I Don’t Particularly Enjoy Punishing Games

Last week, Cuphead finally released. Like many others, I’d been following its long development period and anxiously awaiting its release. The art style alone had me intrigued, and the fact that you could play it in co-op only made me more excited.

It was the sole reason I kept dusting off my Xbox One.

Well, that, and the fact that I don’t like dust to build up. But still.

I had always read it was going to be difficult, but it wasn’t until more and more folks were playing it in the wild that I realized just how difficult it was going to be; the inevitable Dark Souls comparisons started rolling in.

Dark Souls has unwittingly become the benchmark comparison for a difficult game, and hearing, “it’s the Dark Souls of the (blank) genre” gets thrown around an awful lot. Sometimes the comparison is apt, more often than not, it isn’t.

I have to admit: when I started hearing just how hard Cuphead was, my interest immediately flagged.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a game handed to me, difficulty-wise. I like a challenge. But when that challenge includes me getting so frustrated I shut the game off in pseudo-anger, that’s not a good time for me.

This brings me back to my recent playthrough of Dark Souls 3 with my friend Brad.

I’d always been wary of the Dark Souls series. I didn’t think I’d be good at the games, and I was a little afraid I couldn’t actually complete them. Brad knows the series inside and out, and was an excellent guide. I wound up being decent at Dark Souls 3 (thankfully, so), but one boss in the second DLC darn near broke me: Darkeater Midir.

Midir is a hulking dragon, and we must have died to him over twenty times. It might have been forty.

It was a lot.

To be fair, the camera wasn’t helping, and the lock on would magically un-lock on creating situations where I didn’t know where Midir was and I’d miss dodging an attack in time, thus ensuring my death…again.

All the other bosses in the game (save one that took a few tries) we beat on the first try. This one jerk boss darn near broke me. I was so frustrated. The worst part? He was an optional boss. We could have simply walked away, but he was the only boss left in the game and I felt like we had come so far already that we had to finish him to complete the experience.

Eventually we did beat him (thank god), but I didn’t have that victorious feeling. What I had felt a lot more like relief than excitement.

I see a lot of people online who exercise braggadocio about the games they play and the difficulty they play them on. I’ve seen a lot of folks who say they start games on the hardest difficulty and they seem to take some sort of pleasure in lording it over anyone else who comments. I also see a lot of folks who say things like, “I swallowed my pride and lowered the difficulty setting…” and it makes me wonder why we feel we are swallowing our pride when we change the difficulty setting on a game. If it makes the game more enjoyable, why should we feel badly about that?

I understand that people inherently want to be good at things; the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling like I’m suddenly bad at games and it feels lousy. It makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong or I’m not as good as I used to be…however good that might have been.

It’s making me frustrated at myself.

I digress.

I’ve also played a handful of games where I did change the difficulty setting and it made the game far more enjoyable than if I had not.

In Alice: Madness Returns, I’d been loving the game, but the combat system wasn’t up my alley. About 75% of the way through the game, I decided to change it from normal to easy, and it made the game infinitely more enjoyable. Did I feel bad about changing the difficulty? Honestly? A little. Did I wind up having a better time? I quite think so.

Other games I have no issue playing on easy are older games from previous generations. Some of the control schemes are antiquated and I just want to experience the game without fighting much of anything aside from the controls. Those decisions don’t bother me at all.

I do have an issue when a game won’t allow you to change the difficulty once you’ve started the game, such as the first Knack. I mean, how can you know until you really start playing a game if you legitimately need to change the difficulty setting?

Knack became punishing and I realized I wasn’t having fun after pushing through a large chunk of it. That’s when I found you couldn’t change the setting, and I decided to plow through anyway. I finished the game, but for the last half, I wasn’t having fun at all. The moment I finished the game, I took it out of my PS4, put it back in the case, and immediately took it to GameStop to trade it in.

I almost never do that.

The flip side of this is also true: I will occasionally play a game on hard. Case in point: InFamous.

When I started playing InFamous, after playing for about ten minutes, the game suggested I play on hard. I thought, well, why not? So I did and everything was fine until I reached the final boss who was a little ridiculous. I got incredibly frustrated.

What I should have done was set the game aside, come back the next day fresh, and tried again. Instead, I sat there swearing at this teleporting jerkwad, and dying over and over. To this day I don’t like how that boss was finished: I asked my partner to try it to see how he did.

He beat the boss.

That’s the only time in my gaming life where I’ve asked him to do that; I still don’t feel I’ve really beat that game. I know it’s a technicality since I played literally everything else, but I didn’t finish the boss myself.

I think about all these things when I think of Cuphead, and I’m not sure I’m up for an experience of extreme frustration. I want to experience the game, but I don’t want to beat my head against the wall in the process. My “real” life has enough frustrations; I don’t need even more from what should be an enjoyable experience.

But I still want to play Cuphead.

The major thing holding me back right now is that we only have one controller for the Xbox One. To play co-op we would need to buy another, and I’m not sure we would ever make use of it again.

I suppose I will stew on it.

How do you feel about punishing games? How do you feel if you decide to change the difficulty setting on a game you are playing? How do you feel about playing games on easy?

