In Honor Of Dark Souls: The 10 Most Difficult Games In Video Game History

Most games, regardless of genre, strive simply to be challenging enough to stay interesting, but only just so. Then there are games that say “Screw fun. You’re going to have to work for my love.” Games whose developers pride themselves on having made a frustrating, horrendously difficult time suck that only the most dedicated gamer dares confront. Sure, they might leave half of their customers screaming profanities at the TV screen and the other half in therapy for the next decade, but for every guy who still complains about head and hand trauma, there’s another who still brags about having made it to the bitter end and then went back for more.

Next week’s hotly anticipated Dark Souls claims to be such a game and indeed, its main selling point is that it is apparently the most difficult game you’ll play in 2011. If true, than it’s in good company, because we absolutely love a ridiculously hard game. So long as no one minds if the controller ends up smashed against a wall. Dark Souls may just be the most difficult game of 2011, but it has serious competition if it wants to stand among the hardest games in history.

To explain what we mean, in honor of Dark Souls, here are GameFront’s picks for the 10 most difficult video games of all time.

10) Mega Man (NES)

It almost doesn’t feel fair including this game on the list; Mega Man‘s famed difficulty is kind of the appeal. But boy is it hard, even now, in 2011. It isn’t the enemies – most of them can be dispatched with one shot and you can even shoot through walls! And it isn’t the environments – even the deadliest have platforms within jumping distance. And it isn’t having to start at the beginning of a level when you die, since the game is helpfully divided into several boss-specific sections at the beginning, and you can fight them in any order. But there’s something about the way enemies and environmental obstacles are spaced out – maybe it’s the blinking blinkiness of the typical Mega Man Game – that takes just kills players dead.

It’s probably the amazing soundtrack music distracting you.

09) Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out (NES)

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out is what happens when a game is designed specifically to both cash in on the tremendous popularity of a public figure, and sate their ego at the same time. Released to arcades in 1984, the game was originally just called “Punch-Out”, a superfun boxing simulator in which the player battled increasingly ridiculous fighters who resembled pro wrestlers more than boxers. But by the time the game was ported to NES in 1987, Mike Tyson had become World Heavyweight champ and a global pop culture phenomenon. So Nintendo raced to cash in by adding “Mike Tyson’s” to the title and inserting Tyson himself as the game’s new final fight.

The other boxers in the game were well balanced, increasing in difficulty from the hilariously easy Glass Joe to the very challenging (and hilarious) Super Macho Man. Each Boxer had a unique fight style and a ‘tell’ that allowed players some small advantage to compensate for player character Little Mac’s tiny size and low health. But they were fake boxers. In real life, Tyson was known for a string of one round knockout fights. To simulate that, Nintendo just made him next to impossible to beat. Sure, Little Mac can dodge, but his hits take almost no damage. Tyson’s, on the other hand, knock off a third with every punch.

Watch this footage and you’ll see what I mean.

08) Contra (NES)

Contra for NES equal parts a Rambo-meets-Predator rip off and the first true couch co-op game, deserves its status as one of the most beloved games of all time. It had an iconic soundtrack, solved the problem of arguing with your friend over whose turn it was to play, and gave players truly excellent weapons with which to kill alien bad guys. it is also one of the most difficult tasks in the history of video games, a test of player patience and skill as well as their willingness to delay sleep and melt their NES Console.

Made in the era before saves and continue codes became routine, Contra asks a ridiculous commitment from players: you start with only three lives, 1ups are ridiculously hard to come by, and if you run out of lives, you have to start over from scratch. But worse, you die instantly if an enemy bullet so much as grazes you, there is no armor, and enemies come at an astonishing pace.

No wonder then that it’s also the game that made the Konami Code – up up down down left right left right a-b-a-b select start – famous. Use of the Code in Contra got you 30 lives at the start. That made completion possible, but only just barely.

7) Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (PS2, PC)

The only thing you need to know about Devil May Cry 3 is that it is insanely difficult for no good reason other than an evil, behind the scenes tweak pulled on US gamers by Capcom. It seems that what is ‘normal’ difficulty in the North American version is hard difficult in Japan. That nasty little change caused no end of pain and suffering when the game dropped in 2005, and even glowing reviews complained about it. The issue was eventually corrected with the special edition but people traumatized by the great balance cock up of 05 will never forget. Neither will we.

6) Demon Souls

Dark Souls’ spiritual predecessor, one of Demon Souls‘ selling points was it’s ridiculous difficulty. Numerous reviews mentioned that you will die multiple times just trying to figure out the game’s basics – words like “masochistic” and “negative reinforcement” peppered most of them – and it only gets harder from there. The difficulty is so emphasized that if you choose to do another playthrough upon completion, the difficulty jacks up 40%. Subsequent replays add an additional 8% difficulty per playthrough.

