Top 20 Hardest Video Games of the Century

Top 20 Hardest Video Games of the Century
VOICE OVER: Ricky Tucci WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
Since the 2000s began, these hard games have challenged the skills of players everywhere. For this list, we'll be looking at the most difficult and challenging video games released in the 21st century…so far, at least. Our coutndown for the hardest video games of the century includes “Darkest Dungeon” (2016), “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” (2019), “F-Zero GX” (2003), “Super Meat Boy” (2010), and more!

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 hardest video games of the century. For this list, we’ll be looking at the most difficult and challenging video games released in the 21st century…so far, at least. If there’s a grueling modern game you want to grill us for not including, “git gud” in the comments!

#20: “Kerbal Space Program” (2015)

You know how people say that something’s not difficult by saying it’s “not rocket science?” Well, the “Kerbal Space Program” is essentially rocket science! Sure, it’s done with goofy looking little green people called Kerbals, but the physics involved in getting them into orbit and performing tasks once they get there is surprisingly accurate. And that’s what makes it so monumentally challenging! If planning missions to space were easy, everyone would be doing it! Having to keep track of so many things to ensure success can be a demanding task. Chances are you’ll crash, explode, spin out of control, or run out of fuel before you get it right.

#19: “Nioh 2” (2020)

Set during a fantastical Sengoku era Japan, “Nioh 2” is one of many Souls-like games that take the action-RPG combat and punishing difficulty of the games that inspired it and puts its own spin on it. “Nioh 2” has a steep learning curve, particularly in the beginning. Figuring out its various systems can be tough to do on the fly, and it includes new ways to make you tear your hair out by including features like the Dark Realm, which slows your ki regeneration, adding an extra layer of headaches. But fans of this style of games will find a lot of love, provided you don’t mind being repeatedly freed from this mortal coil.

#18: “Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time” (2020)

The “Crash Bandicoot” games are known for having brutal, precision platforming. However, its newest game brought the series back with an even greater degree of difficulty. Just completing the base game is hard enough, with tough jumps and new powers and characters to utilize in achieving them. Cortex Castle alone has given the internet collective nightmares for how hard it is! But players trying to smash every crate and discover every secret are in for a bad time! Still, at least all the death animations are fun to watch. You’ll certainly be rewatching them plenty of times!

#17: “God Hand” (2006)

Clover Studio produced some truly unique masterpieces during its time, but the developer was not exactly known for its especially hard titles; “God Hand”, their final release, is a notable exception. It’s a goofy but irresistibly charming 3D beat ‘em up with more than a hundred moves waiting to be unlocked and chained together. The gameplay is near-perfect but also comes with a steep learning curve, especially early on when Gene – the protagonist – only has access to a limited pool of attacks. The bosses are universally unforgiving, despite some of them being downright silly, while the less-than-ideal camera angles make dealing with groups a constant pain.

#16: “Hollow Knight” (2017)

“Hollow Knight” is a Souls-like Metroidvania set in a hauntingly beautiful world that you’ll want to explore every inch of. Unfortunately, doing so takes a lot of trial and error! Enemies, particularly bosses, are absolutely brutal, and battling against them can leave you feeling hollow yourself! But the moments between bosses can be just as difficult, since maps aren’t always reliable, and the platforming challenges can be equally deadly. Anyone who has taken on the Path of Pain is sure to have gotten hand cramps at the very least! Don’t get us wrong though - “Hollow Knight” is incredibly fun, and we can’t wait for the sequel!

#15: “F-Zero GX” (2003)

When it comes to challenging racing games, “F-Zero GX” is downright infamous! This futuristic racer seems designed to be as difficult to win as possible! The speeds involved are ridiculous and each track is full of hairpin turns, forcing precise reactions or you’ll crash! Your boost meter is also your life bar, so boost too much, and you’re toast, but boost too little and you’ll lose! And cheating A.I.? You betcha’! Why do they get unlimited boost?! But, if you can hone your skills as a racer, you’ll experience one of the tightest, speediest racing games around. At least, if you don’t Falcon Punch your system out of frustration.

