Can You Name These Unbeatable Old School Video Games?



By: Ian Fortey

7 Min Quiz

Image: Westwood Studios, Disney Software/Virgin Interactive Entertainment

About This Quiz

Modern gaming is a thing of beauty, and games like "Overwatch" and "Fortnite" offer huge, immersive, multiplayer environments. And designers keep upping the ante on amazing graphics and engaging stories to accent the gameplay. Gaming is a sport now, a job people can have. You can literally make a living being awesome at them. 

But it wasn't always like this. Gamers didn't always have online play and cool gear, dynamic upgrades and respawn points. Classic gaming could be a cruel and relentless grind. Game mechanics could be baffling and counterintuitive, boss fights an impossible challenge and some games literally never ended. Then there were things like Atari's "E.T." which was so bad they literally rounded up all the unsold copies and buried them in the desert. How bad does a game have to be to make someone do that?

If you're a fan of the classics, then no doubt you remember a lot of good fun but also a lot of rage-gamer frustrations that nearly made you throw your controller across a room. Swimming in "Ninja Turtles." Speeder bikes in "Battletoads." So many unbeatable games. How many can you remember? Why not take the quiz and see if you can beat this one?

In which of these games do you play as a character named Little Mac?

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out was an NES game that lulled you into a false sense of security as you got better at beating the first few fighters then made it to Tyson and got one-punched into oblivion over and over. Eventually, you could learn his pattern and beat him but it was a lot of trial and error if you didn't have a game guide.


You can play as one of four iconic comic/cartoon characters in which of these games?

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game for the NES is well-known for its remarkably hard levels. In particular, levels where characters had to swim were especially daunting as the risk of drowning, exploding or being electrified were all present and made so much more frustrating by the fact turtles are normally adept swimmers.


Do you know his game based on a Marvel comics character?

Silver Surfer is infamous for its awful gameplay. Arguably the worst part was that even touching a wall would kill you and some parts of the game required you to navigate areas that were almost the exact same height as the character, meaning there was no room to move whatsoever.


This 1994 SNES game got a special re-release in 2019. What is it?

You'd think a game based on a Disney movie like "Lion King" should be easier to play, but you'd be wrong. With precision moves required for your advancement through even the simplest of asks — swing at exactly the right time from hippo tail to hippo tail or it's game over — this was another "hard on purpose" game designed to be unbeatable in a typical Blockbuster Video rental period.


Which of these games did some people think had literally no end?

Pitfall for the Atari 2600 was rife with monotony, as players had to scroll through nearly identical levels collecting treasures. You could beat the game if you collected every treasure, but you only had 20 minutes and very limited lives in which to do it. In the original version, you literally had one life.


Which of these games was much easier to beat if you knew the Konami code?

The NES version of Contra was either the easiest or the hardest game ever depending on your propensity for using cheat codes. Using the legendary Konami code ensured you could make it through the game in one piece. No code means those constant enemies could one-hit kill you constantly, plus you had that timer to race against. It was a struggle.


Boss battles in which of these games were nearly impossible?

Everyone expects a boss fight to be hard, but they were over the top in Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It got to the point in some fights that the boss' life meter was literally too big for the screen. That's either a programming error or a cruel joke.


This game infamously made you go back several levels if you lost at the end. Do you know it?

It was not impossible to get to the final stage of Ninja Gaiden by any means, though the tough and fast enemies made it a challenge. But when the boss on level 6-4 killed you and sent you to level 6-1 a few times, it became entirely too much for some players.


Which of these games made you hate spikes?

In fairness, you could beat Mega Man if you kept at it, but you had to keep at it. You had to keep trying because you were going to fall on spikes and die literally hundreds of times before this game was over.


Which of these games was inspired by a popular movie?

Inspired by "The Addams Family," Fester's Quest was a game with hopelessly bad design. Each screen looked like the screen before it, giving you no sense of direction by which to navigate and your weapon was terribly inaccurate. Getting to the end was more luck than skill.


Do you remember which game's ending is just an illusion that makes you play through a second time?

The infuriatingly hard Ghosts n' Goblins was a game few people beat and those who outran the instant-kill timer and the two-hit deaths that sent you back to the beginning of each level were greeted with the news that the end was an illusion created by Satan and you needed to literally restart the game to win.


Do you know which of these games made you play as a time-traveling, non-human hero?

