Ninja Gaiden (NES) - Last three levels
Much like the Metal Gear series, Ninja Gaiden received a next-gen makeover recently. Unlike the Metal Gear makeover, however, Ninja Gaiden managed to hang onto the fun and challenge of its original form. Fans will remember the original Ninja Gaiden as a side-scrolling ninja masterpiece. Though challenging throughout, the game's last three levels were truly punishing. If you were actually talented enough to make it to the end of the game, the first time you needed to continue was truly a shock. Even if you managed to make it to the game's final boss, dying and using a continue would push you back three levels. Those who managed to keep from throwing the controller in frustration would need to slog through the final three levels again to get another shot at finishing the game. In a world of easy Xbox 360 "achievements," finishing Ninja Gaiden would be far too much for most gamers today.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master (NES) - Beating the game
Little Nemo: The Dream Master didn't appear on the NES until very close to the system's end, but it was truly one of the best games ever to grace the console. Players took control of Nemo in various 2D dream worlds where he could feed candy to the area's wildlife in order to use their abilities. Nothing in particular made the game difficult, but unrelenting enemies, long levels, and no continues or save system added up to a near-impossible but excellent game. This game, sadly, was forgotten in the wake of the Super Nintendo, but die-hard fans and lovers of the stories that the game was based on will remember it forever. Hear that Nintendo? Give us a DS sequel!
The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES) - Unkillable enemies
Bayou Billy is another forgotten hero of the NES era. The game that bears his likeness wasn't all that great, though; it was a Double Dragon clone minus the fun. What set the game apart from the rest was best captured in a quote from my oldest cousin, "The enemies in this game…geez…real people would die from the kind of punishment that only knocks off half their lifebars!" He was hilariously correct. The no-name, generic enemies in Bayou Billy could take upwards of 30 punches to the face before even falling over, let alone dying. Even the lowliest of goons was a superhuman monster when it came to absorbing punishment. If the enemies were even half as resilient, Bayou Billy might have been an easy game. The world may never know how Billy's redneck popularity might have soared if his foes were even barely fallible.
Ghosts N' Goblins (NES) - 3 hit max
Ghosts N' Goblins is another game that has received a few updates over the years. The PSP got a remake of the SNES sequel and the PS2 got two remarkable, yet overlooked, Maximo games, which were simply 3D spin-offs of the original. Even after all those, the original remains the most difficult in the series. Your hero, a knight who famously wore only boxer shorts under his armor, needed to travel across an enemy and trap laden world to rescue his girlfriend. The premise is as old as time itself but what made the game so impossibly difficult is that your hero could only take, at the most, three hits before dying. Upgraded armor became armor, armor gave way to underpants, and after that, it was time to start over. To this day, gamers remember Ghosts N' Goblins as one of the toughest games ever.
T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage (NES) - Stage 2: Surfing
For the final game on the list, I've chosen another that nearly no one will remember by name, but everyone will remember when I say these two words: monkey skateboarding. Everyone remembers the game where in the first level, players are given control of a giant ape, complete with 3D shades, on a skateboard. The challenge in the game didn't start until level two though, and maybe that is why nearly no one can seem to remember anything past our simian friend on the longboard. In the second level, players were asked to control a tiki headed midget on a surfboard. The trouble was neither the game nor the instruction booklet explained what to do. No matter what was done with the controller, the surfers end was always the same - wipeout. Video games have been my hobby and favorite topic of conversation for over 20 years now and to this day, I've still never met anyone who successfully made that little islander surf.
So that's it, the top ten most difficult gaming moments from yesteryear. Sure, I could have expanded the list to include the SNES, Genesis, or Game Boy eras, but since the NES was the first "real" home game system, it was home to a lot of games that were made by developers who, more or less, didn't know what they were doing. Some games were too hard, some were too easy and some made no sense at all. It was a great time to be a gamer.
CCC Freelance Writer