The 20 hardest games for the original NES console
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The 20 hardest games for the original NES console

Nintendo changed the video game landscape. It wasn’t the first home console. It was a massive hit, though, and started a video gaming juggernaut. Atari may have fallen by the wayside, but the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, was a dominant force. People had a lot of fun playing the NES at home. Well, at least when they weren’t getting frustrated by a gaming experience. Not every Nintendo game was a cakewalk. Some were quite difficult, perhaps even ostensibly impossible to a child trying to win without a cheat code. These are the 20 hardest NES games ever.

 
1 of 20

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
Konami

The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” films and cartoon series were super popular in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and a lot of kids were probably excited to play this game as a result. Then, they found themselves playing a crushingly-hard offering. It’s a long game, and if you somehow make it all the way to Shredder in the final level it’s almost impossible to beat him.

 
2 of 20

“Ghosts ‘n Goblins”

“Ghosts ‘n Goblins”
Capcom

We don’t know what’s the most frustrating thing about “Ghosts ‘n Goblins.” It could be the fact that if you are hit twice you die. Or it could be the fact that when you think you’ve “beaten” the game it turns out you are only at the halfway point and you have to play the game all over again to truly beat it and get to the real ending. We’re sure plenty of people beat it the first time and then figured that was enough.

 
3 of 20

“Battletoads”

“Battletoads”
Tradewest

“Battletoads” may be a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” ripoff, but it beats the “TMNT” video game in one way: It’s more annoying and frustrating to play. A lot of people consider this the toughest NES game of them all, especially that speed bike level.

 
4 of 20

“Silver Surfer”

“Silver Surfer”
Arcadia

If more people had played “Silver Surfer,” it would probably be the consensus toughest game in NES history. Truly, this game is basically impossible. For whatever reason, the people who made this game based on the Marvel character decided that you have to be perfect. If you are hit once by the constant barrage of enemies you face you have to start the whole game over. Every. Single. Time.

 
5 of 20

“Mega Man”

“Mega Man”
Capcom

It’s kind of impressive that “Mega Man” turned into such a popular and lengthy franchise given how hard the first game was. Every “Mega Man” game is pretty tough, but this first game was also a little hinky. It was tough in ways it meant to be and tough in ways that were perhaps not intended.

 
6 of 20

“Punch-Out!!”

“Punch-Out!!”
Nintendo

Sure, you got past Glass Joe no problem. Then, the boxers start getting harder and harder. Maybe Soda Popinski or Mr. Sandman took a time or two to get past. All of this is to land on the final fight, where you face either Mr. Dream or Mike Tyson, depending on which version you are playing. That final round is basically impossible to beat the first few times. It took a lot of effort to finally get past that last round.

 
7 of 20

“Bart vs. the Space Mutants”

“Bart vs. the Space Mutants”
Acclaim

“The Simpsons” were huge, and Bart was an icon, so naturally they decided to make a video game. That “Simpsons” arcade game is a classic. “Bart vs. the Space Mutants,” on the other hand, is mostly remembered for being incredibly tough on account of the fact its controls are a mess. Sometimes a game is tough on purpose. Sometimes it’s tough because it’s a fiasco. This is the latter.

 
8 of 20

“Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse”

“Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse”
Konami

The first “Castlevania” is pretty tough. Then, “Castlevania III” happened. This really ratchets up the difficulty. The boss fight is three stages, but you have to go back to the beginning if you die at any point in that battle.

 
9 of 20

“The Adventures of Bayou Billy”

“The Adventures of Bayou Billy”
Konami

It seems like “The Adventures of Bayou Billy” could be a lark of a game. Instead, it’s incredibly difficult. There are tons of enemies – including some memorable – alligators, but the game also jumps from side-scrolling to driving to shooting levels. You have to do so much, and all of it is so tricky.

 
10 of 20

“Ninja Gaiden”

“Ninja Gaiden”
Techmo

“Ninja Gaiden” is one of those games that is considered really hard but worth it. The game has a lot of fans, but even though fans will acknowledge that it’s tough to beat. Fortunately, its quality keeps it from being a slog. That’s true even if you lose in the final boss fight and are sent back three levels.

