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Games really aren't that hard anymore. The so-called 'roller coaster ride' approach to a game's campaign/story is the predominant way companies choose to design their games. Instruction manuals may be disappearing but games are packed to the brim with tutorials and tooltips meant to bash you over the head with concepts until you get it. Higher difficulty levels in a game simply means they are tougher and you are weaker, a boring and cheap way to increase a game's challenge.
When those few hard games do come out, I can't help but feel myself drawn to them. Ninja Gaiden is one those 'difficult' games (at least when compared to others of its era). This is a game that forces you to learn how to play and makes mashing buttons a very unviable strategy. The boss in the midpoint of the game, Alma, has spawned countless Internet posts and complaints about how she is unfairly challenging.
I ate this game up the first time I played it. I savored the challenge of having to learn the right way to kill each enemy, each boss. Sure, that first time I cheated certain bosses, particularly the last one who could be felled by simply jumping toward him repeatedly and hitting the Y button. At times, I wanted to pop open my Xbox and snap the disc in half (screw you, Ghost Fish!).
Even with the unrelenting challenge, I persevered. I felt like a gaming god, having beat what I assumed was the hardest game ever made at the time. How fun it was to come back a few years later and beat it on the next two harder difficulties, each time having to learn new strategies and learning to use the diverse weapon selection more effectively. Here was a game that actually earned its harder difficulty, adding harder enemies that needed different strategies and doing such sadistic things as adding respawning enemies to the game's already-tricky boss fights. I don't like playing normal games on harder difficulties because they don't live up to this example of evolving the game instead of just tweaking some numbers in the code.
From that point forward, I couldn't resist a challenging game. Demon's Souls (and its sequel of course). Super Meat Boy. Even I Wanna Be the Guy, a Flash game known for its unforgiving, pixel-perfect platforming. They inspire me to play more fervently in a way that a normal game doesn't, playing a section over and over again until I nail it and smile in victory. I don't know what inspired the gaming masochism in myself but might as well as enjoy it, right?