The Eight we love to Hate
We love videogames. If there were a church dedicated to gaming (and there should be), we'd be up there in the pulpit, preaching like a madman about how much we love them and the unadulterated joy they've brought into our otherwise hollow and miserable lives. But now and again, we play a game that stretches our unwavering faith to the limit, with flawed design, badly pitched learning curves, irritating glitches or glaring faults that render the experience unpalatable. Over the years, we'd like to think that we've grown fairly adept at weeding out the rubbish games from the good ones, but then we all make mistakes. The games listed here aren't necessarily bad, just examples that we remember more for their ability to incite flailing fits of fury than provoking whoops of delight.
So now without further ado, the eight most frustrating games that we've encountered during our twenty years of gaming, in no particular order.
1. Stuntman (2002, PlayStation 2)
Reflections' stunt driver game sounded great on paper. Live the life of a movie stuntman performing daring, thrilling, seat-of-the-pants exploits in explosive, fabricated films reminiscent of iconic action-packed flicks. In reality it was one of the most unforgiving games imaginable, punishing you for even the slightest mistake or ill-judged turn. As the levels dragged on, the requirements for successfully completing a take gradually became more demanding until nothing but absolute perfection was good enough. By the time we'd made it to the pseudo-James Bond stages, we'd had enough and vowed never to play the game ever again. We hate the director's stupid voice telling us what to do, we hate that damn tuk-tuk that rolls over at the mere sight of a corner and we hate that this game was so bloody, impenetrably hard when it should have been a blast.
A rare example of a developer taking a great idea and sucking the life out of it by making it maddeningly tough, Stuntman will live on in infamy as one of the most irritating games we've ever had the misfortune of playing. Suffice to say, we steered clear of the 2007 sequel, despite the mostly positive reviews it garnered upon release. We don't want any more of Stuntman's repetitive, trial and error gameplay, thankyouverymuch.
2. Driver 2 (2000, PlayStation)
Newcastle-based developer Reflections Interactive again, peddling their unique brand of hair-tearingly difficult motoring in the sequel to the equally frustrating but nonetheless rather playable, Driver. This holds a personal place in my heart for being the only game annoying enough to drive me into snatching the game disc from the console's drive and flinging it across the room, snapping a big chunk out of it as it hit the wall in the process. Apparently, Driver 2 was supposed to be a vast improvement upon its predecessor allowing lead character Tanner to get out of the car and roam about before GTA III came along a year later and did it properly. As horrible as they were, it wasn't the on-foot portion of the game that pushed us over the edge, but rather the choppy frame rate, flaky graphics and even more decisively, the Everest-steep difficulty curve that saw pads hurled and the eventual final destruction of the game itself. Chasing a car for a solid twenty minutes only to clip an object and instantly fail does not a fun game make. The End.
Honourable mention to Reflections then for producing some of the most frustrating driving games ever. We're looking at you Destruction Derby 1&2, Stuntman and the entire Driver series! We hate you all.
3. The Ninja (1987, Sega Master System)
An early low point from our younger gaming days, The Ninja doesn't conjure up the same kind of halcyon, rose-hued memories as say, Street Fighter II or Sonic the Hedgehog. Instead, it invokes recollections of bleary-eyed frustration and outrage at how thoroughly unjust the game was. A run-and-gun shooter cum fighter, The Ninja's sole objective was to reach the top of the level, collecting scrolls and dispatching enemies with slow, floaty shuriken stars. Your inept ninja avatar moved like a drunken idiot too, making it a challenge to avoid even one or two wayward throwing knives tossed in your general direction. And momentarily being able to turn invisible didn't particularly help matters either, what with bouncing boulders cascading down the screen at speed by only the second stage.
A short-lived and thoroughly unpleasant gaming experience, The Ninja stands out as being the most hateful little game to ever feature a ninja as its protagonist. Its only saving grace was its innate ability to induce howls of laughter at how absurdly poor it was. A misguided 9.99 GBP squandered when I originally purchased it in 1989, The Ninja serves as a reminder of how naïve I was when I was a goofy seven-year old. The shame.
4. Ninja Gaiden Sigma (2007, PlayStation 3)
Tomonobu Itagaki is allegedly a difficult man, who also loves making exceedingly difficult games. Any of the iterations of post 2004 Ninja Gaiden, whether it's the original version, Ninja Gaiden Black (both of which appeared on Xbox) or this; the next-gen remake for the PS3, they're all as hard as titanium nails. Despite this salient fact, it's actually quite hard to hate Ninja Gaiden since the game has a tight and responsive control system that reward players for having a degree of skill. Slaying demonic ninjas is enormous fun if you're any good at the game - sadly, we're not. What makes Ninja Gaiden Sigma frustrating, are the times when an enemy manages to get a sneaky hit past your guard and drain a quarter of your health bar in one go. When this happens it suddenly becomes extremely easy to hate Ninja Gaiden, for all the wrong reasons.
We much prefer Ninja Gaiden II on Xbox 360 for its brutality and viscera as limbs go flying in flurries of gore and legless ninjas claw their way along the floor in a vain attempt to bite your toes off. It's a little more forgiving than its predecessor too, although the less said about the trio of final bosses that must be defeated without the luxury of being able to save your game, the better. Then again, the less said about Sigma's tooth-bending boss encounters, the better too. Horrible.
5. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (2006, Xbox 360)
Like Ninja Gaiden, Lost Planet isn't necessarily a bad game, just another extremely, unconditionally frustrating one. You see, protagonist Wayne Holden is not just a bland, stone-faced bore but he's also ridiculously annoying to control. The trouble is he's far too slow, clumsy and weak, running along as if trudging through molasses. Traipsing through a foot of snow amid a merciless blizzard, Wayne's pace is completely understandable, but running along solid ground at the same speed? Sorry Capcom, but you've lost us. Drawn out animations make even the most simple of tasks a real slog and when you're facing enemies that are much larger, quicker and more fearsome than your outgunned self, you're in real trouble. Especially when after an impact, Wayne finds himself locked in a slow falling animation leaving you helplessly agape as more projectiles rain down turning the screen into a blurred mess of confusion and disorientation. You might as well load your last checkpoint whenever you hit the deck, because you can bet good money that Wayne won't be getting up anytime soon. Wayne is, as a good friend pointed out, "a hate conduit."
Lost Planet looks stunning and the smoke and fire effects are lovely when you're not on the receiving end. Having to constantly collect the orangey bits from the middle of a Jaffa cake to keep Wayne from freezing to death is a major bugbear too, even when you're indoors or deep in the bowels of a volcano. Surely, of all places you can forget about the cold, a volcano with its floes of white-hot molten rock is one of them. No? Oh, okay then, Capcom. Grr!
6. Prince of Persia Warrior Within (2004, PlayStation 2)
Forget for a moment that this sequel to 2003's Sands of Time completely did away with the vibrancy and evocative sense of time and place that defined the series' nascent reinvention. And forget that the Prince was transformed into a moody Goth teenager with his own crummy, thrash metal soundtrack. What continues to stick in our mind about Warrior Within is not the ill-advised change in direction the developer decided to take, but the wayward, recalcitrant camera, the dark, samey locations and the constant, grinding, backtracking. While travelling back and forth through time transforming the environments was a nice touch, there's no excuse for the number of times you were made to retrace your steps and go back and forth to the same places over and over again.
Add to this some iffy combat, a ropey storyline and patience-wearing escapes from the dark clutches of the rampaging Dahaka, (guardian of the timeline) where the camera would switch angles without warning causing you to accidentally run into a gaping chasm, and you have the perfect recipe for a truly annoying game.
7. Probotector (1994, Sega Mega Drive)
Also known as Contra: Hard Corps, this PAL version we bought for the exorbitant price tag of 59.99 GBP, and remains to this day the most expensive insanity trigger we've ever splashed out on. This is still one of the toughest shooters we've ever played (or are ever likely to play) and although we're more than aware that there are games out there more suited to the 'bullet hell' label than this, such as R-Type and Ikaruga, this was the hardest thing imaginable for a 12-year old to be subjected to outside of the aforementioned, well-renowned titles.
Stripping all of the cheat codes from the North American and Japanese versions meant that the only way to play the PAL version was straight up, three lives, no continues, no quarter - just see how far you can get and that's it. And it was always the same old boss that brought our progress to a clattering halt. The largely invulnerable Omni Bot that transforms through several hideous states, firing rockets, beams, claws, hooks, anvils, kitchen sinks (perhaps we made those last two up) before firing wavy lasers all over the place, which were nigh on impossible to avoid unless you had cat-like reflexes. Defeating it only once after countless playthroughs, an equally difficult boss would always come along and finish us off rendering all of our previous effort completely null and void.
Come to think of it, Probotector was really just a series of increasingly hardcore boss encounters that were insurmountable to everyone but the most rabid of twitch-fingered gamers. Videos of amazing boss runs on YouTube show that if you learn the patterns and keep a cool head, you can finish the game, no sweat. But when the game in question is as rough as Probotector was, there's very little fun to be had, which is why it will always endure in the memory as one of the most unremittingly frustrating games we've ever played.
8. Flashback (1993, Sega Mega Drive)
Another great game that managed to invoke our wrath due to a fit-inducing difficulty curve and head scratching, obscure puzzles and objectives. Even now we get cold sweats thinking of the hours we sunk into struggling through labyrinthine stage after stage, finding keys and dispatching swooping jetpack guards well into the early hours of the morning (aged 11, mind you). Making it all the way into the bowels of the alien hive, deep into the cavernous alien colony where your final objective is simply to plant a devastating bomb device, destroy the malevolent Master Brain and complete the game, there is no guidance whatsoever. No clue as to how or where you place the damn bomb. Playing a game until 4am at such a tender age is just plain wrong, and by the time we detected the smell of sizzling Mega Drive chips, we decided it was time to cut our losses and hit the off switch, with flashing 16-bit images burnt onto our retinas.
Sorry, Conrad Hart. It looks as though you'll never get your memories back, mate. Not on our watch anyway. We loved your Prince of Persia-style rotoscoped animation and Marty McFly fashion sense, but goddamn, your game was annoying. Involving story, cutting edge visuals (for the time) and compelling gameplay don't mean squat if the game is virtually impossible to finish.
The same goes for all games out there. Artificially squeezing longevity from a game by making it harder than steel-coated granite is lazy and no fun whatsoever. We never want to have to smash a pad to pieces or hurl a game disc in disgust ever again. Here endeth our lesson.
Note: These are the most frustrating games this particular writer has played. We're aware that titles like Ghost 'n Goblins, R-Type and Ikaruga are probably far more taxing and frustrating than any of the games listed here. This writer hasn't played them though, for fear of what they might do to his typically relaxed temperament. Each game is listed alongside the format it was originally played on.
Got a frustrating game to add to the list? Leave a comment and keep it clean!