God dammit, I got suckered into the “if you want to play on Easy, why do you want to play at all?” debate again.
It usually goes something like this: I begin playing a game, but find it too difficult. I want to experience the rest of the game (for whatever reason), but the gameplay isn’t really my thing (or maybe isn’t very good to begin with), so I am not motivated to practice. Or maybe it’s just that I’m pushing thirty and have a full time job, and the next game I want to play comes out in a week. Whatever, the point is: I just want to burn this game up. Time to flip on Easy Mode.
Except Easy Mode isn’t easy enough, leaving me with no recourse except to bitch about it on the Internet. This inevitably inspires some tough guy to come along and point out that if the game were too easy, it would destroy the game experience, and then what would be the point of playing it at all?
The answer to that question isn’t simple, because it’s a personal thing and some people just can’t see outside of their own heads. At this point I’m trapped, because if I then list the reasons I do want to finish the game, the discussion moves into how I’m wrong about how I’m playing it and why I was dumb for buying it in the first place… which isn’t productive.
So what I really need is a good way to shut down the whole objection right up front: making Easy Mode completely accessible to every single player will not adversely effect anyone else’s gameplay experience. After all, most people don’t play the game on Easy — why should they care what other players are getting away with?
It should go without saying that I’m only talking about single-player games here. I don’t think it’s necessary (or even possible) to include a good Easy Mode in a competitive game.
What I’ve done here is looked at my own collection and compiled a list of games with great Easy Modes, whose gameplay experiences were, in fact, not destroyed. Most of these games are quite well thought-of, and many are in fact very difficult. The only difference is the people making them identified that not all of their players are up to their challenge, and decided to throw them a bone.
Contra – NES
This game was (and is) famous for its 30-man code. It’s entirely possible that thirty lives isn’t enough to get you through the game, but the experience is so much fun (and the game is so short) that you’re better motivated to try again. (Especially if you’re playing with a buddy, and he stole most of your lives, heh.) Indeed, most of the fond memories of this game involve exploiting this code… and, of course, staring in awe at the one kid on the playground who can beat it in one life.
Donkey Kong Country Returns – Wii
In addition to the Super Kong option (which lets you skip levels after dying on them a bunch), Cranky Kong’s shop has several items that can help you brute force levels which are otherwise too difficult for you.
Halo 3 – 360
The low difficulty setting in this game lets you soak up gunfire and causes the enemy to more or less run headlong into your bullets. Plus there is a checkpoint every six feet. You could finish the game on this setting by setting the controller on the floor and stomping on it, which has no effect whatsoever on the guys who brag about clearing Legendary with all the gold skull handicaps turned on. (Or the guys who will just headshot you fifty times in multiplayer.)
Mega Man 10 – Wii
I have issues with this game, but many players liked it for all the reasons I disliked it, so it must be doing something right. Easy Mode in this game covers all the spikes and pits with platforms, makes all the monsters slower, reduces the amount of damage your hero takes, and adjusts all the boss patterns so you have to try and lose. My brother, who has a residual fondness for classic Mega Man despite not playing a video game since 1995, was able to clear this in one sitting thanks to the carebear mode.
NetHack – pretty much everything
Roguelikes are notorious for brutal difficulty bordering on being unfair. NetHack has ten thousand ways to kill you, and even armed with a wiki it’s possible to play it hundreds of times without getting anywhere near the end. And yet, Explore Mode is merely a button away; type Shift+X and the game immediately switches over to a version where it is impossible to die. This is great for anyone who wants to just run around the dungeon, and is indispensible as a learning tool for discovering the types of things that are possible. Of course, nothing compares to a legitimate ascension…
Professor Layton and the ________ ________ – DS
Difficulty settings typically don’t apply to puzzle games. After all, you can always look up the solution to a puzzle if you want to skip it; actually executing the solution is never a barrier the way it is in action games. Nonetheless, the Layton series lets you buy hints if you’re stuck. Several hints per puzzle, in fact, and the final hint typically just tells you what to do. Even friendlier, you don’t need to solve every puzzle to win the game; you can almost always skip the one that’s giving you fits entirely, and move on to the next one.
