Do you remember back in the day, when you could sit in the same room as a friend and play a video game? Back when the only help you could find for games that wouldn’t back down was through magazines, talking to friends or even (if you stole your parents credit cards) those helplines you phone up and rack up a huge phone bill? I do. Simpler times. But yes, on my trip down memory lane, I decided to compile a list of the top 10 hardest NES games, that I’ve had the pleasure, or in some cases, the misfortune of playing. Keep in mind, this is my opinion, I’m sure there are some games that some of you might find really easy, but the same could be said about your own inner demons, so on with the list.
10. Silver Surfer
Number 10 you say? Why so far down the list? Well, after hearing some people explain to me their frustration with this game, I had to revisit this one, since I remembered this one with vaguely fond memories. I will agree, Silver Surfer is a tough game to crack at times, but keeping a cool head and with some trial and error, most gamers could muddle their way through a fair portion of the game, given time. There are plenty of games out there where you get the complete BS one hit death rule apply, and many of these games feature multiple enemies at once also, games like Contra, Parodious, and many more. Personally, I don’t understand where people come from saying it’s really that hard? Sure, I’ll say it’s an endurance test, where you can never get hit by any projectiles, any enemies, any pieces of the background, any pieces of the foreground, or…anything at all. I’ve heard people say that the difficulty for this game is “legendary”. It’s not quite that hard with a little practice, and a little patience. All in all, I actually like this game. It has a kick-ass sound track, it features a Megaman style stage select, meaning you can get the harder stages out of the way first, and…I guess I ran out of good things to say about it, since it’s not a great game, it just happens to be a bad game, that I enjoyed.
9. Festers Quest
Now this is a tough game. The Addams Family was a satirical piece of genius, and like anything that gained popularity in the 80’s, an NES cartridge quickly hit shelves. Now in this unique case, and I do mean it literally, since this game is fairly unique; is that you take control of Uncle Fester, who then has to save the world from aliens. That’s the set up, now – this game is terribly difficult, and it starts you off with one of the worst weapons in gaming history. You think this weapon sucks? Try and use one of the “upgrades”, which increase the power of your gun, but the firing pattern is so bizarre, you’ll find yourself struggling to hit anything, especially in those narrow corridors. It’s strange that in a game you can pick up power ups, very few of them are worth picking up, especially since some of the pick ups actually downgrade your weapon! Pick your poison: low power but you can hit stuff, or high power and no accuracy. This is also one of those “where the hell do I go” kind of games too. You could aimlessly wander around for hours and never get anywhere, since all the enemies respawn as soon as your out of sight, and most of the areas look similar in design, with only a few landmarks to go by. If you go into the building, oh my god…all the corridors look the same, and only by trial and error will you make any progress. Unfortunately, you have to go into the building for that extra health bar, so you no longer die in two hits. It’s a damn shame that such the Addams Family got the classic LGN treatment, but this wasn’t even an LGN game! This was Sunsoft. So where’s the excuse? I guess there’s no use crying over spilled milk.
8. Zelda II – The Adventure of Link
I have beaten every Zelda game I’ve ever played, but this one…THIS ONE…it makes my blood boil when I see that death screen, the strobe effect when Link bites the bullet, and Ganon pops up with his ugly pig face to laugh at you, every f******g time. This game was a classic in its own right and yes, the glitch for Dark Link is amusing, but making it that far is a huge challenge. Probably not quite the hardest game I’ve ever played, but damn…it’s hard. Death Mountain? It’s called that for a good reason. Because you’ll die inside the mountain countless times, unless you’ve either spent a long time grinding to level up or know the route you have to take off by heart. The game actually paces quite well up until this point, and then the game ups the difficulty so suddenly and unexpectedly that it blindsides you. And since you had no trouble making it this far, you wonder if you’re doing something wrong? Maybe you forgot an item, or aren’t hitting the enemies with the right weapon…but nope. The game just decides to take a leap into the world of unfair difficulty, and forces you to either get good, or stop playing. Well, come on, if you can’t beat Death Mountain, how could you ever hope to beat the rest of the game? In a weird twist of fate, the rest of the game paces fairly reasonably, but it’s made my list for the amount of unassuming gamers that loved the first Zelda game and got to see Ganon’s face one too many times during their quest in Death Mountain. By the way, if you want to kill Dark Link super easy, you just sit in the corner and spam the sword.
