Everyone likes a challenge, right? Here are 7 games that push the idea of difficulty beyond conventional realms and are all the better for it.
1. Super Meat Boy
The darling of an emergent indie scene in the early 2010’s, Super Meat Boy is a game of split-second reactions and precise controls that punish players for every false move making it one of the most challenging games out there. Fortunately, Team Meat were wise enough to include the nifty instant restart feature aware of the challenge inherent in the game. Anyone who’s played Super Meat Boy will have invariably found themselves oscillating between utter frustration and a kind of Super Meat Boy trance, slapping that restart button as they find the optimum way to beat the 300 plus levels. Super Meat Boy was a masterclass is how to properly do difficulty.
2. Metal Gear Solid
Not only is the original Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation 1 a beautiful crafted game with multiple endings, a strong narrative, intriguing characters, and a unique combat system, it is incredibly hard (and popularized Hideo Kojima around the world). Stealth is at the core of the game, but not in the same fashion employed by other supposedly stealthy games. Guards were alert to your every footstep and movement, and even a millisecond of exposure meant certain death. The boss battles were hard, requiring at the very least a dozen tries to complete, allowing players to get very well acquainted with the now infamous cries of ‘Snake, Snake, Snaaaaaake’ emanating from a crackling radio upon every untimely death. Plus you got to use a box to hide from enemies.
Inspired by classic cartoons, Cuphead is not only a visual treat, topped off by an incredible soundtrack, but an ode to difficulty itself, harking back to an age where games were all relatively demanding, requiring hours of practice to master a genuine skill and knowledge of enemy movements and characteristics. Though only released last year, it has become somewhat of an instant classic when it comes to challenging games and with good reason. With a vibrant tapestry of bosses each with unique abilities, Cuphead will have players on their toes throughout.
4. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
Another recent release, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy isn’t so much difficult as infuriating. Having to tame notoriously sensitive controls with nothing other than a mouse, trip up and the game doesn’t just penalize, it demoralizes with taunting retorts to every failing, and renders full grown men to mere human vessels, shadows of their former selves. No shortcuts exist to the top of that jumbled mountain of junk, structures, and rocks. Every single movement counts and only perseverance, or lunatic devotion (depends on how you see wasting dozens of hours figuring out where to place the tip of a large hammer), guarantees a ticket to the summit, and what a reward once there. The philosophical meanderings accompanying the climb do little to soften the blow of tumbling down the mountain, powerless and dejected.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
An 8-bit homage to a cultural staple of the 1980s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a classic example of how video games were in days gone: hard and unforgiving, yet completely surmountable, if only players figured out how. I have fond memories of playing this on an old beaten up Amstrad CPC as a small kid, content learning the intricacies of increasingly difficult levels and getting all too chummy with the title screen theme tune. That’s right, death meant all progress was instantly lost.
6. Dark Souls
The difficult game by definition, Dark Souls is challenging, yet unabashedly fair forcing players to master very precise sets of attacks, internalize recurring enemy movements, and fine tune techniques to repeatedly dodge death. Dark Souls rewards those willing to invest time learning what is needed to succeed, and this is often construed as ridiculous difficulty. I’m not saying the seemingly continuous return to that ‘You Died’ screen doesn’t lead you slightly insane, rather Dark Souls is all about taking stock of mistakes and learning from them. Rather poetic if you ask me, and a fitting metaphor for real life.