The 8 hardest Nintendo games of all time

This is all shared trauma

This is for all the oldheads who’ve complained that video games aren’t made the same. The gamers that didn’t screech in agony, spurting obscenities at other people, but instead internalized that pain to their very core. It’s nostalgia that relives past trauma that some players look fondly of. You say you have completed any of the games on this list of hardest Nintendo games of all-time? Sorry, it’s hearsay unless you have Polaroids to prove it.

None of these games will be ranked by difficulty, as they are all next to impossible.

Contra [NES]

Released in 1987, Contra came out during the peak “action-adventure” movies era heralded by Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Steven Seagal (because he’s totally on the same level as the other two). Grandfather of the run-and-gun series, this co-op game provided an unforgiving environment as the two main characters blast their way through level after level. While given only three “lives”, players must proceed with precision if they aim to beat the game. All it takes is a stray bullet or mistimed jump to ruin a playthrough.

The main objective of Contra was to reach the vile Red Falcon, and save the universe/South America/New Zealand from this alien invasion. Once victorious, you can then “Consider yourself a hero”. Wow, such an honor.

For those who couldn’t “get good”: UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START

contra nes vile red falcon

(Mike Tyson’s) Punch-Out!! [NES]

If James “Buster” Douglas can beat Mike Tyson, so can Little Mac. (Mike Tyson’s) Punch Out!! was later named due to licensing changes once Mike Tyson lost the championship. His character was later renamed to “Mr. Dream”.

That aside, this game provided challenging opponents with their own patterns and weak spots for the player to figure out. While the game doesn’t have the brutal intro levels others on this list of hardest Nintendo games have, the difficulty ramps up to the point where Mr.Dream/Mike Tyson can uppercut and knock you out in one punch. It’s unforgiving and beyond unfair. The Konami Code won’t save you here.

Also shout out to Glass Joe. There’s always somebody worse.

punch out soda popinski

Silver Surfer [NES]

The Silver Surfer has metallic skin and some of Galatus’ powers. How is it that every little minor bump he takes in his game costs him a life? Silver Surfer can go toe-to-toe with Doctor Doom but can’t handle a fish or a pterodactyl? He travels faster than light. How is he not ripping past every one of his enemies? This game makes zero sense.

Silver Surfer for the NES is insanely difficult because of the ginormous hit box. If the Silver Surfer gets minorly clipped anywhere, he dies. Tip of his surfboard touches a wall? Dead. Fishy takes a nibble on the bottom of his cosmic surfboard? Dead. He is made of glass in this game. For that reason alone, Silver Surfer for NES is next to impossible to beat.

silver surfer nes hardest nintendo game

Rygar [NES]

Rygar is probably one of the more beatable games on this list of hardest Nintendo games of all-time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Credit goes to the players who are willing to camp one corner, farming XP to max stats after hours of idling. It’s a bit of a cop out, but to each their own.

It’s very similar to all the other games of its time: the player is given a numbered health pool, which gets chipped away at every little attack. The combat’s simple, as “The Legendary Warrior” is equipped with a unique shield andlong chain combo, mowing down hordes of enemies.

Rygar is unique for being one of the first games that rewarded its players for exploring. With the use of a grappling hook, crossbow, and wind pulley, The Legendary Warrior can access typically inaccessible parts of its map. While map exploration is a feature generally taken for granted now, only Rygar and Metroid gave as much freedom to their players in a time of side-scrollers.

Rygar nes nintendo

Ghosts ‘n Goblins [NES]

Not to dumb this game down, but it’s basically a re-skinned spooky Mario story. Sir Arthur has to save Princess Prin-Prin and fight an army of bad guys plus the big bad boss standing in the way. The comparison isn’t entirely fair, because that was the extent of video game limitations back in the day. While this side scroller plays like most others, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is notoriously known as one of the most difficult video games of all time.

It had a roster of unique enemies with different attributes, forcing players to cycle through weapons and time out their attacks to make it through the level alive. It generally took two hits to lose a life, and if you take a hit with armor on, you’ll be stripped down to your underwear. Super strange.

To make things worse, this game also had a time limit. There’s no tiptoeing around in Ghost ‘n Goblins. This game was probably the closest equivalent to the Dark Souls series of its time by virtue of being spooky – again, for its time – and insanely difficult.

Ghosts n goblins hardest nintendo games

Mega Man & Bass [GBA]

NES games rule the hardest Nintendo games list, with one exception: Mega Man & Bass for Game Boy Advance. While pain difficulty is subjective, and most Mega Man games have an argument to be on this list, Mega Man & Bass’ inclusion on this list is due to hardware constraints and levels designed to serve a middle ground for both characters. Having to play on the tiny Game Boy Advance screen compared to some 28-inch box (at best) televisions, one could argue that the Mega Man 1 & 2 purists had it off better. The limited screen made every jump seem like a leap of faith.

Mega Man and Bass also provided such different playstyles, but had to share the same level structures. The jumps were far more challenging for Mega Man, since the game considered the double jump and treble boost that Bass had but Mega Man lacked. On the flip side, Mega Man was far better suited for the late game combat compared to Bass. It’s a pick-your-poison deal no matter what you choose. The game will make you want to cry.

megaman and bass gba

Ninja Gaiden

If you speedrun Ninja Gaiden, shush it and move along. Nobody cares if you’ve beaten it in 17 minutes without dying. The game isn’t that long and if you know how to get past stage 6-3 without getting booted back to stage 6-1, that’s amazing for you. Congrats. Everyone is so happy for you.

This game is old school difficult, and is unforgiving for anybody who dares oppose it. It’s also another game with a timer. Ninja Gaiden differentiates by having a little more bells and whistles than the typical side scroller, and expanded on the acrobatics (climbing, jumping off walls, and so on) that characters can do in a video game.

ninja gaiden 6-4 nes

Battletoads [NES]

Hey, I’m calling to ask if I could preorder Battletoads.

Memes aside, Battletoads is masochism at its finest. The game is eternal pain delivered in the form of amphibians, and is better off played as a co-op game so you have someone to blame when you die. There’s not much to say about this game that can be verbalized or written down. This is the epitome of gaming difficulty, and full bragging rights go to anyone who’s able to make it past the speedbikes on the 3rd level.

The controls are fairly straightforward as far as attack, dodge, duck, dip, and dive go. The environment can be hostile, with walls that are occasionally hazards. There’s a new enemy to figure out at every stage. There aren’t any hints, tips, or tutorials to explain game mechanics that vary between the levels.

All this leaves Battletoads as the perfect blend of combat, puzzles, timing, intuitiveness, and chaos. Although this list isn’t ranked, this is probably the most controller-busting game on this roster of hardest Nintendo games of all-time.

battletoads speederbike nes hardest nintendo game

Also, check out our  4 hardest boss fights in Nintendo history list. It should come to no surprise that there’s some overlap. These titles have haunted many gamers for decades.

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Aja Jones

Writer from Toronto, Canada. Can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Learned how to play drums through Rock Band. Named after a Steely Dan album.
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