There are so many indie game developers on iPhone right now that were born 20, or maybe 30 years too late. Devs like Joe Rothenberg, for example, who’s put together a pixelated platformer in Nobody Said It Was Easy that would have put him on an industry pedestal had it been released when the NES was still new.

That’s not to say the game is diminished in any way for being contemporary, but you can’t help but muse over what sort of a reaction such a beautifully simplistic, yet sadistically difficult game like this would have received in 1983. I’m pretty confident that an 8-year-old me would have worn the joypad thin playing this one.

Nobody-Said-It-Would-Be-Easy-02

I’m going say that you’re a duck, in Nobody Said It Was Easy. It’s built from less than 30 large, unanimated pixels that are all of the same color but for one yellow dot where a beak might go. So there you go. You’re a duck. Probably.

All this duck can do is run in one direction and jump. Those are the only controls afforded you in Nobody Said It Was Easy; a run button, and a jump button. It’s also the first such game in a long while that’s actually devoid of physics. The moment you tap the run button you expect some manner of inertia or a slide to a halt when you release it, but here, your character simply stops.

This isn’t a shortcoming, however. It’s an aspect of the controls that actually adds to the difficulty of its dexterous challenges. Let’s say you jump in the air to get to the next platform. If you release the run button mid-jump, you stop moving forward and plummet. And plenty of these jumps require a precision landing onto a very narrow block, so it takes no small amount of skill to hold the button just long enough, and to let go at the most opportune moment.

Neither are these levels all built in one orientation, which might seem to contradict the single direction you can move in. The only way to change direction is to hit a wall, which turns your duck-thing around, Lemmings style. This is necessary to make it to the exit in many levels, but you must also be careful not to accidentally headbutt a wall and find yourself facing in the wrong direction with only a row of deadly spikes or a fall into the abyss ahead of you.

Nobody-Said-It-Would-Be-Easy-03

And if you want to collect all the stars (which, of course, you do) you need to figure out a cunning route that puts you in the correct bearing while still making it possible to get to the end. This is a surprisingly thoughtful and challenging game, which its understated operation and minimalist design belie. Just wait until you’ve multiple duck-type runners to control simultaneously, and you’ll appreciate just how much consideration these puzzles take to solve.

It’s ad supported, with a banner in permanent position at the top of the screen. This is something of a shame as it sours the gorgeous retro aesthetic. But I guess that’s just more motivation to unlock the full game and remove them. The ads don’t interfere in any other way, so it feels like more than a fair tradeoff for bagging Nobody Said It Was Easy for free.

Finally, in case you’re wondering, it does indeed live up to its title. This is a seriously, face-meltingly tough game, but rarely frustrating.