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Deadly Walls

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"Terrain is more deadly than any bullet."

You have an incredibly powerful spaceship capable of killing hundreds of enemies per minute even before it's powered up. After collecting several Power Ups, you have weapons so powerful that you can destroy most enemies before they can fire a single bullet and destroy bosses in a matter of seconds. If you die, you'll be demoted all the way back down to a single direction of fire and will die over and over again, but that's okay. With all the weapons you have right now, most enemies don't stand a chance, and you can easily avoid the occasional Invincible Minor Minion, right?

There's only one problem. The walls are deadly, and even the slightest brush with them will kill you.

This trope is most common with Auto Scrolling games, especially in Space Shooters in which anything kills you in one hit. Even if your ship scrolls along at a relatively slow rate, if a corner of your ship so much as grazes the wall beside you, you will violently explode.

The deadly wall is usually one of a number of things that makes for a Nintendo Hard space shooter. Sadistic developers may fill later levels in the game with tight passages filled with twists and turns, expecting the player to navigate them while the level continues to scroll forward. Sometimes navigating these passages is much more difficult than dealing with hordes of enemy ships, making one wonder why the Big Bad even bothered constructing so many ships when a few maze-like passages (or just one big wall) would have done a better job. It may also raise questions about how your ship can maneuver around a winding path when the Auto Scrolling is supposed to represent your ship flying forward.

To add insult to injury, most older consoles such as the NES have digital d-pads. The luxury of an analog stick, where tilting the stick slightly moves the ship slowly, does not exist on these consoles. The combination of these touchy controls with an auto scrolling level filled with narrow twisty passages is enough to inspire plenty of controller throwing moments.

Somewhat realistic in some games, especially if the ship has a plane-like design and driving at very high speeds, as grazing a wall with a wing would have catastrophic results. In other games, it feels like the walls must be covered in some sort of weird radioactive substance to have the instantly deadly effect they have.

Not to be confused with The Walls Are Closing In, Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom, Descending Ceiling, or the Advancing Wall of Doom.


