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      Game Culture — nes

      Glide on the Pain Train: The hardest retro games we’ve grown to love

      There is plenty of nostalgia to be had when it comes to retro games. Some of it might come from simpler times; when we were young and everything in life was easy and relaxed while playing video games. Maybe because these retro games were some of your earliest forays in terms of video gaming experiences. After all, the nostalgia reasons vary from person to person.


      However, this also means that a few people out there will have fond memories of games because of how insanely hard they were. Video games have had leaps and strides when it comes to handling difficulty, with more accessibility options than before. But during the retro gaming era, developers were limited by both hardware and development experience. Since there was limited space to do things, games tend to be hard so that there would be more replayability, even though this was artificial in a sense. And since plenty of game development back then usually focused on arcade experiences, developers came with the mindset to make games harder to increase penny munching.


      Despite these limitations, players have increasingly grown fond of these absolutely difficult games, accepting their difficulties as if gauntlets were thrown at the face of their gaming expertise. So join me today as we walk through some of the hardest retro games that have been thrown at us by the video game developers of yore. 

       

      Gradius

      Not quite bullet hell, but hellish nonetheless

      Not quite bullet hell, but hellish nonetheless

       

      Let’s start with one of the few games on this list that I have finished without using save states or cheat codes. Gradius  is usually cited as one of the most important shooter games by popularizing the horizontally-scrolling shooter genre, players are seated into the cockpit of Vic Viper. You blast your way through levels filled with enemies trying to ram you and incessantly shoot bullets at you. At the end of each level, you will be confronted with a boss, and you’d have to shoot their weak points to defeat them. However, a lot of these points are protected by an additional layer that you have to grind down bit by bit till you get to the meat and ultimately destroy its weak point. The creativity of these boss battles is a highlight of the original game, as is the difficulty of each one.

       

      My favorite part of Gradius has to be the power-up system, though. Unlike most other shooters, Gradius only has one kind of power-up, and when you pick it up, it will advance a power meter at the bottom of the screen, and if you reach a point in the meter that you would want to obtain, you can do so anytime by pressing the power-up button, but doing so would reset your power meter to zero, creating a mini push your luck game of trying to survive as long as possible with a weak weapon to reach as far as you can on your power meter.

       

       

      Ghosts ‘n Goblins

      Jumping in your boxers

       

      The debut game of one of the most underrated franchises from Capcom, Ghosts ‘n Goblins sees a knight named Sir Arthur try to rescue Princess Prin-Prin from Astaroth, the king of the Demon World. While that plot is pretty thin, it is often referred to as one of the most difficult video games of all time. Unfortunately, much of that difficulty is either a love it or hate it kind. Sir Arthur can only withstand one hit before losing one life, and each life is also timed. What’s more, once Sir Arthur jumps, he can’t change directions until after he lands, which is maddening if you’ve played literally any other side-scroller. What’s worse is that each level only has one checkpoint, and that checkpoint is always smack dab in the middle of the level. If you die before reaching that point, you’ll be thrown back at the start of the level!

       

      Sure, there’s plenty of additional weapons that you can pick up along the way, and the game is still pretty much beatable, but right when you thought you’ve gotten the hang of it, a very nasty surprise will meet you at the end of your playthrough because now you need to do everything all over again with a higher difficulty to reach the true ending of the game! Sure, it’s nasty, but it wouldn’t be notorious for its difficulty if it was any much easier than this.

       

       

      Contra: Hard Corps

      Bad news

       

      That title is not just a silly pun. This entry to the popular Contra franchise is very hardcore. If you thought the original Contra for the NES was hard, the first and only Contra game released for a Sega console is even harder. Despite the prettier graphics, it has more things to master with its multiple characters, each with its own different sets of weapons. Contra: Hard Corps also features multiple branching paths, with each providing a different ending.

       

      While that may all seem like an enticing ride, at the end of the day, multiple endings will only have players trying to finish the game multiple times. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if it’s not a Contra game that we’re talking about, especially one that is already considered one of the hardest entries in the franchise.

       

      Castlevania

      Don’t let go of your holy water!

