Finding the ideal video game is a matter of individual preference given the wide variety available.
This is especially true when considering video game difficulty, as some players may refuse to engage with a title because they find it too easy or too difficult.
Here, we’ll examine some of the most challenging games ever created and rank them accordingly.
Check back later for more additions, and let us know if there are any games we should have included that aren’t here.
January 26, 2016 — Date of Publication
The Witness is a first-person puzzle game in which the player is tasked with navigating 11 distinct areas, each with its own story and set of puzzles.
You solve puzzles and gain access to new areas of the island until you reach the top, where the game’s biggest revelation is hidden.
The game’s early puzzles are straightforward, but the difficulty quickly increases as later puzzles combine rules from earlier puzzles and force you to think creatively.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
Date of Publication: October 18, 1987
Even though it’s not overly complicated, Punch-Out!! has a reputation for being one of the most challenging games ever made.
This is because success relies heavily on a player’s ability to anticipate and counteract their opponent’s moves.
Even if you put in the time to master every boxer’s nuances and patterns, the game’s final boss, Mr. Dream (aka Mike Tyson), can throw you for a loop.
Enter the Gungeon
On the market as of April 5th, 2016
The phrase “bullet hell” sounds intimidating, as if you’re being pounded by a never-ending barrage of enemy fire until you can’t see where you’re going.
Procedurally generated dungeons and increasingly difficult enemies with unique attack patterns take things to a whole new level in Enter the Gungeon.
Your character’s health and resources will be severely limited as you progress deeper into the Gungeon, making movement and using cover essential to survival.
Ghosts n’ Goblins
Date of Publication: September 4, 1985
Ghosts ‘n Goblins isn’t out to win over gamers’ affections; it says as much right off the bat.
Since your character can only take two hits before dying, the levels are packed to the gills with enemies and pointless weapons that will almost always result in your death.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins pulls the ultimate troll move by making you replay the game from the beginning to see the real ending, even if you beat it the first time.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
Date of Publication: June 3, 1986
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels was the sequel to the classic Nintendo platformer, despite the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 (released in 1988) is generally considered to be the sequel.
The game is notoriously difficult compared to other installments in the series, and it was originally released in Japan as Super Mario Bros.
It had timed levels that necessitated accuracy, as well as trick warp pipes that would send players backward instead of forward and poison mushroom power-ups that would actually shrink Mario.
Super Meat Boy
Date of Publication: October 20, 2010
Super Meat Boy is another challenging platformer that uses novel features and gameplay mechanics to keep players on their toes throughout the entire experience.
You may think you’ve figured out how to play the game or how to avoid a certain danger, but the game will keep throwing deadly spikes, spinning buzz saws, and electrified walls at you until you give up.
The only thing keeping Super Meat Boy from being higher on this list is how quickly you respawn after dying; nobody likes waiting around for a long loading screen after being killed.
The Binding of Isaac
September 28th, 2011 Releasing Date
The Binding of Isaac, Edmund McMillen’s Zelda-inspired dungeon crawler, will test your patience if you found Super Meat Boy too challenging.
You play the role of a young boy who, when his mother loses her mind, flees to the basement. The plot is based on the biblical tale of the same name.
Each playthrough has its own unique set of procedurally generated rooms, enemies, and items that can alter Isaac’s appearance and give him either helpful or harmful abilities.
January 25th, 2018 – Date of Publication
Like Super Meat Boy, the difficulty of Celeste steadily increases as the player’s character climbs a snowy mountain.
In order to reach the summit of the mountain, you must complete a series of challenging platforming levels that require you to make precise jumps and dashes.
B-side stages, which are a remix of earlier levels, are the most difficult part of Celeste because they are packed with collectibles that are always just out of reach.
Mega Man 9
Due out on September 22nd, 2008
While all games in the Mega Man series are notoriously difficult, Mega Man 9 stands out as one of the most difficult games in the series’ history.
To pay homage to the series’ origins, Capcom and Inti Creates gave the game an 8-bit aesthetic and made it just as difficult as the original Mega Man games.
Therefore, it has some of the most challenging boss battles ever, and many of the game’s achievements are extremely difficult to obtain on the first playthrough.
Published on June 1st, 1991.
In Battletoads, you play as a band of amphibious heroes out to save Pimple and Princess Angelica from the clutches of the villainous Dark Queen.
Like many classic games, its challenge stems primarily from players sharing a finite number of lives.
The game’s motorcycle levels are so difficult that even if you’re playing alone, you’ll need lightning-fast reflexes to complete them.
Date of Publication: August 8, 2006
The fact that “losing is fun!” has become the unofficial motto of the Dwarf Fortress community should tell you all you need to know about the game’s challenge level.
