ALL OF THE SOULS GAMES
At the core of the Souls games (Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne) is one key reality you must come to accept: death. Again, and again you will perish, in ways that, at times, make it seem like the game is seriously picking on you. It’s this challenging cycle that makes RPGs like Demon Souls and Dark Souls so thrilling for many. Exchanging blows with bosses several times your size while narrowly dodging hits that would bring about your untimely demise mean you get to keep (for now) your only form of currency: souls.
Precious, precious souls—they’re what allow you to upgrade your armor and weapons, but their very existence makes you question nearly every move. When you die, those souls are dropped. Only upon your reincarnation can they be retrieved—but be wary, if you die on your journey there, those souls are lost forever. There is no Soul Bank. There is only weeping as you lose 20,000 souls to a dragon who burned you to a crisp with little to no warning. Only weeping.
MIKE TYSON’S PUNCH OUT!! (1987)
Think about it—you play a dude no taller than five feet taking on hilariously-named heavyweights like Super Macho Man, Bald Bull, and King Hippo. Even once you beat those guys, you’re expected to topple the champion of boxing, Tyson himself, whose only giveaway to the punch he’ll throw is the wink of an eye? No wonder there’s a secret code on the main menu to skip right to Tyson. Yeesh.
If you’re a gamer of the ‘80s and ‘90s, you’ve likely played your fair share of side-scrolling beat-em-ups: Double Dragon, Golden Axe, and Final Fight to name just a few. Even if you bested all of these games, your skill was most certainly challenged by Battletoads. With brutal enemies and zero checkpoints, Rare’s oft-remembered classic is nearly impossible to beat without a friend.
Oh, and you only have three continues when you die. And there’s absolutely no save system. Good luck.
XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN (2012)
Forget the fact that the game is just genuinely punishing on any mode above Easy (and even then it doesn’t always play fair), but whenever a soldier dies in battle, they’re gone forever. You may have known Colonel Bootlicker (yes you get to name each one) for only a few minutes, or even days, but when he falls to that sneering Martian across the battlefield, you really feel it. And when Marshall Mallow is sniped running to his aid, controllers get thrown.
It’s that sinking feeling in your stomach that returns again and again in XCOM. Don’t worry, when all of your good characters die, the game does you a favor and pretty much makes victory an overwhelmingly impossible task. Now you can do it all again!
FIRE EMBLEM AWAKENING (2012)
If you thought losing people in XCOM was bad, try losing them when they have personalities, relationships, storylines, and roles to play in the course of your game. That’s Fire Emblem Awakening in a nutshell. Also a turn-based strategy game like XCOM, Nintendo’s hit anime-style title for 3DS exudes difficulty in general combat, but it’s even more grueling when it presents you with tough decisions that impact who lives to the end of your tale.
So yeah, real cheery stuff.