The 10 Most Irritatingly Impossible Old-School Video Games

#5. Ninja Gaiden

The Premise:
The entire Ninja Gaiden series is based around the general principle that ninjas are really, really cool, and that games made about ninjas could be counted on to be likewise. As some semblance of a storyline is required, we learn that Ryu has been sent on a quest by his father, who is killed in one of the NES' best introductions.

Why it was worth playing:
You aren't going to find a lot of people arguing that Ninja Gaiden is anything shy of awesome. The game's titles translates to "Ninja Story" and makes good on its primary promise, by giving the main character a mask and sword and physical abilities beyond those of a non-ninja human being. Also, you have to appreciate that at least some semblance of thought was put into plot, which cannot be said of all ninja-related games.

Why it was infuriating:
You also aren't going to find a lot of people who can lay claim to having beaten Ninja Gaiden, either. The enemies encountered are bad enough, but the game featured some of the most ludicrously difficult jumping challenges found in 2-D platforming, thanks to the required use of Ryu's wall climbing ability.

There is no letting up from the bosses once you reach them. Despite this, the greatest frustration encountered will come at the hands of birds. We aren't entirely sure where Tecmo went to read up on ninjas, but wherever it was, they came away with the impression that it's physically impossible for a bird to cross a ninja's path without angrily knocking him down a chasm mid-jump.

Saddest moment:
Triumphantly making it to the game's final stage, defeating two bosses and watching your just-revived father get shot to death, only to die yourself at the hands of the final boss. Then you're propelled back to do it all again, trapping Ryu in an unending emotional roller coaster that would surely have driven him quite mad.

#4. Ghosts and Goblins

The premise:
The brave knight Arthur must make his way through the titular ghosts and goblins in order to rescue--you guessed it--a princess in distress.

Why it was worth playing:
It's pretty apparent that a platformer about rescuing a princess can be successful, as there was another franchise about two brothers which operated with a deal of popularity on the very same premise. Add in the horror angle and you had a pretty cool, more grown-up Super Mario Bros.

Why it was infuriating:
Ghosts and Goblins is essentially a lifetime achievement recipient, as the forbearer to a series of equally impossible games. Many of the upgrades available for Arthur weren't really upgrades at all, offering an increase of damage at the expense of the actual ability to hit an enemy with it. This was hardly helped by the ADD-inspired movement patterns of the enemies in the game, which took only one attack to reduce Arthur from an armored knight ...

... to a cowering oaf in a pair of white men's briefs.

A second hit would send him to the grave and the player to the start of the level.

All of this pales in comparison to the primary motive behind shattered controllers: Ghosts and Goblins creators had the audacity to use realistic physics. In video games up to that point, when you jumped you could change direction in midair. Not here. If you left your feet, you were going where you were going, so you better fucking deal with it.


Saddest moment:
Any time spent between the first moment an enemy hit you on a stage and the time you died. As demoralizing as it is to sit down to play a game knowing full well that you aren't going to beat it, simultaneously spending half that time in your underwear is downright humiliating.

#3. Friday the 13th

The premise:
Video games based on popular movies would probably be pretty popular themselves.

Why it was worth playing:
In an '80s gaming world dominated by bouncing cartoon heroes and corny villains, here was a chance to play the gory blood fest your parents wouldn't let you watch. Every gamer imagined himself as Jason, just running wild and slaughtering the shit out of a bunch of terrified campers.

OK, the game didn't let you do that. Instead, you played as a camp counselor, clad in short-shorts that are uncomfortable even in 8-bit form.

Why it was infuriating:
The game play consists primarily of walking in a giant loop and throwing rocks at zombies. Yes, zombies. Why Jason would still even be considered a problem when there are hordes of the undead swarming the camp isn't made clear.

Eventually Jason decides to attack your fellow counselors or the campers you are sworn to protect. Should you overcome your basic instinct to let him have them, you can confront Jason in a cabin, where he will attack with weapons substantially stronger than anything you have at your disposal.

