When we cast our minds back to the early days of video games, many of us conjure up images of neon-lit arcade cabinets, 8-bit graphics and, of course, incredibly hard games that make you feed your hard-earned coins for another chance of glory.
Fast forward to today, and while video games have become more cinematic, graphically realistic, narrative-driven and emotionally powerful, there are still titles across various genres that hark back to the days of ridiculously hard arcades and have us pulling our hair out and coming back for more.
But with so many games available, why don’t we opt for playing more accessible, easier titles?
In examining the passion behind mastering a game and what makes these games so difficult, we’ve selected a few titles for discussion below.
- Dark Souls
No ‘hardest games’ list would be complete without Dark Souls. Arguably the first game series to pop into people’s minds when thinking about difficult video games, we’ve opted for the first game in the series, although many die-hards would argue that the later Dark Souls entries are more challenging.
Unlike other titles that ease you into the waters of the game, Dark Souls throws you right into the deep end. No instructions, no tutorial – just you, your armour, and a whole lot of bosses to conquer. One wrong step and you’re back to square one. Although the bosses are difficult, the sense of accomplishment you get from conquering a challenge is indescribable.
- Getting Over It
From the sadistic mind of Bennett Foddy, the man who brought us the hair-pulling QWOP, comes a game about a man in a cauldron armed with a hammer, making his way up a very, very tall mountain.
Inspired by the difficulty of old-school 8-bit games, Getting Over It doesn’t have any checkpoints. Meaning, if you make one bad move, you risk tumbling all the way down to the base of the mountain. Trust us when we say that we’ve pulled out a lot of hair in frustration when playing this.
- Super Meat Boy
You’d think a game with only two controls would be easy to master, right?
All you need to do to progress is get from one end of a level to the other while avoiding saws, spikes and plenty of other obstacles. Mistime a jump or make the wrong move, and you’ll be turned to mince faster than you can throw your keyboard out the window.
Be prepared to die hundreds of times along the way, but you’re guaranteed to have a massive smile on your face with each and every failed attempt.
This game is infamous for its difficulty, especially if you can make it past the tutorial (though in some cases maybe not). Yet, with its fantastic production, it comes across as open to all ages and skill levels. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
As rewarding as it is punishing, this game jazzes you up with its intense gameplay, heavenly soundtrack, and gorgeous aesthetics all working in tandem to have you craving more despite however many times you die.
The key to Cuphead is mastering the controls, and though anyone can tell you that, it requires a specific dexterity and swiftness that is not so common in other run and gun titles. It demands the player to meet it head on and fully engage with it all the way to the end.
Pathologic is easy to play in the same way as mowing the lawn with kitchen scissors. Doable? Perhaps yes. Enjoyable? Not exactly.
The controls and movement mechanics are clunky, the dialogue is theatrical and puzzling, the story is incredibly gloomy, and the longer you play, the weirder it gets. It’s so difficult that making it past the first day is an achievement and is even recognised as such on Steam.
Set in a world (now strangely echoing our own) with a rampaging plague killing off vulnerable members of society, you have three distinct but intersecting storylines all trying to find a way to save the town they live in.
It’s hard, and not just in its gameplay, it is taxing emotionally and mentally. Mastering this game, is the ultimate testament to your strength, skill, and perseverance. So, for those up for the ultimate challenge, maybe check this one out.
Completing a difficult game is no easy feat, and there is fulfilment in beating it. But surely, there must be more to it than that.
The games that encourage us to take the time in figuring them out become intimately familiar; in the stress of undertaking the challenge, our vulnerabilities often reveal themselves. We have to reckon with not just the difficult task at hand, but also who we are fundamentally in that moment in time.
So why do we play hard games? Certainly not just for the sake of completing it, because if that were the case, we would never replay already beaten games.
Rather, the satisfaction manifests in the journey. And we want to experience the joy of mastering those beasts over and over again. After all, we do things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.