Adventure Island (NES / Famicom – 1986): The Hardest Game of All Time?

There I did it! I just called Hudson’s Adventure Island for the NES, the hardest game ever.

Ok before you get mad, please put that keyboard down and hear me out as I try to explain the reasons why I think this is the hardest game ever!

First of all, I know about the “Battletoads”, “Ninja Gaiden”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and the infamous “Silver Surfer”. I agree, they are all hard like many other Nintendo Entertainment System games from those days, and if I was making a list of hardest NES games ever, they would all make the list.

Left: Nintendo Famicom / Right: NES (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Of the bunch, Silver Surfer is probably the hardest but it’s gameplay is so absurd, it feels more broken than hard. Let me make this clear: All NES games are quite hard compared to modern games, that is until you memorize their patterns. The games I just mentioned are all known for being very hard, because their patterns are harder to memorize and execute than most other NES games. But, there is one sequence in Adventure Island that’s very hard to execute even if you memorize it very well. I will elaborate on that in a moment!

Adventure Island start screen and the very first stage of the game

I also know it’s so trendy to give this honor to Dark Souls nowadays and it certainly shines in an era where breezing through games is common. Dark Souls is different by today’s standards and definitely should be mentioned.

All that aside, we are talking about a time when the “inability to save” was a norm in games.

Skateboarding Master Higgins takes on a crow

At first, Adventure Island appears to be your regular lighthearted, easy platformer and it is true for the most part of the game. The game has 32 stages spread over 8 areas. (hello Super Mario Bros)

The first 6 areas (about 24 stages) are not much of a trouble. It’s area 7 where it all starts to get interesting. Not only that you have to watch out for an ever increasing number of enemies, but you should also make sure you collect as many fruits along the way as you can. Failing to do so guarantees your death. You should be constantly running and jumping and collecting fruits. There is no time to stare at the scenery. Every foe you touch is an instant death and you are only given 3 lives to beat the game.

There are no passwords or continues unless you find the bee near the end of the very first level which will unlock the “continue” option until you turn off the system. And trust me, you need that bee if you want to have any hope of beating this game.

Even if you get the bee your chances of beating the game are slim, so don’t even try to go on without it.

Get this bee to unlock the “continue” option

There are 8 bosses in this game, one for each area. They are all very similar and easy to kill once you get the hang of it.

To be honest with enough practice and memorization it’s all beatable and doesn’t get unfair until “area 8-3”. Up until that point I thought “Yeah hard, but is it harder than TMNT, Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden? Probably not.”

The jumping sequence at the very end of area 8-3 is what made me decide that this is the hardest game ever. If this is not the hardest game ever, then that sequence where you run and jump over falling blocks while trying to shoot approaching bats is the hardest sidescrolling platformer moment ever! You have to run fast while shooting the bats and the “B” button you use for running fast is also the button you will need to use shooting the bats.

This jumping sequence at the end of area 8-3 is sure to give you sore fingers whether you beat the game or not. After all, the NES controller is not the most comfortable gamepad you will find. I have only managed to beat this game once and god knows how many times I tried. Depending on your retro gaming skills it may take you hundreds of times, or worse you may never beat it.

Once you beat it, you will never want to touch this game again. It will give you nightmares.

On the other hand, if you are a hardcore gamer, up for a real challenge and haven’t played this game before, give the original NES version a try.

If you are looking for a more relaxing gaming experience, then look elsewhere!

PS: I would love to hear about “your” hardest game ever! Feel free to leave a comment.

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