MegaMaster Musings

Difficulty Levels
December 18, 2005

Playing through Mega Man Zero 4, I found myself enjoying the game a bit more than the previous three titles in the series—but what caught my attention was the reason why. It wasn’t because of any unique new feature found only in the fourth game. It wasn’t because the play control was better or the graphics had changed or the animations were improved. Technically speaking, Zero 4 is very much like its previous games.

No, the reason I was enjoying it more was simply because I wasn’t having to restart from the beginning every five minutes. I was able to simply go through the stages as I desired without worrying about my rank, and I could still pick up everything that was critical.

Granted, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a challenge. I do find the Easy mode in Zero 4 to be a little too easy. (Which I also find to be humorous, because the series that started out as one of the hardest series in the Mega Man property turned out to have the easiest game in the series—it even beats Mega Man 3 when it’s on Easy mode. Seriously. They couldn’t have made Zero 4’s easy mode any easier without making Zero flat-out invulnerable to all attacks...) And in terms of the challenges that the stages offer, in Normal mode Zero 4 isn’t really any easier than the stages in other games (particularly with the weather set to “hard”), it’s just that you don’t have to worry about your rank anymore, which makes a surprising difference. (That and the Sub-Tanks make a significant impact on the difficulty level once you start picking them up. Considering you can get all four in this game without even using Cyber-elves, much less without hampering your ability to pick up EX Skills and the like...well, you do the math.)

Looking back, I still find Mega Man Zero 1 to be rather innovative in the series. The fact that you could walk to stages, and fail them permanently, and so forth, were all rather unique to the series. Yet I still have a hard time recommending it to the average person, because of the fact that most people would tear their hair out playing it. Zero 1 is, sadly, more of a niche game for those who enjoy a challenge.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this—niche games do serve the needs of a particular audience, sometimes better than a game with a broader range. Still, I tend to prefer a variable difficulty level more toward Mega Man Zero 4. Give players a challenge when they want it, and go easy on the ones who don’t. Zero 4 accomplishes this fairly well—perhaps a little too well—so I tend to give it higher overall marks than the others. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to dock points from a difficult game that is otherwise good from a technical standpoint, but I do try to think of the entire audience of MMHP rather than just a small group.

So can a game that provides a challenge be good? Sure, in the opinions of some people. Others will hate you for it. You’ll reach a wider audience if you provide a way out for those who aren’t as skilled or who don’t have as much time to spend being a perfectionist.

- The MegaMaster