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Difficult Arcade Games are Infuriating in the Best Possible Way

Let’s not mince words here: Some arcade games are super-duper difficult. In fact, when playing on quarters, extremely extenuating gameplay circumstances can actually become somewhat frustrating.

But what if I told you that high difficulty can be a positive?

This is something I’ve been mulling over a lot more in the, erm, “COVID-19 era” when indulging in arcade gaming goodness at home has practically become a necessity. Two games in particular have fueled my thought: Crazy Taxi and Time Crisis 3.

With all this time on my hands, I’ve made it my mission to hone my skills in two of my favorite PlayStation 2 ports to ready myself for the fateful day I can finally play either of these titles in an arcade again.

Time Crisis 3, in typical Time Crisis fashion, has been an absolute delight to the senses, even if pointing and shooting with Dualshock 2 analog stick has resulted in a slightly more cumbersome experience overall. (I’ll buy a Guncon 2 someday.)

While I still stand firm in trying to get a kick-butt score, hours upon hours of failed attempts have started to eat away at my patience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve soft reset the game because of some silly mistake I made within the first 10 minutes of a playthrough.

Even so, I really can’t say I’m not having a blast. Whether I’m sucking it up or winning the day, Time Crisis is never a bad time, especially since the home version has juicy extra content for me to sink my teeth into.

I was in for a truly grueling treat when I started chasing high scores in Crazy Taxi. It is far and away one of the twitchiest and unrelenting pieces of interactive entertainment upon which I have ever laid my hands—and yes, I’ve played Gun.Smoke.

There’s truly nothing like going into a run with all the optimism in the world only to have your dreams crushed by a random bus crossing an intersection. “Start, down, cross, up, cross” soon became my go-to button sequence. (For the laypeople among us, that’s how you restart.)

The title’s main saving grace is its short length. It’s a lot easier for me to stomach a 10-minute flop than, say, a 30-minute devastation. As long as I remind myself to be patient, even Crazy Taxi doesn’t irk me that badly.

Practicing an arcade game can be a genuinely engaging endeavor, no matter the human cost. That…or I’m just a masochist. (Wow, that looks way worse on paper than it sounded in my head.)

I think it’s paramount, though, that developers strike a fine balance between rewardingly challenging and mind-bogglingly punishing. Accessibility is important in any medium, arcade games being no exception.

What I’d most warn against is implementing too many factors outside of the player’s control. Random events or, goodness forbid, cheating computers can be a bit upsetting in single-player games.

Fortunately, I think most game designers these days get the picture, which is why we’re privy to such compelling quests as the ones I detailed above. Not every game needs to hold my hand—just as long as it doesn’t push me into traffic.

Make sure to share your thoughts on arcade game difficulty with me on Twitter or Discord. Eat your vegetables.


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