Conan, what is best in gaming?
To crush the challenges, see your name in the leaderboards, and hear the lamentation of the noobz.

 

Gaming is a diverse environment where virtually anyone can find something for themselves, for good or ill. We’ve got strategy games, we’ve got shooters, we have fairly easy games, and we have nightmares which haunt people because of how difficult they are, or can be.

This list is a quick way for you to enter the world of games which will make your fingers bleed, heart ache, intestines twist into knots, and eyes pop. Some of the games here may be occasionally unfair, others will require frame-perfect reactions, other still are all about memorisation of patterns. One way or another, these games are more demanding than your usual .exe.
Without further ado, let’s see some of the world’s hardest games which gave people ulcers over the years.

10. Trap Adventure 2

Screw you

Here’s one that many people probably have never even heard about, seeing how it’s an iOS game, so beneath the notice of the elites. It doesn’t change the fact that the little blighter is a tough title to complete, simply because it’s designed to be unfair for comedic purposes.

On the surface it looks like a Mario clone, with a guy jumping high and far, 2D side view, distinct blocks to jump to and fro. You know, the classics. But Trap Adventure 2 twists them like Morgoth twisted Elves, and the result is a treacherous orc of a gameplay. Perhaps a block you need to jump on hides deadly spikes. Maybe the area you retreat to crushes your frail body out of the blue. Or a way out suddenly pushes you towards a pit of death. Anything could happen. Here’s aglimpse, provided by a YouTuber Robert McGregor, with a delightful lack of incoherent screaming you’ve learned expect from a YouTube gameplay vid.

Of course the game is never too hard, giving you a chance to move forward before the jokes of each level wear thin, but it’s nevertheless amusing to see unsuspecting people trying to play it. Just try to catch their phone before it concludes its rapid cruise towards the nearest wall.

9. Dwarf Fortress

Harder than dwarven bread

The first hard part you encounter in Dwarf Fortress is deciding how big and how old you want the game’s world to be. Depending on your choices you may have quite a wait ahead of you as the game generates not only the geography, but even history and heroes. And then you start to play and nothing makes sense at first, especially if you’re playing classic ASCII version. Dwarf Fortress doesn’t mess around, and essentially throws its entire complexity at you without even a proper “hello”.

The community motto says “losing is fun”, and it certainly holds water, because it’s fairly easy to get to a game-ending state and be smiling like a silly person because something absurd has happened, enabled by the game’s huge pile of simulation mechanics. In a way every loss is a story, and Dwarf Fortress gameplay makes anecdotes happen organically.

Amusingly enough, for its difficulty it can also be quite relaxing.

8. Trials

I want to ride my bicycle

Riding a bike is easy, people say with some merit. Once you figure out how to keep your balance everything clicks into place soon after that. The Trials franchise doesn’t care. Trials is an exercise in a physics-based torment posing as an obstacle course, and the torturer is a bike rider (without license, I’m sure) who needs to get from point A to point B without falling flat on his face and in good time.

Even when you get used to the controls, your so-far perfect run may be finished because you messed a single jump and the physics simulation never allowed you to recover, throwing you into a downward spiral towards failure and restarting the track. Or maybe not. But Trials is the kind of game where the more frustrated you get, the harder it is to move on.
Buy Trials Fusion now.

7. Roguelikes and roguelites

Try again, but better

Rogue, published way back when in 1980, three million game years ago, was not an easy game. A turn-based affair, with merciless permadeath, which meant that no matter how many potions, how awesome equipment you had, how much progress you’ve made through the dungeon, once you run out of HP, you’re done, start again from scratch, thank you for your business. Nothing new, in theory, but the locations were procedurally generated, so the learning aspect wasn’t like in arcade games where you pay to beat a specific level. There are no specific levels. Good luck, have fun storming the castle.

Of course Rogue spawned games inspired by it, there was ADOM in 1994, NetHack in 1987, and a slew of Rogue-lites popped up in recent years. Games like Dead Cells, Wizard of Legend, The Binding of Isaac, or Crypt of the NecroDancer, are now called Rogue-lites, because, for instance, they allow for some form of progression between playthroughs. Not that it makes them all that easy.

Procedurally generated locations are in place, high-risk enemy encounters are there, and, weirdly, seemingly outdated graphics are there as well. Perhaps pixel art is easier on the budget, and since most Rogue-lites are done by very small teams, every dollar not spent on graphics can be put to good use in level and system design.

Buy Crypt of the NecroDancer now.

Buy The Binding of Isaac Collection now.

Buy Dead Cells now.

6. XCOM 2

Extra-terrestrial kerfuffle

XCOM 2 is an heir to a legacy dating back to Julian Gollop’s UFO: Enemy Unknown strategy. And although graphics have changed a lot, and Firaxis’ version has much less fiddly bits like inventory management, they retain one thing: RNG just hates you.

See, X-COM games are turn-based, barring The Bureau, which was weird, and are happy to tell you the percent chance of scoring a hit. The problem is: it doesn’t matter squat, because humans can’t understand chances.
In new XCOMs the results are generated from a seed, which mean that save scumming doesn’t help you, unless you somehow change the parameters (moving two tiles closer counts). It still leads to situations where a seemingly point blank shot has only 74% of success, and you apparently consistently miss 95% shots. That’s XCOM, baby.

And that’s just the tactical map. On strategic level you hunt down UFOs, manage construction of new facilities, all of which takes time which you don’t have a lot of, because the aliens kind of have their own thing going on, and the more time you spend idle, the smaller your chances of ultimate victory are.
Good luck, commander.
Buy XCOM 2 now.

5. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

Jackpot

Devil May Cry series certainly made quite a stir for a Resident Evil spin-off. Not least because they effectively created to spectacle slasher genre, which later gave us gems like God of War or Bayonetta. Fast, demanding, flashy, irreverent. And DMC3 remains one of the best in the genre.
From the first cutscene to the last Dante’s Awakening is a no-holds-barred, lighting fast slasher, measuring not just your damage, but more importantly: the style.

You can muddle through the game on a basic combo, but why do that when you can throw an enemy into the air with a swing of Rebellion, juggle them for a while with Ebony and Ivory’s bullets, jump to the air to deliver several swings with the Cerberus, and then slam the hapless enemy into the ground with another slash of Rebellion. And that’s beginner’s stuff.
It’s really easy to die, because the demons you fight can make short work of your health bar if you let them. The buggers are quite fast, too, so you have to stay on your toes. And then there are bosses putting to test everything you’ve learned, and mercilessly slapping you on the wrist if you get a sequence wrong.

There is an Easy mode, unlocked when you die too often in a short bit of gameplay, and an Automatic mode which basically performs combos for you. On the other hand there is Dante Must Die mode where demons get an absurd boost in power (and you don’t) and Heaven or Hell, where everything, including you, dies in one hit.

Doing awesome stuff in DCM 3 feels great, because it’s HARD. And then there are honestly absurd higher difficulties. Before gaming had Dark Souls, we had DMC.
Buy Devil May Cry HD Collection now.

4. Ninja Gaiden

Conservation of Ninjutsu

Here’s a series with a long story of making people ragequit since 1988 when it came to arcades and NES. After a nearly decade-long hiatus since 1995 it came back with a vengeance, bringing back the twitch reflexes and perfect combos.
Honestly, there is no consensus on which game: DMC or NG, is better or more difficult, so we’ve decided to honour the seniority with a higher placement.

Ninja Gaiden depicts the exploits of one Ryu Hayabusa, probably the worst ninja in history, but a deadly warrior all the same. There is a massive number of techniques to utilize, and all of them are useful in different situations, so it’s not like you can just mash B and be fine. At times it can feel like a fighting game more than a slasher, but that only emphasizes the importance of picking the proper technique to defeat Hayabusa’s foes.

Arcade-era NG is stuff of legends, though the new ones aren’t bad either.

3. Super Meat Boy

Bloody hilarious

Super Meat Boy came out of the blue some 8 years ago and quickly became a hit, because of finding a perfect balance between being absurdly difficult, weirdly cute (in the Adult Swim/Weebl/Happy Tree Friends kind of way), and not really giving a single eff about you dying dozens of times. You’ll succeed one day, that’s all that matters, honey.

SMB even gave us a useful, if gruesome (gruesful?), learning tool in the form of blood splatters everywhere the protagonist met his brutal end. Now you KNOW where not to jump, and what to watch out for. Although from the character’s point of view he must feel as if he’s in an unending loop of pain and suffering. Dying and being reborn endlessly because a certain someone has crooked fingers and can’t aim a jump properly! With that in mind the cheerful smile and shine in the eyes of Meat Boy may be a mere facade for the existential dread.

Regardless, you’ll enjoy every minute of Super Meat Boy even if you’ll eventually paint the rooms red with trial and error.
Buy Super Meat Boy now.

2. Soulsborne

The Dark Souls of lists

Yeah, yeah, there had to be some Dark Souls in here somewhere, no? At this point we’re all tired of seeing the franchise in every list related to its tags list on Steam, but to make a list of the hardest games out there and not mentioning DS would cause a backlash louder than the groans of people bored of the topic, so here we are.

Dark Souls aren’t quite the wall-punching high-speed difficulty of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, nor a challenge of traversing oddly deadly levels, but a task of a different kind, one that most gamers aren’t familiar with. Patience and analysis. Bullheadedness will get you only so far, and figuring out the attacks patterns of enemies, the timing and reach of your own strikes are necessary to keep your heart from giving up on you from stress. There’s also a bit about regretting your life choices when you try to squeeze in an extra hit against your better judgement and get a fistful of NOPE to your health bar.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth and less dismissive approach to DS, I refer you to a feature by an actual fan of the franchise we published some time ago.

Buy Dark Souls Remastered now.

1. Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy

[string of expletives]

Ok, Soulsborne, DMC, Ninja Gaiden, Roguelike, all are just the training wheels on the bicycle of pain on the road to hell called Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy.

The game was created by the man who came up with QWOP, GIRP, and CLOP and that probably tells you what to expect. Getting Over It isn’t content with just giving you weird control scheme and a task with breaks the laws of physics and minds of man. No. It’s going to provide a serene commentary, speaking to you as if to a child, or cite Lincoln and Lewis and not even once give references, so you know they really said these things.

Quite honestly, GOI makes frustrating the player into an art form, because you ALWAYS know you were JUST there, just a millimetre to the left and… godsdamnit, you’re back to square one. And then you try again. And again. And again. And again, cursing the calm voice of a man speaking to you. Your character can’t die because falling does nothing to your pot of invulnerability, but you slowly die inside only to feel rejuvenated for a while before a small mistake sends you down the vortex of doubt and sorrow.

But you get over it. Even if you don’t get over that one damned tree…

Buy Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy now.

Game over

So there you have it, some of the famously difficult games, some of which may even be quite serious about this. It’s not exhaustive by far, because we could have written about that one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, or the infamous Flappy Bird, but I think that as a culture we can agree that we shouldn’t go in certain directions.

What are the games that put you through your paces and broke your fingers along the way? Let us know in the comments, let’s perpetuate the cycle of suffering and achievement.