Underground 2, either plays this straight due to the same rubberbanding or averts this trope (where the rubberbanding is essentially disabled) if you choose "Career Difficulty" in the game options to Easy.
Most Wanted 2005 returns to Nintendo Hard during races, with any AI car that falls behind yours by more than 500 meters suddenly getting unlimited nitrous, twice the top speed, and the ability to reach said speed in about four seconds. Even if it's a Fiat Punto. And that effect generally won't stop until the AI car is about three kilometers ahead of yours.
Carbon the sequel, fortunately, has more balanced AI than the previous game where it's something between easy and somewhat challenging from beginning to midway, to hard-but-still-manageable late game that demands more skill than exploiting AI mistakes.
Subsequent games zigzags in difficulty. Pro Street is It's Easy, so It Sucks, Undercover also It's Easy, so It Sucks until a patch, Hot Pursuit 2010 is this trope including also time trials that demand perfect driving and steering through the traffic-ridden highway, The Run features difficulty settings that can be this or not depends on the difficulty level, Most Wanted 2012, Rivals, and the 2015 game is balanced.
Cobra Triangle is possibly the most evil vehicle-based game that ever came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System (except for the vehicle-based stages of Battletoads, which resemble it greatly). A boat racing game in theory, there were a number of levels in which you had your boat doing everything from protecting random swimmers to jumping over waterfalls. Most player never even get past the giant fire-breathing shark.
To say that the Midnight Club street racing franchise from Rockstar Games is tough is putting it nicely. The second game in the series, for example, is so hard that you have to input howhardcanitbe0 into the cheats menu to have a shot at winning any of the later races.
If "rubberband AI" was in the dictionary, this series (especially the 2nd installment) would be a listed example. Winning by milliseconds is the norm. After you cross the finish line, the others racers jump across it like they were waiting just off screen. If you screw up anywhere, you will go from first place to last before you can blink and be left in the dust for the rest of the race.
Also, despite being called Midnight Club, the game works on a 24 hour-like clock, which means that means half of the time, you will be racing during the day. Hilariously, it is impossible to see traffic coming at you during the day (as half the cars blend into the road itself), but quite easy to see them at night (when their headlights and taillights are among the few things you can see on the road). Furthermore, the later games in the series slow down time to show your car spinning out of control as the AI races past you. Therefore, only race at night, stay close to the center of the map, and use the zone skill to keep your speed on turns, and you might just beat the game while only pressing the restart button 1500 times.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is a particularly grating game, even compared to the rest of the Midnight Club series. Your cars have almost no grip on the road and bounce off of traffic like they were in a pinball machine. Now, your opponents will actually wreck when they are in front of you. The problem is that they are wrecking "in front" of you, which means, more often than not, "you" will run into them or the traffic they hit. This basically means you spend half the game with little to no control over your vehicle, flying around like you were out of control on some mad roller coaster praying you don't screw up or get screwed up (have you ever been on a wooden roller coaster by the way? They are designed to feel out of control which is exactly how this game feels, all the time!).
As noted on the Midnight Club page, Rockstar later patched the game to soften the difficulty curve. This patch was also included in the South Central pack and Complete Edition.
F-Zero GX is another modern example of Nintendo Hard. The multiple gameplay modes all have several available difficulties, ranging from the "antsy but doable" Novice to the "I'd dang well better get a trillion bucks as a reward for all this" Master.
To elaborate, there are three main single-player modes. Can you master them all? 1) beat all 5 Grand Prix cups on the Master difficulty. This is very hard. 2) beat all 10 story chapters on the Very Hard. This is extremely hard. 3) unlock all the staff ghosts in time trial and beat them, which is "don't even think about doing this" hard. Also, some sick dev decided to set up a bunch of interview questions and responses... each of 41 characters has over a dozen to answer, and only one is given each time you win a four race cup with that player). Getting even most of them together is a team effort.
Story Mode had so many moments of Fake Difficulty, that trying to get the AX racers without Game Shark is a masochistic endeavor.
There are only two ways to unlock the AX racers in GX: Beat all the story chapters on Very Hard (one for each character,) and play at one of the F-Zero AX arcade machines with your memory card. And good look finding one of those anywhere outside of Japan.
The Forza series, particularly the third Motorsport game on the "hard" difficulty, which is up there with F-Zero GX.
