Wow I suck at this game!  Considering yourself a "hardcore gamer" on your first time through, is not a good idea.  Especially if you're new to this series.  If not, feel free to jump into the game with abandon and frustrate yourself to death on hard mode.  Aside from the difficulty, this game is amazing.  I barely played the missions, I went strait to the awesome challenges.  Amazing level design, catchy tunes, and slick controls make for a great game to add to your collection.  Anyone dumb enough to fall for Dr. Wily this time though.......I suggest retaking your video games 101 class.