Sega's Ecco the Dolphin was anther maddeningly hard game to try to get through and it was 100% on purpose. The game's developer once admitted that he feared his kids being able to blaze through a game in a single weekend, so he made his own game exceptionally difficult to complete.


You could only get 99,990 points in the arcade version of which of these games?

At first glance, Asteroids does not seem like a hard game. In fact, it seems incredibly easy. Now try to remember beating it. This was one of those mostly endless games from the early days of gaming that just kept going and going. You could do well and rack up high scores, but you could never beat it. Record high scores on Atari, which had no cap, have gone up past 40 million and took players days of nonstop play to achieve.


Do you know which of these games was also considered one of the biggest video game failures of all time?

What was even going on in the Atari E.T. game? It's hard to know if this game was actually hard or just so poorly designed that no one could figure out how to pay it. The idea was to help E.T. call home and avoid FBI agents, but the gameplay was baffling and seemed to make no sense to casual gamers resulting in one of the biggest gaming disasters ever.


This game was a sort of "Crocodile Dundee" knock off. What was it?

The Adventures of Bayou Billy was multi-level hard. The fights were hard, the shooting was hard, the driving was hard. You had no real break from the chaos. On the driving levels, if you went too slow the timer would run out, but if you went to fast you could one-hit kill yourself just by hitting a post.


In which of these games did getting hit make your attacks weaker each time?

Blaster Master for the NES could be a ton of fun and featured great weapon upgrades and cool, over-the-top bosses. But it was a slog. The tank you drove would slide when you stopped, causing you to glide off cliffs constantly and worse, you had to leave the tank sometimes and become horribly weak and almost incapable of fighting back since you could only shoot in one direction.


Word is this game was so hard because of the game-rental business. Do you know it?

Battletoads is absolutely legendary for how hard it was. If you weren't killing your buddy in two-player mode, you were crashing and burning on that speeder bike thing again and again and again. There's speculation that, because renting games from stores like Blockbuster was becoming big business, the game was made harder on purpose so players would have to keep paying to rent it.


Which of these games was based on a popular '80s action movie?

Top Gun was a game that made many a player quit in frustration. If you managed to even land without crashing on the first level you still had things to put up with like trying to refuel your plane before it crashed and make no mistake, no one ever did this on the first try.


If you get to the end of this game President Bush congratulates you. Do you know it?

Space Shuttle Project was a space shuttle simulation game and, true to any good simulation, if you messed up even a tiny bit you died. If everything wasn't immaculate, you died. If you pressed the wrong button on the load screen you died. There was a learning curve here.


Your weapon in which of these games is basically a shield on a chain?

Rygar was an arcade game ported to the NES and others. Fast, tough enemies made it a challenge but the lack of save points ensured you'd be starting many levels again as you needed certain upgrades to proceed through levels, like a grappling hook that didn't even show up until later in the game anyway.


In which game did you need to find 30 coins to pass the first level?

"Treasure Island Dizzy" was a tough game to wrap your head around. You could swim underwater, but the moment you found an item you'd drop your snorkel and drown. You had to find coins, but there was no way to know where they were. It was a game that offered no solutions and many frustrations.


You can't even defend yourself in this game. What is it?

The baffling gameplay of Dr. Jekyll and My Hyde makes it so you can't defend yourself as Jekyll, all you can do is try to avoid attacks. When he dies you become Hyde but as Hyde, you automatically die if you get as far as you did as Jekyll. It makes no sense and few players ever even made it to the end of level one.


Do you know which of these was one of the first 4-player arcade games?

Gauntlet could be an extremely enraging game thanks in no small part to the Grim Reaper. Your character could be killed at random by a figure cloaked in black and that would just be it for you. No rhyme or reason to it, no way to fight back except feed the game another quarter.


In which strategy game did you need to be successful over a long period of time to have a hope of winning?

XCOM was a long haul sort of a game that was difficult across any number of aspects. Aliens had the ability to attack you when you couldn't even see them, you needed to plan and plot the use of resources over months, and make upgrades without any idea how or why they'd work. If you did poorly over the duration you'd inevitably fail months into a campaign.


Which of these classic shooters came out in 1987?

There was a lot to love about R-Type, from the cool weapons to intense bosses, but make no mistake, this game was a challenge. Though enemies attacked in predictable patterns it was relentless and a true champ had to manage the Force, your handy little drone weapon, to be effective or the entire game would be hopeless.


Thanks to a serious bug issue, this game was literally unbeatable. What was it?

