Let's face it, video games are getting easier. Perhaps it's due to the ever-growing narrative or expanding game worlds, as new technology has allowed developers to tell truly elaborate stories. Whatever the reason, the age of arcades is rapidly coming to a close. Kids are no longer spending their hard earned allowances on quarter-gobbling machines and arcades seem to only serve as a gathering spot for those seeking nostalgia.
Retro releases relied heavily on their mechanics and entertainment value. It was nearly impossible to tell a detailed story with classic technology, so gameplay reigned supreme. This gave a lot of early titles a rather steep difficulty curve. Developers needed to figure out how to keep gamers coming back and how to turn shorter adventures into lengthy playthroughs. Unfortunately, some developers took the difficulty scale a little too far. Certain classic titles suffered from a massive challenge spike, creating headaches and angry play-sessions.
There are tons of difficult old school games floating around the internet, and we've covered a few systems in the past (like the Sega Genesis, SNES, and NES). This time we wanted to take a look at some of the more obscure and difficult titles (with a few mainstays) to ever grace consoles and arcade machines.
Here are 21 Classic Games Which Are Impossible To Beat! Have you played any of these? Let us know!
21 Pac-Land (Arcade)
Ah, Pac-Man, the supernaturally cursed sphere with a nasty pill habit. Gamers were first introduced to this yellow maze-runner in 1980 when he began popping up in arcades all over the country. His original quest had you gorging on power pellets and avoiding a group of dastardly ghosts.
In 1984, Namco followed up with a side-scrolling platformer that showed Pac-Man (with a stylish hat) saving faeries from certain doom. This game is truly impossible to beat, although the reason is a bit cheesy. Pac-Land is never-ending, so don't plan on reveling through a short and unrewarding ending (retro games were rife with those). Each conquered level ramps up the difficulty, adding more enemies and an array of perilous pits.
This title was a quarter-destroyer, eating up pocket change and punishing unsuspecting players with an unachievable ending.
20 Mega Man 2 (NES)
A lot of people claim that the original Mega Man was a torrid affair full of pitfalls and unfair enemy patterns. While that may be true, we feel like Mega Man 2 is just a bit more grueling. If the annoying enemies and expertly placed obstacles don't kill you, the frustrating level design will.
Developers did a fantastic job in crafting each stage. Every robot master has a different level mechanic that can be downright stressful. Take for example Heatman, who features a controller-breaking level section that has you hopping across phasing blocks. This is aggravating enough on its own, but the difficulty really ramps up when the platform hopping moves over burning lava and bottomless pits.
Thankfully, the title features some of the best music to ever grace the NES. You might get sick of it though since you'll have to hear it over and over through each agonizing defeat.
19 The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants (NES)
Let's be honest, this title probably sold a lot of copies based purely on its hilarious pedigree. The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants released back in 1991 when Matt Groening's animated television series was taking the world by storm. We fell in love with The Simpsons family, especially with Bart and his mischievous prankster lifestyle.
"Eat my shorts!" would become an iconic tagline for Bart. It's also a much easier alternative to conquering this wacky title. The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants isn't nearly as happy-go-lucky as the television show that inspired it. The platforming sections are unforgiving, the enemies can be annoyingly fast, and the puzzles are a headache for new players. This is a title that rewards patience, fast reflexes, and quick wits.
The release is much easier when you know what you're doing, but can be a downright nightmare for first timers.
18 Solstice (NES)
Solstice is truly a special experience. This wild ride is one part platformer, one part puzzle-solving, and two parts LSD-induced color schemes. You'll embark on an epic quest to save a princess from sacrifice and you'll need to conquer a labyrinth-like castle to do it. Along the way, our brave hero will need to reassemble a special artifact called the Staff of Demnos.
The platforming sections for Solstice aren't insanely difficult. There are a quite a few that will challenge your reflexes and the odd camera angles don't do much to help a skewed depth perception. The real difficulty lies in the massive 252 room puzzle. It's entirely possible to beat Solstice without collecting everything or visiting every room, but you'll be shamed by your less than 100 percent score at the end of it all.
17 Earthworm Jim (Sega Genesis)
There are two types of Earthworm Jim fans, those who adore the quirky universe and those who believe they hallucinated the entire thing during a cough syrup-induced fever dream. The wild and wacky cartoon platformer offered up hilarity, originality, and a rather imposing difficulty spike. Earthworm Jim possessed mass appeal to the younger generation, with its gross-out humor and over-the-top cartoon physics.
