Monday, April 06, 2009

Masochism games, a genre to watch!



Many, many years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful NES emulator known only as Nesticle. It brought great joy to my heart, as I was able to play the entire library of NES games on my PC. One of the great advantages of using a PC emulator was save states. Previously unwinnable games like Battletoads were no match for the almighty save state—the simple process of saving and loading repeatedly throughout a particularly difficult stage would almost guarantee victory. And admittedly, I abused this feature pretty hardcore. For the most part, I’ve stopped this practice when playing emulated games. I make an effort to only save at the beginning of levels, or maybe at checkpoints. As I came to discover, severe save state abuse strips the fun out of games and makes playing them a really pointless endeavor.

So, imagine my surprise when a few years ago, an entire genre of games was born of this feature. Stuff like this started popping up. Ridiculously difficult rom hacks, mostly of Mario games, that made save-stating an absolute necessity because death lurks absolutely everywhere. I have no idea why anyone would want to subject themselves to something like this, but apparently, not only are people more than willing, they’re also prone to recording their playthroughs and sticking them on YouTube. The gag is funny the first time you see it, but quickly becomes painful to watch. Almost as painful as actually playing the games.

More recently, the first full-featured standalone game based on the gameplay of the Mario romhacks was released, known only as “I Wanna Be the Guy”. It has gone on to become a popular indie title, and much like the romhacks, has become a staple of playthrough-recording YouTubers. And a sick, twisted game it is. The player no longer has the benefit of using save states, and as a result the game was designed to be slightly more forgiving to play through than your average romhack (but not much). It’s definitely more rewarding as well because of this. But man, is it a painful experience. I’m not trashing the game—it is what it is, designed with a specific goal in mind, and handily achieving that goal. It's a well-made title. I just personally find playing it to be a complete chore.

I wonder whether players are actually having fun with this game, or rather they’re just playing through for the sense of achievement garnered from overcoming such an insane challenge. I also wonder just how great the chances are of seeing an actual commercial game release done in this unique style. Though masochism games certainly have their niche appeal, I can’t imagine that the niche is very large. Maybe large enough for a budget Nintendo DS product. But how do you convey to the average consumer just how difficult these games are? You’d have to make that the focal point of the game’s marketing or risk pissing off a lot of unwitting people. “The hardest game ever! Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” Come to think of it, that might actually be crazy enough to work. I could see that selling to a fair number of gamers. I would not be in that group.

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