Pastime reserved for the hardcore. You see, most gamers don't have unlimited funds, and are disappointed if their most recent $50 investment doesn't require and reward a month's worth of attention. However, thanks to the gradual demise of Nintendo Hard over the years, it's becoming increasingly difficult to milk that kind of commitment out of most new games, which can be completed in a weekend without much effort (well, by the hardcore).
Enter the Self-Imposed Challenge.
A Self-Imposed Challenge is a playthrough of a game wherein the player plays under a restriction not required by the game itself in an attempt to increase the difficulty (or immersion) and replay value. These restrictions can range from the fairly simple (a refusal to make use of a Game Breaker, for example) to the near-impossible ("Hey, can you beat Super Mario Bros. without pressing the "B" button?"). Check a message board for a game that's been out for a while and you'll undoubtedly find players reporting on their progress in various exotic Self-Imposed Challenges.
Gamers will occasionally record these runs and post them on various archive sites. As noted above, the rise of Casual Gamers make these even more of a dedicated pastime than ever before.
Examples of common Self-Imposed Challenges:
Some of these can overlap.
This type of gameplay is one of the staples of the Challenge Gamer. See also House Rules. I Am Not Left-Handed is an in-universe example of this, or rather, an in-universe example of giving up on a Self-Imposed Challenge.
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The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has the three-day-only challenge, where you can only play the Song Of Time once, and that's when you get the Ocarina of Time from the Skull Kid from the first time loop. For a game that's made of sidequests, it leaves you with barely much to face the final boss with. You'll be rolling and spinning everywhere. And don't get started on the Zora eggs...
Also in this game, beating the boss Twinmold using only the sword (no Giant's Mask).
Another popular challenge for most of the Zelda games is the three-heart challenge (impossible in some of the games in the series, as you are forced to collect some heart fragments), which is exactly what it sounds like: beat the game without collecting any of the Heart Containers that increase Link's Life Meter. This is easy at first, but quickly gets more difficult as you tackle later dungeons and the game expects you to be able to take more damage than you can...
If you don't mind using glitches and are willing to spend a few hours trying to activate them, you can keep the wooden sword for the entirety of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This sword deals half the damage of the Ordon sword, increasing the difficulty. As a bonus, using the glitches you don't even need to get the wooden shield, which saves you the trouble of having to burn it. While not required to beat the game and technically being a side quest, it might be worth trying to beat the Cave of Ordeals using these restrictions if you don't quite fancy your sanity.
It was theorized that the original The Legend of Zelda could be beaten without using the sword (because you have to get it yourself). This is actually impossible, although it is possible to beat the entire game except the final boss (for whom a sword of any sort is required). Using the sword only on Ganon has remained a popular challenge. A three hearts, minimal sword challenge turns this Up to Eleven.
Link to the Past is a good example of a game in which to attempt this, and due to an easter egg, when the Master Sword is seemingly required to deflect Aghanim's beam back at him, one can use the Bug-Catching net instead.
Daniel "Kareshi" Brown, a well-known speedrunner, took The Legend of Zelda no-sword challenge several steps further with his aptly-named Extreme Challenge. Rules: No sword, shield, boomerang, ring, potion, heart container (3-heart challenge), power bracelet, blue candle, magic key, or book of magic. Must collect arrow, bow, bombs, both bomb upgrades, recorder, ladder, raft, meat, wand, red candle, and silver arrows. Can't kill any overworld enemies. Must visit every room of every dungeon, collect every map and compass, and kill all bosses in each dungeon (even ones that aren't the dungeon's main boss.) The challenge ends in Ganon's room since you cannot defeat him with no sword.
The Oracle games feature the Cursed Ring, which halves your sword damage and doubles the damage you take; it seems to have been made for this trope.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword features Hero Mode, a mode where you take double damage and enemies can take more damage, and the enemies never drop hearts (but your sword beam starts off at its endgame strength). Now try playing the mode without potions, extra heart containers, upgrades and any medal, and using only the most basic shield available (or no shield at all). And no using the Sword Beam either, except when it's absolutely needed. Go ahead, try it.
Hero Mode once again makes an appearance for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds after you beat the game. Hero Mode quadruples the amount of damage enemies deal. How about a three-heart run? The weakest of enemies will deal two hearts of damage, and once you get into Lorule almost everything will one-shot you. Too easy? Try three hearts, no upgrades, no buying gear, no shield, and a death count of zero (which means restarting from the last save after every death), all on Hero Mode. It'll test your sanity once you get into Lorule, and the final boss... phew.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link includes various challenges involving keeping one (or even two) of your stats (Attack, Magic, Life) at Level 1 for the entire game. Fighting Thunderbird with Level 1 Attack and Level 1 Magic means you can only use Thunder to make him vulnerable, and it takes 96 sword slashes to take him down!
With the dawn of Castlevania games with inventory systems and equipment, the idea of "naked" runs stand out as an obscene challenge that requires no weaponry, armor, magic, or equipment that boosts anything but luck. It gets quite difficult at times.
The 1-kill playthrough of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, requiring you to kill ONE enemy throughout the entire game. You're still beating it at 200.6%; you're just limited to killing a puny Blademaster. This is quite difficult, as the mandatory boss fights count as kills. Once you become extremely adept at glitching through walls, it's not terribly difficult, but it will give you a run for your money if you aren't mentally prepared.
Even in the oldschool games, people have challenged themselves to beat the game without using subweapons or even upgrading their whip. Good luck beating Death without Holy Water!
The Hard mode in Genji has the very same enemies, encounters and bosses as the Easy mode, all of them with the same stats too. However, while on Hard mode you can't level up, purchase or forge weapons, armors or amulets and not even obtain items from boxes. The only form of power up are the Amahagane fragments you can find around (which are almost always hidden) and the special weapons you obtain midway through the game.
Getting 2500 clones in Badland is already Nintendo Hard but 2500 clones is not the limit. As in the page quote, a few go beyond that, with the leader, Ogster, reaching 3200 clones. Other self-imposed challenges include finishing all missions for one level at once.
A popular God of War challenge is the NUR (No Upgrades Run) which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Less famous but even more sadistic is the Pain+ runnote hardest difficulty, no upgrades, no weapons aside from the Blades, no magic (unless forced to in a tutorial), no chests, and no special items (like the Amulet of Fate or Golden Fleece). This has been done for every game in the series by various authors on YouTube.
Devil May Cry 3 and 4 encouraged players to take on self-imposed challenges in the form of getting the "S" and "SS" after-mission rankings in order to collect bonus artwork completely unnecessary for gameplay. In 3, the most difficult-to-get one required a No Damage Run on top of making the time limit, collecting enough "Red Orb" currency, getting enough "style" points and using no items. The famous player Keith "Pokey86" Poke pioneered the idea of the "Dante Will Die" run, which is a run on the highest difficulty of "Dante Must Die"... with a fresh game, lacking the usually maxed character that would normally be used. It really forces players to use different strategies, given the lack of moves and weapons that would normally be available. Even more crazy and skilled players have combined the SS run and the DWD run.
Die hard fans of the first game also like performing fresh runs on Dante Must Die. It's worth noting that, excepting the last few boss fights, it's much easier compared to DMC 3, simply because DMC 1 doesn't beef up the enemies' vitality and defense to the insanity that DMC 3 does.
Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox featured a Karma system that encouraged players to gather points. Players then took it beyond what Team Ninja had expected, performing Karma Runs that required ridiculous precision and perseverance. Some have also done no item and No Damage Runs, which unlike aforementioned Devil May Cry are much harder to pull off. Considering the Nintendo Hardness of the base product...
The game also features an extremely weak (well, initially weak...) wooden sword weapon. Naturally, people decided to see how far they could get using only that weapon. For example, check out this video of a player beating one of the hardest bosses in the game using only that wooden sword and Ryu's kick attack.
Gran Turismo 5's online seasonal challenges have performance points(PP) limitations, which determines how much your car can be modified, and how good the car was to begin with. However, having light enough modifications can double your prize money.
Metropolis Street Racer lets you choose your challenges, such as lap times or giving an opponent a head start in duel. The more challenging, the more kudos.
First Person Shooter
Half-Life 2 challenges you to complete a level using only the gravity gun. Gets EXTREMELY difficult when you're on the rooftops; circular saws will pass right through enemies and go clattering into the streets. Even if you carry a cinder block with you everywhere you go, there's still about a 50 percent chance that it will bounce off any given zombie and go flying over the edge. It helps considerably if you just run like hell through most of the level.
Episode 1 ups the ante and challenges you to fire one bullet throughout the entire game: to shoot a lock off after you get the pistol.
Sadly, similar challenge (beat the game using only a crowbar) cannot be done in first Half-Life; as you'll need to use explosives from time to time and by the appearance of Alien Grunts, game is esentially Save Scumming and gambling over every health point. And not to mention bosses . . .
The Vidmaster's Challenge in Marathon, complete with charter that appears when attempting to use the Skip Level cheat. Rules include using grenades whenever possible, punching every switch (instead of pressing the action button on them), not to use the default Caps Lock key as the run key (i.e. not using what today would be an Always Run option), and to never ever leave a single one of the allied humans ("Bobs") alive.
Another is the Fists-Only on Total Carnage (hardest difficulty) - especially impressive on the special Vidmaster's arena level, with the grey enemies.
In most of the Halo franchise, you have the option to turn on various "skulls" for the campaign mode (in some games you have to find them before you can use them, in some games not) which effect the gameplay in various ways. There's one that causes your shields to recharge only upon meleeing an enemy, one that causes every enemy's health to double, one that removes your entire first-person HUD and arms, leaving you with no way to tell what gun you're currently using unless you fire it, or tediously look at its shape with your own shadow, one that causes you to restart the whole level if you die on solo or revert to the last checkpoint if ANY player dies on co-op, and those just name a few. Some skulls are actually helpful (of which only appear in Halo 2 and Combat Evolved Anniversary), but in most cases, it greatly increases the game's difficulty in many unique ways.
Community members have also started doing the LASO ("Legendary, All Skulls On") challenge, which is to complete any level on the hardest difficulty with every skull on. If you try it, it's a nightmare, to say the least.
GoldenEye and its Spiritual SuccessorPerfect Dark feature unlockable difficulty settings (called "007" and "Perfect Dark" respectively) that allow the player to alter the challenge by fine-tuning certain enemy properties: their health, accuracy, damage and reaction times. Level runs done with minimum enemy health and all other settings on maximum (meaning both player and perfectly-accurate guards will die in a single hit) are known as "Licence to Kill" (LTK) settings. Runs with everything set to maximum, so that guards have ten times more health than normal, are known as "Dark LTK" runs. In GoldenEye this is stupidly hard since a dead foe doesn't drop enough ammo to kill the next one; in Perfect Dark it's marginally more manageable thanks to the game's quirk that headshots on unshielded NPCs are always instant kills. The last GoldenEye level to be beaten with Dark LTK settings wasn't conquered until April 2013, over 15 years after the game was released.
The above customisable difficulties (as well as the standard ones) can also be used in conjunction with the games' many unlockable cheat options. "Turbo Mode" has obvious effects on the sort of record times that can be attained, while "All Guns" and other weapon options allow the player to impose even more restrictions (it's particularly fun trying to kill all guards in a level using nothing but duel-wielded throwing knives). However, some of the cheats make the game much harder, such as the "Enemy Rockets" cheat, which gives every enemy in the game a rocket launcher with infinite ammo. Yes, that too is possible to complete.
And what's more, at the end of each level, various statistics are displayed about your performance. So, can you do one or more of the above... but with 100% accuracy? And within a certain target time?
The utterly crazy Doom fanbase. Among the challenges on offer:
Speed: Your standard speedrun. Currently, the lowest recorded time for a completed level is five seconds.
Pacifist: Complete a level without directly or indirectly harming monsters, effectively restricting the player to causing infighting.
Fast: Complete a level while the monsters are faster than normal.
Respawn: Complete a level killing every monster at least once in an environment where they respawn.
Max: A speedrun where all secrets must be collected.
Tyson: The level must be completed with every monster killed as quickly as possible... with no weapons other than the fist, the chainsaw and the pistol.
