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Surprise Difficulty
It's Rated "E for Everyone", not "E for Easy".

"Silly gamers expecting games for kids to be easy... have you forgotten who the target demographic of the original Nintendo Hard games were?"
Troper Servbot

Naturally there are a lot of things that happen that we just don't expect. This trope is when you just don't expect a game to be Nintendo Hard. You'd expect a game like Contra to be hard. But Pocky And Rocky, a game where the eponymous characters are a Chibi Miko and a raccoon dog, can still hand your ass to you.

Difficult games can be anywhere, in any genre. Of course this is YMMV, but the fact of the matter is that difficult games don't exactly have any kind of official way to mark themselves, so they can show up when we least expect them. As these examples show, woe betide those who judge a game by surface "cuteness".

When occurring in licensed games based on children's series, chances are that you expected the Animation Age Ghetto to be applied to them. Often goes hand-in-hand with Art-Style Dissonance, as people often expect a "cute" game to be non-challenging, both in mechanics and in plot. Also another reason American Kirby Is Hardcore.

Compare Sequel Difficulty Spike, Harder Than Hard.

Contrast Sequel Difficulty Drop, Easier Than Easy.


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[[folder:Shoot Em Up]]
  • The "Cute 'em Up" sub-genre, a variation of the Shoot Em Ups and Bullet Hell genres, with everything replaced with cute cartoon creatures, like bunnies, penguins, and kitties. Rarely localized outside of Japan, and then usually just in PAL regions, those unfamiliar with these games may think these games would be easy or even "kiddie". Don't do that!
    • Touhou Project might very well be the most well known example. Fans know what to expect. Those who aren't go in for the loads of cute little girls in frilly dresses living in a cheerful fairy land, only to find out at about level 2 or 3 that these little girls love shooting enough ordnance to carpet bomb the entire United States. And Touhou is actually not particularly hard compared to other games that would fit this entry.
    • The Pocky And Rocky series is one of the few to be localized in North America.
    • The Parodius is a light-hearted, colorful take on Konami's other shoot-em-up mainstay Gradius - and is just as Nintendo Hard.
    • And Otomedius. First stage, easy. Second stage, not too painful. Third and fourth stages, painful. The remaining stages will tear your lungs out.
  • Everyday Shooter is a cool-looking little indie game. Despite its simple graphics, the game is much harder than it looks.
  • Similar to the Audiosurf example below, Space Invaders Infinity Gene can generate different stages based on whatever song you selected for your I Phone, leading to stages that are easier or harder than they look.
  • Beat Hazard can generate some surprisingly difficult sessions from certain audio files.
  • Play modern Bullet Hell games for long enough and you'll be in for a shock when you play older, "classical" Shoot 'em Up games. Fans who are used to Bullet Hell may attempt older shmups, expecting the difficulty to be cakewalk due to the lower bullet count, only to get sniped in the ship-sized hitbox by fast bullets into a quick Game Over; Raiden is notorious for "sniper" enemies that can kill the player with almost no advance warning. Labyrinthine level designs with Deadly Walls, like those in R-Type can also be very difficult for players accustomed to the open, wall-less stages of most bullet hell games. Last but not least, many older shmups have Check Points rather than respawning in place, as well as depriving you of most or all of your powerups upon death; while dying in Touhou or other Bullet Hell games typically only results in a slight drop (if any) in power alongside the life loss and scoring enhancements (if you're playing for score), dying even once in Gradius, for example, means losing all of your remaining lives in the 30 seconds if you do not have the skill to pull through wherever you just died in spite of your total loss of powerups.

  • Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. It starts off as a simple cutesy platformer until a certain level where the game stops having mercy and forces the player to go through several segments full of spikes and devilish enemies specifically made to be only avoided with the Dual-World Gameplay mechanic while the player still has to be careful with spikes and other hazards.
  • The Wizard of Oz for Super NES. Glitched-out platform and hit detection along with just about any kind of Fake Difficulty you can think of, this broken mess of a half-century old film adaption does everything in its power to make the player feel crippled and helpless in a twisted, sadistic world of brightly colored hell. As The Angry Video Game Nerd discovered, it's a game that needs to be seen to be believed.
  • Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. The series isn't known for easy games, but one theory has this game not released in the US at first because of its difficulty, more than it being a Mission Pack Sequel. Please note that this is an NES game, so that difficulty is in comparison to the original Nintendo Hard games! At the beginning of the game there's an easy method to get over 100 lives. You will need them all.
    • Don't let the bright and colorful graphics, along with characters appealing to kids, fool you in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Sunshine. They have lots of surprise challenges/obstacles that throw off even the most hardened platform gamers. The most famous ones are the challenges presented by the green lumas in Galaxy and a few of the sub-levels in Delfino Plaza in Sunshine.
    • Nobody who hasn't played the game would suspect that this vocal-only version of the original SMB track is the one used on the most fiendishly evil levels of Sunshine. Even worse is that, unlike in most levels of the 3D Mario games, they're mandatory! Oh, and you have to do them twice each for 100%.
      • At least during the return attempts, you have FLUDD back. Part of the challenge comes from your first attempt being without that hovering ability you've probably been taking for granted up until now.