       

      While not the most difficult game on this list, the original Castlevania will still take you by surprise, especially if you were able to play future entries into the series. Unlike the newer games, Castlevania doesn’t take an entire map and let you explore it to your whims. This was way before the series popularized the Metroidvania genre, and is instead a classic linear side-scrolling platformer. Like Ghosts ‘n Goblins, part of why this game was hard was because of how it handles jumps. You can’t change your trajectory in the middle of your jumps, and while that is realistic, none of the other aspects of the game is chasing for realism, so this seems like a design choice that is made to make your play sessions harder.

       

      However, this game has one neat trick that you can keep to heart to make things easier. When you acquire the holy water, hold on to it as if your life depends on it. It will make quick work of most enemies within the game. All that’s left for you to do is to practice your jumps. You’ll be beating Dracula in no time.

       

      Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels

      When both launch and landing are problems

       

      The only game in this list that was both difficult to finish and difficult to acquire, Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is the actual sequel to the original Super Mario Bros. The reason why Nintendo never gave this game an international release was because of how absurdly hard it was, to the point that one of Nintendo’s consultants in the West back then called the game an undeserved punishment. However, this spike in difficulty was by choice, as the game was sold with a label that said it was a game “For Super Players”. Plenty of tricks for infinite lives were included in the opening levels to provide additional room for players to breathe in. The latter levels were no joke as they had insane difficulty spikes.

       

      None of that helped in easing the game’s difficulty, and up to this day, The Lost Levels remains one of the few blotches of the Super Mario franchise. Still, some people regard the game as fun and clever and view it with fondness. While there’s no denying Nintendo’s excellent level design is at work here, there’s also no doubt that this is one of the hardest games in their entire catalog.

       

       

      Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

      He’s the least of your problems

       

      While not as notoriously difficult as The Lost Levels, Nintendo also had you reeling in terms of recovering from its punches with this game, later changing its name to “Punch-Out!!”. This is the easiest game on this list, with the different opponents that you face having distinct patterns that you need to figure out to beat them. However, people still remember it as one of the hardest Nintendo has ever released due to how you would need to restart the entire game from the beginning if you get knocked out in the middle of a fight against any of the fighters.

       

      Besides, if you experienced this game at a younger age, would you even think that boxing is a cerebral experience? You probably wouldn’t even think to see if your opponents are fighting with a pattern. You’d just mash the punch button in hopes of getting a hit-in. That would most likely be the reason why people remember Punch-Out!! as one of the harder games to have ever existed. Still, I wouldn’t count out the times when one was able to identify Mike Tyson’s pattern and still be hit with one of his uppercuts that will instantly knock you out. That kind of experience is infuriating, and even so when it brings you right back to the beginning of the game. 

       

      Battletoads

      Prepare to crash over and over again

       

      And finally, we come to the one game on this list that is considered by many to be the hardest game to have ever existed. Battletoads’ main problem is not in its controls or how friendly fire is enabled throughout the game, but in how it was designed. If you have noticed, most other games will give you an idea of what’s coming before it happens. For example, enemies would appear at a significant distance from your character, which gives you an ample amount of time to react appropriately before they do some damage to you. The problem with Battletoads is that it skips all of that. Enemies and obstacles inadvertently appear at near-instant speed, which turns the game less of an exercise in hand-eye coordination and more of an exercise in memorization.

       

      If you’re convinced that you can finish Battletoads, though, you’re in luck. The game itself is fairly short, so memorizing the patterns of each level is easier than, say, memorizing all the names of stars within a constellation. Just prepare to lose some hair in the process.

       

      Holy Roller

      While people play games for different reasons, there’s a certain magic when it comes to difficult games, especially when you can overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds associated with them. There is a reason why difficult games have been on the rise recently, with games like Cuphead or Celeste taking center stage. These modern games are now unhindered by the technical limitations of the olden times. So with plenty of ways to adjust these games’ accessibility while also keeping true to their word for the gluttons for punishment, these games have truly transcended the barriers between being a game only the hardcore can muster and a game for everyone.

       

      However, despite the inherent difficulty that comes so often with older games, the design practices have evolved along with them, paving the way for all of the newer games in terms of designing for a larger audience in mind, and in turn, growing the industry.


