Video Game Difficulty Tropes
All about video game difficulty - how to create it, how to present it, and what happens when you fall afoul of it.
Difficulty levels in general:
- Boss Dissonance
A boss fight should normally be tougher than the level, but its difficulty doesn't match what's nearby.
- Breather Level
A level which is much easier than those surrounding it.
- Comeback Mechanic
A feature that provides assistance to losing players or players near elimination.
- Crutch Character
A character who has skills that make the early stages of the game easier, but relying on him too much will hurt you in the long run.
- Difficult but Awesome
A character or game is hard to master, but doing it yields great results.
- Difficulty By Acceleration
The gameplay gradually goes into fast-forward as you progress.
- Difficulty By Region
Some games are made harder or easier when released in different countries or regions.
- Difficulty Levels
If at first you don't succeed, try it on Easy mode.
- Difficulty Spike
One level (or level of difficulty) which is suddenly much harder than the ones that came before it.
- Dynamic Difficulty
A game that adjusts its difficulty based on how the player is doing.
- Early Game Hell
Game is hardest at the start, rather than the end.
- Easier Than Easy
Do whatever you want in this mode - dying is all but impossible.
- Easy Level Trick
When beating a level in a non-standard manner is a lot easier than beating it the expected way.
- Easy-Mode Mockery
If you pick easy mode, the game will change things to mercilessly mock your ineptitude.
- Fake Difficulty
The use of cheap tricks to make the game harder.
- Final Death Mode
A difficulty level where a player only has one life, instead of having multiple lives normally.
- Hard Mode Filler
A later level is identical to an earlier level, but harder.
- Hard Mode Perks
You are rewarded for choosing harder difficulties in a gameplay-affecting way.
- Harder Than Hard
A difficulty level above "Hard".
- Healer Signs On Early
One of the first people in the party has healing spells.
- Healing Checkpoint
Reaching a checkpoint or save point replenishes your health and/or supplies.
- Hints Are For Losers
In which a game's developer will adamantly refuse to help you.
- Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels
Difficulty levels that are given weird names.
- Mercy Mode
An Easy Mode unlocked by repeatedly, utterly failing.
- Multiplayer Difficulty Spike
The multiplayer mode(s) are significantly more challenging than the single-player campaign.
- My Rules Are Not Your Rules
When the computer has abilities and better versions of the stuff you could ever receive.
- Non-Indicative Difficulty
Where "hard" mode is easier than "easy" mode.
- Nintendo Hard
Games that are very hard.
- Numerical Hard
Difficulty Levels that merely change some statistics of the player/enemy stats.
- Platform Hell
A Platform Game which is evil and totally out to kill you any way it can.
- Rubber-Band A.I.
The better you are at a game, the harder the game gets.
- Schizophrenic Difficulty
A game has a difficulty curve that makes no sense.
- Sequel Difficulty Drop
A sequel is much easier than expected compared to the game(s) before it.
- Sequel Difficulty Spike
A sequel is much harder than expected compared to the original game.
- Skill Gate Characters
Fighting Game characters that are a challenge to newcomers, but those with experience will easily mop the floor with them.
- Story Difficulty Setting
When a game features a difficulty mode specifically catering to players who just want to experience the story.
- Surprise Difficulty
You thought this game was gonna be easy, didn't you?
Ways of increasing difficulty:
- A.I. Roulette
Random AI actions can result in extremely stupid moves by the computer or the contrary.
- Artificial Brilliance
AI that's really good at what it does.
- Auto-Scrolling Level
A level in a Platform Game where the screen continually scrolls and you must keep up with it.
- Advancing Wall of Doom
A level where you must constantly outrun a threat, or even the left side of the screen!
- Bottomless Pits
Falling a thousand feet is fine, but falling ten feet into a bottomless pit? Instant death.
- Cardboard Obstacle
An obstacle that requires a particular skill or item to pass, and rather than being fun it becomes unnecessary or annoying.
- Check Point Starvation
Severe lack of Check Points or Save Points.
- Chest Monster
It looks like a treasure chest, but you don't wanna open it.
- Classic Video Game Screw Yous
Common elements among many games designed to get your guy killed.
- Combat Exclusive Healing
Just barely survived that Random Encounter? Sorry, your White Mage can't use healing spells outside of battle!
- Computers Are Fast
When it comes to reacting quickly or "mashing" buttons, it's easy to make a computer better than any player.
- Continuing Is Painful
Where continuing or losing a life results in an even harder challenge.
- Deadly Gas
Here's a hint: Don't get hit by it.
- Deadly Walls
You're killed instantly whenever you touch a wall.
- Death Course
A gauntlet filled with enemies and/or booby traps that the hero character has to pass through.