See also Forza Horizon, except this is mostly down to Rubber Banding. You know Darius Flynt? The guy you could beat without much trouble in the final official race of the game if you knew what you were doing and had a half decent car? Well, apparently he put a warp drive in his 599XX before the final 1 on 1 race. You can be 10 seconds clear of the guy coming off the freeway, but as soon as you get onto the mountain roads, the guy's riding your ass like a BMW is his daily drive. And once he's gotten past you? You may as well restart the race, because unless he hits a traffic car, you aren't catching him up, even if you're driving a modified Veyron SS.
In the Gran Turismo games, you are required to complete a series of driving tests to be able to compete in all races. These driving tests are usually pretty unforgiving, with tight time limits and immediate disqualifications for straying off the track, meaning it's easy to have to replay some tests dozens of times. After having to take the tests over and over again in GT4 you will absolutely loathe the song "Oh Yeah" by Yello (unless you're such a Ferris Bueller fan that the song eases the pain...)
One test in particular, from GT4, involves doing a lap around Nürburgring — a 30 km track — behind a slow car that must not be hit or overtaken. Not only is it very difficult, but it shows up twice in the game as some of the final tests before getting the top two licenses. The Super License version has you in a much faster car. A guide on Game Faqs says "You don't stand a chance at getting Gold on this test unless you have the entire ring memorized. There aren't any tricks or cheats on this course — you just have to be good to do it. So practice."
The Mercedes Showdown in GT4 is the legendary grand champion of Nintendo Hard motherf***ing races. You race on the Nürburgring, the opponents are given a 3 minute head start, your otherwise ultra-powerful car handles "like a fish out of water", and you only have one chance to catch up to them.
GT5, however, manages to top the Mercedes Showdown from 4 with the Red Bull Time Trial challenge. The car you're driving is a Red Bull X2010. It's easily the coolest and fastest car in the game completely unabated, with speeds topping at an incredible 278+ MPH, a 0-60 MPH acceleration rate literally much faster than the blink of an eye, ungodly handling abilities, and a braking ability that puts even the best Formula One cars to shame. Problem is, these same characteristics that this car boasts actually work against it as it makes the car horrendously easy to go off-track and crash. Even worse, you have to drive this hyper-beast of a car in 3 events of this challenge, and it is nearly impossible to claim even a bronze with this thing, let alone gold. Oh, and driving with a steering wheel controller is pointless with the X2010 because there is so much force feedback generated that it vibrates like no tomorrow to the point where it is impossible to try controlling the damn car, so good luck driving it with the regular Dual Shock controller.
Mario Kart Wii came under fire for this. The game takes the unfairness of the items from the previous games and turns it up to 11. First place? You're going to get hit by lightning while going over a jump, which means Lakitu has to fish you up and dump you back on the track. And then, just because the game hates you, you'll get smacked in the face by two red shells, leaving you somewhere around 9th. Then when you get close to first again, someone with invincibility will just knock you off the track again.
Even more fun, try for three stars taking all the various misfortunes into consideration. It's a borderline Luck-Based Mission, and it's enough to make you want to hurl your Wiimote at the wall.
To pour more salt in the wound, the AI characters have the most blatant display of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. No matter what kart the player is in or how long you've been in first place you get within sight of the finish line on the third lap and BAM: blue shell, red shell, star, and thunderbolt. Now you are in last place.
The game seems to up the ante when you're closing in on defeating it. Having previously achieved silver on the final cup, coming back to it later when it's the last remaining non-gold cup sees the opponents and item box screw dialed up to eleven.
Mario Kart 64 has a ton of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard moments. It doesn't matter if you jumped half the track from Rainbow Road or the wall in Wario's Stadium, the computer always catches up to you. In Bowser's Castle, the opposite is true: If you fall from first place and lose sight of the current first place, you will never catch up to it.
The Adventure Mode of Diddy Kong Racing requires the player to come in first place on all the races. Twice. While collecting silver coins the second time around. And they have to beat the bosses twice as well. And you have to win trophy races on the first four worlds just to get to the fifth and final one.
And then once you beat the final boss, you unlock Adventure Two, where you get to do it all over again... except not only are all the courses mirrored, but during the Silver Coin Challenges, the coins are placed in some of the most absurd, out-of-the-way areas possible; it might take several run-throughs just to find them all. And you still have to come in first place.