      Which of these games have you finished? Or maybe we missed out on a game's difficulty that hits differently than the games mentioned here? How about you head on to our Discord and chat with like-minded friends or head on over to our Youtube channel to see more retro gaming goodness.

      This Week In Gaming History - November 29th - Dec 5th

      This Week In Gaming History - November 29th - Dec 5th

      Winter is coming and it’s time to dust off that old chest in the attic where your Mum keeps the old Christmas decorations, rummage through it and you just might find that video game memento you’ve been looking for all these years. Lets go ahead and open that secret wardrobe right there and let Catslan the Lion transport you to another nostalgia filled past in This Week in Gaming History.


      As gamers, we’ve all asked the age-old question as to what video game is considered to be the first of its kind and a lot of people seem to agree it’s Pong. They’re not wrong but they’re also not right. See it all depends on context. 

       

      The very first video game produced was in February 1962, made by a group of MIT engineers and was actually called Spacewar!, this was never released commercially despite its popularity in the university where it was developed. This however, inspired the creation of the very first commercialized video game called Computer Space developed by Bushnell who would later co-founded Atari. Sadly, the game never took flight as intended and Bushnell left Nutting Associates to put up Atari. 


      When he assigned Allan Alcorn to make a video game as a training exercise, Pong was born! Bushnell was so surprised at the quality of the game that he decided to have it manufactured. By November 29, 1972, the game was commercially released. In a span of 2 years they sold about 8000 Pong units and it took the fledgling gaming world by storm! In fact it was so popular before its official debut that the prototype cabinet used in a local bar broke down due to the huge amount of coins inside. 


      See popularity also brings with it copy-cats and Pong inspired a slew of bootlegs and ripoffs but this didn’t deter Atari and instead countered them by releasing Home Pong, a console version of Pong and in 1973 released a sequel called Pong Doubles that featured 4 players; another first in the gaming world. So again, was it the first actual video game? No. But was it the first video game that launched a whole new industry centered on entertainment and fun? Definitely!



      Here’s another video game inspired by real life sports, specifically ice hockey! NHL 99 was released on November 30, 1998 for the N64 and was met with high review scores by different gaming publications with an aggregate score of 84%. To make the game more immersive, the N64 version of NHL 99,  faithfully represented the official NHL and NHLPA licence showing all teams and players, including the Nashville Predators expansion team. Talk about bang for your puck, I mean buck. 


      Speaking of immersive, Daryl Reaugh returned from NHL 98 as the new series’ color commentator however, he left after NHL 99. The play-by-play commentary was done by ESPN's Bill Clement. The game also featured Eric Lindros on the cover. Lindros was with the Philadelphia Flyers when this game was released and was ultimately recognized in 2016 as an appointee into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Nice, ice baby.

      Here’s something to do in-game if you wanna skate on thin ice while playing hockey. If you type the word “zambo” anytime during the game, a random Zamboni will appear and start driving around on the skating rink even if a game is still ongoing! I hope that doesn’t happen in a real live game though, those things can be dangerous.

       

      We’re all dangerously in love with the Legend of Zelda franchise cause we can’t stop talking about how awesome the games have been over the years! Released on December 1, 1988 for the NES,  Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a direct sequel to the original Legend of Zelda however it deviated from its predecessor in terms of gameplay, introducing RPG elements and side-scrolling action. In addition to this, the game introduced elements such as Link's "magic meter" and the Dark Link character that would become commonplace in future Zelda games.It was also the first Zelda game to feature invisible enemies and also featured secrets such as being able to get past locked doors without keys by using the fairy spell and flying through the keyhole. Zelda II was slated to be released at an earlier date but due to the 1988 shortage of ROM chips, it prevented Nintendo from releasing most of its games according to their original schedules, including this one.


      Despite the differences it had with its predecessor, what Zelda II shared with it was its popularity,  as the game was met with mostly positive reviews from critics and became one of the most popular NES games of 1988, with many retailers reporting that the game was selling out that year. The game ultimately sold 4.38 million copies worldwide. Now, that’s flashy! 


      Speaking of flashy, the original NES/Famicom releases of this game showed a rapidly-flashing screen whenever Link dies. This was changed in the remakes to a blank screen, as the rapid flashing was known to cause epileptic seizures. Good thing they dialed down that kind of flashiness though. On a happier note, I’m glad they put Link’s name on the title, cause you know, to avoid confusing Zelda with Link. Admit it though before you got to play the game, you thought the main character’s name in the original Legend of Zelda was Zelda.

