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The Most Punishing Video Games of All Time

Updated October 16, 2020 15.5k votes 3.1k voters 549.3k views22 items

In your library, you probably have at least one game that punishes you so hard that you still haven't beaten it. Below we're ranking the toughest games in terms of punishment and the rage they give you while playing them. Games in the modern day are typically criticized for not punishing the player too much when they are unsuccessful. Save systems, lower difficulty, and a general forgiveness to the player for not being good at the game result in many AAA titles to have a sense that just anyone can beat them. There are some games, even long video games, that are brutal to the player, and find different ways to make you feel like a failure. With our list of grueling video games, you'll find plenty of challenges that you may (or may not) be up to the task for! 

Some games, like Dark Souls II, are relentless and devoid of any handholding -- you're dumped right into the deep end. Others, like Five Nights at Freddy's, punish you for the very act of playing the game: the game itself is an exercise in the dread that you are going to be killed, it's going to be loud and jumpy and there's nothing you can do but wait and hope it doesn't actually happen. But it will happen. 

So take a look at our list of hard-won games and vote for your favorites! After that, take a look at some of our other video games lists to see what you should be playing next! 
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  • Ninja Gaiden is just a jerk, plain and simple. When your character Ryu dies, he never dies well. What's more, while other games would let you change attacks in mid-strike, Team Ninja forces you to commit to a plan of attack -- even when you see it already not working, making you watch your failure in totality. Feel the failure, because you have no one to blame but yourself. 
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  • Before modern platformers like Super Meat Boy and Cloudberry Kingdom, there was Battletoads. This game is infamously known as one of the hardest games to beat, and retains that difficulty curve today. If you own an Xbox One you can replay Battletoads on the Rare Replay game that came out earlier this year.
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  • Mega Man
    Photo: Mega Man / Capcom
    Often the standard bearer of difficultly, Mega Man didn't give you much of a cushion. Die too much? There're no save points. You have to run through entire levels over again. Safe zones? Forget about it -- never relax or you'll find yourself dead. Maybe, just maybe, you'll be lucky enough to get away with only one broken controller. 
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  • The original Castlevania doesn't like you very much. It's going to send, from the get-go, as many enemies as the NES can possibly handle. When you die, you don't get to continue from where you left off: no, you've got to go back to the beginning of the block of levels you were at, forcing you to shame rerun your way back to where you died. And that Holy Water you found at long last? You're going to have to find it all over again, because you can't take it with you when you die. 
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