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In praise of video game invincibility

A few months ago, I foolishly set out on a quest to complete a game that I was never able to beat as a kid: 1988’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The old-school Nintendo Entertainment System game remains as difficult as it was back then, requiring a rage-quit inducing amount of level memorization and precise combat.

Don’t get me wrong: just because Zelda II is difficult, that doesn’t make it a bad game. On the contrary, it’s technically great. When I die, it’s my fault — not the game’s. I just don’t have the skill, patience and perseverance needed to progress.

And I still don’t.

As it was when I was kid, Zelda II remains incomplete — and Nintendo wins again. I plunked down the cash for Zelda II twice, and too bad, there are no refunds for not having enough skill to complete the game.

'Zelda II: The Adventure of Link' released for the Nintendo Entertainment System on December 1, 1988. (Screen capture)

‘Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’ released for the Nintendo Entertainment System on December 1, 1988. (Screen capture)

So it was freaky timing that on the same day I decided to give up on the game, Nintendo’s legendary creative Shigeru Miyamoto — the same man who produced Zelda II — told Time magazine that his upcoming Star Fox Zero would have an “invincibility” mode so players “can fly through and see the levels.”

If I couldn’t have my money back, Miyamoto’s change of heart would do.

Of course, there was a lot of negative online reaction to Miyamoto’s reveal. Many gaming websites echoed the ire from various comment boards and Reddit, and all essentially made the same point: video games are supposed to be challenging and those who can’t handle it should be disparaged or shouldn’t bother with the medium at all.

All that pixellated hot air reminded me of comedian Dara Ó Briain’s commentary on video games as an intentionally inaccessible art form: “You cannot be bad at watching a movie, you cannot be bad at listening to an album, but you can be bad at playing a video game. The video game will punish you and deny you access to the rest of the video game.”

Hello, Zelda II.

It’s about time

Varying difficulty levels have long been a video game convention to appeal to players of all skill levels, and there have been cheating devices to hack games to add infinite lives and that sort of thing, but Star Fox Zero is the first major title to wholly embrace invincibility.

But instead of taking it as the sign of the video game apocalypse, consider it a step-forward for the medium’s accessibility.

When I was a kid, pathetically trying to progress through Zelda II, Nintendo was really the only game in town. You saved your allowance, chose your game, and then stuck with it for few months until Christmas or your birthday arrived and you got another game.

Now games are plentiful and free, and those who pay a premium for their games have an abundance of great titles to choose from. Yet even if they can afford them all, time is still finite.

Miyamoto and his Star Fox Zero team gets that people prioritize their game time. In our bottomless, streaming entertainment world, there’s more content to experience than we have time for, and fewer of us have the time to devote ten or more hours to any format. With the graphic quality of video games becoming increasingly cinematic, there’s also a potential audience out there of players who want to experience story-driven games even if they’re not good at playing video games.

It’s good business

The invincibility mode opens up the market to a wider audience.

If Star Fox Zero piques someone’s curiosity, but isn’t at the top of their entertainment list, knowing that you can shave off hours of repetitive game time or simply play through badly designed or difficult areas without challenge barriers could sway more consumers towards a purchase.

Of course, that doesn’t mean video game publishers should neglect expert challenge modes for hard-core fans (Star Fox Zero includes this as well), but it’s about time the opposite end of the gaming spectrum got some love — a true “easy” mode that’s accessible to everyone.

Invincibility mode: it’s a potential game changer.

Content Creator
Robert J. Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star
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