The 15 Toughest NES Games of All Time


Some video games today are pretty damn tough (like, for example, the Ninja Gaiden series), but most don’t hold a candle to the difficult games of my childhood.  Perhaps it’s the fact that as I’ve gotten older, my eye-hand coordination has improved, but back in the day, games didn’t have different difficulty settings.  Furthermore, without the Internet, walkthroughs were non-existent.  Some old school games were simply relentless, and only through tears of frustration and sore eyeballs could one persevere.

I imagine a list like this has been compiled before, but as lists like this are very subjective, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to compile one of my own.  Keep reading to see the 15 toughest NES games of all time.  Keep in mind that they’re my toughest games and are not presented in any particular order.

Ninja Gaiden


Why it’s so tough: Countless enemies come at you, but the worst are the ones that seem to hit you right when you’re above a pit, sending you falling to your death.  Also, dying on any of the three final bosses at the end of Stage 6-4 will send you all the way back…to Stage 6-1.

How far I got: I was actually able to beat this one after hours of crying, cursing, and controller-chucking.



Why it’s so tough: It’s a long, sprawling game featuring item collection, leveling up, backtracking…and no passwords or save points!  If you’re going to take on Rygar, you’ll need a few hours to kill.  And oh yeah, the bosses aren’t easy.

How far I got: I managed to beat this one, too, but not until owning it for a long. long time.



Why it’s so tough: Where to begin?  Regular enemies are difficult, the game features all different types of play, and in many levels, one wrong move and you’re toast.

How far I got: I could never pass the level in which you ride some type of scooter and have to avoid obstacles in your way.  Impossible.

Ghosts N’ Goblins


Why it’s so tough: You die if you get hit twice, which isn’t a lot, especially when you consider that enemies fire projectiles and swoop directly into you.

How far I got: I can hardly remember – level 2 in and of itself was a nightmare – but I definitely got no farther than level 4.

Blaster Master


Why it’s so tough: Like Rygar, there’s weapons and upgrades to collect, tough bosses, and tons of backtracking…and like Rygar, there’s no save points or passwords.  Just a few continues; that’s it.  In the areas in which you exit your vehicle, every hit you take weakens the effect of your gun.  It’s so frustrating.

How far I got: I always had a lot of trouble with Level 5 and the “crab boss” at the end, but I managed to beat him once or twice.  I never passed Level 6.



Why it’s so tough: The game seemingly has no end, and your character’s health drains down constantly, as if it’s a timer ticking down your imminent doom.  Plus that black figure (Death, I assume) sometimes appears and kills you quick for no reason.

How far I got: Oh man, who knows?  Not far, that I assure you.

Mega Man


Why it’s so tough: Lots of falling and lots of spikes.  That’s pretty much it.

How far I got: I managed to beat Mega Man.

Silver Surfer


Why it’s so tough: Just about everything – even the level’s structures – can kill you.  One hit kills you, and enemies come flying in swarms at ridiculous velocities.

How far I got: Never farther than the first couple of levels or so.  Let someone else lose their mind over a lame superhero.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Why it’s so tough: Since only Donatello is worth a damn in this game, you’re pretty much finished once he dies.  Jumping is a true skill in this game, and oh, did I mention the “dam” level where you have to swim around mines?  I though turtles were supposed to be good swimmers.

How far I got: I was pretty decent at this game, but just not good enough.  I once killed the giant Mouser boss, but died quickly in the stage that followed.

Karate Kid


Why it’s so tough: There’s this one level with a lot of “wind,” and that wind tends to push you into pits, killing you instantly.

How far I got: That level with a lot of wind.

Top Gun


Why it’s so tough: It’s tough to see the missiles enemies fire at you until the last second, but really, how many people crashed every time when trying to land at the end of the first level.

How far I got: I’m proud to say that I once made it all the way to the fourth stage.

Bionic Commando


Why it’s so tough: The controls are a bit awkward (you can’t jump), and the layout of the game is pretty confusing at first.

How far I got: I beat this game, but I had my cousin over my shoulder telling me where to go.  Still, I was the one playing, so I think it counts.  Not really proud of it, though.

Contra (with no Konami code)


Why it’s so tough: Because with just three lives – instead of 30 – simple, fluke mistakes can end your game quickly.  No matter what it is, it just takes one hit to kill you.

How far I got: I actually managed to get up to Stage 6 in this one.  I couldn’t beat it without the code.

The Adventures of Bayou Billy


Why it’s so tough: This may actually be the toughest game on this list.  The fighting is tough enough, but try the shooting levels without an NES Advantage and the Turbo buttons.  The hardest, though, are levels 4 and 5 – the driving levels.  Simply hitting a post on the side of the road kills you, but you can’t take your time – if you take too long, your game is over.

How far I got: Once – just once – I made it all the way to the final boss(es).  I did alright, but they killed me, and I never made it back to that spot again.

Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!


Why it’s so tough: The game wouldn’t be that bad if Tyson wasn’t so ridiculously hard.  One punch during the first 1:30 of Round 1 and you’re knocked to the ground.  As with a lot of games, though, pattern recognition is involved, and figuring out Mike is no different than figuring out the patterns of anyone else; there’s just much less margin for error.

How far I got: I actually got pretty good at fighting Tyson (and everyone before him) and have beaten him about a dozen times.  I’m just used to it.

Any NES games that gave you fits that you think should be on this list?  Let me know in the comments section!  Also, I listed only games that I’ve actually played.  For example, a lot of people tell me that Bart vs. The Space Mutants is very difficult, but since I’ve never played it, I felt it would be a bit disingenuous to include it.

  • Dave

    You couldn’t be more spot on with Battletoads. I don’t know how many times I played that level with the scooters and appearing walls. It wasn’t exactly easy getting to that part either. My friends and I did manage to beat it once but I’ll be damned if I can remember what is on the other side.

  • ComfortableMadness

    Great list! Brings back some great memories…No wait it brings back some painful memories! Mega Man and the damn ice stage with the dissapearing bricks! I’m pretty sure that I still haven’t recovered from the endless torture of that.

    Oh and a game I would add to this list is Link. Wandering around the world the grass kills you as walk through it. One hit and your sword becomes pretty much useless. Gah.

  • Lance

    Kid Icarus

  • IcemanD

    Great list Madison. Battle Toads is pretty universally accepted as THE hardest NES game ever made. That game was damn near impossible.

    I will never ever forget the day I beat Mike Tyson…one of my greatest childhood memories.

    Oh, and the mine stage on Ninja Turtles was stupid hard. I almost busted the controller on a few occasions playing that level.

  • Byrd

    Megaman 2, if you want another MM. Quickman’s level by itself was perhaps the hardest thing I ever played – timing had to be within 1/10 of a second.

  • SirEdward

    Oh man, the boss in MM1 that changes into bricks and flys across the screen. The one that’s super-ridiculously easy with the “Select Trick”. Yeah that guy? Bane of my childhood right there. I can recall countless Saturday mornings and nights (after Snick of course!) spent trying to memorize his pattern.

    Years later I learnt that you can tap select over and over and over and over and over to make beating him almost.. humorous.

    BTW a lot of these games have been covered, in hilarious fashion, by the Angry Video Game Nerd. Just google it if you haven’t seen them. Easily one of the best video series on the intarwebs.

  • Soromonu

    I actually still have TMNT…it was one of the few games I just could not beat.

  • Madison

    @ Dave

    You actually beat Battletoads? Jesus. That must have taken forever. No one I know has ever been able to do it. Nice work.

    @ ComfortableMadness

    Yes, the Iceman stage with the disapperaing blocks and then the hovering platforms is perhaps the toughest. It helps if you get the beam that shoots out little platforms, I found out later, but it’s still tough nevertheless. Damn flying penguins always knocking you to the ground.

    As far as Link goes, yes, VERY difficult game. That could have easily been on this list. I managed to get to the final boss a couple of times, but that’s it.

    @ Lance

    Kid Icarus was tough, but I was able to beat it consistently. The hardest parts were when you got turned into a damn eggplant.

  • Madison

    @ IcemanD

    I rank beating Tyson right there with losing my V-card. Well, not really, but I remember it just as well. I was jumping around and cheering like an idiot.

    @ Byrd

    MM2 was tough – all the games had difficult aspects – but I felt like the original was the toughest of all.

    @ SirEdward

    That boss was SO tough. The timing on the jumps has to be perfect, and then you get just a split second to hit the monster in the eye before he turns back into bricks. I wish I had known about the “select” trick back in the day, but I guess it’s more satifying to have beaten it without.

    @ Soromonu

    Like Battletoads, I don’t know anyone who has beaten TMNT.

  • Midn1ght

    when i was a kid, me and my friend always tried to beat battletoads when we got the chance.
    we managed to get the scooter zone down to a science. but let me tell you…that is not even the hardest level.
    level 11 where you’re on some unicycle and a energy blob is chasing you…now THAT is the hardest level, i made it that far in all my years of trying.

  • Prof. Frink

    Im gonna have to put Actraiser 2 on the list…easily the most frustrating game this side different difficulty levels.

  • IcemanD

    @ Prof. Fink: Actraiser 2 was an SNES game.

  • Siddesh SL

    HEHE i beat contra WITHOUT a cheat code, (though probably about 10 years after you did as i stay in india and had to play it on one of those famicom knock-off’s), so in (pathetic) way i OWN YOU!!!

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  • Madison

    @ Siddesh SL

    So long as you acknowledge that you own me in a pathetic way, we’re all good. Nice work.

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  • Great list!