One Doom speedrunner has a series on his YouTube channel called "Trials of a Doomgod" where he does crazy self-imposed challenges on various Doom maps, some of which include:
Plutonia Map 32 ("Go 2 It") UV-Max from pistol start without using the BFG 9000
Plutonia Map 31 ("Cyberden") UV-Max from pistol start without using the Rocket Launcher
TNT Evilution Map 1 ("System Control") UV-Max from pistol start in Solo-Net mode
Ultimate Doom Episode 4 Map 1 ("Hell Beneath") UV-Max from pistol start without taking damage
Deus Ex: Human Revolution can also be beaten with a pacifist run. The Missing Link DLC has a more difficult one: No weapons, explosives, or Praxis Kits (augments).
Try a No Bullet Time run of FEAR on Extreme difficulty. The former earns you the "Real Time" achievement.
Left 4 Dead and its sequel has both fan challenges and in game challenges via achievements. Some in-game challenges involve completing a campaign without any survivor getting incapacitated, using pistols only, using melee weapons only, finish a game without ever causing friendly fire, etc. Some fan challenges include playing a whole campaign on Expert difficulty without any bots helping you.
The sequel's Mutation game mode adds different challenges for players to tackle. Challenges include the whole team being forced to use swords only, doing a solo run with the Magnum only, playing a VS game where all special infected are buffed up Jockeys, and many others.
Some people have tried a "melee only" run in where you're only allowed to attack zombies by meleeing them to death. The only exception you get is for the Tank where people are allowed to set it on fire.
The sequel even has an achievement for this called "Confederacy of Crunches." Well, two, technically, since killing the Tank with melee weapons ("Tank Burger") is going to come up sooner or later if you take this on.
One-City Challenge: Complete the game while maintaining only one city (base, planet, etc.) Mostly used in games where there is an alternative to global conquest or where cities can be easily razed.
The Civilization V expansion Brave New World eventually added Venice as a civ designed to cater to precisely this play style. It cannot train or capture settlers, and while it can puppetize cities (either through conquest or through using a Merchant of Venice to buy a city-state), it cannot annex them directly.
No Tech Trading: Your faction must research all of its own technologies.
There is another far more useful reason for this option; stopping the AI begging for tech, then getting uppity at you because you didn't give them free toys.
No Wars of Aggression: Your faction must never declare war and may only wage wars in self-defense. Conquest is allowable only to reclaim territory previously lost to another faction.
Manipulative Bastard: Ostensibly similar to the pacifist, the player eschews military aggression, focusing on the use of diplomacy and subterfuge to keep other factions locked in a state of perpetual war, while manipulating alliances and trade to ensure that no faction is able to gain the upper hand.
The Civilization community has the long-established challenge of "Always War," which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: You're always at war. This can mean "You're always at war with at least one other civilization" or "You're always at war with everyone." Naturally, when Civilization IV decided to recognize Always War along with the One-City Challenge and No Tech Trading in-game, they opted for the latter form. On the other hand, they also offered "Always Peace," which is also Exactly What It Says on the Tin: No AIs will declare war on you, and you can't declare war on anyone.
Speaking of Civilization, Revolutions has a few Achievements for this. "Absolute Power is Kind of Neat" means playing the whole game under a Despotism (the simplest and worst form of government, by near-universal consensus).
No Trade Initiation, which makes it much more difficult to exploit the AI which can normally be done one way or another in most games. For added danger, agree to all proposals made by the AI.
Paradox Games don't really ask you to do anything except surviving. You can generally play as any country and have no stated goal, so you can choose a very hard mission for a very weak state.
Europa Universalis allows you to play as any state at any date of the Renaissaince/Enlightenment era, even if it's a vassal or backward tribal nation. Playing as small German/Russian city-state next to powerful and ambitious countries is not easy. This, however, isn't considered hardcore in the community: the real challenge is playing as a minor Native American (weak, decentralised, and technologically inferior to Europeans who will inevitably invade with fancy guns), African, or Asian state. There's even achievement for conquering the world as Ryukyu — an almost impossible goal.
These even exist in MMORPGs. City of Heroes has the MAN challenge. Essentially, attempting to see how far you can get without using any superpowers beyond "Brawl" and "Sprint." It's considered cheating (and probably rude) to join teams and leech XP from more conventional characters. Due to the way mission enemies spawn, other MAN characters are fine if you can find someone else to join in your insanity.
City of Heroes also added an in-game version in late 2007 with the Flashback system. A character can revisit old or outleveled story arcs and complete them with various restrictions, including a time limit, powered-up enemies, or only certain powers and abilities allowed.
City of Villains has the "petless Mastermind". Masterminds are the "pet" job of the game, and as such playing one without any minions is really, really hard.
World of Warcraft has at least one example in the melee-only hunter (a class normally used primarily for ranged attacks), where the player refrains from using any ranged weapons whatsoever. Gweryc is probably the most well-known example.
There's also a player who levelled without any weapons or armour, and at least one pacifist.
Leveling a priest as holy used to be this, though it would get you huge friends list when you hit max level. Recent changes have made holy considerably more efficient for basic questing.
The Iron Man challenge has recently gained a lot of popularity for World of Warcraft. The basics are that you may only use the worst gear in the game (no magic items at all), you can not spend talent points to improve your character, you may never trade with another player to get any stuff, and a lot of other more or less ridiculous requirements. And the big one: if you die, you're out.
One player reached level cap without joining either the Horde or Allianc, by grinding to level 90 without leaving the Pandaren tutorial area.
The webgame Kingdom of Loathing has one of the best-integrated self-imposed challenge systems, featuring (once you beat the game) the option to restart with any of the following restrictions: Cannot consume food (which normally lets you use more adventures per day), cannot consume booze (ditto), Oxygenarian (combination of both), Hardcore (cannot receive outside help from virtually any source), and Bad Moon (which dumps you back at the start with none of your items or familiars from previous games, in addition to being in Hardcore and occasionally subjecting you to adventures which give you advantages that are counterbalanced by disadvantages). If you successfully complete a game under these restrictions, you'll obtain special items after defeating the Naughty Sorceress, such as extremely potent food items or powerful equipment.
Another challenge is the 100% Bad Moon Black Cat run, where in addition to being in Bad Moon, you must find a Black Cat, make it your familiar, and use it for every combat. The cat doesn't like you using skills, steals your MP, decreases your stat gain and blocks you from item drops. The reward for this is the permanent ability to play Bad Moon. Unlocking Bad Moon in the first place requires its own Self-Imposed Challenge of completing a hardcore run without using any ten-leaf clovers, and this only unlocks it for your next run unless you follow the additional steps to permanently unlock it.
Since clovers don't drop in Bad Moon and you can't access your items from previous runs, you can always follow one Bad Moon run with another one (unless you retrieve your items and use a clover for some reason after freeing the King but before Ascending).
The seasonal challenge paths, with a new one introduced every three months. If you complete a challenge run when it is still is season, you get a huge boost of karma. Many of these paths had their own Item of the Month released to facilitate them. In order of release:
Bees Hate You: The letter "b" is now your enemy. You take damage for every B in the names of your equipment, enemies become stronger for each B in their names, you can't use non-quest items with B in their names (and the quest ones hurt you), and bees randomly attack you.
Way of the Surprising Fist: You become a Bare-Fisted Monk. You can learn impressive skills, but you can't equip weapons or off-hand items at all, and you have a vow of poverty which slashes how much Meat you earn and cuts off non-combat Meat gains. IOTM: The Tome of Clip Art, which allows access to powerful items - including halos, which grant powerful bonuses, but only if you fight unarmed.
Trendy: Any limited-time content that's more than a year old is unusable.
Avatar of Boris: You become a special class with its own skill tree. Mighty Boris can feast all day long and is aided by the versatile Clancy, but he Can't Hold His Liquor and will not even contemplate using any weapon but his trusty axe, Trusty. IOTM: The Helm of Boris, which pulls itself in Hardcore and provides great bonuses... including one that lets you tweak it for massive Monster Level gain.
Bugbear Invasion: Bugbears invade the kingdom, radically shaking up the quest structure and completely changing the end-game. IOTM: the Artistic Goth Kid familiar, who draws monsters with his crayons. The wax shavings you get from these fights can be used to copy bugbears, helping to greatly speed up some areas.
Zombie Slayer: You become a special class with its own skill tree. The name's misleading, though - you are a zombie. All you can eat is brains, you can't consume as much booze as usual, and you can summon hordes of the undead to aid you (while at the same time being limited to "undead" familiars such as the Hovering Sombrero or the Spooky Pirate Skeleton). IOTM: the Box of Bear Arms, which pulls itself in Hardcore. One arm is a powerful weapon, the other is a strong off-hand item, and wearing both together grants access to useful skills which are even more useful in a Zombie Slayer run.
Class Act: Non-class skills are unusable. IOTM: Thinknerd's Grimoire of Geeky Gifts. In addition to summoning a variety of silly gift items, players in a Class Act run who use the Grimoire get a combat item that, when used, temporarily banishes a monster from a zone (useful if you're trying to farm an item from a specific monster).
Avatar of Jarlsberg: You become a special class with its own skill tree. Jarlsberg, the Great and Powerful, knows incredibly potent magic, but his rampant fear of germs prevents him from eating or drinking anything he doesn't make himself in his Cosmic Kitchen, and he won't contemplate attacking physically. IOTM: the Pan of Jarlsberg, an off-hand item that greatly enhances Jarlsberg's skills and can be set to "Cosmic Pan" mode, turning food and booze drops (which Jarlsberg can't use anyway) into Cosmic Calories that can be converted into potions. Jick also released a Cosmic Bucket (which had the effect of giving its user the equivalent of 30 Jarlsberg runs - allowing access to all Jarlsberg's skills at Level 1), but begged players not doing a Speed Run to not buy it.
BIG!: You start the game at Level 15 (in a game where you're encouraged to fight the Final Boss at level 13). However, the enemies are tougher, too... IOTM: The Mini-Adventurer, a smaller version of you that gains new abilities in whichever class you chose as you gain levels. It learns its last ability at Level 15... which means that it has all its abilities from the start in BIG!.
KOLHS: Your character is reincarnated as a teenager. They're forced to spend the first 40 adventures of the day in a specific zone (Kingdom of Loathing High School) where all the monsters scale to your stats, and the school rules forbid hats and familiars with a base weight of over ten pounds. Fortunately, you can ingratiate yourself with one of three cliques depending on the skills you have: Muscle class skills earn you points with the Jocks, Mysticality class skills impress the Nerds, and Moxie class skills wow the Greasers. And after school, you can craft items from ingredients found while adventuring at the school, go on a photography side-quest for the Yearbook Club, or get some buffs. IOTM: the Over-the-shoulder Folder Holder, an accessory that pulls itself in Hardcore and that can hold up to three folders (five in KOLHS), each of which has its own useful effect; and the Steam-Powered Cheerleader, a familiar that increases item drops, delevels your opponents, occasionally provides useful buffs at the start of combat, and is not bound by the normal ten-pound limit on familiars, but becomes less effective the more you use her.
Class Act II - A Class For Pigs: You cannot use any non-class skills, but have access to all guild skills from the start of the run. In addition, the system for gaining stats and the effects of Monster Level alteration are greatly changed. (This challenge run debuted shortly after all of the classes were revamped.)
Avatar of Sneaky Pete: You become a special class with its own skill tree. The cool and cunning Sneaky Pete has a variety of Moxious skills at his disposal, and is a heavy drinker, but a light eater. Instead of a familiar, he has his trusty motorbike which he can trick out, as well as a loyal Studio Audience that follows him around everywhere and interacts with his skills depending on how much they love or hate him. IOTM: Sneaky Pete's Leather Jacket, a shirt that increases Moxie and the influence you have on Sneaky Pete's Studio audience. It also gives one of two sets of bonuses depending on how the collar is adjusted.
Slow and Steady: You gain 100 turns a day, instead of your usual 40. Those are the only turns you earn each day - that is, you can't use anything to gain more turns. Food, booze, and "spleentacular" items only give you substats, and items and gear that give you extra adventures at rollover have no effect. You also can't use limited-time content (such as Mr. Store items or familiars) released before the year 2012, at least not when the challenge is "in-season".
