"Here's an example of a typical scene: Trees full of apples. Unassuming, you stride under one, and an apple falls from the tree and crushes you, sending you back to the start of the screen. You approach again, this time cautiously poking your nose out under the tree in an attempt to goad the apple into falling before you pass. ...About halfway across, you notice an apple low enough you can jump over it. ...You jump over the apple, and the apple falls up and kills you. The apple falls up and kills you."*
Traps at the end of the stage which result in your death unless you've prepared something from the beginning of the stage, such as the famous "Kaizo Trap" in Super Mario World romhacks: if you don't turn the coins into blocks, the auto-scroll as part of the victory fanfare will cause Mario to die.
Traps at the beginning of the stage that will kill you a couple of seconds after entering unless you act immediately.
They will also usually go by names that outright suggest the cruel difficulty and trickery contained within, usually with names based on 'hard', 'impossible', 'difficult' and 'unfair'.
For obvious reasons, very few commercial companies would dare release a game like this. Hence, this variety of videogame is almost entirely the domain of ROM Hacks and homebrew. Romhacks especially are made for game emulators, fully expecting and taking advantage of the fact that players will be Save Scumming.
Also known as "Masocore", after this blog post. *
Although, the term "masocore" is subtly broader - referring simply to "player death as narrative technique". cactus's Psychosomnium, for instance, is masocore but not Platform Hell in the least.
This should not be confused with very Nintendo Hard games like Jumper, N, and Battletoads, which, while being immensely difficult, play (mostly) fair and straight. It should also not be confused with masochism-themed games like Mighty Jill Off, which are more homage than parody.
The Trope Maker is Super Mario Bros The Lost Levels (the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2), which intentionally screwed with all the tropes of the previous entries: Warp Zones that returned you to already completed worlds, land-based enemies now appearing in the water and underwater enemies floating in the air, springs that bounce Mario far beyond the top of the screen, winds that play hell with your momentum, invisible power-up blocks to be hit as you attempt to make a jump and, of course, the Poison Mushroom, often dispensed by hitting a block only reached by a crazy difficult series of jumps. Its trolling elements would be taken Up to Eleven by other developers, but its frustrating aspects went so far beyond Nintendo Hard that its original NES version was never released in America.
See also Classic Video Game Screw Yous, which these games generally take Up to Eleven. Compare/Contrast Bullet Hell games, which are Shoot 'em Up games with projectile volume taken Up to Eleven, but generally play more fair, and what you see is what you get.
In one of the current versions, right from the start the game pulls two traps almost back to back in the first screen, the boss at the bottom path is pretty much as Bullet Hell in a platform game as you can get (and it's mandatory if you ever want to take the right path or take the left without fighting the clones), the top path boss is a Boss Rush of three clones that get harder, the last one having an attack leaving it invincible and dashing around the stage (and it can use it after another bullet spammy attack — just jumped because of a wave of bullets? Then you can't reach the ground fast enough to jump again and avoid this attack), said boss even heals its health mid fight, and, if that wasn't enough, the left path becomes a Homage to I Wanna Be The Guy itself.
One of the traps in the game occurs during a pre-boss cutscene with Dracula. Near the end of the cutscene, in the middle of a line, he throws his wineglass at you, and unless you move while Dracula is still talking to you, you will die. Incidentally, you also cannot move until he throws the glass.
Only a handful of people in the entire world have been confirmed to beat the game on Impossible (meaning no save points). The official comment was "holy crap you're not serious are you".
The Impossible DLC Pack in New Super Mario Bros 2, seriously. The pack includes three levels that have various enemies thrown at you at slow screen speeds, wall jumps needed to be done while avoiding fire bars in a narrow area, and traversing a large hallway full of Fire Bros., chainsaws, and flamethrowers with a poison pond that rises rapidly at certain points, in that order. Buy it now for $2.50.
Super Mario Forever - this video was phenomenally popular in April of 2007, mostly due to the surprising amount of visible emotion and frustration in the anonymous player's actions. An English Gag Dub of that same video exists here (NSFW). And now you can try it yourself!