  • A lot of flash games online that are based on Copter come under this trope, including the original game, the Bullet Bill series and the Paper Plane series of games. Then again, everything in these games is a one hit kill in the same way as many arcade shooting games.
  • The Ace Combat series uses them, mostly because aircraft smacking into mountains and buildings don't tend to stay in one piece. Particularly noticeable in the obligatory canyon and tunnel missions.
    • In Air Combat, the first game in the series, the canyon run itself isn't so bad, but the technical limitations of the game and lack of depth perception makes it very difficult to navigate through the level without crashing.
  • Action 52: In Micro Mike, the screen scrolls so fast and Mike is so sluggish it's nearly impossible to avoid the walls. And Starevil and Atmos Quake have shoddy collision detection that kills you from being a few feet away from the walls. Starevil is particularly evil in that the player has to move instantly to avoid running into a deadly obstacle in the first second of gameplay.
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures has skull & crossbones-marked Death Blocks that are a One-Hit Kill if the Nerd touches them. In many levels, they appear and disappear at timed intervals, creating Corridor Cubbyhole Run situations.
  • The Genesis space shooter Arrow Flash had plenty in the later levels, including a winding path, and is a classic example of a game where they're your biggest threat after you've built up your weaponry (which all goes away if you die). One of the Arrow Flash moves gives temporary invincibility against them; just don't use it too late.
  • In Badland, simply colliding with walls isn’t lethal and it’s in fact needed to bounce off them and move around the level. However, getting stuck in one of the many bends for several seconds will kill you.
  • In Battletoads, the notorious Turbo Tunnel is a high-speed maze of one-hit-kill walls, some flashing at the edge of the screen to warn of their approach, others deposited on the ground by flying rats. The seventh level (and the second level of Battletoads for the Game Boy) had deadly barriers the height of the screen with small gaps to fly through.
  • Berzerk featured walls that would kill you no matter how lightly you grazed them. The good news is that the walls were equally deadly to most of your enemies - the robots wandering around shooting at you. The bad news is that Evil Otto not only wasn't hurt by the walls, he could pass through them as if they weren't there at all. "The humanoid must not escape," indeed. The sequel, Frenzy, made the walls non-lethal, but gave them other properties instead.
  • Likewise, in Bio-Hazard Battle, your Living Ship would only get destroyed if it got squished at the far left of the screen.
  • In Border Down, the walls are only deadly if the ship pushes into them more than once.
  • In Bubble Ghost, touching any wall would make the bubble pop. The player-controlled ghost however, is invulnerable.
  • In the original Castle Wolfenstein, bumping into a wall stuns the player for several seconds. Not particularly lethal unless he's being chased by a soldier at the time...
  • Crystal Quest used this in a sneaky way: the only deadly walls in the game are on the exit gate.
  • Curse Crackers: For Whom The Belle Toils: In later levels (and a few hidden areas in earlier levels), there are walls made of black rock with Malice dripping from them. Touching them results in instant death.
  • Averted in Death Smiles. Not only is touching walls harmless, but if you get squished by a wall and a screen edge, you'll simply be safely pushed to where there is open space.
  • DonkeyKong:
    • Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest: The bramble levels. Since the walls are made of bramble (which has a lot of thorns), it's justified. Fortunately, the floors and walls only hurt Squawks himself when he is carrying Diddy and/or Dixie (but he will drop one of them when hit, losing a life if they're both gone). When transformed into Squawks directly, touching hazards (including bramble walls) will lose a life if the other Kong isn't "in reserve", and remove them from reserve if they are.
    • Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! has a variation the very last non-boss level, "Rocket Rush". The player must control a rocket all the way down a canyon and then back up on another direction while avoiding running out of fuel. In the second half, there are no fuel pickups whatsoever, and the tolerance is so tight in certain versions that, even if it doesn't damage you directly, hitting a ceiling even once wastes enough fuel that you're guaranteed to run out, fall back down and die instantly.
    • Donkey Kong 64: A part in Crystal Caves has a version of this. You have to move through walls of brambles in a spiral shape to reach the prize in the center. Hitting the walls at all takes off one of your three life watermelons (essentially hitting you for 4HP). Sounds simple, except the bramble walls spin back and forth, making it a great feat to get in and out without dying. And you do the maze as DK, who has a pretty large hitbox, and that it’s possible to accidentally access it before the third watermelon is acquired.
    • Donkey Kong Country Returns has the infamous rocket barrel levels, where hitting anything would instantly kill you. This was corrected in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze where walls break when hit, costing you a Hit Point instead of a whole life.
  • The NES trainwreck port of Dragon's Lair allows you to have a lifebar, but touching the harmless-looking wooden door at the start of the game results in instant death. No acid poured from above, no electricity from the door, just turning Dirk into a skeleton, as the rest of the enemies usually does.