Heavy Rains: The Kingdom has flooded. Areas are filled with water to a depth depending on their elevation, radically increasing the strength of monsters, fish have invaded the land, and strange sentient water-beings have replaced most of the bosses. What's more, your familiar can't withstand the tides, regularly disabling it without a life preserver, and the rain has a chance to wash away items. However, you can steal the power of the storm for yourself if you know how... IOTM: Thor's Pliers. Aside from being a strong weapon and an efficient tool for jewelrymaking, this set of pliers allows you to recharge Lightning (one of the three storm powers and normally the only one that does not replenish over time).
Guild Wars has two notable challenges which were so impressive the developers eventually commemorated them with in-game titles.
Legendary Defender of Ascalon required the player to reach maximum level in the Forced Tutorial of Prophecies. Because the monsters stopped giving experience well before that, players resorted to getting themselves killed by monsters, which caused them to level up and be worth experience. Nerfed with the introduction of daily quests.
Survivors reach the maximum level without dying once, while Legendary Survivors gain ten times that amount of experience. Nerfed when the developers allowed the title to reset on death rather than being permanently removed.
There's also the low score speed run in which you end the game with the lowest score possible as fast as you can by not touching anything at all, which means no contact with power-ups, coins, or enemies period. The current record is 500 points in a little under 9 minutes.
Super Mario World in particular invites the challenges of not using Yoshi and not visiting the Switch Palaces that activate helpful blocks in other levels.
Or even worse, try playing it without getting ANY non-mandatory stage points. raocow has completed such a run.
Super Mario Kart allows players to shrink their characters on the select screen as if they had been struck by lightning or a poison mushroom. This way they're slower and more easily crushed, ratcheting up the challenge of an already hard game.
Find a hidden green mushroom in Super Mario 64 and collect the 8 red coins and the star before it catches you. That mushroom will not stop until it grants you an extra life.
Now try it on a level that's not Lethal Lava Land (where the coins are all in the same place).
Try to beat as many New Super Mario Bros.. levels as you can using the turtle shell dash for the entire level. Fun times.
Try to beat every single level with a single turtle shell, and restart from the very first level if you get hit. At all. You'll need to start after you've found a turtle shell, though, so you'll have to play a little ways into the game at least to try it.
Also extremely fun in New Super Mario Bros..: Complete as many levels as you can ducking the entire level. It's surprisingly easy to do this on the final level, but that's one of the few levels where it's easy.
Buddhist Mario, where you kill no enemies, collect no coins, and have to walk through the gate at the end to show humility.
This guy does a parody challenge run of Super Mario Bros.. Unfortunately, he fails before even pressing the Start button.
Interestingly, New Super Mario Bros. U contains "challenge mode", that has you play through levels under certain conditions. Among these, there are challenges where you have to avoid collecting coins, and challenges where touching the ground instantly kills you. Hmm...
There's a whole LP on raocow's forum about this, called Super Stipulation World. Basically, an LPer called GVirusG plays Super Mario World, and every single level has a different viewer imposed self imposed challenge or 'stipulation' that he has to adhere to. Like double emulator speed, no sprite/object layer, ascetic rules (basically Buddhist Mario), anti ascetic rules (collect every possible point), changed controls, no standing still, reverse controls... you name it. You can find the topic here.
For added 'fun', the Bowser's Castle rooms are gonna be edited so every stipulation used in the corresponding world is in play AT THE SAME TIME! So for room 5, you'd need to bring two Goombas to the end, while constantly holding up, as well as bring a Bob-omb to the end, duck jumping the entire time, no flying and a game genie involved, no layer 1 or 3, while singing the Roy's Castle song.
Metroid players seem to love self-imposed challenges. Super Metroid in particular seems to attract them besides the traditional Speedruns, low-percentage runs and 100% runs, there's also runs where you don't collect some items usually required to progress, morphball-runs (only get out of morphball when it's absolutely required), and ofcourse the NBMB-run (no bosses/minibosses), where you see how high percentage of items you can get without killing any bosses (it's possible by exploiting sequence-breaking bugs in the game). Here are a few popular, obscenely hard challenges:
The original Metroid without beating the minibosses. You get into Tourian by freezing an enemy. Then the Metroids kill you a whole damn lot.
Return of Samus with just three items: bombs, ice beam, and one energy tank (the final boss is impossible without it). Yep, you can climb all those open vertical rooms with only bombs.
Super Metroid, 11% completion. You need glitches to reach Mother Brain. And man, good luck with Ridley.
Fusion, 1% completion. This only works because required suit upgrades don't count toward your percentage. It's actually possible to get zero percent, but skipping that one missile tank (affectionately known as "Bob") requires such precision that it was believed to be impossible to accomplish real GBA, as opposed to emulators with slowdown functions. At least, until BioSp4rk and spideyMZM pulled it off.
Any of the Prime games on Hard with the minimum collection rate. (For instance, the current minimum for Prime 3 is 22%.) Hard mode in these games is murderous; without your stuff, it's strictly for the hardest of the hardcore.
Zero Mission is the first (and to date, only) Metroid game that was designed with self-imposed challenges in mind. 15% item completion and a finish time of under 2 hours is required for the best ending, but the item completion can go as low as 9% (10% on hard), and the time to well under an hour.
In Metroid Prime: Echoes, it's possible to skip the Dark Suit. The challenge lasts until you obtain the Light Suit, which is obtained after conquering the third major area of the game. You normally obtain the Dark Suit after conquering the first major area. The Dark Suit reduces the damage taken from Dark Aether's air from "oh god I'm gonna die in 15 seconds" to "this'll probably become a problem if I stay out here too long," on top of boosting your defenses. This challenge requires a lot of Energy Tanks, guts, luck, and retries, and the Light of Aether better shine on you if you try it on Hard mode.
A fairly common one in the Mega Man classic and Mega Man X series is to defeat all the robot masters or mavericks using only your arm cannon, without using an Emergency Energy Tank. For extra challenge, use no charge shot and battle all the bosses and Wily/Sigma fights in the castle levels in this fashion as well. For the truly determined, try taking no damage at all. Exceptions must be made for those bosses who are only vulnerable to a specific weapon. Difficulty can vary wildly between games, from "Slightly more challenging but fun," to "Borderline impossible."
As an example of "Borderline impossible", let's player HideofBeast has done a minimalist, no damage speed-run of Mega Man X4-6 on Extreme mode. The X6 run in particular looks so painful to pull off that just watching it could be considered a masochistic activity.
Powered Up, the remake of the first game, acknowledged the "arm cannon only" variant; defeating a Robot Master with just your arm cannon will unlock them as a playable character.
YouTube user RoahmMythril has actually finished every Robot Master stage in the main Mega Man series, Mega Man & Bass, Mega Man Powered Up and the Game Boy games without taking damage, using only the uncharged arm cannon as far as possible.
FourotherLet'sPlayers are attempting this challenge with an additional twist. On top of not taking damage and only using the uncharged Mega Buster throughout each stage, they're also trying to pull it all off without missing a single shot.
Mega Man 9 and 10 both have an item called "The Book of Hairstyles" that can be bought for the ever-so-low price of 20 screws. This item removes Mega Man's helmet, revealing his hair. But wait. Without his helmet, Mega Man takes MORE damage, and if he loses even ONE life, his helmet comes back, thus requiring the item to be bought...AGAIN. If you're looking to obtain the achievement for beating all 8 bosses without your helmet, expect your screw expenses to overflowto be screwed over.
Also these games have the Mr./Ms. Perfect trophy run, which is a No Damage Run through the entire game, so if you're going to do this, you might as well combine it with the No Helmet Run mentioned above.
Thanks to people who spent their time figuring this out, there's a not-so-obvious Mega Man X challenge: Beat the entire game without any upgrades from the get go. Unfortunately, since it's not possible to defeat Chill Penguin without running into the Boots upgrade (or it is, this editor hasn't figured that out), it's technically not from the get go. The password you need is: 4764 8488 7716. To make this even more fun, try without using boss weapons.
A Sonic the Hedgehog 2 mod called Sonic 2XL plays with the no ring challenge by making the rings themselves deadly to Sonic. The rings become onion rings and collecting them makes Sonic gain weight. Get too many rings and Sonic gets fatter and more sluggish and should he get way too many, he becomes immobile from his fat and then dies from a heart attack. Even Super Sonic is not immune to becoming fat! And if you have Tails as a partner, the rings he collects transfer to you.
At least you can lose weight by running around the level or hitting a special item that cleans off that fat, unless you're nearly morbidly obese, then good luck finding a good spot to exercise.
A different Sonic mod (this one based on Sonic The Hedgehog 1) called OMG THE RED RINGS takes this even further, with the rings being an instant kill. Even better? The rings BOUNCE, and some levels are nearly impossible to beat normally.
The Kirby series leaves itself open for these. One example is to not use Kirby's copy abilities, either for a game or the duration of one boss battle. Another is to not take any damage while fighting a certain boss.
A challenge among Let's Play'ers is the "Haddaway Challenge," thought up by Butt8745. The LP'er must play Kirby's Dreamland on Extra mode...while listening to "What Is Love?" by Haddaway the whole way...and singing it on its first loop.
Kirby's Dream Land features the Config Mode, which lets you adjust how many lives and how much health kirby starts out with. Combined with the above challenge, it is absolutely brutal. Good luck with the Boss Rush in the final stage.
Iji has loads of this, some even implemented in-game. The hardest difficulty, Ultimortal, limits you to only upgrading your health - meaning you'll have to stick with the first weapon, the shotgun, for the entire game until the final boss. The game encourages a Pacifist Run, as morality plays a large part in the story. There's an optional timer for speedruns. Right before the final boss, if you've already beaten the game at least once, there's a computer that supercharges his shields, giving him loads of health.
Not just loads of health; it kicks him up to 'full power', increasing the rate and power of his attacks, the number of projectiles and the size of their hitboxes, and so on. You are specifically warned that doing this is a very bad idea if you don't know what you're doing.
Expert players of Spelunky have attempted many different flavours of this. There's the common stuff, like speedruns, no-damage runs, high-treasure runs, and so on. The game has some built-in optional challenges which unlock stuff, but these are generally considered extremely easy. That is to say nothing of the no treasure, no kills, no action button, no damage runs in Gates of Hell Spelunky that people have attempted.
Try playing a Ratchet & Clank game without ever buying ammo from a vendor, i.e. ammo crates are your only method you have of reloading weapons. For added challenge, never use a max-level weapon, and play on the highest difficulty, if possible. Warning: In the games where ammo doesn't reset if you die, this becomes a major case of Unstable Equilibrium, the more you die, the harder it gets. Doing this in Deadlocked on Exterminator difficulty is next to impossible.
In the Future games, try Omniwrench only. That means never buy a weapon, and never use your staring weapon. Good luck.
The flexible sequence of La-Mulana lends itself well to many self-imposed challenges, which range from the easy (no Scalesphere/Ice Cape? Pfff) to the murderous (No Life Jewels?!). Deliberately setting off the Hard Mode Tablet seems to be fairly popular with players of the remake.
Yoshi's Story has an "official" self-imposed challenge, the Melon Run. This requires eating all 30 Melons hidden in a level. The game goes out of its way to encourage this behavior, and it is the way to get high scores on levels.
However, there's also the Thirty Lucky Fruit challenge, which is more true to the trope. This challenge requires eating 30 Lucky Fruit instead on a level. However, each level only contains 12 Lucky Fruit normally. The way to get the others is via an Easter Egg: When you do a Ground Pound near a Shy Guy while invincible, it turns into a Lucky Fruit. Actually making sure you're in the vicinity of several Shy Guys while invincible is another story entirely. It's not even possible on all levels, or with all Lucky Fruit on a particular level.
Cave Story has a number of these, mainly the 3 Life challenge which is done by not picking up any Heart Containers, and the Basic Weapons challenge, which forces you to only use the three weapons you can't avoid getting throughout the entire game. There is also a timer for Speedruns in the bonus level. By finishing the last level in under 3 minutes you unlock a bonus song heard nowhere else in the game. Completing the last level is in itself an achievement, but finishing it with Minimum Health, Basic Weapons and under the time limit is almost impossible and very much luck-oriented - there is a section where blocks start falling from the ceiling and their locations are completely random. Doing this challenge has been known to test the sanity of some people.