It doesn’t help that the soundtrack literally bores into your brain.

Read on to find out who made the top 5…

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17 Comments on In Honor Of Dark Souls: The 10 Most Difficult Games In Video Game History


On September 29, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Good list, but you must not have played “Battletoads” (NES) IF so that’d be on this list. I do not agree with Oregon Trail being #1 at all, but that’s definitely a unique pick.

Ross Lincoln

On September 29, 2011 at 9:56 pm

As an adult, I agree with you. But me in 5th grade still has nightmares.


On September 29, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Made it to Chapter 10: The Aquaduct(16 total) through Ninja Gaiden on Xbox in a matter of 30 minutes and 45 seconds after skipping all the in game cutscenes. Hard my ass. Sat down and played it again I would probably beat it in another 30 minutes to an hour or so.

Lot of the NES classics that most people knew where harder. Not to mention Super Ghouls and Ghosts which is by far even tougher.


On September 29, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Gotta agree with bob about Battletoads on NES. That friggin game was brutal back in the day.


On September 30, 2011 at 12:14 am

I made it to the end of the snake climbing level in Battletoads once.

That was as far as I could get.

I don’t agree with Oregon Trail or Contra. And DMC 3 wasn’t hard once you got the learning curve down, not to mention the weapons and upgrades.

Though, there was another Apple computer game i played in elementary school called Freedom, in which you had to play as a runaway slave trying to make it to the northern free states.

Problem was, like Oregon trail, they start you with random skills. And you lack others. If you could read, you couldn’t write. If you could write, you couldnt read. Usually, you couldn’t do either. So you play as an illiterate guy or gal, you get 4 bucks off the bat and have to move thru towns where most people aren’t friendly and will call the slave catchers on you. If you tried to stay and fight the slave catchers, you’d get your ass kicked and go back to being a slave. If you hid, they would find you. If you ran, they’d catch you.

Basically, they wanted you to be a slave forever. A game called Freedom, where nobody is free….EVER!


On September 30, 2011 at 3:51 am

Ok, I got one. Who played this growing up.

Bucky o’ Hare? I thought it was a really well made game for its time but it was extremely hard in the final stages before you beat the game. I don’t think I ever did either.

Check it out (In a flash)

Dave Moss

On September 30, 2011 at 10:22 am

As a person of Jewish descent, and possessing absolutely no rhythm, I would put DDR at number 1 hardest game of all time. Great list!

Phil Hornshaw

On September 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm

In response to Battletoads, yes, that game was hard, but I always felt like it was hard because it was just made badly. Anyone else get that?


On September 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Ninja Gaiden on NES was much harder then the 2004 release. I hear battletoads but the first TMNT was just as hard if not harder, that damn sewer lvl where you either ran out of time or out of breath.


On September 30, 2011 at 10:11 pm

i think the hardest games i ever played were ninja gaiden on nes eternal champions on sega genesis robocop on nes pit fall atari king of fighters 95 arcades definantly punch out and the first metal gear for nes

Megaman X9

On October 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I have beaten most of these games you listed but Battletoads? Not even in my wildest dreams. I know plenty of people have beaten (including myself) DMC, NG, Megaman, Demon’s Souls, Contra, etc. but I don’t know in person a single human being that has ever beaten the 3rd of 12 levels of Battletoads NES…


On October 1, 2011 at 4:54 pm

funny how this list just like most of the lists about anything related to gaming seem to always follow one very stupid, unwritten rule: one game per franchise

ninja gaiden 2 (the 360 version) is just as hard as the 2004′s NG, and yet for some reason when sites make these lists they seemed forced to choose only one, even if both should be in the top ten, just like a top ten of PS3 graphics I saw the other day with no Killzone 2, even if KZ3 looks better KZ2 is still among the best but apparently legally out of any list because of its sequel

why is that? can somebody explain it to me?

Joe e

On December 17, 2011 at 2:10 am

Ivr beaten all these games cept the nes ghosts n gobs and ninja gaiden most of these pics are way off Oregon trial #1??? I beat that game first try when I was like 10 I could sleep while playing as someone who owns round 100 nes games most of em are hard to go f yourself hard battle toads played that today got to 3rd lvl…lol festers quest should be near the top with battle toads.


On July 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I found the Myst games to be difficult. Also, Return To Castle Wolfenstein.


On July 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm

How about Blue Ice? It is famously the most difficult adventure game ever designed.


On July 16, 2012 at 10:47 am

search boobs and battletoads on youtube for a good top ten hardest listing.


On September 28, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Add Captain America and avengers nes game