11 Hardest Indie Games of All Time

Hardest Indie Games of All Time

Have you ever had one of those days where you just wanted to unwind with a cool indie game, but instead, it felt like the game was out to test your patience and skills? Yeah, I’ve been there too. Some indie games throw you into this unrelenting world where the challenge never seems to let up. It’s like they’re on a mission to make your day even tougher, right?

But hey, difficulty is kind of a subjective thing. What’s tough for one player might be a cakewalk for another. It’s all about personal perspective. Still, there are some indie games that have earned quite a reputation for being crazy hard. And then there are those surprise gems that catch you off guard with their level of difficulty.

This list of the “Hardest Indie Games of All Time” is mostly based on personal opinions, but it also takes into account those games that have become famous simply because of how challenging they are. So, let’s dive into this world of hardcore indie gaming and explore what makes these games so notoriously tough!

Selection Criteria

The games on my list here, they’re all difficult in their own unique way. It’s like they’ve got this mission to keep you on your toes, whether it’s making you die over and over, leaving you scratching your head as you figure things out, or throwing some seriously tricky controls your way.

Now, I know some folks like to argue that “unfair” and “difficult” are different things, but for this list, let’s be real, it doesn’t matter all that much. Whether it’s unfair challenges or just plain difficulty, these games are all about putting your skills and patience to the test.

Let’s break down the rules for our list of the toughest indie games, and make sure we’re all on the same page:

  1. Sorting by Difficulty: We’ll be ranking these games from the least challenging to the most challenging. Speaking of which, let’s kick things off with Cave Story. It’s a game that has its share of iconic and tough moments, but on the whole, it’s pretty manageable. There’s not much room to crank up the challenge, so it barely misses making the cut.
  2. No Player-Made Challenges: We won’t be considering challenges that players make up for themselves or self-imposed ones. If a game’s got an official achievement that’s a really tough nut to crack, that counts. But if it’s something like aiming for perfection in two years of Stardew Valley, we’re leaving it out.
  3. Accessibility Doesn’t Impact Placement: We’re not going to let accessibility options affect where a game falls on the list. Take Celeste, for example. It’s got an Assist mode that can make the game way easier, but it’s there to help folks who might struggle otherwise. The core experience is still a challenge, so it stays in the running.
  4. Optional Challenges and Settings Count: On the flip side, if a game has optional bonus challenges or difficulty settings, we’re considering those. For instance, Terraria has its Journey difficulty which is a walk in the park, but crank it up to Master mode, and you’re in for a challenge. Plus, we’re taking into account any dev-intended ways to ramp up the difficulty.

We’re all set to go from the least challenging to the most challenging, based on your personal opinion. You’re also rating each of these 11 games for their difficulty, using a scale from 5/10 for the average ones, and reserving those prized 9/10 or 10/10 ratings for the real tough cookies. This rating system is all about how much of a battle it is to conquer each game, according to your perspective.

Now, let’s get started on this epic journey through the world of challenging indie games!

11. Terraria Difficulty: 7/10

Difficulty Rating: 7/10

Genre: Sandbox RPG

This game can swing from being the hardest thing you’ve ever done to a super laid-back experience, which is why it’s ranked pretty low on this list.

The tricky part about rating Terraria in terms of difficulty is that there are four different settings, and the world you explore is randomly generated. That means every time you play, it’s a bit of a surprise. The game practically nudges you to play it over and over again.

I decided to average it out at around 7/10, mainly because both Master and Expert modes offer some of the most challenging yet incredibly fun experiences I’ve ever had in a game. I mean, come on, facing off against the Wall of Flesh, Plantera, and the Moon Lord is intense. Not to mention the optional battles like the Empress of Light, especially in broad daylight!

Terraria is also known for having a pretty steep learning curve. It’s so challenging that whenever it pops up on Twitter, people can’t help but vent about how tough it is to start.

If you decide to brave the Master mode without internet help for the first time, it can feel like an insanely tough and kinda harsh challenge. But you know what they say, knowledge is power. Take all the time you need in between those crazy battles!

10. Inscryption Difficulty: 7/10


Difficulty Rating: 7/10

Genre: Roguelike Deckbuilder

It’s a bit like some of the other games on this list – you could call it a roguelike.