#14: “Darkest Dungeon” (2016)

Want to feel like the most incompetent leader of all time? Then, “Darkest Dungeon” is perfect for you! A turn-based RPG with leveling up, status effects, and team-building, “Darkest Dungeon’s” unique difficulty stems from the fact that permadeath is a thing. Rather than a fixed party, adventurers can be hired to explore maze-like maps filled with poisonous, fear-inducing, and just plain disturbing monsters. The characters are also susceptible to paranoia and sickness, so preserving the team’s morale becomes a crucial and often futile task. In later levels, enemies can feel downright unfair, especially when yet another character with dozens of hours of investment bites the dust.

#13: “Celeste” (2018)

Celeste is a game where the controls are polished to perfection, yet still requires precise skill from the player. Madeline must climb a mountain while avoiding spikes, timing mid-air dashes, evading horrifying enemies, and working against strong winds. And all of that is just in the easy base game. If the players choose to take on the more challenging B-Side stages; get ready for a world of hurt as you try, try … TRY again to get your jumps exactly right. Yet the game difficulty doesn’t end there; If you’re truly determined, there’s the absurd C-Side stages, and the ridiculously insane Golden Strawberry challenge. Hope that strawberry pie is worth it.

#12: “XCOM 2” (2016)

Building on the foundation established by 2012’s “Enemy Unknown,” “XCOM 2” is set after Earth has been invaded by aliens, with humanity’s last hope resting on the shoulders of a grossly outnumbered resistance force. As a tactical RPG, “XCOM 2” does a decent job of easing newcomers into the genre and franchise; however, even “Rookie” mode offers up a reasonable challenge. As the resistance force’s commander, it’s the player’s job to select the right soldiers for each mission, and this is one of those games where death is not reversible. The maps are also procedurally generated, so each playthrough provides new and exciting ways to mess up.

#11: “FTL: Faster Than Light” (2012)

Roguelike games usually feature a high difficulty curve, which is what gives them longevity, since you often have to start over from the beginning. Combining the genre with a real time strategy management of a spaceship and its crew, “FTL: Faster Than Light” can lead to frustration at the same speed as its title! Keeping track of all the systems, especially during combat, can feel impossible, particularly for beginners. You’ll die and die again, and each run is different, so it’s not so much a learning curve as it is a learning pretzel.

#10: “Ikaruga” (2001)

From the“Touhou Project” to parts of "NieR: Automata," shoot em ups are basically mandated to be dishearteningly difficult. As one of the most highly regarded additions to the genre, “Ikaruga” has done a lot to cement shoot ‘em up’s reputation as being mainly for the hardcore crowd. Twitch reflexes are obviously crucial, but “Ikaruga” sets itself apart due to a mechanic that permits the main ship to switch polarity between black and white, providing immunity to the same colored enemies. So in addition to the sense of immediacy typical of shoot ‘em ups, “Ikaruga” throws in an element of strategy.

#9: “Elden Ring” (2022)

FromSoftware games are notoriously difficult. But, while “Elden Ring” is on the easier side compared to its peers, it’s still no cake walk! Its open world design can make progression less frustrating, since you can just go somewhere else if you run into a problem you can’t overcome. But its lack of handholding also means that it’s easy to miss crucial details easily. And, despite exploits and certain overpowered builds, “Elden Ring” is no less forgiving. You’ll still get rocked if you aren’t careful! And no amount of cheesing is going to make us forget the trauma inflicted on us by bosses like Maliketh or Malenia!

#8: “Cuphead” (2017)

Ignore the mesmerizing visuals harkening back to classic cartoons, the cutesy protagonist, and awesome soundtrack; “Cuphead” is a soul-crushing run and gun platformer that also happens to be one big boss rush. Even though some opponents are slightly more manageable than others, every boss goes through numerous phases, with each one being exponentially harder than the last. Failure is to be expected, as memorizing a boss’ often complicated attack patterns is vital to standing any hope of victory. “Cuphead” will have each and every player begging to make a deal with the devil to finally get past King Dice or Dr. Kahl’s Robot.