- Denial of Diagonal Attack
Games that only let you shoot horizontally, and often without being able to crouch, meaning short enemies are incredibly difficult to hit.
- Diminishing Returns for Balance
The higher a given stat already is, the harder it is to raise it even further.
- Drought Level of Doom
A long and often brutal level with powerups and healing items being scarce to nonexistent.
- Earn Your Fun
You get no rewards unless you jump all these hoops!
- Empty Room Until The Trap
You thought that room had nothing in it?
- Escape Sequence
A level where you have to constantly run away from a particular enemy.
- Escort Mission
A mission where you have to keep another character alive while beating enemies or getting to the exit.
- Protectorate Player
An inversion of an Escort Mission, where the non-playable character protects you.
- Fake Platform
It looks like a platform, but try stepping on it and you're in for a shock.
- Forced Level Grinding
A point in the game where the difficulty is high enough to force you to Level Grind to continue.
- Gang Up on the Human
In multiplayer games with several AIs but only one human, they'll all go after the human.
- Goddamned Bats
Enemies that might not be so hard, but they just won't leave you alone.
- Goddamned Boss
A boss that's not very dangerous, but very annoying or frustrating to fight.
- Demonic Spiders
Enemies that frustrate you by killing you in unfair ways, which make them innately more dangerous than other normal enemies.
- <Hero> Must Survive
A storyline character joins you on the battlefield as a "unit" and you must make sure that he/she doesn't die until the end of the mission.
- Hold the Line
A mission where you have to prevent the enemy completing their objective before time runs out.
- Hostage Spirit Link
In Light Gun games, accidentally shooting innocent people will damage you.
- I Can't Reach It
The character you're controlling can't, or won't, reach or use a perfectly accessible object.
- Inconveniently Placed Conveyor Belt
A conveyor belt-like surface put in random places just so you can be pushed forwards or backwards.
- Inescapable Ambush
The player enters an area which is suddenly enclosed in a barrier, and the player can't leave until he defeats all enemies.
- Instant Death Radius
A boss has a strong attack which hits a large melee area and which prevents you from getting anywhere near him.
- Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence
Trivial obstacles that can't be passed even with brute force.
- Invisible Block
It's there! You can't see it, but it's there!
- Kaizo Trap
A Death Trap claims you when you thought you could put the controller down, such as at the Level Goal after the Boss Fight.
- Karl Marx Hates Your Guts
Where it's impossible to make money because everything always costs the same, so you can never sell at a profit.
- Leap of Faith
Are you sure there's even a platform to jump on?
- Level Grinding
In RPGs, you gain statistics and abilities by killing monsters many times.
Found a good source to grind for experience points? It won't stay that way for long.
- Malevolent Architecture
Everything is designed to make life as difficult for you as possible, even in actual structures that should have a logical layout.
- Magical Mystery Doors
A puzzle where a room with a set of doors leads to another room with a set of doors, and you have to find the right path.
- Manual Leader, AI Party
You'd better hope that the non-human controlled allies' AI's up to scratch.
- Misbegotten Multiplayer Mode
Games that are really designed for single-player mode, and become painful with more than one player.
- Monster Closet
Enemies hiding in areas that shouldn't even exist and appear not to with no way for them to have got in there to begin with.
- Mook Maker
A device or enemy who constantly spits out enemies for the player to fight.
- Mutually Exclusive Powerups
The case where picking up one weapon or powerup results in losing another.
- No Fair Cheating
A measure built into a video game to make sure the player doesn't use cheats or auto-fire control pads.
- Not Playing Fair With Resources
AI players in Real-Time Strategy games are able to acquire resources faster than the player or don't need any resources at all.
- One-Hit Kill
A skill or attack that instantly kills whatever it hits.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder
A game in which the protagonist instantly dies whenever he's hit by anything.
- Pit Trap
A hole in the ground that's hidden so as to blend into the surrounding terrain, often found in Platform Hell games.
- Pixel Hunt
In Adventure Games, you have to move the mouse across every single pixel on the screen to find the one object you're really looking for.
- Press X to Die
The player is given the option to perform an action that can only ever result in failure or otherwise hinder progress.
- Point Of No Continues
No continuing if you die past this point in the game.
- Protection Mission
A mission where you have to protect a stationary object or character from incoming enemies.
- Reinventing the Wheel
In strategy games, you need to purchase "upgrades" to capabilities in each campaign, even if your forces already had it in the last one.
- Respawning Enemies
After you beat a room full of enemies, if you come back to the room, the enemies will be back.
- Reviving Enemy
You didn't expect the developers to be nice enough to make that mook stay down just because you defeated it, did you?
- Save Game Limits
Limitations on when, where and how often a players can save the game.
- Second Place Is for Losers
Finishing second at the Daytona 500 is no different from finishing last in Video Game Land.