    I agree that Ghosts and Goblins is one of the hardest games ever made. In fact, I hate that game’s guts. Why? Because I tried to beat it recently playing it on the NES emulator, and with being able to save the game at any time I still couldn’t beat it. Damn that game!

  • Oh, I almost forgot. I know this is not a NES game, but if you want a truly frustrating SNES game to play, try playing Last Action Hero.

    I wish you luck…

  • Madison

    @ Patrick Williamson

    I never had the SNES; I was a Genesis guy.

    Ghosts N Goblin, though, was just impossible. Gettng past the little red devil in stage 1 was in and of itself quite an accomplishment. I hated that dude.

  • Jamie

    Such fond memories…and what a generation it was!

  • MacGyver1138

    I agree with this list wholeheartedly. Several of these I got near the end, but I didn’t beat any of them on the list. Of course I beat Contra with the code, but I could only get to the last stage without it. That was tough, but I’d always die there. Same way with Tyson, though at least I could use the password to try him over and over.

    Dino-Riki was a really hard game, too. I don’t know of many other people who played that game, though. It was another one that I could get to the final stage on and not finish, though. Maybe I just gave up too easily as a kid.

  • Ben

    I can actually beat Battletoads, it only took me playing around 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, for about 2 and a half months, and I have to use the warps, but I can beat it like that!
    And Ninja Gaiden is soooo damn hard, I can get to the last boss, I beat his first form once, and was killed really quick after that, that game makes me want to cry at times

  • Madison

    @ Ben

    Weird – I’ve beaten Ninja Gaiden several times, but never, ever beat Battletoads. Good work.

  • Shadyone33

    Final Fantasy

  • Jay

    Try the Adventures of LOLO, the series of 3 games are all very though. Probably the best NES game noone knows about. It is a puzzle game, and if you give it a chance and learn it, you will be addicted

  • Joshua

    I just bought my 5 year old a brand new NES for her 5th birthday, she will be complaining the same way we are today, I love it. The hardest game I ever played on NES was Friday The 13th…. Jason WOULD NOT DIE! The game itself was easy but just like the movies, Jason would pop up randomly and he was so slow you could beat him around easily and then he would vanish right before he died and reappear stronger later on, I never beat it and never had a problem on level one. Tyson was hard but after learning the code from an older kid on how to get straight to tyson, I got alot of practice and got the timing down and dominated him into biting people 🙂 Awesome list, brings back alot of memories… good and bad.

  • ZZZyourweak!

    Most of the games you picked are not that though to win. Mikes punch out is easy to beat and contra is a cake walk, and top gun is easy as pie once you get the landings down… reading this post without laughing was “thoughest” of all, you half arse gamer LOL

  • Mark

    Battletoads was one of my favorite games as I was a kid. Luckily for me I had the Nintendo Power with all the stages in it to go along with as I was playing the game. There was a lot of memorization involved, but once I got it down I was able to beat that game at will. Just by knowing exactly what to do.

    Ghosts and Goblins- only 4th level

    Megaman- beat it over a weekend renting it, played it now and still don’t know how I even got past that yellow devil fairly when I was 12

  • Shawn

    Marble madness is the hardest consel game in the world.

    • dcp

      god damn marble madness. that game was impossible. good call.

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  • Dave

    I beat Top Gun, Bionic Commando and Punch Out.

    Mostly the list of games I beat was the list of games I had.
    Some friends had all the others, like Contra, BattleToads, we would play those but I never beat them.

    Bionic Commando starts out really tough, but once you get the hang of swinging around you are ok, plus if you spend like an hour grinding and collecting those little power ups then your health is way higher and it’s not so hard.

    I will admit I never beat TMNT and I had that game. Pretty surprised that I never broke the TV or NES for the number of times I threw the controller in anger. I got pretty far though, just never all the way to shredder.

  • Bert

    God damn TMNT. I think it took me years of frustration before I could beat that mine level. I considered that just as good as beating the game.

    TMNT 2 on the other hand I think took all of a Saturday afternoon.

    And yes, I also managed to crash just about every time in Top Gun.

  • That level in Battletoads was ridiculous and I only beat it once, but didn’t beat the game. And I’m glad to hear someone else say that TMNT was really hard.

  • brute

    While I do agree with some of these games. I think you missed a few.

    Snake Rattle’n Roll:
    – This game was insanely hard. Trying playing the last two levels with no emulator and see if you can even beat it. It’s insanely difficult.

    Marble Madness:
    – Another controller movement difficult game like SRnR.

    – I don’t think I ever actually beat this game. Almost zero room for error.

    * Bionic Commando doesn’t deserve to be on the list. Just rack up 7 or 8 hit points and the game was a joke.

  • mike

    i think the hardest game i ever played for the N.E.S. is Ghostbusters…. and i never beat it… the stairs were never ending and f that game, im going to go beat it with a meat cleaver, then ship piece by piece back to nintendo or whoever made it with a note saying “this game is the reason i beat my wife”

  • Legend of Zelda II

    Some of these games are very difficult, but not impossible.

