We call them “roadblocks,” and we’ve all been there before.
You’re cruising through an otherwise piece-of-cake gaming experience, not because it’s a cakewalk but because our skills are oh so sweet, but then–
What’s this? Suddenly the game throws something totally new at you. You’ve had a strong rhythm, moving and grooving through each stage with superb aplomb, but suddenly the game took everything you thought you knew and flipped the script.
Suddenly, you’re squandering life after life bashing your head into a brick wall and, even though things were easy peasey prior, you’re stuck. The dreaded roadblock.
The SNES had plenty of tough games, but some of them were fairly reasonable until we hit that one part. That one stupid “what in the heck were the devs thinking” part that you plan your entire run around.
Let’s talk about the top 10 toughest SNES levels that came out of nowhere. You know there were more than just a handful.
10) The Very Loooooong Cave from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Fans of the first Super Mario World game were both surprised and impressed with the new direction and gameplay mechanics. Instead of playing the iconic plumber himself and hopping our way through the Mushroom Kingdom, we play a noble band of Yoshis as they quest to reunite Baby Mario with his brother.
With a beautifully whimsical art direction that made the game both super accessible to children and stunning in its own right, it’s hard to imagine that they would include something dark and devious to keep us from progressing.
But they did. Level 6-5, called “The Very Loooooong Cave,” places poor purple Yoshi into an auto-scrolling nightmare with splotches of lava that cause instant death, physical obstructions that can squish you, rolling boulders that can sweep you into a pit, and baddies galore.
The worst part? The auto-scrolling screen guarantees that one misstep and you’ll have to patiently wait for the level to bring you back where you were before you died. That’s right. No rushing through this loooooong and arduous affair. The game will bring you back to where you were when it’s good and ready.
Yoshi’s Island did have some extra stages you had to unlock, like “More Monkey Madness” and “Kamek’s Revenge,” and these were actually much harder. However, “The Very Loooooong Cave” was the hardest part of the vanilla game, hard to 100%, and required to beat if you wanted to complete the main game.
9) Norfair from Super Metroid
Super Metroid was so good it literally pioneered a new subgenre of games. That’s not to say it didn’t have some tough zones to surmount, like the labyrinthine Maridia. However, no such area was as excruciating as Norfair, which provided a real test to Metroid players.
With rooms filled with fire, intense heat that ruined the day of noobs that didn’t bring a Varia Suit to the party, and bad guys galore to complicate the platforming and make things more difficult for Samus to manage.
At the end of the long slog that was Norfair, you’re treated to the best boss battle of the game, but it is also the most difficult too. Samus squares off in a second bout versus her archnemesis, Ridley, but this time he has plenty of room to fly around and make your life Hell.
Overall, Super Metroid ramps up the difficulty here and there, but Norfair fittingly pulls no punches and truly tests the player’s mettle.
8) Tubular from Super Mario World
The good news about Tubular is that it’s not required to beat the main game of Super Mario World, but you will have to if you want to show your true mastery of this SNES classic title.
Luckily, it’s short, but the devs will stop at nothing to one-shot you at every turn of the road in this one. It’s an inventive concept, requiring you to pick up the balloon power-up and navigate a big stretch of treacherous conditions including Paratroopas, Volcano Lotuses, Chucks chucking baseballs, footballs, and other miscellaneous sports paraphernalia, oh and did we mention there’s no floor?
That’s right. One misstep– or, uh, mis-float– and you’re toast. One hit and you’re plummeting into the abyss and watching your precious extra lives reserves dwindle into nothing.
Pro tip– stop by Vanilla Secret 2 to stock up on lives before you get going on Tubular. If you know, you know.
7) Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart
Super Mario Kart didn’t have all the zany features we associate with the series now, but it did have some of the classics like red shells, banana peels, and a whole mess of over-the-top race tracks to test your skills against a friend or the AI.