Although the game did let you co-up. The later races are only hard until Player Two turns around and sits on an appropriate power-up spot and ejects a stream of infinite rockets. It's possible to hold some opponents in place for the duration of the entire race if done right.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed: This game may take the gameplay of Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, but it combines elements of both and introduces that Sonic twist to things. Veterans of Mario Kart will find that spacing out the boosts yields weak little spurts, but long drifts, midair stunts, boost pads, and boost powerups combined stack their effects for truly massive boosts, which are required to keep up with the AI, who are also using all these things to get ahead. The drift mechanic is also difficult to master, and prevents the ability to "snake" straightaways for drift boosts. Combine this with the key element, your race vehicle transforming between car, boat, and plane at different sections of track, forcing you to change your driving style to match, and the track itself coming apart or changing routes for each lap, and you have a racing game that demands a lot of memorization and skill just to complete.
Even more so, the original Sonic Riders. The boosting, air-charging, and drifting mechanics are given only a confusing explanation that does not teach you how to actually use them, the air-changing terminals are often hard to find, and the artificial intelligence is basically perfect, with no rubberbanding whatsoever. It's not infrequent for players to slam their controllers at their TVs in frustration at being unable to get the required third place or higher in the first race.
Grand Prix Legends: A game simulating one of the most difficult and hazardous seasons in Formula One. This is the sort of game which it can take weeks to finish a sprint race on the same lap as the leaders, let alone a full-length race. Twitchy cars with rock-hard cross-ply tyres, brakes which seem fit more for sending you into the wall than helping you to corner and no downforce combine with terrifying variants of the already-difficult Nurburgring and Spa-Francorchamps tracks to make you feel wholly inadequate. Oh, and if you set up a race with less racers on the track, the sim keeps the better ones!
Richard Burns Rally: A simulator with unforgivingly realistic driving physics on narrow tracks where the slightest mistake will send you careening off the track and your car likely totaled. Not surprising given how rallying is the most Hard Core motorsport out there. Those used to Colin McRae Rally or DiRT will be in for a VERY rude awakening upon trying RBR.
In Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights, the ultimate upgrades for each class have to be unlocked by winning a lap against a far superior vehicle. Some are easier, as the faster vehicle has poor handling, whereas others are frustratingly hard. The best power upgrade challenge pits you against a nitro equipped Zonda F on a track with two long straights and two hairpins. Yeah... NO.
The Jet Moto series for the original PlayStation. Large numbers of ruthless opponents, lots of sharp turns, Marathon Levels, Bottomless Pits everywhere, etc., not to mention a lot of confusing course designs that usually takes a few laps to get a handle on.
The first mission in the first Driver game requires you to complete a series of challenges in a parking garage in under 60 seconds. Very, very difficult challenges, on a par with Gran Turismo's license tests. Show us what you can do, indeed. This mission later returns in Driver: San Francisco as a Nostalgia Level.
The final level of the game, "The President's Run," is a Luck-Based Mission... meaning that if you get really, really lucky, you might be able to do it. Even with the invincibility cheat active, it's still easy to lose by getting your car flipped over.
The series as a whole can count, but especially the first game, which does not suffer sub-par drivers lightly, and often even the slightest mistake will ruin the entire mission. The limitations of the engine also don't allow for curved roads, meaning that every single turn is a sharp 90-degree turn (with the rare exception of a few areas allowing you to drive off-road for more gradual turns.)
The Mario Kart clone Mickey's Speedway USA has this in the later stages which require you to do quick 90-degree turns to avoid falling off the course. Crazy Commentaries took these on and one of the members described the final stage, Colorado, as Battletoads in a racing game.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer: Revenge. The game itself is not unreasonably hard; the last few races are challenging, but certainly winnable. HOWEVER, if you want to unlock the bonus secret characters, it's virtually impossible. It requires that you score the top score for a single lap with the same character in every track in the game to unlock Episode I Anakin, the top KO score for every track to unlock Darth Maul, and the overall best race time record for every track to unlock Watto. To unlock Darth Vader, you have to unlock all three and beat the game with one of them. Just to give you an idea of how hard this is; to beat the KO record in the first four tracks of the game, you have to eliminate EVERY opponent in about two minutes, while they are all trying to win the race.
