The Hardest NES Games: 5 Classic Nintendo Games I Never Beat
Old Nintendo Games Were Hard ... Really Hard!
I grew up in the Golden Age of video games, the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Nintendo NES console reigned supreme over all video game systems.
At that time, Pong was ancient, the Atari was becoming yesterday's news and PlayStation, XBOX and Wii were still many years away. Almost every one of my friends owned a Nintendo NES system.
We would spend hours every night and every weekend playing classic Nintendo games like Rampage, Contra, Super Mario Bros., NARC, Double Dragon and Zelda, much to our parent's dismay.
"Turn that thing off! Go outside! Get some fresh air!"
We would simply ignore them and start up a new game and try to beat it. Man, oh man, let me tell you, those old Nintendo games were hard! Each one required so much time, so much effort. Most required nights without sleep. Days without sunlight. Not like nowadays. No sir. Everything is so easy these days, even video games. Everyone has to be a winner.
Video Games Today are Easy!
Nowadays video games take almost no skill to complete. Really it's more a matter of time than talent and a question of when you will beat a PlayStation or XBOX video game rather than if you will complete a game. Most current video games take somewhere between 10 to 15 hours to complete while classic Nintendo games required months to years of repetition, practice and devotion often with no success in sight.
Nintendo games were so difficult that they came with dozens of cheat codes built-in and eventually products were released to help enter those cheat codes, such as The Game Genie. Often the cheat codes were your only lifeline in your fight for survival against the electronic enemies on-screen.
Perhaps the most popular of all classic Nintendo game cheat codes was the infamous Contra "30 Lives" cheat code, otherwise known as:
up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start
But, let me ask you this, did you ever beat Contra without that code? Of course you didn't. It was impossible. Without it you only had three lives and everything killed you in one shot.
In Contra, one wrong press of a button cost you a life. Three mistakes and, well, to quote Bill Paxton (or is it Bill Pullman, who really knows?) from Alien, "Game Over, man! Game Over"
But, because I did cheat from time to time and I most certainly used the infamous Contra cheat code, I can say that I have beat that Nintendo game. However, there are some hard Nintendo games, cheat code or not, that I simply could not beat. Video games that I question if there even was a final level or boss battle. Games so challenging the thought of playing them causes a cold sweat. They don't make video games like these bad boys anymore. Kids simply don't have what it takes.
These are the five classic Nintendo games I never beat.
5.Back to the Future
Most classic Nintendo games, and really all video games, inspired by Hollywood movies are typically terrible. Back to the Future for the NES does not break the mold.
Released in 1989, four years after the film debuted in theatres, Back to the Future thrusts gamers into the role of Marty McFly who is stuck in 1955.
Players must collect clocks strewn about Hill Valley (which appears very similar to the neighborhood in Paperboy) in order to prevent Marty from vanishing from his family photo that appears in the bottom of the screen. Of course bullies and bees are standing in his way. Yes, bees. Luckily you have bowling balls and skateboards to fend them off.
The end of each stage prompts a mini game. The first mini game requires Marty to fend off Biff and his cronies with milkshakes. In the second mini game, Marty must block kisses from Lorraine and in the third mini game Marty has to play "Johnny Be Good" with his guitar ala the Guitar Hero Games popular today.
This Nintendo game is hard thanks to the end. If you complete each stage and mini game you end up in the DeLorean time machine where you have to avoid lightning bolts and obstacles in an attempt to reach 88 mph and return safely to present day.
The kicker here is that regardless of how many lives you have accumulated when you enter the DeLorean stage (whether its 1 or 10), you only get one attempt to reach 88 mph and win the game. If a lightning bolt hits you or an obstacle slows you down, the game comes to an abrupt end and you have officially wasted an hour or two of your life.
I was never able to successfully complete the DeLorean stage of Back to the Future and became all too familiar with the Game Over screen, which read, "Tough luck, Marty! It looks like you are stuck here!"
Just trust me, the movies were better. Well, except for the cowboy one. That was a little lame.
Back to the Future NES Gameplay - Stage 1
4. Elevator Action
In Elevator Action for the NES, players control a secret agent named Otto, who strangely resembles Conan O'Brien. As Otto, players must acquire (steal) Top Secret Files located throughout an enemy-infested building that Otto enters from the roof. Top Secret Files can be found in red doors strategically placed throughout all 30 floors of the building.
Using elevators and escalators, players must descend through all 30 floors of the building while acquiring the Top Secret Files and avoiding the flying bullets of the enemy agents guarding the files (the enemy agents look an awful lot like the Black Spy from "Spy vs. Spy" in Mad Magazine).
You can dodge the bullets by ducking, jumping or shooting the enemy agent before he shoots you first. It isn't terribly difficult early in the game, but as you progress, pulling off all these evasion techniques becomes next to impossible, especially considering the slow response time from pressing the button to the action on screen, as was typical in many classic Nintendo NES games.
There are times where three bullets will be flying at you, each at a different height, preventing any possibility of jumping or ducking to avoid them. Unless Otto is able to pull off some Keanu Reeves Matrix moves ...
If you are able to reach the bottom floor, a getaway car is waiting for you and you will have successfully completed the stage. What's next? You start over at the top of the building and do it all over again, only there are more enemy agents and their bullets are much, much faster.
To be honest, I'm not sure that you even can beat Elevator Action. I typically died at least once in the first stage during each play through and never made it past the fourth stage. Was there a fifth stage? I don't even know. An eighth stage? Beats me.
