Classic games come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from family-friendly to downright infuriating. Some games are intended to be difficult, others only so due to weak AI, shoddy controls, and questionable level design. From intentionally challenging to downright broken, today we’ll be diving into 10 of the hardest SNES games of all time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released in 1989 to become not only the first game licensed from the franchise but also one of the hardest SNES games of all time.
Playing similarly to other popular action platformers at the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles consists of six difficult stages. Players can switch between any of the Turtles at any time from the start menu. The Turtles act as the player’s lives, with the game ending once each turtle has been captured.
Beginning in stage three, once per level, players have an opportunity to rescue a turtle that was previously captured. If they fail this attempt, they must wait until the next stage for another try. This means players must not lose four lives before stage three, and have limited room for error during a run through the game. Enemies also regenerate, and players are regularly tasked with difficult feats of platforming and action. Fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or gamers just looking for a challenge should look to add this difficult but engaging title to their collection.
A game famous for being nearly unbeatable, Lion King is a mish-mashed mess of poor level design, shoddy AI, and broken dreams.
Launching to terrible reviews and widespread criticism in 1995, Lion King lives in infamy as not only one of the hardest SNES games released at the time, but also as one of the hardest video games ever made. Indeed, most gamers have never even seen level three, with the second level acting as the ultimate test of patience and platforming superiority for many players.
Lion King’s first level starts players on a relatively simple and straightforward stage that exists to help teach the controls and general concepts of the game. The boss of this area requires only a single jump to the head to defeat. Stage two, however, could be an entirely different game, featuring a significantly steeper difficulty slope. Frustrating pitfalls and platforming sections, challenging enemies, and even a lengthy puzzle await players who graduate from the first level.
Retro players looking to earn themselves a bit of prestige can find few better challenges then mastering Lion King’s anger-inducing trials, knowing that they are one of few ever to complete the title.
A relatively unknown title to North American audiences, Yo! Noid is a challenging platformer based on the 1980 Domino’s Pizza mascot, the Noid.
Yo! Noid is one of the hardest SNES games ever made, hands down. The Noid dies in only one hit, and players can only earn new lives from earning ridiculously high scores. On top of this, there are no checkpoints throughout a level. Players restart the whole level upon every death. Platforming is challenging, requiring pixel-perfect precision to cross many steep sections. Enemies are numerous, intricately placed through the level, and dangerous.
Every other level also tasks players with winning a pizza eating competition after completing the main stage. These contests are so incredibly difficult and random that even cheat codes can’t always help players win them. Players have to reach a certain level of progress on their progress bar during the contest or hope their opponent runs out of moves to win. The system is poorly explained and is almost entirely based on chance, lending to even more frustration for players.
All these factors add up to an incredibly frustrating and trying experience. While not exactly a contender for game of the year, Yo! Noid is a rare and challenging game ready to test the patience of even the most stalwart gamer.
Prince of Persia
Another one of the hardest SNES games is Prince of Persia. While the latest entries into the Prince of Persia franchise are some of the most beloved action-adventure games of all time, the series has its roots firmly planted in the hardcore platforming space.
The original Prince of Persia launched on the Apple II in 1989 to critical success but a financial failure. After some time, various ports were authorized, and the title saw distribution to many additional platforms. While the SNES version of the game is still quite hard, it was adjusted to be more accessible to young gamer audiences.
Prince of Persia is a unique game in that the player has an infinite amount of lives and attempts, instead asking the player to complete the game in under 120 minutes. Should the player die, the game respawns them at the beginning of whatever level they fell in. The timer, however, does not reset. This leads to an exciting challenge- players must essentially speed run the game with great skill to ensure they have enough time on the clock to complete the last level. Failing towards the end of a stage only increases the time penalty suffered, leading to some very intense plays.
One fundamental change to the SNES version of the game is that the player can choose to save themselves and finish the game should time run out, but at the cost of saving the princess- the true ending of the game. This change was included to make the game more accessible to new players but still does not diminish the difficulty of achieving the real conclusion.
Prince of Persia has gone on to become a timeless classic, but one that still holds its own against experienced veterans. Gamers looking to experience a thrilling challenge and beautiful graphics should look to add this SNES classic to their library.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Considered by many to be the hardest video game ever made, Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is the definition of brutal. A grueling and challenging journey that relishes in gamer tears awaits those brave enough to take on this title.
A sequel to another incredibly tricky game, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Ghouls sees players continue the story of Arthur, a knight trying to rescue his princess from the clutches of a demonic army. To do this, players will face legions of deadly enemies, incredibly difficult platforming segments, and purposefully clunky controls that threaten to derail everything at a moment’s notice. Not only can Arthur be dispatched with ease by any ordinary enemy, but he also loses control of himself after jumping, meaning every jump must be calculated beforehand. Bosses are difficult and plenty and valuable items and upgrades are sparse throughout the journey.
Rubbing salt in the wound, players who manage to make their way to the final boss will find themselves being sent back to the beginning of the first level again to find a weapon capable of defeating the boss. Every single grueling platform section, formidable enemy, and close boss encounter once again are set out in front of the player to complete a second time before victory can be achieved. Should a player fail this run, the entire game will be restarted. This is on top of sharing a limited life pool between both runs, which only gets replenished as the player builds higher scores.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a title only a certain kind of gamer can appreciate. But those who manage to conquer arguably the hardest SNES game of all time stand to be crowned among some of the best retro gamers around.
The Karate Kid
Loosely based on the film of the same name, The Karate Kid is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game that lives in notoriety for its difficult enemies and challenging bosses.
The game consists of four stages, each roughly following the events from the movie. These levels are incredibly brutal, featuring tons of lethal enemies, platforming sections made frustrating by the clunky controls, and unfair bosses that have been the source of many broken controllers. The player can only jump upwards, making the numerous pitfalls and holes in the floor harder to navigate than they should be.