What's particularly insane is that Pixel (the developer) seems to have expected people to try the Minimal HP run because every single boss in the Normal Ending Final Boss Rush has attacks that do 1 or 2 damage. That normally wouldn't bother the player, having 40 to 50 HP, but with only 3 HP, these attacks really hurt.
Fantastic Contraption, a flash-based physics-puzzle game, lends itself to this. Players will try to complete the goal with as few pieces as possible, or without using certain kinds (gravity power, no catapults, etc.). The fact that you can save and share your contraptions for others to watch in action aids in this.
Playing one-handed in TGM is also a mildly popular challenge. One-handed GM runs have been done.
Playing Tetris: The Grand Master 2 without using hard drop. This seems trivial, and loses relevance once you hit instant-drop speeds, but using only soft drop slows down runs enough to impact grades, espeically if you're trying to get the GM rank.
Tetris: The Grand Master 3 introduces the Hold feature, which would become a mandatory requirement for later Tetris games. Which means naturally, some players attempt no-Hold runs.
Playing with one rotation button may be typical of casual Tetris players that don't care about speed, but in TGM, it is very much this trope, since rotating three times just to achieve a particular piece orientation is very time-consuming and will probably result in Yet Another Stupid Death.
Many people have completed levels in World of Goo for trying to get either as much goo per level as possible, complete the level with least moves or the shortest time. Often it turns the gameplay into something completely different.
Free Cell: The most obvious one is reducing the number of free cells, sometimes even to zero (69 out of the original Microsoft 32000 can be solved with no freecells). Some software implementations will have this as an option. Another is to make the biggest "flourish"note cards automatically going to the home row at the end of the game you can. There are a few games where it is possible to set up a 52-card flourish, taking the home row from empty to full in one move flat.
It is possible to complete a lot of co-op chambers in Portal 2 without any help from a partner (as in they don't place a portal or interact with anything) and very few of them require glitches. Finding a partner who will let you do this is a problem, though.
Guitar Hero 2 and III have a cheat code called "Performance Mode," which removes the fret board, requiring you to play by memory.
GH III also has a "precision mode" which cuts down the lax (if not too lax) default timing window to a very picky one.
Also, the strumming in GH and Rock Band becomes trickier if you use a pick (or actually strum with your hands, as opposed to gripping onto the strum bar).
Instead of using all of the fingers on their fretting hand to hold down notes, some players make things more difficult by choosing to forgo the use of their pinky, or their pinky AND ring fingers, the latter of which is sometimes called 'Django Mode' after the guitarist Django Reinhardt, who only had full use of two of his fingers. Amazingly, at least one player has five-starred every song on Expert using only two fingers.
Dance Dance Revolution, in a similar vein, has similar self-imposed customization options for the absurdly hardcore. Would you like to play this dance backwards with no visible steps at several times the normal step speed?
If you're playing backwards, then the "increased step speed" doesn't make much of a difference — it only changes the rate of speed the arrows scroll at. It doesn't change the song's actual tempo. BUT! What about playing with the arrows at an inconsistent scroll speed (Boost/Wave/Brake), with the pattern randomized (Shuffle), and the arrows appearing -just before they're supposed to be hit- (Sudden)?
On the other side of the spectrum, we have actual performance players, who will put out elaborately choreographed routines, complete with knee drops, innovative use of the safety bar, spins and sometimes even flips just for the sake of doing so.
To say nothing of the all-Great challenges. MUCH harder than it seems.
Or try clearing a song with a score of 0. This makes it Good attack. You can't get anything higher, and are only allowed a very limited number of lower ratings.
Pop'n Music has even more opporunities for self-imposed challenges. Newer installments have "Challenge mode," which is essentially the game's normal mode, but after picking a song, you can choose up to two objectives to complete within the song for extra "Challenge Points." These challenges range from the tame (such as scoring x points or getting less than y misses) to the not-so-tame (having the scroll speed of the notes multiply or notes do spiraly animations at regular intervals) to the insane (having song characters go into "Dance Ojama" mode and block your view of the notes or completing the song with a perfect score). If you get enough Challenge Points, you'll get an extra stage. Should you desire even more challenge, there's the Cho-Challenge Mode, which is the same as Challenge Mode but with the "Cool" note judgment (in addition to Great, Good, and Bad), which makes scoring NintendobeatmaniaHard.
BMS player Lunatic Rave 2 has a secret option called "Extra Mode". You know all those notes in the background channels? expect to play a lot more of them. To put this in perspective, Scripted Connection (Long Mix) normally has 4459 notes in it. If you're playing an accurate BMS of it in Lunatic Rave 2, Extra Mode increases the number of notes to 6118! (This has the side effect of making some songs nigh-impossible)
In O2Jam, playing a song with no speed modifiers (which most players use) is referred to as "slowjamming," and is a commendable skill. On the other hand, in Guitar Hero, using Hyper Speed is the exact opposite and is regarded by many "Stop Having Fun" Guys as a Game Breaker.
HyperSpeed's designation as a player-specific OPTION in Guitar Hero 5 (alongside FOCUS MODE) should remedy the HyperSpeed flame wars. to put it plainly, the player gets to pick what hyperspeed they want for themselves and ONLY for themselves, everyone else is not affected by one player's HS choice.
beatmania IIDX has the Hard modifier, which starts your gauge at 100% and removes the requirement of ending with 80% or higher to clear the song, but it makes your gauge drop much faster with each missed note, and it fails you if your gauge hits zero at any point.
This is partially a subversion, particularly where One More Extra Stages (Which require a specific grade with the HARD gauge on a specific song on Another as your fourth stage) are concerned. The Hazard modifier, added in IIDX 16: Empress, is this trope played very very straight, as one "miss" causes you to fail out and scratches out your grade. This means you have to Full Combo the song. Did I mention that some charts have yet to be Full-Combo'd?
It's also a subversion, cornering on Unishment territory, concerning songs with all their (fake) difficulty concentrated at the end of the song. If you're a good enough player to hold your own until the ending massacre, the fact that a Hard gauge removes the 80+% requirement can make songs easier to pass than on the regular bar. The EX-HARD modifier, introduced in IIDX 19: Lincle, is much harsher than HARD mode, playing the trope straight again.
Recent DJMAX Technika tournaments have employed the "Nobody Knows Next" ruleset, in which each round, instead of just trying to get a high score, you're also required to fill another condition, such as playing with only one hand, playing with only your pinkies, or playing with the machine muted while you listen to completely different music via headphones hooked up to a portable player. There's also the "Miss Attack" challenge in which you try to get as many Misses as possible without failing, and "roulette" mode in which multiple players line up and take turns on the machine on a per-swipe basis.
Space Channel 5 and it's sequel leaves room for these. Failure mode where you rescue nobody and get the minimum view rating, Mirror mode is when you play through the game with the mirror code activated... and Purge mode, in which you shoot the hostages and rescue the robots.
Stepmania has Song Attacks, or this. This is the game intentionally messing you up.
A simple one in Rhythm Heaven is to play the game blind—that is, blindfolded, with the game video disabled, looking away, or doing something else to divert your attention completely away from the screen. This works on most minigames in the series, though some games like "Night Walk" in Rhythm Tengoku (GBA) require you to use some visual cues.
NetHack is worth mentioning as an overarching example: it features a bevy of voluntary challenges, including a Pacifist Run, an "atheist" run (not using the "pray" command to ask favors from the gods, or dropping anything on altars to test for alignment, or chatting with priests, or...), an "illiterate" run (not reading anything, and not writing anything beyond the letter X), a "foodless" run (not eating anything, including non-foods), and for the truly psychotic, combinations of any or all of the above resulting in things like "wishless genocideless polyitemless polyselfless illiterate atheist weaponless vegan" (actually achieved). You get nothing for completing these other than satisfaction, but the game will keep track of what you've accomplished. Nethack is already Nintendo Hard of itself, so these challenges add replay value only for the truly hardcore.
It gets even more bizarre when you get into the fan-created challenges. The strangest: "Zen" — going through the entire game blindfolded. Only a tiny handful of recorded Zen completions are known: samurai (one of the two classes that can start with blindfolds in the inventory), rogues (the other class who can start with a blindfold), and at least one tourist. The tourist used a towel.
Angband has "no artifacts"; a serious challenge in a game where your only protection against instadeath on deeper levels is wearing the right magical bling.
Another challenge is the Ironman challenge, where you can never go up any staircase, and can never return to the surface by any means, until victorious.
Ancient Domains of Mystery has a series of self imposed challenges, some of which involved the Infinite Dungeon (the only dungeon in the game to not save visited levels, making it similar to Angband). Such challenges include:
Ironman: Your typical ID dive. You must use any down stairs you see. The object is to retrieve a powerful artifact from level 67.
Leadman: Ironman, only you are allowed to stay on a level as long as you please. Goal is to find the bottom.
Aluminum Man: Ironman, only you are allowed to do the Village Dungeon quest first (gives you ~6 levels before you enter).
Steelman: Survive in the wilderness, and the wilderness only until level 50.
Eternium Man: Never enter a village or city, may not read books in the wilderness. Now; stand in one place in the Small Mountain Cave. This is difficult because the SMC is the most dangerous location in the game: monsters spawn faster and have double your experience (typically a character can fight something up to about 5 to 10 levels higher than he is, depending on what it is—even small white mice get dangerous in the SMC). Survive to level 50, then you can leave. There is only one recorded winner, which got extremely lucky and was able to abuse game mechanics to become godlike thanks to lucky spawn.
Titanium Man: Complete the game lowest level possible (Low Level Run). One player ran a troll (which, as the dumbest race, learns very slowly) and finished at level 1, with 86 xp. The only monster slain was Andor Drakon (worth 1 xp, presumably the rest of the xp was from sacrifices).
Mercuryman: This one is fun. Use melee weapons as ranged, and ranged weapons as melee. Rocks (an abundant missile) make a great melee item.
Goldman: Never spend any money. Be as greedy as possible: any time you see a store you must sell all of your items. You are not allowed to drop or sacrifice any money. Gold is heavy (I hope you find a girdle of greed and bless it).
Carbon Fiber Man: Never carry more than 100 stones. An extremely harsh equipment restriction, especially considering that there are five plot-necessary artifacts which each weigh 100s and each need to be brought to the bottom of the Caverns of Chaos, which you have to do while naked in this challenge (and without wearing a signet ring needed to peacefully pass a very nasty monster). Astonishingly, it has been completed at least once.
Brimstone Man: Go straight to the Tower of Eternal Flames (guess what it's like), and don't exit until you have the Chaos Orb of Elemental Fire in your possession. Extremely difficult, as most level 1 characters will be burned to ashes within several turns (along with their equipment), and the Tower contains many high-level monsters and a nasty boss.
Ultra Paragon: Complete an Ultra Ending with Paragon of Order status. Becoming a Paragon of Order requires, among other things, that you never commit a single chaotic act. Maintaining Paragon of Order status is hard enough in a normal game; it's nigh-impossible for an ultra ending.
In Azure Dreams, try leaving the monster tower for the first time, then putting Kewne away, going in with no items, and making it to the top of the tower using only items you find inside the tower on one run. This borders between Luck-Based Mission and downright Unwinnable.
Dwarf Fortress's Self Imposed Challenges come in four varieties: Self-imposed challenges where players abstain from some gameplay feature like not brewing any liquor, starting build-related challenges like starting with only unskilled dwarves, location-related challenges like building a fort in a place with an aquifer or goblin tower, and megaprojects, which are huge constructions undertaken only to satisfy the player's ego. There is a huge list on the df wiki.
Particularly notable is the so-called "Hermit Challenge" where 6 of the 7 embarking dwarves and every single immigrant get killed off and caravans are ignored or killed. Check out One Dwarf Against The World, the story that made the name "Urist" popular in the DF fandom.
EarthBound has numerous 1-in-128 items. These range from items you can't find in stores (such as the Sword of Kings and the Xterminator Spray) to items you can get well before stores stock them. Numerous fan quests have arisen as gamers try to get every one of them.
Playing Final Fantasy I with a party of four White Mages is a popular one. The early-level characters are so weak that a battle with goblins can reach epic proportions.
Solo quests are also popular, and the truly hardcore will try both — that is, soloing with a weak class. This is so hard that there are whole FAQs available for beating the game with one Thief, one White Mage, etc.
