty sure IWBTG is one of those “masocore” games, intentionally designed for hardcore enthusiasts.  Plus, it’s free, so there’s less sense of investment.  On the other hand, if you (or your parents) plunk down a hefty chunk of change to purchase a game and it’s hair-pullingly unfair/hard, it’s harder to just put down the controller and walk away.

      • Girard says:

        Yeah. By the same token, MegaMan 9/10 and ‘Cat Mario,’ don’t belong on this list, either. They’re designed to be kind of unfair.

        • Xyvir says:

          I’ve been playing through Megaman 9, and although it is tough, it’s not unbeatable. Until I got to the freaking yellow/green demon miniboss in Wily’s Lair! HOW THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO BEAT THIS THING! I’ll think about trying to play MegaMan 9 again and remember, oh yeah, that stupid yellow demon guys is what’s holding me back, and he’s impossibly frustrating for me.

        • Girard says:

          MM9 is ‘fair’ in that its surprises are fairly consistent, so after enough continues, you get into a groove and it becomes almost a rhythm game rather than a platformer. You just get through on sheer twitch muscle memory.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      I Wanna Be The Guy is an elaborate joke on the player.

      The punchline is pain!

    • Steve McCoy says:

      I think of IWBTG as more of a puzzle game than a platformer, where the puzzle involves intentionally ignoring your platformer instincts. It can still be ridiculous, though.

  22. Eco1970 says:

    No games from after the dawn of time strike our plucky gang as unfair, then?

    I’m playing Skyrim at present, and what’s really bothering me is the Thieves Guild mission to extort money from 3 seemingly innocent people. I’ve got a few other missions ‘locked’ until I can do this, but I don’t like being a dick. I’ve got 22k gold pirces, I could easily just tell my quest-giver Bjolnif ‘got it, here’s the dough’, but the stupid gamecwon’t let me. I’d happily murder the entire Thieves Guild if I could, and free Riften from their thuggish classless tyranny, but according to the Steam forums, the quest-givers are immortal. That’s unfair.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I didn’t like the shakedown much either.

    • CrabNaga says:

      I kind of wish that the guilds were mutually exclusive in the Elder Scrolls games. Joining the Mage’s Guild when you’ve never cast a spell in your life, and then becoming their messiah over a 4-quest questline in which you cast like 2 spells total is a serious immersion-breaker. It would be kind of cool if the guilds were at odds and you’d have unique quests to destroy the other guilds once you were a full member of one guild.

      • Uthor says:

        Yeah, that was the problem I had with that game.  Almost nobody reacted differently to you based on any of the choices that you made.  Even after you align yourself with one side or the other in the end, you can still visit all the cities without issue.

        I liked how Fallout: New Vegas handled it better where joining certain groups would make you a pariah in certain areas and get you attacked on site/refused service/etc.

        I could see what Skyrim was going for, introducting you to all the different guilds so you get a peak at what you can do, but it should have been done early one and then more-or-less forced you to pick one.

      • Melancholic_Rodeo_Clown says:

        Yeah that Mages College questline was absolute bullshit. I JOINED THIS COLLEGE TO LEARN FUCKING MAGIC NOT TO BE YOUR CROTCHETY OLD DEAN!!! There is something seriously wrong with a college of the arcane arts that allows someone with less than 50 in all schools of magic to be their Archmage.

      • itisdancing says:

        The earlier Elder Scrolls games definitely had skill requirements to join and progress in guilds. I don’t know why they moved away from that except to appeal to people who want to be able to 100% the game with a single character.

    • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

       It’s a fucking Thieves Guild.  More like the Mafia than Robin Hood.

    • djsubversive says:

      The only person in the Riften Mob that I don’t want to stick daggers in their orifices is Vekel, because he’s The Man.

      Also, after New Vegas, essential characters are such a game-y way to keep the “story” intact. I guess Morrowind didn’t have essential characters either, but if you killed somebody “important,” the game would basically tell you “hey, buddy, you fucked up the world. Want to keep playing anyway?”

  23. Merve says:

    I’ve had a few experiences with unfair difficulty:

    Far Cry: This is a game where enemies can shoot at you through tent walls, where checkpoints are placed half an hour apart for no fucking reason, and where mutant monkeys can kill you with a single hit. I still haven’t beaten it to this day. Fuck this game.

    The Simpsons Hit and Run: Those of you who have played the game know exactly what I’m mission I’m talking about – “Set to Kill,” where Bart has to go around destroying laser-vending stands in a car with terrible handling within a strict time limit. I swear I tried this mission at least 100 times before beating it.

    Hugo 2: Whodunit: Some of you may remember this awful adventure game. PC Gamer recently did a feature on it. There’s one point where you have to cross a bridge while holding a crucial box of matches, and if you even so much as touch the edge of the bridge, you drop the matches in the stream below and enter an unwinnable state. This wouldn’t be so bad, but trying to move the player character around feels like sloshing water around in a bucket. I think I’ve only ever once succeeded at crossing the bridge without dropping the matches, and when I did, I realized I’d forgotten to retrieve some important items from the other side. Oops.

    • caspiancomic says:

       The Hugo games were generally speaking pretty fond of this sort of tactic. I think the only one I ever played personally was Hugo’s House of Horrors, but Yahtzee and his mate Gabe did a pretty good LP of Whodunit, so I know where you’re coming from.

    • Enkidum says:

      Holy crap Hit & Run was an awesome game. I never got to Level 6, because, shit, there were a lot of hard missions. But just a lovely world to drive around in, kind of a perfected GTA set design.

      • Merve says:

        Was it this mission that you got stuck at? That’s the other legendarily difficult one.

        Like you, I quite liked the level design in Hit and Run. Though the levels weren’t nearly as expansive as GTA’s open worlds, they felt distinctly Springfieldian. There were also a lot of opportunities for platformy, collect-a-thon-y goodness, and I’m a sucker for that shit.

        • Enkidum says:

          No, I never even got that far. As I recall, I was on one of Lisa’s missions. And holy hell both those missions you showed look impossible – I found this a seriously maddening game.

          I might just try and find my old copy of this and dust it off – it really was fun, despite the maddeningness.

      • djsubversive says:

        plus, the Book-Burning-Mobile. and the Canyonero.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       I remember thinking I’d love Far Cry and bought it new and full price for 360. Two days later I felt hurt and abused and I rarely pay that much for games anymore.

    • fieldafar says:

      Speaking of Hit & Run, I remember taking a long time to complete the very last mission (which IIRC involved having to drive certain vehicles into the tractor beam of Kang and Kodos’ spaceship).

      • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

         The final mission was the worst, simply because the car you had to do it in would spin out at the slightest tap.

    • Zack Handlen says:

      I spent a lot of time playing two Simpsons games as a kid, and both of them were nerve-janglingly tough. I don’t think I ever managed to get past the first level of Bart vs. the Space Mutants; the set up was clever (you had to spray paint everything purple in the town for, um, some reason), but you had to get everything, and so much of it was time dependent or hidden off to the side that I could never manage it. And of course the game had bane of seemingly all janky NES games from that era–mushy controls. Bart Simpson’s Escape From Camp Deadly was more straightforward (I think I made it to level 2), but again, the controls were shit, and it was a platform with a lot of precise timing required. I would’ve given up on both games much sooner than I did, if it weren’t for the money investment (Space Mutants was a rental, but I bought Camp Deadly, sucker that I was) and the fact that I really loved the Simpsosn, so every time I saw the cart sitting around, I’d think, “Oh, it can’t be that bad, can it?”

      Man, you could do a whole list on awful media tie-in games alone. Like LJN’s X-Men, that made you play with two characters at once. Or the N64 Superman. I owned both of those. I don’t like to even think about it anymore. (The N64 Superman has become kind of legendary in its badness, but holy fuck was that game cheap to play, and with no reward whatsoever for your efforts. Enjoy flying through another hoop, morons!)