      • And you will need FLUDD's help for those return attempts, for the additional challenge is a collect-the-coin challenge, timed. And the timer isn't generous.
    • There's also the older Mario Games, which usually started off easy enough but got insanely difficult as you went along, though some people underestimate them (and the series as a whole) for being "kiddy".
  • Mickey Mania. As the name suggests, it's a Mickey Mouse game. It's also ridiculously difficult even on its easiest difficulty level. The freakin' moose...god, that freakin' moose!
  • Billy Hatcher and The Giant Egg runs on this. It's very cute on the surface, but the bosses are pretty tough and the stages later on embody this trope.
    • Not to mention the Rainbow Eggs which are hard to find and even harder to get.
  • Rocket Knight Adventures and its sequel Sparkster were surprisingly tricky for their level of cutesiness as well.
  • The more recent Kirby games fall under this.
    • On standard difficulty, Kirby's Dream Land, the very first Kirby game, is very easy. However, if you enter the code to access the harder difficulty level, the game stops pulling punches.
    • Kirby Super Star has shorter stages and more bosses. The DS version adds even MORE bosses and more boss rushes.
    • For a person who had only played the somewhat offshoot-like Kirby 64, Nightmare in Dreamland lived up to its name, especially with how cheap the enemy respawns could be.
      • And Nightmare in Dreamland is actually easier than Kirby's Adventure, of which it is a remake.
    • Generally, the Kirby games were made to be accessable to anyone, including kids and newcomers to gaming. So they're usually rather easy if attempting a casual playthrough. Trying to go for 100% Completion, on the other hand...
    • Kirby's Epic Yarn deserves a special mention because you literally cannot die in the game, you only lose beads. The difficulty lies in collecting all the beads needed to get a gold medal or even progress to the next levels. Also the challenge levels can get fiendishly difficult.
  • Loco Roco's cute and whimsical art direction masks its diabolically evil gameplay in Midnight Carnival spinoff.
  • Dynamite Headdy is bright and cartoonish, but only a little harder than you might expect, until it ramps up significantly during and after the flying world. The Nasty Gatekeeper (following the much easier normal Gatekeeper) is pretty much the definition of Surprise Difficulty, with music to match.
    • That's the American/European version, by the way. The original Japanese version is still not easy, but the difficulty level is much more reasonable (and it gives you 3 continues by default).
      • The Japanese version has its own surprise difficulty (though technically more a Difficulty Spike) in the form of Twin Freaks. It's already considered to be one of the hardest bosses in the U.S/Euro game, and has twice as much health in this version, ignoring a certain glitch.
  • You wouldn't expect a game with cartoon-style graphics about a boy trying to rescue his dog from monsters to be anything other than an easy kids game, would you? Well, if that game is Heart of Darkness for the Playstation, prepare to be surprised. The game is a Platform Hell powered by Nightmare Fuel.
  • The Ecco the Dolphin series stars a dolphin as the player character. This dolphin will die, many, many times, be it via drowning, sharks, angry telepathic DNA, alien technology, or a particularly murderous edge of the screen.
    • It also ramps up the difficulty for certain stages. When sharks were easily something you could dodge or fight, in "Open Ocean" they suddenly have a much more damaging attack and litter the entire screen. Near the end, scrolling stages occur. One being five minutes long. The Vortex Queen isn't easy either...and if you die or get eaten by the Vortex Queen? Back to the five minute long level. "Welcome To The Machine" will be burned into your retinas by the time you memorize it.
    • Tides of Time features the Skyway, a set of gorgeous mazes in water tubes high in the sky. Hope you like falling! Defender of the Future plays a loving homage to the Skyway with the Hanging Waters levels...breathtaking beauty and enraging difficulty and all.
    • Ecco was such a severe case of Surprise Difficulty that a kid-friendly spinoff Ecco Jr. was eventually released, as an apology of sorts to all the children who asked their parents for "the cute dolphin game" only get their asses utterly kicked by the sadistic difficulty of the main series.
  • The Croc games for the Playstation are more challenging than you'd think.
    • Mainly due to their camera angles and dodgy jumping. Oh and the enemies respawn a few seconds after you beat them.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures for the NES would chew you up and spit you out.
    • The Genesis version is also brutal towards the end.
    • The first Game Boy game is comparatively simple while still having its tough moments, but the second, while remaining easy enough for its first two stages, hits this trope hard in the third with a rocket ship-flying sequence that could give the ostrich ride in The Lion King a run for its money.
    • The SNES version has its moments as well, particurally that train level. It's the hardest level in the game bar-none, and it's only the second stage of the game...
  • The little-known Dreamcast game Super Magnetic Neo. It involves playing with a cutesy robot with magnetic powers having platforming adventures and taking on a bunch of cartoony villains led by a baby. Sounds simple enough, right? However, since it's inspired by the Crash Bandicoot games (the Naughty Dog games, mind you) better prepare to suffer.
  • The first few levels of Rayman are pretty easy. Then you reach Band Land and your whole world goes straight to hell. Suddenly the levels require dead-on precision and reflexes just to survive, Leaps of Faith to find MacGuffens required to advance the game, and those frigging grasshoppers. Even if you have 99 lives through cheats or some other method, expect to be down at least 25 by the time you finish.