Due to Sequence Breaking, it is possible to reach the Castle of Ordeals much earlier than thought possible, as well as getting the airship very early. This has led to the Level 11 Class Change, which is only possible by running from all battles and fighting only the mandatory fights before Class Changing.
Final Fantasy V, predictably enough, has at least a couple to call its own: Freelancers-only, Four Class Challenge, and a popular variant of the latter, the Four Job Fiesta where each character is assigned one class per crystal. Having all characters be the same job is also popular for this one.
Final Fantasy VI has quite a few of these. The "Natural Magic" challenge, where you forgo the use of all Espers (or any equipment that offers spells); thus, the only magic that is available are characters who learn Magic through the natural process of leveling (hence the name). This also nixes any form of Esper-based stat boosting, so it is quite difficult. The "CES" challenge is another popular one; you must beat the game using only Celes, Edgar, and Setzer when the game doesn't force other characters onto you. These are the only three characters you must have when assaulting Kefka's tower. Combining CES and Natural Magic is only for the highly skilled.
Solo Character Runs with Natural Magic are also popular. Difficulty ranges from the challenging but doable Terra to the near impossible Relm, Cyan and Umaro. Low Level Runs are common, too, through skilled use of Gau's abilities, among other things.
And if Natural Magic games aren't hard enough, you can attempt the No Equipment Natural Magic Game(NENMG). No Espers, armor, weapons, or relics can be used at any point during the game, so your characters' ability to deal damage comes ONLY from their natural abilities (Blitz, Rage, etc.). Simply grinding to level 99 is forbidden, and every optional quest must also be beaten, except for the Magi Master.
Several people have tried going through Final Fantasy VII without getting better weapons or using any materia. Some mixed self imposed challenges are:
Low Level, No Materia, No Items
Low Level, No Materia, Initial Equipment, No Accessories
Lowest Level, No Items, Initial Equipment, No Accessories, No Enemy Skills
No Summons, No Items, No Limit Breaks, No Accessories, No Enemy Skills
Final Fantasy VIII arguably has the nastiest of these in the form of the "no junction" challenge, sometimes known as "No GF" challenge. No character can ever equip a GF at any time for any reason throughout the entire game. This cuts off access to every skill you get other than attacks and limit breaks, meaning you only get three characters capable of healing your party in any way, get one way to resurrect fallen characters (albeit completely random through Angelo Recover), and no access to the stat boosting junction system which is required to get stats that are in any way passable. Despite all this, apparently somebody did this without resorting to the game's Game Breaker. It apparently took him 200 tries to beat the final boss.
Final Fantasy IX steps up the Low Level Run to the unique Level 1 Challenge, requiring players to skip and avoid all possible experience in battle, resulting in a Level 1 team against the final boss.
Final Fantasy IX has another challenge unique to that game. Obtaining one secret weapon requires reaching the final dungeon in 12 hours from the start of the game. Therefore, a "perfect" game requires completing a speedrun and picking up along the way all the game's missable items and sidequests, of which there are a lot.
The diehard Final Fantasy X community is the king of them all. Not satisfied with the already insanely difficult bonus content, such as the Monster Arena or the Dark Aeons and Penance, there's a massive array of guides on GameFAQs devoted to beating the game with various limiters mixed and matched, from No Sphere Grid (which entails no stat bonuses or new abilities whatsoever), to single character challenges, to the current king of them all, The No Sphere Grid No Summon No Overdrive No Escape No No-Encounters No Blitzball No Customize Challenge, which mainly involves stealing and throwing items with Rikku and praying for certain equipment drops.
Final Fantasy strikes again with Final Fantasy XII, which has a great system for these challenges. Take a sampling:
There's the classic No License Board challenge, which leaves you with an extremely limited pool of abilities and equipment. This is usually obviously paired with No Quickenings/No Summons.
Another one is the 122333 challenge, named for the levels each character starts at when they join your party (Vaan at 1, Balthier and Fran at 2, and Basch, Ashe and Penelo at 3) and involves running from every monster encounter except bosses until a certain item can be found. This can be combined with the NLB challenge above, if you're extremely masochistic.
There's also the classic solo character run, and since anyone can learn any ability, wear any armor and wield any weapon, you can pick any character for almost equal challenge.
Probably the easiest challenge available is the ECC, or Enforced Class Challenge, which mimics the Zodiac Job System and forces each character to become a certain class - e.g., Penelo is now a White Mage who can only purchase licenses for magical armor, staves, white magick, and magick-based Augments.
Another popular one is called the DCHLB challenge, or Dual-Character Half-License Board. One character takes the bottom half of the board, meaning they can wear any armor and use any weapon, but they can only use their starting abilities, while the other takes the top half and has access to all the Magick, Technicks, Augments and Accessories, while staying in their original equipment. Decoy is pretty much your best friend here.
Final Fantasy XIII goes a slightly similar route to Final Fantasy X by having the NCU (No Crystarium Usage) challenge. Players can also attempt the PRO (Primary Roles Only) challenge, allowing players to only upgrade the Crystarium in the first three roles a character unlocks. On the opposite end, they can choose to do SRO (Secondary Roles Only) meaning the game would be played as an NCU until Chapter 10 of the game and only allowing to upgrade the Crystarium in the Secondary roles. Not to forget the Initial Equipment challenge, No Accessory challenge and similar ones. Have fun coupling those together with NCU.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time's Battle Trophy system actively encourages this. You get in-game rewards for beating bosses in under a minute, for beating them without actually moving the player-controlled character, for beating the optional bosses with only one character, for a Low Level Run, for beating the entire game armed with the game's weakest weapon, et cetera.
Star Ocean: The Second Story has an option to turn the final boss into a God-like being with insane amounts of HP and spells capable of killing your entire party in a single hit. The game also provides a dungeon specifically designed to help train your party to a high enough level so that this battle won't be completely impossible. But, even at level 255-highest possible level one can achieve-this battle is ridiculously hard.
Defeating Unlimited Indalecio is less a matter of level grinding to 255, and more a matter of skill and knowing Game Breaking strategies you can use to bring him to his knees. One effective but somewhat unorthodox strategy requires not using Rena, the best healer in the game, because she can't use Bloody Armor (which grants invincibility at the cost of constantly draining your HP). Instead, use Opera or Noel and have them use full-party heals as necessary. The fight is still pretty tough though because Indalecio flies all over the battlefield while spamming spells and you have to watch everyone's HP so nobody gets eaten by their armor.
Unlimited Indalecio is widely regarded as one of the most difficult bosses in any RPG ever made; add in a higher difficulty level ("Universe" mode) where all enemies' strength, defense, blocking ability and health is doubled for a new level of controller-meets-wall. And that's with a full party of mini-gods armed with their best moves and ultimate weapons.
Additionally, you can refuse recruitment of all other characters, leaving you with only the two forced upon you (Claude and Rena). Combined with the above, controllers will be snapped.
There's an additional 'Live Off The Land' challenge, begun by Morrowind players, that requires leaving all possessions and gold in town, traveling on foot, and surviving missions only with what the player comes across. A monk/alchemist build has the most success at making the use of any possible scavengings and loot. This challenge is also doable in Oblivion, but without unarmed skill the player needs to rely on acrobatics, athletics, and arcade reflexes. Also, it's permissible to use alchemy equipment only if left where it's found; looting it means that it has to be left in town, and inaccessible for future adventures.
Another challenge is to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as a vegan. It sounds simple, but gets harder the more you think about it. No food with any meat or animal components. No potions made from any animal components (which means no buying potions or using found healing potions, because who knows what's in those things?). No hide or leather armor, or any armor that must be upgraded using leather, even leather strips. In the same vein, no Dragonbone armor. Same thing for weapons, which meant no arrows (because of feathers) No Forsworn equipment because it all appears to be made out of bones. No killing animals of any kind - wolves, bears, sabrecats, etc - so there's a lot of running and sneaking involved. No horses ever, not even Shadowmere. No animate dead or command animal spells. Only dragons that die for plot reasons can be killed. No dragon souls (animal by-products to the extreme), meaning the only available shouts are a partially-upgraded Fus Ro Dah and Whirlwind Sprint.
It's common for players who enjoy role-playing to write a character and play as that character, flaws and all. For example, a noble paladin who cannot loot corpses and must leave them to rest in peace, or a warrior who refuses to use any form of magic, including enchanted items.
According to Elder Scrolls lore, the first Redguards to arrive in Tamriel did this In-Universe; they made the decision to settle the Alik'r Desert, one of the most inhospitable environments on Tamriel, because according to Redguard philosophy, something that can be obtained without struggle is not worth obtaining in the first place.
Fallout: New Vegas, with the addition of Hardcore Mode (ammo has weight, players must eat, drink, and sleep, stimpaks only heal over time, companions can die and crippled limbs can only be healed with a doctor's bag or the addictive drug Hydra), allows for its own inbuilt challenge. Many players have chosen to up the ante by restricting themselves to realistic carry weights (in the realm of 50 to 100 units of gear maximum) and sometimes realistic carry methods (such as only having one or two longarms and two one-handed firearms, and not carrying anything that couldn't reasonably fit in a rucksack). PC gamers, with access to mods, can increase this even more: realistic damage and armor values that make armor much more valuable and allow for the player and enemies to be taken down in a single good shot, purchasable backpacks for an in-game increase in carry weight, mods that add weight to all items (even money!), and even a hideously complex needs system that requires players to keep track of proper protein and nutrition intake as well as calories and hydration, follow their circadian rhythm and get the right amount of sleep at the right time of the day, and keep track of their levels of stimulants and alcohol in their system; it's even possible to suffer water intoxication from drinking too fast, or to put yourself in a "food coma" from overeating.
To put it simply, combining the many realism mods (which are often patched or outright programmed to integrate well) with self-imposed challenges allows for the game to be made into a maddeningly difficult simulation of post-apocalyptic life.
Fable allows you to bet your money for one or more "boasts" before quests, which include a mix of standard challenges (such as wearing no armor or killing no enemies) and quest-specific ones (such as perfectly defending all civilians). Following them earns you extra cash, while breaking them forfeits the bet.
In The World Ends with You, the player can adjust his/her level as preferred; the lower the level used, the better the drops and experience.
On top of that, one can get a 100% completion rating from collecting everything that is to be collected, and defeating all the enemies. Though, it has no bearing on your game, other than showing off your game card to someone over wireless connection. Even the noise reports detail all the item drops, collecting them will add a star, which has no effect, except to inform you what it drops, and make it look pretty in the report. You can even fight any of your previous bosses too, on any level and difficulty you're on, and compete in a boss rush, and fight an absolutely Nintendo Hard boss.
Finally, there is the ability to finish the game with only your starting weapon (a badge with the ability of pyrokinesis), no clothes to give stat boosts, and no food eating to increase attack power and defense. The game must be played on the hardest difficulty level available at each stage of the game on level 1, and the 'Retry on Easy' feature for bosses is not allowed.
Play the Later Shin Megami Tensei games that have a demonic compendium, but do not use the compendium. Or do a Nuzlocke run of the game.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has a fairly well-known challenge: Solo Hard True Demon Ending mode. It consists of starting the game on Hard mode, playing only with the main character, and going the TDE path, which requires you to finish the Labyrinth ofAmala, and then fight the Bonus Bossright after fighting the Final Boss. Since in this game you can only have 8 skills at a time, and you can never relearn skills once forgotten, it consists of planning your skills for each single boss and dungeon before even starting the game.
In the first two SaGa games: using a horribly unbalanced party. Probably the most infamous is four monsters. In the first game, you can simply choose not to recruit anyone and attempt a Solo-Character Run.
Romancing SaGa: After completing the game once, you are given the option to power up the final boss using however many Cosmic Keystones you have collected. Five or fewer means only his HP will increase, while six or more (up to ten) means his other stats will increase as well. In all cases he becomes more powerful and hits multiple times in one turn.
To enhance the challenge, tack on a solo-character restriction. The fight reaches near Serial Escalation status. Another popular one is to take on his elder siblings Shirach and Death mano-e-mano — both of whom can be challenging even with a full party.
Try to defeat That One Boss Ewei without Multi Hit techs. His meat shields protect him from damage, and he regains them two turns after both are defeated, and those protect him from damage. Ewei also uses a Hit All magic spell and he can recover his own HP, plus he has a magic shield applied at the very start of battle to minimize the damage dealt to him.