      “Unfairness” has forced me to break up with Epic Mickey, I think. The platforming is undone by horrible camera angles, and while some of the ideas are okay, the game itself is so thuddingly dull it’s not worth the effort. Some of those jumps are infuriating.

      • Hunter Taylor says:

        When I saw the prompt, I thought of Epic Mickey, which I just played through.  In one of the final levels, you’re climbing through a castle that this giant monster is destroying and the timing of the jumps and the scripting of the monster is just infuriating.

        I also recently have been playing Dark Souls and while Dark Souls is a tough game, it’s never unfair like Epic Mickey is.  I think the line between a tough but fair game and an unfair game is an interesting subject.  A game like Dark Souls is so masterfully crafted that the player eventually falls into the creator’s rhythm: I may die ten hundred thousand times, but I can I always place the blame on myself (except when I accidentally a friendly NPC early in the game and I had to reset.)  Many of Epick Mickey’s levels, especially after the novelty wears off, are just full of poorly placed platforms and annoyingly programmed enemies.  God, I hate Epic Mickey so bad, but I want to like it so much!

        • Zack Handlen says:

          Same here! And yeah, Dark Souls is a good comparison point; I was often intensely frustrated by that game, but once the frustration wore off, I felt like I could push further if I really worked at it. Just as important, I -wanted- to work at it. Silly as it sounds, the effort felt meaningful. In Epic Mickey, it all feels like wasted time.

        • indy2003 says:

          I have to say, Dark Souls felt a bit unfair to me, but there’s always a possibility that I may have leveled up incorrectly somehow. Made my way through Demon’s Souls and found it immensely rewarding. Felt similarly about Dark Souls until I got to Smough and Ornstein. Tried and failed to beat those guys approximately one bazillion times and would always die rather quickly after I finished off one of the two (if I got that far). The game has now been sitting on the shelf for nearly a year, smirking at me derisively every time I walk past. The fact that I had already put 30 hours into the game makes my inability to continue sting even more.

        • Aw, I knew DkS would turn up. As said, it’s never really unfair, the enemies are where they are with the AI they have and never really deviate from that so after enough practice you should be able to get through without too much trouble.

          If Ornstein and Smough are giving you trouble, summon Solaire who will keep one busy while you beat the other one (ie Smough) and they you can dodge most of giant Ornsteins attacks by rolling towards him (apart from the lightning butt slam obv.)

          Concentrate on a few skills with your levels, unless you’re good you’ll struggle by hedging your bets. I made it through like this but new game+ is proving tougher than it should be as a result.

          I’d offer to co-op to help out but finding other players online on PC in Europe is difficult.

      • I was a little masochist when I was a kid, so I somehow managed to beat Bart vs. The Space Mutants. There are actually MORE items to turn purple than needed – about 5 or so more. The game is hard/stupid as shit, since a lot of ways to turn shit purple makes no sense (You launch firecrackers at a sign to turn them purple). Then it’s about collecting balloons, exit signs, etc. – and for some inexplicable reason, I suffered through it till the end.

        (Bart vs. the World is a whole another fucking matter. There is this… part… where you have to jump on these ice platforms and it goes on and on and it’s fucking impossible to stay on one. That is Ted Bundy-levels of infuriating murder-rage.)

        • Mrs.Brewman says:

          I thought of Bart vs. the World the second I saw the prompt. Oh, not only were the platforms almost impossible to stay on, but I clearly remember playing the North Pole part and managing to slip into a groove right before a pit that was impossible to jump out of. Your only option was just to sit there and wait patiently for the timer to run out. My brother and I quit playing the game entirely after that nonsense.

        • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow says:

          Both those games were dog balls stupid…

      • Captain_Tragedy says:

        And of course the game had bane of seemingly all janky NES games from that era–mushy controls.

        That’s really the key, isn’t it? That’s one big reason Metroid and Bionic Commando are my favorite platformers from the 8-bit era– not just the cool stories, unique gameplay, and atmosphere (especially with Metroid), but that the controls are pitch-perfect.

        • itisdancing says:

          Mega Man is another example, and of course Super Mario Bros, which I think owes a certain part of its legendary status simply to being one of the first platformers to actually figure out how the controls should work.

        • Captain_Tragedy says:

           @itisdancing:disqus yep, totally agree. Good examples.

      • Captain_Tragedy says:

        And of course the game had bane of seemingly all janky NES games from that era–mushy controls.

        That’s really the key, isn’t it? That’s one big reason Metroid and Bionic Commando are my favorite platformers from the 8-bit era– not just the cool stories, unique gameplay, and atmosphere (especially with Metroid), but that the controls are pitch-perfect.

      • HighlyFunctioningTimTebow says:

        Speaking of LJN tie ins, Friday the 13th was both awesome freaky and cheap as hell. If one of your camp counselors had All The Swag, Jason would run up from off screen and punk you three times in a row! I ran from him to the docks, jumped in a rowboat, and he still got me by swimming across the whole lake!

      • Melancholic_Rodeo_Clown says:

        I still love demanding that people “Solve my maze, Superman!” from time to time.

    • duwease says:

      Late to the game, but I’d just like to express how happy I am to be involved in a community that has people who have experience the Hugo trilogy.  Sometimes I wonder if it was just a fever dream.

      • stuartsaysstop says:

        Ditto on this. My mom’s ex-fiancee gave me a copy of Hugo in what had to have been 1994 or so and I haven’t heard a mention of it since. Thank you GS, thank you PC Gamer, and thank you internet.

  24. James Travis says:

    Anyone play Lionheart for the Amiga? If you died in that game, you died in real life. Talk about unfair! I lost so many friends that summer…

  25. ProfFarnsworth says:

    For me it is in Alpha Protocol.  One of the great things about Alpha Protocol is the fact that you can specialize as a martial arts/stealth knockout super agent.  I was incredibly pleased with this build…until I had to fight Omen Deng.  Who is also a martial arts specialist, who can not under any circumstances be hurt by my character.  He has this magical ability to block EVERY move I use, and call for back up, and regenerate health when I decide to use a grenade to “even the odds”.  That fight was one of the most ridiculous fights ever!

    • Afghamistam says:

      One of the things I love about Alpha Protocol is that everyone I’ve seen talk about it has a different That Fucking Boss based entirely on what attributes that player chose to upgrade and what order they choose to do the levels in.

      It only took me, for example, a few goes to beat Omen Deng because by that point in the game, I was basically an unstoppable killing machine – if he blocked an attack, I’d just back off and pump rifle rounds into him.

      No, MY nemesis was the crazy coked-out Russian mobster. That shit took me about a hundred tries even though I was heavily into assault rifles and the bullet-time skill, which is the only way to beat the boss as far as I know. I feel sorry for the folks who went in with only kung-fu skills. They’re probably still there now…

      • ProfFarnsworth says:

        Alpha Protocol is my favorite game, bugs and all.  That being said I found that the game was ridiculously set against players who wanted to be kung fu masters.  Those players would run into fire, die and do so over and over again.  That mobster was a nasty boss for me as well, but I always pay to have his coke poisoned and  spend some points on my pistol to shoot him a lot.  Again, I love the stealth and the story, but those bosses were some of the most annoying “unfair” fights I have played recently.

        • djsubversive says:

          Kung-fu in Alpha Protocol is mastered through the ancient art of “stealth, then throat-punch everything in the room.”

          Yeah, the tactic sort of falls apart with bosses, but that’s what Chain Shot is for.

          Alpha Protocol is a great RPG, with a not-so-great third-person shooter/throat-puncher attached.

        • ProfFarnsworth says:

          Indeed. Stealth knockouts are the best, but those are not related at all to the kung-fu skills mentioned.  I also love that chain shot skill.  That is one of the best skills ever.  I would spam that attack on any boss and kill it outright.  Even the helicopter, which rockets never seemed to hit. 

      • If you do the China missions before that you can easily kill him by having Heck spike his drugs

    • djsubversive says:

      incendiary grenades. or the flash-bang things. 

