Streets of Rage 3 (GEN)
The first two Streets of Rage games had their tough spots on the default difficulty settings but they were still very managable. However, when Streets of Rage 3 was being localized to western audiences, some sinister fiends working at SEGA decided to tweak the difficulty settings just a tad. And by that, I mean, crank it from 10 to 25.
Playing Streets of Rage on normal could be described as playing it on hard or even very hard. The regular flunkies can take away so much of your health and the amount of life bars the bosses have is just ridiculous. Want to conserve health by not performing your energy-draining special moves? The mooks and bosses are gonna slap you around so much you're gonna lose it anyway so you may as well part with your health by dishing out some pain. While I've seen the credits roll on the first two games in this series, I've never made it past the third level of Streets of Rage 3 and that was when I had a friend to aid me.
Ice Climber (NES)
Vertical scrolling mixed with the occasional slip, sliding ice physics. That right there is a recipe for broken controllers. Much as I loved Ice Climber as a kid, I was not blind to the fact that it was quite punishing in difficulty. The game has 32 stages and you can actually select the level you want from the outset. By stage 10, the challenges Ice Climber throws at you becomes maddening. You'll be jumping a cross super speeding platforms with not much of a safety net below more times than not.
Being a vertical scrolling game, Ice Climber works on the death rule that is you-die-if-you're-below-the-screen. If you happen to be playing with friends that are in a hurry, they may cause you more deaths than any of the enemies strutting around the mountain peaks. Speaking of baddies, by far the biggest threat is the Polar Bear. He looks cool and all with those trunks and shades, but the sight of him only means that you're taking too long. Sure, Ice Climber has no time limit in the regular stages, but if you dawdle, the Polar Bear steps in and auto scrolls the screen upwards a bit, killing you if you're too far down.
Even by old-school gaming standards, Popo and Nana have very strange jump physics. They always jump in an arc and they cannot change direction once a leap has been initiated. So not only do you have the crazy level layouts to contend with, an bear that has no tolerance for stragglers, but also the protagonists stiff controls. Why are Popo and Nana going through so much agony in the first place? Why, for the eggplants of course. Freaking eggplants. Perhaps they've spent so much time on the mountains that the possibility of the fruit being sold in stores eludes them.
Home conversions were a big thing in the 1980s. Sometimes they were done quite horribly as was the case with the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man. Other companies did quite an admirable job, like Konami with the NES version of Contra, which is actually more popular than the arcade original. In fact, Contra was almost too faithful to it's arcade sibling, right down to the gut-punching difficulty.
Contra was a game that taught players how to be alert and it was a very harsh teacher. Danger did not come from one direction, but from all directions. Anyone that was not paying attention would be met with a swift death, and rest assured, death in Contra is quick because as tough as Bill and Lance look, they will leave this moral coil in one lousy hit. Power-ups like the Spread gun helped tip the scales a bit, but that just made losing it all the more painful, especially in a game where you're a one-hit-point wonder.
So you've got an onslaught of enemies that don't let up and they come at you from everywhere. That in and of itself is brutal. But the big kick to the balls is that you only get three lives and three continues. Once you use them all, game over. That is, unless you know the code, the Konami Code, a code so famous that it's known even outside of gaming circles. The Konami Code bestows upon you a whopping 30 lives and if you still use all of those up and have to continue, you'll get those precious 30 lives back. Contra wasn't the first game to introduce the Koanmi Code (that would be the NES version of Gradius) but it unquestionably popularized it. Players that are now gods at Contra more than likely obtained their status by using the Konami Code to improve themselves and are now skillful enough to best the game without the code, something that still remains out of a lot of player's grasp to this very day.
Robotron: 2084 (ARC)
Its no secret that most arcade game's are notoriously difficult. But even the likes of Contra has show's some mercy, however small it may be by giving players a few power-ups. If you're looking for any sort of shield, or improved weapon to give you an edge in Robotron: 2084, you're outta luck. The only things you can count on in this game are your own skills and a really good trigger finger.
An overhead twitch shooter, Robotron throws you into the middle of a war zone with wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies to blast to bits. Of course you get points for ending the live of the ones that seek to end yours, but you can rack up even more points by rescuing civilians. Most of the time, you'll have to put yourself in even greater danger to save these chaps, so depending on the how many lives you've got left and whatnot, picking them up may or may not be worth it. Despite it's very simplistic look, Robotron packs enough punch to scare away even the most seasoned of gamers. But for all the pain the the game can cause you, its the kind of difficulty that isn't cheap or unfair, something that cannot be said for the next game on the list.
Mega Man & Bass (SNES)
Mega Man 7, Mega Man X1-3 and Mega Man Soccer. Capcom had brought just about every SNES Mega Man title over to America. All except for one and this was most likely due to the game coming out in 1998, a time where Nintendo had left it's 16-bit console behind and was focusing on the N64. Rockman & Forte was created so Mega Man fans that still owned a SNES in the late 1990s could have a Mega Man game to go to.
As the title implies, you can play as either play as Mega Man or Bass. Mega Man plays as he always has, while Bass comes with rapid fire, can shoot in multiple directions, can dash and a double jump. The downside is that unlike Mega Man, he cannot shoot through walls and he cannot move and shoot at the same time. You might be thinking that Bass has the easier time in this game with all he has going for him. Well, getting through stages is certainly less demanding with Bass for the most part. Boss fights, however, will be like taking a Charge Shot to both knees. For Mega Man, bosses are easier and stages are a headache. Really, though, it doesn't matter which one of these guys you go with because this game makes it so you're royally screwed regardless of the choice you make.
Like Mega Man 8, there are no Energy Tanks to be found and Rockman & Forte is a much harder than any challenge all classic Mega Man games has dished out combined. The level design isn't anywhere near as friendly as other Mega Man titles and a lot of enemy hits will have you calling BS simply because they literally get the drop on you on account of you not being able to see them until its too late. Disappearing block sections are a nightmare with Mega Man because unlike previous games, Rock has no Rush adapters to deal with these things. Astro Man's stage has one nasty disappearing block section and the timing on these things is beyond strict, with the starting block being over a pit of spikes.
The second King stage has got to be the most horrendous thing I've ever experienced in a Mega Man title. For starters, the stage just seems to drag on and on. But the real nightmare is the bosses, four of them, but the two that will really make you want to rage quit is the tank, specifically it's second variation. While you were on the ground for the first portion of the fight, the second area is fought by jumping over moving platforms over, you guessed it, a bottomless pit. Not only is the boss shooting at you all the time, one of the things it's firing is a fist that can break the platforms you're jumping on, which is a surefire death for anyone playing as the Blue Bomber. The boss also shoots flash bombs that turn the screen white for a second or two, long enough to make you lose your bearings and fall to your death. This boss also has no health bar and can take an insane amount of abuse before finally going down.
In 2003, the game was released in America under the name Mega Man & Bass on the GBA. The game was only made even harder due to the GBA screen crunch. If you want to play the better version of the game, you can hunt down a reproduction cart that's been translated to English. The SNES version may not suffer from screen crunch but that still isn't saying much. This is one of those games that hard for all of the wrong reasons.