  • The Klonoa games, even the GBA puzzle/platformers, start out incredibly easy and have a slow, gentle curve...until you reach the last couple of levels in each of them, at which point they become vicious one-way tickets to Platform Hell. And let's not even get to those crazy secret hidden levels...
  • Sonic Unleashed, especially the final zone, Eggmanland, seems to fall into this trope. Players tend to look at the ESRB rating (E10+) and assume, then are surprised when the game rips them a new one.
    • Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Part 1 is bizarrely difficult. The first level is not hard at all, but the remaining 3 are. Specifically there is a part of the Casino zone (casinos are usually breathers in Sonic games) where you have to jump across a set of moving cards that stay flat for a second then go vertical, so you fall to your death. The problem with this is that there are far too many of these and you'd have to have sheer luck in order to jump them all.
  • Umihara Kawase is a loveable platformer that was based on a surprisingly good physics engine (before Havok was even a concept) involving a rubber fishing line that functions like a Grappling-Hook Pistol. Up through Field 5, it's pretty straightforward. Field 6 ramps up the difficulty a bit. Pretty much any field thereafter skyrockets into completely bonkers levels of Nintendo Hard:
    • A level where you have to grapple across a ceiling to get to the exit...interspersed with patches of ceiling that your hook won't stick to? Check!
    • A boss fight in which you have to grapple your way under the stage to dodge him, then get back up before his tadpoles nibble you to death...five times (before he self-destructs, you can't hurt him)? Check!
    • Levels loaded with (sometimes unkillable) Goddamn Bats? Check!
    • Levels with no floor beneath you as you frantically grapple your way to the end? Check!
    • All of this on a timer? Check!
    • Umihara Kawase is probably the only game in history to give the player 10 lives to start with and have it considered stingy.
      • And the ironic thing is that after you get past the learning curve, you realise that all those bits are the easy parts. Seriously. They're fun. It gets harder.
  • The end of Psychonauts. The very last section of the game has the difficulty curve surge upwards like crazy.
    • Here, have a rising lava level, jumping between awkward platforms with this game's finicky and awkward controls; a level style which had previously been avoided in the game. Surprise!
  • The cute looks of Gimmick (AKA Mr. Gimmick) for the NES will disguise its tricky enemy and level design. It is actually even worse due to your main weapon being pathetic, and the character having a VERY annoying inertia.
  • Toy Story. You'd expect something not too hard for a game based on a children's film. But the game takes Nintendo Hard to entirely new levels. Even with savestates, it's hard.
    • It wasn't that easy on the Gameboy either.
  • The Addams Family games for the SNES were just...insane. In the first like most platformers can give you a ridiculous number of lives if you know where to look. However it is probably the only game that expects you to use them. Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt, completing a single area would take upwards of half an hour (if you knew where to go and how to progress through the levels), you were required to fight a difficult boss at the end of it (by which stage you'd be severely low on lives and energy), and then you got to do the whole thing again for the other eighteen million items you needed to collect. Oh, and did we mention that you can't save or in any way record your progress? Yeah. This from the TV show that gave us Lurch.
  • LittleBigPlanet. Awww, it's a cute little sackboy! Aww, look at him running around with his tongue out! Aww...wait, impact explosives? With jetpacks? And falling stalactites? This isn't cute, this is cruel! You want me to fight bosses now? There weren't any bosses before! And what's this about a Bunker?
  • The level with Goofy in the game Mickey's Ultimate Challenge. ESPECIALLY on the hardest level.
  • Blinx. Cutesy main character? Yep. Charming fantasy worlds to explore? Yep. Is this deceptive at all? YES. If some of the later levels weren't difficult enough, there's also the eighty hidden cat medals (some of which are deviously hidden) to collect, and the Nintendo Hard final boss, who is an absolute nightmare to defeat.
  • Donkey Kong Country:
  • Yoshi's Island DS. It's a sequel to one of the best loved platform games of all time...and brings back one of the nastier elements, it's insane secret level difficulty. World 1 to 3 are fairly easy. World 4 amplifies it. World 5 is a difficulty brick wall, with more spikes in the last two castles than probably the rest of the game proceeding it. Then you get the secret and extra levels. World 4's is doable. World 1 and 2's trap you and force Yoshi to die for every minor mistake, and have nigh on zero checkpoints. World 3 and 5's...are Platform Hell incarnate, and you'll need the huge lives stockpile you've collected after a few choice sections cost you fifty or so lives in quick succession.
    • The game that started it on the SNES isn't any different either. The game starts off very simple and the crayon styled graphics may lure players into thinking it's a game meant for babies, but around halfway through the game, the difficulty shoots up greatly as you have to deal with tricky gap crossing using a power up or Yoshi's floaty jump or trying to avoid nothing but spikes, which is instant death. Going for 100% Completion? The extra levels in each world will make you hurl your controller and swear at a game that just looks too damn cute to be swearing at.