7. The Karate Kid
You know those near impossible games that have burnt an image of themselves into your childhood memories? This is one of those kind of games. Insanely difficult, albeit being very short. The first stage is a cakewalk, where you fight guys one at a time, with near to no challenge at all. Then, you start stage 2 and oh man…everyone just gangs up on you, and the worst part is you get knocked back constantly, and when that happens, you can’t do s**t. Ad when you are being ganged up on, and the enemies keep coming from that edge of the screen where that gremlin keeps spawning more enemies for you to deal with, you don’t stand a chance. This game is frustrating due to poor hit detection and basic fundamental issues, which handicap the player. Not a nice one, but one I’m sure we’ve all had the ahem…pleasure of attempting. By the way, the ending sucks. Miagi just winks at you.
6. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Now we’re talking about a game that is truly awful. It’s so bad, it’s virtually unplayable. It’s a side scroller, where you control Dr Jekyll, but if you take enough damage, you turn into Mr Hyde, where you are trying to lower your rage meter back down so that you can continue the game as Dr Jekyll. The main problem is that when you reach the spot where you turned into Mr Hyde, it’s game over. Nothing is more infuriating than getting far and being greeted by the game over screen. Now you can continue from the stage you were on, but that doesn’t help most of the time, since most people I know who have played this have never seen the end of level 1. It seemingly just goes on forever, but there are 6 levels in total. The aim of the game is to reach the church, where Jekyll is supposed to get married, but with birds shitting on you, little boys hitting you with their slingshot, guys dropping bombs and singing that hurts you…you’ve got a monumental task ahead of you. The worst part is, that you can’t defend yourself. Not at all. Yeah, he has a cane, but it doesn’t do anything. You can’t even kill the spiders. But the bees, you can kill those, if you are pixel perfect with your strike. This is one game that is difficult for all the wrong reasons, sluggish controls that fuck you up and hit boxes that would make you wonder if you can dodge at all.
5. Friday the 13th
This is an example of a not so great game, but it’s hard as shit. It’s made by LGN who are notorious for publishing some of the worst games ever to grace the NES library. This game isn’t actually all that bad, but its ridiculous difficulty makes it almost unplayable. You control one of six camp councilors at camp Crystal Lake, and you have 15 kids that you have to keep alive. However, Jason decides that it’s time to kill everyone and you need to stop him. Simple right? Wrong. The game takes place over the course of 3 days, so you have to try and survive Jason’s constant attacks for 3 days, keeping a close eye on everyone at the camp, and when the alarm goes off, you have to haul ass over to the right cabin before Jason kills his victim. Now, fighting Jason can occur outside during the side scrolling parts of the game, but you don’t do any damage to him in this way. You can only damage Jason when you fight him inside one of the cabins, in a punch out style. Now, it takes a lot of practise to get good at it, and you need to because he can kill a councilor in just a few hits, whereas you can only scratch at that huge life bar he has, and then when you do enough damage, he goes away for a little while, until he targets someone else. You can switch between characters, but you end up resetting your objective which is to light all of the fire places, and any items you had, will stay with the original character, so it means you need to use each of the characters enough, get them all weapons so that they can at least have a fighting chance against Jason. You also have to deal with birds, zombies, wolves and Jason’s moms head. All of which have nothing better to do than to try and kill you. This game is very challenging, and there is no saves or passwords. When all your characters are dead, or all the kids die, its game over – back from the beginning. It’s possible to beat, but it would take a very dedicated gamer to do so.
4. Star Wars
Yeah, Star Wars. It’s hard because its a “where the fuck do I go” kind of game. There is very little in the way of hints, and there are no continues. You get 3 lives, and once their done, you go back to the start of the game. No saves, no passwords. Nothing. In fact, I don’t think you can even find extra lives in this game. The most frustrating part about this particular game is that you die so easily. Just a few hits is enough to kill you, and in certain parts of the game, just a single hit can kill you. The game is unfair at times, because without having played the game before, you wouldn’t know what you are supposed to do. You could spend hours right off the bat in the landspeeder, just going round and round, but you are meant to find R2-D2 at the sandcrawler, which is a pain in the ass, because of the stupid conveyor belts that just make you run into obstacles, and where he is placed requires a really lucky jump. Once you get through that, you need to go to the bar in Mos Eisley, but you’d get murdered straight away, so you need to find Obi Wan to get the lightsaber, which the game doesn’t tell you, and he’s at the end of a long cave, which you might end up losing a couple of lives trying to traverse through, and once you get the light saber, you’ll do the bar, get on the ship and die in the asteroid field because you probably didn’t pick up the shields for the ship in the hanger. The whole game requires knowledge you do not possess until it’s too late. Unfair, too hard. Next game.