    For instance, I practised Battletoads, over and over and over until I practically had it memorized. Now I can easily make it to the Rat Race without dying.

    10 Hardest NES games:

    Silver Surfer
    Ghouls and Ghosts
    Fester’s Quest
    Bayou Billy
    Bionic Commando
    Tyson’s Punchout
    Mega Man

    Favourite Game – Legend of Zelda II
    (I beat it on one life… The main screen now has 000 and the Triforce on it)

  • Jason

    Rush N’ Attack is pretty damn hard

  • pete sewchok

    how about ninja gaiden 3? the other two give you unlimited continues, but this guy has only 5…and is much harder than the first two games. dying at any point places you to the beginning of the level section, enemies are smart and plentiful, plus there are a ton of pits, platforms, etc…

  • Old Skool

    I was able to beat Rygar, Gauntlet, and Ghost N’ Goblins but my best game was no doubt Contra. Back in the day I could play through that game multiple times without continuing or using codes. My game scores were so high I’d scoff at the ones printed in Nintendo Power magazine. However, I was never able to get past Super Macho Man in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, nor was able to best Battletoads.

    For suggestions on games that were/are difficult, I’d like to mention a little shooter called Zanac. First NES game I ever owned and a motherfucker to play.

  • Old NES Fan

    One of the most underrated games and without doubt, the hardest game on NES is Arkanoid. I have only beat it with cheating and continuing from where you die. I believe they have 36 levels and you have 3 guys to beat all the levels without dying. You can earn extra powerups and all that stuff but it is the only nintendo game I could not beat without cheating. I actually don’t think it is possible to beat this game.

    Battle Toads is a close #2. It took me about 2 years of playing it to beat it when I was young. The key to beating this game is on the 2nd level you have to get 50 extra free guys by kicking the birds against the wall. The vehicle level is one of the easier levels in the game. Mentioned earlier hardest level is the unicycle level where the wheel chases you, can’t make any mistakes or you die.

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  • Jeff

    Mike Tyson’s punch out isn’t difficult at all. It is even possible to beat Tyson in the first round if you get the right set of circumstances.

    TMNT is notorious for that swimming level but it’s really easy if you’re patient. After all, you can switch turtles at any point. Up until the last level, it is a fairly simple game.. the last level is a bit more of a chore.

    Ninja Gaiden can be beaten with 1 life… The 2nd and 3rd games are more difficult but still far from impossible.

    I never managed to land the plane in Top Gun but that is probably because I was busy paying attention to the instructions given rather than just watch my speed and altitude. I just cannot be bothered to play it again.

    • Madison

      You must be damn good at NES games.

  • Raimundo Araujo

    Actually you have some good games in that list. Some of those games were indeed really hard, i manage to beat Ninja Gayden, Blaster Master, TMNT, Mega Man, Contra and Puch Out. Some of the other games i din’t like or never played. Once you beat these game they’re not that difficult.

    I’d say that the top 2 hardest NES games ever were Battletoads and Silver Surfer.

    I remember waisting hours on Battletoads, i got to the 12 level a couple of times… i hated Rare games, but i loved this one, my friends and i thought nobody cound beat this game.

    Now Silver Surfer is out of the question….


    Kid Icarus, Kid Icarus, Kid Icarus…

  • Jon

    I could never beat TMNT either. I did finally beat Mike Tyson Punchout after what felt like a thousand tries at beating Mike, and a few (or maybe more) busted controllers that got chunked around in anger.

    Ghost and Goblins, now that one almost send me to the house with rubber walls trying to get anywhere in that game…

  • solaceinrage

    I have beaten every game on this list, as well as Wizardry, Legacy of the Wizard, and several other impossibly hard games, but I’d have to say Karnov was the worst of all time. Not only was it hard, the ending made it even worse. Just a black screen that says “Congratulations The End”

  • TOny

    Evander Holyfield: Evander HOlyfields REAL DEAL Boxing for Sega Genesis.

    My friend owned the game and had never beaten Holyfield. I took him on and decided to go to the body. It was a long, LONG fight and eventually I scored a stoppage by destroying his midsection. It took so long and I was so close to losing. Very stressful esperience especially towards the end.

    Also, SEWER SHARK for Sega CD…basic concept insane to finish back in the day. I remember a genuine feeling of accomplishment having beaten it quite a few times. One of the few games to do FMV correctly.

  • christian monturano

    Legacy of the wizard is the hardest nintendo game ever u dummies people don’t know about it and mega man 5 and 6 is way harder than the first I don’t know what’s that idiot that said the first one was hardest was thinking and blaster master too that was my favorite along with zelda

  • Skylar

    Ha, do you guys know that silver surfer actually has cheats to it? And when you use them turns it into the easiest game to NES ever. 😛

    • Nick

      Most cheats do…

  • Evan

    Dragon’s Lair is tougher than all of these but the difference there is it’s not any fun. All the games on this list are a blast.

