The Top 7... toughest opening levels

Webster's Dictionary defines a learning curve as: 'An embarrassingly easy set of opening levels that prepare the gamer for the challenges ahead by introducing them to insulting tutorials, giant guiding arrows and a host of baddies that are geared for a good head jumping.' OK, so that's obviously our definition rather than Webster's, but the point stands that most games start off with a gentle saunter of untaxing objectives, before sliding into a sprint of 'how the hell am I meant to beat this boss/ sneak past these sixty sentries/ collect this cocaine?'. But not the following collection of games.

These titles start off at a cheetah-style sprint before strapping jet fuel to the feline's feet. They’re uncompromisingly hard right from the off and never ease up. From perennially painful pixel perfect jumps, tortuously tough first bosses to cripplingly cryptic puzzles; these opening levels all laugh at learning curves. It takes a certain type of developer who’ll slave over particle effects, bump mapping and z-buffering for a year and then introduce a first stage so fiendish you’ll never see most of it. Bastard-hard beginnings; we salute you. After all, who really wants to see level two?

Handing you your ass in: Alien Hominid

We love little evil aliens. Especially little evil aliens who gun down government suits with the kind of drive-by-style glee we’ve not seen since Boys N’ The Hood. Hominid’s extra-terrestrial star falls into that exact Krypto-esque category. And his game is exactly the type of hardcore, side scrolling shooter that has been abandoned for training levels in recent years.

Not so with Hominid’s opening, though. Oh no. You’ll need the type of reflexes, precision shooting and hand-eye coordination that used to be mandatory for success in the 16-bit era. Dice, devour and decapitate the swarms of suits thrown your way in this first stage and you’ll then have to survive a killer robot, so pure in his desire to disintegrate you, he makes the Terminator look like Tickle Me Elmo.

The excruciating equation:

Not only are his attacks fast and ferocious, but the very environment itself acts against you. We lost count of the number of times we inadvertently jumped onto the first floor of a building only to receive a face-full of death-rays. And we really do mean ‘we’. It took two men of Radar to man-up - shouting a shed-load of motivational Rocky-style slogans at each other during the fight – before we could best the bionic man.

Inexplicably harder than: Fighting an army of 50 foot nuclear death mobiles with a man with a blonde mop for a head in Metal Gear Solid 2.

Above: Nuclear capabilites are no match for a comedy death laser

Handing you your ass in: Ninja Gaiden

Well this is hardly a surprise, is it? One of the hardest hack-n-slashers ever, Gaiden makes Devil May Cry 3 look like Nintendogs. The first level expects you to be better versed in the sacred art of karate than Mr. Miyagi. And, unless you can chain your samurai skills like a chess simulator, it’s unlikely you’ll get through the dojo in the opening level.

The excruciating equation:

Work on your wall runs, craft together those combos and annihilate enough ninjas, though, and you’ll get a chance to face martial arts master Murai. A skilled warrior of nunchucks and with bigger guns than an Iranian arms dealer, this guy will slap the sushi out of you until you can block, dodge and parry to perfection. The developers clearly didn’t think this was enough of a challenge, either, bringing out an even harder Black version for those blessed with Bruce Lee reflexes. Anyone else feel horribly inadequate?

Inexplicably harder than: Kicking the crap out of hundreds of martial arts masters in sharp suits in The Matrix: Path of Neo.

Above: Bringing the hurt to hundreds of Agent Smiths has nothing on trying to nail the guy with the nunchucks

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  • Flashinthepan - November 19, 2010 6:16 a.m.

    I had no idea I was so good at video games. I thought that the Concrete Man stage, which is not the first level, wasn't all that difficult, as with the Super Ghouls and Ghosts bird boss. For those who have MM9, play Splashwoman first, as she is easier to beat with just the megabuster.
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - December 5, 2008 5:03 p.m.

    what about motorstorm's opening level? it took me AGES to finish in the top 3 in that... no joke or am i just rubbish at driving games?
  • zeldagirl64 - November 22, 2008 10:53 p.m.

    Ok... Wierd... Sonic 2 (Game Gear Version) was extremely easy in the first level...
  • xeropanzer - October 24, 2008 5:41 p.m.

    Ninja Gaiden is a Great game but its true if you can beat the first boss the rest are like an after thought, by the time you face a boss with any difficulty you have enough ninpo and weapons that its childs play.
  • FlamingPeasant - October 16, 2008 12:30 p.m.

    The first level of this article, consisting of looking at your mustache, was the hardest thing I have ever faced.
  • noofer7 - October 16, 2008 1:18 a.m.

    never played any of these
  • pilboy - October 15, 2008 12:14 p.m.

    I think it was Tomb Raider III, but the first thing you do is have to slide down a hill while dodging various traps... and it is so tough. I knew some some people who picked up this game due to the Tomb Raider hype, and never got past this point.
  • M-for-Mustache - October 15, 2008 4:23 a.m.

    Ninja Gaiden was a bitch to beat. A small room, a macho bandanna clad bad guy, and a noob at the helm was a recipe for ownage. I swear the devs wanted us to suffer.
  • DisgruntledTable - October 15, 2008 4:02 a.m.

  • Humblemumble - October 15, 2008 3:53 a.m.

    I don't mean to sound arrogant or anything, but I found the opening level in Alien Hominid incredibly easy. Some of those levels did get hard later. Way later. I'm not like an uber player either, I'm basically average at video games.
  • Christrigg1 - October 15, 2008 1:17 a.m.

    lol. driver seems the hardest. i mean cmon! why should we figure out this load of monkey dung ourselves? id rather stick a hot iron ripe in my pants and land on it when jumping off a freaking lit bbq while barefoot!
  • TrippyMan - October 15, 2008 1:04 a.m.

    The ELEPHANTS? I though they were tough but they deserved to be #7, not #1! Maybe I just a Megaman master, but I thought that nunchuck bastard from Ninja Gaiden is hardest on the list.
  • Scott1121 - October 14, 2008 8:08 p.m.

    those elephants in mega man 9 kicked the crap out of me so many time
  • georgeguy - October 14, 2008 7:46 p.m.

    god i got the demo for the mega man and i just get pwned by the fricken elephants... but then again... maybe i just suck
  • noobeater - October 14, 2008 6:39 p.m.

    well iv never played these but 3 gaming moments i just cannot do. 1)cod 4 level in the plane on hardest setting.i did it easy on all other settings but i cannot do it, the closest to completion is 4 secs. done everything else. 2)the last set of missions on blast corps are impossible 3)i love resident evil 4 but i couldnt even get out of the first alleyway on resident evil 2 tho i was only little lol great article
  • NullG7 - October 14, 2008 3:59 p.m.

    What no mario everyone has to have seen that one guy getting pissed at that first ever-changing invisible platform of doom?
  • LionheartAce - October 14, 2008 11:11 a.m.

    Yes! Mega Man 9 make's you it's bitch with those fucking elephants... God.
  • danerdy1 - October 14, 2008 5:54 a.m.

    God knows I agree with Mega Man 9 being #1. That game is the Devil!
  • Rasy2kG - October 14, 2008 4:16 a.m.

    Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts pissed me off back in the day, that's a hard-ass game to beat
  • Defguru7777 - October 14, 2008 2:43 a.m.

    ZOMG!!! They're crushing my spine!!!!!