Dark Souls and other similar games, with their unforgiving levels of difficulty and fast learning curve, have spawned a whole new genre of gaming. Moreover, they inspired other developers to increase the difficulty in non-soullike titles, and forced the players to rethink their understanding of the difficulty levels.
As complex as soul-like titles are, some don’t even come close with the brutally difficult retro games of the eighties and nineties. Given the complexity that was often used as a tool for absorbing money in arcades or lengthening rather short games, there were many challenging titles in this era that made soul-like games look easy.
Tomb Raider 3
Lara’s early adventures are perhaps best remembered for the awkward controls and cumbersome battles, but they also featured many challenging puzzles. Along with all the flaws, the first few games in the Tomb Raider series turned out to be incredibly difficult, especially the third part.
The early stages of the game aren’t all that bad, but the middle of Tomb Raider 3 can be a nightmare. The London level is arguably the worst in this regard due to the many secrets scattered throughout the city for players to uncover. It is almost impossible to find them all without guidance, because some are in the most ridiculous places.
Cybernoid II: The Revenge
Cybernoid II: The Revenge is one of the first shoot ’em up games on home consoles. Like its predecessor, this game looks great and has surprisingly good controls for that era. And it helps as the difficulty level can sometimes be a little extreme.
One of the reasons shoot ’em up games were so popular with developers in the eighties and nineties was how well and quickly they pulled money out of gamers. However, as games moved from arcades to homes, it took the developers a while to reduce the difficulty in accordance with the new conditions.
Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
When people think of LucasArts, the first thing that usually comes to mind is great point-and-click games. What some don’t realize, however, is that the developer has had success in a number of other genres as well, as evidenced by the Super Star Wars series.
Both titles looked and sounded fantastic for the era. They had everything they needed to give players an incredibly difficult task from start to finish. Unfortunately, however, the controls were a bit awkward at times, which didn’t go well with the high level of difficulty. However, this did not spoil the experience of the excellent game.
Bullet hell shoot ’em up games began to become popular in the early nineties and remain so to this day. There are many great challenging games in this subgenre. But Ikaruga is perhaps the most interesting due to its somewhat unique polarity mechanics.
Watching a seasoned player fight a challenging shoot ’em up is wonderful, and this is especially true of this Dreamcast classic. Reversing polarity at the right time to absorb damage is challenging in itself, but having to synchronize these actions with dealing damage is a whole different level. And very few succeed.
The original Ninja Gaiden games are some of the hardest on the NES, but also some of the most enjoyable. The fighting is good for the most part, the story is interesting, and the enemies are varied. Unfortunately, players have to be prepared for a fair amount of death.
Some enemies are nearly impossible to dodge, while others will appear almost immediately if players scroll the screen a little further. However, the biggest disappointment for most is likely to be the ridiculous blow from behind, which will be fatal for Ryu even at the slightest touch.
90% of the Battletoads games are pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, each has one or two stages that require lightning-fast reflexes and a fair amount of luck to win. This makes completing them completely nothing more than a pipe dream for most players.
In the most difficult stages of the game, you most often need to dodge obstacles while driving a vehicle. Unfortunately, the time to react is too short, and with a limited number of lives, most players will quickly encounter the game over sign.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Another underrated masterpiece from LucasArts, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is not the prettiest Super Nintendo game, but it certainly can be called one of the most enjoyable. Those who want to play a relaxing adventure title should choose something else, because this is one of the most difficult games on the system.
Although the first few stages are not that bad, it gets very difficult from the fourth level. Enemies are stronger, labyrinths are more intricate, and ammunition is barely enough for further passage. Hence, one tiny mistake can be fatal. There is a password system for those who have died, but given that it does not restore weapons, keys, and ammo, it is useless.
The complexity of a game doesn’t automatically make it bad. However, in the case of the Silver Surfer, the high difficulty of the game is a direct side effect of poor game design. Due to several features of the title, it is almost impossible to pass it.
Side-scrolling sections aren’t all that bad, although there are times when players have to navigate incredibly narrow paths without hitting invisible obstacles. The situation gets worse in the top-down stages – bullets often blend into the background, and players usually have to guess what will kill them and what will not.
Anyone who has seen the Japanese show Takeshi Castle is probably familiar with the creativity of Takeshi Kitano. Like his game show, the title Kitano created for the Famicom in the eighties is incredibly complex.
Takeshi’s Challenge puts players in the shoes of a Japanese employee who received a treasure map from a mysterious old man. However, before he can get his reward, he will have to beat the old man, divorce his wife and quit his job; and none of this is really explained. Naturally, there are many instant game over moments in the title, as well as many secrets that can only be revealed by trial and error.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins
Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins series has terrorized players with its brutal and merciless complexity since its debut in 1985. The original game is considered by many to be the most difficult game on the NES, and its sequel, Super Ghouls’ n Ghosts, one of the most difficult in the next generation of consoles.
Despite the fact that the games are difficult, death does not look cheap in them. The controls are good, and the enemy’s AI is quite consistent, so with enough practice, you can “gut good” over time. The only drawback of the original title is the need to go through the entire gameplay twice in order to get to the finals, although for many this is just another level of difficulty.