  • Edwin

    great list and I’m glad you added Rygar one of my favorite games but Golgo 13 needs to be considered.

  • Eric

    You did a pretty good job of mentioning the extreme…ghost n turtles.. bayou billy… all crazy tough games… no of which i ever beat
    Some of my favorite game but never beaten are R.C. Pro A.M. ( i think i made it to like level 17 or something out of 30) Castlevania (never made it past the grim reaper) Golgo 13 (never really understood that game enough to play it right) The Goonies i never Beat either
    And last but not least Ninja Kid and honestly Im not so sure if that game had an ending or not. Seem to go on and on and on forever

  • Joec

    I did finish TMNT after a long bunch of attempts but I couldn’t finish Zanac.

    • Jane Russell

      Zanac is number 1 on my list of hardest NES games that weren’t broken.

  • Mike


    Back in the 80’s/90’s, I finished over 200 games. By far, Athena was THE most difficult for me to finish. I rarely see it included in lists of difficult games. My guess for the reason is that it wasn’t a very popular game, even when the NES was at its zenith.

  • Blight

    Bokosuka Wars? NARC? These games are downright impossible to beat. (Bokosuka Wars is actually luck based.) And NARCs last boss will never die unless you shoot it five thousand times. I dare anyone to try those games out

  • Miguel ACS

    You missed Adventure Island 1. That’s a really hard game.

  • S to the D

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned “Cobra Triangle.” I guess it was a pretty obscure game because no one I’ve talked to has ever heard of it.

    But somehow it got into my collection when I was like 8 or 9 and I used to play the crap out of it.

    You are a boat with a gun, and different levels have you do different things like just race to the end, or try to save this “swimmers” in a box from other boats stealing them and dragging them away, levels where you gotta avoid whirlpools and jump ramps, and finally boss levels like one with a dragon that shoots stuff at you and whips his giant tail at you completely obliterating your health bar.

    The game also had very few continues if any, and once you die, you start completely over, like many NES games back then.

    I remember getting to like level 19 out of 25 or something, but could never beat it. I finally beat it with an emulator like I did not too long ago.

    Speaking of TMNT, I never got past that 3rd level when I was a kid. But when I picked it up recently and played it while looking at maps, it was MUCH easier because in the 3rd and 4th levels at least there are TONS of unnessary rooms that you don’t need to go into. You just follow the correct path. You can also take advantage of easier rooms that have a pizza nearby, exit then re-enter, and grab them again. So long as you keep switching turtles and never let one die, it’s really not too bad. The last level on the other hand is a BEAST, and if you die (even during the Shredder battle) you start all the way back at the beginning of the level. It really sucks. But I was surprised at how easy Shredder was. If you just avoid his gun (which instantly kills you) it’s easy. You just whack him about 8 times with Donatello (or use those “scrolls”) and he is done. You can also hit him multiple times before he uses that gun, jump up higher, wait for him to follow, and repeat.

  • Jimmy

    I have beaten TMNT, Megaman, Bayou Billy, Silver Surfer, Punch-out Bionic Commando (Which I didn’t find very difficult although it is a long game), Rygar (easy. Shouldn’t be on a hard games list) and Karate Kid (not hard at all). Silver Surfer IS a hard game, but as far as comic themed games go, Uncanny X-men, Captain America and Spider-man VS the Sinister Six all seemed way harder to me.

  • the creek

    I’ve beaten Contra numerous times on one life, Mike Tyson’s punch out (the whole game) without getting hit, almost at will. I beat Link fairly easy, Battletoads once, TMNT once , Milon’s Secret Castle and the Gaidens. I also got 211 lines on Tetris and a -14 on Mario golf. But Kid Icarus, Bayou Billy, and Ghosts and Goblins are the worst Bastards. i even used the game genie on Bayou and still couldn’t beat the last boss.?! I actually beat the first run of Ghosts and goblins but I had to keep the machine running for a few weeks. TWICE THROUGH! What bs. I gave up.

  • the creek

    Shit! I just played Contra on my emulator for the first time in 20 years. I died once, at the big jump just before the giant heart. oh well, still got it.

  • 3MIL

    Great list. There’s no beating the Silver Sufer. There were so few games that enabled you to save back then. We are so spoiled now. 2 other games I can think of are Captain America and the Avengers, and Mega Man 3 (you fight a mid-boss, then the real boss every level),

  • Ben

    I agree with all except Karate Kid. I used to beat that one for fun in 20 minutes when I was 13 years old. Just patterns.

  • Ben

    oh, and don’t forget Solomon’s Key. wow…just wow. incredibly fun game, but my friend and i never beat it. few hundred hours attempting.

