With all the recent hubub about the new Crash Bandicoot game being something akin to Dark Souls in terms of difficulty, and the popularity of difficult games in general, it’s got me thinking. Sure, these games are hard, but what about games that are literally impossible? Games that are hard in such a completely obtuse, terrible way that even the most advanced gamer would look at, shake their head and re-evaluate their life choices. Games that aren’t hard, exactly, but look at what game design means, take all those rules and then push them out of the window in a way that creates an end result so infuriating it’s actually genius?
Last time I took a look at a few spooky games. It was a lot of fun, and I thought I’d take another crack at it. This time, looking back at a few titles with such brilliantly terrible design. Games that know you want to beat them and laugh at that fact. Not entirely sure what I mean? Here are a few examples. I wouldn’t recommend playing them, unless you have the patience of some kind of saint, and then some. Or, maybe you do want to give them a shot, just to understand why game design is such an important factor.
First up is Douglas Adams classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, released in 1984. The game itself was designed and written by Douglas Adams, working with Infocom’s Steve Meretzky, and as a result it’s very accurate to the silly spirit the series embodies. That is to say, you can leave any actual logic at the door, hold onto your butt and just pray you somehow manage to come to a vague understanding of this text adventure’s wild and utterly unique version of ‘logic’.
The game throws you in the deep end with a time limit and a handful of puzzles. And of course, once this initial portion is over, the time limit thing isn’t an issue but the puzzle thing is. Every single item has some kind of use. Unless they don’t! This changes from game to game and it can be pretty hard to keep track of. The player can look up clues in the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, but they’re under entries no sane person would actually think to look up. If you screw up a puzzle or miss an important item, the game will happily continue along without telling you any of this until it’s too late and you’re promptly told the game has become unwinnable. And, of course, there are a lot of ways to die. Which you will. A lot.
Still want to try it? The BBC has created a 30th Anniversary Edition of the game with updated graphics and a shiny new interface, but the same content. Try it. Please don’t blame me when you need to buy a new computer because you broke yours in a fit of rage.
Next up is a game from the iconic duo, Penn & Teller. They bring us Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors, a game for the Sega CD, PC and 3DO, released in 1995. We have graphics now! Hooray! Given the duos nature, this game is, naturally, a sort of commentary on how the game industry works. The game is made up of several minigames, each with their own ‘scam’ or ‘gimmick’ to essentially make the game completely unplayable or unwinnable in one form or another, but in an incredibly entertaining way that will make you think.
For example, one minigame works as a sort of shoot ’em up game, which requires two players. The thing is, player 1 will be in on the trick and player 2 won’t. The game sets it up so player 1 will always have the higher score and win the game, regardless of how badly they do or how well player 2 does. Another example, one of the more playable examples, includes an RPG platformer style game where the player takes on the role of the iconic duo. There’s also a difficulty select. Should the player choose ‘impossible’, upon starting the game, Lou Reed will immediately come in and kill the player before stating, “This is the impossible level, boys. Impossible doesn’t mean very difficult. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun.”
The most famous example though is Desert Bus. A game where, in real time, the player drives a bus on a long, straight road from Tuscon, Arizona all the way to Las Vegas, Nevada. Which is around 6 hours. And no, you can’t leave it, the bus always veers slightly to the right. If it goes off road? It gets towed, which also happens in real time. What do you get when you get to the end? One whole point! And the option to drive all the way back for another point! Wow!
This managed to spawn the Desert Bus For Hope charity drive. In which various individuals ranging from game devs to internet personalities will take turns to run the game for as long as possible over several days. All money goes to the Child’s Play charity, and they’ve raised over 3 million dollars to date! Not to mention, Gearbox has said they’re releasing a VR remake/sequel. So that’s… Exciting…?
Finally is Takeshi’s Challenge, or, Takeshi no Chosenjo, as it’s known in Japan. The only country it was actually released in (other than unofficial fan translations as seen below). Coming out in 1986 for the Famicom (the Japanese NES), it was designed in part by a Japanese comedian by the name of Takeshi Kitano.
At first glance, the game is your classic side scrolling adventure game. The player can wander Tokyo as they please, talk with shop keepers, and generally have an okay time. Until they start playing the game a little more where the horrible truth of it becomes more apparent. Some segments require you to sing kareoke through the horribly unresponsive microphone in the controller. Another portion sees you divorce your wife and pay out her alimony. You have the option to instead fight her, but that’s a bad idea, considering she has infinite health. Before the game even begins you can get a game over at the password screen by punching the old man that owns the password input. You need to go through the process of getting fired from your job. It’s a mundane as hell game made fun if only by the ability to punch things.
Oh, and if you die? It’s straight back to the start for you. And, again, you’ll die a lot for being an unemployed, divorced salary man from Japan.