Managing your dwarves’ daily activities to ensure they gather materials and construct homes may not seem difficult at first, but the game will likely throw some curveballs your way.
This is because there is always the possibility of something going wrong, be it wolves attacking and devouring your dwarven people or floods, famine, or even the summoning of a demon god.
January 19, 2016 – Date of Publication
The challenges in Darkest Dungeon, a side-scrolling dungeon crawler, are turned up to 11 from their normal level.
It has you leading a party of adventurers through randomly generated levels filled with perils and treasures.
That might not sound so bad at first, but when you factor in perma-death, your team getting weaker as your torch burns, and characters with serious psychological problems, you’ll quickly start freaking out.
Friday, February 5, 2016: Publication Date
The XCOM games are serious business, putting players in difficult situations where they must fight an alien race that is both technologically advanced and cunning.
It’s only fitting, then, that XCOM 2’s enemies have some of the most advanced artificial intelligence ever seen in a video game.
Any casualties among your troops will almost certainly result in a loss, forcing you to either accept defeat and reset the game or reduce the difficulty to “Rookie.”
DATE OF RELEASE: SEPTEMBER 14, 2006
Unfortunately, God Hand’s commercial failure means that its many intriguing ideas may never be explored again.
The reason for this is that the game’s difficulty increased to absurd levels based on the player’s actions in real time.
At the highest of the game’s four dynamic difficulties, enemies will relentlessly swarm you.
Published on November 10th, 2002.
Sega released Shinobi, a new version of the game for the PlayStation 2 with 3D graphics and the ability to control a ninja wielding a sword that nourishes itself on the souls of the dead, in 2002.
The artwork and mood of the game make it seem like you’ll be playing stealthily, but if you wait too long between kills, your sword will wear down and you’ll die.
This is compounded by the fact that there are no checkpoints between the game’s opening area and the final boss fight, making it one of the most challenging PS2 games ever.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
October 27th, 2017 — Date of Publication
When playing Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, it can be difficult to predict the location of enemies and avoid being shot at all times.
The game’s limited first-person perspective, poor design, or developer MachineGames’ intention to punish players are all possible explanations.
Playing on harder difficulties increases the challenge, with the ‘Mein leben’ option being the most punishing because it only gives you one life for the entire campaign.
September 4, 2013 — Date of Publication
The Outlast games have been influential in shaping the modern survival horror genre by placing players in progressively terrifying scenarios from which they can’t escape.
Dark levels inhabited by terrifying, sadistic enemies who will stop at nothing to drain your life force are a staple of the series.
Your handheld night-vision camera’s batteries are constantly draining, so you’ll need to scavenge for replacements as you progress through the levels.
Date of Publication: 12-10-1986
Takeshi’s Challenge was supposed to be an 8-bit game show in the style of Takeshi’s Castle, but the development of the game took a strange turn when Takeshi himself got involved.
This resulted in one of the most unique games ever released, with baffling goals and mysterious gameplay elements.
The most innocuous of errors, like failing to put down the controller for an hour as instructed, can result in a “Game Over” screen.
Ecco the Dolphin
Launch Date: 12/23/1992
Ecco the Dolphin is one of the most bizarre video games of the ’90s, thanks to its strangely dark story and uncomfortable atmosphere.
It was already a challenge to keep the movie’s titular dolphin, Ecco, under control while he fought off an alien invasion that killed off the ocean’s marine life.
You had to avoid drowning by paying attention to Ecco’s breath meter and any nearby pockets of air as you made your way through underwater areas full of puzzles and enemies.
Published on: December 21st, 2008
The high level of skill required to master Spelunky’s procedurally generated caverns is largely responsible for the game’s cult following, making it one of the most acclaimed 2D platformers of the past two decades.
The objective is to reach the end of each level with all of the valuable treasures, without dying to any of the numerous dangerous enemies, traps, and hazards.
Throw in the added stress of a ticking clock that, once it hits zero, releases a specter to haunt you until you either succumb to its pursuit or reach the level’s end.
Date of Publication: September 29th, 2017
Don’t be fooled by Cuphead’s colorful hand-drawn visuals; the game is a tribute to old-school run-and-guns where you had to learn the patterns of your enemies’ attacks or face a ‘Game Over.’
Cuphead and his brother Mugman are in debt to the devil, and you must help them pay it off by completing a series of boss rushes and platforming levels.
These extended boss fights will test your platforming skills to the limit, what with their constantly changing environments and tricky boss phases.
Due out on September 22nd, 2011
Due to the higher difficulty of its enemies and the complex (and potentially confusing) layout of its levels, we opted to include Dark Souls instead of its predecessor, Demon Souls.
To make matters worse, foes can not only chip away at your health, but also destroy your gear and remove upgrades, forcing you to grind back up to their level.