It also had the first iteration of the iconic Rainbow Road course, and boy it is a tough one. Your first test here is to stay on the track, since there are no barricades and one spill off the side might mean your race is over. Second, you have to avoid the glowing Star Thwomps that will also send you and your race into a tailspin. Third, you have the other racers to contend with, so it’s a triple threat of terror on the classic Rainbow Road.
Plus, it’s a brilliant, beautiful multi-colored track, but it is a lot for your poor eyes to process at breakneck speeds and may send you into an epileptic fit after too many tries. Thankfully, Super Mario Kart has famously tight gameplay and mechanics given how early it arrived during the SNES era.
You’ll still need all the skills you can summon to get through, especially if you’re at the end of your 150cc Grand Prix. Otherwise, it’s back to Donut Plains 3 with you to try it all over again.
Good luck, gamers!
6) Animal Antics from Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Fans loved this stage in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest because it let you play as all the animals in a mega relay race kinda stage. It starts off pretty manageable as you rampage your way through the opening with Rambi before passing through the sections with Engarde and Squitter with only some mild challenges to tackle.
Then we get the red-headed stepchild of the animal bunch– Squawks the parrot. Oh, Squawks, why do the game designers hate you so? It’s bad enough his section places you amidst brambles, buzzing Zingers, and other baddies, but they also felt the section needed wind.
As if you didn’t need some serious maneuvering skills as it is, the wind will push you into all sorts of stuff. And if you don’t manage to get the job done, and you probably won’t on your first go, the checkpoint is all the way back during Squitter’s section.
Since this level is a Lost World stage, you don’t have to beat it to beat the game, but it is a super cool and super fun level. Minus that severely frustrating Squawks part.
5) Lightning Lookout from Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
Everyone was super stoked to see Dixie Kong return in the sequel to the critically-acclaimed classic Donkey Kong Country 2, even though the game was widely regarded as inferior to its predecessor.
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! added some new baddies and features that made it stand out on its own, all while throwing a new batch of platforming levels to test those trademark helicopter hair skills and more.
Most people recall the nightmare that was 7-3: Lightning Lookout. In terms of layout, it’s not terribly taxing, but it’s those lightning strikes that made it incredibly frustrating. It strikes at seemingly random intervals and tries its best to track the player, so if you’re the type to go gungho full steam ahead, you’ll need to master the dance of doubling back whenever the lightning telegraphs its next spot.
Oh, but beware of the water. Just like in real life, you’re toast if you’re in the water when the lightning strikes. It’s a maddening stage that gives plenty of people a run for their money and then some.
4) Dark World Ice Palace from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
If you’re a millennial gamer born sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, this may very well have been your first experience with a Zelda title and man did you love it. What’s not to love? It’s one of the greatest Zelda games, best SNES games, and most iconic video games of all time.
But before everyone dreaded the Water Temple in N64’s Ocarina of Time, the real hair-puller was the Ice Palace in A Link to the Past. Lots of people had trouble even figuring out how to get in since you couldn’t swim to it, couldn’t walk right up to it, basically had to hunt around that southeast portion of the map until you uncovered the place to warp there, and that was the easy part.
Once inside, you had a vicious array of foes including ice sculptures that sprung to life, Stalfo Knights, and these crazy green duck guys that slid across the ice to ruin your day. As the name would suggest, the Ice Palace is filled with icy floors that make it hard to move with precision to avoid the various hazards and baddies blocking your path.
And in true Zelda fashion, the dungeon itself is a literal maze designed to drive you bonkers. You have to drop through the floor numerous times to access different areas and progress. If you’re not careful, you may even miss the Blue Mail.
The Ice Palace is often regarded as the pinnacle of challenge in A Link to the Past, with only Ganon’s Tower ever even considered as worse. Pro tip– get the Tempered Sword before going to this dungeon. That way you can focus on the maze without the bad guys ruining your day while you try to navigate.
3) Level 7 from Gradius III
We probably could’ve put a number of levels from the SNES era side-scrolling shooter games like the R-Type or Gradius series, but we’re throwing down Level 7 from Gradius III and if you played this game then you know exactly why.
