Old-school gamers are often heard to lament the lack of truly hard games these days. With a few exceptions, gaming seems to have become easier and more accepting of failure than it was in its early days. But which games are the hardest of all time? Is it all retro games, or are there some modern titles that make the cut? These eight game have definitely earned their place among the hardest of all time.

Don’t see your pick for hardest game ever? Tell us what it is in the comments!

Castlevania

There were plenty of difficult games back in the NES era, but Castlevania was one of the hardest. The thing that made it so great was that it always felt fair, even when it was kicking your ass. It wasn’t only the wide array of enemies and the the huge amount of health they would siphon away if they hit you, it was the level design as well. Every jump had to be perfect, and it seemed like there was always an enemy there to smack you if you messed up. Still, it gave you such a feeling of achievement when you finished it, you were willing to forgive its difficulty.

Discworld

Loosely based on the Discworld title “Guards! Guards!” by Sir Terry Pratchett, this point-and-click adventure title features a stellar cast of voice actors, including Monty Python’s Eric Idle and John Pertwee, the third actor to play Doctor Who. It also included some of the most obtuse puzzles in the history of gaming. They were so illogical that most play sessions of Discworld devolved into you clicking through your inventory trying to use everything on everything else. Don’t believe me? One of the puzzles had you put a frog in the main character’s mouth to stop his snoring, so that he stops scaring a butterfly away. You then catch the butterfly, and use it on a lamp post, causing a storm that makes monk in the future remove his robe. Piece of cake, right?

Ninja Gaiden

This could really have been almost any of the games in the Ninja Gaiden series. Even when you win, you sometimes feel like you lost. The hack and slash title required precisely timed attacks and a ton of blocking and parrying, because you were constantly beset on all sides by a near-constant barrage of enemies. The bosses were extremely hard, and just when you thought you had one figured out, it turned out there was another layer to the fight. Ninja Gaiden Black added insult to injury by periodically asking if you wanted to turn down the difficulty after a certain number of deaths.

Contra

Contra is what arcade shooters looked like back in the 1980s. You (or you and a friend) jump into the boots of soldiers trying to fight their way through endless obstacles and enemies to take out Red Falcon, master of the alien armies. While that doesn’t sound all that different from today’s fare, you have to realize a couple of things. First, any damage kills you instantly. There was no armor, no cover, and you only got three lives. Run out of lives, and you’re back to the beginning of the game. When you’re the game that features the most famous cheat code in history (because that’s the only way most people could even come close to beating it), you know you’ve achieved a high standard of difficulty.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Ghosts ‘n Goblins pits your character, Sir Arthur, against zombies, demons, dragons and more. As you fight your way through multiple levels, you’ll find new armor, which is vital to your survival. You see, if you get hit, you lose your armor. Get hit a second time, and you’re dead. There is a checkpoint system, but it only lets you return to the halfway point once you’ve passed it. Even more frustrating is the final boss fight. if you reach it and don’t have the proper weapon, you’ll be told to go back and get it. You then get sent back to the beginning of level five, and are forced to play levels five and six again to reach the final boss. Last but not least, if you manage to beat the final boss, the game tells that fight was “a trap devised by Satan,” and sends you back to replay the entire game on a higher difficulty to reach the “real” final boss fight.

Mega Man 9

None of the Mega Man games could be called easy, but Mega Man 9 took that difficulty to a whole new level. Te ninth installment went retro in almost every way, including graphics, sound, and challenge level. It released in 2008, a time of regenerating health, checkpoints, and no-fail modes. But Mega Man 9 eschewed all that, harkening back to the era of the original Mega Man game. There are a number of spots where enemies jump out and kill you in one hit, leaving you no recourse but to start over and remember where that happened to avoid it next time. There are lots of near-impossible jumps, and there is no way to save, meaning every death results in restarting the entire level. It’s frustrating, but it’s the kind of frustrating that many of us older gamers cut our teeth on in the 80s.

Demon’s Souls / Dark Souls

The games in ther Souls series weren’t something that you bought on impulse. They’re cult classics, and like the movies that sport that moniker, you probably read about the games, or had a friend talk you into trying them. There’s no real tutorial, just a “learn-as-you-go” attitude that leaves the player to discover just how to navigate the world. That world is filled with seemingly impossible challenges, from massive bosses to hordes of undead. It’s not unusual to spend hours upon hours of replaying to figure out the right approach, or that hidden tactic. Die once, and you hopefully learn from it, because a second death costs you all your souls and you basically start over. Death is such a huge part of the series that Dark Souls 2 was advertised with the catchphrase, “Prepare to die.” That sums up the Souls games quite well, actually.

Battletoads

Sorry, fans of the Souls series, but as punishingly hard as those games are, Battletoads is downright sadistic. The early 90s beat-em-up platformer was so hard that it was almost not playable by a single player due to the sheer number of enemies. But when you brought a friend along, you could actually hurt them. If one of you dies, both of you have to return to the start of the level, so be careful who you hit! To make matters worse, there’s literally no way to save your game. There is no password feature, no checkpoints, nothing. If you can’t finish the entire game with three continues, you lose. Yeah, it’s every bit as hard as it sounds. The only thing harder than beating this game is finding a copy to play in the first place.

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