Greetings Interwebs and 1MoreCastlers! Welcome to my (possibly temporary;-) debut on 1MC! Some of you may or may not know me as the host/producer of the little known retro gaming podcast, InRetroSpection. You may or may not also know that I love retro games, often times more than modern ones, though I do love me some Assassin’s Creed and Elder Scrolls. Well today is not the day for rose-colored nostalgia or gushing praise for the classics of old; no, today is is the day I get my rage on. So strap in boys and girls, cause it’s time to RetroHate!
So, today’s topic is one I’ve struggled with for awhile and have written a bit about in the past regarding many retro games: The One-Hit Wonder. I’m not talking about a developer that makes it big on one good game and all their subsequent games are crap. No, I’m talking about vaunted classics like Super Mario Bros, Contra, Donkey Kong Country, Alex Kid, Pac-Man, Crash Bandicoot, Q-Bert, the list goes on. I’m talking about games where a single brush with a hazard or enemy kills you instantly. This my friends, is what I call the 1-Hit-Wonder and it really snaps my joystick.
Video games are meant to be challenging, downright difficult even. But this idea in the early (and even some modern) days that your character should be as durable as a dried up paper doll is freaking ridiculous. Oops, I tripped over a Goomba, guess I’m dead now. Ouch! That bullet just phased through my foot and now I’m dead. Oh, was I not supposed to jump on that baddie? I’ll keep that in mind-WHY AM I AT THE BEGINNING OF THE LEVEL?!
Ok. Calming down now. Some games attempted to get around this by giving your character two hits, usually via some kind of power-up. Mario had his mushroom, Crash had Ooga Booga and of course Donkey had Diddy. But, you never start the game with these power-ups, you have to find and collect them within the level. So, basically Mario starts out a squat little plumber who can’t survive bumping into a waddling owl-head. Crash starts out voodoo mask-less and the Contra dudes… THEY’RE TAKING ON AN ALIEN INVASION (or terrorist group, depending on your localization) WEARING FREAKING MUSCLE-SHIRTS AND JEANS!! SERIOUSLY?! Are you suicidal or just plain insane? All it takes is a head-on collision with a puny cadet in a football helmet to end your service to your planet and country. I guess Glass Joe wasn’t an only child.
“But, these games were supposed to be challenging,” you say clutching your copy of Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt. “The one-hit-kill made the enemies more deadly; something that should be feared. And you know Mario wouldn’t be caught dead with a regenerating health bar or med kits.” Actually, all the 3D Mario games had health bars and it was freaking brilliant. And yes, it would be weird to have health kits in a Mario game (except for maybe Paper Mario, but that game’s a whole different Koopa) but what about magic-health-regenerating-coins? Ok, bad example. But in a game like Contra, where you’re actually playing as some bad a** military dudes, you would think it would be perfectly normal to be carrying around a couple med kits. You know, on the off chance you got shot by an enemy troop?
“Ok, but cut the devs some slack,” you say, “this was in the 80s and 90s, they didn’t know how to code for health bars or med kits.” No, I won’t. Because, Legend of Zelda. Castlevania. Sonic the Hedgehog. Gunstar Heroes. Any and all RPGs. These games and more were challenging even with their multiple hit points and health pick ups. Or, let me put it another way: If The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends can have a health bar and health pick-ups, then what are you doing? What the Famicom are you doing?