‘Nintendo Hard.’ An expression that has been placed on many NES era games. It is used to define perfectly normal games with an abnormal difficulty. Go back and try playing some of those titles like Contra, Battletoads, Zelda 2, Ghosts N’ Goblins, and even parts of games like Super Mario 3. Those games were balls tough, especially compared to what passes for difficult these days. Ninja Gaiden on Xbox is a notoriously difficult game, but it has nothing on the original three that came out on the NES.
The thing about many of those newer games is that their difficulty was largely due to a combination of awkward design and a lack of being able to save one’s progress. Nowadays, those issues have been largely dealt with but as a result the difficulty in modern games has suffered. Sure, there are some exceptions (Super Meat Boy is a prime example), but the marriage of action, platforming, polish, and skull-crushing difficulty is an elusive beast. By my estimation, the pinnacle of this game type is in a Freeware title by Michael ‘Kayin’ O’Reilly called I Wanna Be The Guy.
Now, before you freak out and inundate me with comments saying I’m crazy, please allow me to elaborate. I love a good platformer, and I REALLY love one that kicks my ass. I’ve listed five reasons why IWBTG is hands down the best platformer you will ever play.
[It is a true challenge]
Did you play Super Meat Boy? Did you enjoy it? Tell you what; go download I Wanna Be The Guy and give it a go. At the very least, it will make SMB feel like Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, and it will make you laugh your ass off. That’s the fascinating thing about IWBTG: Most of the time I find it infuriating playing difficult games, and I crank things down to Easy. In a playthrough of this one, I die THOUSANDS of times but whenever it happens I find myself laughing out loud. Why? Well, mostly it’s because the thing that caused The Kid (the game’s tiny protagonist) to explode into a geyser of blood and viscera is so random and unexpected that I can’t help but laugh at how douchey Kayin was in devising such a trap.
There are four difficulty levels in IWBTG, which are determined solely by the number of save points in the game world. On ‘medium’ (the easiest difficulty), the extra save points are labelled ‘WUSS’ instead of ‘SAVE’. Also, if you play on medium The Kid is wearing a pink bow in his hair. On the other end of the spectrum is the most challenging difficulty: Impossible. At this level, there are no save points. To date, nobody has ever been able to complete the game on Impossible — although there are people out there who think this game is a training simulation like in The Last Starfighter, and that anyone who can beat the game will be whisked off to save the universe or something.
[It’s a brilliant meta-game]
Remember Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard? It was billed as the ultimate ‘look behind the curtain’ of video game culture by applying a modern sensibility to different gaming genres, trends, and tropes through the years. As it turned out, besides being mildly amusing at points, Matt Hazard ended up unintentionally saying far more about mediocrity in modern games than anything else. I Wanna Be The Guy succeeds where other games such as that have failed for one critical reason: It captures the hilarious references to classic games while not skimping on making a game that stands on its own mechanically.
[It has amazing bosses]
Here, you have a gigantic Mecha Birdo firing lasers at you while the boss music from Ikaruga plays. Pure gaming insanity. Some of the bosses, like Dracula from Symphony of the Night or Mother Brain from Metroid, are pretty much straight up the same from the original games. Others, like Mecha Birdo above or ‘Kraidgief’, combine elements to create unique experiences. Interestingly, the boss fights are probably the easiest parts of this game, with the exception of the final boss of course.
[It’s a rock-solid platformer]
Just look at this fucking guy. Now that’s skill…
In spite of having died so many times in IWBTG, I have never felt frustrated or cheated. Why? Well, it’s because it wouldn’t be fair to blame the game for my failings. Like Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls, skill and persistence will carry you to victory. If you die in any of these games, it’s not the game’s fault; it’s because you weren’t good enough. Like Super Meat Boy, IWBTG is brutally hard but fair. The controls are precise and hit detection is consistent, which are essential components for any decent platformer. Sure, sometimes fruit falls up instead of down but it’s designed that way and it will do it each and every time.
One flaw with this game is that it’s a little buggy in that it crashes at random points. It’s not such a big deal though since you’re not likely to last more than 30 seconds at any given time, and it generally occurs after your death animation…I wonder if it’s intentional — the game’s way of saying “Look, why don’t you just take a break”.
After dying more than many, many, many times, I have actually managed to make it to the final boss and get within a hair of beating the game. I know exactly what I’m supposed to do to beat him, but to this day I just. Can’t. Do. It. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at my computer with my head in my hands over the smallest miscalculation of a jump.
Someday. Someday, God damn it, I will beat this fucking game.
I Wanna Be The Guy can be found here. It takes about 40 seconds to download, and it doesn’t cost you a cent. Once you start it up though…you’re on your own.
Oh, one more thing. There’s a sequel of sorts called I Wanna Be The Fangame, which is also free. I just started it, I’m about halfway through the second screen, and I’ve died about 25 times already. This just might end up on my GOTY list…