Super Mario Kart may as well be the poster child of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard for the entire franchise. The AI on 150cc will always catch up to you at some point and can even stay ahead of you unless you play aggressively with the power sliding mechanics. The AI can also clip through course obstacles except for walls, so this means that obstacles like pipes, Thowmps, Cheep Cheeps, and others will hassle you, but never the AI. The AI also has unlimited items and can use them at will while you're limited to picking up items from item panels. If the AI controls Mario or Luigi, they will have unlimited stars, which means they can become invincible AND even faster than usual at will!
The enemy AI is just the icing on the cake. The real bulk of the soul-shattering difficulty comes from the horrifically sadistictrack design, with a very tight and dense concentration of traps, solid walls, 90 degree+ turns and Bottomless Pits. Special mention goes to Rainbow Road, an isolated stretch of track with no railings whatsoever. Good luck beating all the tracks to unlock 150cc mode, let alone playing them on it.
NASCAR Arcade by SEGA seems like your typical SEGA racing game, this time, with a NASCAR license. The catch? Time extensions in this game are not done with checkpoints. Instead, you have to reach target positions to get more time. It's easy to slipstream past the tail end of opponents, but as you progress further you'll encounter smarter opponents. If you crash or otherwise lose speed, completing the race will easily become impossible. This is already hard on the two oval-shaped courses, but apply this mechanic to a technical course, Watkins Glen, and the course easily propels into That One Course territory, even with only 15 opponents instead of 30.
The Wipe Out series is primarily known (and remembered) for its many Those Levels - sharp corners (bonus points if they're blind as well), chicane series and hairpins are often the reasons why. And the That One Level (s) start appearing in some cases as soon as the third or fourth track(s). Combine this with challenges that can get to Nintendo Hard levels themselves (the "Combo" challenges in the earlier games are especially prone to this) as well as game-specific factors (whether it is the earlier games' Difficulty Spike, Fusion's Luck-Based Mission or HD's Harder Than Hard AI) and the result is that one has to master absolutely every single mechanic in the games in order to 100 % them.
Formula One licensed games tend this way, simply by being rock-hard simulations of a sport of millimeters and microseconds - a player must be able to handle their throttle, brakes and steering perfectly to just stay on the track and exceed that to be a viable racer, not to mention later games including KERS and DRS - both forms of temporary speed boost that make the car even harder to control. Of special note are race starts - Formula One cars are exceptionally fragile - losing tires, wings or even having to retire races completely just because of what would be a minor scrape in a closed-wheel vehicle is not unheard of and starting a race involves 20+ of these exceptionally finicky and fragile cars trying to take the same corner right next to each other - and unless one is brilliant at starting a race without bogging down or spinning the tires - a very fine balancing act itself - you will be in the middle of all of this.
TrackMania has been known for having tracks like this on multiplayer. Since most players play on Stadium, this enviroment has became almost unplayable for newer players on multiplayer as most servers make tracks that cater to this type of track. For example, there's one track that involves making a sharp turn in which you inevitably will need to slow down, then go fast enough within the small space available to jump through a wide gap!
NHRA Drag Racing 2007: Countdown To the Championship. How hard can it be to drive in a straight line? Well, as it turns out, very.
You, as a new player, stick to Quick Race mode on a default setup to get used to the game, eventually pulling consistent times.
You move on to career mode. You have four rounds to qualify for the elimination rounds, and must be within the top 16 qualifiers to proceed. You quickly discover the default setup is hopelessly uncompetitive.
You go to the setup page, only to find multiple arcane setup options. The help feature only throws paragraphs of info that is utterly nonsensical to someone unfamiliar to setting up a car. And auto-tune (if the difficulty level permits it) will still leave you off the pace, so you need to fiddle with things yourself
At a loss, you throw together a random setup (and you have a time limit to tweak settings,) and attempt to qualify. You immediately light up the rear tires and ruin your run, or blow the engine (which costs money to repair. Better hope it was only a blower belt which let go.) Alternatively, you move out of the groove of the track, and either lose traction and light up the rears (again,) or spin and crash.
You inevitably fail to qualify, and get to sit out the race. This happens the next few rounds. Your sponsor leaves you for poor performance, you run out of money, and have to start all over again.
And then, if you get a good setup, you have to further tweak it to match changing conditions, or even entirely different tracks.
Eventually, everything starts to make sense, you learn where you can go balls-out, which tracks are impossible to consistently tune for, and you develop a baseline setup that sees you through qualifying, and you actually get to "play on Sunday." All right, now you can focus on winnin- You just got blown into the weeds in the first elimination round. And the guy set a national ET record while doing so.