Difficulty has always been a debated topic in gaming. Games that are too difficult are called out for being inaccessible to players of varying skill levels, whereas titles that are a cakewalk are often thought of as being simple or boring. Modern Nintendo has favored developing games that are relatively easy for almost anyone to pick up and play. True difficulty is rare to find in Nintendo’s first-party games, often relegated to a select few games or in the postgame content of any given title. In many respects, this can be a good thing as it lets players of all ages and skill levels experience what Nintendo has to offer. On the other hand, some games can end up lacking depth and subsequently cause players to lose interest. Nintendo games are too easy, and while that isn’t inherently bad, could they add more expansive difficulty options?
Simplifying the challenge expands the potential player base
Nintendo has tried to make its games as straightforward as possible in recent generations. Selectable difficulty options are not always a given, mechanics and controls are easy to get the hang of, and most games are forgiving in terms of the penalties for failure. In games like New Super Mario Bros. U, dying simply means restarting a checkpoint or level, while losing all of your lives sets you back to the start of the current world. Super Mario Odyssey is even more forgiving, with death only resulting in the loss of coins. Games in the Kirby or Yoshi franchises are easier still, where enemy AI rarely puts up much of a fight and there are few drawbacks to using the overpowered abilities that Kirby and Yoshi can obtain.
Among Nintendo’s contemporary games, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild stands out. By not holding the players’ hand it’s arguably one of the most difficult Zelda games in years and one of the rare exceptions among the generally easy first-party lineup on Nintendo Switch.
It’s not hard to understand why Nintendo takes this attitude toward difficulty. The ease of most Nintendo games is to be expected of a company that takes its friendly brand image with the utmost seriousness. After all, this is the same Nintendo that supposedly toned down future portrayals of Mario after disliking his aggressive depiction in Super Mario Strikers. Bearing in mind the company’s roots as a trading card manufacturer, it also makes sense that Nintendo has often targeted as wide a range of consumers as possible. More potential customers means more potential sales, which in turn increases the likelihood of more sequels.
Inclusivity works both ways though
A desire to balance accessibility and difficulty can be seen when you look at Super Mario games like Super Mario 3D World. The smooth pace through its core worlds is ideal for younger people and contrasts with more difficult postgame content for players that want the challenge. However, Nintendo’s approach to this balance has, more often than not, tipped towards accessibility. While that’s ideal for reaching a wide-ranging audience, it may be unintentionally alienating gamers that want more challenging experiences.
Being inclusive works both ways, and as shown by a few exceptionally difficult Nintendo games, the Japanese giant is already up to the task of delivering tougher experiences. NES owners were often hard-pressed to complete games like The Legend of Zelda without guides, and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 was deemed too difficult for the Western market until it was later released as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels.
New challenges await
Tough Nintendo games usually end up being the exceptions rather than the standard, but in recent years, the company has given us a better idea of how they could reintroduce difficulty into future titles. Some games put the onus on player skill and then offer aid to those that struggle. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze requires some intense platforming ability but remedies this by letting you play as the wholly unique and powerful Funky Kong. Capcom’s recent Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection similarly gives players the option to make the game easier in some clever ways and serves as a great example for Nintendo to take inspiration from.
Games like Breath of the Wild and Fire Emblem: Three Houses offered additional post-launch difficulty modes with Master Mode and Maddening mode respectively. Giving players time to get used to the vanilla experience before adding these modes let Nintendo appease both camps of players and add extra replay value for the most dedicated fans. An even more promising option lies within games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Kid Icarus: Uprising, which use sliding scales to dynamically lower or raise the difficulty depending on how well the player performs.
The all-encompassing difficulty Nintendo champions has worked well, and it wouldn’t need to be sacrificed in order to introduce a scale of new difficulty options. By balancing its accessible approach with a variety of optional, more challenging ideas, Nintendo could cater to both its core demographic and the hardcore fans that want more. With Nintendo Switch having a broader audience than most Nintendo consoles prior, there may be no better time to start.
Do you want Nintendo games to offer more difficulty options?