Playing online with other players can add an extra layer of difficulty to an already difficult battle if you’re looking for a real challenge.
Date of Publication: 3-24-2015
Due to its emphasis on aggressive gameplay, Bloodborne easily outshines Dark Souls in terms of challenge.
In the Dark Souls games, blocking and countering are viable strategies, but in Bloodborne, it’s a matter of life and death.
As soon as the AI realizes you aren’t actively eliminating enemies and putting pressure on bosses, it will begin a relentless hunt for you.
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Nioh is part of the challenging action game genre known as “Soulsborne,” but it stands out thanks to its unique stance system and its focus on offense.
Players have a small window of opportunity to strike an opponent, and the damage they deal depends on the stance they take.
Many hours of practice and patience are needed to make sense of the various combat abilities and stat systems.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Due out on March 22nd, 2019
Sekiro is so difficult that even the most dedicated Soulsborne player will be clenching their controller in frustration by the end of it.
While the game’s stealth elements are expanded upon and the player is given access to a grappling hook for making quick escapes, the game’s technical sword combat is more challenging than in any other From Software game.
In Sekiro, you won’t be attacking your opponent’s health directly, but rather their posture and balance, all while keeping a close eye on your own.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) (1989)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their fans had a fantastic ’80s, and Konami’s incredible arcade TMNT game was a great way to round out the decade.
Not that kind of game, though.
In addition to its release in arcades, Konami also adapted the game into a side-scrolling action platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The game had great graphics and sound design, but it wasn’t as much fun or as visually impressive as the arcade beat ’em up.
There were also challenging parts.
The smooth mechanics and responsive controls made overcoming these obstacles an enjoyable experience.
The majority of these games require quick reflexes and motor skills.
But FTL should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for something to fold your brain into useful patterns.
Every time you make an FTL jump, the rebels chasing you will set up ambushes at the end of the jump, so you’ll need to keep your crew organized and ready for battle.
You can never predict the outcome of these events because they are generated at random.
Monster Hunter Freedom (2006)
Released for the PSP, Monster Hunter Freedom is a HD remake of the first two games in the series.
And definitely the most challenging game in the series.
The game’s hunts are gruesome.
But the controls are also a major factor in the game’s extreme challenge.
It can be difficult to adjust to playing MH on the PSP due to the lack of a second thumbstick.
You’ll face even deadlier iterations of the toughest monsters in the G-Rank missions, making them a serious test of your mettle.
F-Zero GX (2003)
When it comes to racing games, the GameCube’s F-Zero GX is as brutal as it gets.
Playing this high-tech hovercraft racing game is like driving at 60 miles per hour through a residential area and having to avoid obstacles like trees, dogs, elderly people, and lemonade stands.
It’s interesting and pretty to look at.
However, if you take your eyes off the road for even a second, you will crash and burn.
You can only get better at this game through practice and by learning the hazards of each map in advance.
Mega Man & Bass (2003)
The Mega Man games have never had a reputation for simplicity.
But his work with Bass on the Game Boy Advance is difficult even by the blue trooper’s standards.
While previous bosses in the series tend to stick to predictable patterns that can be learned after a few attempts, this game tests your ability to react quickly to unpredictable attacks.
Rockman & Forte was originally released for the Super Famicom and was a popular import at the time.
The game’s reputation as the series’ hardest entry had already spread by the time the GBA port was released.
I Wanna Be The Boshy (2010)
When I was a kid, I Wanna Be The Guy was one of the most famous songs ever.
My friends and I used to take turns playing this game on an old laptop and laughing at how impossible it was due to the sheer volume of spikes on the ground, walls, and even in the air.
To silence those who claim IWBTG is too easy, one of the best fan games was created, and it’s called I Wanna Be The Boshy.
The high level of difficulty has made it a favorite for speedrunners, with the current record sitting at 30 minutes and 31 seconds.
Ikaruga, the arcade spiritual sequel to Treasure’s Radiant Silvergun, is a classic example of a game that blatantly aims to part you with as much cash as possible.
It’s one of the most well-known classic shooters because of how challenging it is. The type of bullet hell this is can be inferred from the sheer volume of enemy fire.
Fantastic visuals and sound design also played a significant role in its success.
There may be a lot of bullets flying around, but the patterns they make are stunning. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked!
Even as a huge fan of the Touhou Project’s bullet hell games, I found Mushihimesama to be much more challenging than I had anticipated.
While most Touhou boss patterns are easily memorized, Mushihimesama will test your ability to think quickly on your feet and react appropriately.
It’s a game with excellent visual design. The music isn’t nearly as good as Touhou, but if you’re a fan of bullet hell games, this is the one you need to beat to prove your mettle.
