Video games are some of the best relaxation material we have today. There’s nothing quite like unwinding after a grueling day at work and whisking yourself away into a fictional world. Whether you appreciate fighting games, open world games, or simulation games, there is no shortage of options when deciding how you want to decompress.
However, not all games are designed to help you relax. Some games are designed specifically to make you want to throw your controller through your television. Some games were even made so ridiculously hard that only a handful of people actually beat them. No doubt that you’ve played a game like this a time or two in your life.
While many of these extensively hard video games came out decades ago, difficult titles are not a dying breed. There are many games today that force you to get good or get lost. Having played several of them myself, I can personally attest to their overall challenge and tendency to make me quit.
If you want a little bit of challenge in your life, I would suggest taking a look at some of these games. They’re not for the faint of heart and will take all of your skill in order to beat. If you can get past the difficulty spike, you might actually end up having a good game on your hands.
Read on for 15 brutal games that the developers didn’t want you to beat.
15. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!
Little Mac managed to gain enough popularity to become his own fighter in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. Most of his following came from the classic game, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! This game had a much different feel in regards to Nintendo, who was famous for mostly platformers at the time. The game had you take control of a boxer fighting various champions until you made your way to the very top.
It’s a very fun game until you end up fighting legendary boxer Mike Tyson. This boss fight has gone down in gaming history as one of the toughest battles ever. Tyson is a hard enemy to predict and will make quick work of you if you’re not on the top of your game. There have been people that beat Mike Tyson, but they are few and far between. If you slip up, Tyson will punish you with some devastating attacks. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! is heralded as a difficult game because of the fight with Tyson, but unfortunately, he was not brought back in any sequels.
Hard games were a staple of the “golden age” of gaming. Back when Konami was still developing great games all the time, they too tried their hand at a game that makes you wish you don’t have a console. Contra practically defined the 2D shooter at the time. It’s mechanics, controls, action, and Konami code all made it stand out as one of the greats. However, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who beat the entire game. Contra loves to punish and laugh at its players. From the moment you boot up the game, there are tough enemies to fight, and a long ways to go.
Like some of the other games on this list, you can bring a friend along for this experience. That said, Contra doesn’t get any easier if you have somebody else with you. The game still boasts having bullets constantly flying at you. Then there are opponents that have much more health than you in the long run. It takes a lot of skill and precision in order to beat this game. Granted, you’ll probably be quite familiar with the “game over” screen before you do. They just don’t make shooter games like they used to.
13. Dark Souls 3
The Souls series has become a staple for difficult games, and the developers did not slow down this trend with Dark Souls 3. Coming out less than a year ago, the game boasts a beautiful setting with a lot of interesting secrets to find that somehow kept people coming back to the brutal gameplay.
Make no mistake, this game is indefinitely hard. What makes it all the worse is that just when you think you’ve started to figure out the mechanics, the game thrusts a brutal challenge on you that forces you to rethink what you’ve been doing for the past 2 hours. Every boss you fight demands a paramount level of skill. They often don’t recoil from your attacks and only get stronger and more desperate as their health bars drop. Because of this, there aren’t many who have committed to these games and decided to beat them. If you’re going to attempt getting into this series, this is the title I would suggest you play. It might be a living Hell, but at least the visuals and the world are so beautiful that you’ll almost enjoy having to travel through the same areas over and over.
12. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has had several ports that make it a much more palatable experience, so I’m focusing on the original Genesis version here. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a more detailed and well-rounded game, but it’s much harder than its predecessor. While the first few worlds shouldn’t give you much trouble, it changes pace during the second half. Metropolis Zone is the most unfair stage in the world, being full of all kinds of badniks and stage hazards that are nearly impossible to avoid. But the hardest stage award goes to the Sky Fortress Zone. This stage is full of precise jumps that, if you screw up even a tiny bit, will reward you with a death and most likely a Game Over. If you make it to the final stage, you are then tasked with fighting not one but two difficult bosses with no rings. You could always try to get all the Chaos Emeralds to help in your quest (although you can’t use Super Sonic in the final fight), but the Special Stages are as equally brutal and unfair. Don’t expect to beat them if you have Tails with you.
11. Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze
The Donkey Kong Country games are quite fun and nostalgic for most people, and it was an unfortunate turn when a new developer took the reigns. However, Retro Studios effectively captured the spirit of Rare’s masterpiece, including the insane difficulty. The game itself is quite gorgeous, but that’s only to distract you from the challenge that awaits you. The regular stages are pretty tough (especially the last world), but if you try to get all of the collectibles, you’re in for a world of hurt. If you collect all the KONG letters, the game will reward you with some secret stages that take platforming perfection in order to beat. You’ll probably lose around 30 lives each before you get them right. Then if you beat the game, you are rewarded with a Hard Mode for each level, which takes away any helpers and gives you one heart. If you’re the kind of person that really loved Battletoads, I would recommend this mode. If not, run the other way as fast as you can.
Rare is well-known for making some of the best games and even defined an era of the art. On top of making great titles like Donkey Kong Country and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Rare is also known for creating one of the hardest games in history- Battletoads. This is an action beat-em-up game (as most older games were back in the day). This title sees you take control of one of four different toads that are clearly a rip-off of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But once you start playing this game, you’ll understand that the vibe is much different. Enemies explode onto the screen; and they’re not easy to take down. Then there are certain sequences like the falling and the bike stages that will eat away at your lives. And that’s all within the first hour of the game. The great thing about Battletoads is that you don’t have to experience the frustration alone. You can bring a friend along for the ride and lament about how masochistic the two of you are for even booting the game up. I’m not exaggerating either. You’d have to love pain in order to beat this game.
9. The True Arena- Kirby: Planet Robobot
Kirby games are heavily praised for having a slew of modes for you to try, and they’re all fun in their own right. However, since Kirby Super Star Ultra, Nintendo has always been dead set on including a mode called The True Arena. This mode is much like The Arena in Kirby Super Star, except it has more bosses, and all of the existing foes are given harder variants. Since then The True Arena has always been the ultimate test of any Kirby expert, but none have tested fans of the series quite like the one seen in Kirby: Planet Robobot.
While the first Arena wasn’t bad, The True Arena is downright unfair. After you get past all of the main bosses from the story, you are tasked with defeating clones of Dark Matter and Queen Sectonia (the last boss from Kirby: Triple Deluxe). Then you have to fight Galacta Knight who will easily chip away at your health. Once you pass that, you must then fight more challenging variants of the three-part last boss (which was already hard) with no health in between. Then you get sucked in for a secret final boss that will use cheap and tricky tactics in order to destroy you. It took me a week to beat this mode, and I’ve played every Kirby game in the series.
8. The Lion King
When you think of difficult games, Disney is probably not the first company that comes to your mind. Yet, here The Lion King is on this list. At the time the game came out, people could easily rent games, and Disney didn’t want them to beat the games quickly so that they would be motivated to actually buy it. Because of this, the developers decided to make the levels nearly impossible. While the first stage won’t give you much trouble, the second stage jacks up the difficulty to a near eleven. You have to jump off of platforms that will crumble if you stay for more than two seconds, swing from a small tail to another without messing up, and go through ostrich sections that are painstakingly unfair. Then if you can manage to beat the second level, you’re in a world of hurt when you get to the third and fourth levels. The Lion King never seems to let up and you’ll be giving a sigh of relief if you even make it to Scar.
7. Super Meat Boy
The first of a handful of indie games on this list, Super Meat Boy is recognized for being purposely difficult. This game is very reminiscent of harder old-school titles and takes inspiration right down to its 8-bit visuals. Super Meat Boy only gives you two buttons for jumping and sprinting, and it takes a mastery of these two function in order to beat the game. You will die a lot. Super Meat Boy is very unforgiving and punishes every mistake and poorly timed jump with a buzz saw or pit of lava.
If you do manage to crack your knuckles and push through the game, you will then unlock dark forms of each level, which are much harder than the normal playthrough. Just after playing the main story, you can imagine how difficult the game becomes once you decide to play the extra stages. That being said, there’s still a lot to enjoy in the game, including various cameos from other indie game heroes, tons of charm, and cute visuals. However, it’s likely that you won’t be seeing all of it considering you might break your controller trying to beat this game.
Most games have a difficulty curve that challenges you more as you go along. Spelunky doesn’t follow this formula. Instead, this platformer is full of randomly generated worlds that all challenge you in different yet equal ways. You take the role of a spelunker who is seeking the ultimate treasure. As you get deeper into the mysterious cave, you will encounter all kinds of environments, from a ice cave to the inside of a worm. However, there will be plenty of creatures ready to stop you, such as exploding frogs and the Anubis himself.