  • Wario Land 4 and Shake Dimension. For the former, it's not the easier difficulties, those are incredibly nice to the player. But then you've got Super Hard mode. Yes, it's Harder Than Hard, but compared to the normal difficulty levels, is like going from Normal to Intense in Super Smash Bros.. Some levels like Pinball Zone and Arabian Night for example literally have next to no time for the level's length in question, and getting over 10 000 coins for 100% completion is nigh on impossible due to incredibly mean enemy placement and time limits. Shake Dimension just has the much more difficult than the rest of the series boss battles and the bonus challenges which make you survive MarathonBosses as a semi one hit wonder.
  • Henry Hatsworth In The Puzzling Adventure is a fun little puzzle/platform hybrid that looks like your typical casual game at first glance, but the difficulty curve goes sharply up after the first world, with tricky platforming and tough bosses. The final world in particular contains some of the most challenging platformer gameplay out there, and beating the final boss is an achievement to brag about. And if you're playing Gentleman Mode, all bets are off.
  • Bart vs the Space Mutants for NES. Maybe nowadays you're not surprised it's Nintendo Hard since it's a primitive NES platformer, but back then you really expected at least some leniency out of a game based on The Simpsons. Nope, it's one of the hardest games on a platform famous for hard games.
  • Okay, even if I Wanna Be the Guy is never considered to be a game for kids, it still fits this trope at least because the difficulty may get really surprising at times, thanks to the fact that Everything Is Trying to Kill You. Even the things that are not obvious killers. Yet. Of course, you may have heard how difficult it is a lot of times, but, compared to trying the real thing out, that means nothing. It borders on Fake Difficulty sometimes.
  • The Wii version of A Boy and His Blob. While it cuts down on the Guide Dang It of the original, and the beginning levels are so easy they've earned ire, everything after World 1 is a guaranteed behind-kicking at least once. The main stages have generous checkpoints to ease the pain slightly, but the Challenge Levels...don't. Screw up just once? Have a Nice Death!
  • Crash Bandicoot. Specifically, the first one. It's ostensibly for kids and the other games in the series are very manageable...but not the first one. Even if you manage to get through 2-3 levels without running out of lives (you start with 4 every time you load) AND find all the "Tawna tokens" in the level, you only have one shot at a bonus level to even be able to save or find out your level password. The physics fall into Damn You, Muscle Memory, even (or especially) for people who have played the other games in the series. The lack of analog control also makes fine movement very, very difficult at times.
    • Collecting gems requires you to destroy every single destructible crate in the level. In the first game, some levels require you to fully explore two paths in order to do this. You won't know until you finish the level whether you missed any. Good luck. Oh, and you have to finish the entire level without dying.
    • Warped is more or less beatable, but don't curse like The Angry Video Game Nerd if you try
  • In the same vein as Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon series come in play. While the second installment of these series is comparatively easy (unless you go for Skill Points), the first and the third parts aren't actually to be beaten to 100% and higher status by children under 10. The starting moments may be easy (although some players may be gameovered in the first worlds), but sidequests and hidden walls/areas may become a pain in the ass (unless you know them all thoroughly). Several enemies may also become these, and again, their attacks are easy to avoid if you've played this game a lot before. But no matter how experienced may you be on these, there are also flights to be beaten...
  • Tomba!!/Tombi! for the PS1. You play as a pink haired dwarf who lives in a colorful world filled with psychotic pigs and carnivorous venus fly traps. Typically Japanese right? Well, it is in other aspects too -it often relies on timing to get somewhere without being killed, you need certain items (which you equip like an RPG), your life goes down very easily, and there are many occasions where the 2.5D of the game makes it look as if you can go somewhere you can't from that angle, leading to frustration.
  • Plok for the SNES. You play as a sentient pile of clothing who could Rocket Punch, and the graphics were really cutesy. The titular character took very few hits to die, the enemies had Mercy Invincibility, and many of them were Kung Fu Proof Mooks. The bosses weren't exactly a walk in the park either (the first, a Dual Boss, was already quite tough). There were also quite a lot of traps and spikes in the game that were hard to traverse...
  • Claw is a rare PC-only platformer that is bright, colorful, undeniably charming, and fiendishly difficult even with the infinite-lives cheat enabled. In fact, using said cheat is pretty much mandatory if you want to have any hope of completing the game. The code is even listed in the manual, so the developers were probably self-aware.
  • The Lion King is based on a Disney movie; this'll be easy, right? Well, remember the "Just Can't Wait To Be King" scene from the movie, with Simba jumping from animal to animal? Yep, that's a level in the game. It's as hard as you'd imagine. And it's level 2. They get much worse from there. The following level contains 15-20 enemies that in many games would be mini-boss fights. And you can't save.
  • Nicktoons: Attack of the Toybots, though not as extreme as the other examples here, is another example of a kid-friendly game which might be too much for its intended target demographic, being pretty much a platformer Death Course. Thankfully, Death Is a Slap on the Wrist there. Here, just look at the penultimate stage (And look at the comments of the second part for a complaint about this trope).
  • On a special "Making Of" episode, The Angry Video Game Nerd plays Barbie for the NES. This sums up:
    "It's a game for little girls! I can't make past the first levels!
    • Joueur du Grenier also noted the difficulty when he review the same game.
      "You'd probably expect this game to be easy since it's a game for little girls. (Looks nervously at his lives counter (which decreases every time he makes a sexist joke)) But no. You alternate between levels that are ridiculously easy and levels that are surprisingly tough.
