June 19, 2014

The Elite Four: Hardest Games

I almost didn't bother with this article because I'm worried there is nothing newsworthy here, and I'd hate to sound like a broken record. But in this case, I don't think it can be avoided, these games are notorious for their difficultly and I think any life-long gamer would hold them amongst their top 10.
Also, this list ended up being entirely retro (all NES, actually) because, as I think about it, retro games were always harder. Oftentimes these games didn't have difficulty settings to choose from, you only had 3 lives to complete the entire game, and they were based on (or are home versions of) arcade games, which were basically designed to be impossible to finish. They never held your hand.
I don't think this generation's gamer really even comprehends what us old-schoolers have been through. So maybe you'll gain a little insight today, maybe you'll just plain agree, or maybe you have a different view of these titles altogether.
Broken record it is! Here are my Top 5 Most Difficult Video Games.
5. Mega Man 3 (NES)
This is debatable, as many of the Mega Man (or RockMan, if you prefer) games are tricky (or not, if you
know what you're doing…), and you'll see there are a few more listed below, but off the top of my head, 3 was the one that I could never master. Back in the day, I would play Mega Man games over and over and over again until I could beat it in my sleep, because that was the challenge the game presented me. In time, I managed to conquer 1, 2 and many of the later sequels but 3 always stumped me. No matter how much I practiced, I could not truly conquer the 8 new infuriating Robot Masters and their tricky levels, even when I learned the best order to take them on.
Not only do we get new characters - good and bad - in MM3, but also new controls, which means new obstacles - yeah, sliding seemed like a lot of fun until… anyway - but also more levels! They basically take what you thought you knew and fuck with it. There is just so much familiarity and precision required to master this title and it's really not for the patience-less, short-tempered gamer like me (but that obviously doesn't stop me). The bosses are as jumpy and trigger happy as you are, traversing the level requires even more attention than before, and we've introduced pet abuse and awkward family dynamics. So why play Mega Man 3? Because it's Mega Man! It looks awesome, sounds amazing, presents a familiar and loved concept without boring you, is timeless good fun and maintains the series as one of the best action-platform franchises there is. There's a reason there are a million of these games. In fact, difficulty pardoned, MM3 is the only game on this list that I wouldn't hesitate to pop into my console and play right now.

4. Ghosts 'n Goblins (NES) 
I've recently challenged myself to start a new tradition with GnG (or its companion, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, if need be): I'm going to try to beat this game every year on Halloween. It'll force me to pick the game up again, and it's a seasonally fitting goal, I think. This past year, I managed to beat it in spite of having not touched the game for many, many years. It took a while, but I did it!
It's difficult to figure out, since beating this game is such a chore, but in Ghosts 'n Gobs you play as Sir Arthur, charged with rescuing Princess Prin Prin from Satan. Yeah, it sounds kind of heavy but you do it in your underwear, so it's cool.
On the surface, GnG is a classic platformer: you navigate a booby trapped levels while taking down all manner of classic monsters and scary things, while collecting projectile weapons and jumping a lot. PLUS! it's got that loud shriek-y nails-on-a-chalkboard sound effect throughout the game which… doesn't help. The challenge of GnG is hidden in this simplicity. Firstly, a lot of your enemies fly or jump, making it nearly impossible to hit them; some require many, many hits to take down and some even follow you! If you manage to get to the end of the level, you're greeted by an even more difficult mini boss (who may or may not reappear as normal enemies later in the game). It takes 2 hits to die and thats IF you have armor, which - when lost - is bloody difficult to get back (usually only at the end of the level). To make matters worse, you have a timer on each of your 3 lives, so you have to navigate this impossible maze of annoying baddies in sprint mode, and just when you think it can't get worse… you turn into a frog.
In the original version of the game, you progress all the way to end, only to discover that the whole thing was an illusion plot by Satan, and you're sent back to the BEGINNING of the GAME and challenged to complete it a second time at increased difficulty and speed, to finally fight the final boss. Pretty much everyone I know thought this was a joke the first time we played, but nope, that's how it goes. Tear-your-hair-out hard, folks. Should you manage THAT, you're greeted with this:
Hell. No.
You need luck to beat this game. Straight up luck. Although, watching Arthur do his little "open sesame" bit at the end of each level makes it bearable.
Ghouls 'n Ghosts has improved controls and graphics, but other added difficulties. Like guillotines. And stuff.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
Yeah, it's difficult to muster the patience to take on this game these days. In TMNT, you take charge of the legendary fictional reptiles as you take down Shredder and save Splinter! Sounds familiar right? That's about it though, everything else is… just kinda… random. Including but not limited to the onslaught of enemies you'll face that respawn and destroy your dreams of ever finishing this game.
Seriously. I can't believe I'm about to say this but sometimes getting a pizza just isn't worth it, 'cause you'll pound a dozen guys into the ground on your way to it, fill your health, and then lose it all again
on your way out. Additionally, the level design in this game is what nightmares are made of, you'll experience drug addict-like lag, the controls can be cumbersome and sometimes the game is tricky to navigate. Everything about this game feels… uneven. Even the turtles themselves: Mikey and Raph have significantly inferior weapons for the task at hand than Leo and Don. That said, it is cool that you can swap between them at your heart's desire and the plot and story mechanics are right at home for Turtles fans. Finishing this game is a rewarding experience; in fact, I might use this game to teach employees work ethic now.

