Git Gud! There, I said it so you don’t have to.
I’ve been playing Guacamelee recently. That’s the plebeian Gold Edition as opposed to the slightly more content-heavy Super Turbo Championship Edition: Guacamelee’s being the only universe in which a Super Turbo Championship is considered more valuable than gold. Regardless, this piece isn’t about what I would consider to be a slightly shady re-release. Nor is it about the game’s wonderful art style, tremendous soundtrack, or grating overuse of severely outdated memes. (I assume the memes are outdated, though I’ve yet to check with the relevant authorities.)
What I will discuss is difficulty: how it can be enjoyable, how it can be tolerable, and how it can be like a brick thrust repeatedly against the cranium. At times, Guacamelee can veer towards the skull-smashy end of the spectrum.DrinkBox Studios’ Luchador platformer smash-fest is generally well regarded, including on this site, and for good reason. When jumping from enemy to enemy, pummeling each and occasionally chucking them into one another, there’s a sense of deep satisfaction. The platforming is generally fun, too. There are some sections which get a bit too fiddly, with a surprising number of different controller presses required in a short period of time, but generally any challenge can be overcome with a little focus.
This is not the case for the boss fights. One in particular – Jaguar Javier, towards the end of the game – got me so riled up that I performed the British equivalent of a rage quit: placing the controller down, opening up the word processor and writing down my thoughts.
Guacamelee is not a game short of ideas. New mechanics are offered up relentlessly, which, while great for platforming and the metroidvania style of world exploration that the game boasts, complicates combat a great deal. This means that the difficulty of combat often lies not in the base challenge but rather in remembering to swap dimension or hitting the enemy in a particular way with a particular move before they’re even able to take damage. There’s so much preparation that goes into each enemy, it’s like you’re cooking them up for a Christmas dinner rather than attempting to beat the crap out of them. When a few waves of enemies are thrown in, or during the aforementioned boss battle, the game becomes a frustrating battle to get to grips with all of these disparate mechanics while maintaining your status of not being dead.Let’s compare this with the benchmark to which all games should aspire vis-á-vis enjoyable difficulty: Super Meat Boy. Failing to traverse the spiky, salty, saw-bladey landscapes of Team Meat’s masterpiece has become something of a rite of passage in gaming, and for good reason. When that little meat man bites the dust, it’s always your fault and you always learn something from the experience. Frustration is replaced by a dogged determination to get through to the end. This is accomplished, in part, by keeping things simple. Leaving aside slight variations with unlockable characters, you run and you jump and that’s it – no dimension swapping or colour-coded enemy shields to muddy the waters.
That’s not to say that a surplus of mechanics automatically means a frustrating experience. As I said, the platforming in Guacamelee is often satisfying; it’s the co-opting of these same mechanics for combat that I found jarring.A section of the game feeling incongruous and wholly unsatisfying or irritating as a result, you say? Let’s discuss Deus Ex: Human Revolution for a moment, a game whose boss battles are like Piers Morgan: unwanted, poorly put together and liable to put you in a bad mood.
I was recently reacquainted with the indignity of marching into one of Human Revolution’s boss battles in a pacifist run: the dawning horror that the game had these blasted diversions, the grim realisation that you have little to no offensive capabilities, and the hurried inventory management as you drop all of your non-lethal equipment and replace it with the arsenal scattered around the arena.
These fights are a marvel, containing all the cursing, bitterness and despair of a challenging encounter, with none of the actual challenge. Presumably in an effort to placate those who didn’t choose to have Jensen be a ruthless archangel of death and destruction, each boss is somewhat underwhelming and can be circumvented with relative ease. Regardless, the complete disregard for the bulk of the game – stealth, reconnaissance, a fluid approach to objectives – means that the change of mindset to approach these mandatory fights is often the hardest part.
So we have examples of all three categories in the headline that I’m still smug for creating. There’s the good difficulty with Super Meat Boy, whose simplistic mechanics are so finely-tuned and so demonstrably built for purpose that failing over and over again is a joy. There’s the bad difficulty with Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s boss battles, which have none of the challenge, none of the reward, but all of the frustration. And finally the AAARGHly, with aspects of Guacamelee’s combat which attempts to build on the minutiae of platforming but ends up far too jumbled and aggravating as a result.
I’m sure there are other categories, but they don’t fit neatly into a pun headline, so you’ll have to go elsewhere for those, I’m afraid.