  • Dewy's Adventure. Do not be fooled by the cute main character, the game will tear you apart if you mess around. Tons of bottomless pits, tough jumps, large groups of enemies, long levels and very low health pickups, and there are no checkpoints, meaning if you die once (Twice if you have the item which revives you when you die), you have to start the level all over again. Let us not even start on getting S ranks...
  • The Adventure Of Little Ralph, an obscure PlayStation platformer, seems very child-oriented - after all, it's got a child protagonist. The first few levels are hard, but still pretty standard, but from then on, the game turns Nintendo Hard. Hazards seemingly pop out of nowhere, catching the player by surprise, and the very last level is pure Platform Hell. It doesn't help that Ralph, the main character, is a One-Hit-Point Wonder.
  • Any Platform Hell/Kaizo game. Many of them use default Super Mario World graphics or graphics that look fairly similar to either Super Mario Bros. or Mega Man, yet all of them will absolutely destroy an unprepared player with their insane difficulty. just look at it...
  • Keen Dreams - compared to the other games it's less violent and has a less urgent plot. Your raygun is replaced by flower-power, seeds that temporary turn enemies into flowers. It is one the hardest one of the Commander Keen series. The fact that you cannot kill your enemies permanently forces you to be very careful with your ammunition and play as fast as possible to avoid the enemies regenerating. You must effectivly do a Speed Run and Pacifist Run at once. (Only Commander Keen 5 is harder dispite your weapon beeing lethal, but the tougher enemies are simply invulnerable.)
  • The NES game Little Nemo The Dream Master. Superficially, it looks like a children's game, but this was made by Capcom in the same era as Mega Man 2, and it shows.
  • Invoked by Super Meat Boy. The aesthetic is cute, but it's Ugly Cute, and the game will make you feel like a piece of meat that's been put through the grinder.

  • The Super Star Wars games on the SNES. Like the Mario series, you may not expect these games to be easy, but these games ranked up there in difficulty with the Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts N Goblins series. The unpublished but leaked PC port is nowhere near as difficult.
  • Much time spent at the PC cursing the LEGO Star Wars games and shouting "It's a game for eight year olds!! It shouldn't be this hard!!"
  • Geometry Wars, Einhänder, and other arcade-style games for those not aware of how hard these always are.
  • How hard would you expect a shooter starring a cute little yellow Alien Hominid to be? Well, if you know the inspiration was Metal Slug, that should answer all your questions.
  • To some extent, most of Treasure's output falls under this. With their whimsical art style and characters, you might not expect (for instance) Dynamite Headdy or Mischief Makers to be as hard as they are.
  • Noah's Ark, one of the few Bible games The Angry Video Game Nerd doesn't think outright sucks, is actually insanely difficult, despite its cutesy graphics and, well, status as a Bible game, especially chapter 4. Of course, it's made by the same people who made Contra. But pressing up up down down etc. on the title screen does nothing.
  • Battletoads, for the time. Now this game is famous for its difficulty alone, but back then, when the reputation wasn't so widespread yet, you didn't expect a game that had two cute frogs with ridiculously cartoony special moves and colorful stages to be hard.
  • Hmm, a third-person actioner/shooter/platformer called Darkened Skye. Involving Skittles, you say? Probably finish it in an hour. Wow, why am I dying so much? These jumps, especially involving those freakin' sinking lily pads, are HARD, and the enemies are really good shots! What, there are puzzles too?!
  • Mega Man Powered Up may have inflicted the Mega Man 1 cast with Super Deformities, but the difficulty department definately doesn't slack off, and 100% Completion for New Style mode requires you not only to complete every stage on every difficulty, but also to use every character for each of these difficulties, even characters who clearly aren't suited for certain stages at all. And hey, the original NES levels are available for you to tackle too, and they're all in Old Style mode...
  • The less-than-well-known Sega arcade game Flicky, which was later ported to the Genesis, is about a cute mother bluebird trying to save her chicks from hungry cats and iguanas that want to eat them. The levels are only as big as the screen, and are very brightly colored. The chicks don't actually die if the aforementioned enemies get to them (unlike Zombies Ate My Neighbors)... but Flicky does if she touches a cat, and the cats like to ambush her. And the iguanas can run along any surface at about the same speed as Flicky can run. Flicky can't fly, only jump high. Your only defense are apples, telephones, cups, and other objects which Flicky can pick up by touching them and throw... but they use the same button as jumping. And there are only so many throwable objects per level. And due to the aforementioned issue you're likely to waste a lot of them while frantically guiding the chicks to the exit. And the cats and iguanas come back after about 7 seconds even if you do manage to kill them by throwing stuff at them.

  • The first The Legend of Zelda game is surprisingly hard to anyone who came to the series by its sequels. You probably heard the second game is the hardest of the series, but the first game can be a surprise since its difficulty is not as discussed much.
    • Eiji Aonuma, who is one of THE most important people in the making of the Zelda series, has never beaten the first game.
  • The first Metroid, since, unlike the sequels (and even the enhanced remake), there is no map, you can't shoot kneeling, all the rooms look the same, and when you continue you only have 30 health no matter how many energy tanks you have.