       

      You know who are masters at confusion, deceit and stealth, though? Ninjas! And who loves ninjas? We do! They have got to be one of gaming’s best tropes and that shows in Revenge of the Shinobi for Genesis. Released on December 2, 1989, it is the sequel to Shinobi for the arcade. Revenge of the Shinobi was a masterclass in design and gameplay and a lot of gamers and gaming critics agree that it is in more ways than one, superior to its predecessor. It has received 5 stars and 9s across the board and was even inducted in a lot of greatest games list, notable of which is Gamespot’s list of the greatest games of all time. 


      The game follows Joe Musashi as he finds his master bloodied and dying and his bride, Naoko, kidnapped by the notorious Neo Zeed. It is a traditional side-scrolling action platformer game that features 8 district levels, with its own set of enemies and unique bosses. Joe Musashi can also perform ninjutsu techniques and attack and jump simultaneously, hurling deadly shurikens at enemies. Now you think the game follows a serious plot line and story but wait till you hear about the bosses. 


      It’s funny to think that a game of this caliber would actually be a huge target for copyright lawsuits from different major companies owning certain popular characters. This is because in early versions of The Revenge of Shinobi, it had you fighting Batman as a boss, but because SEGA failed to get the licensing rights for the Caped Crusader, he was replaced by a winged demon in later versions of the game. I mean good thing they removed Batman from the game though, I’m sure he was prepared to beat Joe to a pulp. 


      Funnily enough too, district 7's boss was no other than the big G-man himself, Godzilla! Again it was eventually replaced by a skinless dinosaur whose name was Monster-G, which was obviously not a reference to a certain Kaiju. One of the other bosses is also very reminiscent of the Hulk. Spider-Man is also present as a boss. Like the actual Spiderman. This time though they were able to use Spiderman as a boss but was eventually deleted too as soon as the license for it expired. Serious question, who is this ninja guy? Is he like a dimension-hopping ninja Thanos-Darkseid-Ghidora hybrid? But, you know who the real boss is though? Joe Musashi is.

       

      The next game on this list is based on another game that is set in a hybrid world with aliens and dinosaurs and involves a dimension hopping, time-traveling warrior. Sounds confusing huh? Enter, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil for the Game Boy Color. Not to be confused with the N64 game with the same title, Turok 2 for the GBC was released on December 3, 1998 with low to middling reviews. Even IGN reviewer Peer Schneider described the game as "an E-rated cookie-cutter sidescroller with decent controls and unimpressive visuals". It followed a completely different story from its N64 counterpart but was essentially  set in the same world. 


      You are Joshua Fireseed a Turok or a Son of Stone tasked with protecting the Earth from multiversal incursions stemming from the Lost Land, a barbaric world that is an amalgam of all existing timelines. You are tasked to slash and gun down the Dinosoid Army in eight levels and battle four bosses using your wits and weapons like a knife, bow & arrow, pistols, shotguns and more. Schneider may not have been impressed by the game but lemme give you a very interesting tidbit about the game.


      Interestingly enough, the major plot points of this game is based on a comic simply titled Turok published by Acclaim Valiant in 1997 and 1998. This follows Joshua Fireseed also known as Coyote Knight, who is essentially a new Turok after the mantle was passed to him by his deceased uncle, Carl Fireseed. Although Josh was a new Turok he had the ability to call upon the previous and future Turoks to act as his guide in a style similar to  Avatar the Last Airbender. As puzzling as the state of the GBC game was, I think this is  an awesome piece of info and it’s best to experience the game and the comics hands-on. 

       

      Speaking of puzzling, here’s a puzzling challenge to boggle your mind on and I think you’d be interested to know it involves our favorite monsters we all aim to catch, Pokemon. This game was released on December 4, 2000 and has undergone more name changes than your favorite ninja game in Europe. It was initially announced by Nintendo employee Peter Main's "Industry Review" webcast under the title Pokémon Attack on January 13, 2000. Its name was eventually changed to Pokémon Puzzle League, but was released as Pokemon Puzzle Challenge. Puzzling ain’t it? Despite the name changes, what didn’t change was  the fact that it was a very-well made game as it holds an aggregate score of 90.20% at GameRankings, making it the 10th best Game Boy Color game and the 300th best video game on Game Rankings. 


