A common complaint by many gamers who grew up through the NES era is that although games have evolved as an art form in terms of design, storytelling, and even control schemes, many developers have sacrificed the difficulty in the hopes of reaching a larger, more casual audience. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing in some cases, many of us still pine for those punishing arcade ports and debilitating marathons on games without save files. In tribute to a bygone era, EGM looks at some of their favorite challenges from back in the day.
Call of Duty 3
Released: November 7, 2006 – Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
While the Veteran difficulty is challenging in every Call of Duty, the games made by Treyarch are always decidedly harder than the Infinity Ward ones. Sure, Modern Warfare was rough—especially the Ferris wheel section—but it was a breeze compared to Black Ops (which I beat just barely) and World at War (which had an impossible last level that ultimately broke my resolve). The roughest, however, was 2006’s Call of Duty 3. Not only did it take a day to complete the first firefight—not the first chapter, the first firefight—but it was soon followed by one on a hill covered in German soldiers, all of whom all had Semel-seeking bullets. Needless to say, that hill’s still controlled by the Germans.
Released: 1987- NES
Athena tormented me as a child. I don’t remember how I came to own the game, because I don’t think I ever actually wanted it. (I was probably tricked due to all those other great SNK games.) Athena totally baffled me because of just how ridiculously hard it was, to a point where I simply assumed I was too stupid to understand how the game was supposed to be played. Fast-forward to 2011, and SNK brings the arcade version to North America as a PlayStation Minis release. Deciding to face my childhood fears and overcome them, I bought the game, and set out to conquer it. When I finally admitted defeat, I’d actually progressed less than I had in my youth.
-Eric L. Patterson
Ghosts n’ Goblins
Released: 1986 – NES
Forget Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head or Resident Evil’s zombified dogs crashing through windows. For me, there’s nothing more frightening in a videogame than seeing a devilishly devious Red Arremer kneeling at the edge of the screen in Capcom’s classic ghoul-filled side-scroller—and dreading that he’ll somehow know to perfectly dodge all seven of my javelin tosses with eerie accuracy. As a kid, I distinctly remember getting to the last level, pausing the game as I went to bed, and resuming it the next morning before school…only to find out that it was all, in the game’s parlance, “a trap devised by Satan”—and I’d have to make my way through the whole game again to beat it for real. And no way my parents were gonna let the NES stay paused the whole day!
Released: 1987 – NES
Here’s a fun exercise: Google “most difficult videogames,” and you’ll get an endless stream of examples you’ve probably never even heard of. I have to agree with the Top Gun NES mention—landing that plane and refueling in the sky were outrageously tedious…and so satisfying! The idea of playing on the most difficult setting escapes me in modern gaming—Legendary mode in COD made me hang my head in shame—but when a real challenge once was the order of the day, it’s games like Top Gun that serve as a gleeful reminder of how patient and willing I was to tackle even the cheapest challenges.
Released: 1987 – NES
I remember this game particularly well because it was the only game my mother actually enjoyed playing as much as I did. Drawn in by the cover art of this spaceman with a penchant for destruction, I was almost disappointed by the little white sprite and rectangular field that filled my screen. But soon after blowing up my first orange balloon enemy—and soon afterward finding I could also blow myself up—the clear strategy and frantic possibilities of the game became evident. Soon, not only myself, but my entire family was hooked until in a marathon gaming session one night, when we beat the game as a family. Since then, my mother and sister swore off games and I’ve had countless more marathon gaming session, now by myself.