E-Z Mode

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.

ContraNES
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 ReturnsWii
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 3360
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 10Wii
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.

NetHackpretty 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 Band360, 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 2Wii
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. BrawlWii
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 IV360, 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 IIIPS2
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?

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23 comments to E-Z Mode

  • Merus

    I counter: Super Meat Boy.

    The argument is not that all games everywhere are destroyed by an easy mode, but that specific ones are. But then, the argument becomes ‘what is this game trying to achieve that making it braindead would destroy’ and there’s a lot fewer games on this list than you’d think.

    Is this about Arkham City? I’m thinking of writing a post on achievement design, after I realised that Arkham Asylum’s ‘finish the game on Easy/Medium/Hard’ achievements aren’t present in Arkham City, and that it’s better for it. Arkham City’s combat system is intended to make you feel powerful and in control, striking out and surprising punks who have no idea how much they’re outclassed. That’s orthogonal to difficulty, as Bayonetta proved – you can certainly get a feeling of power by pressing one button and wiping out a bunch of dudes, and so all it has to do is work out a way to get you to not button-mash so pressing that one button is a deliberate act. That’s not a hard ask.

    • Brickroad

      And I counter your counter thusly: if Super Meat Boy had a character who couldn’t die (say… Super Titanium Boy), it would open the game up for a class of players who currently aren’t touching the game. Disqualify Titanium Boy from the leaderboards (SMB has these, right?), block him from unlocking other characters and challenge worlds, and clearly mark which levels he was used in on your map screen. Voila — nothing’s been lost.

      That’s sort of a thought experiment, though, because so far as I know Meat Boy doesn’t have an Easy Mode at all, let alone one that isn’t easy enough for really bad players to use. You’re right in that it identifies what it wants to be and then goes at it full hog, and I can respect a game that does that. It’s also why I’ve avoided the game.

  • Roger Mexico

    The last game I played on easy was the first Condemned. I was goddamned if I was going to play through it for the creepy atmosphere and vaguely interesting story if the weird ass combat was going to force me quit playing due to being murdered by hobos in the dark 10,000 times.

  • Roger Mexico

    Addendum:

    I think there is, however, an additional problem here. Let’s say you know this guy what says he loves Moby Dick. It’s his favorite book. But, it’s too hard for him to read, thankfully, someone made an easy mode Moby Dick and he’s only read the abridged version.

    Has he really read Moby Dick? Can we look down on him for it? Can he legitimately make a claim to it being his favorite book?

    I dunno, sayin’.

    • Flickflack

      But Melville didn’t write four versions of Moby Dick. He wrote one. An abridged version is someone else deciding what is and isn’t pertinent to the overall story. That’s the equivalent of modding or hacking a game, not playing a specifically included difficulty level.

      Honestly, the most annoying part when it comes to difficulty levels is the games that refuse to let you finish on easy difficulties. Don’t include an Easy level if it only grants access to 10% of the game, you jerks.

    • Brickroad

      As long as we know what version of the book he read, I’m fine with him claiming it’s his favorite.

      Similarly, I’m a huge fan of Lord of the Rings despite not liking the books very much. I’ve seen the movies a million times, though, and can say with all confidence that I’m a huge fan of the story, characters, and setting. I just prefer to absorb those things in a different medium than my dad did forty years ago. Whether people look down on me for liking one version better than another is irrelevant to me; what’s important is that I get my elves and ringwraiths on.

      The crux here is that some players can’t understand why folks would play games outside of gaining some sense of accomplishment. That’s a totally valid way to play games, but not everyone wants it (or wants it from every game). There’s nothing wrong with just wanting to be immersed in an experience for a little while, and that’s what I think developers should shoot for when they include an Easy Mode option.

      • narcodis

        To be fair, the LotR books are boring as hell. Tolkein may have been a visionary, but he sure loved to go off about the most inane details of middle earth quite often. I definitely prefer the movies.

  • MetManMas

    I usually try to rough it out at least on normal difficulty, but I certainly don’t mind having options for an easy mode…or even if a game’s easy in general. While it’s pretty much surpassed by every handheld Castlevania after it, a big part of why I still enjoy Harmony of Dissonance* is because it’s a breeze compared to the others…Well, that and 8-bit Simon in the Boss Rush.

