Looking Back: Top Eight NES Games I Never Beat

For those of us who grew up in the age of Nintendo, there are countless stories of NES games we simply couldn’t beat. Whether they were difficult, poorly designed, or simply made no sense, here is my list of the top 8 NES games I just couldn’t beat:

  1. Ikari Warriors – Released in 1987, Ikari Warriors was a formulaic run & gun arcade game, which my brother and I were obsessed with growing up. The game wasn’t necessarily hard, just incredibly long and time-consuming. Each mission lasted forever, and the action never stopped. We spent hours upon hours playing that game and never came close to finishing it. Going at it solo was an exercise in futility and most of the time when playing co-op, one of us would give up, throw the controller, and vow never to play the game again; we always came back.


  1. Gauntlet – Everyone knows Gauntlet. The game has had countless iterations on a multitude of platforms, with sequel after sequel popping up every generation. The original game was no slouch in the difficulty department, always finding a way of infuriating you as hordes and hordes of creatures came pouring out from their bullpens. this was only made worse with the constant grunts and moans of your character every time something touched you. I never could beat this game, though; I suppose I never really tried.


  1. 3D Worldrunner – An unnecessarily hard third-person rail shooter that made me want to destroy controllers on a regular basis. Part terrible level design, mixed with uneven gameplay, and a splash of awkward controls, this game was ridiculous. Countless times a simple jump miscalculation would bring your character to his demise. It was infuriating, especially if you were certain you had made the right move. Although I never came close to beating it, I would pop that sucker back in any time and try again. The music, however, was fantastic!


  1. Ghosts N’ Goblins – RAGE! Pure unbridled rage! This game was incredibly difficult from start to finish. Not only did you have just three lives, but exhausting all those lives, say at a boss fight, would see you start the whole level over again. To this day, I don’t think I’ve made it past level 3. Ghosts N’ Goblins is an NES classic, but I wish Capcom wasn’t a mecca for gaming masochists, hell-bent on destroying your sanity. To be fair, I thought all sequels and iterations thereafter were also difficult in their own right.


  1. Xenophobe – WHAT WAS THIS GAME. No seriously, can anyone tell me the point of this game.  The goal was to eradicate all alien invaders from the various moon bases, planets, ships, cities and more. I can’t tell you why I loved it, but I do know I never did beat it; I don’t even know if there was a real ending or not. To some, this might be an excruciatingly boring game, but to me, there were definitely enjoyable parts; I just can’t remember what they were anymore.


  1. Trojan – Another in a long line of side-scrolling action games, Trojan was never going to redefine the genre. Armed with a sword and shield, you made your way through a post-apocalyptic landscape, battling baddies along the way. Someone probably should have told our hero not to bring a sword to a gunfight, but it all worked out. I found it amusing that your character used an archaic sword, but mixed into the action were enemies with guns and bombs (and swords, maces, axes, and daggers). I’ve always had a soft spot for Trojan but never could beat it. With clunky controls and uneven enemies, the game can give players a run for their money; or whatever they use for currency in the apocalypse.


  1. Metal Gear – Has anyone actually played the original Metal Gear lately? I have two distinct memories of this game; one from my childhood when the game hit shelves, and again when I was a teenager and picked the game up after several years of it collecting dust. When Metal Gear first came out, I had no idea how to play. The game is impressively complex for something released on the NES. At the time, I don’t think I made it inside the main compound. Cut to years later, sometime during the mid-90’s and I decided to give my older self another shot. This time, I actually figured it out and fell in love with the game. So many aspects we’ve grown to love in the sequels have their origins (albeit simplistically) in this original instalment. It was fun, suspenseful, dynamic, and well thought-out. To this day, I can remember exactly where I left off; still having no clue how to beat the part I had reached so many years ago. Maybe one day I’ll pick it up for a third time, and finally play it through to the end.

metal gear

  1. Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link – The much-debated sequel to arguably one of the greatest games ever made, has infuriated players for over two decades. There are those who love this game and its fresh take on the original source material, while others simply can’t stand it. I am somewhere in the middle. Growing up, I was never a huge fan. I hated the redesigned overworld, new play mechanics and controls; everything about it seemed off. It was and still is, one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. The combination of twitchy controls and overly difficult enemies frustrated me the most. Half my life I didn’t even think the game made any sense.  I started replaying the game recently, but damn, it’s still exceptionally difficult. If my controllers weren’t over thirty years old, I would have chucked them against a wall out of frustration. Not only did I never beat this game, I never even got past the second dungeon. I also hated the music; there I said it!


There you have it fellow gamers. I’m curious to know which games stand out from back in the day that you never beat. Did you beat one of the games I mentioned above and want to rub it in my face? Awesome! I look forward to hearing about which games gave you all a hard time.

Honorable mentions: Battletoads, Rambo, Wolverine, and Karnov.

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