Elevator Action Gameplay
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT)
If you were a kid in the '80s, you loved two things:
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Therefore, what could be better than a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game? Maybe Bagel Bites, but little else. OK, definitely Bagel Bites.
If not the most frustrating of all classic Nintendo games, it certainly ranks near the top and considering its potential, TMNT for the NES could be the worst Nintendo game of all time.
Author's Note: Fortunately Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade would come along not much later and completely redeem the franchise.
The game starts with an over-head view a lot like say Zelda or most RPG Nintendo games, where players control their favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle character (all four characters are available to start the game) and dodge enemy vehicles as they travel to different buildings and manholes.
Once the turtle would enter the manhole or building, the screen would change to a side view where players would encounter various enemies, including foot soldiers, mousers, bugs and all kinds of crazy crap. Each setting had its own unique design and goal, ranging from flipping a switch to boss battle.
If a turtle runs out of health, gets caught in a trap or run over by an enemy vehicle in the over-head view (all are likely to happen often), the character isn't actually killed, but rather captured and can then be rescued starting in Mission 3.
The problem here is that I never reached Mission 3. Why is that? Because Mission 2 is F@%! impossible.
In Mission 2, after various stages filled with hoards of enemies, players have to disarm eight bombs attached to the Hudson River dam in less than 2 minutes 20 seconds while dodging electric eels and currents. Much like the DeLorean stage in Back to the Future, a player only gets one attempt at this. If all eight bombs aren't disarmed by the time the clock runs out, the game abrubtly ends and returns you to the start screen.
According to many sources, there are a total of six missions with the final battle between Shredder and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the Technodrome. That sounds cool, but ...
Personally I find it hard to believe as I have never met anyone or heard of anyone getting past the Hudson River Mission. As far as I know, Mission 3 in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is as real as Big Foot, Flying Saucers and The Loch Ness Monster.
TMNT Gameplay - Stage 1
TMNT - Ending
2. Bart vs. the Space Mutants
It's no coincidence that three of the hardest Nintendo games of all-time were inspired by TV shows and movies. As mentioned above, such games were just plain awful.
Author's Note: I also recall Battle Toads being an incredibly terrible/difficult game, but I couldn't remember enough of it to justify a place on the list.
As the title would suggest, players control Bart Simpson in his quest to defeat Space Mutants that threaten to take over Earth once they complete the construction of a machine able to turn humans into aliens ... or space mutants, if you will.
Each level centers around one of the pieces the Space Mutants need to build their machine and requires that Bart collect or destroy the piece as it appears throughout the level.
For example, the Space Mutants need purple-colored items, so the player must spray paint all purple items red. In the second level, players collect hats, in the third level players pop balloons and in the fourth level players destroy EXIT signs (it's hard to imagine a fully functioning machine made entirely of purple stuff, balloons, hats and EXIT signs taking over the human race, but what do I know about world domination).
There is a fifth and final level, but I have no idea what the machine piece is because, as you can probably guess, I never made it to the fifth level.
What made Bart vs. the Space Mutants so hard were the controls. For whatever reason, the game designers decided it would be a good idea to make the "run" and "jump" button be the same button on the NES controller. Most levels require extremely precise jumps, sometimes onto and from moving targets, and too often you would find yourself running off a platform falling to your death rather than jumping ... Doh!
While sporadic moments of The Simpsons brand of humor gave the game a little charm, the poor game design was simply too much to overcome.
Gameplay Video for NES
NES Game Poll
What's the Hardest Nintendo Game?
Odds are if you played video games in the 1980s and 1990s, you are familiar with the arcade and NES game, Paperboy, and odds are you aren't surprised to see it in the #1 spot on this list.
The concept of Paperboy is very simple while the gameplay is anything but. In Paperboy, players control a paperboy with a delivery route on what appears to be a typical suburban street.
Players must deliver newspapers to the subscriber's house (indicated by bright homes as opposed to dark homes for non-subscribers) and can do so by tossing the paper into the mailbox or onto the door step. Every successful delivery results in points added to the players cumulative score and increases the odds of adding more subscribers during the next day's delivery.
What makes the game difficult are the many obstacles, both moving and stationary, the paperboy must avoid to successfully deliver the newspapers. Some of the obstacles are mundane, such as fire hydrants, parked cars, skateboarders and storm drains whereas others are whacky and bizarre, including tornadoes and the Grim Reaper. If the player crashes into any obstacle, they lose a life and start either at the beginning of the route or the middle depending on where the crash occurred.
The obstacles are even more infuriating due to the fact that you can never actually stop the paperboy. He, along with the screen, is always moving ahead which can result in some very close calls and more often than not, an inevitable crash.
If the player makes it through Monday without crashing or losing all subscribers, the player will advance to Tuesday, where there will be even more obstacles moving at an even faster rate. To win the game, the player must advance all the way to Sunday.
Author's Note: At the end of each day you would advance to a Paperboy Training Grounds facility at the end of the street where you could toss newspapers at moving targets and jump over obstacles to earn bonus points. The end of the Training Ground session feature bleachers filled with your admiring fans. I have two questions: 1) What city uses tax dollars to fund an Olympic style paperboy training ground facility? 2) Who spends their afternoons in the bleachers cheering on paperboys?
I can't remember for sure, but I don't recall making it past Wednesday. I'm sure the most-talented of gamers may have been able to make it to Thursday, maybe even Friday. But Saturday? Sunday? You have to be kidding me!
If you ever made it to Sunday, please tell me how. You should be elected to the Video Game Hall of Fame or maybe even have a wing named after you.
Did you ever beat any of these classic Nintendo games? What are the hardest NES games in your opinion? Comment below: