The 11 Hardest Games We've Ever Played

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Dark Souls II came out this week. Like the first game, it’s hilariously difficult, to the point where you’ll question why you even bother with games anymore. (It’s a nice day. Go outside. Read our Dark Souls IIreview first.) But if you stick with it and attune yourself to its particular rhythms you’ll find an uncommon pleasure and a deep sense of satisfaction within its unrelenting brutality. Supposedly.

Dark Souls II got us thinking about the hardest games we’ve ever played. Our games editor and ten regular contributors to our games section share war stories of the hardest games they’ve ever played, listed below in chronological order of release. If you’ve braved these games yourself, or even finished some of them, you’ve earned our respect. If you’ve finished all of them you must some kind of inhuman game-mastering science experiment that escaped from a lab somewhere.

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Developer: Infocom
Platform: 1980s computers

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We were a group of resourceful, pre-Internet third and fourth graders, using a library copy of the novel to figure out why “lay down in the mud” wouldn’t get Arthur Dent between the bulldozer and his house. It was the text-parser that did us in: turns out what was grammatically OK in our dialect wasn’t in the game’s (or most of the rest of the world’s) English. We never did save Arthur’s house, and to this day I haven’t gotten past the babelfish puzzle that is about six turns further into the game.—Brian Taylor

2. Shogun
Developer: Mastertronic
Platform: Commodore 64

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How do you cram a non-linear, atmospheric journey through an 1100-page work of historical fiction into 64K of RAM? By explaining nothing to the player, for one. (Although this isn’t Infocom’s official 1989 adaptation of James Clavell’s Shogun, Mastertronic’s game does credit Clavell on its title screen.) Shogun’s pocket universe remains bewitching, but without a manual—as I encountered it in the late 80s—the game remains impenetrable, its iconographic interface an enigma. (And why can everyone fly?)—Stephen Swift

3. The Final Fantasy Legend
Developer: Square
Platform: Game Boy

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The Final Fantasy Legend is actually a SaGa game, a series known for being a weird garbage bag of weird RPG ideas. The first game of the series has a pretty standard plotline and combat. But it also has one of the weirdest and most obtuse leveling systems ever. Humans can only grow by buying expensive potions, mutants gain entirely random stats and abilities after every fight, and monsters randomly transform into completely new characters by eating meat. Humans are prohibitively expensive, mutants take too much damage to stand on their own, and monsters are utterly useless at the end of the game, forcing me to restart the whole game when I was 12.—Aevee Bee

4. The Immortal
Developer: Sandcastle
Platform: DOS, Apple IIgs, Amiga, Atari ST, NES, Genesis

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From earliest game days I knew there was a difference between computer games and videogames. Videogames were fun, fast and immediate, even when they were as secretive as Metroid or Zelda. Computer games were complex puzzles that took math degrees to crack, and that rarely worked on the archaic technology my dad would score free from work. But as a fan of bearded men in cloaks I was still drawn to The Immortal when it was ported to the NES in 1991. I could tell immediately it was more computer game than videogame—it’s a confusing, esoteric collection of almost instantly fatal happenstances within an awkwardly constructed labyrinth. It made no sense to me at the time and today it’s a barely remembered bad dream.—Garrett Martin

5. Myst
Developer: Cyan
Platform: PC and every other device that has ever existed

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I don’t have the patience to play games like Myst. I learned this fact playing Myst. Cyan’s 1993 graphic adventure contains very little in the way of character interactions, just hours of cryptic messages and obscure fantasy artifacts. Who is Atlus, and why did he install a dentist’s chair in his planetarium? I can’t stress enough what little context this game provides. Myst is apparently one of the most commercially successful PC games of all time, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a few thousand who actually finished it.—Matt Akers

6. Super Mario Sunshine
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: GameCube

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Nothing about Super Mario Sunshine warns you about what’s coming. Its candy-coated, soft-lit levels look like a literal day at the beach. But sixty missions in, suddenly the GameCube’s plastic is creaking in my grip as I’m trying for the tenth time to please just make this jump, or please just beat the timer, even by a second. Sure, I’ve seen the YouTube clips of people finishing the Scrubbing Sirena Beach level, but I can’t bring myself to believe it’s possible. It can’t be. It just can’t be.—Casey Malone

7. Resident Evil 4
Developer: Capcom 
Platform: if it plays games and was released this century it can probably play a version of this game

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I knew I was going to have a bad time when the faceless women with chainsaws swarmed me and my hands started shaking. Resident Evil 4’s difficulty comes from the struggle to survive. Shooting crazed villagers is one thing, but when their attacks can kill with one hit, the panic I feel as Leon Kennedy becomes real.—Carli Velocci

8. Europa Universalis III
Developer: Paradox
Platform: PC, Mac

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I never knew how quickly I could destabilize a sovereign economy before Europa Universalis 3, but grand strategy is best served cold and angry. Paradox’s finest nation-sim refuses to pull punches. Want to play as the proud and noble Irish? Good luck fending off the British navy. The sprawling Ottoman Empire? Enjoy the sanctions from Europe and the horde at your gates. Europa Universalis 3 pinned us under the true weight of history’s savagery, conquering land had never felt so earned.—Luke Winkie

9. Trials HD
Developer: RedLynx
Platform: PC, Xbox 360 

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Some games are masochistic, sure, but Trials HD Inferno levels are exercises in nihilism. In “Brown Boxes,” there’s a tall box in the middle of a ramp that I could only clear after thousands of tries. I remember that box best through bloodshot eyes as the rising sun peeks through my blinds. There was nothing besides that box on those nights. No hope, no purpose, no meaning. Only box.—Samantha Allen

10. Spelunky
Developer: Derek Yu
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita 

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Spelunky is a game with “hard” carved into its very being. This goes without saying. I don’t want to talk about the sprawling thing with deep dungeons. I want to talk about one very short encounter: the Shopkeeper. He will not be slighted. He cannot believe that you might want to dig up his shotgun-filled diamond square. He will not accept you getting in his face about anything, even if it is a purchase. He will jump at you and punch you and, if need be, shoot you to death with no remorse. You cannot offend him; you can only be at utter peace or total war. The Shopkeeper seems like he sees the world in black and white. That’s nonsense. He only sees red.—Cameron Kunzelman

11. Surgeon Simulator 2013
Developer: Bossa Studios
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux

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You will drop organs, smash rib cages, lose tools within your patient, and generally break all facets of the Hippocratic oath. Surgeon Simulator 2013 requires the utmost concentration and attention to detail. One slight twitch of the mouse and you’ve punctured a lung. Neglect to keep the right keys held down and you could drop your patient’s heart on the ground. Unless you are insanely good at videogames, you will fail and fail and fail and unwittingly abuse your patient unto death in a myriad of ways. Surgeon Simulator 2013 is best played with friends watching—that way you will laugh instead of breaking your keyboard.—Drew Dixon


What’s the hardest game you’ve ever played? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @PasteGames.

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