Kaizo Mario World 2 goes one step further into Platform Hell within the first few seconds of the game by attempting to kill you in the opening cutscene.
Shobon no Action (sometimes called Cat Mario or dongs.exe, but most commonly known as Syobon Action) - seemingly inspired by the two directly above. As it isn't a ROM hack, the designers were able to add even more preposterous traps and setpieces. It also makes very clever use of the Invisible Block trick; most players would be genre savvy enough to check for invisible blocks, sometimes even being able to get an advantage in clearing the pit by standing on the block. The game knows this, and has a block that once you stand on, it falls.
Super Kusottare World - That's just a video of the very end of one level, and a hack that's seemingly so badly designed it took said video maker about 5 hours to get past one jump. It's all but unplayable even with save-states. The maker gave the game to someone to review on YouTube. The reviewer became so incensed at the game that he abandoned the project halfway through and told the maker never to contact him again unless the hack was edited.
Super Mario Bros SpeedExpiation seems innocent enough — all the original levels are left as is. Then you notice how quickly the timer runs down, and how it's a bad idea to do a Goomba Stomp or even pick up a coin... It's basically turned normal game objects into instant death blocks.
Super Tabarnak World — A hack that actually requires you to get a Yoshi in the bonus game to progress and whose last castle is basically 10 rooms of Kaizo traps on permanent super sped up mode. With more Kaizo traps in the middle. And tons of ghosts in the Bowser battle. Pretty much defines cruelty.
The "gimmick" used by the above is also applied, with hair-rending results, to Super Mario World in Present Mario.
The Hard Level Compilation - Exactly what it says on the tin, and a compilation of about 20 of the hardest Kaizo styled levels people have contributed.
Pit of Despair. That's a Tool Assisted Speedrun of the level which has to utilize pretty much every glitch in the original game. It's also only one of three (Moltov Mario World and Lawler Mario World being the others) that the video creator has made based purely on being the hardest games ever.
And the sequel, Pit of Death. Apparently, it took over 5000 reloads using TAS to beat that level for the creator.
And, of course, the infamous Item Abuse and its even more insane sequel, Item Abuse 2, inspired by the above hacks. Some of the glitches have to be seen to be believed.
Springboard and Shells Hack. Yes, just that name, but freaking hard as hell. That video is a tool assisted speedrun the hack creator made of the last level, which makes you dodge almost endless halls of spikes while bounce on enemies, entering doors in mid air by bouncing off keys and blocks and having between only 50 and THREE seconds to beat each room. Then there's the boss...
Cool or Cruel - A deliberately Kaizo Mario inspired hack/game which is also a parody of the Mario World Special World area (note the punny names such as Snarly instead of Gnarly, Way Cruel instead of Way Cool and Awful instead of Awesome). Platform Hell is pretty much the most common Mario World ROM Hack genre by now.
The Vein Popper - Another hack that is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It begins with having to move to the right after beginning the game or else you die at the hands of a Thwomp, and the first level involves getting a bunch of extra lives. This should set the tone nicely.
Mario's Evil Level is a really sadistic version. This level is tough as nut even with save states. In addition, it has multiple paths, some of them which take you to a dead end and some of them which make you think they've taken you to a dead end. To add insult, almost every 3-up moon and often seemingly safe surfaces or air kills you without any indication before.
Yoshis Island DS has Nintendo Hard secret levels... with the exception of the last one, Yoshi's Island Easter Eggs. That contains several incredibly frustrating and hard challenges, and doesn't even try to play fair (Ride an Arrow Ball through a room of spikes! Jump on platforms controlled by an enemy! Light switches last for 3 seconds!)
A hack of Super Mario World, "The Second Reality Project," has various Nintendo Hard levels, especially in the last few worlds. However, the very last level is a very hard level. It goes like this, you go to Bowser's Airship and once you're there, you are forced to shrink into Small Mario and go through about 16 of the hardest rooms (Including spinjumping on top of spike balls, floating with the balloon in a room full of spikes, going through a tower-like room with a bunch of Football Kicking Charging Chucks, swimming in a room full of Torpedo Teds, dodging giant spikes, and more) without getting hit once. The level is very tough and there is no checkpoint. In a newer version of the hack, "The Second Reality Project Reloaded," the level is remodified to where there is a powerup in every room and a checkpoint is offered after going through most of those rooms.
