The 100 Hardest Video-Game Levels of All Time Dizzying shooters, agonizing puzzles, and water stages (ugh) that raise the question: Continue?

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Video games are natural predators. In the earliest incarnation of the art — the arcade cabinets scattered across movie-theater lobbies and dentist waiting rooms in the ’70s and ’80s — you’d exchange a quarter for three lives and a dream. A few minutes later, once those ghosts claimed Pac-Man’s soul, or after Jumpman tripped over one too many of Donkey Kong’s barrels, you were sent back to your mother, tail between your legs, in hopes that she had a bit more spare change left in her purse. This was the business model; video games attempted to separate kids from their allowances as efficiently as possible, which was most easily accomplished through the blunt force of difficulty.

The modern home console-based games industry is almost unrecognizable compared to those early days. Extra lives are no longer stingily meted out between checkpoints, an easy mode is usually only a toggle away, and generally speaking, publishers are more interested in immersing us in a story rather than humbling us with our inadequacies. And yet, even now, gamers have a grudging appreciation for a really tough level. They may not be as common as they were in the old days when there was a direct financial incentive in thwarting players, but plenty of studios still crank up the meters to 11, eager to break our thumbs in two. In fact, with the mainstream success of games like Elden Ring and Returnal, difficulty seems to be coming back into fashion. We’re here to celebrate the tradition and hopefully get some closure on our collective anguish.

There are so many different ways to create a hard level. This list contains resource-draining RPG grinds, uncompromising tactical grids, mind-melting adventure-game puzzles, and the sort of quicksilver, arcade-y gauntlets that require a speedrunner’s acumen. (It does not contain, we want to note, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which came out too recently for us to confidently make a determination about whether any of its challenges warrant a spot. We reserve the right to add it at a later date.) We only looked at console and/or PC games released in the U.S. — meaning no arcade games (unless they were ported to a console) and no mobile-first games


https://pyxis.nymag.com/v1/imgs/fe9/b27/6c3b650debc79a507df7bab423bb37ed75-100VideoGameLevels-Vulture-Sep2022.rhorizontal.w1100.jpgIllustration: Diego Patiño



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