Demon’s Souls (2009)
Since it is far too easy to “cheese” most bosses in Demon’s Souls due to the game’s “technical” limitations, it ranks just below Dark Souls in terms of difficulty.
Even in Dark Souls, players have the option to take advantage of enemies, but in Demon’s Souls, doing so can feel like a necessity.
If you’re not a seasoned Souls veteran, these bosses will test your mettle.
Discovering the secrets of the Nexus and exploring the ruined kingdom of Boletaria is an ageless adventure that already includes everything that made Dark Souls a phenomenon.
It’s difficult, you get a lot of say in how you’re constructed, and the supporting cast sticks with you.
If you own a PlayStation 5, you should definitely check out the remake.
Ninja Gaiden II (2008)
All of the Ninja Gaiden games are challenging.
However, some are more challenging than others.
The sequel to the 2004 remake, Ninja Gaiden II, was released in 2008. Unlike most remakes, which typically make the game easier than the original, this one actually makes the original NES game harder.
Until you beat the game, you’ll have to play through each level multiple times.
Fortunately, it’s a visually stunning game, and the intense battles will keep you hooked.
X-COM: UFO Defense (1994)
The X-COM franchise is best known from its 2012 revival.
However, the original game (known as UFO: Enemy Unknown in PAL regions) was already fantastic and difficult.
The game’s artificial intelligence (AI) lived up to the series’ reputation for harsh AI.
These extraterrestrials are tough and can sneak up on you with surprising proficiency.
X-COM’s management, construction, and expansion features are equally taxing and rewarding.
In the very first moments of Contra, the Konami code was more crucial than at any other time.
Clearing Contra requires perseverance and integrity, even with 30 extra lives.
It’s not hard to run and fire a gun. However, it is incredibly taxing to keep tabs on every enemy and every incoming projectile.
Playing this game with a friend usually results in a lifelong bond of the soldier kind.
Ghosts’ n Goblins (1985)
Everyone always brings up Ghosts’ n Goblins as an example of a classic game that was much more challenging than the games of today.
This challenging yet rewarding platformer/run-and-gun requires pinpoint accuracy and a lot of trial and error.
If you get hit twice, you have to start the level over, which is one of the toughest parts.
These stages aren’t exactly short, either.
You might be able to beat the game’s final boss (Astaroth) if you’re really good at video games, but it’s all an illusion (created by Satan).
You’ll have to play the whole game again, this time with increased difficulty, if you want to save the Princess and restore peace to the land.
Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? (2009)
The PSP games Prinny and Prinny 2 are the most frustrating, difficult games I’ve ever encountered.
To atone for their sins, criminals in Disgaea have their spirits transferred into penguin-like bodies and made to work as slaves in the Underworld.
These two games on Sony’s excellent portable console introduce us to a group of characters known as Prinnies who have it pretty rough.
Even though Prinny’s levels aren’t too difficult to complete, the game’s boss battles are notoriously difficult, especially in the sequel.
I’m telling you, a thousand lives may not be sufficient.
Super Mario Maker 2 (2019)
The difficulty of Super Mario games, especially that of “The Lost Levels,” was never in question.
That said, SMM2’s robust user base propels it to new heights.
Simply put, it’s a community of players who have taken advantage of the game’s robust level-editing features to create the game’s most challenging and outlandish Mario levels.
Nintendo’s approach was also rather astute.
They noticed how many people were interested in playing fan-made games, particularly the extremely challenging “kaizo” hacks we were releasing.
So they made their own game and entered the fray immediately.
The fact that players are still creating new levels for SMM2 is its greatest strength. In all likelihood, they will remain so until the release of Super Mario Maker 2.
It’s got to be the best value for the money.
Ghosts ‘N Goblins
When you boot up Ghosts ‘N Goblins, you can expect a lot of things, including a protagonist who dies in two hits, enemies that can spawn unexpectedly all over the map, and power-ups that can actually hurt you. But the cruelest part is reserved for when you finally win. Capcom tells you in no uncertain terms that you’ve fallen for a “trap devised by Satan” and must beat the game again on an even harder setting if you want to claim victory.
If not for its punishing difficulty, Silver Surfer, released in 1990 for the NES, might have been lost in the sea of other comic book game adaptations. Silver Surfer’s protagonist is shockingly frail, succumbing to a single hit and being rendered immobile by nearly all in-game surfaces. All of the enemies in the game require multiple hits to defeat, and a single loss will result in a restart of the entire level.
Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
In Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, the series moves away from its usual top-down adventure format and instead features a side-scrolling action RPG with some light platforming elements thrown in for good measure. The game’s extreme difficulty, which requires a lot of patience from players, is also a departure from series norms. Any player considering taking on Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link should be aware of how challenging it is to complete without a walkthrough.