Yet another ROM hack, Hell Level, is aptly named. The first screen has annoying mini-puzzles and red herrings, as well as having to catch fish with Yoshi. The second screen was so broken that the player had to fix it in Lunar Magic. The third screen is an abrupt transition to Bullet Hell, with baseballs, Bullet Bills, and fish flying all over the place while Layer 2 spikes fall from the ceiling. And it's all slippery.
This little gem entitled Living on the Edge. Makes Pit of Despair look like a walk in the park. The best part is probably where you have to juggle two keys.
Possibly the single most ridiculous hack in existence is one called Glitch Abuse, which is exactly what it sounds like. It requires using nearly every known glitch in the SMW engine for a successful playthrough, most of which require frame-precise timing.
Going back to the original Super Mario Bros., Hard Relay Mario makes Super Mario Frustration look like a walk in the park. Kaizo Traps in half the levels? Check. Spikes that instantly kill you, even if you're big? Check. Employs nearly every glitch in existence, some requiring frame-precise timing? Check. Naturally, this is impossible without emulators, slowdown, and savestates. For a slightly faster TAS of the first world, see here, but it doesn't include the bonus levels.
Along the same lines as Hard Relay Mario is Falling Mario. At the end of each world, Mario falls off into a pit and utters "Oh god! Wonder how many times I have fallen!", and the ending isn't any more uplifting. Even the music has been changed to a minor key, to make the atmosphere of the hack even more depressing.
Going forward two platform generations is Kaizo Mario 64. There's an LP of the game here. Kaizo Mario 64 is different from the original Kaizo in that all of these levels are very clearly based on original SM64 levels, only made about a billion times more difficult.
A game based in Syobon Action is The Hell Evolution. It has invisible coin blocks, kaizo traps, and evil blocks that look like the good ones and will disable them, blocking your way and forcing you to suicide.
S Mario is a hellish hack of Super Mario World. But what's worse than a few annoying aspects is the fact the game bases all its levels around an unfair, brutally cruel gimmick and then makes you do standard kaizo stuff under said limitations. Some of the worst levels are:
This level. The gimmick is that the very second you try to go left or spin jump, Mario dies on the spot. The whole level has an icy floor causing you to slide, trial and error jumps and traps come at you fast, on/off switches must be pressed with perfect timing and homing Bullet Bills get fired at you in the later part of the level. See it here.
The final level has random wind physics. As in, it pushes you left and right every half a second or so at random. The level itself wouldn't be so bad normally, but with random, uncontrollable movement along with trial and error gameplay? Awful. See the level here.
"Master Quest", which is a fan-made level of Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is based on the hardest level in the game, "The Perfect Run", which is a harder version of the already-hard to beat Grandmaster Galaxy. The star is located above the house you see Rosalina inside at the end of the level, and it's very hard to reach without a Cloud Flower.
Parodied in an easter egg at the end of one Homestar Runner Halloween short where the King of Town (dressed as Mario at that time) imagining himself playing inside an exact replica of World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Bros game. Since the KoT is so fat, he cannot jump at all, and as a result the Goomba at the start of the level immediately kills him.
Mario Must Die features levels that, according to the intro, were designed by Hitler and Satan. This is one of several Super Mario World hacks that is probably impossible to complete without emulator slowdown and savestates.
Now we have Kaizo Yoshi's Island! Well not really, but darn, it requires precision shell jumps and TAS requiring tricks in a maze of instant kill spikes and thorns in a Yoshi's Island level, so it's close enough.
Eryi's Action, a cute but fiendishly hard platformer involving a fairy girl who wants to get back her melon. Places more of an emphasis on puzzle-solving than the pixel-perfect jumps of I Wanna Be the Guy.