  • Earthworm Jim had a level with an interesting twist where you drove a sort of underwater lunar-lander style vehicle, basically a glass globe with rockets attached, through twisty passages. It was hard to control, but one knock against the wall doesn't kill you; instead it causes cracks in the glass. The glass can get pretty beaten up before finally shattering (and killing you), resulting in some tense and hilarious situations, especially with the time limit.
  • Downplayed in Einhänder. Touching a wall will NOT destroy the player's ship instantly, but it will if you continue pushing into it.
  • A partial aversion in the old Fantasy Zone series. If you got too close to the ground, your ship would just lower some legs and walk.
  • The infamous Flappy Bird allowed you to safely bounce off the tops of the green Mario-like pipes and only those pipes. Hit the side of the pipe? Die. Hit the ground in any way at any speed? Die.
  • Floors kill you in the Glider games, but walls and ceilings of rooms don't. Cabinets, tables and shelves are effectively Deadly Walls, though, and they can easily appear in maze-like arrangements.
  • Gradius games follow this faithfully, and include an interesting take on the speed problem. The Vic Viper starts with the speed of a stunned snail, but speed upgrades are the absolute easiest to get and lets a player quickly boost the speed to whatever they're comfortable with. But speed boosts don't have a maximum upgrade level, so players can easily upgrade it to the point where a single tap will send them careening into a wall if they're not paying attention.
    • In some games, like Gradius III and V, there is a way to decrease speed. The former has a "Speed Down" powerup as an available 7th powerup, and collecting enough speedups in the latter will change "Speed Up" to "Initial Speed," which resets your speed back to normal, which isn't very necessary anyway as V's maximum speed is tame compared to max speed in other games in the series.
    • Gradius Gaiden has the Guard shield, which protects you from wall collisions. However, it tends to be Awesome, but Impractical because it is a big shield, which means enemy attacks can easily eat through its 3-hit lifespan.
    • In Life Force for the NES, even a force field will not save your jet if it hits a wall. This is most frustrating when the Auto Scrolling picks up speed for a while in Level 4 for no discernible reason.
    • Also, Deadly Walls and Bullet Hell don't meet each other nicely. A wise player should plan out carefully, using these walls as their cover behind the nasty bullet showers the mooks are firing. Even then this doesn't always work well.
  • Subverted in Hellsinker; if you bang into a wall or enemy, you just get knockback. However, that knockback may very well send you into an enemy projectile, so be very careful, especially in cramped parts such as Segment 3 Behind and Segment 5.
  • Ikaruga is a more modern example. In this game though, only the very center of the ship can be killed by anything, including walls. In some cases experts can go between a wall and a destructible barrier even when it looks like there is no space between them.
  • Averted in In the Hunt. Your submarine can safely touch the walls.
  • In the Macintosh shareware game The Lawn Zapper, your lawnmower is equipped with a cannon that can blast through most obstacles, but touching any of them causes it to instantly explode.
  • Little Big Adventure was a 3D isometric action/adventure game where the main character would take damage and get stunned every time he touched a wall while running. This could get very annoying because of the large amount of maze-like villages and dungeons in the game. They fixed this in the second game after lots of complaining from fans.
  • It's a tradition in Mega Man games to have at least one segment where your character falls through a shaft lined with death spikes or some other obviously deadly hazard; the page image shows such a drop from Mega Man 3.
    • The addition of the Wall Jump in Mega Man X added a variation to the games that came after where characters occasionally have to travel up a shaft lined with death spikes. Most of these shafts will also be filled with enemies and and hazards purposely designed to knock, throw or drop the player into the spikes. Examples include Spike Rosered's stage in Mega Man X5 and Neo Arcadia Tower in Mega Man Zero.
  • Night Striker has background obstacles that are walls or act like walls. The damage is justified because you just crashed into them!
  • The arena/sidescrolling hybrid shmup Omega Five is an another aversion of this trope.
  • Averted in the ancient arcade shooter Omega Race, where the edges of the screen and the box in the center (containing your score and extra life data) had force fields that you could bounce off of harmlessly. Of course, with the abundance of other things trying to kill you, it didn't need deadly walls.
  • Osmos generally allowed your cell to bounce off the walls of the circular arena with no penalty. Sometimes, however, they would absorb your cell instantly, regardless of its size. Usually, this happened on the levels where you needed to absorb the Repulsor cell, which tried to push you into those.
  • Parodius actually has the one giant wall. Fortunately, there is a power-up that gives your ship a Wrap Around ability to avoid it.
  • The refueling tunnels in Parsec for the TI-99.
  • Puggsy had this for the (thankfully) optional level 'Lunar Jet Pug'. It was a horrible combination of That One Level, Unexpected Genre Change, Continuing is Painful and of course, One-Hit-Point Wonder. The best part? Oh, you died. Instead of respawning in roughly the same spot with a few seconds of invincibility, we're sending you back to the start. Oh by the way, you now have to do it without the gun you just dropped. Have fun.