- Secret A.I. Moves
Computer-controlled opponents use techniques inaccessible to mere mortals.
- Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom
Booby Trap in which two big stone blocks or spiked walls repeatedly ram into each other in a narrow hallway.
- SNK Boss
A Nintendo Hard boss in a Fighting Game. Known side effects include thrown controllers and frothing at the mouth.
- Spikes of Doom
You touch one, you die horribly.
- Spiteful A.I.
AI characters don't seem to care if they win so long as you lose.
- Stealth-Based Mission
A mission where the player must sneak through an area infested with enemies.
- Stalking Mission
A gameplay segment in which the player is tasked with following an NPC to a designated area without being spotted.
- Steam Vent Obstacle
Steam vents as obstacles.
- Suddenly Harmful Harmless Object
That bush wasn't doing anything before, now it's attacking you.
- Teleporting Keycard Squad
Whenever you take something important, a slough of new enemies suddenly rushes in.
- Temporary Platform
When you land on it, it starts crumbling away.
- That One Achievement
The one lousy achievement or trophy that keeps you from 100% Completion.
- That One Attack
A particular attack in an enemy's arsenal which is significantly more dangerous than the rest of its skills.
- That One Boss
A boss who's infamous for being hard to beat.
- That One Level
A level which is much harder than those surrounding it, sometimes by accident.
- That One Puzzle
You have a handful of alien bones, a shell, and no hints.
- The Computer Is A Lying Bastard
The game gives you hints and advice that are flat out wrong.
- There Are No Tents
You can only rest the night at a genuine inn; you can't just set up camp somewhere.
- Timed Mission
The player has a finite amount of time to complete a goal, otherwise it's Game Over.
- Stalked by the Bell
Run out of time and an in-universe threat will start to harass/hunt/attack you. Can you still complete the level?
- Time Keeps On Ticking
When the clock keeps going, even during cutscenes, battles, and even the pause menu.
- Trial-and-Error Gameplay
When you can only figure out the correct path by trying the incorrect ones and dying, until you get to the right one.
- Turns Red
When a boss's HP gets lower, he suddenly gains power, speed, and/or uses different attacks.
- Tutorial Failure
When a tutorial either misleads or gives outright false information to the player.
- Unexpected Gameplay Change
Where a game suddenly changes from one gameplay genre to another for a level or area.
- Unwinnable by Design
A gameplay design element that cripples the player so he can't win - but won't tell him about it for hours.
- Unwinnable Joke Game
A game that presents you with a goal, but as a joke of the programmer this joke is completely unreachable.
- Wizard Needs Food Badly
The practice of using a food resource as a time limit.
- You Require More Vespene Gas
Strategy games make you gather resources.
Ways of making games easier:
- After Combat Recovery
Just got beaten to within an inch of your life in that Random Encounter? Don't worry, you're back to full health!
- Anti-Frustration Features
The rules change in certain situations to prevent Fake Difficulty.
- Artificial Stupidity
AI that's really bad at what it does.
- Door to Before
Once you fight your way to the end of an area, there will be a convenient door that leads you right back to the entrance.
- Effortless Achievement
The game gives you achievements for merely starting the game, or performing mundane actions.
- Fake Trap
A trap that actually isn't deadly.
- Foregone Victory
Any point in a game where you can't actually lose, even if it looks like you can.
- Gameplay Ally Immortality
When you have an NPC with you, he/she will be impervious to damage or at least death.
- Hint System
The game gives you hints if you can't solve a puzzle on your own.
- Mercy Invincibility
Whenever you are hit, you have a small period of invincibility before being vulnerable again.
- Non-Lethal Bottomless Pits
You expect instant death, but instead you just go back to the start of the area.
- Notice This
Games will make an important item more visible (e.g. twinkles, color scheme, etc.)
- Player Exclusive Mechanic
Reverse of Secret A.I. Moves, this is when players can have access to things that the computer cannot have.
- Player Nudge
If you fail, the game hints to you what to do.
- Rainbow Speak
Important words and phrases are highlighted for your convenience in different colors.
- Story Difficulty Setting
When a game features a difficulty mode specifically catering to players who just want to experience the story.
- Surprisingly Easy Mini-Quest
A sidequest that seems like it'll be difficult or frustrating, but ends up being simple or easy.
- Suspiciously Cracked Wall
The game will have an easily broken wall which conceals some sort of treat
- Take Cover
Modern games that allow you to use the environment as cover for bullets.
- Video Game Tutorial
An in-game tutorial that explains the various gameplay systems.
- Villain Forgot to Level Grind
Where the villain is still at the same level he was at ten hours ago, but the heroes are ten levels higher and therefore beat him handily.
- Weak Turret Gun
A turret gun that can be easily knocked out or over.
Video game deaths: