Playing through one of my favorite childhood games recently, I was inspired (read: enraged) to write a little tribute to otherwise good games that don’t always play fair. I’ll start with said childhood favorite, and move on to two more recent games.
The Death and Return of Superman
Release date: 1994
Where it cheats: Level 7—Steel Reign
Perhaps the first good Superman video game ever, this is a brawler reminiscent of Double Dragon or the TMNT games. You play as five different versions of Superman in an adventure based loosely on the comic book story arc where Superman is killed in a fight with a creature called Doomsday. In Level 7, Superman is made of metal and carries a massive sledgehammer, but even an invincible man with a hammer can’t overcome a cheating game.
It’s not simply a matter of throwing larger waves of enemies at you, though that happens too. The enemies’ attacks get faster and more accurate, attacking from land and sky. Their hitboxes shrink so you have to be very precise in your own attacks (with a war hammer!). And the move that has saved your ass for the entire game, a pick-up-and-throw that can hit multiple enemies, becomes much less easy to pull off FOR NO REASON. Your attacks just don’t work sometimes. Plus now enemies fire projectiles at you the instant they appear on screen, guaranteeing that you will lose health no matter how well you play.
When I was a kid, I only ever made it to Level 7. So now, as an adult in possession of superior gaming skill and emulators with save states, I came back to this game to beat it for good. And I couldn’t do it. Not even with save states. Let’s allow that to sink in. This game cheats so hard I could not beat it by cheating back.
Release date: 2011
Platform: PC, PS3, X360
Where it cheats: Ornstein & Smough
Dark Souls might be the best game of the seventh console generation, even better than Demon’s Souls (don’t make me choose!). But, man, f*%k Ornstein and Smough. They are two knights, one enormously fat and the other lean and quick. The fat one has crazy area-of-effect attacks and the other flies at you with a spear like a human bow and arrow. And when you finally finish one of them off, the other regains ALL health and becomes a giant with correspondingly giant attacks.
In single player, you can summon an NPC to fight with you, but I’ve seen him go down in less than 10 seconds. I’ve heard in Dark Souls II there is a fight with THREE boss enemies at once, and they summon others. Ha ha! Where do I sign up?
Gears of War
Release date: 2006
Platform: PC, X360
Where it cheats: The Berserker
In a game full of big, dumb football players, perhaps it’s fitting that the biggest, dumbest football player of them all can only win by cheating. As Marcus Phoenix, you blunder along through the game like a tank wearing another tank as armor, blasting and chainsawing anything that gets in your path, until you get to this hallway with a Berserker enemy. It’s fast and invincible and stupid. Basically it runs at you, and if it bangs into you, you die. Think Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s.
To defeat the Berserker, you have to lure him through an increasingly cluttered and difficult maze of hallways, standing in front of the correct walls or doors and then dodging at the last second so that he will knock down the barrier and you can progress. But the camera and Marcus Phoenix just aren’t up to the quick, fine movements required. It’s only by a combination of luck, memorization, and teeth grinding that you have any hope of getting the Berserker out into the open, where you blow him up with a laser from space. But by that point, you’d rather have the laser just blow up your game disc instead.