The most annoying level of the Citizen Kane of near-impossible video games, the BattleToads speederbike level, is the reason why the Game Genie and adderall were invented. Nothing short of John Nash-like spatial recognition is enough, as even thousands of plays can still leave the most talented gamers in the fetal position. What sets it apart from other classic video games, and what is perhaps its most annoying quality, is that years later it still retains the same level of difficulty it had when you were 9.
Apparently the developers of the NES version of the classic TMNT arcade game weren’t satisfied with simply desecrating probably the greatest multi- player arcade game ever conceived. They had to make the underwater level—always a bane of any gamer’s existence—the single most difficult underwater level in video game history. The obstacle list reads more like a grocery list for someone shopping a medical marijuana facility (Electric seaweed, Energy Draining Leaves, 8 Bombs) than a proper collection of video game obstructions.
Look, we appreciate the StarFox developers being courteous enough to give the Landmaster as many Arwing-ian qualities as possible—smart bombs, locking onto enemies with the laser, even doing a Barrel roll—we get it, thank you. But you don’t go to a seafood restaurant and order a cheese burger, and if we wanted to roll around in a tank, we’d play Twisted Metal. Now get us back to the goddamn planes.
The most annoying aspect of fighting the title character in Mike Tyson’s Punchout! isn’t the uppercut that signals instant death for anyone on the receiving end, or the grotesquely large physique of someone who could destroy you even if he was half your size, or even the fact that your character was given an embarrassingly limited repertoire of moves. No, the most annoying aspect is the fact that in 1987, Mike Tyson’s Punchout! was possibly the most realistic game ever invented.
There isn’t really anything super complicated to navigate on Rainbow Road, but it’s the ultra minimalist and, let’s face it, ingenious act of simply removing the railings that helps it make the list. Because the mark of a truly annoying video game comes from your complete and total confidence being crushed at a moment’s notice by the simplest of mistakes.
At nearly 7 and a half minutes with a note progression that feels less like playing an instrument and more like navigating a heavily loaded Vietnamese mine field, DragonForce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” is pretty much what you’d expect from a band that had the balls to name itself DragonForce. Ultimately, the guitar-smashing annoyance of the song will leave you channeling Pete Townsend more than any The Who song on Guitar Hero.
For whatever reason, the people that bring you Mario games have developed a relatively simple yet diabolically brilliant method for increasing the difficulty of any level: take the most basic and comforting element of the previous levels, and just get rid of it. For Rainbow Road, this means no more railings, and in the case of “Tubular,” this means no more ground. Instead, the primary method of getting to the end of the level is jumping on any number of minions, and being even the slightest degree off is a recipe for disaster.
What’s not to hate about Seth? Physically, he’s an unapologetic ripoff of Dr. Manhattan, and his Special Moves are just a collection of Special Moves of classic characters, from Guile’s Sonic Boom to Dhalsim’s long range punch/kicks to Zangief’s pile driver. But the ultimate meta irony of Seth lies in the name, as it’s not hard to imagine this being an assignment from some Jager-guzzling frat boy who “totes spaced” on the assignment and threw it together a half hour before it was due.
What makes playing the Waterfall level without the Konami Code really annoying is the fact that you’re always a 10 button sequence away from making the game remarkably easy. Imagine taking a take-home test with a fully functioning cheat sheet at your side and refusing to make even the slightest glance in its direction. If you’ve got the stomach for it, hats off, but if you need me I’ll be the one who eventually came to his senses and decided to dominate the crap out of this level.
17 years had passed between Mike Tyson’s Punchout! and Madden ’04. In that span sport video games, particularly the Madden franchise, were lauded for their ever-increasing attention to realism. Then ’04 coverboy Michael Vick broke the mold and led the Atlanta Falcons to the elite group of “unplayable” Madden teams. And be honest, there’s nothing more annoying than watching as your opponent revels in victory when literally all he had to do for a first down was drop Vick back 15 or so yards, pick a side, and press X.
Just as Mega Man 9 is a return to the old school sensibilities of early NES Mega Man games, so too does it mark a swift return to the days of controller-smashingly annoying levels. It’s one thing to look like the Mega Man games of old, but it’s an entirely different thing to play like them. Really guys, no mid-level checkpoint save options? Non-pressure sensitive jumping? Unreal. Plus, combine these elements into Dr. Wily’s Castle with 8, count ‘em 8, non-saveable checkpoints, and it’s easy to envision why this game is so maddening.
Continuing the long held tradition of super difficult mine cart levels in video games, the mine cart stage in Gunstar Heroes takes the genre to a whole new level of “come on!”-inducing frustration. With a relatively straightforward premise and gameplay design, the goal of the level designers is clearly just to overwhelm you with numbers. And, though they were nice enough to give you unlimited ammo, one gets the feeling they only did it to make you that much more pissed off when you can’t beat it.
Quick, what’s the first thing that jumps into your head when you think of the Modern Warfare franchise? Explosions, gunfire, and just killing a crapload of bad guys, right? Now, what’s the last thing that jumps in your head? An entire level devoted to quiet maneuvering and minimal gunfire. It can be argued that the purpose of All Ghillied Up is to advance the story while giving gamers an excuse to exercise some of the skills exhibited by modern soldiers. It can also be argued, however, that I bought this game to lay as many pussies out as possible, and if I wanted to experience life as a soldier I’d nut up and enlist.
Navigating through Ocarina Of Time’s Water Temple level is a journey so epic, so legendary, so goddamn complicated, walkthroughs read more like Tolkien novels than helpful guides. Probably the best way to sum up the level is to enter “Water Temple” into urbandictionary.com. The first definition that appears is, “Considered by many to be the equivalent to a complete rectal examination.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
A flight simulation NES Game from the ’80s is going to be nearly impossible. As gamers, we accept that going in, and treat the combat in Top Gun for what it is: archaic and frustrating. What sucks the fun out is the fact that the true test of your skills and patience comes after you’ve killed everyone, because game developers somehow got it in their heads that landing the friggin’ plane should be the game’s most difficult mission. It’s the aeronautical version of navigating through an intense and action-packed Bond game only to then have to fill out mounds of paperwork in order to finish. And if you misspell someone’s name or misplace a decimal point, you lose a life.
Gamers love a good challenge. Unless it involves an underwater level. Or a mine cart. Or pretty much anything from Mega Man 9. Come to think of it, gamers are frustrated by a lot of things. Here’s a tribute to the levels that made us collectively break our controllers.