Mega Man (NES)
There are three things that are absolutely certain in life: death, taxes and Mega Man games being hard as steel. Mega Man games being notoriously difficult isn't some recent phenomenon. Nope, the Blue Bomber's games have been making players drop F-bombs for more than twenty five years, since the original game in fact. Mega Man's first adventure is still one of the most infamously arduous for a number of reasons.
Let's get the most obvious out of the way first, the Yellow Devil. Just getting to the boss of Dr. Wily Stage 1 is no easy task. Use of Robot Master weapons and precise platforming and the Magnet Beam are the only ways you'll make it through this level alive. The fight with the Yellow Devil has haunted many a player due to his speed and small weak point, which is a tiny red eye. But there are players who have gotten his pattern down and have taken the Yellow Devil out without using the Thunder Beam and pause glitch.
That being said, the Yellow Devil is far from being the only thing that makes Mega Man such a tough cookie. Not only is Elec Man one speedy little devil, but his Thunder Beam hits hard and can kill you in a measly three hits. So if you try to face Elec Man with half health, you're probably going to be reduced to spread dots even if you are using the Rolling Cutter.
Guts Man's level has a moving platform section over a huge bottomless pit. These platforms move across a line but certain lines have a gaps in them, which indicate the point of where the platforms will drop and you'll die if you haven't jumped in time. When these platforms drop, they fall like bricks so if your timing is less than perfect, you're dead.
Ice Man's level has two irritating disappearing block sections that makes most players with little patience break out the Magnet Beam. But the real mountain to climb in Ice Man's stage is the long bottomless pit that's patrolled by Footholders. What are Footholders, you ask? Why, Footholders are moving platforms with shifty eyes that fire bullets left and right to knock you off of other Footholders. To make matters worse, it's easy for you to be standing perfectly still on a Footholder, glitch through it and die. If you put your faith in a Footholder, you deserve the many deaths that will befall you.
Spikes, Mega Man's most lethal one-hit kill obstacle is more deadly than ever. How many times has mercy invincibility saved you from the wrath of spikes in a Mega Man game? Well it won't be saving you here. Even if you've been hit by an enemy, flash for a few seconds and fall on spikes, you will still die. Oh, yeah. Spikes are hardcore in the original Mega Man.
Just as you would in later games, you fight all the Robot Masters over again but there are not teleport capsules. You fight the likes of Cut Man and Elec Man in Dr. Wily Stage 2 and they don't drop health power-ups when defeated. In Dr. Wily Stage 4, you fight Ice Man, Fire Man, Bomb Man and Guts Man back to back. Again, these guys don't drop health power ups when you beat them and in this level, dying on just one of those guys means you have to face all of them all over again.
Tough bosses, some fiendishly tricky levels, boss rushes with no way to recover lost health and no E-Tanks make the original Mega Man one the hardest games in the series. It's a beatable game, sure but you'll have a devil of a time trying to make it to that staff roll.
Super Monkey Ball (GCN)
The gameplay is a bit similar to Marble Madness but instead of moving a ball, you're actually tilting the playing field to navigate the monkeys to the goal before time runs out. It's simple, clean old-school arcade fun with a dose of cuteness thanks to the adorable prime apes. It also gets maddeningly frustrating about midway through.
Arcade mode houses three difficulty settings, which also uses a set number of stages. Beginner is obviously the easiest setting and has 10 stages. Intermediate ramps things up and has 20 stages. Expert is exactly what it says on the tin and has 30 levels. Play Expert long enough and you'll see just what the insides of your controller looks like after you've had 30 fallouts.
You start out with limited continues and as you play you can unlock more and eventually infinite continues becomes available. You desperately need infinite continues to get through expert and possibly even intermediate. On these settings there's often only a very small platform standing between you and hearing the cries of a monkey falling to his death because you got hit by a moving obstacle or couldn't keep the platform leveled. Super Monkey Ball was made my Amusement Vision, the same company that made the ball busting F-Zero GX.
Super Contra (ARC)
Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right. That's not the Konami Code, but the directions in which you are constantly under fire. There is no Konami Code in the arcade version of Super Contra because the game hates you and all of your friends and family.
Super Contra didn't really add too many new elements to the original. We got top down levels and slopes. Yet in spite of hardly deviating from the norm, it managed to be ten times harder than the original Contra. I'm guessing the Red Falcon attended the same school of villainy from the mooks in Ghosts 'n Goblins because they never give you a chance to breath, assaulting you at every turn. If you are off your game for even a fraction of a second, you're dead. And no matter how skilled a gamer you are, if you're just coming into Super Contra, this game will make mincemeat out of you.
Like most Contra titles, Super Contra allows for co-op play, but if you're still curled up in the corner in a fetal position after that whupping stage one gave you, the best help a friend can probably offer is serving as diversionary target. Everyone needs a meat shield, right?