#7: “Bloodborne” (2015)

Another FromSoftware eldritch nightmare, “Bloodborne” has its own set of difficulties to set it apart. Along with its gothic horror aesthetic, “Bloodborne” encourages an aggressive playstyle, rewarding you for dodging, countering, and striking from behind. Some key items, like healing Blood Vials or Silver Bullets, don’t come back after you die, which is horrendous when you’re fighting a tough boss, of which there are of course many. Speaking of which, would it have killed them to put lamps closer to the bosses?! And that opening level makes for a steep learning curve! No leveling up until you fight the first boss?! Sheesh…

#6: “Super Meat Boy” (2010)

A game that literally throws players into the meat grinder, “Super Meat Boy” is a throwback to NES-era platformers where a high difficulty was used to prolong an otherwise short campaign. The only difference is... “Super Meat Boy” has around 300 levels, pitch-perfect controls, and never feels cheap. Also, it is arguably harder than most NES games. Playing as a cube of meat trying to survive level after level riddled with blades, salt and various other obstacles, “Super Meat Boy” rarely gives you the chance to breathe or get comfortable; in fact, a split-second tends to be the difference between your character and an unidentifiable red stain.

#5: “Geometry Dash” (2013)

If we were counting user-created levels, “Geometry Dash” would be a contender for the top spot on our list. But even the base game of this musical platform runner makes us want to dash our heads against something! Each level propels you through a brightly colored, musical platforming gauntlet and if you hit something, you die and have to start over. While you only use one button to jump, various portals can switch up elements of the environment, which can either help you, or leave you more confused and frustrated. Practice makes perfect, but you’ll have to practice a lot to get anywhere close to perfect in “Geometry Dash.”

#4: “Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy” (2017)

We’ll never get over how hard this game is! “Getting Over It” is simple, if bizarre, in concept - you’re a dude stuck in a pot trying to get up a mountain using a sledgehammer. But this is made monumentally difficult by the intentionally unintuitive controls and the fact that if you fall down you have to start all over again - no checkpoints! The sheer infuriating rage this game induces is remarkable, as hours of progress can be undone in an instant! And Bennett Foddy’s running philosophical commentary certainly doesn’t help, either. Honestly, it’s probably more fun watching people play “Getting Over It” than it is to play it - if only for the schadenfreude!

#3: “Ninja Gaiden” (2004)

Nintendo’s early library is packed with notoriously rage-inducing games, but even so “Ninja Gaiden” remains a standout. In the 3D reboot, Team Ninja successfully captures the spirit of the original trilogy; so much so that 2004’s “Ninja Gaiden” may just be the hardest entry in the franchise. Right from the opening level enemies spawn from everywhere and show absolutely no mercy; “Ninja Gaiden” wastes little time in allowing players to become familiar with the mechanics. Ryu is by no means an under-powered protagonist, but “Ninja Gaiden” punishes every single mistake and even fodder opponents are not to be taken lightly.

#2: “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” (2019)

Challenging beyond measure, “Sekiro” takes the cake by denying the players the possibility to grind endlessly or switch to a different playstyle compared to its Souls brethren. You either learn how to parry or embrace defeat. Since you’re playing as a master shinobi, stealth is a viable option and does slightly trivialize certain encounters; however, bosses (and even mini-bosses) hit hard, fast, and relentlessly. The base game is so crushingly difficult, there is barely any point mentioning the “Demon Bell” that serves as a harder mode.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Enter the Gungeon” (2016)

All the Fun Guns & Cool Enemies Almost Make You Forget How Brutal the Game Is! Almost…

“Spelunky” (2008)

Each Run is Unique - & Uniquely Frustrating!

“Mega Man 9” (2008)

A Retro Revival That Brought “Nintendo Hard” to a New Decade!

#1: “Dark Souls II” (2014)

Picking the hardest “Souls” game can be a challenge. Each has their own unique hurdles that have helped make the series a byword for difficulty in the gaming industry. But, with all due respect to “Demon’s Souls,” “Dark Souls,” and “Dark Souls III,” we’re going with “Dark Souls II.” Its level design is arguably the most frustrating and punishing, with regular enemies often swarming you, not to mention the usual brutally tough boss fights. Then there’s the fact that you often heal so slowly that you get hit again anyway. Oh, and your max health is reduced every time you die! The fact that creator Hidetaka Miyazaki didn’t direct this one may explain the greater-than-average brutality.