The Curse of Old-Man Hands: Fact or Fiction?

I touched on this lightly in my debut Bitmob post, but with retro remakes and reboots all the rage these days, I felt a certain subject needed to be addressed in its own blog entry. It’s something pretty much every older gamer experiences, but we tend to sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. But it’s OK — we shouldn’t deny this virility-robbing condition. So let’s talk about…the terrifying curse of old-man hands.

First, let’s give credit where it’s due. I first heard the term bandied about by Bitmob overlord Dan “Shoe” Hsu back in his EGM editor-in-chief days. Every time Shoe reviewed…well, pretty much every game that required quick-twitch muscle fibers and wasn’t Mario Party, he’d blame his underachieving performances on his “old-man hands.” The implication was clear: “I could kick your ass, young intern Brooksie, if only I were 10 years younger.” As a thirtysomething gamer (but, just to clarify, still several years younger than Old Man Shoe!), those feelings resonate with me: I definitely feel like I’ve “lost a step,” and the condition only worsens with each passing year.


Punch-Out!! on Wii’s the perfect example. Even though my mind knows that Von Kaiser goes into a slight pause before rearing back to deliver a punishing uppercut, my hands don’t process this information in time — and I get a series of terrifying Teutonic fists to the face as a result. I sorta feel like that wily thirtysomething southpaw who’s lost his fastball. Sure, he knows more about the game of baseball than ever. But his body’s betrayed him, and now he has to make do with guts and guile (or, in some cases, sandpaper and spitballs).

It wasn’t always this way. I could beat the original Contra without using the Konami Code. I could beat any Mega Man game without any difficulty at all. And I could definitely beat Mike Tyson. But modern reboots Contra 4 and Mega Man 9 frustrated me to no end — I didn’t remember the original NES versions being so tough! And while I’ve had more success with Punch-Out!! on Wii than those two games, I definitely feel like I’m getting by more on smarts than actual finger speed.

But in a recent Twitter update, former 1UP news editor and newly hired online producer Philip Kollar seemed to throw a wrench in the “old-man hands” theory. Young Philip, a strapping lad of just 23, seems an unlikely candidate for slowed reflexes, yet he opined that Punch-Out!! made him feel wizened. So perhaps these old-school rehashes really are more difficult than the NES classics. After all, a good friend and I decided to break out the NES and tackle Battletoads again a couple of years ago, and we got as far as we ever did back in the day. So perhaps, as games have gotten easier over the years, we simply haven’t been tested as much as we were back in the ’80s and ’90s, so we’ve all lost our fastballs…whether we’re in our early 20s or early 40s.

What do you think? Are developers of these retro reboots artificially inflating the difficulty, thinking we’ll simply chalk it up to aging hands and slowed reflexes? Or is there some truth to the matter that these games aren’t any harder than the old NES games? Have we really slowed that much in the last 15 to 20 years?

In the meantime, I wanna feel young for a bit, so I’m taking a break from Punch-Out!! and starting up the perfect remedy: a deliberate, plodding Japanese RPG in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2 — Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon (boy, that’s a mouthful, Atlus). More about that one later, though.

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