      Or, just go with the best combat skill ever, Pistols. Chain Shot makes bosses a joke. Except Brayko, who has other methods of becoming less-annoying (Stephen Heck is your best friend forever).

  26. mobvok says:

    The second Canary Mary in Banjo-Tooie. This may be a figment of my imagination, but I read the mailbox at in the early 2000s before they had their soul vacuumed out, and I swear somebody wrote in describing how they tore apart their N64 controller, hooked the “A” button wiring to a cheap piece of strobe light electronics, and set the blinks/second to a ridiculous number before they were able to reliably defeat Canary Mary.

    The only way I was able to defeat her was by scraping my nail over the A button as fast as possible for about 3/10ths of a second before hitting pause to rest my hand. And then repeating that, for the whole duration of the race.

    • Fabian Gross says:

      Canary Mary has rubber band A.I., like the Mario Kart example. You’re actually supposed stay behind her for the majority of the race, just close enough that a.) she won’t quit because you’re too slow and b.) so that you can overtake her at the end before she can catch up again.

      Granted, even knowing that it’s ridiculously hard.

    • I (eventually) beat her without pausing, tricks, or a turbo control pad. It was not fun.

      On an unrelated note, you never want to get into a button-mashing contest with me thanks to the fast-twitch spasm ability I cultivated in doing so.

      Fortunately that isn’t something I need to employ much these days, but it did make me actively handicap some Mario Party mini-games (speaking of cheating nonsense) by having my partner literally put their control pad down to give our opponents a fighting shot. They still lost, but at least it was somewhat close.

      • Canadian gamer says:

        (it’s late, but anyways)

        When it comes to button-mashing, I don’t know of any game that comes close to Gamecube FPS Geist in pure madness. Geist has only one difficulty level and it is moderately hard UNTIL the last fifth of the game, where you get to fight enemies that can possess you. The only way to wriggle free of a demon or Spectral Operative is to mash the A button as fast as possible. If you don’t hurry enough, the demon drags you toward whirring fans or other hazards. The thing is, you need to mash the button so fast that it downright makes you too goddamned tired to break free a second time, which you invariably need. I never made it past the first encounter with a demon. 

  27. Kilzor says:

    You know what’s not fair?  I’ve owned Battletoads for over twenty years now (which, separately, …Jesus) and I have no idea what happens in the last 1/3 of the game.  I refuse to look it up at this point, because THEN MY STRUGGLE WILL HAVE BEEN IN VAIN.

    • Zack Handlen says:

      Just for the hell of it, I looked up a Battletoads speed run on YouTube, and, holy shit. I remember thinking it was kind of fun as a kid, but that game was designed by total sadists. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to finally get through the hell of the rocket sled, and find you’ve got to do the same thing but on water a few levels later. 

  28. cookingwithcranston says:

    Being able to count myself as one of the proud few to have beaten TMNT for the NES was simultaneously one of the proudest and most shameful moments in my life, considering the amount of time I spent on that game.

    • NakedSnake says:

      You should feel proud. Because as far as I know that game is actually impossible.

    • Grimbus says:

      I too rented it a few times and beat it. I really loved it. Somehow the hardness of that one felt good, fine, and appropriate. 

      This may stem from the lack of reliable authority in my life. Tough love was welcomed, whatever the source.

      That said I also hated Battletoads.

    • Richard Mason says:

      Kudos to you, sir.  That game was impossible.  The underwater level is seriously one of the most stressful gaming experiences I can recall.  It wasn’t remotely fun; it was just tedious and endlessly frustrating. 

      • Uthor says:

        I played that game enough to be able to do the water level almost in my sleep.  I couldn’t get anywhere in the city level after that, though.

        • Richard Mason says:

          Haha, exactly.  The water level was doable with sufficient repetition and discipline, then you get out on the other side expecting to stretch your legs a bit, and the difficulty level is ratcheted up waaaay ahead of where it was before. 

          It’s a total slap in the face.

  29. flowsthead says:

    Jesus, Joe Keiser, King’s Quest V sounds like an absolute nightmare. I would probably give up at that point.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Gorgeous, though.  What fantastic art direction.

        • Girard says:

          It’s solid, but kind of undistinguished (which kind of suits King’s Quest’s being a hodge-podge of kind of generic fairy tale tropes, I guess).

          The painted backgrounds are nice, and definitely were prettier than the 16-color KQ4 graphics I was used to. But I kind of preferred that painted backdrops Purcell & Chan did for the LucasArts games, which had bolder color, composition, and contrast choices, and gently exaggerated forms and which were just super gorgeous.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus  I’m happy to overlook the template, high-fantasy aesthetic of the series when it’s rendered with such loving craft.  The pixel animations are like seeing some lost art of old-world craftsmanship.

      • Fluka says:

        *Silently crumples up and dies in the snow.*

        Damn it.  That video actually made me want to go back and try to replay King’s Quest 5 again.  I’ve learned *nothing* from my experience with 6!

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          I was wondering when you were going to show up.  You’re our resident King’s Quest Queen.

        • Fluka says:

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus The deep mental adventure game scars give me the psychic ability to know whenever there’s a conversation about King’s Quest happening.  Those games are like my origin story, if I were a superhero with the power of complaining about King’s Quest.

        • duwease says:

          I will never play King’s Quest again, despite playing them all.  It’s like an abusive relationship where I swore to myself it was great at the time, but looking back on it 15 years later, I realize what a terrible and sadistic thing it was.

    • lokimotive says:

      That’s kind of par for the course for a lot of Sierra games. I remember finishing Kings Quest V, but I honestly have no idea how I did it. Surely I cheated.

      Sierra adventure game deaths are notorious, but, like the article mentions, the real fuckers are the ‘puzzles’ where you’re just screwed. Did you not pick up that piece of yarn in the closet of your apartment before you left? Oh, then I’m very sorry, but you won’t be able to descend the Cliffs of Madness to escape from the exploding Wizard of Doom at the end of the game.

      • Girard says:

        Especially when you are not notified in any way that you’re in a no-win state, which means your just hopelessly end up trying all of your items on everything in the game, and nothing works.

        • lokimotive says:

          Yeah, I think that’s really the kicker. If the game would at least give you a hint that you may be screwing yourself, then you might have a chance, but as Joe points out, it often actually encourages you to screw yourself.

          And there are moments where they just fuck with you because they can. In Space Quest IV, at the very beginning of the game you can pick up an ‘unstable ordinance’. The game notes that maybe this isn’t the brightest idea, but it also gives you 100 points (Sierra games had point systems which were mostly based on you making progress in the game: Picking up helpful items, solving puzzles, &c.). So now you’re thinking, well, I just got 100 points, clearly this thing is important even if it is unstable. But no. It’s not, the only thing it does is blow you up at a crucial point in the game. There’s no way to avoid being blown up, and the item is entirely useless, so theoretically, there’s no way to conceivably get that 100 points. When you put the unstable ordinance back where you found it, you lose points, HOWEVER, you only lose 95 points, meaning that you net 5 extra points. If you don’t take part in these shenanigans, you’ll never get all the points in the game, which has no discernible effect, other than you not getting all of those points, but still, the whole thing makes a good illustration of how Sierra viewed their relationship with players: they were not there to make your life enjoyable, or to dole out fun, they were there to fuck with you.

        • Kevin Irmiter says:

          The points are there for completionists, to give you a reason to play the game over again. You’re not expected to get a complete score your first time through unless you have a walkthrough. The whole point is to have obscure things that you’ll only discover by trying everything. It’s like medals and trophies in today’s games–you get most of them easily enough by beating the game normally, but if you want to acquire everything then you need to do some crazy shit.

          And as much as people think that adventure game designers were “sadistic” and that they “hated gamers,” you have to keep in mind that adventure games were still a small, niche market. The players were very hardcore, and they wanted super-challenging games that demanded hours and hours of wracking your brains. These were people that had learned all the tricks for getting through these games (like savescumming in multiple files) and they wanted games that were challenging even if you used them.

