Stumbling and Fumbling: Those Tricky Spots in Games We Struggled With


We all have them– those spots in games that get us completely stuck. Either they’re completely obtuse in design or simply difficult in general. The following is a list of such sequences, areas, and spots in both classic and modern games. The purpose of this article is to elaborate on specific spots in classic games that got me scratching my head in bewilderment and most of the time, calling a video game tips hotline counselor when applicable. Hopefully this article won’t give you too many bad memories and horror stories of these spots! What I do hope this article will give you are plenty of moments where you go “yes, I experienced trouble here too” and other memories of possibly even overcoming such spots all on your own. After you’ve read the examples, name your own trouble spots that got you stuck way back when in the past or now in the present.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN) – The Barrel of Doom

This particular problem spot occurs in the fourth zone of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Carnival Night Zone, Act 2, to be exact. While there are multiple red and white barrels sprinkled throughout the zone, they are totally optional. However, there is one near the tale end of Act 2 that Sonic is forced to pass.

sonic_the_hedgehog_3_barrelIt seems simple in theory. The barrel spins and you have to lower it enough so you can continue through the level. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. Your first instinct will be to jump on the barrel, as that seems to make it go down. However, the barrel, this spinning cylinder of doom, will revert back to its original position. I remember playing with my older brother when we were younger, and timing our jumps to get the barrel to push itself downward, yet we still could not muster the ability to venture onward. Death by time over was a common occurrence.

What is the solution? It’s simpler than you think, but it is also quite obtuse. To move the barrel, you need to alternate between the up and down directions on the d-pad. This will move the barrel enough for Sonic and Tails to slip past without much in the way of wasted time. Sonic 3’s so-called “barrel of doom” interfered with a lot of players’ progression. Many did not get the chance to take on the latter two zones because of this blasted barrel.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES) – Take a Knee

Speaking of obtuse design, how about this gem from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest… or would it be this crystal from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest? Nonetheless, you get three crystals along Simon Belmont’s adventure, and they each work differently. The one we’re going to focus on is the blue crystal, as it only serves one purpose. However, the game does a poor job at explaining/hinting at what you need to do with it. In fact, the townspeople will blatantly lie to you. This was primarily due to the poor translation the West received and for the subtle reason to get people purchase Nintendo Power, as the magazine possessed guides for a lot of games, including Simon’s Quest. In fact, that was the only way a friend figured out how to progress in the game. I simply gave up at multiple points because of frustration.

What you needed to do was kneel in front of a specific lake with the crystal equipped. What happened after several seconds was the lake drains, allowing you to continue. Given how incredibly counter-intuitive this solution is and how frustrating the puzzles in the game are, it’s no wonder many gamers gave up Simon’s Quest.

The Legend of Zelda (NES) – It’s a Drain on the Brain.

Something that may seem obtuse, but is really just well hidden is a secret, unlocks the Dragon dungeon in the original Legend of Zelda. You have an unsuspecting fairy lake that you wouldn’t think to get rid of. After all, healing is very important in the dangerous, monster-infested land of Hyrule.

However, you really want to get rid of all of the water as it actually houses the entrance to a dungeon. What’s a young hero to do? The treasure found in Lizard dungeon, the flute, is to be played here. The sounds of the flute drains the lake’s water, revealing the entrance to the next dungeon for Link to journey through.

I have fond memories of calling Nintendo’s tip hotline and having one of their counselors get me through many problem areas within The Legend of Zelda. Ah, good times. Good times.

tmnt_dam_levelTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) – Well, Dam.

While later Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games were very good, the original NES game wasn’t so much. It was absolutely and positively hard to beat, much less make progress in. It says it all when your second level is one as hard as the dam level. In this mostly underwater level, you have a strict time limit, electrified seaweed (what?!), and bombs to disarm– all things to contend with. Not only do you need to be fast, but you need to be careful. Those two things do not generally go hand in hand. It’s this reason why so many players simply gave up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Thankfully future games in the series had a more relaxed difficulty and were just more fun to play.

Playing TMNT as a child, I had much more patience for harder games. Nowadays I find that if I feel a game has a “cheap” difficulty, I will shelve it almost immediately. The thing about TMNT is that my older brother and I only made it past the dam level once. It was so hard that I don’t even remember what the following levels were about at all. Maybe we need to turn back to it for a refresher…

super_metroid_wall_jumpSuper Metroid (SNES) – Wall Jumps Will Work

An example of learning by doing, Samus Aran will fall into a pit in Super Metroid; with what appears to be no way out. However, the helpful, docile creatures will show off the ability to jump off walls. If that isn’t a hint, nothing is. However, learning to do the wall jump yourself is pretty difficult to achieve.

Generally in games you just jump into a wall, hit the jump button again, and you’ll leap off the wall. This is not how it works in Super Metroid. Instead, you need to spin jump towards a wall, and when Samus makes contact with it, you need to hold the opposite direction of the wall and then press the jump button. Doing wall jumps in quick succession is rather challenging at first, but with enough practice, you can make Samus Aran into a wall jumping champion.

Again, learning by example is what I had to do. Learning to hold a direction opposite of the wall we were jumping on was a spot that tripped me up, but my younger self pushed through and kept at it. Like solving a complex brain teaser, once I realized what I had to do, I got that huge and rewarding “a-ha” moment. That and I got snooty because my older brother couldn’t figure it out what I did. You might be better at math, Nick, but I am better at wall jumping. I think we all know which is the more important subject to know. That’s right– wall jumping in Super Metroid.

Banjo-Tooie (N64) – Canary Mary

This golden canary woman that has blocked many a gamer from achieving a perfect 100% completion save file on Banjo-Tooie, Canary Mary is a pushover when you first meet up with and race her in Glitter Gulch Mine. Sure, her wings are stiff as a starched shirt, but it’s still a victory and a jigsaw piece when you win. Simple, quick button mashing is all that is needed to win this round.

canary_mary_banjo_tooieHowever, in Cloud Cuckooland, the final main level of Banjo-Tooie, the race is a lot harder; or so it seems. You see, no matter how ridiculously fast you button mash, Canary Mary will most likely pass you in the race and you will lose. There’s a trick here that I didn’t figure out until much later after the fact. If you mash on the button, Canary Mary will try much harder. If you don’ t try as hard, Canary Mary will actually be easier to beat.

I remember beating Canary Mary in a different way that was taxing on the body. I jammed on the go button as much as I could, paused when I got tired, healed up, and then unpaused the game, once again jamming on the go button until I needed to pause again. I still only beat Canary Mary by milliseconds this way, but I did get the 100% completed save file I so desperately wanted. Hey, some people want to be president, I wanted to beat Banjo-Tooie completely.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PC, PS2, XBOX) – Supply Lines

grand_theft_auto_san_andreas_supply_linesOne of the most infamous missions in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is thankfully an optional one, but if you’re like many gamers out there, you want to see that 100% on your save file. Supply Lines was a mission given out by Zero where you pilot a remote-controlled toy helicopter around San Fierro, looking to stop a series of couriers before your fuel  runs out. Unfortunately, the amount of fuel you have is so limited that you literally need a perfect run to defeat all the vans and get back to Zero’s location. Supply Lines is without a doubt one of the toughest missions in any GTA game, and it’s one that has stymied many players’ attempts to get everything San Andreas has to offer.

My brother and I only made it through this mission of the game once apiece, and that was an effort in aggravation, for sure. If we didn’t stamp out all of the couriers, then we had no fuel to make it back to Zero’s building. There was a huge array of fist pumping when one of us completed the mission, and a quick moment to say, “save the game! Quickly! Don’t let the power turn off before you save!” I believe we both still have save data on our PS2 memory cards with our fabled 100% save files.


While at the time of playing through these games and arriving at these aforementioned sticky and tricky spots was very little fun and a lot of frustration, but looking back it’s hilarious seeing how simple some of the solutions really are. Back when a lot of these games released, there obviously was no GameFAQs or instantly accessible walkthroughs. We had to persevere and push through to find our own answers, or spend a boatload of our parents’ money per minute speaking to someone on a gaming tips hotline (my butt certainly got black and blue over that as a kid), or hope to goodness that Nintendo Power would cover the game.

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