The plot of Jet-Set Willy is that you have to clean up the house after a party and that inexplicably involves fighting monsters. That said, major game glitches essentially ruined the game. Going to the attic would cause a catastrophic failure of tons of previously finished gameplay. Some monsters would die randomly and entering certain rooms could just trigger a "game over."


Which of these games was based on a popular book series?

The maddening puzzle game Discworld was the kind of game that was made by a cruel and uncaring developer. It wasn't a simple puzzle game, it was a game that made you explore every pixel on the screen and try to combine every single thing with every other thing in the hopes something would somehow advance the plot.


If you got to the end of this game, it just started again. What was it?

Monster Party was an infuriating NES game in that the end is essentially played off as "just a dream," so if a player makes it all the way there the game starts again exactly the same as before. This would presumably go on forever.


Parents hated and protested against which 1988 arcade game?

Narc was a shooter game that was particularly noteworthy for its violent content and amoral storyline. Your job was to rob and kill drug dealers and junkies, not the most heroic of tasks. The fact that it was also insanely difficult didn't do it any favors, either.


Which of these games was also a very weird TV game show?

Based on the show "Takeshi's Castle," Takeshi's Challenge was a challenge in every sense of the word. You could lose the game for doing things like not divorcing your wife. In a different part of the game, you would lose if you didn't set the controller down and ignore it for an hour.


Which of these games killed you with wind?

You might think The Karate Kid would be a straight-up fighting game, but the physics were aggravating in many ways. This was one of those games in which a missed jump meant instant death and when the wind pushed you backward you were out of luck every time.


In which of these PC games did you never have to fight to the death but you did have to solve a lot of puzzles?

Myst was an immensely popular PC game, but it definitely only appealed to a certain segment of players. What it lacked in action it made up for in puzzles. Deep, brain-busting puzzles. If you didn't have the patience, the memory and the problem-solving skills, this game left you dead in the water and bored silly.


What's the name of this open-source game that had text-based graphics?

Dwarf Fortress was a stunningly ugly yet oddly engaging game. The problem was it had no real objective. Like Sim City, you were creating a little world, in this case, a fortress of dwarves, but everything that could go wrong, from natural disasters to goblin attacks to accidentally digging to Hell, would happen.


Do you know which of these games was available for Amiga and Sega CD?

While the first Shadow of the Beast was fairly well-received, the sequel had a particularly infuriating problem relating to puzzles. If you needed an item to solve a puzzle you needed it right then and there. If you forgot it or didn't pick it up, or didn't even know where to find it, then that was it. You had to restart and try again.


Which of these fighting games was available on SNES and Sega Genesis?

For many years, fighting games were all very similar and then came Weaponlord. The gameplay mechanics were most baffling to casual gamers who had no idea how to execute the massive number of special moves each character was given, some of which involved charging one direction then another, timing button presses to directional pad movements and more.


This was the sequel to the best-selling French game of all time. Do you know it?

Fade to Black was an early 3D game on the PC and later ported to things like Playstation. The 3D rendering was impressive but also made gauging fights difficult which in turn led to gruesome deaths when you couldn't properly target an enemy, which happened more often than you'd have wanted.


This game was also known as Maniac Mansion II. Do you know what it is?

Day of the Tentacle was a fun game, make no mistake, but that didn't mean it was a cakewalk. If you have a guide or a walkthrough then it's actually a pretty short game. If you don't, then the point and click puzzles which are not the intuitive sort at all could leave you stumped and confused for ages.


The better you were at this game, the harder it got. What was it?

Battle Garegga is one of the few games that made you suck to succeed. If you wanted to really do well you had to do poorly. Avoid certain power-ups and maybe even die once in a while or otherwise the difficulty would scale so high it would be nearly impossible to succeed.


Do you know which of these games was released as public domain software?

This one is very old school. 1980's Rogue was a dungeon crawler that defined the genre and infuriated a generation with its difficult puzzles. The game would change from one play to the next so you couldn't rely on past knowledge. What helps you one game could kill you the next.


A series of unfortunate real-life deaths gave this game a terrible reputation. Do you know it?

Berzerk was a very simple Atari and arcade maze game in which you had to avoid monsters and navigate rooms while avoiding a giant, indestructible smiley that could pass through walls and follow you anywhere. According to legend, a 19-year-old man died of a heart attack immediately after getting a high score and then, a year later, the same thing happened to an 18-year-old.


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