2. Ninja Gaiden (NES)
If you want to know what frustration looks like, play this game.
Ninja Gaiden (or whatever it's called in your country) follows Ryu Hyabusa on his quest to fulfill his father's last wish: go to America and find some guy that somehow turns into me saving the world. Okay, in spite of my colloquial summary, I recall always being very entertained by the plethora of story you get to experience as you rage through this game.
The trouble with Ninja Gaiden is that the game throws a bazillion different enemies at you at once. You face sword-y baddies, hit-y baddies, projectile baddies, birds, bats, random cheetahs? all there to chase you down and annoy you as you try to navigate levels that require non-stop running, jumping, climbing, and bouncing off walls. If that wasn't enough fun, we cap off many levels with bosses that won't stop jumping and expelling projectiles while being already difficult to hit which takes its toll on your tiny health bar AND you're on a timer! (deep breath) And I still don't feel like I'm doing it justice, here. The obstacles just add up and it's really difficult to power your way through without slipping up or misjudging something and suddenly you're dead.
On the plus side, the story is fun, the game looks awesome for the NES, and it's kind of a classic for gamers of the era, so completing it is quite the accomplishment.
Queue the bagpipes for all the controllers that have entered my graveyard as a result of this game (I had, have, when I was young, I sorta because, you see, I never had the necessary, definitely still have rage issues.)

1. Battletoads (NES)
"You annoying frogs! I'll have you chopped into a gourmet lunch and the pieces deep-frozen for eternity!" -Me The Dark Queen
I hear ya, honey... just talking about this game is frustrating. When I tried to jot down a few notes about this game I wound up with three pages of things that make me want to kill myself. Battletoads is a popular arcade game developed by Rare, and eventually brought to us on the NES/Famicom so we can murder people at home! The premise of the game is that one of your cartoon-enhanced toad comrades and a princess have been kidnapped by a foxy pirate, and we have to get them back.
Playing the first couple of levels of this gem is an absolute delight! After that, it's a bloody nightmare. First of all, you should know you're in trouble when the character's names are Pimple, Zitz and Rash.
Actually, even the theme of Battletoads is menacing…