  • An Untitled Story is an indie Metroidvania game about a cute egg.. which has plenty of pixel-perfect jumps and many bosses tend to have a Bullet Hell phase.
  • LucasArts' Zak MacCracken And The Alien Mindbenders looks like a simple adventure game set in the city, with a cheerful character and humorous premise. It quickly becomes apparent that almost nothing you do in this game makes sense in real life, and you have to try many ridiculous items to find something that works. If you don't pick up something before going somewhere it will be Lost Forever and you won't be able to progress when you need it. Not only that, but on occasion you're going against an (unseen) time limit which will send you back to earlier in the game if you don't succeed, and you can be trapped or killed quite easily...which means you have to load the game.



  • The first two Mortal Kombat games seem to be the best example - simple controls and limited movements...but insanely hard.
  • Tekken 2 is much harder than the other entries in the series, despite being the game where the series came into its own.
    • Tekken 3's Tekken Force Mode starts off as a relatively simple sidescrolling beat em up. This is until you get to Dr B, who you face after beating the mode four times. As you have one life in this mode, If you lose to him you have to complete the mode four more times in order to face him again. Luckily there is a way of getting around this by playing a certain number of matches in versus mode.
    • Tekken 6's Scenario Campaign mode gets frustratingly difficult in the later stages, specifically when you have to defeat four or five different bosses within the same level.
  • Soul Edge was reportedly so difficult in the arcades that its difficulty was toned down for a rerelease. The rereleased version was released on the Playstation as Soul Blade and has moments where it is still extremely difficult (such as the final boss, Soul Edge). The other Soul games can occasionally have moments like this (Soul Calibur III's Night Terror being the best known example).


  • Super Monkey Ball features cute monkeys in hamster balls. It's also Nintendo Hard on Expert mode, especially the first game with its stages that force you to maneuver the ball across curved paths that's half as wide as the diameter of the ball. And on a timer that's never longer than 60 seconds per floor (level). And to get 100% Completion and unlock Master, you need to complete all of Expert (50 floors) and Expert Extra (10 more floors) without using a continue. In the first game, you also only get 3 lives (plus one for every 100 bananas you collect) before you have to continue.
  • Kula World. Roll a beachball to the end of a 2.5D level, jumping, avoiding enemies and collecting keys along the way. Seems simple enough. There are MANY levels (154) and they get harder as they go along. The fact you can only save every 5 levels doesn't help.
  • Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure looks like a kid-friendly adventure game that stars a young pirate and his pet monkey. It's actually an insanely tough puzzle game. Rues the parent who purchased this one for their six-year-old.
  • Lemmings. By the middle of the Taxing section your brain will ache. Mayhem will have you punching walls.
    • The sequel Oh No More Lemmings! is more of the same, even harder, and with a much sharper difficult curve (the levels suddenly jump from stupidly easy to stupidly hard and don't let up).
    • Lemmings 2. We have given you a hopper, two canoeists and a pole-vaulter. The exit is on the other side of a solid wall. Good luck.
  • The fan-created Portal Prelude. Portal was fun and funny, and lots of people downloaded it out of love for the original game. What the developers didn't bother to mention was that it should have been named Portal: Makes Nintendo Hard Look Like A Cakewalk. There was so much outrage that the developer begrudgingly released a patch that makes the mod slightly easier. Despite continued requests to make the mod easier for everyone, he has said he will not reduce the difficulty anymore.
  • Trash Panic. A cartoonish game where you smash garbage off of other garbage to break it up so the bin doesn't fill up. Simple right? The demo's time limit (which doesn't do the game justice, btw) also makes it appear easy. However, actually finishing the levels is brutally hard; the garbage just keeps coming. You can burn garbage (bad for your Eco score), but if you burn or otherwise destroy valuable trash, your bin will overflow with penalty garbage. Not to mention the boss garbage, but even the Sweets (beginner) course which doesn't feature it is still pretty hard, even though the game has no limit on continues.
  • Shivers 2: Harvest of Souls fits this trope more than Nintendo Hard, unlike its predecessor. Puzzles range from the dead simple "fit tiles into shape" puzzle, to the notorious "fixed moves you can make to match all colored marbles in their correct spots" puzzle in the Warehouse. There are more easier puzzles than harder ones, but I guarantee the "Solve Puzzle" feature will be used more than once on a first play.
  • Audiosurf is an interesting case. While you may be able to guess that some tracks will be hard when loaded up in the game, sometimes you get a nasty surprise thrown your way and what you thought would be an easy run turns out to be much harder than you thought it would be.
    • One weird example of something harder than expected is loading up a file of just white or pink noise. Try it and see for yourself.
  • Chip's Challenge: You'd think a game that looks like it was created in 10 minutes with MS Paint wouldn't be all that hard. Then you get past the tutorial levels, and just like that the game turns into the puzzle equivalent of Platform Hell. Fan-generated level packs are even worse, as they pulling off stunts that are usually considered illegal (like hiding traps and objects underneath floor tiles).