There are also several bonus stages hidden throughout the four levels. These are mini-games that range in difficulty from reasonably challenging to extremely demanding, and many players skip them due to their limited rewards and frustrating nature. Players who manage to get to the final boss of the game are treated with an intense encounter that requires players to both fight the boss and continuously run to a captured girl that will die if the player doesn’t come into contact with them every few seconds. This encounter is taxing, and has been the source of intense frustration for decades.
Most gamers who have experienced this title agree that it’s not worth the hassle to try and complete. With an unsatisfying and brief ending, the only real reward for gamers that conquer this hardcore SNES game is the knowledge they’ve got the skills to best a title few others have.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
Being the second video game licensed under the Simpsons franchise, Bart vs. the Space Mutants lives in infamy as one of the hardest SNES games ever produced.
Launching in North America in 1992 to overwhelming financial success, Bart vs. the Space Mutants would receive mixed reviews due to its incredibly tricky level design. While the game was targeted at the younger gaming audience, inexperienced players faced challenges that even long-time veterans of the genre struggled to overcome, leading many to abandon the game outright.
Bart vs. the Space Mutants difficulty boils down to two factors: terrible controls and brutal level design. The run and jump commands are mapped to the same button, making running jumps impossible. Bart also controls poorly due to clunky movement, requiring patience to master the game’s flow. Difficult platforming segments are made even more challenging because of this, requiring players to plan and finesse their way over various obstacles and pitfalls. Enemies are numerous and placed ingeniously throughout each level, and can end a player’s run in moments if they aren’t careful.
Many young gamers received this title for Christmas, eagerly setting up their system and preparing for their first-ever Simpsons adventure. What they found instead was a daunting and trying title that can challenge even the best old school platforming vets. Players looking to test their skills with a fun but exhausting title should look to add Bart vs. the Space Mutants to their collection of classics.
Mega Man 7
Widely regarded as the most arduous entry into the franchise, Mega Man 7 stands tall as one of the hardest SNES games ever crafted.
Gamers have long struggled with the platforming and fighting mechanics of past Mega Man titles. With Mega Man 7, Capcom only upped the challenge. Players face eight brutal new bosses, platforming that require pixel-perfect accuracy, and accurate enemies that will test a player’s ability to memorize each level’s layout. There’s also a plethora of new sub-bosses that are almost as difficult as the real bosses and pop up in crucial moments when the player is already low on health.
The final level of Mega Man 7 lives in infamy as one of the most challenging stages in all of gaming history. Players not only face an army of increasingly difficult enemies, but must also defeat each of the eight bosses a second time as they work their way up to fight Dr. Wily- the final boss. Bass, a recurring sub-boss throughout the game, also returns several times, leading to a near-constant stream of incredibly painful encounters.
Mega Man 7 manages to retain the core of what makes Mega Man so fun while offering a steep challenge for players looking to punish themselves and prove their skills. Gamers looking for the perfect blend of high adrenaline action and controller-tossing frustration should treat themselves to a playthrough of this infamous classic.
Contra III: The Alien Wars
Contra has long been recognized as a franchise built for hardcore gamers, and Contra III is no different. Better graphics, more enemies, and no Konami code to help those not skilled enough to surmount the game’s incredibly steep learning curve.
The SNES release of Contra III saw the game earn considerable praise for its graphics and gameplay, but was noted as being inaccessible for new or inexperienced gamers. While the game starts with a modest challenge, it quickly ramps up the action until players are swarming with enemies and projectiles hell-bent on sending them back to the beginning of the level. Instead of allowing players to input the famed Konami code for additional lives, Contra III features a single hidden menu that grants seven total lives for the duration of the game. That’s it- no other cheats or secrets officially exist for the title.
Thankfully the controls are tight and responsive. It doesn’t take long after starting a run through the game before things get dicey. Not only do players have to dodge insane amounts of enemy fire and return damage in kind, but they must do so while traversing difficult and unforgiving platforming segments. Each stage features a boss, and many bosses are guarded by a sub-boss. Bosses and sub-bosses alike are brutal, and often require multiple attempts to overcome. Couple this with the limited lives available, and Contra III becomes a test of patience and muscle memory that few can easily overcome.
Gamers looking to experience an exhilarating and beautifully realized challenge should put Contra III high on their backlog list. Just be sure to buy a few extra controllers too- you’ll be running out of them quickly.
Last but not least of the hardest SNES games is Super R-Type. Chocked full of one-hit-deaths, challenging to use powerups, and more projectiles then one could shake a stick at, Super R-Type is a game for a specific kind of hardcore SNES gamer.
Playing as a space-themed side-scrolling journey deep into bullet hell, Super R-Type will test the player’s patience and their ability to maintain a good grip on a sweaty controller. Each level throws hoards of enemies at the protagonist, each capable of covering the screen in bullets and projectiles. Action is fast-paced and requires razor-sharp reflexes. The powerups throughout the game also act as equipment that must be tactically deployed and used correctly, making it possible to waste useful powerups if not handled carefully.
To make matters worse, if any enemy or projectile or attack comes into contact with the player at any time, for any reason, they die. And without any form of checkpoint system, players will be stuck repeating the same levels over and over again until they have perfect muscle memory of each encounter.
Super R-Type is a daunting title to take on, with the sheer amount of action on-screen at times seeming insurmountable. But gamers skilled enough to see this game through to the end will experience a fun and thrilling title that will leave them sweating and begging for more.
Wrapping Up The Hardest SNES Games
That does it for the hardest SNES games of all time. What did you think of our list? Like it, love it, hate it, or did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.