5. Heart of Darkness (1998)
Instead of being a video game adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness (which, now that I think about it, would be pretty cool) this game looks, on the surface, to be a fairly child-like and straightforward affair. However, this is anything but. Developed by Amazing Studios and released by Ocean Software in Europe, Heart of Darkness places the player in control of a child named Andy as he attempts to rescue his dog who has been kidnapped by shadow-like spectres.
The game tested the limits of the 2D scroller with its cinematic storytelling sequences and pre-rendered backgrounds, and while the game was given positive reviews at the time of its release, the gameplay elements are still as challenging now as they were back in the dizzay.
This game is the textbook example of trial and error. Never mind the fact that any hit ends in instant death, sequences in which Andy has to battle through hordes of enemies and navigate precarious terrain are designed to be completed in a very specific manner, with any deviation from which resulting in being eaten. Therefore, this game tested the nerves of even the most patient gamers, as the player had to try again, and again, and again, and again to battle through the various levels in order to find the correct way to beat the enemies and progress through the game.
As difficult as this game was however, the developers were generous enough to give you unlimited lives, so it is possible to learn the patterns and techniques to push through to the end, so hang in there.
4. Tomb Raider III (1998)
Like GTA, Tomb Raider has become a phenomenon in popular culture, even managing a couple of motion pictures, which is more than GTA has done (make it happen, Hollywood). Lara Croft was one of the key cornerstone characters on which the PlayStation brand was build, and the success of the franchise kept on rolling with Tomb Raider III, a game some consider to be the best in the game’s canon.
The key difference in the development of Tomb Raider III is a reason behind its difficulty. Instead of building on the more action and shoot-‘em-up style of Tomb Raider II, the developers decided to take advantage of the blossoming technology available for games by upgrading the engine used in its predecessors. The engine offers better speed efficiency and new graphical features such as coloured lighting and triangular polygons, allowing developers to achieve greater detail and more complex geometry.
As a result, the game walks confidently into a brave new world of difficulty. Combining complex puzzles, hidden items and combative humans and animals, Tomb Raider III really separates the men from the boys. Moreover, the limited save structure (a key difference between Tomb Raider II and III) means that the exploration of the levels, which are littered with booby traps, poses a much greater intensity of complexity than ever before. In past releases, it was a case of trial and error, but now, it’s a different beast entirely.
2. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (1998)
Is it me, or was 1998 an absolute b*tch when it came to hard games? Good lord. Anyway, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was released in 1998 and was developed by Acquire and published by Sony Music Entertainment Japan in Japan and by Activision worldwide on the PlayStation. The game is known for its eerie settings of feudal Japan and stealth gameplay. And being from the stealth genre, you know that it’s going to be difficult.
The game features 10 levels which are introduced in increasing difficulty: Punish the Evil Merchant, Deliver the Secret Message, Rescue the Captive Ninja, Cross the Checkpoint, Execute the Corrupt Minister, Infiltrate the Manji Cult, Destroy the Foreign Pirate, Cure the Princess, Reclaim the Castle and Free the Princess.
All of the levels take place at night to compensate for the technical limitations of the PlayStation; the game’s high rate of redraw is reduced by setting events at night and reducing the distance the player can see. However, like Silent Hill, the limitations of technology turned out to be anything but a hindrance, as setting everything at night only helps the eerie feel of the game.
With unlimited lives, this is another game in which trial and error is your only way to get through the game. However, the extreme difficulty of the game, coupled with being dropped into missions with very little context, only served to frustrate 90s gamers to no end.
2. Rayman (1995)
If you want a full dissection of why Rayman was both the dream and the nightmare of my younger days, then I suggest you go take a brief look at my list of the 10 most difficult ps1 levels of all time, in which Rayman also just missed out on the top spot.
But for now, let me just say that this isn’t just one of the most difficult games on the original PlayStation, it is easily one of the most difficult games of all time. Rayman was one of the first games to be released when the PlayStation was brought out by Sony back in 1995, and throughout the course of the ps1’s run, it became one of its best-selling games in the UK with 4 million units shipped.
At first glance, it may look like a game for children. With its colourful, whimsical worlds, the wide-eyed cuteness of its characters and the gorgeous soundtrack, this game may not look like much, but then Bruce Lee was only 5’7”.
Rayman is a game long on levels and short on checkpoints and the margin for error is razor thin, especially given that the player only starts off with five lives and five continues, which can all quite easily be used up by the second world. The amount of lives Rayman can find is drastically decreased after the first few levels, and by the latter stages, lives are placed in such precarious and dangerous places, it’s not even worth trying to get to them.
Almost everything on the screen at any one time can kill you, from lightning-bolt shooting eyes to tiny insects, to musical notes to huge insects and rock monsters, this is a game that wants you to fail, and fail hard.
And we haven’t even got to the small matter of the electoon cages yet. The electoon cages are scattered across the levels, and if they’re not hidden in absurdly hard to get to corners of the level, then they only appear when Rayman hits completely random and often practically undetectable trigger points.
And if you don’t find them all – 102 to be exact – then you can’t even get to the final boss. This is a game that everyone played and no one completed. Moreover, many of us didn’t even get past the second world – a part of the game that is easy compared to the latter stages. And by the time you get to the final two worlds, the game is as difficult as it possibly can be before it becomes actually impossible.
Before we unveil number one, let’s have a look at some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut:
Vagrant Story (2000)
Syphon Filter (1999)
Crash Bandicoot (1996)
Resident Evil (1996)
- Alundra (1997)
This is the only game released on the original PlayStation that is harder than Rayman. And in saying that, it’s akin to saying that Evander Holyfield was the only person in the world who wasn’t afraid of Mike Tyson. It’s when bad meets badder. And Alundra is as mean as they come.
Alunda is an action adventure role-playing game that was released in 1997 and its protagonist is a young man named Alundra, who learns that he has the power to enter people’s dreams. He is shipwrecked on an island near the village of Inoa where locals have been suffering from recurring nightmares that sometimes cause death. Dark.
With his dream walking ability, Alundra proceeds to try to help the locals. So he’s basically what would happen if Freddie Kruger was hugged a bit more as a kid. The narrative becomes gradually darker and more twisted as the game progresses, dealing with mature themes such as death, clinical depression, fate, religion, and the essence of human existence. So yeah, it isn’t exactly an afternoon of breezy, one-eye-on-Facebook gaming.
The game is very exploration heavy, and with a combination of real-time action combat, extremely challenging puzzle solving that is so subtle and so complex that you basically need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure them out, and insanely precise platforming, the final result is a game unlike any other. The platforming is isometric, and therefore straight from the outset, you are thrown into the deep end, from which you are never afforded the opportunity to escape.
Upon release, the game was universally acclaimed and was fairly successful commercially. It was praised for its well-written story and characterisation, smooth game mechanics and platforming, challenging gameplay and puzzles, and expansive overworld exploration. But despite all this, it has become infamous in the gaming community as not just the undisputed king of difficult ps1 games, but arguably the hardest game of all time.
Did we miss any out? Do you agree or disagree with the order? Let us know in the comment section below!