When Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994, I was eight years old and had never heard of the character Donkey Kong before. Reading about the game, I learned of the original arcade game that introduced both DK and Mario to the world through the grumblings of Cranky Kong. The old man ranting about how that newfangled Super Nintendo was stopping people from appreciating retro games was certainly not someone I could relate to on any level. I was clearly one of the “whippersnappers” he was talking about, aside from early 90s commercials that my accelerated nostalgia gland was yearning for I didn’t have any understanding of longing for a bygone era.
Well, things have certainly changed since then. While I was angry at fifth-generation systems for trying to push aside SNES less than a year after Donkey Kong Country was released, it wasn’t until Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze’s release, almost 20 years later, when I had a revelation: I could relate to Cranky Kong. While the mass market was turning on Nintendo and Tropical Freeze was being treated as a niche, too hard to be entertaining game by many in the gaming media, it was easy to identify with the jaded old ape who complained about kids these days not appreciating gameplay. It was more people roughly my age not appreciating gameplay, but still.
But it didn’t stop with the Donkey Kong Country series, and I was in fact inspired to write this article because of a different 90s series that recently reentered the spotlight, one with quite a few parallels to the DKC games, despite initially being the mascot for a competing platform. That’s right, I’m talking about Dark Souls. Or as it used to be known, Crash Bandicoot. If you aren’t sure why I would joke about two series with nothing in common being the same, you are a luckier person than I am. The first three Crash Bandicoot games were recently given complete graphical remakes and released as a trilogy for the PlayStation 4, and the original Crash has somehow gone from a harder than average platformer to a brutal exercise in extreme difficulty, and that exercise has in turn somehow been trademarked under the Dark Souls label. Crash has become Dark Souls, according to an infamous review, and so many people have overreacted to its difficulty that I can’t tell which memes about this topic are mocking the claim and which sincerely believe it.
This is where I’d yell at those kids to get off my lawn, but I’m afraid they’ll slip and get hurt, leading to claims that my lawn has become a minefield (the Dark Souls of battlegrounds). That, and like I said, this really isn’t about kids. Maybe kids are mocking Bandicootborne for being an impossible to play relic while chatting in Minecraft or comparing fidget spinners, I don’t really know, but the people I’m some combination of amused and annoyed by are self-proclaimed old-school gamers that are around my age. the people desperately trying to pinpoint the slightest physics changes in Crash N. Sane Trilogy to justify claims that it “became” Dark Souls. The ones talking about how NST proves how much more hardcore gaming was back in the day. The people who insist they were great at the games back on PS1 but now can’t reach the first boss in the PS4 version. This isn’t about age, of gamers or games.
So what is it that’s making me cranky then? It’s how people treat difficulty in games, both older and modern ones. There’s the obvious target of people who can’t stand any difficulty in games and resent games that don’t play exactly how they expect because of that, but they’re not the only annoying group. The people who go on about how games are so easy now and those damn kids could never beat games with REAL difficulty are just as misguided and irritating. I got every trophy in all three Crash N. Sane Trilogy games in a week, while plenty of people online were complaining about not being able to simply get past an early level in the first game. Does this mean all those people are scrubs I should mock and tell to git gud? No, and not just because that would make me an asshole.
There is obviously truth to the idea that playing platformers for around 25 years is going to make games like the three in the N. Sane Trilogy much easier for me than for gamers who grew up playing Halo and Call of Duty without ever touching a platformer. But that doesn’t automatically make me more skilled as a gamer or make the platformers harder, the difficulty they present and skills they require are simply different. Newer games aren’t easier, they’re simply challenging in different ways. Yes, you can see the ending of pretty much any modern game if you blast through the story missions on the easiest setting, but trying to 100% them on the hardest setting is just as difficult as doing everything in classic games. And struggling in a genre they have no experience with isn’t a sign that someone is a stupid kid who can’t compare to the “real” gamers of the 90s. There are elements in genres I don’t play much that frustrate me and probably wouldn’t if I had grown up playing them, I doubt many people are experts at every single genre. If younger gamers don’t understand platformers, or any other genre you loved as a child, the solution is more new games in that genre being released, not mocking people for being born later than you were.
And now to tie things back into why I’m cranky. The way people on both sides of the Crash: New Souls Trilogy issue are acting annoys me. The people who can’t beat the Crash games and decide that the games are to blame because their lack of auto-platforming is outdated are obviously going to incur my wrath, but I’m probably more annoyed at the people in my demographic using this whole thing as an excuse for elitism. Yes, supposedly professional reviewers marking old-school genres down because the reviewer is just bad at them deserve mockery, but don’t take it out on entire generations of games or people (like participation trophies, the kids get blamed for things adults are doing because they assume it’s what kids want). I understand Cranky’s point of view now; but shockingly, the comic relief character from a platformer doesn’t present a robust philosophy ready to be adopted in real life. I want those damn kids off my lawn, but I also want the adults patting themselves on the back for how much better they played on lawns to shut up and get over themselves.