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Difficulty by Acceleration

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When gameplay gradually goes into fast forward as you progress. The core gameplay mechanics stay the same, but everything speeds up, forcing the player to react with quicker reflexes to stay alive.

Historically, in older games, fast forwarding was often used to compensate for a limited number of levels—when they ran out of new levels to show you, they'd have you play through the old ones again at a faster speed. Nowadays, it's still standard issue in action/survival-type Puzzle Games like Tetris, and one of the most popular ways to add Dynamic Difficulty to an Endless Game, including many Endless Running Games.

If you're lucky, the controls (player character/cursor movement, key repetition, etc.) get faster too, allowing you to keep up. If you aren't, you're eventually felled by the controls' lack of responsiveness.

Subtrope of Dynamic Difficulty. Compare Kill One, Others Get Stronger.


Video Games

  • The race sections of Battletoads get faster and faster towards the end of each level.
  • Breakout is one of the earliest examples of this trope, dating all the way back to 1976. The ball speeds up as the player destroys more bricks.
  • Part of the package in Burnout, where over the course of the Career Mode you would unlock gradually faster cars. The hardest part about the Super and Special class cars isn't the tracks, but the speed: you would have less time to react to corners, walls and oncoming traffic. Luckily with most tracks you get the chance to drive around them in a slower class better-suited to them before stepping up. For new players some of the hardest challenges in the game are the Preview Events where you're kicked to one of the fastest cars in the game on a track you've never raced on before.
  • Critical Mass uses this in most of its gameplay modes.
  • Dancing Monster has seven speed settings. Faster speeds make the monster's weak points harder to shoot.
  • In Dubbelmoral!, the speed and frequency of branches falling from the trees, one of which hangs over the urinal you need to regularly use to avoid bladder rupture, increases with the player's score. At high levels, the falling branches can stunlock the player to death in just a few seconds.
  • In Duck Hunt, the ducks fly faster every level.
  • Epic Coaster: The rollercoaster gets faster and faster the longer you play, going at 30 MPH after 30 seconds, 50 MPH after a minute, and so on.
  • Difficulty progression in most of the Five Nights at Freddy's games primarily comes from the animatronics showing up at your door at an increasingly fast rate.
  • Friday Night Funkin': Naturally for a rhythm game, faster songs mean faster notes to hit with quicker reflexes. Week 1's final song, "Dad Battle", has a fast-paced tempo appropriate for what is essentially a boss fight against The Father, after which rapid fire notes appear in just about every song at one point or another.
  • Frogger. The cars that move across your path in the first half of the screen and some of the turtles in the second half can increase in speed after you clear a screen.
  • Fruity Frank: If you started on "slow", the speed progresses to "fast" in 5-6 levels, but doesn't increase further.
  • FunOrb includes several games that do this, including Bouncedown, Deko Bloko, Lexicominos, Geoblox, Pixelate, and The Track Controller.
  • Galaga gets faster and faster as you progress.
  • Most Game & Watch games work this way, although they often reset back to a slower speed after a certain number of iterations.
  • This is one of the ways Guitar Hero (and its sibling, Rock Band) dials up the difficulty; on higher difficulty settings, notes reach the end of the track much more quickly. The songs themselves don't change, so if you know the tempo of the songs you can use your ear to keep pace, but novice players who sight-read the track will quickly get overwhelmed.
  • Jetpack Joyride twists the trope: the power-up vehicles usually dial back the scroll speed to give the player a chance to adjust to the change in controls. Depending on how far the player's current run lasts, the speed may decrease or increase again on losing the vehicle.
  • Lethal League applies this trope to a Fighting Game. A Hyperdestructive Bouncing Ball bounces around the stage, and characters attack it to speed it up, allowing it to deal more damage if it hits another character. It doesn't take long for this ball to start careening everywhere at ludicrous speeds, upon which direct contact with it becomes a One-Hit Kill.
  • Neon Drive's speed increases with the difficulty setting, with the music accordingly remixed. Good luck, as the game is already Nintendo Hard on normal difficulty.
  • Neopets had plenty of flash games, with the arcade-like ones becoming faster as the game continues (or at least require the player to do things faster with a smaller time limit.)
  • With Number Munchers level 19, the troggles move faster.
  • Pac-Man gets faster and faster on higher levels, continuing until the Kill Screen.
  • Progressbar 95: Later levels drop segments much faster and they away more erratically as well.
  • Prohibition: If you manage to survive long enough killing gangsters, the game will eventually loop back to the first enemy... with the timer (and nothing else) going down faster.
  • The original video game Pong. Every time a paddle hit the ball, the ball would speed up slightly, increasing the difficulty in returning the ball.
  • This is utilized in almost every Puyo Puyo game's Scenario and Endless modes, with later levels increasing the speed at which Puyos fall into your playfield. As the games' hardware improved, they began to rely less on this and more on smarter AI; nonetheless, you can still expect fast drop speeds against later opponents.
    • In Puyo Puyo Tetris 2's Boss Raids mode, when you encounter him as a boss, Sonic has a skill that forces you to drop your Puyos and Tetriminoes much faster.
  • Rhythm Heaven has minigames that speed up in mid-play. Also, in Megamix, some challenge courses ratchet up the difficulty with "Tempo Up" modifiers, though some games that silence the music to trip a player's timing can become easier at higher speed.
  • Robot Unicorn Attack starts out slow but as the game goes on, the speed gradually increases.
  • In Stampede Run, the game gets faster every 1000Ms.
  • The special stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 do this the longer you remain in the stage, with music to match.
  • This was a lucky accident in Space Invaders. Just rendering all the sprites of the enemies was a heavy load for CPUs of the time, but as the player killed more aliens, the computer was able to devote more cycles to moving the enemies, making them faster. Of particular note was that the game designer was unaware that the slow speed was a processing issue, and deliberately set the game to a high speed to compensate. He didn't realize his error until he started playing and shooting at aliens. He liked the effect though, and deliberately left it in.
  • Star Castle, by Cinematronics. The game speeds up as time goes by, the only difficulty increase in the game.
  • In Subway Surfers, not only does the player character move faster, but so do oncoming trains! This does make jumping the gaps between trains easier to a point, and also means that the player gets more mileage out of magnet and jetpack power-ups because more coins scroll by to collect in the same time interval.
  • Super Crossfire speeds up each time you reach a checkpoint, making it more difficult to dodge the enemy shots.
  • Temple Run plays this straight. The longer the player is alive, the faster the main character runs.
  • Tetris, the poster child for the Falling Blocks game, is a classic example. In Nintendo's Tetris games, the pieces will eventually reach fall speeds that are so fast that it's near-impossible to move a piece to the extreme left or right, resulting in a Kill Screen for all but the greatest of players. In Sega's Tetris games, the max fall speed is even faster, but to compensate, pieces can land on the stack or the floor and still move around for a short period of time. In Arika's Tetris: The Grand Master and a few other miscellaneous releases such as Tetris DS, pieces will eventually hit instant drop speed.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo even on 'Easy mode' while Neo gets faster later on, so do most of the enemies, especially the harder ones.
  • In Ultra Quickplay in The Void Rains Upon Her Heart, accelerating their attacks is one of the methods used to overlevel bosses and make them more difficult.
  • The microgames in WarioWare are ludicrously simple, so this is the main source of challenge. There's also speedup within some boss stages — a notable example is Kat's boss stage in the original, where red and blue platforms speed up and slow down the game respectively when jumped on. When replaying characters' stages, the first and second time you clear the boss games results in microgames being promoted to the second and third difficulty level, and subsequent completions of the boss games only increase the speed.
  • Zone races in the Wipeout series. Your speed increases slowly and gradually, and the only way out is to crash. Also carries the normal racing game example where you graduate to higher speed classes as you progress through the campaign.

