Battletoads. Double Dragon 3. Ghosts n’ Goblins. The Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. Super C. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Why do I refer to these games as paddle biters? It all started when I was a kid. When I would reach the apex of frustration with a game and I would bite my NES controller in a fit of rage. It seemed to be the only way I could process the anger and mind boggling outrage that certain games infected me with. Add in a dash of parental ignorance (paddle = controller) and there you have it: Paddle Biter.
In the days of 8 color palettes and laughable memory size, and more often than not, lack of battery back up, video game companies had to justify a 50 or 60 dollar price tag somehow. The Answer? Make the game so fucking hard that only a rainman-esque Nintendo god with the reflexes of fucking superman could ever hope to wrap it.
It was this backward thinking ‘make a medicore game harder instead of better’ that led to the true Holy Grail of my childhood. The Game Genie. Like a beacon of hope rising from the ashes of impossibility, the Game Genie was there. Jump over the flag in Super Mario Bros., take no damage on the infinite plain that is Dr.Wily’s castle in Mega Man 2, freeze the timer in Die Hard. To harness this power was to become a God.
But as so many films and shitty TV shows have proven, you can’t play God. This became abundantly clear a few years ago when my friend Steve and I settled in for the night with a bottle of vodka, a Game Genie, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We thought we had the world by its balls. The headache inducing Game Genie screen invited us to enter three codes. “Fuck them” we thought as our arrogance pushed us to enter only two:
Don’t take most damage and don’t take damage from non-killing seaweed.
With our liquored up hearts full of courage and a single tear in our blood shot eyes we set forth.
“Fuck this game man, I can’t believe I’ve never beaten it. We’ll show it, we’ll show it for keeps.”
The gauntlet was firmly in the ground. We sleepwalked through Rock Steady and past Bebop. We effortlessly navigated seaweed like we were fucking ghosts. Invisible, man. Like air. We marched through sewers and warehouses, cutting a path of bodies like a tank. We saved Splinter, we destroyed Mecha-Turtle. We ran down purple ninjas with the Turtle van like the fucking zodiac killer. We were alive that night, my friends, not just living.
Than we entered Maintenance Tunnel #14, which we would find out later is three stages from the end. Let me preface this tragic turn of events by first stating that the heroics mentioned in the previous paragraph took in the area of 1 and a half hours to complete. At this point in the game it was pretty evident that the end was near and, yeah, we were confident- no, over confident. We entered the level carelessly. We were using a level switching two player configuration and it happened to be my turn. I don’t know if it was the liquor, or the excitement, but I was taking chances. Stupid chances. The kind of chances that cost you. And with one to many daredevil jumps I missed the platform and went into, what is that? Lava? Quicksand? It didn’t matter. I could not jump out, and worst of all… we could not die. The very invisiblity that gave us a God-like sense of entitlement and power had been our very undoing. The controller fell from the loosened grip of my limp hands as I fell to my knees. Sorrow spread over us like cracks on an action movie windshield.
The game had laughed in the face of our Godlike powers and had bested us.
This tragedy happened three years ago, when my friend and I were in our early 20’s. Now, I don’t mean to use the liquor as an excuse, but I am pretty confident that I kick any 10 year kid’s ass at any NES game three sheets to the wind. This game was marketed to 10 year old kids. You would probably have to play this game nonstop for three weeks before you could get good enough to beat it. And therein lies the problem; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just not a good enough game to hold anyones interest for that long.
In the age of MMOs and 120 hour console RPGs, its kind of shocking when you realize that the revitalization of the video game industry is thanks in part to games that are so fucking hard that they caused kids to bite their controllers.