  • In Rayxanber, Stage 7 is a maze of deadly wall blocks, most of which materialize out of thin air.
  • Helicopters in RC Helicopter take damage when their rotors hit a wall or any other stationary object. If they take too many hits then they break down.
  • R-Type. Partially removed in the last 2 games: only the walls that you'd logically consider to be lethal (such as a large indestructible battleship) kill you when you touch them, but static pieces of scenery only create a shower of sparks when you grind against them.
    • Or, in one of the more awesome touches in R-Type Final, grinding against the glass outer wall of a skyscraper leaves a trail of shattered glass.
    • Averted in the loosely related game Armed Police Unit Gallop.
  • In Reactor, the Deadly Walls you bounce particles into (or get bounced into yourself) are actually called Kill Walls in the game.
  • In Scramble and Super Cobra, crashing into buildings and terrain was deadly. The base levels forced players to go through some very narrow passages.
  • Sigma Star Saga has the killer walls. It has a very annoying example of not thinking things through with the level design/game gimmick cohesion. The gimmick of the game is that the ships are alive and have a symbiotic relationship with the parasitic armor the hero wears, which causes them to teleport the hero into the cockpit whenever they get attacked - there are 4-5 different ships the Hero could find himself piloting. Problem is, sometimes you end up in a ship that is way too big for the tunnel it has wandered into, and you watch helplessly as die.
  • Silver Surfer (1990) is an egregious example of this trope. Like anything, walls will kill him in one hit, but what makes it really bad is the overhead levels, where his surfboard takes up a great deal of space and so much as grazing a wall with the back corner of it will kill him. It should also be noted it's hard to distinguish the walls in the overhead levels making it even more frustrating. And this completely ignores the fact that the Surfer's primary power in the comics is being Nigh Invulnerable.
  • Sin and Punishment doesn't have these since you are on foot and can just stop before running into a wall, but one chase scene has them similar to Star Fox's mechanics, making you have to dodge walls, bullets and bottomless pits too.
  • has a red border enclosing the entire playing area. Colliding into it doesn't just kill your current snake - it completely vanishes, leaving no mass behind that other players could consume.
  • The classic Snake, when it didn’t have the rubber-band screen.
  • In Soap Bubble, everything is deadly on touch, including walls. Justified as you are playing as a soap bubble.
  • Walls in Söldner-X damage your ship on contact, and the second level is Deadly Walls Hell.
  • Averted in Space Megaforce (aka Super Aleste in Japan), where walls will only kill you if you get squished between one and the bottom of the screen.
  • A Commodore 64 game called Star Ranger had a whopping six stages that cycled endlessly. The third and sixth were both some sort of tunnel maze with this trope fully active. And in one, if not both, the tunnel involved backward motion while it was scrolling.
  • Star Wars Trilogy Arcade:
    • In the first part of the Endor forest stage, you have some control over your speeder bike. This means you can run into trees if you aren't careful.
    • In the second part of the Death Star II stage, as you fly along the station's surface, there are walls blocking your path. Shoot the ones with blue crosshairs or you will take damage.
    • In the third part of the Death Star II stage, there are several barriers blocking your way. You must shoot them to destroy them or take damage.
  • A lot of the running-type games that were released for smartphones (ex. Temple Run) featured these as a common obstacle, and one had to figure out quickly if the wall had to be sidestepped, jumped, or slid under.
  • This is the point of Super Hexagon, a game where you control a triangle spinning around a hexagon and try to avoid walls that converge in on the hexagon. While colliding head-on with a wall will kill you, rubbing the side of one won't; this can be heavily used to your advantage.
  • The Japanese game show Ucchan Nanchan no Honoo no Challenger has an event where contestants must guide a rod through a maze (of sorts) under a nowhere-near-forgiving time limit, and the rod gives off a burst of smoke if it collided with anything in the maze, including the walls, a slot-machine type contraption, rods, at least 1 robot, or a pendulum. This was adapted by Saurus into an Arcade Game running on a unique variant of the Neo Geo system with a trackball controller and blasts of compressed air as the penalty for collisions, and a PlayStation game localized by Jaleco under the name Irritating Stick. Sometimes challenges of this sort appear in those Nintendo Hard real-life obstacle course competitions. The whole concept appears based on the classic board game Operation, where the sides of the chambers are "deadly" in the sense touching them ended your turn. They all work on the same principle. Both the stick and the edges of the maze are electrified. Touching them completed the circuit and triggered the alarm.
  • Venture has deadly walls protecting a treasure in a dungeon that the player's character must safely navigate through and escape before a Hallmonster comes in after you.
  • The first game in the WipEout series had a lighter version of this: merely scratching a wall would instantly set the player's speed to zero. The following PS1 games handled it a bit better, but then the collision handling became abusable.