10 Gruelling Video Game Levels That Were Just The Beginning

Dark Souls, Cuphead and Legend of Zelda all have some nightmarish opening chapters...

Dark Souls Opening

The term "difficulty curve" refers to the method by which a game introduces higher challenges to the player across the breadth of the game. Whether it's the power of your opposition, the challenge of the puzzles placed in front of you, or something else the game does to make forward progression all the more difficult. The reason it's called a difficulty CURVE is because this is expected to happen gradually as the game goes on.

And then sometimes you get these games.

Many games out there forgo usual game design wisdom in favor of that ever beloved mindset of "ya know what, screw these pansies who paid hard earned money to play our game!" And give you the most daunting challenges imaginable right at the very start, and never really let up from there.

If nothing else, they don't waste your time by making it absolutely clear just how screwed you are right at the start, but the courtesy wears thin rather quickly once you actually try to play these games.

These games put you through some of the hardest challenges they have very early on, only to further demoralize you by then reminding you just how much more you have to go until the end.

10. Level 1 - Contra

Dark Souls Opening

8-bit games are wild in that their first levels are almost universally more well known than literally anything else about them. The reasons for this slot into one of two categories: one, save files took a while to become a thing, so turning it on meant going back to the beginning across the board.

And two, they were all ball-bustingly hard, making that first level more familiar to the kids who played them than the interiors of their houses as a result. Guess which of those two categories Contra falls into.

The first level of Contra is legendary among Gen-X gamers, giving you one of the most perfect walkthroughs of everything you can expect from this game: fast paced run and gun action, and dying. A lot.

This entry makes for a good representation of every super hard NES game that kicked your butt and then laughed in your face as you processed how little progress you'd actually made in the long run. Sure it doesn't show you a detailed map of the game's levels like later NES games would do, but dying to this first level as many times as you're guaranteed to, only for you to realize how much was left, is pretty brutal on its own.

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John Tibbetts is a novelist in theory, a Whatculture contributor in practice, and a nerd all around who loves talking about movies, TV, anime, and video games more than he loves breathing. Which might be a problem in the long term, but eh, who can think that far ahead?