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55 Features

The 12 hardest games ever made

By Iain Wilson on Sunday 2nd Jun 2013 at 5:00 PM UTC

When talking about hard games these days, one of the first titles that tends to come up is From Software's uncompromising Demon's Souls, or its equally brutal spiritual successor Dark Souls.

However, incredibly tough games are certainly not a new phenomenon, and with that in mind we look back over previous generations to pick out what we consider to be the hardest games ever made.

Have you played any of these entries and been driven to the edge of sanity? Or is there a particularly punishing game you feel deserves a place on the list? Tell us about it in the comments below and nominate your own hardest games ever.


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GHOSTS'N GOBLINS (1985)

Taking on the role of knight Sir Arthur, players fought off all manner of zombies, demons and dragons while attempting to rescue Princess Prin Prin, who had been kidnapped by Satan. Progress was tough as a mere two hits would reduce you to your underwear then kill you, and each level had a strict time limit that lead to instant death if it expired. Worst still, after defeating the final boss a screen of text announced that this battle was just an illusion and a trap devised by Satan, sending you right back to the start to play through the entire game again on a harder difficulty level before achieving the 'true' ending.


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MEGA MAN (1987)

At a time when games followed linear paths, Mega Man broke the mould by allowing players to tackle the initial six stages in any order. However, each stage was brutally tough and had no checkpoints, meaning superb reflexes and learning enemy locations was the key to making it through to its 'Robot Master' boss. If you somehow managed to beat all six bosses then a final stage appeared, made up of four more regular stages back to back. Each of these had its own boss, which had to be defeated in addition to all six original bosses again before facing the ultimate showdown with your nemesis Dr. Wily.


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CONTRA (1987)

As military commandos Bill "Mad Dog" Rizer and Lance "Scorpion" Bean, players needed to destroy an organisation known as "Red Falcon" to stop them taking over the Earth. They were armed with rifles that had infinite ammo, which doesn't sound so difficult until you realise that a single hit from an enemy meant instant death and you only had three lives to see you through the whole mission. Thankfully Contra was one of the earliest games to feature the now legendary Konami Code, which granted 30 lives when input correctly and at least gave players a fighting chance of reaching the end.


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TREASURE ISLAND DIZZY (1988)

For the second entry in the Dizzy series, developers the Oliver Twins ditched the five lives system from the original adventure and gave our exploring egg a single life to work with. Death meant starting all over again and there were plenty of opportunities to meet your demise, from perilous platforming sections to a fiddly inventory system that made it easy to drop your snorkel while underwater and instantly drown. If you managed to solve all of the puzzles to finish the story, you then had to find 30 hidden coins that were completely undetectable behind pieces of scenery before you could finally complete the game.


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SHADOW OF THE BEAST II (1990)

Following on from the original Shadow of the Beast, this sequel sees the hero reduced to humanoid form and searching for his kidnapped sister without the benefit of his previous beast powers. The game was very hard, with no option to continue if you were killed, and the puzzles players encountered were frustrating - often you only got one chance to solve them before having to restart the game from the beginning, and you could reach certain areas before collecting the equipment needed which made progress impossible. To acknowledge this difficulty the developers actually included a cheat code in the game's manual, sending players to the right at the start of the game and asking the first warrior for "TEN PINTS" to activate it, making this one of the hardest games ever.


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BATTLETOADS (1991)

Featuring a variety of gameplay styles including side-scrolling beat 'em up, high speed races and climbing mazes, Battletoads is recognised as being not only one of the best looking games released for the NES but also one of the toughest. When playing the fighting sections with two players you could actually injure your partner with a misplaced attack, making them as much a hindrance as a help, and the super fast racing sections were more a test of memory and reactions than actual skill. With only three continues and no level passwords, a common feature at the time, only hardcore players could reach the later stages.


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DISCWORLD (1995)

Set in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, this point and click adventure featured the vocal talents of comics such as Eric Idle, Tony Robinson and Rob Brydon and maintained a high level of humour throughout. Unfortunately it was also incredibly difficult, as many of the puzzles had obtuse or nonsensical solutions. For example, in one section you have to insert a frog into your sleeping past-self's mouth so your snoring doesn't scare away a nearby butterfly, then catch it and release by a lamppost which makes it rain in the future, causing a monk to remove his robe so you can then steal it. All perfectly logical, right from one of the hardest games ever.

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