7 NES Games That Were Nearly Impossible to Beat

Take a trip down nostalgia road with me as we recall the most ridiculously hard games from the NES.

The Nintendo Entertainment System introduced a lot of people to the joys of video gaming.  This new and exciting form of digital entertainment gave entire families a chance to explore new worlds from the relaxing comfort of their living room couch.

Those games are not what I will be talking about today.

The NES was also home to some of the most unfairly hard games ever created.  Join me in remembering them and gritting my teeth at the memories.

Let's begin.

Ninja Gaiden

The original ninja platformer, Ninja Gaiden was undeniably an awesome game.  It had ninjas, it had jumping puzzles, you could climb on walls, and it even had a semblance of a plot.

It was also hard enough to make you feel like an actual ninja if you could beat it.  The jumping puzzles were unforgiving, particularly with birds swooping to knock you to your death, and enemies were everywhere.  Throw in some brutal bosses and Ninja Gaiden is definitely a game anyone can be proud to have beaten.

Ghosts N' Goblins

The second platformer on our list, Ghosts N' Goblins was another game with enemies coming at the player from every direction, often literally rising from the ground at your feet.  One hit would not kill you, but it would remove your armor.  A second hit before finding one of the armor power-ups was all it took to drop you and send you back to the start of the level.

Even more frustrating, when you finally beat the last boss, instead of winning the game he sends you back to the start.  You have to then beat the game a second time, with even more enemies everywhere, before you actually win.  Talk about a sore loser.


One of the most internet-famous video games of all time, Battletoads got its fame for a reason.  The basic gameplay itself featured genuinely tough enemies and the many mini-games and unique stage mechanics, while fun, generally only required one misstep to lose a life.  Then, of course, there are the speeder levels like at the top of the page.  That section of the game, by the way, features 108 separate obstacles over the course of two minutes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The heroes in a half shell were serious business back in the days of the NES. Unfortunately for many many frustrated gamers, so was the game they had on the console.  The turtles themselves all shared the same life pool, meaning players would cycle through them and had to make do with whichever turtle they happened to have for the situation.

Then there was the Dam level, where players had to swim to deactivate bombs within a time limit.  See those pink water-weeds?  They kill you if you touch them. You know, because algae does that.

Mike Tyson's Punch Out

Okay, to be fair, this game was about pattern recognition.  Every enemy had a specific pattern they followed that you just had to learn and abuse.  If you knew the patterns and did not mess up, you could beat the game every time.

The margin for error was extremely unforgiving, however.  The last boss (Tyson himself, of course) could beat you if you made even a single mistake, with a window a vulnerability on his own side quick enough to miss it by blinking.  Perfection was required at all times.

Silver Surfer

There are plenty of difficult flying shooters.  Silver Surfer was both top-down and side-scrolling, depending on what specific level you were on.  The game threw lots of enemies at you all the time, most of which required several direct hits from your arbitrary rapid-fire attack.

What set the game apart as being absurdly difficult is how literally everything is hostile. The enemies, the walls, the ground... All of it would kill you if you touched it.

Did I mention you didn't have any health, so a single hit killed you no matter what it was?

Mega Man

Mega Man is one of the series that has defined side-scrolling and platforming both. The fond memories gamers have of the blue bomber came, almost universally, from the other Mega Man games.

The original game, while loads of fun, was almost extremely harsh.  Enemies everywhere mixed with difficult jumping puzzles made for endless hours of frustration.  No saving also meant every time one of those enemies knocked you down a bottomless pit you were that much closer to having wasted hours of your time.

The legacy all of these games have left us is a mixture of skill and frustration.  In a sense, I miss having games come out nowadays with similar difficulty levels to them.  As they say, though, it was good, but it is good that it was.

Featured Columnist

Writer, gamer, and generally hopeful beneath a veneer of cynicism.

Published Aug. 5th 2013

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