  • The obscure Playstation title The Bombing Islands, full stop. Most people would start laughing at the ridiculously cheesy theme song (not to mention that the player character is a freaking clown). Then about 10 levels into the game, watch and be amazed as that same laughter transforms into tears of agony.
  • The GBA puzzle game Denki Blocks! has very cute graphics, cute music, cute player characters and cute opponents. However, it's incredibly hard. As soon as you get past the third of eight opponents, you will fail. A lot.
  • A minigame in Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon called Bear Stormin' (which was recycled in a spinoff), which isnt too bad at first, but in the later levels, it gets filled with Nintendo Hard levels complete with the fact that all non-living objects are OneHitpointWonders. On top of that, you have to worry about your fuel, which if you run out, you lose flight unless you keep grabbing balloons. Later levels start you on a critical fuel situation, and they tease you by putting the balloons in annoying or impossible to reach places.
  • Angry Birds is a game where you fling cute birds into structures to topple them over and squash cute pigs inside. Good luck getting a three-star ranking, you'll need it.
  • Panel de Pon, Tetris Attack, and Pokémon Puzzle League. Cute characters, relaxing music, a simple enough concept...and then Hard mode throws you for a loop. Even that's nothing compared to the hidden Harder Than Hard difficulty.
  • Pushmo: Push blocks in and out to get to the top. It sounds simple but some puzzles are deviously hard.
  • Candy Crush Saga: A colorful little game about matching candies that starts off as so easy a kid can play it...and then progresses to more and more infuriating puzzles that seem to have been devised by Satan himself. Double-layered jelly and chocolate squares? The. Devil's. Work. This is because it's an Allegedly Free Game and the developers want you to spend money to advance.
  • Dweep is a colorful, cute, non-violent game about an adorable furball. It also requires some seriously heavy-duty thinking—especially in the expansion pack levels.
  • Nancy Drew: The Curse of Blackmoor Manor. Oh, it's a licensed game marketed to tweens, it must be pathetic...Wait, what's that noise? Did the walls just move? And why are there six doors out of the room? (takes another step) Oh, God, it's moving again! (looks back) Wait, that's not the door I entered through! Where the f*k am I supposed to go?!
    • The Nancy Drew games in general tend to invoke this trope. Other infamous game puzzles include a massive nonogram puzzle in Shadow at the Water's Edge and a deceptively frustrating game called Fox and Geese in White Wolf of Icicle Creek.

  • The obscure game Izuna: The Legend of the Unemployed Ninja for the Nintendo DS has kiddy graphics, a light-hearted comedy storyline, and simple controls...but it's also a Roguelike, and therefore completely merciless.
    • Genre Savvy gamers will take note of the fact that it's published by Atlus, who are pretty notorious for Nintendo Hard games.
    • To show how far it goes; in most rpgs, you can Level Grind to beat anything. In Izuna, even at level 99 the final dungeon can be a nightmare.
    • It should be noted compared to many other Roguelikes, this is pretty easy as the heroine maintains her levels even after being defeated. It does have a dungone which drops your level to 1 and requires you to bring no items at the start of it for that old school feeling.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is similar - nice, kid-friendly license plus roguelike gameplay = at least it's merciful when you die, to the point of allowing for other players to rescue you like in most of the games labeled Mystery Dungeon.
  • Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales. Really hard minigames (at least some of them) and The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard during the card battle segments (specifically, it can see your hand, while you can only see the colors of its cards).
  • Gaia Online's zOMG is meant to be a casual MMO, and so it's fairly easy for the first few zones. But by the time you enter the Zen Gardens zone the difficulty starts ramping up. Charge Orbs (EXP) and Rings (Skills) both randomly drop, only a few of the enemies in the game don't attack you on sight, and the game is designed in such a way that if you don't form a crew, you probably aren't going to last very long. (Admittedly, the game is still in the testing phases, so this is subject to change). Not to mention some of the instanced levels such as The Hive World, The Gauntlet, and The Shallow Sea scale based on your CL, so that an enemy will always be the same relative level to you. This includes the final boss. zOMG is a very fun game featuring a vibrant colorful world, high levels of character customization, and a fun story, and it's easy to pick up. But do not mistake this for an easy game you can breeze right through. If you want that Scarf of Asskicking, you've got to work for it!
    • It gets worse; the way the final boss used to work, if when your team of 6 got their asses handed to them, one could stay behind and keep the boss at its current health while the other five went back and restored their health and stamina. Then they were faced by the 107 missiles that the boss spawned while you were going through the run again. It wasn't really that good, since after three hours, people kind of had to leave to take a break from the last ten hours spent on the "casual" MMO. It wasn't really that effective, unless you were really fast, since the boss tended to restore health anyway, but at least you didn't have to start all the way over from the beginning of the boss fight...but wait, the new update changed it that if all six crew members are dazed, you're escorted out of the room! And this is all if your computer can handle Shallow Seas without lagging and dying, anyway. Given that you more than likely have to beat the first chapter to make it to the second chapter...people are going to be pissed.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, you can get reamed on easy if you're not prepared for some bosses (specially in the case of Sephiroth in the first game, who is probably the hardest boss, but is available way before it can be reasonably expected to beat him), especially in the early game where you can only stock like three potions and don't know cure, so healing is limited.
