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The Fast Five: The hard games that still haunt us

Posted on March 14, 2014 AT 03:15pm

Each week, the EGM Staff bring you The Fast Five—in which we choose a topic related in some way to the week’s news, and five editors pick their top answer to the question.

The Setup

With the release of Dark Souls this week, there’s been a lot of talk lately about hard games. Dark Souls’ difficulty is often over-stated; it’s not that the game is insanely difficult, as some would have you believe, but that it expects players to try their best and punishes them if they don’t. Other games, however, are difficult in not-so-pleasant way. Maybe they’re cheap. Maybe they expect ridiculous feats of skill. Or maybe they’re just so buggy or poorly designed that no reasonably human being can defeat them. Sometimes, you attempt to beat those games and you simply cannot—and, for the rest of your life, your defeat at their hands haunts you.

The Question

What games will haunt us for the rest of our lives due to our inability to beat them? Once you’ve read our responses, let us know your answer in the comments below!


I’ve bested some difficult games in my time, but I’ve never beaten SNK’s NES release of Athena. In fact, I’ve never even come close. I don’t remember exactly how it came to be that I owned a copy of the game, but as a child I did, and at some point I was certain that Athena didn’t have an ending. It wasn’t that Athena was hard—it was brutally, sadistically, unfairly hard. Controller Athena (before she actually made a name for herself via The King of Fighters) felt as precise and intuitive as giving a walkie talkie to a five-year-old and having them do various tasks via voice commands.

Athena would get knocked back if she got hit, but there wasn’t a recovery window, so she could just continually be bounced by whatever threat until death. Weapons either had hilariously short reach, or hit boxes that were totally unreliable. The game’s challenges were nonsensical and bizarre, and the entire time you played, you kind of knew what was going on, but never really felt certain of anything. Over the years, I’ve decided many times that the problem was I just didn’t “get” Athena the last time I played it, and if I played it now, I’d have to be able to get all of the way through—and, every time I try, I once again walk away in shame.

Legacy of the Wizard

There were a lot of hard games for the NES, and while games have gotten simpler as a whole, I also think most of us who grew up in the NES/SNES era have (hopefully) gotten better at them over time. One game I wish I had played when I was a little older/wiser was Legacy of the Wizard. My first real experience with “Metroidvania” elements, you had to switch between five different members of a family (mom, dad, son, daughter, and their pet monster) to unlock a sprawling dungeon, which had a section tailored to each member of the family’s abilities. I don’t think I ever got past the second boss.

Section Z

Sure, age might’ve slowed my gaming reflexes over the years, but back in the late ’80s, I still reaped the benefits of grade-school dexterity. I could beat Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! without getting hit and even bested Jason Voorhees and his camp counselor–stalking machete in Friday the 13th.

You wouldn’t expect an obscure 1987 side-scrolling shooter to be the bane of my NES existence, then—but that’s exactly what Capcom’s Section Z became. For me, it was “bullet hell” before the term even existed. What made it a maddening use of my Reagan-era weekends wasn’t the uncoventional combat (using the B Button, jetpack-ridin’ space ranger Captain Commando shot to the left, while the A Button made him deliver a blast to the right), but rather the maze of exits that perpetually stopped my journey to the nefarious L-Brain right in its tracks.

See, at the end of each side-scrolling section, two choices would present themselves: up or down. The correct path was never obvious, and some exits would even warp you back several stages! Looking at online guides for the game in modern times, I can now see how tantalizingly close I truly came to beating the game—but using a guide wouldn’t really sit well with me after all these years. Someday, L-Brain. Someday…

I Wanna Be The Guy
Any connoisseur of brutally hard games will no doubt be familiar with I Wanna Be The Guy, Kayin’s sadistic freeware love letter to the 8-bit days when everything would kill you just for having the audacity to touch it. But the reason IWBTG will haunt me for the rest of my life isn’t because it was too difficult for me to beat—it’s because I almost did. I managed to make it to the final boss fight and, after about three hundred or so attempts, I felt like I was making some serious progress. Then my computer died, my save file was wiped, and all those painful hours of progress, eked out inches at a time, were lost forever. I just haven’t had the heart to put myself through it all again, and I don’t know that I ever will.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

If you thought games based on movies were bad during the PS1 and PS2 days, give some of the NES licensed titles a try. If you really hate yourself, go with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Twenty-five years after the fact, I now know that it wasn’t just tryingly difficult, but downright terrible. But as a kid? Man, I didn’t know the difference between good and bad game design, so my two brothers and my cousin and I just assumed we sucked. And so while I probably shouldn’t care five-sixths of my life later, and it’s probably indicative of some kind of psychosis, a part of me regrets not being able to best Christopher Lloyd’s digital counterpart.

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