The GameCube arguably marks the end of the infamous “Nintendo Hard” era of Nintendo’s game design philosophy. As the company (and their partners) explored new technologies and new ideas, developing absurdly difficult games simply became less of a priority.
However, that doesn’t mean that the GameCube’s library lacks truly difficult games. If anything, a select few developers saw advancements in the medium as a chance to advance the art of difficult game design and rose to the occasion by creating titles that would make even the most hardcore old-school gamers blush as they try and try again to beat them.
They may not be as ridiculous as the hardest games of the 8 and 16-bit eras, but the hardest GameCube games ever made prove that the spirit of that time was very much alive at the start of a new generation.
15. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness isn’t the hardest game in GameCube history (obviously), but it is one of the most uniquely challenging experiences that the beloved Nintendo console has to offer.
Eternal Darkness’ sometimes awkward combat system and fiendishly challenging puzzles keep the game’s difficulty level relatively high at all times, but what puts this one over the top is the impact of its sanity system. Having to balance your character’s sanity just so you don’t trigger one of the game’s mind-bending effects adds a layer of complexity to this underrated survival horror classic that is sure to keep even genre veterans on their toes.
14. Super Smash Bros. Melee
As much as I sometimes miss Super Smash Bros. Melee’s surprisingly generous single-player offerings, it has to be said that many of the game’s campaign battles and optional skill challenges were shockingly tough. Just try cranking this game up to “Hard” or “Very Hard” and tell me how far you get.
Of course, if you really want to see how hard Melee can be, just try challenging one of the gamers who haven’t stopped playing this GameCube classic in the 20 years since its release…
13. Tales of Symphonia
Some fans will argue that Tales of Symphonia is more “complicated” than “difficult,” but that argument won’t mean much to you when you’re staring at the screen and wondering if you’re somehow much worse at RPGs than you thought you were.
Even after you learn the basics of Tales of Symphonia’s somewhat strange combat system, you’re still going to regularly find yourself in the middle of fights that feel unwinnable. You can level grind your way to success in this ARPG, but even that won’t save you if you’re bold enough to try beating this game on its highest difficulty settings.
12. Resident Evil Zero
The definitive “middle child” of the GameCube Resident Evil games isn’t nearly as brilliant as Resident Evil‘s remake and Resident Evil 4, but it does happen to be absurdly difficult.
Even on Normal mode, Resident Evil Zero’s brutal combination of limited resources, instant death scenarios, frustrating puzzles, and enemies that can often stun you mid-battle are enough to make this arguably the hardest game in franchise history. At higher difficulty settings, though, you can safely remove the “arguably” part from that conversation.
11. Alien Hominid
The GameCube version of this former Flash game is essentially a reskinned Metal Slug. That’s really just another way of saying that Alien Hominid is a retro arcade action experience complete with all the one-hit deaths and absurd odds that we often associate with that genre.
Alien Hominid’s sense of humor takes some of the sting out of its most punishing sections, but this game’s frequent use of absurd “bullet hell” style sequences will absolutely test the patience of all but the most skilled genre fans.
10. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
Few games have aged better than Rogue Squadron II. From its visuals to its gameplay, no other title in this genre released since (especially Star Wars-themed spaceship combat titles) has come close to matching this game’s graceful balance of intense set-pieces and airtight controls.
Unfortunately, Rogue Squadron II is also just as tough as it was when it was released nearly 20 years ago. Some of this game’s difficulty can be attributed to its occasionally confusing structure, but this is honestly just a white-knuckle action title that was clearly designed to test your reflexes.
9. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
While you could argue that every Metroid game offers a higher than usual degree of difficulty, Metroid Prime 2 feels like Retro Studios’ attempt at seeing how high they could crank up the difficulty without chasing everyone away.
Just in case this game’s brutal boss fights, limited resources, and shockingly durable “normal” enemies weren’t enough to make you rage quit, Retro Studios decided to throw balance to the wind and add in a Dark World damage mechanic that makes some areas of the game feel like a trip through Dark Souls’ Blighttown.
8. Baten Kaitos Origins
I’m a big fan of this game’s CCG-style combat system and JRPG visuals, but I’ve always found it difficult to recommend it to people simply because it is so…err…difficult.
