Tossing Controllers: 8 Obscene Difficulty Spikes

I can do many things but keeping up with modern videogames is not one of them. That’s why the Playstation Network is a god send for me. Having the chance to download HD remakes of some of my favorite 16-bit games and replay my favorite JRPGs.

That being said, there is one thing that I’ve forgotten about classic games: designer expectations for players. With little time to know how people would play the game and little thought for the diversity of different players that would play their games, many classic 8 and 16-bit games featured moments when games went from playable to almost unbelievably difficult. Let’s count some of the most memorable of these moments.

1. Earthworm Jim – For Pete’s Sake!

Don’t let the video fool you, “For Pete’s Sake” is one of the most frustrating levels of the 16-bit era. Whether you’re getting crushed by asteroids, knocked into almost unbelievably small pits by ferocious plants, having to perform pixel perfect whipping feats or being mauled by the dog you’re meant to be escorting, this level is an endurance round and it heralds the infinitely less fun levels you’re about to have to deal with.

2. Donkey Kong Country – Snow Barrel Blast

You’d be excused if you thought the first Donkey Kong Country was easy after the first three worlds. That becomes infinitely less true after the first level of World 4, which requires insane reflexes as you blast from barrel to barrel trying to reach the end across slippery slopes. Making the whole thing worse, there’s a shortcut that’s almost impossible to find that makes the whole level a joke. It adds insult to your self-inflicted injury.

3. Ninja Gaiden – Act III

I’m not saying Ninja Gaiden is easy. The first two acts are certainly a challenge but Act III is where the game earns its notoriety for legendary difficulty. After passing through a fairly easy level on the docks, players are thrown into the mountains where they’re attacked by hawks, snow leopards, soldiers with rocket launchers and some challenging jumps that need to be made without a second thought. Its a challenging level that demands that players be at the top of their game.

4. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – Spider Ball Guardian

This is the moment where pretty much everyone quit playing Metroid Prime 2. The fight is just so frustrating. You’re either constantly taking super heavy damage, hoping that the Ing will sort of fall into the next section of the fight or just struggling to figure out what to do in this fight that’s so hard that even the game’s director said that he couldn’t finish the fight. That being said, Nintendo made this fight, and the rest of Echoes for that matter, considerably easier.

5. Battletoads – Speeder Bikes

The difficulty on this one is legendary and part of what makes the fight so memorable is the fact that the levels leading up to it are all just fairly standard, if a little tricky, beat-em up stages. The bikes, however, are where things get crazy and make the game almost impossible. I’ve played this thing for almost 15 years and I still can’t get get past the speeder bikes which require not only lightening fast reflexes but also that players memorize the different jumps, turns and ramps that populate the extremely long track.

6. Illusion of Gaia – Mu

In one of the first, and most difficult, action RPGs on the Super Nintendo, the little played Illusion of Gaia goes from a challenging game to a downright insanely difficult one when the protagonist, a psychic named Will, wakes up on the fabled mystical island of Mu. Things get even worse when you’re asked to track down a pair of vampires who have kidnapped your friend, all without being able to transform into your more powerful alter ego until damn near the end of the level. Its insanely difficult and features almost no healing items to help players against the insane threat of tougher monsters and the hardest boss in the game.

7. Batman: Arkham City – Return to the Steel Mill

Sure, it comes fairly late in the game, but attempting to reenter the Steel Mill toward the end of Arkham City is where the game finally pulls off the training wheels. Suddenly, the whole city is against you. Thugs armed with sniper rifles, armored guards and difficult to reach areas make it feel like the Joker’s plan is finally coming together. Players can’t be blamed if they just start flying by the snipers or taking an occasional bullet instead of sneaking through the area.

8. Wolfenstein 3D – Episode 6

Another example of when one of the first examples of the genre is also one of the hardest, Wolfenstein 3D suddenly goes from an intense, fun to explore adventure shooter into a game that suddenly needs to be played at a snail’s pace. Whether its the endless, difficult to navigate mazes, enemies that take more bullets and harder to find guns, ammo and health packs, its a tough fight and that’s just when things start to get intense.


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