          It’s not like Sierra was intentionally trying to make games less fun. It’s just that they were making them for enthusiasts, giving the obsessive players more of what they wanted. What LucasArts did was make the genre more accessible by making games that were easier for new players to get into.

      • Zack Handlen says:

        I think I must have played one of these when I was a kid and got scarred for life. Whenever I play any adventure or open world type games, I spend most of my time half-terrified I’ve missed some crucial clue or item that will make it impossible for me to finish.

    • It’s hideously bad all around, really. The graphics were pretty shiny for the time, but apart from that it might as well be an experiment in making the worst ‘game’ possible.

      Of course, most of the King’s Quests were pretty rancid, but the early ones have the excuse of still vaguely feeling their way into largely unexplored territory at a time when ‘game design’ wasn’t really a concept that was applied to computer games yet.

      • lokimotive says:

        What strikes me about Kings Quest V especially is the sort schizophrenic nature of the world. That’s a hallmark of the series, but for some reason it really sticks out in that one: there’s just all these incompatible biomes just right next to each other: An endless desert, a deadly forest, snow capped mountains, a turbulent sea. And that’s accentuated by what’s really some lovely art. I think they kind addressed that in Kings Quest VI which does a better job of separating out the disparate settings, in large part due to it taking place on a sort of archipelago.   

      • Kevin Irmiter says:

        There are a lot of things I like about the game, though. I really love the atmosphere, even if it is a bit haphazard… of course, maybe that’s just where my tastes lie in general. I tend to enjoy games that feel like a bunch of random stuff thrown together more than games where they give everything a cohesive flow.

        What really got me about the game was how it seemed so bright and cheerful but scary at the same time. Like the first time I walked into that inn, and it just seems normal, but things slowly start going south and then I find myself locked in a storeroom. What makes it even more scary is that the game kinda sorta makes you feel like you have control, but you can’t do anything. You’re just helpless until you die. All because you walked into some innocuous little inn.

        One tip: it’s definitely better if you play WITHOUT the voice acting, which is terrible, and was tacked on after the fact anyway.

  30. Afghamistam says:

    Two for me:

    1) I remember being sad Aeris died an all… but that doesn’t really compare to the bitter rage I felt when I realised she’d taken all my shit with her. Fuck you Aeris!

    2) Kid Chameleon on the Sega: I am ABSOLUTELY certain that there is a level on this game that is literally a dead end. If you end up there, you cannot complete the game. And there are about a hundred levels. That is not fair.

  31. Captain Internet says:

    Any RPG that punishes you for picking the wrong statistics or skills on levelling up before you’ve been able to work out what impact those decisions will have. Diablo 2 and Dark Souls in particular have this problem, which was heightened by all the awful grinding that has to be done when starting a new character. 

    • ProfFarnsworth says:

      I remember playing Oblivion for the first time and not doing any real thought towards my leveling.  In no time I found that whatever attacked me was unbelievably overpowered and I had no idea how to compensate for that.  I just figured it was me…

      • Swadian Knight says:

        I can only wonder what manner of comedic mishap led to Bethesda creating a system where levelling up strenghtens every being on the world map but the player.

      • Xtracurlyfries says:

        Wow, those goblins sure have been hitting the gym and buying a lot of cool weapons since the last time I wandered down this stretch of riverbank!

        Screw you, Bethesda. Go look up “immerson” in the dictionary, then hit yourself with the dictionary.

      • Army_Of_Fun says:

        I quit Oblivion shortly after I hit that point (just after the first gate to hell or whatever opened up). Absolute game killer for me. I toyed with the difficulty slider, which only made me appreciate every other modern game whose developers take care to properly balance their game instead of just saying “Fuck it! Just give the player some number they can adjust in the menu and let them deal with it.”

        • indy2003 says:

          I wound up lowering the difficulty a bit (and it was just a bit, honest!), but as a result I would level up at a remarkably slow rate. Put nearly 100 hours into the game and only made it to level 13. I enjoyed the game in general (especially the guilds), but hated the Oblivion gates. Didn’t even bother with any of them outside of the ones I was required to navigate for the sake of completing the main quest.

        • Army_Of_Fun says:

          @indy2003:disqus It’s a bummer, I was really digging Oblivion up until I crossed whatever level threshold flipped the difficulty on its head. I couldn’t get a setting on the difficulty that felt right either, it either felt like cheating or I was right back in very hard mode.

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

         Huh… really?

        ‘Cause one of the first mods I install for Oblivion or Skyrim is one that has something like “Combat Realism” in the title.  What that means is, if a dude swinging a 2-handed axe hits you? You probably die.  Same if you hit the same dude with a 2-handed axe.  You learn the block-and-dodge dance real quick that way.

        • Canadian gamer says:

          It’s all fine if at least your hits can down enemies as fast as theirs do you. The problem with Oblivion is that when (if) you faced the “flip” described above, you had no chance or ever defeating the enemies. Your skills didn’t matter anymore, all that did what the math behind the game. You came to need to quicksave before every encounter. 

      • Uthor says:

        Skyrim does the same thing (though caps the levels on the various enemies so they don’t get too high).  I ended up grinding a useless skill early on because it was easy to do, not realizing that I was just leveling all the other characters in the game while not giving myself anything useful to protect myself with.  Made for an interesting dozen hours until I evened out the levels some more.

      • asdfmnbv says:

        Leveling up to like 25 or so and then starting the Kvatch quest is hilariously impossible. They clearly didn’t intend for the anyone to ever run through this above level 10 or so. The low level daedra and scamps all become like Storm Atronachs and Spider Daedra and you constantly get hit with lots of area effect attacks, while the guards who are supposed to help you don’t get better equipment, so they die instantly.

        Of course, presumably anyone familiar enough with the game to skip Kvatch, would also be familiar enough with the leveling system to either never level up or level up optimally (in which case Kvatch was by far the hardest area in the game, but wasn’t impossible).

    • CrabNaga says:

      When RPGs where you pick your own stat ups are concerned, I had this nagging doubt whenever I’d assign stat points, since I wouldn’t want to, say, weigh too heavily on intelligence and neglect vitality since I figured there’d be some imaginary encounter where I’d die in one hit down the line if I did so. So my first characters always turn out to have some weird stat distribution that favors no single stat heavily, and in turn, the character ends up becoming less useful later on in the game. A good thing for Diablo II and Dark Souls is that your stats mean very little when compared to your equipment and expertise.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

      Not to mention that Dark Souls doesn’t really tell you much about what each stat does.  Early on I pumped crazy souls into Resistance until after stumbling onto some forums I found out it did next to nothing to soften the blows from the games cruel, cruel monsters.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      That is the exact sort of thing to completely inflame my neuroses.  As much as I love rpg’s, if I suspect there’s even a chance to do a build a ‘wrong’ way, I freeze up.  Leveling up becomes less an enjoyable exploration and more a maze you have to navigate to find the successful path to a viable character.

      • I find WoW is the worst for that. If your character isn’t “perfect”, he’s useless.

      • Captain Internet says:

        The thing is, Diablo 3 took all of that out, and ended up a much worse game for it. Well, that and the mandatory 20 hours of boredom that comes with starting a new character and playing through to the next difficulty level

    • I talked about this a bit yesterday. The other side of the coin is that some RPGs are too forgiving when it comes to building characters. Careful stat and skill selection results in a character that can cruise through even the most difficult fights. In the first Final Fantasy, for example, a party of three fighters and a red mage will rarely face a serious challenge, even with minimal grinding.  

    • Not sure I agree on Dark Souls, I spread my points over 3 categories (str, dex, int) on my 2nd playthrough which should be a no-no and had few problems, and with next to no grinding (apart from for titanite, not levels).

      There are videos of people playing through the game without ever levelling up on the insanely difficuly NG+7 so it’s mainly a matter of skill rather than levels.

      Oblivion would easily be the best example I can think of regarding broken levelling systems.

