Not every game is some escapist power fantasy designed to make players feel big and tough. Some are just downright cruel and enjoy screwing players over with brutal difficulty or even nasty tricks. While still plenty of fun, those are the games you have to watch out for.
So, in no particular order, here are ten of the meanest video games to ever be unleashed…
1. Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy gives players pitch-perfect platforming controls only to then force them through levels that would be impossible without controls that precise. Players must be acutely aware of their own physics as they build up speed to run over gaps, hover slightly in midair to avoid spikes, and bounce over-and-over again off the side of a wall to climb up. But what makes Super Meat Boy so mean — and so funny — isn’t the constant barrage of death, it’s what happens after you win. When players finally succeed, they are treated to a demoralizing video of all their past lives racing towards the goal at once as all but one succumb to their inevitable gruesome fates.
2. EVE Online
Forget Second Life and the Oculus Rift, EVE Online is what’s really threatening to shatter the boundary between real life in video games. In this insane MMO space sim, players build their own intergalactic companies and economies, which has led to some amazing virtual corporate espionage. Imagine being the head of a bank only to learn that a rival has been seeding your employee base with spies literally for years before finally assassinating you and launching a coup. That’s a real thing that happened in EVE. But what makes the game so cruel is that items with real-world benefits like PLEX, items bought with real money that extend monthly subscriptions, are totally vulnerable to theft and destruction.
The pink bow of shame
3. Ninja Gaiden
The only thing that surpasses the level of violence and gore in this intense shinobi simulator is the level of difficulty. They way of the ninja is unforgiving in the world of Ninja Gaiden, and the game is determined to make sure players never forget that. How mocking is this game? If players die enough times they are given some extra power as a crutch, but they must also endure the shame of “Ninja Dog mode” as they are stripped of the title of master and forced to wear a big, bright, pink bow at all times as punishment.
4. Animal Crossing
What makes the cruelty lurking at the heart of Animal Crossing so fiendish is how unexpected it is. For the most part, the game is a simple, breezy life sim where players build a home in a community of talking animals. But almost immediately, players are saddled with debt and constantly struggle to pay off a ballooning mortgage bill. It’s like the game predicted the Great Recession. And if players try to outsmart the game by, say, resetting the clock to undo a past mistake, they are berated with for minutes by an angry, ranting mole named, wait for it, Mr. Restti.
Conventional wisdom says video games used to be a lot tougher than they are now. Technical limitations meant games were shorter, so the best way to drain quarters or increase replay value was to ramp up the challenge in arcades and on consoles alike. But the best/worst example of old-school difficulty taken to a terrible extreme is Battletoads for the NES. Many consider this beat ‘em up platformer to actually be impossible with just one player, but bring in a friend and get even more frustrated as you both struggled through each brutal level.
6. World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident
World of Warcraft isn’t an especially mean game. If it was it wouldn’t be the world’s most popular MMORPG for over a decade. But in 2005 it did temporarily become a cruel and fascinating demonstration of how a global pandemic might work. When a bug allowed the “Corrupted Blood” virus to escape its dungeon home and seep into the world at large, countless players became infected and low-level ones even died. Relief workers did what they could to contain the pathogen by setting up quarantine camps and evacuating densely populated zones, but some jerks also tried to spread the plague for the fun of it. Eventually Blizzard reset the game to end the nightmare, but the data from the incident was so bizarre actual scientists now study it to predict what may happen during a real epidemic.
7. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
One of the scariest pranks a game can pull on a player is to shatter the fourth wall and convince them their expensive console, computer, or television is broken somehow. Games like Batman: Arkham Asylum have flirted with this trick, but the best example comes from psychological horror game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. As players encounter demonic entities, their “Sanity meter” starts to deplete. And to simulate going insane, the game will do anything from making the graphics glitch out, to causing the television inputs to seemingly malfunction, to popping up a blue screen of death to fool players into thinking their GameCube is busted. That’s just not nice.
While other games on this list push players’ reflexes and manual dexterity to the limit, Japanese indie cult classic La-Mulana instead offers environmental brain teasers so puzzling they’ll leave you scratching your head until it’s raw and bloody. Constant backtracking and inventory management are a must, and every detail, from the smallest cave paintings to the most innocuous quotes from villagers, could be a crucial clue to remember as players explore the lost tomb of La-Mulana. It’s like having to crack the Fez code again and again.
9. Metal Gear Solid
The insanity of Metal Gear auteur Hideo Kojima comes out in a lot of ways during the course of the series. From the endless philosophizing on politics and economics in cutscenes longer that feature films, to characters whose defining traits are how irritable their bowels are. But Kojima is also a notorious trickster who’s not above messing with his own fans. The first Metal Gear Solid has a psychic boss that reads your memory card, a riddle that can only be solved with a code on the back of the game’s physical packaging, and a fight that can only be won by plugging your controller into a different port.
But the most anger-inducing trick came in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty when, after briefly playing as classic hero Solid Snake, players are unexpectedly forced to play as whiny new protagonist Raiden for the rest of the game, a twist the lengthy American marketing blitz never even hinted at.
10. Fenix Rage
With great power comes great responsibility, and when Fenix Rage gives players even more platforming power than a game like Super Meat Boy, they better be ready for some greater responsibilities. As Fenix, players dash, jump infinitely, and respawn immediately after death. But to make it through the 200 perilous levels, players will have to utterly master these powers inside and out and will probably rage and complain that they don’t have more. It’s like wishing for a stronger character using a monkey’s paw.