Unbeatable 2D Platformers Are All the Rage Among Hardcore Gamers

'Masocore' games are not for the faint of heart.

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Sep 5 2014, 5:40pm

Screenshot of Spelunky. Image: YouTube

A lot of hardcore gamers are turning to labyrinthian, mostly 2D, games looking for that unbeatable challenge.

And those seemingly impossible games, mostly platformers, fit with theoretical obstacles and a cult following, is its own genre.

"Masocore," a part allusion to "masochism,"  are games defined by video gaming site Giant Bomb as a, "sub-genre specifically designed to frustrate players by combining complex game mechanics with intense, seemingly impossible difficulty." 

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And the most aggravating aspect of these games (and likely what warrants its masochistic namesake), is players are offered infinite lives. So you never stop trying to beat the unbeatable. 

Games like Super Meat BoySpelunky, and as Slate reports, Dark Souls 2 , have become increasingly popular with gaming's audience thanks to their immense difficulty levels. But more importantly, some enthusiasts have taken the challenge a little further than most.

Aaron Loder is someone who excels at masocore style games and has built himself a relatively large fan base under the username Bananasaurus_Rex on Twitch, a streaming service, able to run masocore games incredibly fast.

Screenshot of Spelunky. Image: YouTube

"I wouldn't say that difficult games are the only games that I enjoy, but I've just about always had a knack for video games, so I suppose it was only natural that I would find harder and harder things to challenge myself with," Loder said to me over Skype.

Currently, he holds one of the world's highest records for being able to complete Spelunky, an indie platformer, well known throughout the gaming community for it's immense difficulty that spurs from its random generation of obstacles and enemies.

Loder said it was the unforgiving nature of Spelunky and the never-ending challenge due its unpredictability, drawing him back time and time again.

"Spelunky is known for being very unforgiving, and combined with its random generation, that makes for a pretty fun game to try to push to its limits," Loder said. "It's one of the rare games that manages to be that difficult while still feeling completely fair most of the time."

The game presents itself as a challenge for the player, but one of its major successful aspects is the sheer competition players have with each other to best leaderboard scores.

The speed running community, gamers who pride themselves on the sheer speed they complete video games, isn't immune to masocore gaming, either. And most speed runners boast they can complete a rather difficult game, or get through a seemingly impossible stage, quicker than most.

Like all competitive sports, the community has gone from just being usernames on a screen to actual visual events with Twitch hosting many of the friendly competitions between some of the top runners.

Spelunky is known for being very unforgiving, and combined with its random generation, that makes for a pretty fun game to try to push to its limits

John De Souza is a top Super Meat Boy player, another 2-D platformer game that garnered critical acclaim and mainstream attention when it launched on the Xbox Indie Marketplace in 2010.

In the game, players focus on getting their animated piece of meat from one side of the screen to the other, avoiding saws and lethal spikes, in an attempt to rescue its girlfriend.

De Souza garnered his own attention when he became one of the top Super Meat Boy speed runners, cruising through levels others were stuck on for hours in mere seconds.

"The mindset that you need to speed run them tends to be a lot closer to the mindset that you need to beat the game at all," De Souza said.

Screenshot of Super Meat Boy. Image: YouTube

In order to maintain his mastery of the game, De Souza admitted he'd slung over 1,000 hours into completing the game and its various stages over and over again.

Obsessive hours playing games over and over again, is a common theme within the speed running community that focuses on masocore games.

Not unlike physical sports, in order to become the best and capture the reigning spot atop the speed running throne, countless hours must be invested in an attempt to find glitches within the game that allows them to cut corners.

"In general, if you're trying to seriously run a game you need to spend at least a couple hours a day on average," De Souza said.

The scene may be competitive, but Loder said the community of masocore speed runners share their newly discovered secrets among each other in an attempt to be friendly and bolster competition.

"It's common practice to share newly discovered routes, strategies, etc., and most runners tend to support one another in the spirit of producing the best possible speed run of that game, and for the sake of fun, mature competition," Loder said.

Although the competition is kept friendly, both De Souza and Loder admitted to me there are certain games that warrant more respect than others.

In general, if you're trying to seriously run a game you need to spend at least a couple hours a day on average

De Souza said while Super Meat Boy is seen as a difficult game by "casual gamers," a term he confessed he hated using, it's not exceptionally difficult.

"Dustforce and F-Zero GX are two games I'd really like to speed run, because they're actually difficult. Dustforce is a difficult game in general, no matter how many games you play," De Souza said.

Loder echoed De Souza's opinion on the gaming market today, adding that some of the most masocore style games are "fan games," designed by players to strictly push other players' patience, skill, and luck to the limit.

Dong Nguyen's (the infamous creator of Flappy Bird) second game, Swing Copters, is a perfect example of what Loder is talking about.

Screenshot of Flappy Bird. Image: YouTube

Many players even take to Instagram and Twitter to share their latest high score, especially if they manage to snag five points before crashing and burning.

Loder said before Nguyen brought masocore style games to the forefront of the industry, there were hundreds of titles sitting around taunting even the most seasoned players.

Originally, many of the masocore games created were done so by fans of older generation titles. Nostalgia for tough games like the original Castlevania, Mega Man, and Ghosts n Goblins for the NES silently sparked a movement within the community.

A movement that resulted in tons of developers deciding they were going to attempt to recreate that feeling of euphoria after beating a hard game by taking it to the next level.

Just like that, the masocore sub genre was born.

As the video game industry readjusted difficulty levels, offering players the chance to swing through levels on easy mode, independent developers took the opportunistic window to share their own games that were only playable at an extremely hard level.

Games like I Wanna Be Boshy and I Wanna Kill the Kamilia 3 made the rounds, as did the infamous developers Solgryn and INFLUKA. Both became extremely well known on various masocore message boards and forums. 

"I Wanna Be The Boshy is a 2-D platformer known for super-precise jumps and seemingly impossible-to-dodge bullet hell sequences, among other incredibly difficult things," Loder said, as he talked about the first masocore game that got him interested in the ludicrously difficult titles.

"Most people die many thousands of times the first time they play it. I racked up about 8000 deaths my first time, and that's considered extremely good," he said.

These games, both players assured, aren't for a mainstream demographic. It's a smaller community purposely searching out whispered titles among their friends that has been the latest source of frustrated competition that week.

"One of the absolute hardest [fangames] that exists is called I Wanna Be The Crimson. I died over 30,000 times before I finished it," Loder proclaimed proudly. 

"That's definitely the hardest thing I've ever beaten. These games aren't for most people. They're truly masocore platformers," he said.