Unlike Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads doesn't necessarily bombard you with hoards of obstacles at the same time, but in order to manage to one or two challenges thrown your way, you need to figure out what to do, execute it, and be prepared for the next thing, all in a matter of seconds. In my experience, taking your time in Battletoads will always end in smashed controllers. In fact - although I can't be certain (it was a long time ago) - I'm pretty sure Battletoads was the culprit behind my legendary smashed-in-half NES controller. Yeah, really. Not broken apart, but split. In half. Right between the start and select buttons. I regret to report that I don't have the polaroids to show you, but if you've monitored my twitter through certain gameplays, I'm sure you're familiar with my rage. Anyway, in Battletoads, you face basically every challenge in video game history at one point or another: dodging, speeding through levels, ice, spikes, ramps and jumps, whirlpools, Indiana Jones-style chases, space invaders… blue shells… even the classic game 'Snake' makes an appearance. The obstacles continually increase in difficulty throughout the game, and even the basic combat can be tricky because lining up your hit requires a Ph.D in physics. Basically, if you're not familiar with the level, you're screwed. Never-ending trial and error!
But wait! You cay play 2-player! That makes things better, right? Wrong. 2-Player mode in Battletoads is even harder than single player, because it requires two people that can do the exact same thing at the exact same time, without screwing up. Back in the day we always used to joke that people shouldn't get married unless they could beat this game together.
To add insult to injury: the game is pretty long, you cannot save, you have 5 health "hearts" and 3 lives (by default) to take on this gargantuan (teehee) task. To master this asshole you need to possess incredible speed and precision. I'm not sure there is enough confidence and patience in this universe for two people to beat this game at the same time.
So why play this heart attack-inducing game? It's awesome to look at, handles well, has a neat sci-fi-ish theme, mixes the great platformer, side-scrolling and beat 'em up genres together, and beating this game is medal-worthy. Honestly. Screw that Nobel Prize, if you can beat Battletoads, you've won life.

It's curious to note that with the exception of Mega Man and GnG, all of these games were developed by different companies. So I can't even blame one game dev for my rage issues. Huh.
What are the hardest games you've ever played?

Honorable mention:
Mega Man 9; X6; and Bass - Yep.
Demon/Dark Souls - This is a cheat, since I've never actually played these games (yet), but everyone I talk to says it's the most difficult game of the last decade. You literally play this game dead.
Contra - Do not. Stop. Shooting. Ever.
Castlevania - I think many people share a similar memory of Castlevania when it first came out. It was difficult to conquer because there is so much within this game and so many ways to go about things. As if we didn't hate Dracula enough already…


  1. Battletoads would definitely make my list. Other big contenders for me would be:

    Contra 4 - The first three are difficult, but this one is almost impossible. Also, it has a Challenge Mode that is even worse.

    Castlevania III - I'm tempted to pick the first one, but this one made me question why I play video games, so it gets the nod.

    Super Star Soldier - I'm really glad I beat this game because I severely questioned whether it would ever be possible. You basically have to play through this perfectly and hope that your will and patience don't run dry in the final stage, which throws everything but the kitchen sink at you.

    Finally, I like the fact that Dark Souls got mentioned, and it is really challenging, but for me (so far, anyway), it's not as frustrating as these older games, despite the fact that you will probably die just as many times, if not more.

    1. Contra and Castlevania are regular offenders, but for me, the originals are most associated with memories of destroying things. I'd find it hard to believe if anyone told me Demon/Dark Souls was harder than any of the games I listed, but as I said, it seems to be the worst of the last decade.

  2. I can agree with a few of the titles on this list for sure. I've actually never played the NES version of GnG, but I've owned Super Ghouls n' Ghosts since I was a kid and I don't think I've ever finished the second playthrough. I've owned TMNT ever since I've owned a NES and I don't think I've ever completely finished that title without the help of the Game Genie.

    I don't disagree with Mega Man 3 being difficult, but this was the only MM game I owned on the NES, so I played this game so many times I could probably finish it in my sleep.

    Great list!

  3. Can I brag at this point about having beaten TMNT? B/c I did. Without a game genie or anything. Not sure how I did it, but it happened. :D

    My only disagreement here would be the inclusion of Mega Man 3 over other entries in the series. For me, the first was the hardest by a mile. No Energy Tanks or passwords along with bosses that could be brutal if taken out of turn just elevates it above the others in my mind. But, I also recognize that I had MM2 and MM3 to play at home and only got to rent the original. Had I owned it and been able to sink the time into it I had the sequels, I may not have this opinion now.

    Great list though. I especially agree with the top 2. Battletoads was just sadistic with that hover bike level. That was the first time I ever played a game and realized that I just couldn't finish a particular level.

    1. I will add your name to the wall of fame, sir. TMNT is a tough one, for sure.
      It seems everyone feels differently about each of the MegaMan's simply due to which ones they had access to. As I said, 3 was the first to truly stop me in my tracks, and while 1 and 2 are still assholes, 3 is my poster child for most difficult MM, and I felt the series needed to be represented somehow.

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