3. Ghosts & Goblins
This game is one of the first games I ever played. It’s still a very hard game to beat, but its in a fairer context. You get unlimited continues, you always start back at the nearest checkpoint or level you died on, and you keep the last weapon you had. Now, I agree, the game is relentless, but it’s beatable. I rank this one pretty high because it’s actually difficult, not unfair, not hard due to bad design, but genuinely difficult, through fair challenge…most of the time. The red devils are the guys that make me tense up because I know that it’s a 50/50 chance I’ll get murdered by one. Regardless of how far you get in this game, it’s two hits and you’re dead. First hit takes your armor, second hit takes your skin. Now, the only tip I can give you, is the same trick I use with Cody in any Street Fighter game he’s ever appeared in – “GET THE KNIFE”. In fact, here’s a list of tricks to help you beat Ghosts & Goblins:
- Get the knife.
- Don’t get the flame weapon. EVER.
- Get the shield on the last level or you’ll regret it.
Now we’re serious. Battletoads was someones idea of how to rival the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and if this game wasn’t so hard, it probably wouldn’t be so memorable. This game is ridiculously difficult, with the only way to get close to beating it is to know the game inside and out. There are stages and areas where you can farm 1-ups, but it doesn’t help in the grand scheme of things. Most people I know have the same problem; they beat the first two stages and die over and over at the turbo tunnel. Now, this is a common issue that nearly EVERYONE I know has had difficulty with. I struggled with it, finally got it down, just to have the same problem with the surfing level. I’ve never beaten the surfing level, and from what I hear, the game only gets harder. I dread to think what is after that stage, and you know what? I don’t want to know. It’s probably not worth it. Even still, Battletoads is a brilliant game, it even has a two player mode, which…honestly doesn’t help. I’ve never beaten the turbo tunnel with two players. I also hear that one of the later stages is impossible to beat with two players.
And finally…1. Ninja Gaiden (all of them)
Yes, I’m counting Ninja Gaiden 1, 2 & 3 as one thing. The first game has one of the HARDEST last stages to any game I’ve ever played. Stage 6-2 is actually burnt into my retina’s so I can see it when I close my eyes. The biggest problem with this was the respawning enemies. As soon as an enemy dies, it literally respawns, giving you no time to react or progress. Some of the jumps you are required to do are just insane, where you have platforms, smaller than your avatar that you need to land on, and there’s enemies attacking you. Most of my deaths are from pitfalls, from getting knocked down mid jump, or from a tiny platform. If that’s not enough for you, the end boss has three forms, which you need to beat in one life. You don’t get your health replenished before you fight him either, so you are going in with a broken wing. If you die at all when fighting the end boss, you get sent back to stage 6-1. This essentially means that you have to replay the whole of the final stage over and over, until you know how to beat the boss. It’s so damn cruel. And that’s just the first game! The others are bullshit too. In the second game, there are hazards for most of the stages, such as strong winds that stop you being able to jump properly, snow which makes you slip all over the place and darkness that makes the game go pitch black for a few seconds. In the 3rd game…there are no longer infinite continues. Yes, in the other 2 games, you can’t lose to a game over, since you can always continue. In the 3rd game, there are no saves, no passwords, and limited continues. It doesn’t pull any punches either, since it’s just as hard as the others. I haven’t beaten ANY of these 3 games, and it’s a challenge I’d like to overcome someday, but maybe I’m not good enough to do it right now.
So, that’s my list. As I mentioned at the start, I’m sure you guys have your own lists of games that you consider difficult, games like Castlevania 3, Wizards & Warriors, stuff like that. Some games would have gotten on my list, if it were longer, but I set a limit at 10, and 10 it shall remain. Agree, disagree? Let me know.
Ryan Griffiths is a British gamer, known as a bit of a lone wolf. Retro games are his passion, with newer releases not living up to his expectations. Of course there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to Dynasty Warriors & Total War games.