    • Even if you're familiar with the series , Re: Chain of Memories can be this. It's mostly on on the level of II, making it easier then the original game...then you find out that almost all of the storyline bosses are worse than Xaldin.
    • 358/2 Days will offer to take pity on you by lowering the difficulty level if you continuely fail on a certain boss. Leechgrave in Halloween Town often requires such pity.
    • As some of the Headscratchers for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep show, don't walk into that game expecting something light.
    • Even veteran players were surprised by the difficulty of Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. It features several boss rushes, your abilities are tied to your Dream Eaters (so your more useful abilities like Second Chance, Once More, and Leaf Bracer require a bit of know-how to get), and normal enemies can kill you very quickly if you're not careful. Many consider it to be the most difficult Kingdom Hearts game yet.
    • At this point, one has to wonder a little why people would still be fooled enough by the Disney logo to go into the game thinking it'd be easy.
  • The Dragon Quest series of RPGs have artwork by Akira Toriyama and a general Pokémon style look to the settings, but the games are regarded as some of the hardest JRPGs, though Dragon Quest V tends to be one of the easier installments (it's followed by the harder Dragon Quest VI, however). Remakes tend to tone down the difficulty a bit, though the games still stay challenging (just less so than the original versions).
  • Pokémon Yellow is significantly harder than the Red and Blue versions. All the Gym Leaders and rival battles have new, more powerful teams, and since you start out with Pikachu, the game takes a jump into the wilderness of Nintendo Hard when you find out that the first Gym Leader you have to face is Brock.
    • Brock was actually made weaker than in the originals. They also made several Pokemon that could easily roundhouse his team (such as Mankey) available early.
      • There are also the male and female Nidoran. In this game, they earn Double Kick very early, so you can beat Brock with a Nidoran very easily. And they're found in the same place as Mankey.
    • Speaking of Pokemon, older players should remember Pokemon Stadium and its sequel, which were focused on battling hordes of AI trainers under some pretty fiendish conditions (such as using only baby Pokemon, randomly selected Pokemon, level limits, etc.). Round 1 in both games tended to be difficult as the player progressed and would require legitimate skill to beat, but most of it wasn't too bad. Round 2 bordered on Nintendo Hard, suffering from frustrating AI and the general feeling that it was pretty much made for the "Stop Having Fun" Guy sector of the fanbase.
      • The Stadium games were even worse if you didn't have a Transfer Pak to bring your Pokémon over from the Game Boy games and thus had to rely on the crappy rental Pokémon.
    • Diamond and Pearl seem to have an accidental case of difficulty. Due to the fact that Sinnoh's region dex sucked, the Gym Leaders and Elite Four don't have enough of their chosen type to actually fill a team, and the resulting loosely connected replacements (Playboy Bunny on the fire team? Sure it's "hot" but...) make them impossible to sweep with a single move like the past 3 generations.
      • Thankfully, much of this was fixed in Platinum. Extra mons were added to the Sinnoh dex, allowing the Gym leaders and Elite Four members to have teams consisting entirely of their type, in addition to allowing more variety in the player's team.
      • Not to mention, the updated movesets caught a lot of people off guard because they wouldn't expect almost every Pokémon available to have a move to use when fighting its weakness. Ah, using a Luxray on me? Well Torterra, I think it's time to use Earthqua-ICE FANG?! How'd you get that?!
    • Likewise, HeartGold and SoulSilver, with the added bonus of being Video Game Remakes and therefore most fans thinking they have a pretty good idea of the difficulty level to expect. They'd be wrong. The Gym Leaders actually employ advanced tactics (while not as bad as actual Sporepunch, Hypnosispunch still hurts), now have abilities that they put to good effect (you can no longer avoid Miltank's Stomp by using a Ghost-type as its ability lets it ignore Ghost's immunity to Normal-type moves), have teams with perfect IVs (Kanto even had its non-Gym trainers' levels raised because the whole region was otherwise a curb stomp), and the final boss now has even higher levels.
      • The simple matter of Houndoom getting one new move (Nasty Plot) in the generation shift made Elite Four Karen much, much harder than she was before, which often comes as a shock to players of the originals.
    • Pokémon Black and White actually surprised a few, but after Gen IV's Sequel Difficulty Spike we knew what to expect so the updated movesets didn't catch people off guard. Instead, it's the improved AI that uses more instances of Artificial Brilliance outside of important trainers. Even Pokémon Rangers (default trainer classes) use techniques such as baiting and switching.
  • Pokémon X and Y would also qualify for some who thinks the ease in overlevelling is a bit over the top. After being overlevelled for a while, you'll probably forget that important trainers are still no slouch when it comes to making educated guesses about type relations and strategic move combinations.
  • The MOTHER trilogy looks simple and cartoony, but all three games have some serious difficulty. MOTHER consistently goes up in difficulty, although there's a couple of major spikes at Duncan's Factory (due mostly to its size) and Mt. Itoi (the enemies being way harder than anywhere else in the game). EarthBound, despite being much better than its predecessor, had random Difficulty Spikes throughout the game. Mother3 finally settled for a consistent difficulty, and while the regular enemies aren't too bad, the bosses will mash you
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alternative title(s): Harder Than It Looks
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