Underneath my yellow skin

WWDTAOL: The thin line between hard and unfair (video game edition, part one)

In today’s edition of WWDTAOL, I want to focus on hard video games. Why? Because, well, look at the games I play. FromSoft games, to be specific. But also NL hours into Binding of Isaac in all of its iterations. That’s why it’s endlessly amusing to me that I also like games such as Cozy Grove (Spry Fox) because it’s the exact opposite of demanding and curse-inducing. I’m really digging Cozy Grove now that I’ve completely accepted it for what it is–a bite-sized chunk game in which putting an hour into a day is the way to play. I love doing my little chores¬† and making the rounds, talking to my friends and trying on the new clothes. I have a real problem with hoarding all the items and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to make myself sell clothing that I know I will never wear. I can buy new slots, but it’s 30,000 old coins for ten spaces. That’s chump change these days, but I’m still cheap.

Anyway! Tough games. Let’s talk Binding of Isaac by Edmund McMillen. Normally, I would call the game Binding of Isaac: Rebirth because that’s the best edition of the game in my opinion. I’ve played them since Wrath of the Lamb–well, I actually played the first version, but hated it–and, man, has the game changed so much. I’ve 1001%ed the game and I played it every day as my relaxer. If I played as Zaz or Eden, I could reliable win most games. With Isaac, Samson, Judas, or Laz, as long as I got decent damage upgrades, I win more often than I lost. I knew the items like I knew the back of my hand and I could play on automatic. Then, at some point, I got burned out on the game and uninstalled it. I’ve done that before and then gone back to it, but this time, it stuck. It helped that while I really dug Rebirth, I was less than enamored of Afterbirth and Afterbirth+. I did play the mod, Antibirth, for a bit, but I didn’t get too into it.

Then there was the announcement of Repentance. I think it was before the pandemic. I noted it and moved on. In the last few months, it was announced as coming out for realsies. From what I knew about it, it was Edmund taking Antibirth and incorporating it into the game. By the time the official announcement happened, I was over the game. So over it. I messaged Ian and told him that I was NOT going to get the game, nuh uh, no way. I was so over it and I didn’t like the way it sucked me in for way too much time. He gently reminded me that I didn’t have to get the expansion, which was true. I wasn’t going to do it and the day of the release came and went without me buying it. Then, I started watching Northernlion play Repentance because, I don’t know why. I just couldn’t let go of the game. Watching NL play it made me want to try it.

Long story somewhat shorter: I bought it. I was just going to try it out–yeah, right. Who am I kidding? I know how I am with this game. That’s one of the reasons I quit playing it. Anyway, It’s fucking hard. It’s brutally hard. Now, I probably should have started out with Isaac just to ease myself into it. However, I wanted to unlock the new characters as quickly as possible. There were two new characters in the game and I know one of them was in Antibirth. Let me just say that spoilers will abound. That’s just the way it is. Anyway, Bethany was the one with the explicit requirements–beat the game with Lazarus without losing a life (he comes with an extra).

I have to explain that there is an alternate path, one that was installed in Antibirth. It’s really difficult to get to and through, and that’s the way you unlock the second new character. At least, that’s what I assumed because the requirement for unlocking the second character was to beat ?????. Given that I have beaten everything in Rebirth, the smart assumption was that the new path had a new boss that you had to beat to unlock the second new character.

I decided to do the Laz stuff first because that was something I knew. I did try to do the alternate path a few times with him, but I quickly decided I didn’t want to do that. Oh, I should mention that I play on hard by default. That’s because any achievement you make on hard carries over to the normal achievements, but not vice-versa. In other words, if I beat MegaStan as the Keeper (gah! The only thing I have left to do on the old game) on normal, I’d have to do it on hard again to get both achievements. If I do it on hard, then it’s done for both. And hard wasn’t that hard, honestly, after playing countless hours of the game. Well, except the Keeper. Fuck them. Seriously. I hate everything about them. I can hang with the Lost now that they have Holy Mantle to start with. The Forgotten? Can be fun and is fresh and exciting. But the Keeper. Oh, god, the Keeper.

