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1. F-Zero GX
You don’t normally see racers on lists of difficult games. Just make it to the end and go faster than the opponents. Easy stuff, right?
But F-Zero GX on the GameCube is the exception that proves the rule. Fiddly controls and the less-than-intuitive GameCube controller meant many players had a hard time surviving tracks, much less winning them.
And during a time when newer Mario Kart titles were redefining the casual racing genre, this game is remembered for its absolutely brutal difficulty.
2. Ninja Gaiden (2004)
It’s true: the Ninja Gaiden series is difficult enough that it has two entries on this list. And the first entry focuses on the 2004 game that serves as a prequel to the NES titles.
And as impossible as it seems, the devs made this prequel much harder than the original games. And players who came to this title because they enjoyed Ryu in the Dead or Alive series were completely taken aback by the wild difficulty level.
3. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Is a game that effectively masks its difficulty level. Early on, the game is mostly about figuring out enemy patterns and weaknesses. And once you have everything memorized, you can win fights without taking any damage.
But the foes just get harder as you go on. This culminates in the title bout with Mike Tyson in which he spends the first 90 seconds throwing nothing but knockout punches at the player. And you can’t really predict his timing or moves, making the skills you learned throughout the rest of the game completely useless.
4. Zelda 2: The Adventures Of Link
The debate over whether Zelda 2 was a decent sequel to the first game continues. But one thing not up for debate is how damn difficult this title is.
Side-scrolling combat is much tougher in this game than in the original. And the puzzles are going to torment your brain, especially as you deal with horrendous translation errors. Should you make it to the end, you can count on Dark Link being one of the toughest game enemies you ever face.
5. Super Meat Boy
In Super Meat Boy, the titular character has a very cartoony design. But the cutesy design masks one of the hardest games you will ever play.
There are 300 levels in the game, each one harder than the one before. And throughout each level, you are instantly screwed if you don’t get every jump and movement just right. But like Dark Souls, this is the kind of difficulty that “hurts so good” for the players.
6. The Immortal
If a game is going to constantly screw you over, it’s good to be upfront about that fact. And that’s something that The Immortal does right away.
The game basically gives you no real guidance as you navigate a world full of traps that instantly kill you. And if you even make it to a fight, the counterattack-heavy combat is likely to kill you before you’ve even explored 1% of this game.
7. Ninja Gaiden (1988)
The Ninja Gaiden series is notorious for its difficult design. But the first game for the NES really set the difficulty bar about as high as it could go.
The platforming alone is insanely difficult, and it is far too easy to fall to your death. And the bosses only ramp up in difficulty throughout the game. While the final fight is hard, most players never make it past their fight with Bloody Malth.
8. Ghosts ‘n Goblins
Ghosts ‘n Goblins was originally an arcade game. And that meant developers had an incentive to make it very difficult in order to keep those quarters coming in.
But none of the home ports of this game ever made it any easier. Which is why Ghosts ‘n Goblins is the kind of game where most players have to shamefully admit they never made it past the first level.
9. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
It’s an open secret that the Super Mario Bros. 2 that we played was just a reskin of Doki Doki Panic. But Nintendo did this because they thought players couldn’t handle the “real” sequel.
That sequel eventually came out as The Lost Levels. And to Japan’s credit, the game is annoying as hell. There are pits designed to fake you out, poison mushrooms, and Bowser fights are harder than others.
Most players would rather injury their palms playing Mario Party than go back to this title.
10. Comix Zone
Comix Zone is one of the most creative games ever made. You play the role of a comic book artist sucked into his own comic, and he must fight all his own creations to earn back his freedom.
However, Comix Zone only gives you one life. So even though gameplay seems simple enough, all it takes is one bad fight or one missed jump to send you to the “Game Over” screen.
11. Dwarf Fortress
While Dark Souls is insanely difficult, it is still designed to be beaten. With enough memorization and gaming skills, you’ll eventually make it to the end of the game.
Dwarf Fortress, though, is arguably designed to be lost. The interface is confusing and some of the concepts (like building structures in three dimensions) are not well-explained.
Long story short? There is a reason that most player stories about this game involve the insane ways they got their dwarves killed.
12. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
Devil May Cry 3 was designed to screw you over from the very beginning. And that’s because of a little secret that most players back then didn’t know about.
Basically, Capcom took the hardest difficulty mode from the Japanese version and made it the “normal” difficulty mode for the United States release. Players had to either tap out and access the easy mode or make it through one of the toughest challenges on the PS2.
Cuphead remains such a fun contradiction in gaming. If you look at the throwback cartoon graphics, it’s easy to assume this is going to be a simple game designed to entertain children.
But it’s much more likely to traumatize kids than entertain them. Every level is a combination of difficulty platforming and insane bullet hell challenges. And while the main characters are the ones who made a deal with the devil, playing this game will make you feel like you’re in hell.
No list of challenging games is complete without Battletoads. Its speeder bike level alone remains one of the toughest challenges in gaming.
But things arguably get worst past that stage. Pretty soon, you are navigating platformer hell on moving snakes and moving from one obnoxiously difficult enemy to the next.
Basically, this is the classic game that save states were made for!
15. Demon Souls
It may seem like cheating to include another Souls title on here. But as PS5 players are discovering thanks to the remake, Demon Souls is actually more difficult than Dark Souls.
The good news is that playing this title is the perfect practice for future Souls games. If you can beat this one, you can beat them all!