    I also fully admit to exploiting the “push up against an animal while attacking to prevent it from attacking back” glitch in my Survival Kids LP. Would’ve had plenty of deaths to those goddamned swamp wolves if I hadn’t.

  • MetManMas

    *Not to be confused with Harmony of Despair. What was Konami thinking, naming two unrelated Castlevania games Harmony? At least it made sense with Dawn of Sorrow, being Aria’s direct sequel.

  • I don’t understand why anyone would hate on an “easy” mode. Games are supposed to be FUN. My theory on games is, if I’m not having fun, it’s not worth my time. If I can do something that increases the amount of fun being had I will do it. Sometimes frustratingly hard games are actually made MORE fun with an easy mode. I guess I don’t care much about a “sense of accomplishment” I just want to have fun.

  • Rosewood

    I can get behind any and all of these. MGS3’s no-fail mode sounds hilarious.

    ‘Splosion Man has a “way of the coward” where you can skip to the next level if you die ten times in a row or so. (Its name is a nose-tweak, but whatever. The option is there.)

    Another example of a game accommodating for the player, while not per se an “easy mode,” is FFXIII’s taking you a few feet away from an unsuccessful encounter rather than giving you a game over.

  • MJG

    Couldn’t agree more, and I say this as someone who pretty much never plays games on easy. It’s a flippin’ game, people should play in whatever way they find most enjoyable. Whether that’s using an invincibility cheat or setting the difficult to Nightmare, why does it really matter to others?

    This reminds me of when I was watching some random LP awhile back, where the person opened up one of the videos with a small rant about some of the comments he was getting. People were chiding the player for not playing the game the “right” way; he was choosing the wrong magic, not optimally allocating his skill points, missing treasure chests, etc. His response was “I’m making progress in the game and having fun doing it. When did this become so wrong?”

    In short: play how you want to play. If people have a problem with it, then that’s their problem, not yours.

  • kaisel

    The only case I can make for Easy mode bothering me is in a very specific set of circumstances: if I want to get better at a game, Normal is too difficult, but Easy has no correlation to how the game is actually played. Devil May Cry 1’s Easy mode was dumb because it was basically a separate sort of game (turning it into a straight up button masher). The real answer there should have been a difficult in between Easy and Normal or something of that nature though.

    Also, easy modes mocking the hell out of you is one of the things that pisses me off. They bought your freaking game and want to have fun with it, don’t be a dick about it (I’m looking at you Ninja Gaiden Black).

    • MetManMas

      Tell me about it; I’ve avoided easy modes in some games just because they mock you in one way or another. Some 16-bit era Konami games wouldn’t even give you an ending unless you beat them on the hardest setting! Turtles in Time was notorious for that, and Buster Busts Loose cuts out a whole stage and all the bosses as well as not giving you your Happy End on Easy. Heck, I haven’t touched Viewtiful Joe’s easy difficulty because it’s called KIDS difficulty. =/

      Speaking of difficulty, unlocks inevitably come to mind. I love how Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition has an ultimate password to unlock all the major unlocks, and how Panzer Dragoon Orta eventually unlocking everything via reaching certain amounts of hours played if you couldn’t meet the other quota. More games need to have alternate ways to unlock the fun stuff instead of requiring everybody to beat a game in Stormtrooper Mortality Mode to unlock Awesome Character or Fun Weapon.

  • PapillonReel

    “It’s unforgivable to play easy mode unless you’re an elementary kid, right?” “Ehhh, really? Easy mode? How weak!”

    But in all seriousness, I really don’t get where the “why play at all if you’re playing on easy” side of the debate is coming from. The whole point of playing video games is to have fun – whether that’s for a sense of accomplishment or just to mess around, it doesn’t matter so long as you can justify it (and “I’m having fun” is more than enough to do so). It’s the same kind of snobbery you see from some competitive players who claim that people aren’t enjoying the game as deeply as they are just because they don’t memorize hitboxes or don’t play 100% optimally.

    I think the only line I’d draw it at is in the case of outright cheating, and even then it’s not a big deal as long as you own up to it. The first time I played through FFT I had a “current JP never goes down” cheat turned on and it actually made the game more fun simply because it cut out the tedious grind needed to experiment with different jobs.

