Since the beginning of gaming, players have sought challenges and achievements to gain boasting rights and names on arcade cabinets and walls. Defeating a difficult boss or puzzle is the ultimate gaming experience for some players, and developers have been catering to this desire for years.
Being one of the pioneers of gaming, Nintendo has of course been creating these challenges for players to explore, and have made numerous classics while doing it. Here are 10 of these difficult games and why players should still attempt the challenges they present today.
10 Mega Man 2
Deemed a classic from music to gameplay, Mega Man 2 released in 1988 and has been consistently returned to by players of all ages. Created as a sequel to the mostly unsuccessful Mega Man, it stunned the developers becoming the top-selling game of the franchise. One of the many aspects that makes the game stand out as legendary is the difficulty of each level.
Opposite many contemporary games, there is no guide, no map, no menu. The player learns as they encounter challenges, and as they die. Many, many times. A refreshing break from the tutorial-saturated games of today’s market (looking at you Dead Space), the player must explore different strategies and elements of gameplay to find the best path to defeat Dr. Wily, the evil genius behind the eight robotic enemies. Enjoy the soundtrack and simplistic gameplay, but be prepared to perish, frequently.
9 The Lion King
The first entry in this list from Disney Studios is The Lion King, released in 1994 on the Super NES. The game is deceptively simple, starting on a fairly easy level jumping on rocks and evil chameleons; yet as soon as the player gets to the second level, the game becomes one of the most infamously difficult games in NES history.
Swinging from monkeys, hopping on hippos, the player has to traverse the jungle at the will of nature, and solve puzzles as they go. With the remake of The Lion King movie returning soon, the game hits all of the nostalgia points, as well as gives a fun, arcade feel to exploring the movie plot.
8 Disney’s Aladdin
Following the Disney theme, the 1993 release of Disney’s Aladdin was widely successful for the developers, Capcom. Selling over 1.8 million copies, Aladdin was well received and prized for its great graphics and soundtrack, similar to that of its cinema counterpart.
However beautiful the views were, the game tinged the minds of gamers of all ages for being another difficult movie port into the gaming world. The excitement from jumping on guards’ heads and two-dimensional parkour on the rooftops of Agrabah is only fueled by jumping puzzles in the Cave of Wonders that would rival Destiny’s raid puzzles. It’s only fitting that the player also has to prove they’re a diamond in the rough.
7 Super Star Wars
Grab a blaster and hop on your landspeeder, Super Star Wars hit the stage in 1992 on the SNES. Awarded best Movie-to-Game entry by Electronic Gaming Monthly in ‘92, Super Star Wars has remained a classic, even as the blockbuster Battlefront games by EA were released. A run-and-gun style platformer, play as all of the favorite characters in the Star Wars series and take down the bad guys in fantastic arcade fashion.
The difficulty is unparalleled in the dual Sandcrawler stages. Beginning outside the ship, the player must conquer Tusken Raiders and scorpions that look eerily similar to the radscorpions in the Fallout series. Once securing a foothold on the side of the ship, traversal is filled with dangers and traps, which is just a foreshadow to the fiery dangers on the interior. The smooth shooting mechanics and graphics rivaling modern 2D games, Super Star Wars remains a classic for the foreseeable future.
Forever legendary, the Contra series, first released in arcades in 1987, and then a year later on the NES, became a quick success with exciting gameplay and platforming. Beautiful, bright graphics accompany a run-and-gun style experience reminiscent of arcade boxes. Toss grenades, shoot a variety of guns and take down the Red Faction Organization as a cool commando.
The difficulty of this game is apparent from the first level, as one hit death reminds the player of the frailty of life. The original immersive experience is brought home with this game, and hardcore gamers of all ages will be challenged.
5 Ninja Gaiden
From commandos to ninjas, Ninja Gaiden hits hard with a difficulty that has been legendary from its beginnings on the Super NES in 1995. Join the protagonist Ryu Hayabusa as he flips, flings, and flays enemies in the action-packed levels. Similar to Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden totes a health bar system and enemies with no mercy slicing up the player with their shuriken, making dangerous and thrilling battles to engage in. Difficult platforming and challenging enemies deliver a testing experience for all levels of players.
Reminiscent of the brawling Street Fighter combined with the hilarity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the next entry created a franchise unlike any other. Released in 1991 for the NES, Battletoads began a franchise and a classic that is nothing but fun and excitement for all ages.
Filled with excellent humor and beat-em-up gameplay, Battletoads is a fairly straight-forward and fun game to play with friends, especially in the coop mode. That is, until you reach the sewers, and all of that gets thrown away. Challenging the mental of players in a fashion that rivals that of Dark Souls, the speeder level is so fast and complicated that it nears impossibility. Yet, somehow, it keeps its fun and frivolous nature to coerce the player into trying more and more to beat the level and continue to defeat the space mutants.
Table-top RPG to arcade cabinet classic, Gauntlet feels like the father to the classic Diablo games. Top-down slaying of monsters using magic, swords, scrolls and more, the dungeon crawler was released in 1987 for the NES. Choosing from classes of Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie (each with different stats for variety), the player must dodge spells and find keys and treasure to move through the levels.
Difficulty quickly descends with fireballs and skeletons coming from all sides, and even cooperative play will challenge players that choose to take on the quest. With four different styles of gameplay and numerous spells to use, modern players will find nothing but action-packed fun in picking up this classic.
2 Yoshi’s Island
Taking a step away from difficult enemies, step into the shoes of Baby Mario and hop on the saddle of Yoshi to explore Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, released in 1995 for the SNES. Mario games have the amazing ability to be timeless and able to pick up easily no matter what generation of gamer (See this article for more examples).
Platforming games tend to be compared to the Mario franchise when being rated, and for good measure, as the difficulty, characters, soundtrack, and gameplay have been legendary from the beginning of the series. Yoshi’s Island takes a step in the difficult direction with quick moving platforms and a new mechanic of eating enemies and throwing the eggs Yoshi makes, but it’s nonetheless a timeless classic that should be experienced.
1 Donkey Kong Country
The final entry has caused hours of frustration, and yet incredible moments of relaxation in the same game. Donkey Kong Country is legendary (even being turned into a TV show) in its difficulty of platforming, and delightfully fun to jump into and experience. Supported by an amazing soundtrack by the legendary David Wise, join Donkey and Diddy Kong as they hop on alligators, toss barrels, and speed through mines on carts to save their banana fortune from the Kremlins.
The beauty of Donkey Kong Country is the ability to play the game in two ways: simple and fun, or challenging and rewarding. Players who seek achievement will find puzzles and extra difficult platforming, and, if successful, be rewarded with higher scores and the K-O-N-G collectibles to boast. Once finishing the original, players can also try out the more recent Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U and the Switch, which is an excellent sequel to the classic game.