Being roguelike, it’s naturally got its fair share of challenges, and that’s why it’s earned its place here. In the base game, Inscryption is moderately challenging, and without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll just say that Act 1 and Act 3 can really test your gaming skills.

But here’s where things get interesting – Kaycee’s mod update. This update turns Inscryption into a full-fledged roguelike mode that significantly amps up the difficulty, especially in Act 1.

The goal remains the same – you’ll still need to strategize with your deck of cards to take on your opponents. But here’s the twist: to progress, you’ll have to keep upping the challenge.

By the end of the game, you’ll be facing some seriously formidable foes, with very little room for mistakes. You’ll practically have to play flawlessly to survive.

Kaycee’s mod also evens out some of the game’s more exploitable elements, making it exceptionally challenging, especially if you’re not already a pro.

9. Hades Difficulty: 8/10


Difficulty Rating: 8/10

Genre: Roguelike Action

Hades is this cool isometric roguelike indie game where you’re on a mission to escape from Hell itself. And let me tell you, it’s one tough cookie. The game keeps throwing you into these tight, sticky situations where you gotta fight your way out without getting clobbered.

What’s kinda cool is that as you go along, you get some friendly NPCs to back you up, which makes each run a tad easier. But here’s where it gets interesting – after you conquer your first run, a whole new world of modifiers opens up. They spice things up, making your future runs more complex. Plus, you can kick things into high gear with Hell mode, where they strip away those easy options and add an extra five heat right from the start for an even bigger challenge!

8. Crypt of the Necrodancer Difficulty: 8/10

Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer

Difficulty Rating: 8/10

Genre: Action Rhythm

Now, I know it might sound a bit odd to have a rhythm game on this list, but Crypt of the Necrodancer is a game that dances to its beat while having you beat up enemies left and right.

The combat in this game is as straightforward as it gets: you move on a grid, take turns with the baddies, and choose whether to attack or move. But here’s the kicker – it’s all about the music’s beat, and you’ve got little time to ponder your moves.

I’ve seen nearly everyone who tried this game throw in the towel before they even reach the final act.

And even with the somewhat easier sequel, Cadence of Hyrule (or so I think?), designed to attract a broader audience and Zelda fans, it still manages to be a real challenge at times. It loves to keep you guessing, hides items in the shadows, and it’s a rogue-lite to boot.

Overall, if you plan on conquering this game, you better have a good sense of rhythm and be quick on your feet.

But here’s the kicker – there are unlockable characters, and some of them crank up the difficulty, like one with just half a heart of health, moving at double speed, and ready to keel over if you miss a beat.

7. Dead Cells Difficulty: 9/10

Dead Cells
Dead Cells

Difficulty Rating: 9/10

Genre: Roguelike Action

We’ve already talked about how roguelikes are kind of a free pass to make it onto this list, right? Well, Dead Cells? It’s like the poster child for indie combat-focused roguelikes.

It’s all about snagging new weapons and battling a bunch of these seriously tough enemies. People even compare it to Dark Souls, and you know what? I totally get it – it’s challenging, plus, it’s got that trusty dodge roll.

This game doesn’t waste any time; it’ll drop you right into some nail-biting situations, and you’ll be like, ‘Wait, is this still the tutorial?’ In most other games, this is where you’re just learning the ropes.

Let me tell you, in Dead Cells, most of those enemies can make you bite the dust if you’re not super on point with your dodges, attacking when they least expect it, and just overall playing like a pro.

And here’s the fun part, when you defeat a boss, you get these nifty Boss Stem Cells. They crank up the difficulty even more while tossing you a few extra cells as a reward. I mean, it’s not like there’s a huge reason to do this, but if you’re looking to crank up the challenge in this already pretty tricky game, you can keep piling on more and more stem cells, all the way up to five.

6. Cuphead Difficulty: 9/10


Difficulty Rating: 9/10

Genre: Run and Gun

One look at it, and it’s all goofy with that Rubber Hose animation style. But surprise, surprise, it’s a total tough nut to crack. It’s like a more modern take on Contra, spiced up with a parry system and loads of other tricks.

