by Jarrod S. Lipshy
Nintendo has been taking a lot of crap recently for pandering to unskilled gamers. Specifically, games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns feature a mode called the “Super Guide” that activates when the game decides you’ve embarrassed yourself enough by dying multiple times in a row. This feature takes the controls away from you for a while to let an invincible, computer-controlled character play in your stead and beat the level for you. What pisses people off so much about these gaming “handouts” is that they are to “serious” gamers what participation trophies are to overzealous soccer moms; they reward mediocrity in lieu of real accomplishment.
What these people are forgetting is that: 1) Self-worth isn’t always determined by group criteria, 2) People who are apathetic about gaining skill in a game may still be curious about what the final areas look like, and 3) GAMES HAVE BEEN DOING THIS SHIT FOR YEARS!
Games from yesteryear and today are always giving items away that charitably make the game easier than a blind pornstar on ecstasy. Sure, some of them take a little patience and skill to track down, but others are acquired by chance or, worse, through the natural course of the game. Also, none of these abuse design oversights; they were intentionally put there for you to turn all your enemies into pantswetting incompetents. They may not magically appear once the game thinks you have moderate brain damage, but they still have the same effect of beating the game for you with no more skill required than getting your pee into the ocean when the tide is waist-high. So, before you complain, remember…
1. Exp Share – Pokemon series
This item is usually received incredibly late in the game, but it nevertheless makes leveling up inexperienced Pokemon a breeze. When the Exp Share is equipped, that Pokemon (or in Gen I all the Pokemon in your party) gets a portion of the experience points without fighting. This means that you can use your overpowered legendary Pokemon in one of the last areas of the game and get a level 2 Pokemon enough experience to jump up to 12 after one fight, all without him seeing a second of battle. The only equivalent to this in real life would be if you got buff by sitting on your ass and eating Cheetos while your roommate dead lifted 500 pounds.
2. Omnislash – Final Fantasy VII
Most people point to the elemental summon “Knights of the Round” as the cheapest item in this game, but it can only be used once per battle (barring some creative materia configuration). Omnislash, however, can be used anytime Cloud takes enough damage to fill his limit meter. Picked up by winning several coliseum battles in a row, getting the omnislash is an easier feat than the ludicrously complicated process of breeding a gold chocobo necessary for “Knights”. Also, while the coliseum battles can be frustratingly hard, this difficulty is determined by a dice roll that gives you a handicap between rounds. That means your ability to gain the points needed for the omnislash is determined more by pure luck than skill.
Your reward is a move that can kill the final boss after two uses. Don’t you feel special?
3. Biggoron’s Sword – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Like the previous entry, getting this weapon requires a bit of some doing. You have to perform an elaborate trading sequence, which requires you to transport some ingredients across the relatively large map within a strict time limit.
But once you get it my god does the game stop being interesting. Ocarina of Time’s boss battles were some of the most cinematic and impressive of any gaming experience to be had on a console at the time. Wielding the Biggoron’s sword, though, means that you are only three or four jump attacks away from putting the bosses down before the music can get to the good part. While most Zelda games traditionally have a sword upgrade (going all the way back to the original title), this was the only time it felt inappropriately powerful.
4. Crissaegrim – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Like the exp. share, you have to slog through a portion of this game to get this item. It’s also only dropped by a certain enemy in an extremely low percentage. So, unlike the last entries, this item isn’t a reward for performing any particular tasks, it’s just the result of an hour or more of enemy farming.
Another issue is that, unlike most weapons in the game which have a limited attack radius, the Crissaegrim effectively makes a bubble of instant death that melts away enemy HP like butter on a hot summer day. Going from taking precision strikes to speed-mashing the attack button sucks all the challenge out of the game and makes it an exercise in patience rather than skill.
5. Short Blade – Assassin’s Creed
Once you beat a certain amount of missions in the first Assassin’s Creed, you got throwing knives. These were pretty nifty and let you strike from a distance, but the knives themselves were tough to come by. Only after playing around for a while did I realize that the secondary weapon they came with, a short blade barely bigger than a dagger, was the real boon.
The battle system in all the Ass. Creed games (please, everyone, use this abbreviation from now on) allows you to block, then counter-attack as someone strikes you. For some reason, blocking with the short blade and counterattacking was as easy as finding shit in an outhouse. This reduced all combat interactions to a series of quick and violent deaths. All motivation for being stealthy went right out the window once I realized I could slaughter groups of guards without even trying.