Pokémon players can try the Mono-Type, Solo, No Evolutions, Speedruns, or Scramble challenges. Scramble entails other players picking your team for you; it's possible to end up with a team of Magikarp and Wurmple, for example. And you can't evolve them. Which sucks for you.
One of the more common & less intense self-imposed challenges is not using legendary or pseudo-legendary Pokemon. This puts you on an even playing field with the AI, which (usually) doesn't use them.
Try the Permadeath run: If a Pokemon faints, it gets released. Good luck with the Elite Four...
And the "No-Whiteout" challenge. If all of your Pokémon in the party faint, the game is over and you have to restart. Getting that Pokédex completion can really suck.
A more minor challenge is challenging Gym Leaders with exactly the same number of Pokemon the Gym Leaders use.
There's a related version called the "Nuzlocke Challenge", named after the comic of the challenge's creator. The challenge is simple: All faintings are permanent (either via releasing, just keeping them in a box permanently, or transferring to a later gen game if you really want to), and you're only allowed to catch the first Pokémon you see on any given route or cave. Also, you need to give all the Pokémon you catch nicknames. Completing the challenge? Less simple.
There are also optional rules some players add to make it even harder like not using items... or only using items. note i.e. no healing at Pokémon centers
Taken Up to Eleven with the "Wedlocke Challenge" officially created by Marriland, where the Pokémon you catch you create pairs out of that must fight alongside each other. Once a pair is created, it's permanent until one of the Pokémon dies or you release it at will (which you probably won't want to), and you can't deposit any Pokémon in your PC barring that situation. Once you choose your Pokémon for battle, you can only switch for its partner. So much for switch training and being able to easily level up your entire team at will. Yeah, good lock with that.
Pokémon X and Y brings us the Wonderlocke Challenge, where you follow the standard rules of the Nuzlocke Challenge, except you must Wonder Trade away whatever you catch and use what you get from that instead. The catch? Wonder Trade is entirely random. Optionally, instead of releasing fainted Pokémon, you must Wonder Trade them again. This results in something similar to the Scramble challenge mentioned above, only even more random.
The only "wild" Pokémon you may use (outside of your starter) are of Bug, Dark, Ghost, and Poison type, and the Rattata line or that generation's equivalent (Sentret, Zigzagoon, Bidoof, Patrat).
You may use Pokémon outside those types by stealing them from fellow Trainers.
When battling an important Trainer (Rival, Gym Leaders, Team Leaders, E4, Champ) you may only steal their last Pokémon.
If the game you are playing has Team Rocket as the enemy team, avoid as many Team Rocket battles as possible. If the enemy team is not Team Rocket, you must battle them as much as possible.
A variant "Random Pokemon" challenge, similar to the above Scramble: as early as possible, get six different friends to each trade you an egg without telling you or each other what's in it. When those six eggs hatch, whatever they are, that's your team for the rest of the game (permitting evolution, and one HM slave if you don't get anything suitable from your friends).
And the "Hippie Challenge", which is all about being a pacifist, protecting the environment and wildlife, and boycotting big business:
Avoid battles whenever possible.
Never make wild Pokemon faint.
Never store Pokemon in PC boxes (don't catch more than you can carry).
You must pick up items on the ground.
Never throw out items.
Don't buy supplies from Poke-Marts if you can help it.
Choose one Nation to be a part of, Water, Earth, Fire, or Air.
Only catch pokemon that are in your respective element.
Earth: Ground, Rock, Steel, and Fighting.
Water: Water, Ice, Grass, and Poison.
Fire: Fire, Electric, Dark and Dragon.
Air: Flying, Psychic, Ghost and Bug.
You are not the avatar. You gotta deal with it.
You may catch a pokemon if it will became a type of your nation (I.E. Earth can have a Torchic because it will become a Fighting type)
If it evolves and is not a part of your typing scheme, then out may not use it anymore.
Normal and Fairy-types are free game unless they have a secondary typing. (I.E. Everyone can have a Ratata, but only Air tribes can have a Pidgey, Water Tribes can have a Bibarel, etc.)
For Pokémon Mystery Dungeon players, their biggest challenges involve Kecleon. Firstly, there's recruiting one- even under the absolute best of conditions, they have about a 0.1% chance of recruitment. Craftier players can try to steal from Kecleon. This is obviously more difficult than it sounds, since stealing will result in swarms of extremely high-level Kecleon that can double the speed of any other Kecleon in the room, and being defeated will turn the entire player's inventory into the totally useless Plain Seeds. And for the truly gutsy, there's defeating Kecleon.
Completionists and collectors have the "Living Pokédex" challenge, which requires one of every species in the PC at once, in National Pokédex order. If you don't have access to previous generations or cheats, good luck.
Due to the way the level up system works, it's possible to go through Lunar Knights without any status boosts. This is especially amusing when you can be at level 99 with stats of 1 in everything.
Vagrant Story has an in-game list of challenges, most of which can only be completed in New Game + mode. These range from using a specific weapon type thousands of times, to finishing the game in less than 10 hours, to doing each block puzzle in record time, to completing the bestiary, to getting the ultimate sword from one enemy in one room of a mapless dungeon, to playing the whole game without saving.
Contact can be made so much more fun by limiting yourself to using only one costume and one type of weapon. Since the game only forces you to use other suits/weapons once (Aegis), there really isn't anything stopping you from doing this. A further challenge could be to use the costumes and weapons not designed for battle. Literal Lethal Chef, anyone?
Enter Bizkit047, who meets the above description and has more restrictions for several of these fights.
Want to get an idea of what it takes to be this good? Watch some of these hard Lvl. 1 CM no damage fights with restrictions: Terra and Saix Data.
Xigbar Datawith all these restrictions is simply insane.
His several hacked fights. One Sephiroth? Make it two. Watch this Xigbar x2 + Xaldin fight. Make sure to look at related videos and look at the other hacked fights from there (such as triple Sephiroth and quintuple Sephiroth/Terra).
In Re:Chain of Memories, Bizkit047 also takes up the no HP+ Challenge on Proud.
Meanwhile, apulapul2000 has some very good time attack videos.
Try beating him without Ultima Weapon, and use only the very first Keyblade with no abilities or accessories in any game.
358 Days/2 features an item called the Extreme Ring, which puts your HP down to one, and seems to have been made for this trope.
Likewise, because of the game's unique level-up system, Days is quite easy to do a Low Level Run with.
Try beating any Suikoden by recruiting as few characters as possible while doing a Speed Run using no runes whatsoever. Some of the boss fights and Imperial Army battles are practically Unwinnable unless you are very lucky.
The flexible nature of Baten Kaitos Origins lends itself well to various types of challenges. Given how hardOrigins is normally, these tend to be murderously Nintendo Hard.
Single character run (those Cross Pendants are a godsend), no specials run, specials-only run, basic attack only run...
Since the discovery of a glitch making it possible to skip most of Mercury Lighthouse (where Mia is recruited), "no Mia" runs of the first game have become mildly popular among Golden Sun enthusiasts, along with the usual "minimum Djinn" or "starting equipment only" runs for the rest of the series.
In the Mario & Luigi series, low level runs are quite a common self imposed challenge among players, with Bowser's Inside Story even rewarding you if you manage to beat it at level 17 or less. Good luck in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team though! There's someone actually trying to beat it while only killing bosses and required enemies, and they're literally finding that every boss from Big Massif onwards kills Mario or Luigi in just one hit as a result. You can see their playthrough at this link
Bravely Default has customizable difficulty settings allowing you to turn off EXP gain, money gain, and set the random encounter rate as high or as low as you want. Combine this with Hard mode, and you have a Challenge Gamer's paradise.
Shoot Em Up
R-Type skill runs generally involve non-use of the Force Device or Wave Cannon, not killing anything but bosses that would kill you and things that directly obstruct your progress, or some combination of the above. Oddly, the games appear to have anticipated this, since in III, Delta and Final the game will give you a Force Device for the final stage of the last boss if you don't have one. Delta and Final also keep track of various handicaps you might impose on yourself, like beating the game without Force or Wave Cannon.
Ikaruga, or at least the Xbox 360 version, actually provides for a scoreboard for "Dot Eater" play - meaning you don't fire a single shot, collecting points by surviving and by using your shield to absorb every last bullet you can.
This is much harder than you may think, as there are points throughout the game that are literal walls. Without the ability to fire and destroy these walls, you have to align the Ikaruga just right to slip through the single pixel holes in them.
Many hardcore Shoot-Em-Up fans attempt to beat Shoot-Em-Ups on a single credit. In fact, one could argue that this is the only legitimate way to beat such a game, since having and utilizing unlimited continues defeats the challenge of avoiding enemies and enemy fire.
Certain Shoot Em Ups where it's possible (e.g. the Touhou games) have challenges such as No Horizontal/No Vertical, which, depending on the stage or the game, can be deadly hard, if not outright impossible, even on Easy. Others include no Focusing, which requires innate knowledge of the player's hitbox, 1lc, which is not dying at all, 0b1lc, which is the same thing... but no bombing either.
For a particularly masochistic challenge, try hacking Embodiment of Scarlet Devil's rank to the highest point, as seen here (or worse) — Flandre's formerly simplistic non-spell patterns turn into nigh-unavoidable death traps, and her final card is nightmarishly fast.
Scoring high in the games itself is a Self-Imposed Challenge. Scoring high in Touhou involves making things as dangerous as possible: grazing thousands of bullets, often using your bombs to clear away bullets, then suiciding to reset your bomb count and get even more points. A compendium of world records can be found at Touhou Wiki. If you download the replays on the page, you will be astounded at the challenges the players put themselves through. The former world-record Subterranean Animism replay by "yukarin" is particularly notable, getting very close to maxing out the graze counter at 97,585 graze.
Pacifist Runs in general. In Touhou, all enemy attacks are on a timer, and timing them out is a victory condition; the catch is that these timers are a lot longer than the amount of time you should need to beat the attack by shooting at it. One particularly extreme case is "Virtue of Wind God" from Mountain of Faith, which has a timer that lasts two and a half minutes, which for a shmup is absurdly long - and it's That One Attackwhen you're shooting at it. Timing out this card is practically the Challenge Gamer holy grail.
A particular challenge that seems exclusive to Touhou is running the game at 90FPS, or 1.5x speed. Strictly speaking, it's possible to set the FPS in Touhou to any amount higher than the default 60 with the right patches, but 90 is easily the most popular. Reasoning Setting the FPS much higher than 90 would result in a game that borders on unplayable, while setting it much lower wouldn't be much different from the vanilla game in many cases.
It's even possible to combine the above and time out attacks at higher FPS, resulting in videos like this. While Virtue of Wind God itself has never even come close to being done at 90FPS, one Challenge Gamerdid manage to do it at 75FPS, as seen here.
Giga Wing is infamous for its ridiculously inflated scores. Some players play just the opposite of the way it was meant to be played; by aiming for the lowest score possible, or even not scoring at all for as long as possible. The latter is essentially a Pacifist Run on steroids; you get awarded points for having bombs at the end of a stage.
Zero-score runs are much easier to do in its sequel. Your score multiplier starts at 0, which means you won't score a single point if you never collect a medal. Same with Spiritual SuccessorMars Matrix.
Turn Based Strategy
Final Fantasy Tactics, already a challenging game with a cheating computer, overwhelming odds and some of the hardest bosses in all of video game history (though strongly mitigated by almost all class having at least one Game Breaker), has a whole FAQ on GameFAQs dedicated to different challenges. It has been completed with one character with a single class and no out-of-class abilities with almost every one of the 20+ classes in the game.
It has also been beaten using a single class and no out-of-class abilities with every class, though with a full party. This notably includes the Calculator, whose ability is to cast other classes' magic on all characters fitting certain criteria on the battlefield - but you don't learn any of that other magic in this challenge, and the Calculator "chassis" is weak, fragile, and incredibly slow. Another FAQ was written to tell you how to fight every battle with the Calculators, sometimes all the way to turn-by-turn strategies. It still comes down to pure luck for many of them.
The only solo class run that has been deemed impossible is the Mime. The Lucavi boss Queklain/Cuchulainn has no abilities that can be mimicked, so there is no way to damage him.
