A reader discusses his frustration at not being able to beat difficult post-game content and what it is that pushes him to abandon a game.
What inspired me to write this piece was the final level of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for the Wii U. I wanted to play an easy-going game from the old backlog; no 100+ hour epic grind-a-thon role-playing or hardcore Soulsborne controller-breaker. Just a nice fun game to bring a smile across my face. You know, something fun.
And I chose the right game. Treasure Tracker is a little gem and I whole heartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a charming, colourful 5 to 10 hour adventure that will have you beaming from ear to ear. That is, up until the last level.
The final level you unlock is called Mummy-Me Maze Forever. You must navigate a maze in order to find the box that will transport you to the next level, whilst avoiding various enemies of increasing number and difficulty as you progress all the way to level 50, which if successful should take you around 15 minutes. The main gimmick of Treasure Tracker is that Toad is completely defenceless – he cant jump, or spin, or summon dragons, or hadouken, or kamehameha his way out of danger.
The game is in essence a puzzle-platformer, where you have to use your brain to avoid most enemies, collect three gems, and find the star to progress to the next level. All of which is incredibly enjoyable. But the final level appears to be the absolute antithesis of that.
You have to move Toad with the left analogue stick, whilst holding A to run faster, whilst moving the right analogue stick to move the camera to see which route to take, whilst tapping the GamePad screen to stun enemies for two seconds whilst you run past. Picture it – its not pretty. And Im not an octopus Nintendo. Whilst looking for help I read one comment from a player who said they only completed it by having a friend tap the GamePad screen whilst they focused on everything else.
From my limited experience Nintendo does have a habit of making wonderful games with absolutely rock-hard final levels. Ill happily admit that I have never completed Grandmaster Galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy 2, Champions Road and Mystery House Marathon in Super Mario 3D World and Special 8-Crown in Super Mario 3D Land. All the final levels in their respective games and the point at which those, each brilliant, games crossed that magical line where the fun stops and the frustration takes over and begins to ruin the experience.
Now Im no stranger to difficult games or levels/missions, and completely agree with the argument that the more challenging something is then the greater the feeling of accomplishment, however fleeting. When I was younger back in the day I would frequently complete games on the hardest difficulty such as Black and God Of War, and would complete the Resident Evils under the time limits without saving to unlock the secret weapons (heres hoping the Gatling Gun is in the Resident Evil 2 remake. I want to pretend Im in Predator again).
I got the lousy T-shirt for getting 100% in Vice City even though the paramedic mission for infinite sprint ranks amongst one of my all-time hated things Ive ever had to suffer through in a video game. Even back then however I called it quits at Mission 17 of the original Devil May Cry on Dante Must Die mode, as Nelo Angelo stomped me into oblivion too many times for my sanity to take. And the thought that after him there was still Nightmare 3 to come, one of the hardest boss fights in video game history in my opinion, made me give up.
So Ive been through frustration before to achieve things but as I get older and have less time, I guess my tolerance is much less. But after a bit of self-reflection I think my main issue lies with HOW I play video games. I dont see video games as pure fun. For me, its a 50/50 split between fun and seeing whats next. If both of those are served, then Im happy. Incredibly happy. But if both are missing then Ill give up. Ive played many mediocre, not-fun games to completion because I kept on knocking off objectives, feeling gratification from the achievement, and wanted to see whats next?
Far be it from me to speak on behalf of other gamers, but I think maybe Im not alone in feeling this way. Hollow Knight has been mentioned recently as being brilliant but suffering from bad save points and being too bloated. At first, the game is both incredibly fun and rewarding and you cant wait to see whats next. But once you reach a certain point theres nothing new to see, repetition sets in, and the bad mechanics of the game begin to frustrate. The fun is gone. But you continue because you want to see the ending, maybe in hope that it will throw something amazing at you one last time.
The best example I can think of is something along the lines of Dark Souls. In Dark Souls, if you give up at a boss then thats it. You dont get to see the rest of the game, the next boss, the new enemy designs, the new locations, the new… everything! So youll push through the frustration, and the rage, and the unfair cheating computer, and the bad RNG so you can finish your story.
Looking back, the one thing all the games I gave up on have in common is that they were the LAST levels. There was nothing more to see, nothing more to unlock, nothing more to experience. I could tie myself in knots for days and try hundreds of times until I achieved that magical perfect run, but then what? I would feel achievement yes, but all thats left is to put the game away and move on to something else. Which I could of done days before I put myself through something entirely frustrating and not-fun.
The strange thing is, if these levels had been the second or third to last levels, I probably would have spent those days beating them, enticed by the prospect of the next level potentially being the greatest nirvana in gaming I would ever experience. Weird, right?
I was thinking of naming this article Effort vs. Reward. Why do something if the outcome is not worth it? Life should be spent doing enjoyable things that make you smile and give you satisfaction. So why play a video game when its not fun just to complete it and tick it off your list? But that title implies its all about the end goal. And if theres one medium that is suited to the adage Its about the journey, not the destination then its video games. But when that journey becomes a drudgery slog, its time for me to move on.
And thats why Im giving up on Captain Toad. Mummy-Me Maze Forever will forever be uncompleted. Because the reward is not worth the effort, and the frustration removes all of the fun. And I would much rather spend my gaming time and life having fun. So Im going to play Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow instead. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas everyone!
By reader SJC
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