  • N7V

    I cannot believe that everyone forgot to mention Paperboy. Paperboy gets so ridiculously hard it becomes no fun at a certain point.

  • cory

    what about double dragon 3 ??? that game was impossible .. i dont think rc pro am was beatable but if it was then i never beat that shit ..

  • James

    I could always make it to the last level of Battletoads but never get up that damn tower. MM1 and MM2 I was some kind of master at, I never had problems with those games, hell I remember playing MM2 and beating it every week cause I loved it so much.

    TMNT I got to the end and died to Shredder. Blaster Master I beat, I am never sure why people always had trouble with the 5th stage boss, I found that one my favorite because it was so different, I played that game alot.

    One game I remember playing that took forever to beat was called Kid Nikki or something like that. Your only weapon was a spinning sword and tons of jumping. When you fought a boss your weapon would go flying out of your hand on every hit and you had to run and get it, god that was so annoying.

    A real torture of a game to beat is Super Mario 2, the real one from Japan, god some of the levels in that game were designed by really evil people but I managed to beat it all the way through with no warping.

    Double Dragon I could never get past that damn section where the bricks came out of the walls as you had to jump on platforms to get to the final boss.

  • money

    What about timeslip

  • TPP

    I remember most of these pretty well…

    TMNT, Ninja Gaiden, and Ghosts and Goblins are definitely on my “hard” list. I think I might have beaten TMNT once, but maybe I gave up towards the end. And I remember renting Ninja Gaiden and getting close to the end, but then had to return it and felt it was too frustrating to spend my limited resources on purchasing. And GnG… that game was just evil. Even as a kid with too much time on my hands, I barely even attempted it. Totally ridiculous.

    Somehow I’ve never even played the legendary Battletoads. Maybe I was already out of NES by that time? The game sounds absurd, though.

    I agree Rygar doesn’t belong here. Sprawling, unintuitive, and poorly documented? Yes. But not hard. Just an early, awkward action RPG.

    I did beat Gauntlet, which I thought was a pretty big deal at the time. Didn’t the last password only take you to somewhere in the 60’s? So you had to go 30 something in a row? I’m fairly sure I only managed that once, and that it was the only game ending screen I ever hassled my mom to find the camera to snapshot.

    Tyson destroyed me as a kid, but I never had the game to practice with for very long. 20 years later I got pretty darn good at it on the emulator.

    I’m rather surprised Contra is so widely considered to be a hard game. Like the fellow above, this was my game. I could play Contra (sans code) indefinitely, or until my mother pulled the NES power cord from the wall. I distinctly remember staying at my grandmother’s house for a day or two while my parents were traveling or something. She stayed in the front room and knit. I set up my Nintendo in the back room and played exactly one game of Contra. I must have played at least eight straight hours without continues, and finally just turned it off out of boredom. The game just never felt hard to me.

    Castlevania was definitely another great one, still one of my favorite NES games, and one that I can still regularly beat on the emulator 25 years later.

    Good times…

    • Nick

      TMNT was the worst game I ever beat, it wasn’t even enjoyable. That technodrome fight… FML.

  • Cyrs

    Battletoads is absolutely the hardest game, because:

    – Most every NES gamer has played Battletoads
    – But hardly anyone ever gets past Level 3 (the hover bike one)
    – The next 9 levels are a lot harder

    Other games that people rank “hard” are usually ones they can at least come *close* to beating. But when people rank Battletoads, they usually haven’t even played 1/4 of the game. And the other 3/4 is much harder! (If you’ve actually played the unicycle level or the spinning level, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

    Yes, I’ve beaten Battletoads. I’ve never met a NES game I can’t beat. However…

    To beat Battletoads, you need to basically memorize *everything.* By dying. And dying some more. You can’t just pick it up your first time and get really far through the game. That makes it a lot harder.

    To illustrate my point:

    1) I beat Ninja Gaiden the first time I picked it up. I didn’t even use any items. I hadn’t stopped running to figure out how to use them! I could play Ninja Gaiden so easily because I had experience in other games, like Batman and Zelda 2. Jaquio was the hardest, but I still didn’t die. I made it through on instinct.

    2) I also beat Caslevania when I first picked it up. I noticed the holy water stuns enemies, so I just used that the entire game! The bosses are all way, way too easy with that. Dracula can’t even move or shoot you.

    3) With games like Silver Surfer, you can use your space-shooter skills. If you’ve played one space-shooter, you’ve played them all.

    But you can’t do that shit with Battletoads. You might as well be playing a game like Shadow Gate where you *must* memorize all the things that kill you. Past Level 3, Battletoads is like Super Meat Boy… except all the buzzsaws are off-screen, and you find out where they are with your face. The only way to get through the game is to learn by dying – over and over and over. And personally, I didn’t enjoy doing it.

    So I’d say Battletoads gets rank #1. It’s a real bitch to beat it. (Of course, once you have everything memorized, it’s somewhat easy. But that’s true for every NES game.)