The Dirty Harry NES game is somewhere between this and Nintendo Hard. While a lot of the difficulty is standard, it also sports a number of cruel glitches, as well as things more in this category. Such as the "Ha Ha Ha" room. An area, impossible to tell from the outside, that once entered, requires you to reset the game, and a one-way maze leading back to the start of the game.
Here's another level. There are issues with collision detection, item usage, bad coloring, repetitive music...
Checkpoint is not as difficult as some examples, but it's filled with unfair traps and levels that literally cannot be cleared without dying one or more times, plus the game mocks you every time you die.
Super Metroid hacks often veer into this category at times. An example is this segment from Super Metroid Redesign. Arguably the only two well-known hacks that don't are Metroid Legacy and Golden Dawn, and even Golden Dawn probably comes close in a couple of places (if you can't wall jump, you won't even be able to get past the opening segment).
Takeshis Challenge, a video game inspired by the impossibly difficult game show "Takeshi's Castle", includes several unfair segments (including a Shoot 'em Up section in which the player can't move upward) and Guide Dang It puzzles.
Distorted Travesty can get like this in some of the later levels, but Distorted Travesty 2 really takes it Up to Eleven. The character in the sequel has a lot more ways to keep herself airborne (a double jump, the ability to float for a couple seconds, infinite wall jumps, and an air dash)... so, naturally, the creator took this opportunity to design some truly sadistic platforming sequences that are a challenge even with all those abilities. Notably, there are a couple of sequences in the final level where, aside from the entrance and exit, you are airborne for the entire room, with no safe ground to land on and rest anywhere.
The Flash game Give Up has you progress through levels increasingly choked with obstacles, all while a sadistic AI mocks your efforts and encourages you to push the big blue "GIVE UP" button at the bottom of the screen. Pushing the button gives you the "bad ending", where soothing music and condescending platitudes like "You did your best" play over the credits.
The Rick Dangerous series. Both games are full of hidden traps, spikes that only appear the moment they kill you, and hidden missile throwers. To top it off, you only have a limited amount of lives and no continues.
Mutant Mudds is typically Nintendo Hard, but then you beat the game and unlock Grannie as a playable character. Unlike protagonist Max, who can only use one power up at a time, Grannie has all three power-ups. She also has twenty of her own secret levels. Surely they must be easy, because she has every power, right? Wrong. In addition to being lined with Spikes of Doom and featuring truly brutal enemy placement, the levels are based around using all of those powers at once, like forcing you to hover across giant, spike-filled gaps you can barely make, while shooting lots of flying enemies, and at the end, you have to do a well-timed Rocket Jump just as you run out of hover power. They're brutal.
And as a shining example of Tropes Are Not Bad, this is also by far and away the franchise's most well-known module.
And just to show the difference between this trope and Nintendo Hard, the 3.5E counterpart Red Hand of Doom is an insanely difficult (very generously, one early quest gives access to giant owls that allow it to be beaten by weaker characters) Timed Mission module which requires players to punch way above their weight class. In a lot of ways, Red Hand of Doom is more difficult since it uses harder (though still weak compared to an optimized party) combat encounters rather than Trial-and-Error Gameplay. But aside from that the adventure doesn't pull any unusually cruel tricks. Well, for the kind of game it is.
The Impossible Quiz - a non-platformer example, only by virtue of the completely ridiculous and hilarious "solutions" that the game expects of the player.
A brief sampler of said "solutions": Finding a completely invisible button to click on a white field, choosing an answer in a multiple choice question where the answers have nothing to do with the question, are not in english, or are blank, and right clicking on the window to deactivate the Flash control to keep the program from failing you.*
This was possibly inspired by the quiz level in Earthworm Jim 2, which was only a Bonus Level but had answers such as 'B. A' and 'C. Come on, I really need this powerup!'
To be fair, the game at least gives you the ability to skip questions. Except that some of them can't be skipped. And that skipping any question makes the game unwinnable. And yes, this was quite intentional.
