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The 20 Hardest Video Games of All Time

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Most games today come with at least some type of tutorial to get players started or multiple difficulty modes for players who want to enjoy the game at a slower pace. But if you're looking for a game like that, dear reader, you've come to the wrong place.

The 20 games on the following list have no problem punching you right in the face and then kicking you while you're down. Here are Game Rant's 20 Most Difficult Video Games of All Time.

1. Contra

contra most difficult games

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. While the famous Konami code was actually first used in the 1986 release of Gradius, it wasn't until Contra released one year later that the code cemented itself in the brains of gamers everywhere. That's because the Contra or "30 Lives" code was often needed if you actually wanted to have a chance at beating the game. Contra was also well known for being one of the first popular multiplayer games, with players able to run and gun their way through the levels in co-op - not that the help made it any easier.

2. Super Meat Boy

super meat boy most difficult games

One bad move and it's all over. Super Meat Boy is an excellent twitch platformer with tight controls and 300 levels designed to make your blood pressure rise. There are a frighteningly large number of spikes, whirring blades, and swords that can turn you into mince meat at a moment's notice, sending you all the way back to the start of the level.

3. Ninja Gaiden (2004)

ninja gaiden most difficult games

Truth be told, the original NES version of Ninja Gaiden is pretty darn difficult as well, but the 2004 3D reboot of the original 2D classic opened up even more possibilities for truly brutal gameplay. Every enemy in the game from the very first battle is more than capable of destroying you if you're not careful and the bosses are just downright savage, some requiring absolutely perfect play for an extended amount of time if you want to move on. Developer Team Ninja is more well-known for the equally difficult Nioh these days, but there have been rumors that a return to Ninja Gaiden might be on the to-do list. Let's keep our fingers (and samurai swords) crossed.

4. Dark Souls

dark souls most difficult games

The case could be made for really any of the Dark Souls games or even predecessor Demon's Souls to be on this list but we're going with the first Dark Souls as it's largely responsible for starting the trend that other titles like Nioh have tried to latch onto in recent years. While other game developers go out of their way to make sure players do not get too frustrated, FromSoftware takes the opposite path. Dark Souls is a game that revels in your screams and laughs at your tears. There is simply no amount of leveling up that will save you if you don't know how to "get good."

5. Ghosts 'N Goblins

ghosts n goblins

Combine a protagonist that dies in two hits with enemies that can spawn unexpectedly all over the map and toss in power-ups that can actually hurt you, and you'll have an idea of what's in store when you boot up Ghosts 'N Goblins. But the most sadistic part of all is what occurs if you actually beat the game. Capcom not so politely informs you that you've fallen for a "trap devised by Satan" and must complete the game again at an even higher difficulty setting if you truly want bragging rights over this title.

6. I Wanna Be The Boshy

i wanna be the boshy most difficult games

I Wanna Be The Boshy is actually a fan game or tribute to I Wanna Be the Guy, created by Danish game developer Jesper "Solgryn Erlandsen. Both titles are tributes and/or parodies of well-known franchises like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog but you know Boshy is hard because it was created for fans who thought I Wanna Be the Guy was too easy. Like its predecessor, Boshy features some very unorthodox level design and has become a major hit in the speedrunning community.

7. Ikaruga

ikaruga most difficult games

You can tell Ikaruga was originally designed to eat up coins at the Japanese arcade just by glancing at the insane amount of enemy fire that's on the screen at all times. Despite its intense difficulty, this "bullet hell" title remains one of the most popular classic shooters out there, with ports to PC and several other systems keeping fan interest alive.

8. Battletoads

battletoads most difficult games

The first two stages of this NES game are arguably not that difficult, but you'll soon discover that Battletoads is just trying to lull you into a false sense of security before it wallops you over the head. Two words: Motorcycle. Speeder. Hop aboard and watch your dreams of finishing this game turn to ash. Even if by some combination of luck and reflex speed you manage to complete the level, it's only going to get more difficult from there. From pigs to snakes to the God-forsaken ice cavern, there's only what seems like a million and one different ways to die in this game.

Microsoft got fans excited a couple of years ago by teasing what some thought was a new Battletoads game after the classic title was included on Rare Replay, but outside of a couple of appearances in Killer Instinct and Shovel Knight, we're still waiting for the return of Rash, Zitz and Pimple. Then again, given how many controllers we've destroyed while playing the original game, maybe it's for the best.

9. The Witness

the witness most difficult games

This game is a bit of a curveball as it's nothing like the other games on this list, no fast reflexes required. The Witness is a puzzle game that at first glance might make you recall old adventure games like Myst or Riven. But there's so much more underneath the surface and that includes an absolutely brutal difficulty on some of the puzzles to go along with the beautiful graphics. The game is also pretty open, so if you get stumped on one puzzle, there are likely several others nearby that you can start working on instead. Or you know, you could just go ahead and beat the game in 25 minutes. Show off.

10. Nioh

nioh most difficult games

When Nioh was first announced, lots of gamers thought, "Oh, look, another Dark Souls ripoff." A funny thing happened though when the game released to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Now, there are some gamers who feel this title from Team Ninja is on par or even better than the franchise that clearly inspired it, with features like Ki Pulse and stances giving the title a unique flavor all its own.

11. Bloodborne

Best Horror Games of 2015 - Bloodborne cover

FromSoftware has a reputation for releasing especially difficult games, and while the studio may be best known for its Souls series, the ultra challenging Bloodborne also deserves a nod. A Gothic horror-themed action RPG, Bloodborne has a combat system similar to Dark Souls, but it is far more aggressive, forcing players to be on the offensive in many of its memorable encounters.

12. Cuphead

Cuphead Guide: How to Beat King Dice - King Dice parry

Cuphead is not just a throwback to 1930s Fleischer cartoons; it's also a throwback to run-and-gun games like Contra and Mega Man, which are two franchises known for their tough difficulty. Like its inspirations, Cuphead is an extremely challenging game that requires players to master boss patterns and have near-perfect timing if they hope to survive. Like Contra before it, Cuphead's brutal difficulty isn't really lessened by adding a second player, as having two characters on screen at once can actually make some boss fights even harder, as the screen is filled with twice the number of projectiles and it's easy to lose track of Cuphead and Mugman in the chaos.

13. F-Zero GX

10 GameCube Games We Want on Nintendo Switch - F-Zero GX Gameplay

There aren't many racing games that would be brought up when discussing the hardest video games ever, but there is one that should definitely be part of the conversation. The GameCube-exclusive F-Zero GX is notorious for its challenging story mode, which is filled with such extreme difficulty spikes that there was worry it would alienate more casual players and prevent them from actually completing the game.

14. Mega Man 9

mega man 9 box art

While almost every Mega Man game is notable for its high difficulty level, Mega Man 9 has earned a reputation for being the hardest game in the series to date. Beating all its levels and conquering all its bosses is hard enough, but anyone hoping to unlock all of Mega Man 9's achievements will have to become true masters of the game, as they require players to beat it without dying or using any energy tanks. As anyone who has played a Mega Man game can attest, those feats are virtually impossible for the average gamer.

15. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

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In Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, players have to memorize patterns and recognize tells in order to gain the upperhand on their opponents in various boxing matches. The game starts off relatively easy, with the difficulty increasing with each opponent. The later fights in the game are especially challenging, with Mike Tyson being a nearly unstoppable force in the ring that few can claim to have defeated without the use of cheat codes or other methods. That makes it all the more impressive when someone manages to beat the game blindfolded.

16. Silver Surfer

silver surfer nes

Released in 1990 for the NES, the Silver Surfer game may have gotten lost in the sea of other comic book game adaptations if it wasn't for its brutal difficulty. In Silver Surfer, the title character is surprisingly weak, dying after one hit and unable to come in contact with almost any object in the game. To make matters worse, all the enemies in the game take multiple hits to kill, and a single death will send players all the way back to the beginning of a level.

17. Spelunky

spelunky gameplay

The rise of indie gaming seems to have brought with it an endless supply of roguelikes, but few have become as recognizable as Spelunky. Featuring procedurally-generated environments and punishing permadeath, Spelunky is a game that's easy to pick and up play, but very difficult to master. Players will learn from each death and can use that knowledge to make it a little bit farther in the game each time, but a new threat is always waiting around the corner to send them back to the very beginning.

18. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels

super mario bros.: the lost levels title screen

Super Mario Bros. was an instant hit on the NES, and so it's no surprise that Nintendo immediately went to work on a sequel. With the sequel, the development team decided to ramp up the difficulty considerably, adding especially challenging jumps and new hazards like poison mushrooms to the mix to keep players on their toes. Arguably the most difficult Super Mario Bros. game ever released, it was considered too difficult for western audiences, and inspired Nintendo to repackage Doki Doki Panic as Super Mario Bros. 2 in other regions. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels wasn't released outside of Japan until seven years after its original launch, where it was released as part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection for the SNES.

19. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES was a far cry from its critically-acclaimed sequels. The 1989 game was criticized for a variety of reasons, including its absurd difficulty. Far from the "tough-but-fair" category of difficult games, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES has respawning enemies, power-ups that are put in impossible to reach locations, jumps that demand pinpoint accuracy, and situations that are simply impossible to get out of without taking damage.

20. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link

zelda 2 the adventure of link gameplay

Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is a departure from series norms in a number of ways, most notably its switch from a top-down adventure game to a side-scrolling action RPG with platforming thrown in the mix for good measure. The game is also a departure from series norms thanks to it being rather difficult, demanding a lot of patience from players when it comes to its combat. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link is also very difficult to complete without a walkthrough handy, so anyone thinking about tackling the rather lengthy adventure should keep that in mind.

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