      Of course, they wouldn’t put the word “Challenge” on the game title if the game wasn’t challenging right? You can unlock two extra modes for the hardcore gamers out there by doing these button prompts. When at the difficulty screen in Challenge Mode, pressing select & A while hovering over Hard More will unlock Super Hard Mode. Doing this again while hovering over Super Hard Mode will unlock Intense Mode, the highest difficulty level available in the game. Talk about punishing yourself in a Pokemon game. 


      Incidentally, there’s a secret involving the weird human-shaped Pokemon, Jynx. Her losing animation features nothing but her detached hair holding a white flag of defeat, similar to what happens when you defeat her in Pokemon Stadium.

       

      Like the Legend of Zelda franchise, Mario games have been a staple for Nintendo systems ever since it was first released way back in 1983 and the next game in this list is a striking testament to that. Super Mario Strikers was released on December 5, 2005 for the Game Cube. However, this was the last Mario game to be released on the GameCube in Japan and North America. It didn’t disappoint though as it was able to reach its goal and was ultimately considered to be outstanding in its field. It sold a total of 1.61 million copies at the end of its cycle owing to its fun gameplay and tight controls. Before the game was conceived however, game director Mike Inglehart and marketing director Grace Kim revealed that Strikers was originally intended to be a more realistic Mario sports game, but the development team opted for an "over-the-top" style after numerous consultations with Nintendo. Which is a wise decision in my opinion cause Mario games have always been over-the-top. 


      In a lot of firsts for the game franchise, this is the first game to feature Kenneth W. James, who temporarily replaces Scott Burns, as the voice of Bowser, a role that would become permanent starting with Super Mario Galaxy. This is also the only Mario Nintendo GameCube game to support 16:9 widescreen as well as 480p. Early concept art for the game shows Mario wearing number 10 as his team number but this was ultimately given to Princess Peach as her team number. In a first, breaking football tradition, Mario was given the number 1 as his team number which is supposed to be reserved for goalkeepers.


      That is all for this week’s gaming history lesson. Which one is your favorite pick on this list? Or do you remember a different game released on these dates? Join our Discord and subscribe to our YouTube for more!

      This Week In Gaming History: November 8 -14th

      This Week In Gaming History: November 8 -14th

      Every day is a new day for gaming and all the days that have gone have seen their share of iconic gaming moments and this week isn't any different. We're back with another week of video gaming nostalgia.

       

      Play fighting was always a silly thing we did as kids but the way we took these things seriously would make Master Roshi proud and even if we ended up with bruises and scratches when has that ever stopped us from believing that kai could magically come out of our small puny hands or our hair standing up and going blonde while screaming at the top of our lungs this shows us how much influence dragon ball has had on our childhood and our adulthood and as kids it's hard to contain our excitement whenever a Dragon Ball Z game comes out and there's a lot of them. Dragon Ball Z Legendary Super Warriors came out on November 8th, 2002 for the Game Boy Color. Seeing that Ginyu force, the main character's super saiyan forms, as well as the Fusion characters gotence and vegito, brings back all of that power fantasy. Progress the story and unlock battles through story mode, try out the wit draining battle mode or challenge your friends in versus mode to see who is the most powerful warrior of all time, and trust me it's always Mr. Satan who comes out on top.

       

