One of the best ways to tell a game you love it is to play on the hardest difficulty. It's a show of commitment, a sign of willingness to learn the in's-and-out's of a game in exchange for an engrossing challenge that'll blister your thumbs and rattle your brain. And only a select, dedicated few ever attempt such a feat - let alone succeed. Just look at any global achievement or trophy rankings if you don't believe me. Hell, most players don't typically finish the game in question, regardless of difficulty.
Each entrant on this list has accomplished something most players never will. They stand alone, stoic and proud, having faced horrors and surmounted challenges that have destroyed so many others. But where do you fall within these hallowed halls? Nearly every game out there either has some crazy achievement to unlock or is just innately difficult. Which one rises to the top as your crowning gaming achievement?
Paul Taylor - Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
Ninja Gaiden is like a Shakespearean romance: beautiful, but cruel and unfair and with a really horrible camera system. Maybe that analogy doesn't work. Point is, Ninja Gaiden isn't just hard because of its unrelenting, swarming enemies and overpowered bosses. It's fundamentally broken - and staying with a broken game is diamond-on-diamond hard. Keeping track of Ryu Hayabusas jumping, spinning frame as he runs along walls means the slob on the camera gets left behind, clipping and pin-balling against the environment, trying its best to keep up. Learning the cameras limitations is just as gruelling as mastering the actual game - how and when to block, exploiting enemy patterns, and budgeting my spend in the shops. Coming out of a fight with an inventory full of potions was a symphony of controller, man and game, with each playing its own movement.
Getting all of this right (or at least learning the technical limitations) was beyond satisfying, and there are parts of this game that are forever burned into my cortex. This was complete mastery, a stubborn, defiant 'up yours' to a gremlin - the sodding camera - that threatened to tank one of the greatest action games ever made. I loved you, Ninja Gaiden, but what should I have expected? The course of true love never did run smooth.
Justin Towell - Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear)
The Game Gear version of Sonic 2 is insane. It's identical to the already-tough Master System version, only there's one crucial difference: the zoomed-in viewpoint. This may make Sonic big and detailed, showcasing the 8-bit handheld's power, but it also makes it impossible to react to anything ahead of you. Maybe Sonic Team forgot during the conversion that 8-bit Sonic 2 also features one of the most ludicrous spring sections in any game ever. Single springs, hundreds of feet apart. No way to see them coming. With insta-death in-between. That's probably why you can rack up countless extra lives in Green Hill Zone. You really need them.
So I actually 'learned' Sonic 2. The exact cloud tiles under which lay an invisible spring to reach a Chaos Emerald way up in the sky. How many microseconds I had to release the d-pad in order to scrub enough speed to reach the next platform in Green Hill's boss level. The sequence of pipe direction changes to beat the boss. I did it all, got all of the Chaos Emeralds, finished the secret level and saved Tails. Can I do that today, some 23 years later? NOPE.
Louise Blain - Sound Shapes
"What," I hear you cry, "the game where you play as a small, sticky blob? The charming LittleBigPlanet-alike where you build the soundtrack as you collect little happy notes?" Yup, thats the one. The one with Death Mode. The practically impossible Death Mode that must be completed in its entirety in order to gain a shiny platinum trophy. And I wanted that trophy. Badly. So badly that I think, somewhere in the darkness, part of my brain is still playing Sound Shapes.
Twenty unique mini levels unlock once youve completed the main campaign. The goal is to collect a number of randomly placed notes within a time limit, dodging various deadly hazards: 20 notes in 30 seconds, 19 notes in 37 seconds, you get the idea. Theres no way to cheat, and no tips. It's just you and your thumbs. Facing death over and over again, I reached a zen-like state. I would do levels 50 times in one sitting. And yes, I won in the end. My last level was Aquatica: a hell spawned combination of underwater flight and spinning blades. I dont think I could even speak when it was over.
Ashley Reed - BioShock Infinite: Clash in the Clouds (Blue Ribbon Challenge)
While it may not be a full game, BioShock Infinite's Clash in the Clouds DLC is definitely the hardest stand-alone dollop of game I've ever played. While its baseline goal is pretty simple - clear a given stage of all enemies to advance, rinse and repeat - in a fit of unquenchable achievement thirst, I decided to attempt the Blue Ribbon Challenge.
