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10 Features

History Lesson: The hardest trolling game of all time

By Matthew Castle on Sunday Mar 30th 2014 at 3:00 AM PDT

With 800,000 copies sold, Takeshi's Challenge is by no means an unknown game.

The fact it never left its Famicom home in Japan accounts for the puzzled expression plastered across your face right now.

Even if it may not be immediately familiar to you though, we actually can't think of a game that better encapsulates the true fist-biting nature of extreme gaming difficulty than this trip into the warped mind of Takeshi Kitano.

Japanese personality Kitano - Beat Takeshi to his fans - is what would happen if you melted down Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Ross and Ricky Gervais and poured the pulpy mix into a human mould.

Comedian, actor, writer, director, chat show host... he's best known on our shores for barmy gameshow Takeshi's Castle (and also as the teacher in Battle Royale), but there are few mediums that haven't known his touch (the Japan Times once referred to him as "the king of all media").

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It was just as Takeshi's Castle launched in Japan in 1986 that Takeshi began to dabble in video games.

Kitano originally claimed that the idea for the game came to him while drunk in a bar. The box says it all: "This game is made by a man who hates video games". The only advice given to prospective players? "Common sense is dangerous."

Simply put, Takeshi's Challenge seeks to unravel all you know about playing games, just as the game's hero, a bored salaryman, gives up his day job to become a treasure hunter.

The idea of the Japanese salaryman is not unlike our white-collar businessman taken to an extreme. Seen as devoting their lives to working, they are ridiculed with the names 'shachiku' (corporate livestock) and 'kaisha no inu' (corporate dog).

While the game's hero has to find his inner adventurer, then, Takeshi's Challenge asks us to find our inner salaryman.

Just how dangerous is gaming common sense? For one, you can die on the title screen. Choose password entry and you're given three input options: one causes death. In fact, automatic death is a theme throughout the game - ignoring minor quest options early on can render the whole thing impossible.

The most infamous example of this is the game's early optional fetch quest to buy and learn to play a shamisen (a traditional stringed instrument). Towards the end of the game you're trapped in a cooking pot. The only way out? To lull the chef with a shamisen tune. Wish we'd known that.

More infamous are the acts of drudgery dotted throughout. A karaoke segment requires you to sing into the Famicom mic peripheral for up to 30 songs - that's nearly an hour of bleating. Win the karaoke and you're rewarded with a treasure map.

Problem is, it's written in invisible ink. The only way to see it? Leave it in the sunlight for an hour - as in, put the controller down and don't press a button for a whole hour. What game makes you wait?

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Technically, the toughest section is a hang-glider trip across the ocean. A pretty tame Gradius clone, this adds the twist that you can't move up. Drop down to avoid something and you won't make up the height again, meaning every downward dodge forces you closer to a collision with the sea and another game over.

This is if you made it to the hang-gliding centre in the first place, of course. It's on an island so you have to fly out on a commercial airliner. Buy the wrong ticket and the plane explodes halfway there.

This isn't to say that Takeshi's Challenge is without its charms. One key moment in your mission to become a carefree adventurer requires you to divorce your wife so you can dump your family. The solution? Go to a bar, get blind drunk and return for a massive row. Of course, if you don't ask for a divorce your wife and kids simply tag-team and beat the living snot out of you.

Make it to the end of this nightmarish trip and your reward is one final slap in the face. Up pops Kitano's face to gloat, "Would you really take a game such as this so seriously?" Gamers then answered with anguished yelps.

We can only laugh. When faced with the truly hardcore, common sense - which says watch from afar - isn't so dangerous advice after all.

Center of attraction

While we don't recommend you track down and play a copy of Takeshi's Challenge due to its infuriating nature, we do recommend you check out the GameCenter CX challenge based on it.

For the uninitiated, GameCenter CX is a long-running Japanese TV show in which comedian Shinya Arino is tasked with trying to complete difficult retro video games. Over 170 episodes have been filmed over the past decade.

Takeshi's Challenge featured in the first ever episode, and it's worth watching just to see Arino slowly losing his mind.

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