A popular way to mix up your next Fire Emblem playthrough is to limit what units you can use. The most common are lord-only runs, bu these can range from Solo Character Runs to broad restrictions like generals-only or redheads-only. Another common challenge is no-promotions.
One of the very oldest "classic" challenges is permadeath- all decisions are final, no Rage Quit to restart the chapter. This is a common tack-on to other challenges (and some fans would say that this is the only real way to play the game, period).
Archayanami's Female Only Challenge on Gamefaqs. It's not truly female-only, since you're still allowed to build up your main lord, and if you're playing Hector's story, building up Bartre is also allowed because this is necessary to get Karla.
The toughest one of these is probably the "communist playthrough", in which you're only allowed to take your lowest level/class characters. Obligatory characters are only allowed to carry anything if their level doesn't exceed the highest level of the other units in the group.
It could be argued that completing a runthrough without allowing a single character to die (which, given that every unit is uniquely characterised and not easily replaceable, is a common practice) is a self-imposed challenge in itself; after all, the survival of only the Lords and mission-specific characters are necessary to progress. And, since many of the games that Western players know autosave after every move made, the player must restart the mission from the beginning if they wish to keep a character that had just been killed. In fact, a playthrough in which all deaths (that don't result in a game over) are accepted could well prove to be a test of the player's willpower.
Try KOing Kishuna in his second appearance, in the chapter "Genesis". You know, the one where he retreats after taking a single attack—or after you open the door to his chamber, so only ranged attacks can even reach him, and he prevents all magic use within a 10-square radius so no OP Luna crits for that One-Hit KO you need? Yeah. Now, if you thought that was hard in Hector's Story, where you can use either the Brave Bow to get two attacks off despite him being too quick to double or the Killer Bow to greatly increase your critical hit chance, try doing it in Eliwood's, where he doesn't move from the center of his chamber and can therefore only be hit by the Longbow, which has no innate critical hit chance and is weaker than any other bow.
The Jagged Alliance series is fairly open ended, and lets players choose their own method. Most go with the 'get money, buy more guns, hire more mercenaries' approach, but some (more masochist) players will make a drive for the final city with one team, or even with a single soldier. There was even one who attempted to finish the game by sneaking and only using a knife, which can be tricky later on against the hordes of machine-gun-wielding commandos and tanks...
Even the Super Robot Wars games are not exempt. Examples: no-upgrade challenges, no pilot improvement (in those games that have it) and for the particularly sadistic, using only a small group of units when not forced to field others, usually from a certain series, such as only using Gundams, only using the ATX team, or only using Tekkamen.
The "True to the Show" Challenge forbids you from deploying anyone who was not present in the episodes the scenario is based on and requires that characters only attack enemies from their series (Koji Kabuto is only allowed to fight Dr. Hell's Mechabeasts, for example). You must also finish bosses using the attack that killed them or forced their retreat in the show (for example, you must kill Gentle Chapman with George and Chibodee's Rose Magnum Hurricane). Can be quite tricky, seeing as some series only contribute one unit.
In the original Shining Force, it is possible, by making use of a glitch, to skip the first set of characters who are supposed to join your party. Do that, and also skip every single other non-mandatory character, and you'll end up just shy of a full party of 12 at the end of the game. It's a fun little challenge — not excruciatingly difficult, but hard enough to be interesting. There's an FAQ for this challenge on GameFAQs, though it mistakenly lists Diane as mandatory.
A rare multiplayer self-imposed challenge: In Battle for Wesnoth, playing the Knalgan faction and recruiting no dwarves (only footpad, thief, and poacher) is referred to as "HODOR", after a member named HODOR who exclusively uses these tactics, who is nonetheless one of the highest ranked players on the ladder server.
X-COM: UFO Defense has several possible challenges. They range from simply avoiding GameBreakers such as psionics and blaster launchers, to complex rules such as "only officers can use certain equipment" and "don't sell your superior weapons tech". Also try using only a few soldiers. Or one soldier. Or "Bruce Lee" - 1 man, 1 stun rod. You can even win by attacking only a single alien battleship!
The Antarctica Challenge: Build only one base in Antarctica, the only continent guaranteed not to be in the path of any major UFO incursions.
Other Video Games
Nintendo's official Super Game Boy Player's Guide suggests challenging yourself by using the palette feature to change the colors around so that enemies, hazards or the player become invisible; or using the custom border function to paint over the game screen, covering up some parts.
God Hand has a built-in Self-Imposed Challenge: early in the game, the hero has a "Kick Me" sign slapped on his back, which makes enemies stronger. It will fall off if he uses the God Hand or God Reels. Finishing the game with the "Kick Me" sign still in place (that is, never using those powers) unlocks a bonus: a music CD.
The Oregon Trail: Forget braving the wilderness, there are people who'll try to kill all their party members before reaching the first fort, usually by doing normally stupid things such as fording rivers that are above fording level, not treating injuries, and getting themselves shot on purpose.
The Super Smash Bros.. games distribute points based on your performance in battles; high points for playing well, and you can actually lose points for relying too much on a single move. Unless you only use a single move, or any number of other self imposed challenges. One of the trickiest was called "Switzerland" and asked you to finish the round without ever attacking or taking damage.
The Switzerland bonus is actually pretty easy to achieve on Adventure Mode where you just have to dodge all of the enemies, keep jumping over obstacles, and not attack. The hard bonus to achieve is the No Damage Run bonus, although this is significantly easier on All-Star Mode.
ProJared invented the "Ganondorf Challenge" for Melee. The challenge is to go into a one-on-one 3-stock Melee match against a CPU Level 9 Ganondorf, with his handicap set to 9 and yours set to 3, and take him down on the Temple stage, which Jared believes to be the best stage for the challenge.
No More Heroes has the interesting challenge of completing the game using the most basic weapon, the Blood Berry. This can range from being mildly easy on Sweet to insanely hard on Bitter. On Bitter, towards the end of the game, bosses can have around 400% more health than normal, and mooks become walking brick walls.
Diablo has its very own sub-community based on the premise of "variant characters": characters obeying special rules. The indisputable kings of these variant characters are the Naked Mage (no armor, no weapons, just pure magic), the Beyond Naked Mage (whatever armor and weapons you like — providing they're all cursed), and the Barbarian (non-magical weapons and armor only — no magic, no spells, no potions, no fear).
One player had a character called IreneTheInfirm: a hardcore sorceress who could not wear or wield anything, cast any spells or assign any stat points, and was thus limited to punching away for 1-2 damage a go, using the act 1 mercenary as the main source of damage (who also couldn't use any items). Somehow, Irene ended up killing Andariel.
In Diablo 2, a user on the inc.gamers forum demonstrated the story of Anna Goanna. She was an Amazon-class hardcore, as in "if you die you die permanently," character who completed the game on all difficulty levels with only cracked/low-quality items, a summonable NPC support fighter and a hireling fighter. Some bosses took hours to finish. When she finally beat the last boss on the Harder Than Hard difficulty, her name-personalized cracked sash sold in-game for multiple high-value items.
Several challenges have popped up in the Monster Hunter series once they have their strongest set of armor and weaponry. The most common are the naked run (no armor at all), to use a really bad weapon against a certain monster (Greatsword vs. Plesioth, no felynes), a marathon run (specialized quest that require you to kill 2 or more of a certain monster simultaneously) and the Arrowhead Cutoff (using only the Circle attack of a Bow, which swings one of your bolts like a makeshift sword, to cut off the tail of a monster, most often a Tigrex.)
It is possible to complete Pikmin without ever getting Blue Pikmin, though you still do need to use them in some sense—there's a flower that allows you to transform a handful of pikmin into blues, but they only appear at very rare points in the game.
It's possible to beat Pikmin 2 (collecting 10,000 Pokos) without ever leaving the Valley of Repose. This takes a while since eventually your only source of treasure will be mook corpses, which go for 10-15 Pokos each.
Warcraft III allows a player to set the max HP on EVERYTHING they make (units, heroes, buildings, etc.) to be 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, or the standard 100% before the match begins.
Starcraft II: Enter the Day Nine Daily, where we learn to be a better gamer. Except on monday where we just dick around. Indeed, on Funday Monday, the host, Day Nine, imposes a self-imposed challenge on your gameplay such as, "You must only attack on creep", "You must make a planetary fortress at your opponents natural", or "Make all your pylons outside your base." The best and funniest entries are casted by the host on a live stream.
Creativity in objectives is a staple of Paradox Interactive games due to their open-ended nature. Crusader Kings in particular is fertile ground: starting as a minor count and becoming king, installing True Cognatic (males and females inherit on equal ground) in realms that don't have Basque culture, breeding your bloodline to have all the good traits or muddling it with imbeciles, etc.
The early Creatures fandom was turned turbulent by one user, Anti-Norn, who tortured (physically, psychologically, and even genetically) the virtual pets in the game before uploading them, challenging players to nurture them back to health. It backfired - Anti-Norn was ostracized from the community and received a large number of death threats.
The popular Football Manager series of sports management games has a community of players who try to achieve glory with the poorest, smallest, lowest-level teams in the game. They're called L.L.M.ers or Llamas.
Which is similar to what most players of any Fifa soccer game do. Pick a relatively unknown team and make all the way to the top of the first division.
The Sims 2 community is full of these, because the game doesn't come with hard-and-fast built-in goals. The most common are the Legacy Challenge (keeping a family going for ten generations without cheating) and the Asylum Challenge (filling a house with Sims and only controlling one of them, with the goal of nobody dying of starvation because they didn't think to make themselves some ramen). Even these have spawned sub-challenges and handicaps over time.
For those interested a list of just some of the challenges can be seen here 
The same goes for SimCity in all its forms: while some versions have "scenarios" that give you a goal and a time limit, most players set their own aims for the game in general. As a result, the SimCity community has come up with a number of challenges to keep players entertained when they run out of ideas.
Once people are sick of playing Tamagotchi the normal way—to keep them alive and happy as long as possible, they do the opposite; try to kill them off as fast as possible.
Metal Gear Solid and beyond was made with this sort of thing in mind, with various ranks and accomplishments. There is the Pacifist Run (which nets you at least a Pigeon rank and is needed to get higher ranks), the Stealth Run (which nets you at least a Chameleon rank and is needed to get higher ranks), and a no-kill no-continue no-Alert Speed Run on the highest difficulty will get you a suitably heroic title, usually Big Boss. There's stranger challenges (like eating all possible animals in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater which nets you the Markhor rank), and there's still a slew of strange player inspired ones, such as using only the handguns or completing the whole game while smoking a health-sapping cigarette. There's also some very bizarre bonus titles that take a strange mind to get or see the worth of getting - ending Metal Gear Solid 2 with a Ration-eating sea louse in your inventory nets you the Sea Louse rank, and ending Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater with a Stamina-sapping leech attached to your body gives you the Leech rank. Kojima has claimed the reason he included the Naked camouflage in Metal Gear Solid 3 was to 'make players want to finish the game without using clothes'.
You can also get a Wooden Sword, which you can then upgrade to be the weakest weapon in the game. It's quite effective against normal enemies, though, due to the fact that there's a special effect that makes them disappear, allowing you to not kill anything. This effect, however, does not apply to the bosses.
Thief players originated the "Ghost Run" — finishing the game without being detected or leaving any trace of your passing other than missing treasures. Some take it so far as to re-lock every lock. Ghost runners will try this challenge in any other game that it appears to be doable.
Resident Evil 4 lends itself very well to self-imposed challenges. Some of the most popular include the no merchant run, in which the player can only use weapons they find lying around and cannot get any upgrades or bonus items (whether selling excess ammo is allowed varies); the handgun and knife run, in which weapons can be bought and upgraded at will as long as they're handguns; the knife and grenade run, and the no merchant handgun and knife run, in which the player can only use the knife and unupgraded handgun. It helps keep a self-challenger honest that you can just kill The merchant the first time you see him and not risk temptation later on.
The game can also be beaten without ever running. Outside of quick-time events of course. As you can imagine any situation with a time limit suddenly requires near perfect shooting (not to mention luck) and quite a few boss fights will end with you forced to knife them to death rather than be killed trying to walk to the other side of the room for some ammo. This is quite the challenge on even normal difficulty, and virtually impossible on hard.