  32. Nom_de_Suck says:

    You think that’s unfair? You want to know what’s unfair?! In Atlantis no Nazo, a Japanese-only NES game with 101 “zones”, there’s a door in Zone 29 that will send you to Zone 42. Entering Zone 42 will kill you. By the way, the doors aren’t labeled.

    In fact, it won’t just kill you once, it will send you into an infinite loop of death until you get a game over. There’s nothing in the game that warns you about what’s going to happen.

  33. DrFlimFlam says:

    And now the reason for DKR 3D is revealed. And it is compelling.

    My most frustrating gaming experience always involve being incapacitated repeatedly. Enter Crackdown. The game isn’t fantastic, but it is fun to play a superpowered GTA. Until you’re going up a tower from the inside, anyway, and suddenly there’s a grenade at your feet. It explodes, sending your ragdoll body flying. And then a other one goes off. And you descend. And another. And another. And after ten minutes of fighting and moving up the tower, you’re all the way at the bottom again, and you have henchmen raining body-launching grenades from above.

    I only bought you for Halo 3 beta access, you jerk.

    • NakedSnake says:

      I remember that. I encountered the same thing in Prototype. Ridiculously powerful main character… if only I could regain control of him for more than one second at a time. What made it easier to deal with in Crackdown was that at least the number of enemies were finite.

      • CrabNaga says:

        My main problem with Prototype was that in any given difficult situation, the best things to do in said situation were the least interesting or the cheapest feeling. Fighting against the giant mutant near the end of the game (and the final boss)? Better have purchased the super throw powerup for your muscle mass power, and start chucking helicopters, jets, I-beams, convoy trucks, random pieces of rubble, explosive crates, and everything else you can find at it, because it’s next to impossible to actually hit the thing in melee without getting knocked across the map with a sliver of HP left. This counts double for getting platinums on some of the particularly annoying challenges, especially since a lot of the time it came down to enemy spawning luck in addition to spamming one type of attack until you win.

        • NakedSnake says:

          Yea, there was some kind of overhead attack with… the blade? I forget. But basically, once you got that attack, it never really made sense to do any other attacks (at least in general combat). And that final boss was one of the most controller-throwing experiences I had on the 360.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

           Prototype was annoying. For a game about a super-powered dude with a huge open world it sure liked sticking you in a tiny room where your powers are useless every other mission.

  34. Lucifer's Peaches says:

    I agree with basically everything said here.  NCAA and Madden DO decide when it is your time to lose.  And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES is absurd.

  35. fieldafar says:

    Pretty much every game I ever played on SNES. I was terrible at video games when I was a kid, though. 

  36. TearyEnnui says:


    After jumping in-system, and fighting off the zillions of pirates who’re after your cargo of contraband (especially those bloody annoying Asps), it’s time to relax, breathe out, and switch on the docking computer…

    “Ship boarded by pirates!….Game Over.”


    • TearyEnnui says:

      And something more modern: Winnie The Pooh Home Run Derby.

      Seriously, fuck Tigger.

  37. zebbart says:

    Fortune Street for the Wii is so cheaty it is almost comical, except it entirely ruins a fun game. The concept of a Monopoly style game that actually incorporates some complex strategy and keeps it fun is delightful, and everything is well designed so I was really excited by this game. But I soon realized that the NPCs were rolling a different set of dice than me. There would be games where one of them would literally roll perfectly to bounce from bonus square to bonus square, never touching a property. And they all roll to perfectly land on the home square each time that’s their destination. It sucks because there is a whole set of boards that you can only get by beating the computer. Which I can do about 1 out of 10 times, but game take 1-2 hours. So fine, I thought, at least I can play this game with my wife and kid. But the game requires four players and if you let the computer control one it will destroy everyone else. The only option is to set up a dummy player, but if one player goes bankrupt the games ends, so you have to come up with a rubric that keeps the dummy alive without being biased to any of the human players. So basically it’s a really fun game totally ruined by one small computer cheat – rigged dice.

  38. stakkalee says:

    Most of mine have already been mentioned – the sliding difficulty in the various Mario Karts, freaking Battletoads.  So instead I’ll mention one common trope that I’ve run into on a number of games – enemies with unlimited ammo, especially when ammo has weight.  The first example that springs to mind are sentry bots from the Fallout series.  I’ll be schlepping through the Mojave when I happen to catch the sensors of a sentry bot who starts firing missile after missile at me while I dodge and weave.  I’m finally able to take him out (maybe with a gun, but usually with a pulse grenade) and I go to loot the body and what do I find?  Certainly not any leftover missiles, oh no.  Instead I get scrap metal, every time, and maybe a battery or some 5mm ammo if I’m lucky.  Freaking robots.

  39. Swadian Knight says:

    The Trauma Center surgery simulators certainly qualify. There are two major factors here: one, the game consists of performing surgery using touch and motion controls, which is of course a recipe for disaster; two, the difficulty of the procedures you’re asked to perform will spike in such an abrupt way that it’ll leave your head spinning.

    There are no words to describe how frustrating it is to waste twenty minutes struggling with a fucking Wiimote only to fail a level because some arbitraty timer ran out or the patient decided his liver should explode and become covered in moving parasites in the middle of the heart surgery you’re performing during an earthquake.

    • Chalkdust says:

      Trauma Center was definitely difficult (even on the native DS platform… some of those ‘boss operations’ were ridiculous).

      However, I didn’t have any major complaints with Trauma Team all the way through, and that threw a variety of differently-controlled tasks at you.

      It also had a pretty interesting story, having been penned by the scenarist for Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor.

      • Swadian Knight says:

        Trauma Team is definitely the most consistent of the bunch, and it might be my favorite one too. I love that so many of its characters are so bizarre they go beyond the usual weirdness of the genre – if I recall, the orthopedist you can play as happens to be a super hero, the general surgeon is some kind of prisoner working off his sentence through medical procedures, and the coroner can actually listen to the dead – though I had no idea it shared writing staff with SMT:DS.

  40. CrabNaga says:

    Practically any roguelike can give you a no-win situation. Specifically I’m thinking of more recent entries Binding of Isaac and FTL. Encountering three floors in a row where the treasure rooms contained a Poop, Lemon Surprise, and Monster Manuel is probably the second worst feeling in that game, the first being when you actually manage to make it to The Chest with that luck and dying to the final (final (final (final))) boss with only a few more hits left before victory. 

    In FTL, what’s particularly annoying is when you find almost no stores in the first several sectors, and they’re all carrying crew members, useless drone schematics, or crap like pike beams and healing bursts. Encountering three nebula systems in a row that contain pirates that somehow beam aboard your ship that potentially kill your crew members, and provide absolutely no reward for their defeat is another especially annoying occurrence. 

    However, all this can be negated by finding a Dr. Fetus powerup, or some Burst Laser Mk II’s and Ion Bombs, so I guess it all evens out in the end.

    • In Isaac I once got Ipecac and cruised through all the levels to the end, only to accidently pick up the cracked mirror that gives you mirror shot. My exploding balls of death would float uselessly around my head as I ran around trying to avoid 3 Greeds until they would explode next to me. This made me very unhappy.

  41. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    My favorite type of game is “Tough but fair” a la Spelunky, Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy so when a game is “Tough but unfair” oh it puts a snake in my boot!

    Ghosts n Goblins for the NES was a blast to play but it also had a mean mean glitch where it could hurt you just for walking.  I never understood why but occasionally, you’d just be walking and BOOM lost your armor. Kind of unfair.

    Also worth mentioning, the infuriating Driv3r. I don’t know why I’ve had a soft spot for this series since the beginning and I was even able to forgive this game’s awful, “you can leave the car now just like GTA” mechanic, but it’s missions required a level of precision that was inhuman and on top of this they often threw in a dick bag SUV to slam you and ruin the mission time.  In one you drive a flat bed truck with a bomb in back, the bomb can’t touch the sides of the flat bed or else it will explode, but you only have x minutes to get across town and oh, what’s that, here’s an annoying inescapable SUV to nudge you and have the damn thing go off.