      As for the best warrior in gaming history, nothing comes close to Master Chief. Fight me on that. This is the one game you certainly don't want to finish the fight anytime soon and you'll always want to come back for more you know just to bring the covenant back their bomb. Halo 2 released on November 9th, 2004 was the most anticipated sequel to one of the XBOX Console's most definitive first-person shooters of the generation Halo Combat Evolved. The return of Master Chief and her trusted AI waifu Cortana, sees our protagonists flying like a brick as they race to stop the covenant from wreaking havoc on earth in their bid to fulfill the great journey. This also introduced us to some of the best supporting characters in a game like Sergeant Johnson, Miranda Keyes, 343 Guilty Spark, and the biggest surprise of them all, a new playable character The Elite Alien Arbiter. This also marked the return of the dreaded flood and their introduction of new boss types and enemies like the Prophet, the Heretic Tartarus, and the Brutes. The multiplayer also saw some new changes as they featured more competitive maps and playlists as well as social playlists and also got new weapons like the Brute Plasma, Brute Shot, SMG, as well as Dual Wielding. A first in the franchise. If it ever felt like the game ended on a cliffhanger though you might be right. The game had to undergo a lot of cuts due to budget and time constraints. If the leaks at the time were anything to go by we could have seen Miranda Keyes betrayal as well as a final level on the high charity finally finishing the fight.

       

      But not all games end up with a good sequel and it's honestly hard to break the sequel curse so a good way to circumvent this is to go and give a fresh perspective on a game via a reboot. One example is Prince of Persia the Sands of Time. This was a reboot of Prince of Persia 3D originally released on the pc and the Dreamcast. The action-adventure by Ubisoft was released on November 10th, 2003 for the Playstation 2. Swinging through bars, running on walls, climbing pillars, and rewinding time all made for a unique parkour experience. This allowed the game to reach critical acclaim a bit slowly at first but gained traction as more gamers saw its unique mechanics in play some are even claiming this to be one of the greatest games of all time. A remake of the game was announced to be released in 2022 and consider us all ready to experience the game once again in a fresh light.

       

      If you're up for a little confrontation with your friends via online multiplayer then we're sure ChuChu Rocket! made your jaw drop even if you weren't allowed to visit little Timmy because of chickenpox. Yes, you heard it right the Dreamcast game was released on November 11th, 1999 with the first-ever online support for a console. Beat your friends at the comfort of your own home while you sit on your gaming chair and breathe loudly on the mic remember that oh wait wrong timeline. Nonetheless, this gaming first gave us a glimpse at the future and showed us how a little innovation could become the biggest staple in the necessity for years to come. As for the game, players must put arrows on a board to lead cute little mice or Juju's into escape rockets while avoiding the Koopa Koopas. Who knew puzzle games could have so much bombastic action and did this variant warrant online support yes definitely.

       

      Speaking of bombs, another accessory that made a blast during its release in 1986 was the Power Pad for the NES on November 12th the accessory made its way to Japan and was a floor mat game controller with 12 pressure sensors, made with flexible plastic kind of akin to the dance pad later used for the Playstation 2. All you had to do was lay the accessory out in front of the video display for various games and you're ready to step on the buttons. If you're ready to work up a sweat while practicing your coordination and timing then the power pad games back in the day were worth a shot.

       

      If you love putting your gaming skills to the test then this familiar side-scrolling beat 'em up for the game boy advance will bring back good memories or bad ones if you don't like the difficulty ceiling you know what I'm talking about right. It's Double Dragon Advance the Remake was published on November 13th, 2003 where you play as Billy Lee and his brother Jimmy on a quest to rescue Marion. As with most beat 'em ups nothing is ever easy as you have to fight your way through hordes and hordes of shadow warriors defeating the shadow warriors can be a pain thankfully we've had some helpful cheats back in the day that gave us double dragon power or 10 credits because you know extra lives are hard to come by. Pressing and holding down a specific set of buttons would grant you these extra credits if you didn't want to put in the skill but if you want to make things extra harder you can unlock expert mode by pressing another set of buttons but seriously who does that I'm looking at you dark souls players.

       

      Speaking of challenging games let's take it down a notch and allow us to introduce you to a far more relaxing game with that said it's a great time to remind you about a certain casual Disney game we all know and love released on November 14th, 2000 the Jungle Book Mowgli's Wild Adventure for the Game Boy Color is certainly a bear necessary and those are always welcome. Playing as Mowgli while traveling different jungle levels was always a treat while learning new tricks such as rolling into a bowl and performing a hand over hand climb made for a fun and engaging experience let's not forget to use coconuts and bananas when there are predators nearby I can't forget that I mean that would only make sense because predators aren't really into fruits I assume. We meet familiar faces along the way from the animated film translated into the game such as Mangira, Baloo, King Louie, Ka, and the deadly Sheer Khan.

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