Top 10 hardest video games & franchises in history: Where does Elden Ring rank?

dante meat boy and seleneCapcom, Housemarque, and Team Meat

Way before Dark Souls came along, gamers have been debating for decades about the hardest games ever made. With Elden Ring providing yet another grueling and stunning adventure, here are our own top 10 selections.

2022 has seen Elden Ring and Sifu come along and stir up the video game difficulty debate once again. Elden Ring is another example of From Software’s classic ‘souls’ formula and its unbelievable success has potentially broken new ground for hard video games.

But there are countless titles that have brought about much discussion over the years. Some are notorious for impossible sections or fight such as Battletoads or Punch-Out!! Whereas many NES and SNES games were ‘broken’ difficult to ensure gamers had to keep playing the same few sections because of their short length.

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We believe we have the ultimate list of difficult video games that factors in all variables.

10. Flappy Bird

flappy bird gameplayGears
Just one…more…go.

Do you remember the controversy this simple one-button mobile game caused? A single bird, that you control with one button to fly higher. But there was something about its irritating and addictive nature that made it the object of affection for many for some time.

It was also weirdly difficult, either because of the placement of the pipes or Flappy Bird’s flying mechanics themselves.

9. Returnal

serene facing boss enemyHousemarque
Returnal is still one of the PS5’s best titles.

Potentially one of the most commercially successful, yet deviously difficult, video games ever created. Hosuemarque’s first major AAA behemoth was a roaring success and captured the hearts of many with its unbelievable next-gen graphics, electric gameplay, and ever-changing roguelike atmosphere.

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But studies found that not many completed it because it was tough to negotiate, especially because of its legendary and spectacular boss fights.

8. Ninja Gaiden

Ryu Hayabusa grabbing swordTeam Ninja
Ninja Gaiden is an experience and a battle of patience and understanding.

This spot could be awarded to any number of Ninja Gaiden games really as Ryu Hayabusa has been known to get himself into serious trouble on more than one occasion.

The combat in Ninja Gaiden is meaty, satisfying, and violent. It’s also relentlessly punishing as you’re near-enough swarmed by tons of angry enemies from all angles at furious speeds with a litany of attacks and weapons at all times. The mantra and philosophy have pretty much remained a constant throughout the series, and it’s one of the reasons Ninja Gaiden has retained an incredible following of fans.

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7. Super Meat Boy

A level of Super Meat BoyTeam Meat
It’s like Mario only unbelievably, stupidly harder.

At its core, Super Meat Boy was just the most basic, free-flowing platform game imaginable. Its mechanics were spot on and its art style and concept were wholeheartedly engrossing.

The only slightly deterrent is that the game was already attempting to kick multiple lumps out of your ass before you’d even completed the first few levels. Amusingly, if you were able to finish the main game and endure its brutality, you had ‘Dark’ versions of every level to do. And guess what? They’re even tougher.

6. I Wanna Be The Guy

a player trying to complete a level of IWBTGMichael "Kayin" O'Reilly
You unofficially need to sign a waiver that states you’re happy to burst blood vessels playing IWBTG.

One of the true originators of the ‘unfair’ genre of games. Essentially the ultimate test of patience and a complete trollfest that forced players to engage in trial and error principles, endlessly.

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Got a gap to jump in front of you? You needed to be wary of magical falling blocks, sudden sharp objects, or a staggering number of different hazards that forced you to learn and adapt. Every checkpoint was the equivalent of a water-starved man in a desert finding even a single drop. It was punishing, unfair, and yet you still wanna be the guy.

5. Cuphead

cuphead and mugman fighting cagney carnationStudioMDHR
Easily one of the most fascinating games in recent memory, plus an obligatory comment about how it’ll make you pull your hair out.

When Cuphead was first revealed, it looked like a cutsie-tootsie homage to the earliest incarnations of cartoons. Little did many know that lurking beneath this refined creation of character and color was a monster ready to break the will of any who set foot in it.

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Largely consisting of bosses, Cuphead required absolute concentration and precision. The charm of Cuphead is that every level is full to the brim with identity and uniqueness, and even that isn’t enough to comfort anyone who dared attempt the game‘s Expert Mode.

4. Elden Ring & any other Soulsborne game

player fighting giant bear enemy in elden ringFromSoftware
Where’s the button to nope?

You know the drill by now. Elden Ring. Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh, their premise is largely the same and they single-handedly coined a genre of video games that have become popular the world over.

Dodging, rolling, parrying, grinding, leveling up, larger-than-life bosses, thematically endearing worlds, tons of ways to build your character, and a mental counter of how many times you succumbed to the stranglehold of malevolent forces are all part and parcel of Souls. Elden Ring might be the pinnacle of the genre for many, especially with critics, and proves that this type of game can be painful but perfect.

3. Devil May Cry 3

dante fighting enemy in DMC3Capcom
All DMC games are tough affairs, except maybe two, but DMC3 takes the biscuit.

Hack ‘n’ slash games have been around since the dawn of time with the likes of the Onimusha games, Dynasty Warriors, and the aforementioned Ninja Gaiden series being strong representatives. However, Devil May Cry upped the ante and made hacking and slashing stylish with its combo-riffic carnage.

Don’t get it twisted, fighting demons with Dante is stupidly fun, but it’s well-known by this point how difficult DMC3 was compared to the rest of the franchise. General Souls gameplay isn’t actually that hard, whereas DMC3 was just constantly demanding.

2. Ghosts ‘n Goblins

sir arthur battling enemiesCapcom
Taking damage will bizarrely remove your clothes, so make sure you’re wearing underpants!

After all these modern games, it’s time to take a trip down memory…too late, you died. Ghost ‘n Goblins can be realistically completed in under an hour, probably a lot less, but you just absolutely won’t. Newcomers to the game will spend days, maybe weeks trying to finish it.

The erratic movement patterns of enemies, the constantly respawning enemies, the ticking timer, and countless other factors make progression in Ghosts ‘n Goblins an exercise in futility at times. Whereas Souls games at least leave room for progressing your character, this didn’t.

1. Contra

co-op gameplay of contraKonami
Be prepared to die, die, and die again.

Take your pick from any of the early Contra games, honestly, you’ll regret it…and love it. Contra broke barriers in terms of absolute, raw diffculty and made no bones about it either, it knew it’s rock solid.

Even if you didn’t have limited lives and continues you’d still struggle to fully beat the game — your Konami code won’t save you either. Sharing many of the same principles as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Contra games didn’t take their foot off the pedal for one second, there was no time to regroup, everything is certainly not copacetic, and you had to be on your game and learn a host of behavioral patterns and movements.

The franchise is simply the hardest in existence, and it’s gone down in folklore for being that way.