The beginning section is hectic, for sure, and you’ll need to put your dodging skills to the test by showing off some precision with the innumerable projectiles on-screen. If you’re an avid player of the genre though, that’s just par for the course.
It’s when you go to the inside part. The inside part? Yeah. The inside part. That’s where it all goes to Hell.
That gradual side-scrolling ramps up in speed without warning and all you need is one small miscalculation in your positioning and– BOOM! – that’s it. You can kiss your precious speed and power-ups goodbye as you take it from the top as a slow, good-for-nothing hunk of junk.
Even if you know the exact layout, you still have turrets to navigate, gates that are opening and closing to trip you up, and a boss to top it all off at the end. This level is no joke, and that’s why it’s where many a gamer gave up the fight and left Gradius III unfinished to this day.
2) Down the Tubes from Earthworm Jim
Earthworm Jim was released in 1994 and was so beautifully animated with such cartoon charm and quirkiness, that WB picked it up for a cartoon series starting in 1995. Concept, character design, and art direction aside, this was a solid game, as was the sequel which came out a few years later. The platforming was challenging, the baddies varied, and the level design spectacular, making for a polished gaming experience.
Both of the Earthworm Jim games, however, were tough as nails at times, so for our last we’re calling out the big one. The fatty boom-batty. The run killer. Down the Tubes.
This level was so over the top that most gamers gave up right here, while those that persevered usually went on to beat the whole game because this was the worst part by far. The level starts off with your standard fare of platforming and enemies, but before long you get to the gimmick that sets it apart from other levels.
We’re talking about the glass pod thing. Since the level takes place underwater within a series of, you guessed it, tubes, Jim occasionally needs to get into this glass pod vessel thingamajig and drive to another area.
Only thing is that you have a timer to get there, and it’s not generous. There are stations to refill your oxygen, but there are few and you will need every last one to actually make it with time to spare.
However, you can’t just bum rush through, because I did mention you’re in a glass pod, right? If you bash Jim’s vessel into the rocks and other terrain while you race to the finish, you can break it, and that’s all it takes to kill the drive.
The second portion of Down the Tubes is just insanity, as the timer gets maxed out at 99 seconds and it’s go, go, go from there. One pod. One shot. Do not miss your chance to blow.
Because of the level knowledge, patience, and pure precision needed for Down the Tubes, it gets our vote for toughest level in the Earthworm Jim series. Yes, even above that level where you’re a blind salamander in the sequel.
1) Can’t Wait to Be King from The Lion King
Is Level 2 the hardest level of Disney’s The Lion King? Actually, no. Probably not. The Lion King is hard all the way through, featuring platforming challenges, lightning quick enemies, mazes to navigate filled with bad guys, and a final bout against Uncle Scar that baffles most gamers unless they learned how to throw somewhere along the way.
So why are we talking about “Can’t Wait to Be King”?
Because most gamers never beat the level, and so their entire experience of The Lion King ended literally two levels in. It was a curveball no one saw coming, because Level 1 was a cakewalk and Level 2 seemed so bright and cheery.
For one, you have the monkeys which chuck you every which way. You have to roar at them to flip them until you get the combination just right. Otherwise, they’ll chuck you in a circle over and over leaving you at your wits’ end.
The water is probably the worst part though, because little Simba can’t swim and so touching it means instant death. You will have to cross various stretches of water, often by leaping toward swinging hippopotamus tails, and the margin of error is razor thin. If you are off by the slightest in terms of timing or placement, into the water with you.
Just like that. Done. Finito. Caput.
Why did they make the second level so grueling? To boost sales, of course.
Keep in mind this was the Blockbuster age, and children in families that couldn’t afford to purchase new games frequently often rented them instead. That meant if the game was simple and straightforward enough to get done during the rental period, they would never need to part with their hard-earned cash to buy the title and have it available ongoing to try over and over and over again until you finally got through.
That’s why titles like The Lion King made things tough from the jump. So your poor parents had no choice but to buy it for you, just so you could still not succeed and beat Level 2.
Can’t Wait to Be King? More like can’t wait to not play this game ever again.