Why are video game developers so afraid of hard games?

For all the bravado and maturity put forth by “hardcore” games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Red Dead Redemption and the like, they aren’t very, well, they aren’t very hard, are they?

Enjoyable to a lot of people, yes, and certainly pretty to look at, but the scripted events, single button press “quick time actions,” linear “you shall go from point A to point B and like it” progressions and bloody headshots have beguiled us into thinking that these are the truly badass games. They aren’t. They coddle us with their invisible walls and staged “ah ha” moments. More often than not they trade true difficulty for “how many hours is it?” That’s sad.

Enter a goofy gorilla, who has so far managed to kick more than a few asses into true fighting shape.

Every Donkey Kong Country Returns review I’ve read in the past week has mentioned, in one way or another, that the game is hard. Not cheap hard, like Mega Man 9, but rewarding hard. The kind of near-but-not-quite maddening difficultly that takes 20 lives from you in one level and has you whooping for joy on life 21 as you finally reach the goal. That kind of difficulty.

Sad thing is, this type of game doesn’t happen very often. Games are not hard, they are long. They are pretty. They are “well-acted” by celebrity voices and thrown into the Uncanny Valley (still unconquered—sorry Heavy Rain!), where they fight for scraps with Tom Hanks’ dead face in the Polar Express.

It’s all quite ironic, given the ink spilled in gushing 8.5 or higher reviews the so-called professionals churn out from their posh Activision-supplied review chambers.

Please note, this is not me saying games like Red Dead are not enjoyable. They are, and you would have found no one more into shooting his way across the fictional 1911 Wild West this summer than John Marston and I. But that game, with its ridiculous auto aim and predictable, repeating level design, never challenged me. Indeed, anyone who defends the “final boss battle” in that game as anything other than Rockstar rushing its way to showing off its cliche Hollywood lite movie ending finale needs their head knocked around and examined.

Preferably by Donkey Kong and his game of the year contender Donkey Kong Country Returns.

The game is a challenge. It is well-designed and full of color, surprises and a fulfilling sense of accomplishment.

Why are people in the gaming space so afraid of that these days?