In general, these kinds of challenges are fairly common in the Resident Evil series in general, because many unlockables can only be obtained by beating the game as quickly as possible.
It's entirely possible to complete any of the Fatal Frame games using only the weakest film, but have you tried it without upgrading your camera?
Beat Dead Space without ever touching a workbench. Not hard enough? Try beating Dead Space 2 without ever touching a workbench...on Hardcore.
There's the "One Gun" challenge (and achievement) in the first game, requiring beating the game using only the Plasma Cutter. The catch? It's actually a pretty viable strategy, especially on higher difficulties.
A no-trader run in any of STALKER games. Most traders are sources of missions as well as a way to buy goods. Not buying anything (merely getting gear as rewards from their missions) is doable, but also involves murdering just about anyone who comes into view to loot them for gear, ammo, and medicine. Other options include no artifacts or pistol-caliber weapons only. As if the game needed to be any more difficult.
Or, if you're really nuts, the Badass Longcoat run. Use any weapons and artifacts you like, but you can only use the leather duster for armor, which provides virtually no production against the numerous threats you'll face.
Five Nights at Freddy's has 4-20 mode, where one goes to the Custom night and sets all four animatronics to level 20, the hardest difficulty, and tries to make it through the night. It's insanely difficult and only beatable by really skilled power management, reflexes, and a lot of luck. Thus far, only eightteen people have been able to win. Not even the creator of FNAF has been able to do it.
Minecraft, aside from avoiding the monsters, has no goals and would get boring very quickly if players didn't keep thinking up insane megaprojects to do.
Players also do self-imposed challenges with their gameplay style. In reality, a safe shelter can be made by digging 3 blocks straight down and capping off the hole made in the process. However, "How to survive your first night" tutorials usually show much more complex solutions, ranging from a simple hole in the cliff to a small house. The other parts of the gameplay style is also often self-imposed. It's easy to put treasure chests everywhere to minimalize the loss of items after death. Usually that's not done.
Some of the challenges players make are more unusual. There's "undercity challenge" where player spends only the first day above ground and rest of the time under ground.
Some have actually succeeded in completing the challenge of slaying the Enderdragon in Hardcore Mode, a mode that deletes your save file should you die, so this becomes a no death run. Getting TO the dragon is a challenge in itself, requiring lots of materials, time, and patience, even by normal game playing.
There's also the Skyblock challenge, in which you're spawned onto a small island in the sky with one tree, and must complete certain objectives (make a tree farm, make a stone generator, etc) being compounded by even MORE self-imposed challenges.
Basically, any Player-created map that is listed under Survival is an example of a challenge. Along with "No Workbench" (only use the 2x2 crafting slot you have and not the 3x3 that the workbench gives you) "No chests" (You carry everything with you, nothing that can store items like Dispensers, furnaces; do not place blocks down for storage) "No shelter" (Open air campsites are okay, buildings/anything with walls and a roof is not.)
One enterprising Muslim gamer wrote an extensive topic on following Islamic dietary and behavioural restrictions as closely as the game allows.
Prior to an update that changed world generation, there was the 404 Challenge. Inputting "404" into the seed generator before creating a world would cause the world to form very specifically. Somewhere there would be a large gravel patch. When this patch was tampered with, it opened into a huge sinkhole that revealed a colossal cave system stretching for miles and nearly to the bottom of the world. From there, the player could go through all kinds of restrictions while exploring the system.
Non-Video Game Examples
Anime and Manga
Might Guy and Rock Lee of Naruto will declare that if they fail in a task, they will challenge themselves with another even more onerous task as punishment. These challenges can be chained together if they fail at any step. While seeming ridiculous to others, it's revealed to be an important training tool for the two as they are constantly finding and pushing their own limits.
Kenpachi Zaraki of Bleach deliberately weakens himself in numerous ways, so that his fights will be more difficult.
The bells tied into his hair allow his opponents to hear his every movement. While he says that his Zanpakuto is perpetually in its "unsealed" state, the fact that he refuses to view it as anything other than a tool as opposed to a borderline sentient being hamstrings their combined combat output due to "compatibility issues" with their respective spiritual energies. However, the most egregious weakening measure Kenpachi employs is the eyepatch over his (completely operational) right eye. Lined with strange mouths, the eyepatch in fact siphons off his excess spiritual energy, rendering him weaker whenever he wears it.
But when he finds a suitably strong opponent, he does a full-on Let's Get Dangerous: the eyepatch comes off, which lets his spiritual energy flow freely (the sheer strength of it alone can take down weaker enemies), and he stops swinging his Zanpakuto like a madman and actually focuses on the enemy.
In one episode of Pokémon, a trainer named Miki specifically asks that Brock and Ash use Fire Type Pokémon to battle her Skarmory, despite the fact that Skarmory - a Steel Type - has disadvantage due to Type. She feels that such battles make her Pokémon tougher.
Variant formats for Collectible Card Games may be considered a form of Self-Imposed Challenge, especially those that aren't supported for Tournament Play. Magic: The Gathering, for example, has Rainbow Stairwell, in which the player's deck must contain six cards of each color, one of which costs one mana, another which costs two, et cetera, up to six, and Highlander (AKA Singleton), where players build a deck with no more than one copy of any card that isn't a basic land.
Elder Dragon Highlander, a.k.a. Commander, takes the Highlander format and adds additional restrictions: You must include a Legendary creature in your deck, which determines what colors of cards you may play otherwise, and the rest of your deck must be exactly 99 cards.
Peasant Magic a.k.a. Pauper requires that your deck either contain only commons, or up to 8 uncommons. Rares are right out.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: in the recent "world championship" games, some of the Duel Point bonuses are awarded for unconventional deck compositions. These variants include: no traps, no spells, only 1 copy per card, only 1 type or attribute of monsters, monsters of each possible level, only level 1 monsters, and no monsters at all.
Some users will use a keyboard with no labels, or a pre-labeled keyboard with the labels rubbed out. This can be helpful for those who are learning to touch-type. A popular mechanical keyboard designed to facilitate this is the Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate.
Super Size Me is one giant self-imposed challenge where a guy goes for an all-McDonald's diet for thirty days. He even has his own rules and everything, such as walking no more than 5,000 steps a day, supersizing his food only when asked note Which after the movie was released was discontinued, trying out every single item on the McDonald's menu at least once, and finishing everything on the plate.
In The Princess Bride, the Man in Black and Inigo both took the self-imposed challenge to kill their opponent (each other) only with their non-dominant left hands. Both ultimately fail, which turns out to be for the better.
Meta-example: The animators at Disney are constantly pushing the limits of animation and CGI through these. Two of their most recent films were created to give them practice animating things considered insanely difficult to do: hair (Tangled) and snow/ice (Frozen). They succeeded magnificently.
In-universe example in Life, the Universe and Everything: Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged's quest to insult the entire universe, one person at a time, in alphabetical order. Before you complain about newborn beings early in the alphabet messing up what he's already insulted, time travel is very available in this universe.
The time travel part works both ways - he gets messed up due to time travel shenanigans involving Arthur Dent himself (also doubles as a Brick Joke...) And he knows it'd be logically impossible - He decided to do it just so he'd have a purpose in life.
Gadsby, by Ernest Vincent Wright, is a 50,000 word novel that doesn't use the letter "e" anywhere.
Similarly La Disparition, by Georges Perec, also has no letter 'e'. What's more impressive is that it was translated from French into English by Gilbert Adair under the title A Void, and the translation doesn't use the letter 'e' either.
When "Blunt's Brilliant Detectives" have their first case in the Tommy and Tuppence collection Partners in Crime, Tuppence spontaneously guarantees to the client that they can solve the case in 24 hours, much to Tommy's horror. It turns out she's already solved the case - or rather she was instrumental in creating it. The challenge comes when other clients hear about it...
There's also a Hercule Poirot story in which he decides to prove that "the little grey cells" are superior to running around looking at footprints by solving a case without ever visiting the scene of the crime or talking to any of the suspects.
Bennett Cerf, one of the publishers at Random House Books, challenged an author to write a children's book using a vocabulary of 50 words or less. The final count: 49 different words. The author: Theodore Geisel, aka "Dr. Seuss". The book: Green Eggs and Ham.
In the short story "The Problem of Cell 13", a man imposes a challenge onto himself to escape a prison cell within a week. That is to say, he asks someone to lock him in the cell purely to prove that he can escape it.
Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother frequently challenges himself with increasingly bizarre trials, such as refusing to take off a ridiculous set of overalls until he gets laid.
Barney: No one, I mean no one, could get laid wearing these... challenge accepted!
The Muppet Show: Frank Oz had one. At the beginning of each Swedish Chef sketch, the Chef - controlled by Oz - would fling a pair of spatulas or other cooking implements over his shoulders. Oz kept challenging himself to knock down every item on the back wall, and even managed it once.
Double Dare 2000 offered a team that took a Physical Challenge in the second round the option of adding on the "Triple Dare Challenge." Maybe they'd have to do the challenge blindfolded or one-handed, maybe they'd have to catch more items/fill a bigger container, maybe they'd have to do it in 20 seconds instead of the normal 30, but if accepted and completed, it awarded $300 (rather than the usual $200) and a bonus prize; failure handed the $300 and the prize to the other team.
In Chris Kyle's American Sniper, he notes that there were so many insurgents around Ramadi that the soldiers and SEALs fighting there would deliberately try out new weapons just for the challenge.
No pistol kill yet? You have to get at least one.
Society For Creative Anachronism combat etiquette calls for these. If you score a "disabling" blow on your opponent's arm or leg, he is required to fight without using that limb. (Fighting one-handed if the arm is "disabled", fighting sitting down if the leg is "disabled".) It is considered appropriate for you to refrain from using the corresponding limb to keep the fight fair. Note that if this leaves the fight unwinnable, say because neither of you can deliver a solid hit swinging greatswords one-handed, the "uninjured" fighter may disregard this limitation in order to end the fight.
Data East's The Who's Tommy can be played in "Tommy mode," where Blinders unfold and block the player's view of the lower flippers for the entire game.
Reportedly, when the Celtics were facing one of the teams near the bottom of the standings, Larry Bird used to impose these on himself. One common one was going a game shooting exclusively with his left hand.
Also reportedly, this is how the Harlem Globetrotters went from 'straight' basketball to the colourful antics they're known for.
Likewise, mountain climbers may seek to climb all peaks above a given height (possibly in the world, or in a given country, or in a given state/province), the highest peak on each continent, the highest point in each state, etc.
Few runners can hope to ever reach the level of winning a marathon, but many set themselves the goal of simply completing one.
Cyclists consider completing a century ride their equivalent of running a marathon. It involves biking at least 100 miles in one ride. Even though this has gotten easier with modern low weight, quite comfortable carbon fiber bikes, it's still a daunting enough challenge that most large bike manufacturers release models specially designed for these kinds of rides.
Some golfers will occasionally play holes or entire rounds with fewer than the 14 clubs the rules allow them to have. They might do it because it forces them to hit shots they wouldn't normally hit with clubs they wouldn't normally use them for. They might do it for fun. They might do it because their friend saw Tin Cup too many times and dared them to play with just their 7 iron. There are even a few "3 Club" tournaments, where players can pick any three clubs they want for a round, but only get those three. This leads to the fun of trying to putt with an 8 iron or some such.
Thisxkcd inspired an actual Flash implementation of the game. It's pretty unplayable (that's kind of the point) with the usual Tetris goals, but a MeFite pointed out the game is actually interesting and reasonably challenging if you try to end the game with as few pieces as you can.
It is very possible to score lines in the flash game though.
In the comments section of Skin Horse, one reader would post the occasional Filk Song relating to that day's comic strip. Then, starting around November of 2008, he started writing one every day. He also posted a (nearly) daily filk to Shaenon Garrity's Narbonic, which was then in its "Director's Cut" re-runs. That was over 2700 filks ago. Shameless self-promotion. Somebody stop me, please!
In general, any webcomic which consistently limits itself to a certain size/number of panels per strip. 95% of the time, there's absolutely nothing stopping the artist from making each strip as big or as small as they want.
One episode of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? had Carmen and her V.I.L.E. gang set out to prove they don't need all their high-tech toys and gadgetry to successfully pull off several western-themed heists.