If you just progress linearly like a regular person, you will be faced with a fairly difficult boss battle with Olmec. However, if you decide you want to fight the true boss, you’re in for a much bigger challenge. You have to find a key and unlock a chest in the first world, then use that item to find the black market in the second world to buy an item you need in the third world. Then you have to kill yourself, get to the city of gold, fight Olmec, and get to the land of Hell. If you followed all that, doing this is not an easy task by any means. Very seldom does a Spelunky run result in getting to Hell. Hell is also the only place that is aggressively harder than the rest of the game.
5. Ghosts N’ Goblins
Capcom makes some pretty great games, but with them is also no small amount of challenge. Of all their games, though, none have managed to dethrone the impossible Hell that is Ghosts N’ Goblins. This game is downright unforgiving. Once the game starts in the first level, you have to keep moving or else zombies will spawn that can kill you in about two hits. From there it only gets much more strenuous. The game loves to challenge you on platforming sections. Because the jumping controls aren’t particularly great, this will be the cause of a chunk of your deaths. Ghosts N’ Goblins also features an enemy called the Red Devil, who is nearly impossible to kill. He’s not even a boss, but you are forced to fight it multiple times.
If you manage to keep on trucking and make it to the final boss, you’re in for a treat. While the boss itself isn’t particularly challenging in hindsight to the rest of the game, you are given a horrible reality if you beat him. In order to get the true ending, you must beat the game twice. Twice. Let that sink in.
4. I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game
Often times difficult games become much easier once you know what to expect, and that couldn’t be more evident with I Wanna Be the Guy. This brutal abomination revels in the unexpected and forces you to know how to react quickly. Once you boot up the game, you’ll notice that there’s a little death counter at the top of the screen. If the developers knew to keep track of your deaths, it’s pretty safe to assume that the game is going to kill you a lot. The game takes inspiration from many classic games such as Mega Man and Super Mario, and shamelessly takes in some of the work from those titles as well. As you progress in I Wanna Be the Guy, you will often be met with all kinds of seemingly impossible obstacles and challenges (one challenging boss battle pits you against Mike Tyson). It takes a lot of gumption to be able to beat completely, and I applaud anyone for doing so. I Wanna Be the Guy is not a full retail release either; because it takes assets from pre-existing games, the title is a fan game that you can just download and enjoy whenever you want.
3. Ecco the Dolphin
Ecco the Dolphin has you take control of a time-traveling dolphin who can dash and use his sonar. The way to defeat enemies is by dashing into them, but considering that there are a lot of baddies on screen at a time, this will often lead into you taking damage. Furthermore, the game prides itself in having numerous obstacles for you to swim around, lest you be punished by losing health. It’s a very similar formula to the aforementioned Sonic game, but it’s now underwater and the controls aren’t as tight. Ecco the Dolphin is a fun experience for those willing to play it, but it is also a very challenging one.
2. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
Story time. We’ve talked a few times on this site about Super Mario Bros. 2. The game in the West actually was just a reskin of Doki Doki Panic because Nintendo thought that the real Mario 2 would be much too hard for us sissy American gamers. However, the demand was there and the Big N eventually brought Super Mario Bros. 2 to the West in the form of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.
As much as I hate to admit it, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels is definitely a brutal game. Nintendo has shown that they have no trouble creating platforms that require the utmost skill and sensitivity. Never has that been more on display than in this game. The Lost Levels pits you against numerous platforming challenges that have since been absent from the series entirely. Many people often regard this as the most difficult Mario game in existence. Suffice it to say, perhaps Nintendo knew what they were doing when they decided to wait before releasing it in the U.S. However, we just wish they hadn’t lied to us and re-skinned a pre-existing title in order to trick us.
1. Crash Bash
A Mario Party game with Crash Bandicoot characters. What could go wrong? Don’t misunderstand me before I continue. If all you do in Crash Bash is play the minigames with your friends, then the game isn’t very difficult and is quite easy to understand. However, if you decide that you want to play through the Story Mode and unlock the extra minigames in the final world, you’re in for a rough time.
Each set of minigames in Crash Bash are either hit or miss, but you are required to win at least twice before you can complete one of them in the campaign. The bosses aren’t too difficult (except for Oxide), but it’s the post-game where things get cranked up to eleven. In order to unlock all of the minigames, you are required to collect a certain amount of gems, crystals, and relics: each of which are obtained by playing versions of the previous minigames where the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you. This makes unlocking all of the games nearly impossible. It became so difficult for me personally that I called my brother for help. Even with our combined efforts, we’ve never even seen some of the minigames in Crash Bash because it’s that difficult.
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