Unfortunately, the release may have been a little too hard for the average platforming enthusiast. Amidst the Ren and Stimpy-like vibes lies a cavalcade of speedy enemies, tough obstacles, and perilous pitfalls. The release changes gears on the fly, swapping between traditional platforming, puzzle solving, flying, and even snot bungee jumping.
If you can manage to best the maze-like levels and quirky game mechanics, Earthworm Jim offers one of the better platforming experiences on the Sega Genesis. Just don't expect to dominate it on your first playthrough (or ever for that matter).
16 Treasure Island Dizzy (Commodore 64)
Treasure Island Dizzy is a fantastic example of a release that's deceivingly simplistic. The control scheme consists of moving, jumping, and picking up items. You'll guide a roly-poly egg on a quest to retrieve 30 separate coins and escape a delightful-looking island. You'll collect a variety of things, using each one to conquer a different puzzle and set you one step closer to freedom.
It all seems very straightforward until you realize that Treasure Island Dizzy features some agonizingly annoying mechanics. For one, Dizzy only has one life. If you manage to foul things up, you'll need to begin your quest all over again. There is no inventory, instead, you'll only be able to carry three items at a time. To make matters worse, collecting a new item will cause an older item to drop. This is especially frustrating underwater, where dropping your snorkel means instant death.
Without any voices to guide you, Treasure Island Dizzy can be an absolute nightmare to solve.
15 Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link (NES)
Anyone who had the misfortune of playing Zelda II: The Adventure of Link probably anticipated seeing it on this list. We're kidding, Zelda II had its own unique charms and mechanics, but that doesn't make it a bad game. It does, however, make it a rather hard game.
The Adventure of Link was a far cry from The Legend of Zelda we'd all come to know and love. Developers took a gamble by introducing side-scrolling combat and traditional RPG elements. The changes weren't necessarily well-received by the gaming community, but it's hard not to respect what the creators envisioned for this sequel.
Sadly, the finished product ended up frustrating players more than anything. The difficulty scale was brutal, featuring unforgiving enemies, vicious bosses, and an ulcer-inducing puzzle section through Death Mountain. The last boss can be defeated in a very cheesy way, but most players struggle to even beat the first dungeon.
14 Ninja Gaiden (NES)
In 2004, Team Ninja released Ninja Gaiden to an unsuspecting world. The title took the action genre by storm, receiving critical acclaim from a variety of entertainment journalists and gamers alike. The title was developed to be agonizingly difficult, featuring intense boss fights and long-winded battles. Skill, patience, timing, and sharp reflexes, were required to conquer Ryu Hayabusa's epic quest.
What many may not know is that all of this was made possible thanks to a 1990 NES release by the same name. The modern Ninja Gaiden was a challenging affair, but its predecessor was every bit as demanding for its time. The side-scrolling NES classic had players guiding Ryu through a series of levels, slicing and dicing through enemies, while simultaneously avoiding pits and traps. The boss battles were tough, enemies were fast, and the tight controls were often necessary to navigate tricky wall-jumps and leaps.
13 Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES)
Back in the late 1980s, everyone had a secret inner dream about taking down the champ, Mike Tyson. A lot of us were noodle-armed weaklings, so we'd have to settle for Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and punching bags. In 1987, Nintendo would answer our virtual prayers with Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. This ingenious (for its time) 1-on-1 boxing title put us in the driver's seat, allowing us to stake our claim as a professional prize fighter.
If you managed to make it through all of Little Mac's opponents, you'd win a fight with the Heavyweight himself. The only problem is that Mike Tyson was every bit as dominating in Punch Out!! as he was in real life. If you managed to make it that far (and that's a big if considering an already daunting difficulty), it was pretty much guaranteed that Tyson would lay you out with one jab.
12 E.T. (Atari 2600)
This game belongs on a lot of negative lists. E.T. for the Atari 2600 is often herald as perhaps the worst came ever created. The developmental journey was pure of heart, focusing on the love and adoration of the 1982 Steven Spielberg production. Sadly, the developmental execution was a disaster. The finished product was a steaming pile of alien waste, causing such an uproar within the gaming community that over 800 copies were crushed and buried in the arid soil of New Mexico.
The game is "impossible" because it takes the patience of a monk just to locate the first of three phone pieces. Every movement will drain your score, and the game doesn't offer much in terms of "where to go." If the boring monotonous colors and sounds don't kill you, the rage-inducing pits will. You'll need to climb into these holes to retrieve parts, but getting out of them can be a chore. There are countless instances of a player slowly slipping into insanity as they levitate out of a pit, only to fall right back into it.
11 Castlevania (NES)
It's been a while since the modern age has seen a Castlevania release. The Lords of Shadow series is a far cry from its retro predecessors. The Belmont family has been through some trying times over the years, with a "higher than average" difficulty scale across each title.
The original Castlevania set the ground work, frustrating gamers and evoking fits of controller-breaking rage. The NES sidescroller featured an abundance of fast moving enemies and tricky jumps. You'd have to whip your way through a series of different environments and boss battles if you wanted to bring Dracula to justice. Castlevania would see two other NES releases in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Each NES title featured challenging skill-based gameplay, but the original quest saw a difficulty reduction in a SNES retelling titled Super Castlevania IV.
10 Solomon's Key (NES)
This adventure followed Dana, a wizard sent to retrieve the fabled Solomon's Key and rid the world of demons. Our magic-infused hero is can destroy stone blocks (or create them) and toss fireballs at enemies. The quest spans over 50 rooms, filled to the brim with enemies and patrolling hazards.
It seems pretty straightforward, but Solomon's Key is perhaps the hardest puzzle game to grace the NES. There are numerous ways to dispatch enemies, some rooms feature multiple solutions, and a rather speedy timer is always breathing down your neck. In classic retro-form, Solomon will perish if he so much as touches an enemy. To make matters worse, it's entirely possible to render a room unsolvable through poor planning.
If you manage to lose all your lives (trust us, you will), you'll be forced to start from the beginning.
9 Chakan: The Forever Man (Sega Genesis)
Anyone who played Chakan likely found it sitting at the bottom of the bargain bin at a local game store. The Sega Genesis release was often criticized for its difficult mechanics, but has managed to craft somewhat of a cult following in the modern age. "The Forever Man" is a Highlander-esque immortal, doomed to walk the plane of existence until all supernatural evil is quelled from the universe.
The title's premise is solid, featuring a rather unique and dark storyline. Chakan is everlasting, but you'll do plenty of "dying" throughout your journey. The title features an abundance of creepy (and fast moving) enemies, some difficult platforming sections, and challenging boss fights.
If you do manage to die, you're simply sent back to the "main hub" and forced to replay a specific level set. Be warned though, running out of time (marked by an hourglass) will cost you even more progress.
8 Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Famicom)
Let's be honest, the original Super Mario Bros. wasn't a walk in the park. The Mushroom Kingdom is rife with peril and filled to the brim with bottomless pits. Clearing each gap was difficult enough, but developers pushed players to the limit with Bullet Bill, Goomba, Koopa, Piranha Plant, and an array of other dangers.
That didn't stop creators from pushing the envelope even further with Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. Originally released on the Famicom, this punishing "sequel" featured 32 levels (across eight worlds) and amped up the difficulty in a variety of ways. Terrible new additions like poison mushrooms, wind gusts, and counter-productive warp pipes filled each zone. The Lost Levels were truly challenging but sadly wouldn't make their way stateside until 1993.
Super Mario All-Stars featured a variant of The Lost Levels that showcased upgraded graphics, while easing the difficulty level through the use of checkpoints.
7 The Immortal (NES/Genesis)
The Immortal released in 1990 to a world of gamers that were used to platformers and side-scrolling adventure games. During its time, this RPG-like "dungeon crawler" was incredibly advanced, providing players with unique gameplay mechanics and solid story depth.
There was a multitude of items to collect and puzzles to solve across the seven-floor dungeon. It's easy to succumb to the dangers of this dark world. The floors are riddled with traps, enemies stalk the halls, and there are many areas where random pits (and sand worms) will open up, giving you only a few moments to react. The combat is a bit wonky too, featuring "encounters" that play out similar to a Punch Out!! match.
You'll need to keep your wits about you, pay close attention to your surroundings, and focus on each puzzle, if you have any hopes of beating The Immortal.
6 Dennis The Menace (Amiga A500)
Somtimes the development process doesn't go as smoothly as it should. There are many instances of companies leaving out content, creating filler levels, or simply scrapping endings, in order to keep budgets low and deadlines met. Retro games were no stranger to this. Take, for example, the Amiga A500 port of Dennis the Menace.
This release was based off the popular 1993 film starring Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson. With an impending VHS release of the movie, developer Ocean was pressured to create a few game variants to an entertainment hungry community. The Amiga A500 port suffered greatly as a consequence.
Not only was the game overly difficult (for kids at the time), it actually lacked an ending or final boss battle. Rather than take the necessary time to finish their release, Ocean did the unthinkable and added an impossible-to-reach platform on the final level.
5 RoboCop (Commodore 64)
Dennis the Menace wasn't the only entertainment icon to have a port unfairly swept under the rug. The Commodore 64 version of RoboCop suffered the same fate and at the hands of the same developer (Ocean) to boot. This particular move is even worse than the Dennis the Menace debacle since Ocean wasn't on a particularly stressful timetable with RoboCop's release.
For some reason, Ocean decided to craft a different experience for the Commodore 64 port. In fact, it's the only version of the game where RoboCop can jump. Unfortunately, it's also the only version of the game where a graphical bug turns the entire title into jumbled visual garbage. The glitch takes place on level 4 and, rather than take the necessary steps to fix it, Ocean once again created an "unbeatable" mechanic to keep gamers from seeing their mistake.
Also, the timer for level 3 is so tight that it's impossible to reach the exit in time.
4 Castlequest (NES)
We could probably craft an entire article dedicated to all of the things wrong, annoying, and outright difficult with Castlequest. This NES release was an absolute nightmare, wrapped up in the false hopes of upbeat (albeit repetitive) music and bright color schemes. The actual game is nothing short of headache-inducing, pushing gamers platforming and puzzle solving skills to the limit.
You'll take control of Prince Rafael on an epic quest to save Princess Margarita (yes, that's her name). It's a storyline we've seen many times before, but the gameplay mechanic is enough to turn any grown adult into a blubbering child. There are 100 rooms to explore, not nearly enough keys to collect, and tons of ways for Rafael to kick the bucket.
Even the game's manual is aware of its ridiculous difficulty. It flat out recommends that you restart the game if you run out of keys.
3 Takeshi's Challenge (NES - Japan Only)
Takeshi's Challenge is what happens when a prominent Japanese comedian tries his hand at game development. This title, which was only released in Japan, is often heralded as one of the worst games ever made. Personally, we believe it's because many critics lacked the vision to see Takeshi Kitano's cruel and intentional game design. Takeshi's Challenge was meant to be overly difficult and purposely confusing.
The side-scrolling adventure game has you take control of a salaryman, as he attempts to simply stay alive in the cutthroat Tokyo streets. At its roots, Takeshi's Challenge is a puzzle game, but the order in which each puzzle is done directly influences how close you'll get to finishing the game. There are many actions which must be taken (like getting a divorce), early in the game, to ensure victory. This means you can miss out on something and spend the next two hours working towards a game over screen.
2 Silver Surfer (NES)
Side-scrolling and vertically moving bullet-hell games are some of the most challenging titles to ever grace the NES. The developers behind Silver Surfer thought it wise to create an adventure that's both. Silver Surfer is a classic example of a fantastic concept, ruined by poor game design and mechanics.
Upon starting the game, you're given the chance to choose your starting stage. Each stage has three sections, which alternate between side-scrolling and vertical. The surfer himself is capable of moving effortlessly around dangers, thanks to his cosmically-infused surfboard. The zones are rife with enemies and you'll need to dodge incoming projectiles to keep Silver Surfer safe.
What makes this game so agonizing is the obstacles. A simple tap from any object will instantly kill you, as will the borders of the game screen. You'll need razor sharp focus and skillful movements to make it through this title.
1 Fester's Quest (NES)
It's hard to imagine an Addams Family taking the top spot for "impossible games to beat" but here we are. Fester's Quest is nightmare personified on the NES. This release features more controller-breaking sections and annoying gameplay mechanics than you can shake a stick at. The premise is odd, the movement is rough, and the constant shooting will give you legendary hand cramps.
Even with gun upgrades, enemies can take a while to kill and they seem to be in endless supply. You'll need to collect certain items, stock up on weapon upgrades, and plan your movements carefully so you don't end up backing yourself into a corner. There are six total bosses to battle, each one taking a massive amount of hits to down.
The truly devastating mechanic is your health bar. It's tiny and dying will send you all the way back to the beginning. You can "continue" with all your gear, but finding yourself back at the start after progressing through many bosses is downright depressing.