    • SnugglyCrow says:

      I’ve got Spelunky but haven’t played it much–you including it alongside Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy, two games I’ve 100-percented, should change that. 

      Any other recommendations are appreciated.

      • Kyle O'Reilly says:

        A lot of people like to mention “FTL: Faster Than Light” as tough but fair but I personally feel the game can be a bit unfair with it’s spawns and the ever chasing rebel fleet, though there’s an easy to find mod that turns the fleet off and helped me enjoy the game more

        • TheTrack says:

          I found FTL mostly fair until the final boss fight, when the game throws the entire concept of “fair” out the window and blows it up.

      • Chalkdust says:

        They Bleed Pixels is comparably difficult to Super Meat Boy, I think, though with an emphasis on melee combat as well as precision platforming.

  42. Guilty Gear XX #Reload — I couldn’t beat the final fight with any character.

    • Nathaniel Latham says:

      I’ve been stuck as Slayer vs Venom for a solid 45 minutes now. It’s absolute bullshit how one fight he’ll be herp der derping and taking Piledriver-after piledriver-after piledriver, literally taking it to the face each time getting him down to nothing. Then decides okay, I’m going to wipe your ass on the floor with a perfect combo. Next fight, all of a sudden it’s like he’s remember how to block piledriver and respond with a combo, and the AI never just stands there taking it like the 1st.

      Admittedly, I wish I had a different controller because the Logitech F310 is horrid at doing down-forward combos so I’m reduced to always trying to position myself on the left to do down-back. Wonderful of the programmers to put in a mini-prefight scene that sticks me on the right of Venom… -_-

      • ĴɎĦ says:

        Yeah, hard is one thing, but that was something else. One shouldn’t feel like the game is ‘cheating’. I could get to the end with basically any character, even those I didn’t like, but I never beat it. Weakness, maybe; but I’d say ‘impatience + indifference’.

        • Nathaniel Latham says:

          I could never be truly indifferent to it, defeat was not an option. The shape of my thumb tips has been molded by Guilty Gear XX. There in lies the difference though. I think #Reload made the final bosses in each path harder, and had done enough adjustments to characters to keep them from being too strong in tournaments, that beating the “Gold” Bosses required a near perfect understanding of the bot. Along with the patience to set the controller down calmly without smashing it on a hard surface, and to breath for a few minutes before returning to it and repeating the same process of life and death for 10 minutes until you win.

  43. MidnightNoon says:

    I LOVE “Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga”. Think it’s one of the funniest games ever made. (Fawful is a laugh riot.) But one thing I was never able to do was master the complicated button combos that you need to press to do the special attacks. As a result, I was never able to defeat the final boss in the game.

  44. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    The final fight in God of War against Ares.  I’ve learned how to fight with all of these weapons, and powered them up throughout the game, so of course Ares takes them all away and makes me fight him with a big, dumb sword.  Oh, and you can block his attacks, but they still hurt you, and you can only hit him in small intervals between attacks.  Good luck!

    Ghosts and Goblins for the NES (and arcade, for that matter) was so infuriating.  Having monsters pop out from every direction, but you can only attack in a straight line, and two hits and you’re dead.  (Ghouls and Ghosts for Genesis was still very hard, but much more fun.)

    The Ninja Turtles arcade game was a ton of fun, but Shredder at the end was super-cheap.  “Here, for some reason despite me being an armored ninja, I can now fire three-pronged beams from my hands that insta-kill you by turning you back into pet turtles!  It’s okay, just insert a few more quarters and you’ll eventually kill me.”

    • A lot of early NES games retained the quarter-munching mentality that their developers had applied in the arcades. I’m glad it’s gone.

    • neodocT says:

       I replayed all of the first God of War in the hardest difficulty, once. It is extremely frustrating in several parts, but I managed to get all the way to the end. But that’s as far as I got. The few times I actually beat Ares’ first form, I got stuck in that battle where you fight even when I beat the first form of Ares I got stuck in that part where you have to fight, like, a hundred Kratoses.

      • Bad Horse says:

        It was funny how by the time you got to Hades on the hardest modes, climbing the spinning death blade columns was the least of your worries.

        • neodocT says:

           I still have nightmares with that part where you’re pushing a cage up a ramp, while enemies continously attack you.

  45. NakedSnake says:

     Does anyone remember the racing level in Mafia? That one took me literally 4 hours of playing the same 5 minute race over and over again. Every turn had to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect. It’s unfortunate they put that level in there, because there was a lot of great game content after that, too. But I imagine that most people just stopped playing at the racing level. That would be the rational thing to do.

    • sharculese says:

      Oh good lord, I was just playing Mafia recently and yeah, that’s a monster.

    • Hunter Taylor says:

      I remember when I played Mafia, one of the early levels has you trying to get away from some police cars that were chasing you.  At the time, I played the level with a keyboard and mouse and my car never went much faster than the police cars, so it ended up taking forever to escape from them.

      Hell, driving in all of the Mafia games were never that fun for me.  I get the “realism” of stopping at red lights and going the speed limit, but it was frustrating when I would accidentally bump into a cop car and I suddenly had to scramble away from them.  (I did eventually learn that you could hide in shops and kill all the police that entered until the game stopped generating them.)

      Agh!  Your mention of Mafia just made me think of how much I hated its sequel, which I could spend all day complainig about!

      • NakedSnake says:

        Driving was pretty fun in “Freeride Extreme!” where they give you all kinds of crazy sci-fi cars to play with.

  46. PugsMalone says:

    My personal choice: Having to beat the original Donkey Kong twice to beat the game in Donkey Kong 64. Who the hell thought that that was a good idea?

  47. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    Orange Medusa Heads in the Clock Tower in Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin. Portrait of Ruin isn’t so bad once you work out you can switch to unpetrify, but I died so many times during Dawn of Sorrow because I was petrified and landed on spikes it wasn’t funny,

    Also not fair, Portrait of Ruin doesn’t have Vampire Killer on the OST. What the hell, game?

  48. Dan Reynolds says:

    i am still enraged about footbridges and staircases in Sierra games.  SIMPLE HUMAN ARCHITECTURE IS JUST NOT THAT DANGEROUS!  Not to mention, physics doesn’t work like that!   Let me explain.  The game would force you to stay within the one or two pixel width of a drawn stair that was actually only that narrow by virtue of the third-person perspective it was showing you.  From King Graham’s perspective, the stair should have been a perfectly normal size and shape (and probably not a death trap), but from the player’s perspective, looking at it from the side, it was only a pixel wide, so therefore the poor King only had a one or two pixel margin of error between successfully climbing a saircase and inexplicably falling to his death.

    look at that stupid crap.  It’s not even that high!  ugh.

    But that’s not even my “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” nominee!  Kings Quest II took this BS to another level entirely: 

    In Kings Quest 2, the main arc quest was to open a series of three concentric doors.   You would do some quests to get a key, open a door to reveal the second door, do some more quests to get THAT key, open it to reveal the third door, etc.

    The doors stood on a bluff separated from the mainland by a bottomless cliff, with a footbridge to get across.  Each door had an inscription on it that was a hint about where its key could be found.  Most players, of course, made several trips back and forth across the bridge to read the inscriptions, to open doors, explore, etc.   What the game does not tell you, though, is that you can only cross that bridge a total of 7 times before it gives out and sends you hurtling to your doom.   So if early in the game as a matter of general exploration and inscription-reading you’d already unwittingly made say 4 of the 7 allowed trips across the bridge, there’s no way for you to know this, but you cannot win!  Enjoy starting over from the beginning!  Sierra games pulled this kind of crap ALL the damn time.

    • NakedSnake says:

       Haha, yea, the staircases were hilarious. Especially if you didn’t have a keypad with a diagonal button. I can only imagine how insane it would look for a human to try the weird sideways/angular shuffle I used to climb those stairs.