Some of Baten Kaitos’ boss fights and enemy encounters are difficult to the point of arguably being broken. To make matters worse, there are times when you’ll essentially be “locked-in” to a battle, which means that it’s nearly impossible to grind some extra levels to make things easier. It’s why most players maintain several save files whenever they play this frustrating gem.
7. Super Mario Sunshine
If you told me that you think 2D Super Mario games are harder than 3D Super Mario games…well, I’d have a hard time arguing with you. However, I will say that Super Mario Sunshine is the closest Nintendo ever came to making a 3D Super Mario game that feels as consistently challenging as 2D Super Mario games.
Sunshine’s platforming obstacles would be tough enough in a “normal” Mario game, but when you consider how many of them also require you to master this game’s strange water jet mechanics, you’re left with a game that no other entry in this franchise can properly prepare you for.
6. Mega Man Network Transmission
To be honest with you, the only reason this game doesn’t occupy the top spot on this list is that it’s so frustrating and cheap that I don’t feel like it should be rewarded with that “honor.”
Mega Man Network Transmission is best described as…awkward. It’s difficult in the ways that a lot of classic Mega Man games are, but its RPG and strategy systems mean that there’s a surprising degree of “randomness” to the whole thing that sometimes makes it nearly impossible to overcome the game’s often cheap enemies based on skill and reflexes alone.
5. Viewtiful Joe
Much like Alien Hominid, Viewtiful Joe is essentially a throwback to retro arcade games and their gloriously absurd difficulty levels. Unlike Alien Hominid, Viewtiful Joe adds a few twists to its chosen genre that make this side-scrolling brawler closer to a bullet hell shooter.
The result is a title that’s as difficult as it is stylish. This game’s unique combat system forces you to consider the trajectory of incoming attacks in a way that’s difficult to learn and somehow harder to master. Thankfully, this game is so good that you probably won’t mind navigating the learning curve.
4. Chaos Field
Chaos Field is an odd game. It’s essentially a vertical bullet-hell shooter that consists entirely of boss fights. Basically, it’s a bullet hell shooter that takes you from the hardest part of an especially hard genre to the hardest part of an especially hard genre with not much room to breathe in-between.
This certainly isn’t the best bullet hell shooter ever, but it is one of the genre’s most unforgiving entries. This absolutely relentless title has long been a badge of honor for any GameCube owners bold enough to think they have a chance at beating it.
3. Super Monkey Ball 2
Some of the hardest games are the ones that no other game can quite prepare you for. While the original Super Monkey Ball obviously set the stage for its sequel, even that game’s biggest fans weren’t quite prepared for this game’s difficulty spikes and Master stages.
Do you know those moments in the Portal games when you enter a new room and think “How am I supposed to do this?” Super Monkey Ball 2 is filled with those moments, but the big difference is that you not only have to find the optimal path forward but flawlessly execute the mechanics required to reach the exit. It’s that combination of brain-teasing and mechanical mastery that makes this one stand apart.
If Ikaruga isn’t developer Treasure’s greatest work, I’d say it’s the game I can point to whenever I’m trying to show someone what separates that legendary studio from nearly every other developer that’s ever graced this industry. It’s a masterpiece of a bullet hell shooter that combines lightning reflexes with a puzzle-like dodging system that forces you to think on your feet at all times.
While Ikaruga is clearly challenging, I’d never go so far as to say that the game is unbalanced. It is instead designed to put you in that “zone” that fans of difficult games are always chasing whenever they take on another seemingly impossible challenge.
1. F-Zero GX
I know that F-Zero X ranked high on our list of the hardest N64 games, but compared to F-Zero GX, I’d go so far as to say that game almost feels fair.
While the absurd aggressiveness of F-Zero GX’s A.I. opponents is enough to make it a contender for the top spot on this list, the truth is that F-Zero GX would arguably be one of the GameCube’s toughest games if it was just you and the track. It is possible to master this game to the point that you’re able to make “perfect runs,” but most players will need to learn to recover from seemingly unwinnable scenarios in order to have any chance of beating this game’s brutal story mode.