6. RC-P90 – Goldeneye 007
The real life gun the RC-P90 was based on is still extremely popular with counter-terrorist operatives for being quick, compact, and lethal as hell. Unlike the real gun, however, Rare’s version in the N64 Goldeneye 007 didn’t consider that 80 rounds on full auto can go by pretty damn fast. The RC-P90’s magazine lasts forever and a day, especially when dual wielded. Your hands become a stream of leaden death. The gun only showed up in one mission of the game, but playing multiplayer (or single with cheats on) meant that you consistently had a gun that required none of that “aiming” bull-mess.
7. Ripper – Dead Space
Dead Space had a lot of novel ideas, especially for an EA Game. Among them was going against the traditional “blast em in the head!” instinct when it comes to shooting games. Dead Space instead wants you to sever the extremities. The majority of weaponry reflects this amputation fetish, including the Ripper. This weapon launches a magic, floating, industrial-strength sawblade that decimates any limbs unfortunate enough to come within the vicinity.
While other weapons have a “boom and it’s gone” approach to ammo, ripper blades last a good while and they’re pretty common. The player also acquires the gun relatively early, which means you get to play most of the game as an industrial accident simulator… in space!
The enemies are still terrifying, but going “aaah!” and squeezing off a few ripper rounds was usually enough to slow them down if not stop them completely. When caught in the blades, most enemies aren’t permitted within the game’s physics to strike you either, so you can shut down a surprise attack once you hammered in the “ripping” reflex. This kills much of the shock from what is supposed to be a horror game.
8. Feather – Super Mario World
Replacing the raccoon suit of Super Mario Bros. 3, the feather gave Mario a cape that similarly allowed him to fly after a running start. Unlike the raccoon suit, though, Mario could glide around once he lost momentum instead of floating back slowly. I never mastered this as a kid, but playing the game again years later I realized that rocking back and forth on the D-pad meant you could pretty effectively glide over entire levels as long as there wasn’t an impedance.
Not every level has enough sky clearance to get away with this, but some of the toughest ones do. This item also appears in damn near every level; it’s not hidden or special in any way. That effectively kills the difficulty of this classic game for me. I understand that most kids couldn’t figure the technique out, but I’m disappointed in Nintendo for overlooking how easy it is to pull off. I guess I’ll have to stick to Kaizo Mario World from now on.
9. Grim Reaper’s Sprint – Fallout 3
The “VATS” system of Fallout 3 lets you take a break from the hectic, real-time battles and get a couple of free shots in based on your weapon accuracy. The system was criticized for being cheap and breaking up the action, but I confess I sorely missed it when starting shit with an entire city’s worth of guards in Skyrim.
The only thing that keeps you from using VATS over and over again are your “action points,” which recharge slowly and get eaten up pretty fast, especially by more powerful weapons. Once you reached level 20, though, you could get the “Grim Reaper’s Sprint” perk that restored ALL of your action points if you killed your target using VATS. This meant that once you were good enough to murder some super mutants using VATS alone, you were good enough to take five or ten down without them being able to get off a single shot.
10. Stone Hands/ Dragon Feet – River City Ransom
This game is ludicrously fun. The incredibly amusing physics make hitting someone with a metal pole feel bone-crunchingly satisfying. While some of the later enemies are ridiculously fast and take a lot of damage, dying yields little penalty other than cutting your money in half. Thus, trying over and over again doesn’t feel punishing.
The game also has some RPG elements. Eating certain foods not only restores health, but also increases stats like run speed or throw damage. You can also buy certain “books” that upgrade your abilities.
The books only seem like a moderate improvement until you realize that two in the second shopping area of the game will let you kick anyone’s ass effortlessly. Either the Stone Hands or Dragon Feet makes you have three lightening-fast strikes in a row, which shuts down even the more challenging enemies’ defenses and drains their health lickety-split. Saving up enough cash to buy one of these books also ensures that you’ll put down enough enemies to buy incremental stat upgrades. It basically turns a fun, unpredictable game into a structured process in winning.
While arguably this strategy makes the game more enjoyable than dying repeatedly, it has the exact same effect as the scorned uber-items in Nintendo’s recent games. The only difference is discovering the books rather than the game giving them to you once it feels sorry enough about your successive failures.
In that light, recognize that this whole debate is similar to how communities in general feel when something they like becomes more accessible to the public. Gaining a tiny bit of knowledge through accident doesn’t mean you’ve mastered something, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should mock others for wanting to participate. Having the option to make games easier will always exist once players discover items or strategies that weren’t immediately apparent.
So stop the elitist whining about gaining undeserved rewards. Games are structured to keep you playing, and some of this design involves including content that will make the player feel powerful. Gamers need to recognize that all of the items on this list, even if they took some knowledge to acquire, are every bit as pandering as an invincible tanooki suit.