For those who haven't heard about this study in gaming masochism, it works like this: every stage has a Blue Ribbon condition, where you're rewarded with a bit of colorful digital fabric for abiding by a specific handicap. Sometimes it's easy ("Defeat all enemies with the shotgun"), sometimes it's tricky ("Defeat five enemies with a single Devil's Kiss blast"), and sometimes it's so punishing and exact that you'll want to rip your hair out and eat it because you've gone a bit over the edge. We're talking challenges where you have to make specific enemies kill themselves with a specific move while airborne, or spend ten minutes picking off baddies with environment traps and then lose because two guys shot each other at the last second. Oh yeah, and there's SIXTY STAGES! And yet, somehow, I pulled it off after hours of incredible adversity, ripping victory from the putrid pits of failure. I AM THE BEAST OF AMERICA!
Connor Sheridan - Uncharted 2 (on Crushing)
Crushing difficulty doesn't add new variables to Uncharted 2's environmental puzzles, and it doesn't make the wall-scaling, cliff-leaping exploration segments any more death-defying. Actually, that second point isn't entirely true, because you are dead if an enemy catches you climbing that lamppost. Crushing difficulty lets baddies absorb more damage, making fast and frequent headshots essential to your survival, and lets any shmuck with a pistol drop you after a few shots, meaning you either find cover or die outright.
One of Uncharted's common criticisms is that it devotes too much time to stop-and-pop gunfights. I totally agree, but I love Uncharted 2 so much that I still felt compelled to bump up the difficulty and start over every time I finished. Thankfully, Crushing isn't too bad once you learn to always stay near cover, but that final battle / hide-and-seek match with Lazarevic was almost too much - almost. I have a Gold Trophy to prove I could do it, which, according to the timestamp, I earned at 4:19 on a Sunday morning. Priorities.
Lucas Sullivan - Volgarr the Viking
Imagine if Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts and Rastan had a baby. Now imagine that baby leaping out of its crib, knocking you to the ground, and putting you into a headlock until you blacked out. That aggressive little tyke would be Volgarr the Viking, a hardcore 2D platformer that takes after its brutal forefathers with gameplay that demands your absolute focus. The magnificently bearded protagonist Volgarr takes after Capcom's Sir Arthur in all the best ways, from his weighty, fixed-trajectory double-jumping, to his power-ups (found in hidden chests) that shatter when you take a single hit. If you lose your fire sword and sweet steel shield midway through a level, you may as well jump headlong into the nearest lava pit.
Volgarr's difficulty curve is the best kind: seemingly impossible at first, but full of patterns and predictable enemy movements that you'll pick up on after the first dozen or so deaths. And like a Super Nintendo cartridge with no battery saves or passwords, quitting out means restarting the whole shebang from scratch. Or so I thought, because if memory serves, I finished the game completely oblivious to the fact that you can resume your progress by simply walking to the left at the beginning of each stage. Oh well, still worth it.
Henry Gilbert - Super Meat Boy
This throwback downloadable is one of my all-time favorites, even if it's the most taxing title I've ever completed. The game is agony and ecstasy: the pain of dying dozens, even hundreds of times in the same brutal stage, followed by the joy of finally completing it. Super Meat Boy starts with a modest challenge, then escalates to the point where I'm very close to smashing the controller.
Super Meat Boy's fake-out finale was the moment when I nearly gave up. I spent close to two hours trying to beat what I thought was the last stage, and I was near tears when I beat it. Then SMB goes all Metroid on me, surprising me with an 'escape the exploding stage' challenge. The whiplash of emotions had me cursing the Heavens so loud that I'm surprised my neighbors didn't call the police. It's a credit to the game that I pushed through my rage to ultimately beat the game and about half of the new game +.
BONUS: Sophia Tong's sadness corner
"I made it to Shredder in the original TMNT :( But gave up and didn't beat it."
Sophia's story of struggle and loss is a somber tribute to all those who have fallen short of these trying challenges. And, to be fair, we all have more failures than successes in the realm of gaming, but it's those very same failures that make our achievements shine that much brighter. So, what about you? What is the most difficult game (or in-game challenge) you've ever completed? Let us known in the comments below.
For an added challenge on GR+ look up 12 unfair fighting game bosses that (almost) made us rage quit and 9 crazy overpowered RPG bosses that (almost) made us rage quit.