If you manage to get your hands on the spread gun, you'll have a great advantage. For about 15 seconds, that is. Super Contra brings back a lot of weapons from the first game but since you perish to anything in a single hit and the enemies are some tenacious mofos, you probably won't get the chance to really enjoy them. You only get a handful of continues and once they're gone, that's it, game over. We're talking about an arcade game, AN ARCADE GAME, that actually put a limit on continues. That's stone cold.
Now, it is possible to finish Super Contra without dying. There are videos of this being done on YouTube. So I suppose if you have the reflexes of a cheetah and play the game for weeks without ever blinking, you too, can beat Super Contra. Me, I let the aliens take over the planet a long time ago. They aren't a bad bunch once you get to know them.
Want a shooter that is truly different from anything else out there? Check out Ikaruga. In all five of the game's levels, there isn't a single weapon or power-up that appears on the screen for you to obtain to tip the odds in your favor. Instead, your ship has the incredibly cool ability to shift it's polarity to black or white. Why is this important? Because enemies come in two color types, black and white and they shoot, you guessed it, black and white bullets. When you're ship is white it is immune to all enemy fire of that color. If the ship is black, black fire won't damage you. Not only that, it absorbs the that fire, which can be stored to charge up a homing laser shot, good for one go. It isn't much but in Ikaruga, you'll gladly take what the game gives you.
You can also kill enemies faster by shooting them with opposite color. Black enemies are weak to white fire and white enemies are weak to black fire. You can still kill enemies with the same color but they'll go down a lot quicker if you shoot them with their opposite color, this is doubly true for bosses and mini bosses. You're constantly changing your ships polarity to eliminate threats at a quicker pace and to stay alive. Depending on the wave of color fire descending upon you, your polarity acts as a shield and it's even possible to beat the game without shooting. I've never done it, but it is possible.
However, even with the ability to reverse polarity, Ikaruga is no cake walk. This game was designed by Treasure, a company that has no qualms about testing the sanity of players. You can be playing Ikaruga on the lowest difficulty setting and there will still be times where you'll have to quickly change your ship's polarity just to survive a stream of black and white bullets while mini bosses reign down heavy laser fire. During these tense moments it becomes quite easy to panic and flip polarity at the wrong time and die.
Still, Ikaruga isn't completely without mercy. You can unlock unlimited continues after playing for a while. Just expect to really work to get anything above a C rank. Ikaruga is a harsh and bitter game, but it's still one of the greatest games the SHMUP genre has to offer. If you can't find a physical copy, it's available for chump change on Xbox Live Arcade.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)
The game that is largely viewed as the black sheep of the Zelda series just because it's so different from the rest. God forbid a series tries anything new at only two games in. For all of the criticism it gets, Zelda II was an important entry in the series. Magic played a much larger role in this game than the original in the form of offensive and defensive spells, towns were introduced with some help (and some not-so-helpful citizens) and combat was far more rewarding. The downward thrust found in Super Smash Bros? You have this game to thank for that.
Even with all the drastic changes from the first Zelda like side scrolling gameplay, lives and experience points, Zelda II is largely remembered for how much it pushed the play to his or her limits. Every single time you got a game over, not only did you have to deal with the resurrected Gannon's trollish laugh, but you were sent back to the very starting point of the game, which is the palace where Zelda sleeps. It can be more than a little frustrating to make your way through a grueling dungeon, lose all your lives and have to make the rough trek back there just to take another stab at it. Did you die going through Death Mountain to make your way through the Great Palace? Enjoy the long, painful trip back, chump. The only time the game is merciful about losing all your lives is when you're in the Great Palace. Get a game over there and you continue from the Great Place. Mighty generous of you, game. The Great Palace is also the lengthiest, most unforgiving dungeon in the entire game, which is saying a lot since the regular dungeons are nothing to scoff at.
Most old-school RPGs have you grinding to gain experience and Zelda II follows suit. Reaching your first level up is pretty simple but later on, expect to engage in a lot of battles to make Link a bit tougher. You can't just whale on foes and expect to win.
Like so many gaming heroes of the 1980s, Link suffers from terrible knock back every time he's hit and the distance he stumbles backwards rivals that of Simon Belmont. Anyone that's played the Castlevania titles knows just how aggravating it can be to get hit by an enemy and have the dreaded knock back from that attack send you into a pit. In Zelda II, this is the stuff that rage quit is made of. You will really hate those disappearing bridges that have enemies over them.
Zelda II may be the most polarizing entry in the series but despite the ugly duckling status that so many like to label it with, it's one of my favorite Zelda titles, insane difficulty and all. The series would be a lot poorer if not for Zelda II's radical differences and I'd love to see Nintendo revisit this style of Zelda.