Non-Video Game examples

  • In Dune Messiah, Alia's combat simulator attacks faster and faster the longer she manages to evade it. Eventually, she manages to evade long enough for the simulator to go off the rails and start dishing out potentially lethal blows.
  • In Ender's Game, Ender briefly plays a space combat simulator. He quickly tires of playing against the computer, because the AI plateaus and from then on it just keeps running the same strategy with increased speed until no human reflexes could keep up.
  • In the pinball game FunHouse: Rudy's Nightmare, "Haunted Roller Coaster" (a Video Mode which uses the flipper buttons for Action Commands) requires increasingly stringent reaction times as the player progresses.
  • In Williams Electronics' not-quite-a-Pinball Shoot 'Em Up Hyperball, the attacking enemies move faster as the player advances in levels.
  • A classic television example: The I Love Lucy episode "Job Switching." The series main female protagonists, Lucy and Ethel, have gotten jobs at a candy factory and have been sent to the wrapping department, where their task is to wrap pieces of chocolate-covered candies into a piece of tinfoil and return it to the belt. At first, it is a seemingly simple task and both Lucy and Ethel are doing well ... until more and more chocolate pieces are sent through the line and the conveyor belt is just getting started. As the women struggle to keep up, an eventually impossible task, the forewoman comes in to check their progress ... and she merely thinks that the women can handle the brisk pace. So ... "SPEED 'ER UP!!!" ... and the impossibly rapid pace — and Lucy and Ethel unsuccessfully scooping up all the candies as they fly by at a blur — would go on to become a television masterpiece that has stood up more than 65 years.
  • The Irate Gamer exaggerates this through Manipulative Editing — when he says that the Kool-Aid Man video game for Atari gets faster in later levels, he cues sped up gameplay footage.