    • The crux of the argument, as was presented to me once, is that one can only feel a sense of accomplishment from there being challenge. The example is that one doesn’t ride an escalator or helicopter to the top of Everest.

      This is a bullshit excuse, though. Beyond the fact that games have more to them then just pure difficulty, there’s plenty of games that legitimately have NO difficulty, and yet are still highly entertaining. Rhapsody, a Musical Adventure, for example, is one of my favourite games even though it has enemy encounters that are about as tough as wet paper bags. I play games to experience the whole package, and if this is being damaged by excessive difficulty, then why should I continue?

      This is, though, not the same as enjoying a game because it is difficult. I could see how Dark Souls or Demon Souls could have an “easy” mode, but the games are also constructed in a manner not unlike Nethack, in that it’s meant to be about perfect play, and deaths are always the result of a player misstep. That said I would like to see through the story someday, too…!

  • SpoonyBardOL

    There’s a lot of that on WoW now with the upcoming Looking For Raid tool and people throwing a fit at Blizzard for letting ‘baddies’ be able to have a chance to do the Dragon Soul raid in an easymode.

    (this despite the fact that the LFR is still going to be balls hard for the first little while as people adjust to playing with 24 other people they don’t know and folks gear up enough to trivialize it)

    But since the gear is lower level than the normal raids, and you can’t get achievements from the LFR, they’re essentially only complaining about more people just getting a chance to experience it without having to be serious raiders. And I say screw those guys. The raids are by far where a good chunk of WoW’s development goes after an expansion launches, and making that available to a greater portion of their paying customers isn’t only fair, it’s just smart.

    Let people easymode if that’s how they want to play, nothing wrong with that.

    • One of my favourite memories of WoW raiding is when my guild started doing Ulduar, everyone was all “Oh man, this is hard! Just the difficulty we wanted!” Fast forward a few weeks, after we had geared up and gotten used to the bosses, and the same folks were going “Oh man, this raid is way too easy. Why arn’t they making difficult encounters?” I’ll also add that we were intentionally ignoring the various Hard Modes, too.

      The moral of the story is that raid difficulty is incredibly subjective. I love the idea of the LFR tool, especially with Blizz’s intent to get as much of the playerbase into the high level encounters as possible. I mean, if they’re going to spend so much development and story time in them, then why lock most players out?

  • TalentNinjaInc

    I’ve never fully understood this argument. Why should YOU care if somebody is to “ruin” a game on easy, or vise versa?

    I only have two problems with easy modes;

    One being that a player can sit down and finish a game in 30mins on easy as you can sit there for hours on a hard mode, and you still achieve the same status, so unless you enjoy being crushed repeatedly by said robot master; why try?

    Two being games that allow you to abuse the power of easy mode. An example of this being Minecraft, with players that will get diamonds or something of that sort and quickly switch to peaceful to avoid loosing them, then switch back when their diamond is safely in a chest.

  • Lys

    The EZ Gun is one of the reasons MGS3 is one of the TOP FIVE GAMES OF ALL TIME, and it’s deserving of the caps, so I don’t even feel guilty. Sometimes you want to be super-challenged, and sometimes you want to breeze through for the experience. Snake Eater is so awesome that it allows you to do both. It doesn’t judge! And you shouldn’t either, Internets! ^_^

  • I agree that more games should include more and better easy modes. As a kind of alternate-dimension argument, I would say that including easy mode should actually make the core game harder, and therefore more enjoyable for the very people who like to look down on easy modes. I have Super Mario 3D Land, and it IS great fun, but I have something like 126 lives in storage. I’m only on the fifth world in the first campaign, and trust me, I haven’t been going out of my way for 1Ups. I’m fine with the idea of people playing this game with the invincible tanooki suit, the P-Wing, and the hundreds of free 1Ups that the game liberally showers on you. I just wish it had all been part of an easy mode instead of being wrapped up in the main game itself.

  • blinkpn

    Oh, Bayonetta totally belongs on this list. The game is very deep, complex, and rewarding to play on high difficulties, but you can totally blaze through the game on Easy or Very Easy difficulties, both of which allow you to hammer a single button and destroy your enemies in fits of super violent ballet.

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