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        I’m not here to start any trouble. I’m just here to do the King’s Quest shuffle.

      • Xerxes says:

        My (anti-)favorite pixel-walking chore was KQ2’s poison thorn bush patch in front of Dracula’s house. There was like a one-pixel-wide path you could take to avoid them. Maddening.

        Although… googling up this walkthrough to fact-check my comment, it says eating a sugar cube makes you immune to the poison. I beat that game so many times as a kid and never knew that. Not sure if that makes me more or less angry about it.

    •  NOTHING tops the excruciating ordeal that is KQ3 though, where you have to complete an almost Herculean number of inscrutable tasks, and if you forget even one at the start of the game, you can’t win at all.

  49. Hunter Taylor says:

    Did anyone ever play Top Gun for the NES?  At one point you have to land on an aircraft carrier after a fight.  The game tells you the angle and speed you need to land at, but, like signs at an airport, they have absolutely not relationship to WHAT’S GOING ON and you end up crashing to your death.  Landing was so difficult that there are videos on YouTube describing how to actually do this.

    • Dan Reynolds says:

      yeah, having successfully landed on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun is shorthand for being good at video games amongst my friends.  It was pretty darn tough.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Holy balls.  I had completely forgotten about that.
         A few friends and I rented that for a sleepover and were just baffled by how seemingly impossible landing was.
         It just became it’s own fun watching our jet, triumphant from battle, ignobly crash into the ocean.  Again and again.  And again.

    • Uncle Roundy says:

      One of my all-time favorite AVGN moments is his reaction to successfully landing the plane in Top Gun ….. using the POWER GLOVE.

  50. Alexander Peterhans says:

    Any game that features some form of stun/freeze attack that can be used against me, the player, will fill me with rage.

    Taking away control from the player is never, EVER fun.

    It just baffles me why developers think this is something that adds to the experience. Why not sit back and helplessly watch your character get the shit kicked out of them. That’s why you play games, right?

    • NakedSnake says:

      Agreed. This is what SuperMeatBoy understood. It is so much less frustrating to fall to your death / get incinerted / get cut in two if you feel like you have a high degree of agency. SMB took that to its extreme, and its a very hard game, but the level of frustration is totally manageable because they never take away your agency.

      • Army_Of_Fun says:

        Another of SMB’s strengths is that the punishment for failure is low. Re-starts are instantaneous (no loading, no failure screen). You also only lose whatever progress you made on a particular level, nothing more.

        • NakedSnake says:

          Good point. It emulates the frantic-last-final-challenge before the end of the level that many NES games had, except without having to replay the whole level if you die.

  51. SonjaMinotaur says:

    What infuriates me is when a game switches genres on me. I was perfectly happy murdering my way through Wonderland in Alice: Madness Returns until the game suddenly became a 2D platformer that I couldn’t make any headway in at all. If there was an option to skip that level? I would take it. I would PAY for it. It’s been a year or so and every now and then I still boot up the game, fail miserably at trying to time my jumps while being shot at for about twenty minutes and give up again.

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      Recent example for me, I just finished a play-through of Black Ops 2. Yeah, I play CoD sometimes! Wannafightaboutit?

      Kudos to the guys over at Treyarch for trying to mix up the formula a bit with BO2. One of the ways they do this is by having RTS levels where you can take control of any one of your units at any time. These are fine on normal difficulty, on BO2’s Insanity setting, these RTS levels are nigh impossible. It takes a lot of finesse to get RTS controls right on a console, finesse that BO2 lacked.

  52. Fluka says:

    Not sure if unfair, or just poor mapping of controls to keyboard and mouse, or lack of skill on my part, but…

    Hey Mirror’s Edge!  I fucking grabbed that flagpole, you asshole! Stop pretending I didn’t!  What?  I’m dead gain?!  No, fuck YOU!  

    *Balls her fists and simmers in silent, ineffectual rage.*  Lovely game.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

       Neither, it had really odd depth perception and hit detection. Sometimes you hit it perfectly and you die, sometimes you miss by quite a bit and survive.

    • Merve says:

      You know what part of Mirror’s Edge is the worst? The part where you’re underground and you have to jump between subway trains.

      Speaking of Mirror’s Edge, if you really want a vertiginous challenge, try playing it the Oculus Rift VR headset:

      • Fluka says:

        My thoughts re the video:

        “Oh geez oh geez oh geez oh geez oh geez oh geez oh geez OH GEEZ.” *vomits*

  53. I’m surprised that no one’s mentioned the Grand Theft Auto series. I tried to replay Vice City recently, and one stupid mission made me pack it in. You have to kill someone by wrecking their car. The car this person drives is not only one of the fastest cars available, it is somehow as durable as a tank. And you can’t even break the mission by getting creative. Use a weapon, and you fail.

    • indy2003 says:

      I don’t suppose it’s all that unfair, but I gave up on trying to complete the final mission of GTA IV. So much stuff to do and nary a checkpoint. The motorcycle jump was what kept getting me – I’d drive to pick up some guys, tail another guy, shoot my way across a construction yard, shoot my way through a building, shoot my way through another wave of guys, chase a boat… and then fumble by not hitting the motorcycle ramp just right or quite fast enough (and it seems there are still three or four more major tasks to take care of after that). After a while I determined that it just wasn’t worth it to watch (I assume) Niko gunning down some second-string character that I didn’t have any strong feelings about. 

    • molly_man says:

      I’m not sure if the GTA games are “unfair” in the sense of impossible (like Punch Out)…you can definitely win, but sometimes it’s so fucking tedious that it doesn’t seem worth the trouble.  E.g., there’s a mission in San Andreas where you have to fly out over the ocean for what seems like an eternity (easy, boring), and then do a complicated move in two seconds to piggyback onto another plane (really hard). Each try takes about ten minutes of real time, and you have to do it dozens of times to figure out the exact right way to turn the plane.  Same goes for some of the races (often you’ve got the shitty, hard-to-control car and your opponents all have the best cars in the game): they’re winnable, but you have to be a Zen Master of patience to practice it enough til you can do it perfectly.

  54. Goon Diapers says:

    All of Bayou Billy.

    • Nom_de_Suck says:

      That’s more the fault of the localization team than anything else.

      In that same vein, Ninja Gaiden III, which doubled the damage you took from everything.

  55. Citric says:

    Thought of another, more specific example.

    Splinter Cell, in the HD collection for PS3. At one point in the game, you have to aim a mic at a window. If your aim shifts by a fraction of a pixel after the scene starts, you fail. The scene starts immediately after the mic hits the window. Maybe not a problem with keyboard mouse, but it’s pretty big issue with analog sticks. I think I did the mic sequence a hundred times, knowing exactly what to do but being unable to execute due to a control problem.

    The game does have a fair bit of arbitrary nonsense, but it’s usually not frustrating. That mic thing is just a dick move.

  56. Professor_Cuntburglar says:

    There was a level like this in Star Fox Adventures (actually there were a few, but this one was the worst).

    It was a shooter-on-rails section, where you had to ride a pterodactyl around an arena and shoot a bunch of targets. Unfortunately, the targets shot out hundreds of little missiles, and you had to shoot those, too, before they hit you and killed you, forcing you to start over at the beginning. Also the stupid pterodactyl would bob and weave randomly, making aiming impossible. I never beat the game because of this mandatory section.

    There were also a few “control your fear” challenges, which consisted of a cutscene playing while you tried to keep a little marker inside a bar at the top of the screen. The marker would move around for no reason and it was impossible to figure out what you were supposed to do.

  57. Bad Horse says:

    I have a pretty elevated threshold for what I consider unfair, so understand that when I say Mortal Kombat 3 and its follow-ups (Ultimate & Trilogy) are unfair, I mean that in the purest sense. I had Ultimate for SNES and that shit is basically unplayable in single-player mode, even on the easiest difficulties. 