If you do manage to defeat Jason in this mono-e-mono battle (and the movies should give you a fair estimate of how likely that outcome is) he will flee, leaving you to wander around aimlessly until he starts killing another counselor. Generally, this continues until Jason has inevitably killed all six of your counselors. On the bright side, none of them were particularly likable in the first place.

Saddest moment:
The first time one of your camp counselor friends die because you failed to properly calibrate your compass to retarded Friday the 13th logic. The game uses a top-down view for its map, but gives you absolutely no indication of which direction your character is facing.

So, basically you just have to pick a direction and walk, then keep checking the map to see which way your dot is moving. Meanwhile, Jason has presumably picked up your friend in a sleeping bag and crushed him against a tree trunk.

#2. Contra

The premise:
The futuristic world faces the kind of threat that can only come from aliens and terrorists working together. A mission this vital can only be handled in one way--send in two guys with the weakest guns you can find and count on them to find something better on the ground.

Why it was worth playing:
Contra perhaps best exemplifies the beauty of the Nintendo Entertainment System, in that it is a game which manages to be simultaneously put-your-foot-through-the-TV impossible, but still fondly remembered as one of the greatest of its time. You could play simultaneously with a friend and you could get weapon upgrades that would fill the screen with bullets. The game play was entertaining and the levels were well-designed. Also, some of the enemies look like spitting vaginas.

Why it was infuriating:
A whole lot of readers are saying, "What? Contra? That was a breeze!" And, it was. If you used the Konami Code, the simple cheat code you could punch in with your controller that bumped up your lives from three to 30. If you tried to make it with the original three lives, you were in for a challenge that bordered on ridiculous since a single hit, anywhere on your body, killed you dead.

The Konami Code was already famous by the time Contra came out (it was used in the game Gradius two years earlier) and it almost seems like the developers intentionally set the difficulty so that you'd need 30 lives to make it. For the poor bastards who had never heard of it, it wasn't if the game was going to get angrily punted across the room, but when.

Contra also forced you to share your pool of spare lives with the other player, so you were forced to pay for his retarded mistakes (something we're sure ruined many childhood friendships).

Saddest Moment:
Running through your evil foes, resolute in your 30-lives-induced superiority, and watching the extraterrestrials' island explode ... only to slowly realize that you couldn't even win a video game without cheating.

#1. Battletoads

The premise:
Two anthropomorphic toads, who are in no way in violation of copyrights which may or may not be had on other anthropomorphic baddy-fighting creatures, attempt to rescue their friends from the evil Dark Queen.

Why it was worth playing:
You have to give the designers responsible for Battletoads credit; they put forth an ambitious effort. The game offered an array of diverse game play. The levels in the game included straightforward Double Dragon-style brawlers, descents through caverns, jumping puzzles and even some high-speed hover biking, all while simultaneously being badass affronts against God's creations.

Why it was infuriating:
The potentially awesome hover biking is made somewhat less so when you realize few players were able to last more than six seconds before smashing into a wall or plummeting to their death. With each checkpoint bar the player reached, a small ball of hope grew inside of them--only to be smashed on the ensuing wall seconds later.

What sets this level above all other nigh-impossible gaming creations is the truly sadistic way in which the stage is designed. Any gamer that has progressed to the long-jump portion of the biking competition has known the most empty of all moments--watching their super-mutant frog flying proudly through the air, straight for the next floating bastion of safety, only to find they are too low on the screen, smashing into a painful death.

Somebody has captured this ordeal on video. They do it successfully, but look at the millisecond of warning you get toward the end of the level when the barriers are coming. That was the hell of the thing: Every time you had to start over you knew the part that was going to fuck you up was still ahead.

That's 108 fucking obstacles to dodge in about two minutes (oh, we counted). Fuck up the split-second timing on one of them, and you're splattered on the road. This game was an asshole.

Saddest moment:
The first time, upon finally topping the bikes, you progress to the surfing level and realize that, essentially, you have to do it all again. Oh, and this time the dangers are mobile.

If you like this article, check out Bobby Ingram's rundown of the 8 Manliest Musicals.

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