Every gamer has had that experience. You're having a good time until you stumble across a level that you just can't beat. Some games are designed to be brutal and punishing. Others are a breeze that surprise the player with sudden difficulty. Maybe the challenge is unintentional — level design and enemy placement might just be unreasonably cheap to overcome.
For this list, we're going to discuss some of the most difficult video game levels ever programmed. We're going to be loose with the word "level" in this case, meaning that boss fights will count if they're hard enough to complete. We're also counting levels that are difficult in stark contrast to the game they're in — if an especially easy game features a level that feels designed to hurt you, it's definitely game for the list. Time to bring back some bad memories — here are some of hardest levels in video game history.
10 Tree Tops — Spyro The Dragon
Spyro the Dragon isn't exactly known for difficulty. The series is fun, simple, and generally accessible for any casual video game player to enjoy. That is, until you get to Tree Tops.
Tree Tops consists of platforms separated by giant gaps. The only way for Spyro to traverse them is to use speed boosters and ramps, and the jumps are extremely difficult to make. Some ramps even need to be chained together in ridiculous ways to reach certain areas. If you were a kid in the 1990s, Tree Tops might have ruined Spyro for you all together.
9 Sora Versus Sephiroth — Kingdom Hearts II
If you were a kid during the initial Kingdom Hearts II fever, then you know exactly what a challenge this fight was. Fighting Sephiroth is totally optional, but beating him awards the player with one of the best weapons in the game.
Sephiroth is extremely fast and has dozens of powerful attacks. Even his standard sword slashes do tons of damage. He also has a ton of health, so even expert players should settle in for a long fight. One slip and the battle will be over in seconds. That's not an exaggeration — literal seconds.
8 Through the Fire and Flames — Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
Although the rhythm genre has declined in recent years, fans know just how challenging this is. "Through the Fire and Flames" by Dragonforce isn't just the hardest song in the Guitar Hero series — it's a rite of passage for any player looking to call themselves a true expert.
With absurdly fast notes that require finger-tapping and perfect timing, most players don't even make it past the intro without failing. Anyone skilled enough to make it past that has lengthy song ahead of them, full of challenging solos. It might be easier to learn how to play the actual guitar than to play Guitar Hero's "Through the Fire and Flames" to completion.
7 Rainbow Road — Mario Kart Wii
This is where scores are settled. Rainbow Road has been reworked and re-released dozens of times throughout the Mario Kart franchise, but every incarnation of the track tends to be the most treacherous level in any given installment.
The Wii version stands out as a particularly nasty reimagining. With sharp turns, steep hills, and no guardrails, falling off of this Rainbow Road is inevitable. Sure, pros might scoff at supposed difficulty of an age-old level, but one wrong move will turn that first place trophy into a last place rage-quit.
6 Mike Tyson Himself — Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
It's no secret that the strongest competitor in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is, of course, famed heavyweight champion and boxing legend Mike Tyson. The game features fictional boxers instead of real ones, but Mike Tyson is the extremely challenging exception. We're pretty sure that the real Mike Tyson can't even beat Punch-Out!!!'s Mike Tyson.
Mike Tyson's digital doppelganger throws one-hit knockouts for most of his fight, and unreasonably quick "lightning jabs" in between. His attacks are blockable, but they still deal massive damage to the player. It's not impossible to beat Tyson at his own game, but this still goes down as one of the most difficult video game levels ever made.
5 The Water Temple — The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
It's not the most difficult temple in the series, but it's the reason why water levels are so dreaded by gamers. The Water Temple in Ocarina of Time is a slog to play through. Not necessarily because it's difficult, but because it's frustrating.
The temple is dark and can be tough to navigate. Raising and lowering water levels becomes tedious, especially since the player must constantly equip and un-equip Link's Iron Boots to continue. The boots also force Link to walk at a snail's pace, which only makes matters worse. The level was (and is) so hated that 3DS port of Ocarina of Time features alterations to the Water Temple in an attempt to make it easier on players.
4 Any Level Of Super Star Wars — Super Star Wars Series
These film-to-game adaptations are so notoriously difficult that choosing a level seems pointless. They might look like simple, colorful platformers, but they're more punishing than Darth Vader at the end of Rogue One. Enemies flood the screen, spawning from every direction so quickly and frequently that the game feels unfair.
The series only seems to get harder as it progresses, with Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back being an especially challenging experience. It takes a fair bit of patience to finish a level, let alone any of the three games. You're better off watching someone else play it — or watch Attack of the Clones and suffer almost as much... almost.
3 Turbo Tunnel — Battletoads
Battletoads is one of the most difficult game ever made. The game's claim to fame is its brutality, as Turbo Tunnel — the game's third level, mind you — is home to an unreasonable spike in difficulty.
It starts out with a simple beat-em-up segment, but quickly transitions into a driving segment that gets hilariously difficult. Tons of obstacles stand in your way, and the driving is so fast that there is hardly any time to react to them.It's a mere tease of how rough Battletoads can get, but it's also the level that likely dissuades anyone from playing any further.
2 Aztec — Goldeneye 007
Goldeneye is famous for defining first-person shooters, but not for extreme difficulty. Only when players reach the secret Aztec level does the real challenge present itself. We're 19 levels into the game here, so players should be somewhat prepared to face it by the time they reach it. Well, that's the idea.
Aztec is a labyrinth of tight corridors with dozens of enemies around every corner. If their placement wasn't enough, most enemies in Aztec are twice as fast and twice as accurate as the average James Bond goon. The only way to beat it is precision... and a bit of trial and error.
1 Ornstein and Smough — Dark Souls
Is it fair to end the list with a Dark Souls entry? This game is the poster-child for unreasonable difficulty, but the fight with Ornstein and Smough is easily a contender for its hardest moment. Two giants, the lumbering Smough and the agile Ornstein, are an ordeal to survive, let alone beat.
Like any other Dark Souls battle, precision and quick reflexes are the key to victory. Using the surrounding pillars to your advantage will also go a long way. Mostly though, you'll just lose and lose and lose. However, if you're a fan of Dark Souls, you're probably into that kind of suffering, so enjoy what might be one of the most difficult sequences in video game history.