Now, Cuphead breaks it down into different level types. You’ve got your standard platforming levels with enemies cruising your way – those are somewhat chill, right? But then, there are the bosses. They’re all about going toe-to-toe, and they’re like, ‘Bring it on!’ Or you might find yourself in an auto-scrolling nightmare that’s basically a Bullet Hell.

And just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, there’s this Expert Mode waiting for you once you’ve rocked the game on Simple or Regular.

It gets even crazier when you toss in the ranking system. It’s all about pushing you to aim for a high score on every level, making it one of the most challenging rides out there, especially in this genre. Cuphead – it’s tough, but man, it’s worth every second!”

5. Super Meat Boy Difficulty: 9/10

Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy

Difficulty Rating: 9/10

Genre: Platformer

It’s another one of those indie classics that carved out its reputation the same way I Wanna Be the Guy did. But, it’s got a twist – you’re a living block of meat with a super minimal move set. All you can do is stick to walls, jump, and wall jump your way through a world filled with deadly spikes, pits, salt, and all sorts of crazy stuff.

The game starts off pretty manageable, and it’s got this consistent rhythm going on. The camera gives you just about a second to react to whatever’s coming at you. Still, believe it or not, it’s one of the trickier games on this list. Whenever you bite the dust, it’s on you, but let’s be real, you’ll bite it a lot.

What’s neat is there are a bunch of extra characters you can unlock, plus tons of collectibles and bonus levels to tackle. It’s like a game that’s bursting at the seams with challenging levels, and the best part is, that it never makes you want to pull your hair out. You keep feeling like you’re making progress, and that’s what keeps you hooked!

4. Pathologic 2 Difficulty: 9/10

Pathologic 2
Pathologic 2

Difficulty Rating: 9/10

Genre: Open World Horror

Pathologic 2 is all about throwing you into a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic open world where you’ve got to make some seriously tough calls, and pretty much fend for yourself.

One of the trickiest parts? Balancing everyone’s needs, yours included, or deciding to let folks fend for themselves and risk making some not-so-friendly enemies.

The game tries to give you an ‘intended’ difficulty setting, but the thing is, the difficulty in this game is like a living, breathing entity. I’ve even heard of people setting everything on ‘easy’ and still getting their tails kicked.

Now, here’s the kicker – you can totally choose to ignore everyone else and just survive in isolation (even if it means missing out on the story). It’s super open-ended, which makes it hard to slap a ranking on it, but this game’s definitely a solid 9/10 in terms of challenge!”

3. Celeste Difficulty: 9/10


Difficulty Rating: 9/10

Genre: Platformer

Celeste is another one of those tough-as-nails platformers. It’s like three in a row! But this one’s all about nifty movement tech and levels that really stretch your limited move set to the max. You’ve still got those heart-pounding moments of dodging deadly spikes, but it’s also like a mind-bending puzzle game at times.

At the beginning, it’s not too bad, but trust me, it doesn’t go easy on you. Even in the first level, you’re tackling tougher platforming than most of what Nintendo serves up. And from there, it just keeps cranking up the difficulty until you’re pulling off these mind-blowing sequences of moves that make the first level feel like a walk in the park.

Plus, it’s got tons of content, way more than most platformers on this list. It keeps getting crazier as you progress, with 23 levels that’ll test your skills in some pretty extreme ways.

And the grand finale, Chapter 9? Let me tell you, it’s got one of the most hardcore segments ever in a video game, no doubt about it. And those Golden Strawberries that want you to complete a whole chapter without taking any damage? Seriously, one of the most intense challenges out there!

2. Slay the Spire Difficulty: 10/10

Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire

Difficulty Rating: 10/10

Genre: Roguelike Deckbuilder

Slay the Spire puts you in charge of building a killer deck, and you’re on a mission to climb this towering challenge, using your magical cards to battle all sorts of enemies. Spoiler alert: you’ll bite the dust quite a few times before reaching the end.

Now, even though there are just four main areas in the main campaign, don’t let that fool you. These spots are packed with all kinds of hurdles, and you’ve gotta tackle ’em all to snag those sweet rewards and items you’ll need to fend off the next wave of enemies, who always find a way to bust through your defenses.

