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Xbox 360 XBLIG Review: This is Hard

THIS IS HARD

Available Platforms

Xbox 360

Reviewed Platforms

Xbox 360

Pros

Simple controls
Good difficulty

Cons

Way too short

Price

MSPĀ 80

Purchase Recommendation

Try

Gameplay

A much discussed subject in video games today is the issue of difficulty. Many gamers, myself included, believe that the current generation of games are far easier than past generations. This is not entirely a bad thing. Easier games are more accessible and can be played by wider audiences. More people playing video games is generally considered "good" by the gaming community. My fear however is that by lowering the bar we're breeding a generation of weaker gamers. Do you know that in Super Mario Bros Wii that if you die enough times the game will play the level for you? Say what you want about player assistance and accessibility, if the game is beating itself for you then something is wrong.

So obviously a game titled "This is Hard" appeals to my nature. I'm of the mind that a reward without a struggle is not much of a reward at all (please note this is in reference to games only, go ahead and give me that winning lottery ticket). "This is Hard" happens to be a particularly brutal platformer. Each level is only about 10 seconds long, with the longest being maybe about 30 seconds. You'll quickly learn that these short level times are necessary, since you'll be dying over and over again.

The first level of the game details the controls. Move left and right. Press A to jump. Hold A to jump higher. That's it. Heck, there's not even a run button. Using this singular talent, you must guide your blocky headed hero past mines, zombies, lasers and missiles to reach the exit. Be prepared to fail many times before you succeed. Never before have I found myself screaming the title of a game so often or with such vigor. Outside of maybe Yahtzee or Jenga.

The level design is nothing short of nefarious. The difficulty starts off slow but quickly escalates to controller throwing levels. What makes the game fun however is that while the levels are brutal and you will die many, many times, it never feels cheap. Your deaths are entirely your own fault. The levels are designed with the player's tactics in mind, which is what makes it so devious. For instance, the first time you see a bomb on the ground you may run into it. Next time you jump over it but you jump too high and get taken out by a laser. Next try you jump not too high, but too far and you land in lava. It's a natural progression of deaths where with each death you learn something.

Also, did I mention this game was hard? I'm not aware of any other game that keeps a running tally of your deaths. Mine was well over 400 by the time I finished. There are very few games where 400+ deaths are not enough to make you stop playing. There are no game overs, continues or lives. You're allowed as many deaths as you need to make it to the end.

Unfortunately, the game is too short. There are only 28 levels and you can run through all of them in an hour and a half. Once a level is beaten, you can return and attempt to achieve a better completion time. Each level also has a target time and when beaten a little ribbon is displayed next to the level. This reward is pretty small (at least for me) and does not add too much to the replay value.

 

Visuals and Sound

The visuals are decent. The lava looks hot, the zombies are green, and whenever you touch something you're not supposed to your little block head explodes into a million little pieces. The level motifs never vary too greatly, but then again the game is too short for much diversity anyway. I must admit, in the beginning I thought cube head was a pretty stupid looking hero, but somewhere around the 150th death I began to develop a soft spot in my heart for the poor guy.

The music is really good, all 3 songs of it. The music selection is classical and orchestral with no vocals. It works very well and is nicely juxtaposed with the insanity you'll encounter (and feel) while playing. Just don't expect a lot of variety.

 

Final Verdict

Listen, this is a good game. It is a lot fun and even more enjoyable with a buddy or two to pass the controller around with. It only costs a buck. But I still can't in good conscience recommend purchasing a game that may only occupy you for an hour. Granted, spending a dollar at McDonald's may only occupy you for all of 5 minutes, but you have to eat. You don't have to play ridiculously short games if you don't want to. I also think that a level creator or editor feature would have been utterly amazing for this game. I heartily recommend downloading the demo though. Who knows, maybe at the end of the trial time you'll already have developed an attachment to the little cube head. I know I did.

 

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