Have you ever had a game that you just knew was going to take serious effort to complete, but you dug in for the long haul and stayed with it until the end? I'm not talking about the average (and tedious) 60-hour Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) or anything that's a simple matter of hours devoted. No, I'm talking about something that's really difficult, or something that presents some sort of extraordinary obstacle to overcome. Something like the video game equivalent of a brick wall.
For me, I've had two.
The first brick wall (believe it or not) was the original Mega Man on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It may seem a little ridiculous that this game was such a huge hurdle for me back in the day, but it's true.
Getting through the bosses was no big deal, but the fight against Rock Monster drove me absolutely crazy. The way that thing split up into small pieces and warped back and forth across the room just tore me apart, and with the game skills I had at that age, I just couldn't do it.
I don't think I've ever mentioned this to anyone before, but it took me about three years to get past that part. Of course, it wasn't three years of trying ten times a day every day. I'd put it down for a few months and play other games and then come back to it when the mood struck me, but I did not see credits roll on Mega Man until literally three years after I bought it.
… of course, after I finished it legitimately, I found out there was an exploit to get past the bastard by hitting him once and then rapidly pausing/unpausing the system. If I had known about it earlier, forget three years. I would have polished the game off in three days.
My other brick wall is Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on the PlayStation Portable (PSP).
If you read my blog regularly, then you already know that I'm a recently-converted fan of the series. Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii got a lot of things right for me, and I still had a bit of an itch to scratch after I polished it off. I knew the PSP games had a dedicated following, so I figured I'd jump onboard that train and kill more giant beasties while on the go. Immediately after starting, I was glad I did.
Despite enjoying it a great deal, Tri felt like a stripped-down, über-simplified kiddie pool compared to the amount of content I found in Freedom Unite. There are a ton more monsters, loads of new and different weapons, and a mountain of varied armor sets to collect. Interestingly, Freedom Unite also has tons of information, tutorials, training arenas and lots of other little bits that are completely omitted from Tri. When I saw how much was here, I was utterly amazed and quickly fell in love. Any way you slice it, Freedom Unite is just a better game, all-around.
Better all-around… except for the camera.
While it's clear that Capcom has made some concessions to PSP players (i.e.- slower monsters, lower difficulty) the fact is that Sony's handheld is physically lacking a second analog nub to handle camera duties and the Monster Hunter developers have never come up with a satisfactory workaround solution.
What are the options? Players either constantly click the left shoulder button to auto-center the camera directly behind their character, or they can control character movement on the nub with their left thumb while pushing left/right on the D-Pad with the left index finger. This tendinitis-inducing maneuver is "affectionately" known as the claw. Also, it's about four times more uncomfortable than it looks, especially in extended play sessions.
As I'm sure you can imagine, the giant hurdle to overcome with Freedom Unite is finding techniques and strategies to survive while dealing with the absurdly unsatisfactory camera system. If it was any other game I probably would have kicked it to the curb after an hour, but it's impossible not to acknowledge the amount of quality content in the title. It really is a fantastic game for players of a certain stripe, and if there was some solution to the camera dilemma, I'd easily rank it as one of the best games available for PSP.
Unfortunately, this is a game where even half-seconds count, and being unsure of whether a Tyrannosaurus with wings is on your right or your left is more than enough to trigger a "Mission Failed". Death by crappy camera is frustrating in the extreme, and I have questioned my own sanity more than once as to whether I'm really dedicated enough to see this game through. After forty hours, I think I am... although whether that means I'm sane or insane, I can't say.
So, what are your personal video game brick walls? I'd love to hear about 'em.