Each area wraps up with a surprise boss fight. These big baddies? They’re no pushovers. Super tough, super tanky, and they’ll wipe the floor with you if you’re not on your A-game.

And then, there’s the Ascension mode. You’re basically replaying the game, but it cranks up the heat every time, reaching up to 20 levels that just keep getting nastier as you go.

1. Hollow Knight Difficulty: 10/10

Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight

Difficulty Rating: 10/10

Genre: Metroidvania

Finally, we’ve got a game that demands some mad skills to master.

Hollow Knight’s one of those games that gets so famous for its toughness that you’ve just gotta play it to believe it. Hollow Knight’s like a fresh spin on Metroid, all about in-your-face combat and abilities that make exploration and enemy-bashing a total blast.

I mean, I’ve taken on Celeste’s Chapter 9, conquered Ballos in Cave Story, and braved Terraria Calamity Mod’s Death mode, but Hollow Knight? That’s a whole other level of challenge.

Even in its standard mode, it’s no walk in the park. Beating the true final boss and exploring the essentials? Trust me, it’s always a challenge, no matter how you slice it.

And things get even crazier when you toss in Hollow Knight’s optional hardcore mode, Steel Soul, which brings perma-death into the mix. Yup, things just got real.

But here’s the real kicker – the Pantheons. They’re like gauntlets of boss fights, one after the other, with barely a moment to catch your breath, all leading up to some of the most demanding bosses in the game. If you’re up for a real challenge, Hollow Knight’s got it in spades!

Bonus Titles


On the surface, it doesn’t seem all that tough, right? But here’s the deal – this game is just so darn good at the horror stuff that it totally spooked me, and I couldn’t make any progress at all.

And it’s not just Subnautica; it’s pretty much the same story with most horror games that didn’t make it to the list. See, I’ve got some serious anxiety, so it’s hard for me to give them a fair shake. Games like Miaso, Mermaid Swamp, and Darkwood, they all fall into that ‘nope, can’t do it’ category for me.

Cave Story

Cave Story, it’s a bit shy of what I’d call ‘super challenging’ for this list. But, there’s this one place, the Blood Stained Sanctuary, and oh boy, it’s a whole other level of intense and unforgettable. It’s like, iconic and downright hellish!


It’s as straightforward as it gets – Furi is all about boss battles that people say is pretty darn brutal. But really, it’s just a series of epic boss fights set to some banging tunes, with not much else besides a difficulty setting to keep you on your toes once you’ve mastered the combat.

Risk of Rain 2

And Risk of Rain 2, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s a real challenge, and other times, not so much. The idea is to have your buddies give you a hand, and unlike other roguelikes, it’s all about the random items that can drop.

That’s why I was a bit hesitant to put it on this list; it’s just so random, you know? Plus, if you’ve got friends to back you up, it’s a bit of a walk in the park


What’s the most Difficult Game of All Time?

Difficulty varies from person to person, but there are a few games out there that truly push our gaming skills to the limit. Games like Slay the Spire, Hollow Knight, and Celeste, they’re in a league of their own when it comes to offering some of the most significant challenges!

What’s the Hardest Platformer of All Time?

Celeste is seriously challenging when it comes to platformers, but what’s amazing is that it’s also totally fair in the way it’s set up.

What’s the Hardest Challenge in an Indie Video Game?

Hollow Knight’s Pantheon 5 is a real tough one. It throws you into a wild brawl with every boss in the game.

Most Challenging Indie Games Ever: Final Thoughts

You know, there are so many challenging indie games out there that it’s impossible to cover them all. But hey, this list, while not the be-all and end-all, includes pretty much every indie game that’s had people talking. They’re the ones you hear your friends griping about, saying they’ve given up, or putting in endless hours to conquer.

It’s a badge of honor to have beaten and completed many of these games. If you’ve done it, you should pat yourself on the back!

I highly recommend most of these titles, especially Downwell because it’s super budget-friendly, and games like Celeste, Hollow Knight, and Terraria because they offer a ton of bang for your buck. Any of these games will give you a challenge, but it’s the good kind of challenge, the kind that keeps you coming back for more!

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