A game being hard is obviously subjective, but there are some games that nobody can dispute are hard, and even the most seasoned gamers will admit that they had some challenges with it.
There are games like I Wanna Be The Guy, and the sequel I Wanna Be The Boshy that have been made to be deliberately as hard as can possibly be imagined, but we wanted to include mainstream games that offer a solid gameplay experience while also being hard.
In no particular order, here are our top 10 games we think are possibly the hardest available right now in 2023. We’ve picked a mixture of types of games to hit different levels of difficulty.
1. Dark Souls
This is the first hard game that most people think of. Even comments on Steam list ‘Dark Souls’ as a difficulty rating in itself.
But how hard is Dark Souls really? Many Soulsborne fans argue that the games are not actually that hard, as they simply require patience and practice. But these games do foster such a strong community and such a high level of practice, that the Soulsborne games can create an echo chamber of gamers kidding themselves into thinking they’re actually pretty easy. After all, the current world record on Speedrun.com is 20 minutes and 50 seconds by QueueKyoo, and watching this, it looks like quite an easy game.
But don’t let anyone kid you into thinking Dark Souls is easy. Dark Souls is still one of the most punishing games out there for new players. Not only does it offer no real guidance on how to play the game, or which direction you should be taking, there are many items and areas that can be completely missed, even by players that have played the game many times. It’s for this reason Dark Souls is so hard, but also what makes it one of the most in-depth and rewarding games of all time.
Cuphead is hard. There is no real dispute about this. The side-scrolling, run-and-gun, rubber hose animation game only gives you three hits before you’re finished, and threats will come in all directions and in all forms. There are no checkpoints or healing, so you have to get the level perfectly right, or you start over.
The game can be incredibly overwhelming for those who aren’t used to frantic run-and-gun games, and some of the boss fights can have players stuck for hours.
3. Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is a fast-paced top-down shooter that is set in a highly stylised version of 1980s Miami. You play as an unnamed protagonist who is receiving messages instructing him to take out members of the mafia. The game consists of entering and clearing rooms and improvising with an array of weapons, from knives to shotguns. What makes this game hard is that there is no correct way to play it. Enemies will move in random patterns throughout the rooms, so you’ll need to have quick reactions.
Looking away for one nanosecond in this game can result in you getting blown to pieces. The AI enemies will give you no room for error. There’s no aim assist either, so you better make sure you’re accurate.
The top-down gameplay can also be a new experience for some, and it can be tricky for those who aren’t used to the panning style and 360° gameplay. If you want more from the challenge of the first game, Hotline Miami 2 is very similar and is also in many ways harder than 1.
4. Metroid Dread
Metroid Dread is a pretty challenging title and has led many to suggest it might be the hardest Metroid to date. It starts fairly casually, but quickly ramps up in difficulty, and has proven a challenge for even the most hardcore Metroid fans.
The E.M.M.I robots can be tough to overcome and will force you to navigate the 2D maze in a hurry. The bosses are no joke either. You will be challenged in this game even in Normal mode.
But if that isn’t enough, try playing the game in Dread mode. One hit will mean the game will restart.
5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro is brutal. If you’re no good at parrying in games, you will be after this. Sekiro is a FromSoftware game, and is set in a mythical version of Japan during the Sengoku period. The game will test you in so many ways and has unique elements of difficulty, such as fighting Apparition enemies inflicting the ‘Terror’ status, and having to deal with multiple parries in a short space of time. There are no cheese items or shortcuts in this game, only practice and skill will get you through it.
6. Don’t Starve
Don’t Starve is a survival game where the player must collect resources and fight off monsters in a strange gothic cartoon world.
This game has a unique kind of difficulty, as it’s not fast-paced like the others in this list, but can be seriously tough to beat, and survive for any length of time. Getting through winter in this game can be seriously challenging, even for players who fancy themselves as experienced with survival games.
Another FromSoftware game, Bloodborne came out exclusively to the PS4 and was for many their first step into a Soulsborne game. As many gamers know, these games don’t pull any punches, and it was a shock for many first-timers who thought this was going to be a normal game with normal difficulty.
Like most Soulsborne games, this game has periods of ease, but then hits certain areas that are incredibly difficult, and boss fights that take many, many attempts.
8. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is much more of an exploration game and will have you exploring the world before encountering boss fights. You can also upgrade your character and use certain abilities, meaning that there is a lot more to the game than just timing and reaction speed. Hollow Knight for many is an incredibly tough game, and completing it should be considered a great achievement.
9. Nioh 2
Just like Sekiro, Nioh 2 is set in a mythical version of Japan during the Sengoku period.
Even though not a FromSoftware game, Nioh and Nioh 2 are often included in the conversation and referred to as Souls-like games. So if you’re into Soulsborne games, this should be your next challenge.
Enemies are strong and fast, and you will get one-shot easily if you don’t have your wits about you.
10. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
A brutal and strangely unique game, Getting Over It has consistently hit the headlines for being a hard game. Using just the mouse to control the sledgehammer, you have to slowly claw your way up the mountain, making sure not to fall off.
There are no checkpoints or saves, so one slip and you will lose all your hard work. We cover this game in a separate article about whether it might be the hardest on our list.
11. Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy is a classic. Out since 2010, it’s still a platformer game that people play and love, and Meat Boy has become an iconic character in the video game world. But don’t let Meat Boy’s demeanour fool you, this game is no friendly experience.
It will start relatively easy but will skyrocket in difficulty. Once you’ve completed a level, you’ll be able to see a replay of all the mistakes you made, which can sometimes be into triple figures.
Honourable mention: Escape From Tarkov
Strictly a multiplayer game, and therefore varying in how hard it actually is, Escape From Tarkov is one of the most brutal multiplayer experiences out there. You will be given no direction in the game and will need to learn an incredibly complex system of gun building, ammunition types and medication types. You will have hunger and thirst, and have to deal with gun malfunctions and broken limbs. Not only that, but a bunch of other players are also trying to kill you too, with often vastly superior gear to you.
You also might need to deal with a bunch of hackers too in its current state. Good luck mastering this game.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments if you think any of these games don’t deserve a place here, and if you can think of any you would change.