Video games are designed at their core to be a challenge, and some games are just harder than others. While it’s all well and good to play Death Stranding on “game journalist mode,” if you want a casual, relaxing time exploring the wilderness of post-apocalyptic North America, some days just call for an experience that will keep you at the edge of your seat.
With that in mind, we have put together a list of 10 of the most challenging video games of the past decade that you can play on the PC, Xbox, and Playstation.
Probably one of the most renowned action games of all time, Dark Souls spawned an entire genre that revolves solely around difficulty and dying and dying again, until you succeed. Unlike any other video game before it, with the exception of Demon’s Souls, death can come in the blink of an eye. To the uninitiated, Dark Souls can seem impossible, even unfair, but a good amount of patience and a keen understanding of the game’s mechanics can turn every novice into a master, provided they have the strength to brave its challenges.
The spiritual predecessor of the Dark Souls series, Demon’s Souls was the first game to truly kick off the “souls-like” genre when it was originally released for the Playstation 3. Thanks to the advent of the Playstation 5 and the ongoing popularity of the souls-like genre, the makers at Bluepoint Software were able to remake From Software classic for the new generation. Despite being made by a different creator altogether, Demon’s Souls captures the look and feel of the Dark Souls series, along with its steep difficulty curve. It’s also one of the only Playstation 5 games worth picking up.
Designed for the Playstation 4, Bloodborne is a fast-paced take on the souls-like genre and requires players to be quick on the trigger instead of exercising endless patience as they would in a typical souls-like. Set in a Gothic Victorian setting in the midst of a plague, players battle against eldritch horrors and all manner of otherworldly creatures as they dodge, weave, and battle their way through the game’s creepy cityscapes, with whips and other exotic weapons at their disposal.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Similar to the Souls games, Sekiro prioritizes combat over roleplaying, with less personal character creation and more emphasis on upgrading gear, skills, and abilities. Instead of whittling down enemies to death with light attacks, combat in Sekiro revolves around using having the perfect timing and waiting for openings to strike for a single killing blow.
Designed as both a multiplayer and singleplayer experience, Nioh and its sequel Nioh 2 follows the story of a western samurai in medieval fantasy Japan. Designed as a series of self-contained missions, Nioh diverges from the typical souls-like experience by charging players to navigate through set-piece battles and levels instead of a wide-open environment. Throughout the game, players can upgrade their character with a wide swath of items and equipment, and even craft new ones. Every mission in the game can be replayed as many times as you like.
Returnal is something of a departure from Housemarque’s usual fare, best known for its bullet hell games for the Playstation. Combining the souls-like elements of dying repeatedly with the rogue-like elements of procedurally-generated levels, and Housemarque’s signature bullet hell gameplay, this 3rd-person shooter takes place on an alien planet that you crash on and die again, and again, and again, with each death unlocking something new to discover.
Although widely maligned as being “not really a Darksiders game,” Darksiders 3 is very much a souls-like game that takes the weakest of the Four Horsemen, Fury, and pits her in worlds well established by the beloved Darksiders series. Featuring combat akin to the souls-like games, Fury however handles quite differently in that she is able to dodge attacks and is generally much more versatile and acrobatic than any of her counterparts in the From Software series.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity and art style of the 2D platform game, the classic run and gun action game took the game industry by storm with its charming 1930s inspired cartoon art direction and terrified the hell out of game journalists, one of whom strangely enough even struggled to complete the tutorial mission.
Binding of Isaac
This top-down dungeon rogue-like shooter is not what it seems, the main character, a child, who lives in his mother’s haunted basement has to endure endless torment as he wades his way through filth and grime to make his way back up to finally deal with his mother. The plot is inspired by the biblical story, the Binding of Isaac — make what you will of that.
Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Brothers games are never all that hard, but imagine what you could do if you could make your own levels. And now imagine that there are millions of players out there who are making their own levels — impossible levels, even — all in an attempt to get you to play them. Now that sounds like a challenge, and that is exactly what Super Mario Maker 2 offers. Many makers of these levels enjoy the sadistic pleasure of watching streamers struggle to complete their nightmarish creations, with the knowledge of knowing that the levels are possible to complete, but require try-hard persistence. The game is enough to challenge the most foolhardy gamer.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is frustration incarnate, designed by the maker of QWOP. Revolving around the character Diogenes who lives in a cauldron, you have to use a pickaxe to hoist yourself up to the highest peak. The game has some of the most difficult controls to master and can be a challenge just to complete, one mistake and your progress is wiped and you’re back to square one.
Bonus addition: I Wanna be the Boshy
Released in 2007, and dubbed one of the most chaotic 2D platform games was created by Danish game developer Jesper “Solgryn” Erlandsen. I Wanna Be The Boshy, the game has plenty of RNG-based events, jumpscares, and intentionally awkward hitboxes, coupled with hard platforming, and less than politically correct humour throughout the game.