    I kept drawing Jade for the first match, and she has this nasty little blinky evasion move that she uses to close the distance and hit you for an unblockable 7-hit combo every time you so much as think about using a projectile. The only way to win was to find your character’s cheapest possible move/combo and spam it.

  58. Anon210 says:

    It would probably be quicker to ask if there’s a game I’ve played that hasn’t provoked this reaction. One of my more intense frustrations over the past year was Reflect Damage mobs in Diablo III, which basically punish your character for dealing damage and are essentially unkillable for certain character classes.

  59. Sporecloud says:

    Mass Effect 2 pissed me off when there turned out to be a timer to rescue your abducted crew members. The non-time sensitive nature of quests is so inherent to most RPGs, especially Bioware RPGs, that it never once occurred to me that there was an actual timer going on despite the urgency portrayed in the story. I mean it’s a feature of the game, an unwritten rule that you rely on. So when I found out that I had arrived ‘too late’, seeing my crew turned into slurry, after farting around the galaxy and finishing up my remaining quests, I was not happy. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, because there was no warning that the rules had changed, no hints that maybe I wanted to get on this in a timely manner (that I recall anyhow). What’s more, enough time had passed that it would have been ridiculous to go back to an earlier save (if I even had one) to change the outcome.

    Mass Effect 2 is a great, great game, but that one aspect felt totally unfair and arbitrary.

    • Andrew Bare says:

      There aren’t any giant flashing neon signs, but Miranda and Jacob do have a pretty intense conversation after the crew is abducted, Jacob pretty much shouting, “We have to get these guys now! Right freaking now, Shepard!” 

      Was it still a surprise to lose the crew? Sure, but a surprise isn’t the same thing as “arbitrary” or “unfair.” The game nodded somewhat noticeably at the importance of going after the crew immediately.

      Plus, it works as a character moment for Shepard. For a Renegade Shep, deciding to leave the crew to its fate so he/she can be in the strongest possible position is a pretty in-character decision.

    • I thought the whole point of that sequence was to pull the rug out from under the player. It subverts decades of expectation that time is arbitrary in RPGs. That’s what makes it so effective. 

      It’s like Aeris’ death in Final Fantasy VII. We were so used to fake-out deaths in RPGs (not to mention other fictional media such as comic books) that an actual permanent loss hit hard. 

    • I get how you could be surprised but that was completely fair. Miranda and Jacob have that who debate that you the player take part in, either agreeing to go in right away or continue with the prep missions.

      The time sensitive nature of the rules changed because there was nothing at take immediately until then. The Collectors were a fringe threat the galaxy had been ignoring forever until that point. Only now they have your crew.

  60. aklab says:

    This is a great Q&A topic. One recent offender for me:

    In the first Dead Space there’s this weird, bizarrely out-of-place minigame where you have to shoot a bunch of asteroids. It’s not optional (unlike a couple of other little minigames, like the target practice one), and it’s extremely difficult. I died a lot in Dead Space, as I am terrible at actiony games, but it literally took me dozens of tries over several days to beat the asteroid-shooting section. 

    What bothers me so much about it is that it’s not that kind of game! Arcade-style-asteroid-shooting is a completely different skill than 3rd-person-space-zombie-dismembering!

    • NakedSnake says:

       Yea that was a stupid level. Its not even a fun change of pace in the gameplay.

    • Everlasting_Godstabber says:

      That asteroids thing was TERRIBLE…I’m amazed no one already mentioned it. No, I take that back. I’m amazed EVERYONE didn’t already mention it.

  61. NakedSnake says:

    Ooooooo… what about the last level of Driver? That game has some seriously hard levels that I only managed to beat through sweat, dedication, memorization, and hard-core mastery of the game. And then the last level comes up, and it is impossible. Literally impossible. I fought that level for hours and hours, and I was never even able to make it a third of the way through the level before getting wrecked. It was like getting gang-raped by a bunch of police cars.

  62. Captain_Tragedy says:

    Adam Volk clearly gave up on Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! too soon (as did, apparently, everyone else who read this article before I did). Tyson’s one-punch knockdowns only last for the first 1:30. After that he starts fighting in a much more normal style and is very beatable (you can even win by decision, something you can’t do in any of the other title fights).

  63. JosephLillo says:

    Fuck early (1-UMK3) Mortal Kombat.

    That is all.

  64. Tim Curtin says:

    Metal Gear Solid.  Not impossibly difficult, not buggy, just flat out unfair.  I worked my fingers to bloody nubs trying to beat that game.  I whooped Liquid four times.  Four times.

    Then the game says “Sorry! You crashed your jeep like a moron and now you’re going to die anyway!  But don’t worry!  We’ll save your incompetent ass by introducing this deus ex machine right at the very end!”

    I never had a genuine chance to actually beat Liquid, ever.  They killed him off with a plot device.  Absolutely unjust.

    There’s a place for cinematic and dramatic techniques in videogames, but at the end of the day, it is still a game.  The player has to feel like they accomplished something.  To not only railroad a player, but to do it at the service of a hacky writing device like that makes me mad every time I think about it.

  65.  @Matt Kodner: That Marvel VS Capcom story is so similar to a memory of my own, at camp, with a councilor nearly beating the game and dying, and swearing in front of a group of young-uns, I’m partially convinced its the same story…. #camp@Michigan_Technological_University

  66. Andrew Bare says:

    The specific thing about NBA Jam that infuriated me was the buzzer-beater dynamic. If you were up by two points with two seconds to go and the computer had a chance to in-bound the ball, you were going to lose. Period. No doubt about it. Every single full-court, under-hand heave to beat the clock and win the game would go in. Without exception. 

  67. beema says:

    Games that don’t have manual saving and have long sequences where you die a lot. Like the end of Dead Space 3, currently.

  68. molly_man says:

    I’m not sure if the GTA games are “unfair” in the sense of impossible (like Punch Out)…you can definitely win, but sometimes it’s so fucking tedious that it doesn’t seem worth the trouble.  E.g., there’s a mission in San Andreas where you have to fly out over the ocean for what seems like an eternity (easy, boring), and then do a complicated move in two seconds to piggyback onto another plane (really hard). Each try takes about ten minutes of real time, and you have to do it dozens of times to figure out the exact right way to turn the plane.  Same goes for some of the races (often you’ve got the shitty, hard-to-control car and your opponents all have the best cars in the game): they’re winnable, but you have to be a Zen Master of patience to practice it enough til you can do it perfectly.

    • Wade S says:

      All of those goddam plane missions in San Andreas are INFURIATING.  I almost quit the game in the middle of the flight school missions. The really really hard one in that game is the RC plane mission, where you have to defend some comic book store from a massive barrage of invading RC planes by shooting them down. That one had me cussin instead of discussin.

  69. singo says:

    The horrible horrible interface of Scribblenauts probably prompted more cries of Unfair from me than any other game – setting it up so that you need to tap the stylus to select objects as well as moving your character meant that I unintentionally dived to my death so many times. 

  70. asdfmnbv says:

     It made Legions loyalty mission so game-y. You can time it so you can do both it and save the crew, but its annoyingly easy to lock yourself out of being able to do both.

  71. OH GOD THAT %$#%$ING PIE

  72. Tom Jackson says:

    While I agree with the Phoenix Wright point, it’s not necessarily ‘hard’ more convoluted or unnecessary. Now Battletoads, fuck that game.

  73. Jay says:

    This is the way I feel about Battletoads because of 2 segments. In level 7 the fireballs and missiles are completely random and are just there to guzzle up your lives, finishing you off before you have the chance to employ your skill further in the game and kick it’s ass. In Level 10 the game will sometimes not let you drop down to the boss after you kill the 3rd rat making it impossible to continue and forcing you to restart the game as there is no timer and you’re trapped on that platform with no way to take damage or push a button and die. That is maddeningly frustrating especially if you are going for a warpless complete run and should have been remedied before the game was released. I find that happens almost every other time I attempt the stage, so frequently that it lead me to mastering killing the first rat off with perfect timing after the bomb is hit and prematurely ending the stage.