The PC game based on The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is notorious for being very close to Adventure Game Hell. Many puzzles are ridiculous and insane, and the room descriptions contain outright lies. Not mistakes, lies. Many other InfocomInteractive Fiction games have even harder puzzles, but this is the only one that uses its difficulty in the same ironic manner as other Platform Hell games.
In addition, it's extremely easy to make this game Unwinnable. Didn't pick up the junk mail at the start of the game? Didn't buy the sandwich in the pub? The game won't mind, it won't even hint that those things have any effect when you do them - but if you don't, woe betide you later on. Also, near the end of the game, you will find yourself in need of a certain item. The item is chosen from a list of twelve possibilities, and unless you have all of them, the game will always ask for one you don't have. So, if you're not using a walkthrough, you'll start over and make a point of finding the item you missed, only to get to the end and find that you need a different one. Repeatedly.
Douglas Adams said in an interview "This is the first game that moves beyond user friendly. It is user insulting and...user mendacious."
Dave Leary's games were notorious for their "lying computer" puzzles as well. Leary did admit to being heavily inspired by Infocom games.
Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna is RPG Dungeon Crawler Hell. You know how weak the average monster in a Random Encounter is compared to RPG heroes? Well, in this game, you're on the side of the monsters. Not only that, but the puzzles take Guide Dang It to an extreme; most players won't even make it out of the first room without outside assistance.
The same can be said about Samuel Stoddard (of RinkWorks fame)'s dungeon crawler Murkon's Vengeance, which is basically a homage to Wizardry IV in every way. Including the difficulty. Watch as your 10-hitpoint-1-damage-dealing character barely scratches the enemies less than half of the time and spends the rest "too scared to act". Thankfully, it gets easier once you find the summoning squares.
Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors, though unreleased, appears to be a deliberate play on this trope, especially the minigame where you drive a bus across the Nevada desert without exceeding 45mph. Oh, and the bus veers a little to the left. And you can't pause. And making it to Nevada is worth one point. And the game is in real time. Like, actually real time. By which I mean, it takes 8 hours to play once.
And then you get to drive back. And forth. And back. And forth. To play the game to completion takes either copious cheating or over one month of constant play, where "completion" means until the score counter stops incrementing at 99 because the game will go forever and where "play" means something not involving fun.
'Desert Bus for Hope' is a charity project where a group of gamers play Desert Bus: the more donations they get, the longer they play. It always brings in a lot of money, because gamers love to see other gamers suffer.
Wesleyan Tetris has random bricks, but otherwise deploys a full Platform Hell arsenal.
Non-video game example: Ninja Warrior. Hopping around obstacles of varying difficulty within a time limit is harder than it looks, especially since only three people beat the obstacle course. (And none of them have repeated their victories as of yet.)
To be specific, there has been 25 Ninja Warrior tournaments held, each with 100 contestants. So 3 out of 2,500 people have passed it...a whopping 0.12% success rate.
There's also the Ninja Warriorflash game. "Just like the real thing, you should not expect to complete this course easily or on the first try. Do you have the timing, reflexes and resolve to complete our Sasuke and become the next NINJA WARRIOR?"
The Roguelike equivalent is Iter Vehemens Ad Necem, which means "A Violent Road To Death". It is not kidding. The fact that some people can beat the game is generally considered a bug.
Deadly Danger Dungeon is a board game example, which was created by none other than James Rolfe when he was a kid. He showed it on one episode of Board James which demonstrated just how frikkin' hard it is. The rest of review was him humiliating Mike Matei with it.
Happy Wheels tends to have user-generated levels fall into one of three categories: story/travel levels that you ride through with little to no effort; "effect" levels like dominoes, glitches, etc; and obstacle courses. The obstacle courses, if done well, are Nintendo Hard. If not done well, or if done by a sadistic designer, fall very firmly into this category.
ThisTouhou hack. Some truly impressive creativity, all bent towards destroying the player.
"Hitler's Revenge" (a.k.a The Challenge), a (not real) unreleased NES game in which a deli owner gets hit by sudden meteors, dodges unexpectedly heavy clouds, gets punched by booby-trapped treasure chests, and can die by just tripping over a slightly raised block.