    • Eric Slattery

      Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde………..ugh.

    • BabalooMandel

      No one likes a braggart.

    • im8bit

      What are you talking about… Battletoads following levels are not harder than the turbo tunnel, it may look easier after you are able to beat it because you BURN IT into your mind. All Battletoads levels are about the same difficulty once you have beaten them, like the Clinger Winger (unicycle) level you can beat it without losing a single life, it may be the easiest level once you have memorized it.

  • Rob

    Battletoads is up there…I remember getting to the final boss on my last life and dying before I knew what to do. Adventure Island was painful, I would have to say its the hardest NES game I’ve ever beat.

  • sixshooter500

    I disagree with Mega Man 1 being on the list, it’s pretty damn hard, but not among top 15, not even the hardest of NES Mega Man. But other than that, I think this is the most accurate list on the internet.

  • Andrew Brannigan

    Recently I went digging around in the attic for my old NES and all of my games and I came across this list and thought I’d compare your to my own…

    First off, “Rygar” is not a very difficult game. Yes, there’s a lot of leveling up and it is time-consuming back-tracking to find all of the items that you need as you advance through the game, but other than the fact that it takes a good amount of time to complete the game, it’s really not all that difficult.

    The enemies actually take fewer hits as you progress through the game because you’re constantly leveling up and getting stronger. The controls are pretty decent too compared to a lot of the lower-budget NES titles. While you only get one life, you do get unlimited continues (and you maintain all of your items as well as your level when you continue) so that makes it a lot easier. Anyway, this was always my favorite game as a kid and I’ve beaten it hundreds of times, the ending isn’t all that great but I think the music in this game is fantastic. Also, once you’ve beaten this game a couple of times, it’s not hard to commit the formula of how to beat it to memory and the game doesn’t become as much of a maze anymore.

    There were actually some great NES games that had a similar structure (where you had to re-trace your steps, procuring item after item and wander around until you stumbled upon the right way to go) “Simon’s Quest” (my second-favorite game) being a good example.

    I would have to agree with you though about “Silver-Surfer.” I know this game is included on every list of difficult games, but it really belongs there too! The graphics are cool, the music was way ahead of its time, but there are just so many enemies, they come at you so quickly, the patterns are hard to predict and you rarely have enough lives to experience a good portion of the level before your continues are up. I was only able to advance to the later stages of this game when an older kid up the street gave me and my friends a tip about a password screen that you can unlock if you hold down “up” on both player 1 and player 2 controllers at the menu screen.

    My list would include a lesser-known game called “Abadox” it’s a space shooter, I think it’s supposed to be taking place inside an alien’s body or something. Anyway, it’s very tough and I never knew anybody who ever beat it.

    Another game would be “Gradius”, another space shooter, very tough.

    Does anybody remember “Karnov”? (my third-favorite game!) Not all that difficult, but there are a few rough spots here and there.

    Anyway, thanks for posting, interesting read.


  • What a great list, but you just forgot the hardest: Spot. Spot is a very hard game that juat cheats. Get all letters and make it to the end, and you will get a prize. Your out of luck, because it was in season on the month it was created.

  • Ruud

    Mega Man 5 is the easiest of them all. Why does this game give you the boss weapons when you can defeat every boss easily with the Mega Buster?

    Mega Man is challenging but no top 15 material (neither do Contra and Bionic Commando). I don’t understand why many people find the NES Mega Man games hard.

    No-one ever mentions ISOLATED WARRIOR. This game is crazy hard. Together with Bayou Billy this is the only game from my youth that I haven’t beat (and Burai Fighter which I did beat on hard two years game, not on ultimate though).

    From your list I’vea beaten: Ninja Gaiden (all 3), TMNT (btw, the swimming level is easy), Mega Man, Bionic Commando, Contra and Punch-Out!!

  • Kellen

    Dick Tracy and Bart Vs. The Space Mutants.

    • Nick

      Bart was more a victim of it’s own design, I had a love/hate with that game. Never beat it, but I got far.

  • Jimmy

    This is the most accurate list I’ve seen on the internet. I’d add Life Force (no code) and Wizards and Warriors to the list. You may also want to add Dragon’s Lair, but I don’t know if the game is just difficult or just a retarded game.

    Also, I would add the original Zelda and Metroid. Now I know what you all will say. OMG, I’ve beaten those games many times and rather easily. Yeah, because you all at one point or another cheated. Ask yourself, if you picked played those games today for the first time, and you did not use any type of cheat, map, walk through, code and etc. Could you beat it? The answer is no. How would you know to play a flute at a certain lake to dry it up? I mean come on.

    • Shane Justice

      Because there’s an npc that hints that you should. I beat Zelda without walkthroughs or cheats…Metroid was another story though

    • Aladdin Sahne

      Beat both of them with no cheats. As an 8 year old. Get gud bro. 😉

  • Jason

    While I agree with most of the games on this list. I must totally without a doubt hands down disagree with Contra and TMNT. Are you guys seriously trying to tell me that these were two of the hardest games of all time? I’ve gotten as far as the last level once without dying and have easily beaten it without the 30 lives cheat. TMNT has some difficult parts, primarily the technodrome which is a semi-ridiculous level as there are parts that without the scroll you can’t beat without becoming severe injury, but other than the searching for the technodrome(which sometimes you find instantly and other times you have to hunt for, as well as the final stage within the technodrome itself the game is actually not very difficult at all, just long. The dam/mines level is fun and quite simple.

  • Krzysztof Szewczyk

    Contra? Really? I beated it without code when I was like 8 years old. Where is Castlevania III?

    • Nick

      Castlevania 3 is rough. great game, but oh so rough.

  • Michael Burks

    Great list.

    Metal Gear would be on my list. Without using cheats, the game is hard with tons of unfair glitches.

    Zelda II was very hard.

    Hylide was hard. Horrible controls and odd glitches.

    GI Joe’s first game was hard.

    And who could forget R-Type?

  • WarrenSappSuckedBigOnes

    half of them are too easy. karate kid? gauntlet? Contra? jesus….i can beat them blindfolded.

  • John Reed Shope

    Am I the only person who played Friday the 13th? That game was IMPOSSIBLE a to beat! Your people would die when you didnt play as them. Jason had a life meter of 5 bosses and played like a final boss. If you managed to finally beat him the game told you he rose again and you bad to beat him all over again only this time even more life and twice as fast with the remaining players you had left? That game made me break at least two controllers. I also never got to the ending of A Boy and His Blob or Air Fortress so I don’t know why these are being left off. Did anybody actually beat Bubble Bobble also? These are some very playable but super hard games in my opinion no one seems to talk about.

  • Aladdin Sahne

    Solomon’s Key.

  • Ryan Resavage

    Jesus! NARC!!! Bart Vs The Space Mutants, Ninja Gaiden II. NARC was STUPID hard…. Like even in two player blasting everything in sight and still dying. I had to use a game genie to beat that damn game. Battletoads I must agree though the hardest game EVER…The speeder level… Christ!!!! Brought me to a uncontrolled rage in my youth. Like BAD! Stomping off after blasting the controller into the floor. Thankfully they were next to indestructible. The Dam level on TMNT was pretty damn hard too, I eventually let someone borrow it and never saw the cartridge again. I wasn’t too upset.

  • Nick

    Starwars – the death star x-wing run is brutal, just brutal
    Empire Strikes Back – Everything is brutal, I am proud to say I made it to Dagobah in that game.


    Blaster Master Crab Boss, you can hit him and then pause the game during the hit… wait like 30 seconds, unpause and he’s dead.

  • Filmeater

    Fester’s Quest was the hardest game I ever played.

  • Nathan Rahsaan Shepherd

    The original Castlevania should be on the list. Simon Belmont is the most unathletic hero of all time. He is slow and can barely jump. Add to that flying Medusa heads, anoying hunchback creatures, and knights tossing axes at you and you might break a controller. Getting to Dracula is tough enough, but then you have to beat him twice! This Castlevania is also handicapped with no password or save feature.

  • Adam

    rygar is actually very easy…once you understand the RPG elements on the start/black screen…and know the secret to ‘leveling up’. in the tower where the big snails are…you need to go back and forth between the first snail screen and the second snail screen after you’ve killed the first snail. the first snail will respawn every time and each time you kill him, you get massive tone and last points. this same principle should be applied throughout the game – from beginning to end. kill fodder until you gain a life bubble and they only take one or two hits to kill. move on. each time you encounter a baddie that takes a lot of hits to kill, look for one that respawns every time. kill, kill, kill…until it only take one or two hits. if you do this throughout the game, it gets easier and easier.

  • Pong Sifu

    Some of these are deserving of their title, but Karate Kid took me about 30 minutes of trying to beat it, it really isn’t very hard at all. Contra also isn’t very difficult when playing solo. Ninja Gaiden is the hardest on the list that I’ve beaten, there are a few that I know I would never be able to beat.

    • tbewin

      I agree, they claimed to have beaten Ninja Gaiden in the article, which does take an advanced level of skill to beat, and then say they cant beat the wind level in karate kid which should take someone of that skill level maybe 5 minutes to master, i call bs on this article, doesnt add up.

  • tbewin

    Karate kid is ridiculously easy, contras a bit harder but with a little practice is easily beatable without the code, i dont think sone of the people who do these lists play all of the games, just basically go off of what avgn have reviewed, maybe im wrong. Mega man is difficult, i needed a walkthrough to beat it, Tmnt is difficult as well but only for the last few levels again not sure why people think the water level is hard.