No-one could deny that gaming has come a long way. From 2D side-scrolling games to the visually stunning open worlds we see on modern consoles and computers today, the industry has done some incredible things.
But there’s one thing the old games did better: difficulty.
If you have a bit of patience, most modern day games are simply not difficult to complete. But back in the day, some retro games were near impossible, and many games were cast aside in defeat after a few hours of playing. Here are the ones that proved to be the biggest challenge for people. We’re not responsible for bringing back any trauma at the mention of these!
Contra was originally released as an arcade game - you know, one of the old ones that you put coins into to play. But later, Konami released this game on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it infamously went down as one of the most difficult games to play. For good reason.
It’s about two army men sent to take down an enemy organization that is trying to take over the world, and honestly, the game feels just about as difficult as that mission would in real life. A merciless run-and-gun game, you can lose your weapon (meaning instant life loss), and the enemies just keep coming. If you’re looking for a retro challenge, this is by far one of the best games to go back to.
9 The Lion King
The Lion King has had many people complain about it. A Disney game released on Sega Genesis back in the day, Disney specifically made this game extremely difficult so that it couldn’t be defeated in a rental period. People would therefore rent it, not get past level two, and have to go buy it, making Disney more money. Evil geniuses.
Level two was mentioned specifically because that was the real kicker. A level both puzzle and platform, Simba has to navigate monkeys, hippos, and giraffes and is required to jump with perfect timing far too often while working out which direction the many, many monkeys need to face to get him where he needs to go.
The good news is, once you’ve done this level once, it gets easier.
8 Toy Story
Another horrific Sega Genesis game by the masterminds at Disney is Toy Story. This game doesn’t have as many puzzles as The Lion King and is much more of a platformer, but it’s an absolutely relentless one. Even level one is pretty difficult, and it only gets worse from there; by the time you get to Sid’s room and are sweating as you try to dodge all of his mutilated toys, you’ll be throwing the controller down and rage quitting the whole thing.
Oh, and the Disney games aren’t exactly generous on lives either. And remember, back in the day, ‘game over’ meant ‘game over’.
7 Tomb Raider III
Does this count as retro? Some might argue not, but as the PlayStation One was quite a while ago now and a classic version has been released, others might argue that this falls into the retro category. Regardless, it falls into the ‘throwing the controller and rage-quitting’ category.
An action game released a while ago, Tomb Raider is a classic, but this version was particularly frustrating when it came to dodging enemies and getting the jump on them. Combine these with the traps set for Lara, and… boy. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider may be a little tricky but compared to this, it’s nothing. They really did make them so much harder back in the day.
6 The Sega Sonic Games
Sonic is pretty much a gaming staple - as he should be. He’s gone from a 2D figure on the Sega Megadrive to a 3D hero on the current consoles, but the current platformers are nowhere near as difficult as the old games.
Sonic 2 was particularly difficult, with far too much of the game being underwater with a very limited window for Sonic to get to the surface and draw a breath. It seems like a nice perk having Tails around but the truth is, he doesn’t really do much except collect the occasional ring he might come across. And unless you’re really good at the bonus levels, you can forget about collecting the Chaos Emeralds. Mission impossible.
5 Kirby’s Dream Land
It’s pretty standard for games to be released with different difficulty modes, but this Gameboy game was released with a mode called ‘extra’. Which already sounds pretty ominous.
It is exactly what it claims to be. Extra. If you’re used to the mechanics of the game and can get through it pretty easily on normal, this is the part that will challenge you. Extra mode only appears as an option on the menu when the game has been beaten on normal mode once, and both enemies and bosses are instantly made so much stronger. Kirby can take very few hits before he’s a goner, and the time limits are stricter too.
4 Ninja Gaiden
Another NES game, this is considered almost impossible even for seasoned gamers. It’s a fighting and action game where timing is pretty much everything, as is hitting the right buttons. Attacking and defending need to be done on a perfect timer or the enemies will get you, and it’s not as if it takes them a while to whittle down your health either. Once you’re hit, you’re gone.
This game wasn’t even enjoyable for many, because it wasn’t about providing a challenge; it was pretty much impossible by design. Still, some have beaten it, though we can only imagine they spent some agonizing hours doing so.
A fighting/platformer game released on multiple old consoles, many claim this is the hardest game ever. And they just might be right.
Like many other old games, one of the hardest things about this one is that there’s no saving system; once you’re dead, you’re dead, and you then have to start from the beginning all over again. Many would say this frustrating game is best left in the past, but it’s apparently getting released for the modern consoles, so apparently, there was some fun in trying to beat it. We wonder if the modern games will be as hard as the original counterpart?
2 Super Ghouls'n'Ghosts
A side-scrolling platform game, it’s full of relentless enemies and traps that the player can fall into which render them dead instantly. It doesn’t really operate on a consistent health bar like some games, which is what makes it so hard - one hit and you’re pretty much down, so you have to be extremely careful and try to memorize some patterns. Not easy.
It also dumps you back at the start at some point to actually complete the game properly. Not to mention the mind-boggling weapon-choosing system, which can later reveal you chose the wrong thing. No thank you, game…
1 Pokémon Red/Blue (With Charmander)
The current Pokémon games are great, they truly are. But the fact is that they’re very easy; Pokémon Let’s Go and Pokémon Go are both enjoyable, but don’t present very much of a challenge if you’re willing to mindlessly grind. Which is why its original counterparts deserve a mention.
Back in the day, the original Gameboy Color games were much more of a challenge, particularly if you started with Charmander - and who didn’t want to start with Charmander? The Pewter City gym was rock, so essentially, picking Charmander meant starting on hard mode, and the battles were actually difficult. The good old days, when Pokémon was challenging… especially for kids.