Rock Band – 360, PS3, Wii
Every Rock Band game features a No-Fail Mode. This does exactly what you’d expect: makes it impossible to fail. You can even pair it up with any difficulty setting. Want to play on Expert without actually being any good? Go right ahead! This is perfect for players who want to practice a song before stepping up for real, or for young kids and grandmas who just happen to be passing through the living room during a playlist. And yet, there are still entire communities dedicated to squeezing every last point out of each and every song.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii
This game has no difficulty settings, but if you die enough on a single challenge the game offers to let you skip it. Thus a player who is mostly good but has trouble on one… damn… level can take a gimme and just get on with his life. The game keeps track of what you’ve completed yourself and what you took a pass on, so you can’t get the sooper seekrit ending this way, but you can always go back and do the level properly, if you’re so inclined.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Wii
This is a game about a bunch of cute Nintendo characters beating each other up. The adventure mode is a great way to just play around with all the fighters and have a bunch of fun, colorful random stuff happen in a relatively low-stress environment. Push the button a lot and you win! (Just be careful about doing it on YouTube.)
Super Street Fighter IV – 360, PS3
This is a competitive game, yes, and playing against other people is of course the main attraction. That said, this game was designed for and marketed towards lapsed Street Fighter players… the kind who played at the arcade once in a while but didn’t end up following the scene. Simply picking a character and mashing buttons to make him do cool things, or spending a few hours just pulling off everyone’s Ultra against an immobile 2P, is a totally valid way to play the game. To this end, they made Very Easy in Arcade Mode so absolutely simple that you only just barely need to stay awake to finish it. Which is good, because we’re up to 39 characters, and each one has a reasonably entertaining cartoon ending to watch. This is a breath of fresh air considering that the home versions of Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III are very close to impossible even on their easiest settings.
I could go on (and maybe I will; I’ve been adding to this list all week), but there is one Easy Mode which stands above all Easy Modes. An Easy Mode so stupidly brain-dead easy that, if Easy Modes really did destroy games, this particular game would have no fans whatsoever.
Metal Gear Solid III – PS2
This game is often considered the high point of the Metal Gear Solid series which, for a time, was one of those titles which would stretch sales lines around the block. It is a cruelly difficult game which involves a great deal of observation, critical thinking, and twitchy action challenges. The game makes a point of punishing bad play, and one mistake can often lead to a hopelessly tense situation, which leads to further mistakes, and so on, until you die. Some of the optional challenges (proto-achievements, really) place higher demands of perfection on a player than anything else in the PS2 library.
But Easy Mode is easy. Picture the easiest game you’ve ever played. No, Easy Mode in MGS3 is even easier than that. Your mom could beat it. You get a silenced gun with unlimited ammo. You get camouflage that is so good you can literally stand directly in front of an enemy soldier and not be seen. You have so much health that you can walk into a firefight, set the controller down, spend a fun day at a local water park with friends and family, then come back and still not be dead. And on the off-chance you are dead, well, you just restart at the beginning of whatever screen you were on. You can complete the game simply by running from scene to scene, stopping to button-mash your way through boss fights once in a while. And this is a totally valid way to play the game, considering how many players really loved the narrative style of MGS games (of which MGS3 is the finest example), but weren’t really turned on by the sneak’n’gun gameplay.
I have had hundreds of conversations about MGS3 over the years, about all aspects of the game. Pretty much anyone who did any console gaming through the ’90s and ’00s had something to say about it. I have completed the game myself on all but the very hardest difficulty level (that is, “game over if you get spotted”). There was a time when I could have quoted trivia about this game that would make the most ardent Kojima fanboy blush. I shot the goddamn frogs.
Yet, oddly enough, none of the game’s fans claim their experience was at all deteriorated by Unbelievably Super Easy Mode being an option on the menu. Kind of puts a damper on all those “if it were too easy, why bother playing” arguments, doesn’t it?