2. Eat at Joe’s (The Cave of Skops) – Level 2 (Rayman)
Here’s a question: I’m sure most of you have that one game that means more to you than any other. If you had to pick, what would it be? We all have that first game we fondly remember from our childhood, that even now as adults when we sit down for a sesh it transports us back to a time when things were simpler, happier and better.
No matter how old you get, there will always be that one game that stands above all others not only in your memory but in your heart. It acts as your link to the past and for that it shall always be treasured. For me, that game is Rayman. Released in 1995 as one of the console’s first games, Rayman holds the bittersweet memories of youth for so many people.
My relationship with Rayman is a complex one however. It may be the game that I treasure deeper than any other, but it is also a game that has frustrated me and made me angrier than any other game I have ever played. If Ubisoft set out to make the most difficult game that the PlayStation ever saw, then they might just have succeeded when they released Rayman.
The game is the first in the series and follows the adventures of the titular hero Rayman as he battles his way through five different worlds in order to save his colourful and magical world from the evil Mr Dark who has imprisoned all of the ‘Electoons’ and scattered them all over the place, in very hard to find places for that matter. Only when Rayman has successfully freed every single Electoon from their cages, and only when Rayman has defeated every boss and successfully navigate every level can he actually get to Mr Dark.
On the face of it, it sounds like a kid’s game, doesn’t it? It sounds like one of those games that can be completed in an afternoon, but no. This game may look like it was designed for kids, but no kid on earth could ever hope to best this beast. The cages are scattered in such ridiculously hard to find places that it’s a wonder how the designers of the game thought anyone would be able to find all of them. This is a game that wants you to fail, and it makes that point obvious. You are given only six lives to start with, with others (especially during the end of the game) being very hard to come by. You are given five continues and then after that, game over. You have to start all over again.
In the end, the only way most people who played could actually beat the game was with the cheat that enabled you 99 lives. Without that, to anyone who hasn’t spent years honing their skills, or isn’t just an extremely gifted gamer, this game is literally almost impossible to complete.
Enemies will appear out of nowhere, giving you no time to react to them, cloud platforms will randomly disappear just as you are about to jump onto them, leaving you to fall into the spike pit and die for the 67th consecutive time, and cages will appear randomly on the screen in a place to which you have no earthly idea how to get. The placement of Rayman on this game has to be so carefully honed on things such as jumps and punches that you can literally spend hours and hours on one level, trying and failing over and over again.
Of course, you only have that luxury if you use the 99 lives cheat. If not, good luck.
Realistically, you only have about 25 lives with which to clear the entire game. Many of us have spent 20 lives on one level.
But that’s not the best of it. Like I said before, you have to collect all of the cages (of which there are about 100) to even get to the final boss. In context, that’s like having to pick up every single Dog Tag in MGS before you can even fight Metal Gear, or having collected every individual coin in a Super Mario game before allowing you to fight Bowser. It’s ridiculous and it wants you to fail.
So out of all of the levels, which is the hardest? In arguably the most difficult game the PlayStation ever released, which stands out as a level at which an entire generation of kids (it is the highest selling PlayStation 1 game of all time in the UK, so there were a lot of them) were bested? Well after much thought, the answer became clear (in albeit a close race) and that level is level 2 of Eat at Joe’s, in the fifth and final world: Cave of Skops. The level that, in 15 years of playing this game, I could never defeat.
The best word to describe this level is obnoxious. The game requires you to navigate spike pit after spike put, enemy after enemy (most of which are positioned to such a point that it almost inevitable that you take damage) and suckers you into a false sense of security by placing hovering clouds, on which you can jump to get to the next solid peace of ground, only for them to disappear when you’re in the air and it’s too late. The controls do the level no favours either, because with it being released in 1995, they are clunky to the point that in some parts of the level, you literally cannot think quick enough to react to the madness that is going on around you. And finally, if you’ve got past all of that, you will reach the end of the set of levels without getting all the cages. Why is that? Well naturally because you did not hit the right random pixel in just the right way to make it appear.
Seriously, I love this game, but this is a game that is so difficult, it starts to make you wonder “what were the designers thinking…?” which, very neatly, leads me to the most difficult (subjectively obviously), and the most frustrating game level of the PlayStation era.
But before we unveil number one, let’s have a look at a few honourable mentions that either did not quite make the list or were in games that did not have an out-and-out level system (just a side note, I know MSG doesn’t strictly have a traditional level system, but how could I not include Psycho Mantis?)
The code for DDK Disk E in Dino Crisis: Easier once you have figured out what the key for the password actually means, but still, this required a pencil, an A4 piece of paper, and about an hour of your time.
Level 3 – Coolboarders 2: The clunky control system, the bad graphics, all combined with that amount of trees through which you had to navigate. Nightmare.
Final battle with the Nemesis: Resident Evil 3: Seriously, how many nightmares has the Nemesis been the centre of over the years?
Final Boss – Ogre: Tekken 3: He can fly, and breathe fire. How can you fight that?
Stealing the Peacock Feather – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Not the hardest level of the game, but defiantly the most frustrating, because it was always one step ahead of you, magic or no magic.
Level 6 – Mos Espa: Star Wars Ep.1 – This level combined problem solving with impossibly difficult enemy battles. Complete with a ridiculously hard boss battle at the end of the next connecting level. Enemies would attack you for no reason, and if you fought back, everyone would attack you, worse than that, all the characters that you had to interact with in order to complete the level would no longer talk to you, and you had to start all over again.
And finally, onto number one…