Everyone loves a good challenge every now and then but some games take it a little too far. Be it brutal level design, busted controls, or just a flat out broken game, these are some of the worst offenders for everyone’s favorite 8-bit buddy. A hard game doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad as some of these titles are some of the most beloved NES classics but that still doesn’t mean they weren’t afraid to kick our asses with a smile on their face.
1. Battletoads (Review)
I’m sure many wrote off Battletoads as a TMNT rip off. But for those open minded enough to give it a shot they discovered a game that is graphically superior to 90% of the system’s library and more varied than three or four of its platformers combined. Or they would if they could get past the third level. The Turbo Tunnel is one of the most legendary choking points in any game in history and has broken thousands on their quest to see everything the game has to offer. And it’s not even the most difficult level in the game! And don’t even bother with 2-player coop. Not only can you accidentally beat each other to death but there are glitches at numerous points in the game that make it impossible for 2 players to progress.
It’s no exaggeration when I say I dedicated most of summer 1994 to this bastard and Blaster Master, memorizing every level bit by bit until I finally achieved victory in time for high school. I’d like to say I felt a strong sense of accomplishment but it was more shame at devoting so much time to a game that was good but severely unbalanced.
2. Silver Surfer
You’ll be seeing that screen a lot trust me. This one is actually pretty hilarious. The Silver Surfer is one of the most overpowered comic book characters in any universe yet here in his starring role he’s been reduced to a little bitch. This is a guy who can chill out in the Sun if he so chooses yet even grazing a simple wall will send him crashing. Be prepared to see the face palming death screen every few seconds. This could have been a decent game if they had made any effort to create some semblance of gameplay balance, but alas it is a failed experiment.
3. Golgo13: Top Secret Episode
As one of the longest running manga in history Golgo 13 just oozes cool. The manga is notable for its sex and violence, two elements that surprisingly made it over to his NES debut intact. But the positives in the game end there. The first cardinal sin the game makes is reversing the controls; A shoots, B jumps. No, just no. You don’t fucking mess with an established convention. The second is the vague directions given as to where to go. Eventually you’ll stumble into the next story event but that’s after suffering countless random encounters. But the worst offender are the first person mazes. Not since Phantasy Star have I encountered mazes this devious. I’m proud of my gaming skill but I had to tap out around Act 8 and still have yet to see the end of the game to this day.
4. Ninja Gaiden (Review)
Ah yes, Ninja Gaiden. If you were to watch me play Ninja Gaiden now it would seem like poetry in motion. What you’re not seeing are the well over a hundred hours I put in learning every enemy location and what items are in every candle. This is one tough bastard, right up there with the Castlevania games. But it’s so good! If Ninja Gaiden weren’t such a good game no one would have put up with the blatant bullshit of the final level, in which everything but the kitchen sink comes out to take a piece of your hide. If you can somehow make it past that hallway (you know the one) you then have to deal with being thrown back to 6-1 if any of the final bosses kill you. At this point any sane individual would give the game the bird but the ending is worth every hour of frustration put into getting there. So good in fact that I immediately played through it twice just to see it again. That kids, was the world before youtube.
5. Double Dragon III: the Sacred Stones (Review)
Make no mistake, Double Dragon III in all of its incarnations, be it the money grabbing arcade unit or its equally bad Genesis port, is a terrible game. And this NES exclusive might be even worse! Coming hot off the heels of the excellent Double Dragon II this was a tremendous let down. You have one life and while the extra characters fulfill that purpose it does little to alleviate the insane difficulty. If you thought the out of place platforming segments in the seminal second installment were bad they return with a vengeance in the game’s final level and are just as bad. Add to that busted controls and no continues or passwords and you have a game that deserves to rot on the shelf. For Christ sake they even misspelled the character’s names wrong in the intro, that shows how little they even cared.
6. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (Review)
The Castlevania games are notoriously difficult and its third installment takes it to another level. Castlevania moves at its own pace and you either adapt to it or move on. With multiple paths through the game chances are you could probably skip that one level that has been kicking your ass for the last hour. But the alternative is probably even worse. Partnering with Alucard meant you could skip some of the more egregiously difficult areas but it also meant you were stuck using Trevor to deal with bosses as Alucard was weak. Only the best gamers could finish this beast but I’m sure they enjoyed every moment of it.
7. Ghosts n Goblins (Review)
This one hurts personally. Ghosts n Goblins is an excellent game. Ghosts N Goblins for the NES is not. Programmed by the hack masters at Micronics the game runs at such a terrible frame rate that it seems as if the levels were glued together using duct tape. There are numerous glitches with enemies disappearing and reappearing left and right; the enemy placement was already suspect as is now you have to worry about them glitching out in unexpected ways. But of course the red arremers are unaffected. It makes an already difficult game even more ridiculous and if you somehow manage to reach the final level it becomes even more ridiculous, to the point of insanity. I beat the game legitimately without cheating once and I will never, ever attempt such a feat again.
8. Legacy of the Wizard
As the fourth installment in the Dragon Slayer series (don’t bother trying to make sense of the series lineage, it will hurt your brain) Legacy of the Wizard is one of the most expansive adventures for the NES. The entire game world is open to you from the start which is both awesome and infuriating. You are given no direction whatsoever and will more than likely wander around collecting items without the slightest idea what the hell you’re supposed to be doing or where to go. I received this for Christmas in 1991 and while new video games were (usually) always cause for celebration I wasn’t sure if I wanted to thank my humble benefactor or slug them for giving me this incomprehensible mess. I refuse to believe anyone managed to finish this back in the day. Hell I bet the game is still a shade under impossible with a faq, strategy guide, and maps.
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Review)
Ah the follies of youth. I’m sure many still have rose tinted memories of the first TMNT video game; turtlemania was at an all-time high when it was released and we lapped it up faster than the Flash. None of us really took the time to reflect on just how bad the game was until years later.
There is very little here that would actually make you think this was originally a TMNT game and not something else outside of token appearances by characters from the series. The character switching mechanic is cool until you realize Leonardo and Donatello are the only two worth a damn. Speaking of dams, if you think the underwater segment is tough boy you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you’re good enough you’ll fling a pet or body slam a younger sibling trying to find the Technodrome and if you locate it, you still actually have to find Shredder inside. Only the best gamers/most determined will want to bother. I’ll warn you right now that the ending isn’t worth it.
10. Ikari Warriors (Review)
I questioned whether I should put the first or second game here but after careful thought (alright less than a minute) the fact that you would need the patience of a saint to tolerate playing this game earned it a spot on this list. This is another one of Micronic’s hack jobs. Honestly I never really liked Ikari Warriors so its NES port was met with the enthusiasm of a meal featuring macaroni and government cheese. But seeing just how badly the game was ported made my apathy all the more warranted. Once again the game runs at a dismal frame rate and is so unbalanced that you’ll be lucky to make it to the end of the first level. After about an hour of pain the realization that there are three more to go will make you want to shoot yourself.