 
11 of 20

“Fester’s Quest”

“Fester’s Quest”
Sunsoft

Well, Uncle Fester seems like a bit of a masochist. Maybe they decided his video game should be for gluttons for punishment as well. Or maybe this “Addams Family” adaptation was just a rush job with finicky controls and a confusing game place. Plus, of course, the fact that if you die in “Fester’s Quest” you have to start from the beginning.

 
12 of 20

“Friday the 13th”

“Friday the 13th”
Atlus

This is an infamous game for a variety of reasons. It might not be remembered if it wasn’t adapted from a famous horror film series. Or maybe it would for how tough it is. The game is immensely difficult because it’s so confusing. Try figuring out its mapping system before Jason kills off your fellow camp counselors. Also, we don’t remember Jason wearing a purple tracksuit in the movies.

 
13 of 20

“Yo! Noid”

“Yo! Noid”
Capcom

Fans of kitsch and nostalgia would surely love to play a game based on the old (and recently revived) Domino’s mascot. Alas, “Yo! Noid” is just so frustrating to play that the novelty quickly wears off. Once again, we have a game where if you are hit once you die and have to start the level all over. Capcom ruined this game like the Noid ruined pizzas.

 
14 of 20

“The Karate Kid”

“The Karate Kid”
Atlus

There are only four levels to “The Karate Kid,” making it one of the shortest games on this list. Of course, those four levels may take you a while to get through. Every level is difficult, even the first one, and the bonus levels are considered even trickier. Sure, the movie was popular, but the game isn’t really worth it.

 
15 of 20

“Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones”

“Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones”
Acclaim

For some reason, they decided to ratchet up the difficulty for “Double Dragon III.” It seems like they overcorrected. We are left with a game where you get swarmed with enemies but you also take bigger hits to your energy bar when you’re attacked. The balance just wasn’t there, leaving “Double Dragon” fans to go back to the first couple of games.

 
16 of 20

“Final Fantasy”

“Final Fantasy”
Nintendo

“Final Fantasy” is one of the most successful video game franchises ever, though it found its biggest success away from the Nintendo systems. Perhaps that’s because the first game in the series is really rough. It takes the grinding associated with many RPGs and kicks it up to the nth level. Also, the randomization of the battle sequences is a mess. Eventually, they figured it out, but you don’t see the series’ future success in this game.

 
17 of 20

“Top Gun”

“Top Gun”
Konami

Feeling the need for speed? Stick to the movie. “Top Gun” is another short game, but so difficult. It’s like the world’s hardest flight simulator. You really need to get used to the mechanics of the game. When it’s screaming “Up!” at you when you need to press down on your controller pad it’s hard not to crash a handful of times.

 
18 of 20

“Blaster Master”

“Blaster Master”
Sunsoft

Add another one to the “quality, but too hard” category. Some call “Blaster Master” one of the best NES games, but even those fans will admit that it’s immensely difficult. You have to beat the game in one sitting, but they don’t make it easy on you. All this because the protagonist followed his frog down a hole and met some radioactive mutant monsters?

 
19 of 20

“Contra”

“Contra”
Konami

Do you know the famed Konami Code? It’s probably most synonymous with “Contra,” and with a good reason. With the code, you get 30 lives, and you might need most, if not all, of them to beat the game. However, if you don’t use the Konami Code you only get three lives. Without the cheat code, “Contra” is extremely difficult to beat.

 
20 of 20

“Zelda II: The Adventures of Link”

“Zelda II: The Adventures of Link”
Nintendo

We don’t mind that the second “Zelda” game became a side scroller after the first game had a top-down view. What we do mind, though, is Death Mountain. It’s a dungeon level that is about as pleasant as being in an actual dungeon. There are some great “Zelda” games, and they all provide some level of challenge. “Zelda II” just ended up a smidge too far down the difficulty spectrum.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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