I was recently discussing old NES games with one of my e-friends.  He’s undertaking a project where he’s going to play all the hardest NES games and time-lapse their completion.  Since we’ve both got rather large NES collectoins, he was happy to get my input on what I thought were the hardest (yet still beatable… I’m looking at you Spy Hunter) NES games ever made.  One of the first games that came to mind was Cobra Triangle.

Cobra Triangle is a singularly interesting game.  It’s made with interesting parallels to top-down and side-scrolling shooters, but in this case you control a boat rather than a plane or space-fighter.  However, unlike shooter games, there are varied goals for each stage.  Some stages you simply have to cross a finish line before the time runs out, others you have to rush bombs to a safe detonation area, there are stages where you protect swimmers from being captured etc.  After every 5 stages you fight a boss, which are pretty challenging.  To help you on your quest you have an upgrade bar.  You can collect upgrade… octohedrons in most stages which can be used to give yourself more firepower, faster running speed, a turbo boost, temporary invulnerability, or missiles.  Even with all this extra firepower, Cobra Triangle is still an extremely difficult game.



The curve of difficulty for Cobra Triangle is pretty punishing.  While the first 8-10 levels or so are relatively playable, the difficulty scale flies off the charts at about level 11 or 12 (about the time you hit the level with the glacial spikes).  As a kid, I loved this game.  Amazingly, I never actually had a copy of it, rather it was a common rental during the summer.  In all honesty, I probably spent more money renting this game than it would have cost just to buy it.  Somewhat recently I found a copy of the game for $5 at my local media exchange; I couldn’t turn that down.  As a kid I couldn’t reliably get past the third boss… and as an adult I find that I can’t reliably get past the third boss.

It’s always puzzled me why this game did so poorly.  The game is basically RC Pro-am and Gradius combined into a glorious mix of shooting, racing, and more shooting.  The only two things I can think of are either it was too difficult for it to become popular, or the use of a boat turned people off to the game.  The difficulty wasn’t really anything unheard of during that age, so I doubt that was an issue.  Games like Mega Man 3, Captain Skyhawk, and Xevious were extremely difficult and extremely popular games at the time, so difficulty was likely not the reason for failure.  So I think it was the boat issue.  Sleek cars, planes, and spaceships are sexy, fun and exciting.  Boats aren’t really in that same category, so it’s likely that many kids looked at this game, saw the un-sexy boat, and moved on to other games.  A shame really, because Cobra Triangle is gaming glory.  Beating Cobra Triangle, hell even getting past the third boss, is bragging rights in the old-school circles.  This game almost merits being an essential play, but is really such an odd-ball for the NES that I didn’t think it really was a defining game for the console.

If you want to read a little more, Gamasutra rated Cobra Triangle #3 on their Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?