We’re trying a new thing here at I Am A Parade: every Friday, I’m going to try to post a different five-item list. As to “why,” the answer is simple: there is absolutely nothing more brainless and easier to create that a list. Beyond that, lists are pretty fun to make and read, so we’ll see where this gets us.
Anyway, since many different industry outlets are so focused on Dark Souls, I thought I’d make this week’s list using one of the themes from that game—in this case, the obscene and ridiculous difficulty. While Dark Souls has gained it notoriety from its incredible level of challenge, it’s far from the only tough game. Here are five games that I find stupidly, head-bangingly difficult.
5. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
“But Andrew,” you are surely protesting, “that game has regenerating health, and a set of AI squadmates that all-but do the mission for you! How could a game like that possibly make a Most Challenging list?” Two more words: enemy closets. You see, for all of Modern Warfare’s achievements (and believe me, there are more than you may remember), it incorporates one of the most egregious difficulty-padding systems in the history of game design. In Modern Warfare, you will often run into sections where enemies will continuously spawn into the level, forever, until you cross an invisible line somewhere in the environment that tells the game to cut it out. In a nutshell, this means that when you reach one of these sections, any semblance of strategy or waiting until it’s safe to progress through the game goes out the window, and instead turns into a footrace to see whether or not you can turn the game’s “Infinitely Generate Terrorists” button off. This gets especially bothersome in a few specific places (the TV station in Charlie Don’t Surf, for instance), and when playing through on Veteran, it turns a fun game into a chore.
4. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (SNES, Wii Virtual Console)
JVC’s series of Star Wars games for the Super NES are notorious for their difficulty, including instant-death jumping traps, myriad, murderous enemies that respawn the moment they go off-screen, and bosses with incredibly long life bars. By far the most ridiculous out of the three, though, is the title based on the second movie in the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back. Enemies come from every direction, shooting, clawing, and generally mauling the hell out of you from all sides, reaching a fever pitch matched by neither of the other two games. Health power-ups are few and far between as well, making learning enemy placement an absolute necessity. While the game does contain a passcode system, allowing players to retain their progress after an inevitable Game Over, the system only works if you manage to actually finish a level, something I have never managed to do in Super Empire Strikes Back.
3. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (PlayStation 2)
Here’s a story about this game’s English localization that you’ve likely already heard, but permit me to tell it anyway. Back when Devil May Cry 3 was being ported over to the US, someone at Capcom decided that American gamers wanted something punishingly, absolutely difficult, and made a decision that would be very crucial to how the game would be perceived in the States: they took the Hard difficulty from the Japanese game and made it the Normal setting in the American version. In addition, the Easy setting was unlocked by dying repeatedly, after which the game would smugly suggest that maybe, just maybe, you would like to bump the difficulty down. Prideful games did not take the game up on its offer; perhaps it was because the setting was called Normal, and they didn’t want anyone (presumably the game) to think they couldn’t handle a measly default difficulty. Cheap hits, insane bosses, and profuse swearing ensued.
2. Ikaruga (GameCube, Xbox Live Arcade)
Ikaruga didn’t start the Bullet Hell genre of arcade shooter, a genre known for including more onscreen enemies and firepower than most non-dedicated players can handle, but it’s certainly one of the best-loved take on the shoot ‘em up genre. Part of what makes Ikaruga so beloved is its polarity-based gameplay: in the game, there are two kinds of enemies, black and white, that shoot two colors of bullets, black and white. Your ship can turn either black or white to absorb bullets of the same color, or to further damage enemies of the opposite color. Hardcore fans of the title were able to reach a Zen point, where swapping colors to shoot and absorb happened naturally and fluidly. Unfortunately, only hardcore fans of the title were able to do so: because only half of any given group of projectiles could hurt you, the game throws approximately 3.2 billion of them at you, making it all-but impossible to keep track of the onscreen activity. I actually rented this game once, only to return it that afternoon because I spent two hours dying repeatedly on the first level.
1. Disney’s Aladdin (Sega Genesis)
There are other, more difficult games that could have made this list (but just barely!), but the ultimate spot goes to Disney’s Aladdin for the Genesis, for having the dubious honor of being the most-played game that I could never, ever beat. Aladdin is a side-scrolling title that loosely recreates the movie’s plot, adding stages and enemies wherever the game needs conflict (read: all the bloody time). The game’s various traps played havoc with me, and enemy placement was just reasonable enough to not feel cheap. What made this game the most difficult, though, was its complete and total lack of any way to save your progress, meaning that if you got a Game Over, you needed to start all the way back at the beginning. To this day, it literally stresses me out to watch gameplay footage of this on YouTube, because it reminds me of countless lost hours of my childhood, meriting only frustration.
What’s the toughest game you’ve ever played? Sound off in the comments!