This weekend I may be playing more Destiny 2…and I may not. I’m experiencing some frustration with things surrounding the RNG and some Crucible issues (to say nothing of not having finished the prestige Nightfall), so I may look elsewhere for my gaming enjoyment. I’m also hoping to watch a handful of horror movies I’ve been wanting to get to, so that should be nice, too. Horror movie Fridays!

What will you be playing this weekend? Any exciting plans?

Please be safe out there, friends.

12 replies »

  1. I also don’t like super hard video games. I hate the feeling of being “stuck” in a game…I need progress! If I’m not having fun, and I’m just there being stressed with an occasional sense of relief coming when I get past a frustrating part, I don’t see the point to keep playing. But I’m glad there’s enough options to people that seeks a more challenging experience or people that just want to roll through the game without problems.

    Normal usually is well balanced and perfect to me. Sometimes is a bit hard, sometimes is a bit easy, but I’m usually fine and happy with it.

    Alice Madness Returns is a good exemple, I played it on normal and it felt that every encounter took so much time, I bet the easy option gave a better paced experience.

    I played a couple of games on easy, though. First time I played The Last of Us I had to change to easy because I was sucking so much in a stealth part and I didn’t want to get frustrated. I felt bad until I got the PS4 version and beat it on normal! Redemption! I also played through Injustice on easy just to see the story. I try not to feel bad about it, BUT DEEP INSIDE…I always feel a little bad going on easy. Not XCOM, though…I’m happy playing it on easy!

    All that said…I still want to play Cuphead even being super hard. IT LOOKS SO GOOD!

    Meanwhile, I’m still on my journey through XCOM 2 and now I’m also playing Destroy All Humans, a game that I always wanted to play. I’m about aliens right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said! I also typically play on normal for the experience the developers balanced the game around.

      That’s awesome that you played through The Last of Us on easy and eventually on normal! I bet that felt nice!

      Goodness, you ARE all about alien games right now! I hope XCOM is kind to you, or at least as kind as it can be, and that Destroy All Humans is, too. :)


  2. I don’t mind challenging games unless the challenge is unfair in the sense that it handicaps the player too much and doesn’t dwell on the failures. I’ll usually play on Normal difficulty for games or series that I’m comfortable with but I have no problem playing on Easy if it’s a genre or series I’m new to. I played Yakuza 0 on Easy since I never played a game in the series and didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad I did as some enemies were still able to beat me pretty easily and I can only imagine how difficult they are on harder difficulties. It doesn’t matter what difficulty a game is played on, the ending destination is always the same.

    Cuphead reminds me more of Super Meat Boy than Dark Souls. It’s a punishing game, but retrying is near instantaneous and there’s no real punishment for dying and you keep the knowledge of the level/boss to improve upon. I find it strange that anything difficult now gets compared to Dark Souls since it wasn’t like there weren’t difficult games before those.

    I’m still working through Psycho Pass Mandatory Happiness and I also started Pyre recently. I’m interested in Cuphead and I might get that as well but we’ll see. Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point on playing games on easy that you aren’t familiar with. I never really thought about that before.

      I agree with you about the Meat Boy comparison as opposed to the Dark Souls one. And it’s true; there have always been hard games. I think the Souls comparison is an easy one so a lot of people go for it. I just think it’s misused fairly often.

      I hope you enjoyed whatever you played!


  3. Admittedly, I too enjoy the feeling of “mastering” a game. That being said, I purposefully don’t play brutally punishing games and I’ve no intention of playing Cuphead. I’m watching it on Twitch to get my fill. However, I absolutely support a variety of difficulty modes. This weekend I’ll dabble in Destiny 2 to prepare for the first Iron Banner, I definitely want to try the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 demo and then I’m playing Uncharted: Lost Legacy. I’ll also continue with indecision as to whether to buy Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Star Wars: Battlefront 2 this fall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that makes a lot of sense. Thank goodness for streamers!

      Oh man…Iron Banner. I have no idea if I will indulge in it or not…but now that I’ve typed that, I know deep down that I probably will, and that makes me tired just thinking about it.

      I hope you enjoyed the Battlefront demo!


  4. I have been saying for the last few posts that I plan to play Uncharted; for some reason i have yet to get into that game. I also have to get into the next episode of TT’ take on Batman. I’m interested in seeing where that goes.
    As for me, switching difficulty; I don’t mind it. Sometimes, you have to switch to see a game through. I concur with your thoughts on the first Knack. I guess in part that’s why I have yet to get the next game. Ijs!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can appreciate a good challenge in games. I’m currently playing two “challenging” games right now: Shin Megami Tensei IV and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+. Shin Megami Tensei IV makes it clear from the outset that it is not screwing around, a single mistake can wipe out your entire party in a single round. It has an easy mode, but there are conditions to unlocking it, and even then it’s on you to decide to turn it on.

    I don’t see any shame in lowering the difficulty if you aren’t enjoying yourself; you have nothing to prove to anyone. From what I’ve seen of Cuphead, it looks right up my alley.

    I plan on playing the aforementioned games this weekend, enjoy your weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

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