Anyway! Back to Repentance. Hard was fucking hard. Even going the regular route, it was ratcheted up to a million. That’s an exaggeration, but man it was a lot.¬† It didn’t help that I didn’t get any damage upgrades the first few runs, which is tedious in the best of times and brutal in the worst of times. I will admit that I read some of the negative reviews to see what I had in store for me. Besides the ones that said it was too hard (and from people who 100%ed the game prior), another common complaint was that in the item rooms, you had the choice between a given item and a question mark. Now, of course I wanted to see the new content so I chose the question mark unless the known item was too good to pass up such as Serpent’s Kiss. The problem is that I got a worse item all of the time, which made me reluctant to pick it up. If I was just doing a run, then fine. But because I was trying to unlock Bethany, I needed to be as strong as possible.

It wasn’t fun at all. I know the best way to play these kinds of games is to just chill, but when I have a mission, I get way too tense. I just want to the damn thing and as quickly as possible. I did unlock Bethany finally (only had to kill It Lives (2nd Mom)) and took her for a test run. When I remembered her deal, I was so disappointed. Her thing is that she can’t ever have soul hearts or demon hearts. She starts with the Book of Virtues as a spacebar item and when you press on it, you get a small flame that encircles you. It does damage. Any black or blue hearts you acquire get banked and if you press on the spacebar when you don’t have a charge, a black/blue heart gets consumed instead.

This means it’s really hard to get a deal with the devil and that it’s better not to take them because of the heart situation. I don’t like any character in which you have to minimize the damage you take. That’s why I hate the Keeper.

But, I’m going to put Repentance to the side for a minute and mention another game that has me pondering the thin line between ‘hard, but fair’ and ‘fuck no’. It’s Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! by David Galindo, the second sequel to one of my favorite games, Cook, Serve, Delicious. It’s a cooking sim and you think it would just be chill, but no. It’s very fast-paced and at times, balls hard. I 100%ed it until the additional stuff and eagerly looked forward to the sequel. 100%ed that game until the last day or two and anticipated the second sequel even more. That took a while to come out and when it did, it was in Early Access for quite some time. I am not a fan of Early Access, but I trusted chubigans (the dev’s Twitter handle), so I bought it right away.

I played the hell out of it and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was more to do with each update and I was 100%ing it. That’s how I play these games–I accept nothing less than a perfect day. It’s hard, but in the end, since that’s what counts for bronze, silver, and gold, it’s worth it. I was so into this game. I was loving it so much. Whisk and Cleaver were great and I did everything that I could possibly do. Then, the game dropped and it added the final destination–the Iron Chef food truck wars competition. No, that’s not what it’s called, but that’s pretty much what it is. Here’s where the game took a turn for the bullshit in my opinion. The big addition to the game is warring food trucks attacking your food truck to make your stops more difficult. In theory, this was a great addition and it made sense thematically. Practically, I hated it and bought every upgrade possible to halt the attacks. By the end of the Early Access period, I had all the attacks disabled.

Then came the competition and it was as if I never bought the upgrades in the first place. Each stop had food attacks, up to five of them (if I remember correctly, on the days that had eight stops) and they held for the entire day. That meant that if the freshness decay attack happened early on, then I was fucked for the rest of the day. By the way, that particular attack was why I quit the game. Well, that and the fact that the last area was ramped up to a ridiculous degree. Trying to get perfect days was so stressful and nigh on impossible in some cases. At that point, I just could not make myself not do perfect days. I managed to get perfects on all the days until…there were six days left. The requirements were so insane, that I quit. I wasn’t having any fun and the game had crossed into bullshit for me.

Back to the decaying freshness attack. It was so strong that I could not go one stop without the prepped foods rotting. My M.O. for doing this game was to get all my prepped food ready before the stop started and then just serve it up. I always chose dishes that didn’t need additionally prepping whenever possible so I didn’t have to even think of that mess while working the orders. Forget about perfecting the days, I wasn’t even sure I could finish them. I quit the game and didn’t touch it again. I read an update that chubigans had nerfed that particular attack, but I still wasn’t interested in going back to it.

Until two days ago. I decided to go back to it because I only had 6 days left and I wanted to put it in the finished column. I told myself sternly that I was just trying to get through it and not worry about perfection. That was difficult to do, but I managed to overcome my impulse to press restart when I fucked up an order. I got through the days with 3 silvers and 3 bronzes. I saw the ending, which was underwhelming. Still, I’m glad I got through it. I know I’ll want to go back and try to 100% the game, but I’m going to try to resist.

The end game is too hard for me. I feel it crossed the line into unfair and it was a nod for all the fanbois and fangirls. That’s my issues with difficult games in general–they, understandably, want to give back to the fans who have been there for them through thick and thin, but leave everyone else behind. I have more to say about this, but the post is running long. I’ll leave it here for now.


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