Webster's Dictionary defines a learning curve as: 'An embarrassingly easy set of opening levels that prepare the gamer for the challenges ahead by introducing them to insulting tutorials, giant guiding arrows and a host of baddies that are geared for a good head jumping.' OK, so that's obviously our definition rather than Webster's, but the point stands that most games start off with a gentle saunter of untaxing objectives, before sliding into a sprint of 'how the hell am I meant to beat this boss/ sneak past these sixty sentries/ collect this cocaine?'. But not the following collection of games.
These titles start off at a cheetah-style sprint before strapping jet fuel to the feline's feet. They’re uncompromisingly hard right from the off and never ease up. From perennially painful pixel perfect jumps, tortuously tough first bosses to cripplingly cryptic puzzles; these opening levels all laugh at learning curves. It takes a certain type of developer who’ll slave over particle effects, bump mapping and z-buffering for a year and then introduce a first stage so fiendish you’ll never see most of it. Bastard-hard beginnings; we salute you. After all, who really wants to see level two?
Handing you your ass in: Alien Hominid
We love little evil aliens. Especially little evil aliens who gun down government suits with the kind of drive-by-style glee we’ve not seen since Boys N’ The Hood. Hominid’s extra-terrestrial star falls into that exact Krypto-esque category. And his game is exactly the type of hardcore, side scrolling shooter that has been abandoned for training levels in recent years.
Not so with Hominid’s opening, though. Oh no. You’ll need the type of reflexes, precision shooting and hand-eye coordination that used to be mandatory for success in the 16-bit era. Dice, devour and decapitate the swarms of suits thrown your way in this first stage and you’ll then have to survive a killer robot, so pure in his desire to disintegrate you, he makes the Terminator look like Tickle Me Elmo.
The excruciating equation:
Not only are his attacks fast and ferocious, but the very environment itself acts against you. We lost count of the number of times we inadvertently jumped onto the first floor of a building only to receive a face-full of death-rays. And we really do mean ‘we’. It took two men of Radar to man-up - shouting a shed-load of motivational Rocky-style slogans at each other during the fight – before we could best the bionic man.
Inexplicably harder than: Fighting an army of 50 foot nuclear death mobiles with a man with a blonde mop for a head in Metal Gear Solid 2.
Above: Nuclear capabilites are no match for a comedy death laser
Handing you your ass in: Ninja Gaiden
Well this is hardly a surprise, is it? One of the hardest hack-n-slashers ever, Gaiden makes Devil May Cry 3 look like Nintendogs. The first level expects you to be better versed in the sacred art of karate than Mr. Miyagi. And, unless you can chain your samurai skills like a chess simulator, it’s unlikely you’ll get through the dojo in the opening level.
The excruciating equation:
Work on your wall runs, craft together those combos and annihilate enough ninjas, though, and you’ll get a chance to face martial arts master Murai. A skilled warrior of nunchucks and with bigger guns than an Iranian arms dealer, this guy will slap the sushi out of you until you can block, dodge and parry to perfection. The developers clearly didn’t think this was enough of a challenge, either, bringing out an even harder Black version for those blessed with Bruce Lee reflexes. Anyone else feel horribly inadequate?
Inexplicably harder than: Kicking the crap out of hundreds of martial arts masters in sharp suits in The Matrix: Path of Neo.
Above: Bringing the hurt to hundreds of Agent Smiths has nothing on trying to nail the guy with the nunchucks