A game of nerves
Some video games help you relax while others tell a great story. Then, there's the special bunch: games that are so brutally challenging that they test your sanity. Since gaming's inception, there have always been titles designed to push your playing skills to the absolute limit, and the trend has yet to slow down. From classic quarter-sucking beat-'em-ups to modern role-playing games that are downright mean, here are 12 of the most maddeningly difficult games of all time.
Flappy Bird (2013 - iOS, Android)
The developer behind "Flappy Bird" pulled his creation from the Apple App Store and Google Play store, but it will live in infamy for being one of the toughest and most addictive games ever. This free mobile jumper is brutally difficult, forcing you to navigate your yellow bird through the skies without hitting any of the pipes above or below you. The game's tap-to-fly mechanic is very sensitive, and your bird will meet its demise frequently, which makes clearing even a few pipes feel like an accomplishment.
Dark Souls (2012 - PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3)
There are hard games, and then there are titles that are just plain menacing. Role-playing game "Dark Souls" falls under the latter, as its third-person action gameplay is built on dying often and learning your lesson from it. There are enemies in "Dark Souls" that will destroy your equipment and upgrades that you've been spending hours working toward, and other players can even invade your game world online and strike you down.
Spelunky (2008 - Multiple Platforms)
It's easy to get sucked into the unique visuals and innovative adventure gameplay of "Spelunky," but mastering the game takes some serious dedication. The goal of the title is to gather as much treasure as possible while avoiding death. This is no easy task, thanks to the bevy of traps and enemies in each level. The game's underground environments are randomly generated to add to the difficulty, and there are new challenges available every day for the truly masochistic--er--determined.
Contra (1987 - Arcade, NES)
"Contra" is one of the defining games of the NES era, largely in part due to the sheer rush of gunning down increasingly difficult groups of adversaries. While modern shooters infuse your character with a near-limitless supply of health, "Contra" heroes Mad Dog and Scorpion can't take more than a single bullet. "Contra" was one of the first games to use the ubiquitous "Konami Code," which (after pressing Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start) gave gamers more lives and a better chance at conquering this classic.
Ghouls 'n Ghosts (1988 - Arcade, SNES)
"Ghouls 'n Ghosts" doesn't just want to challenge you; it wants to embarrass you for playing badly. This classic Capcom platformer casts you as demon-slaying knight Arthur, who gets reduced to his heart-laced underpants if you take a single hit. "Ghouls" has only five levels before you fight game boss Lucifer, but prepare to have your skivvies exposed dozens of times before you get there.
Mike Tyson's Punch Out! (1987 - NES)
While not as futile as actually boxing Mike Tyson, playing the boxer's licensed video game proved infuriating for many '80s gamers. The odds are stacked against you from the beginning, as scrawny lead character Little Mac is forced to trade blows with a series of fictional fighters double his size. Beat them all and you'll get to fight Iron Mike himself--though losing that battle will make you start the game all over again. Beating Iron Mike back in the day wasn’t just satisfying; it was a badge of honor.
Battletoads (1991 - NES, Arcade)
Beat-'em-up games were all the rage in the '90s, and few of them put up a fight like "Battletoads" did. Inspired by the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Battletoads" casts you as one of three amorphous toad warriors who must survive both waves of powerful enemies and hazardous vehicle-based obstacle courses. The original NES version of "Battletoads" was so hard to complete, future ports of the game were intentionally toned down to provide a more inviting experience.
Super Meat Boy (2010 - PC, Mac, Xbox 360)
It only takes a few seconds to get acquainted with the run-and-jump gameplay in "Super Meat Boy," but succeeding will take you much longer. Each stage of this 2D adventure is littered with spinning blades and lava pits, and there aren't any mid-stage checkpoints should you find yourself suddenly dismembered. "Super Meat Boy" has all of the charm of yesteryear's platformers, but be warned that it also retains the genre's once-notorious sense of challenge.
Mega Man 9 (2008 - Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Capcom's Mega Man might be one of gaming's most adorable mascots, but his digital adventures are not for the faint of heart. "Mega Man 9" brought back everything gamers love about the blue bomber, including multiple weapons, nostalgic 8-bit graphics, and--of course--the series' infuriating difficulty. Not only will you have to conquer new enemies like Jewel Man and Magma Man, you'll also have to figure out in which order to slay each boss so that you'll have an optimal weapon loadout for taking on the big bad Dr. Wily.
Zelda II: The Adventures of Link (1987 - NES)
"Zelda II" is the only game in the "Legend of Zelda" franchise to take place on a 2D side-scrolling plane, and it's also one of the hardest in the series. While players only had to worry about a single attack button in the original "Zelda," this sequel forced players to master crouching, jumping and attacking enemies in multiple directions. "Zelda II" features a deep player progression system and lots of side quests, so it takes a truly steadfast explorer to make the most of this 1987 relic.
F-Zero GX (2003- Nintendo GameCube)
Nintendo's F-Zero racing series is known for its sheer sense of speed, and no other game in the franchise exemplifies its intensity like 2003's "F-Zero GX." This futuristic GameCube title challenges players to race on treacherous courses filled with traps and tricky turns, meaning you'll need expert timing to get the gold. Prepare for blistered thumbs and lots of last-place finishes--this Nintendo racer is no "Mario Kart."
Ninja Gaiden Black (2005 - Xbox)
The original "Ninja Gaiden" was one of the hardest games around when it launched in the late '80s, and developer Team Ninja made sure its modern- day revival stayed true to the game's brutal roots. This 3D action-adventure has you play as Ryu Hyabusa, who, with weapons and magic, must conquer troves of demonic baddies. "Ninja Gaiden Black" is the definitive version of the franchise's 2004 Xbox relaunch, providing even more hours of punishing content and new difficulty settings for truly insane warriors.