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What is "Nintendo Hard"?

This article was originally posted on BnBGamingon February 8th, 2011.

Fifteen years ago, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released upon the world, signifying a new generation of console gaming and revitalizing the industry that had been devastated by the arrival of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It was the most sold console in the world, up until the PlayStation came along, and for a lot of modern gamers it was their first taste of a digital world of entertainment. It also had some crazy hard games.

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The 8-bit era of home consoles was initiated amidst the arcade craze of the mid-80s, and a lot of games were ported over from popular arcade machines. Arcade machines, which fed on our coins to survive, were always playing a balance game between making a game fun enough to play and hard enough to keep us dying, forcing us to keep pumping currency into its ever-hungry maw. When the games were ported to home consoles there was little effort done to make the games easier, and a generation of young gamers would slam their heads against the wall out of sheer frustration when facing the instant-death attacks, bottomless pits, disappearing platforms and swarms of enemies tearing down on you from some unknown hellscape.

A game genre that exploded in the 8-bit era was the 2D platformer, whose popularity is still going strong with recent HD remakes and retro-esque sequels. It's also a genre featuring games that are notoriously difficult, but somehow still loved by gamers everywhere. Games such as Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts 'n Goblins are considered good even by modern gamers, but are also incredibly hard, filled to the brim with enemies, spike-pits and cheap deaths.

Essentially, "Nintendo Hard" just means games that were released for the Nintendo Entertainment System that were hard to beat, which sounds silly, but they signify a certain trend in videogames during the 8-bit explosion. Sure the Wind Tunnel level in Battletoads makes you want to punch a wall and nobody could beat Mike Tyson's Punch Out due to the titular character being near-invincible, but these games were good. Legendary good. "Nintendo Hard" games aren't the ones that were hard to play due to shoddy gameplay or stupid levels, but games that were genuinely good and kept you coming back despite the constant stream of punishment it subjected you to.

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Although the "Nintenod Hard" trend of hard-but-good games fell out of style during the 16-bit era of gaming, it never really went away. Modern iterations of such games go under the banner of "masocore", but follow the same basic formula. The gameplay is nigh-perfect for the platforming challenges ahead, but the level design is brutal in its expectations of your performance. Instant-death traps and enemies litter the landscape and only speed and perfect timing will allow you to progress. Games like I Wanna be the Guy and Super Meat Boy are great examples of this, both games created by indie studios and full of references to other games; an obvious homage to the "Nintendo Hard" games of yore.

The Nintendo Entertainment System was released after the videogames industry had suffered its worst crash in history and is considered to be one of the major factors in its recovery. The Nintendo is remembered fondly for its great lineup of games, which included a subset of insanely hard but incredibly good games that are referred to in modern times as "Nintendo Hard". The phrase is used to describe those retro games, but also modern iterations of the same concept and a compliment for those games that had you tearing out your hair in frustration, just to try again.