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Difficulty Spike

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Stage 4: Putting the "Hell" in Bullet Hell.
"I'd like to think of it as taking a comfortable hike through a park, or something fairly smooth. Imagine the process of getting the best ending to be like a sudden 5,000-foot mountain to unexpectedly appear at the end of your hike, with your house nested at the very top of it."
SomecallmeJohnny describing the Difficulty Spike of Cave Story

A game that is light and easy suddenly becomes insanely difficult. Perhaps it's bad game design, maybe it's a sadistic developer, who knows? But all of a sudden, the game makes you want to throw your controller through the television.

Nintendo Hard games tend to do this a lot. You can get through five worlds without a scratch... but then you lose all 99 extra lives to That One Boss in 6-4. This is often made worse by the fact that it is usually more of a challenge to master a difficult section of a game if there is no intermediate difficulty with which the player can "work their way up" to being able to manage that particular section. In games where the spike occurs earlier than the very end of the game, it may result in the oddity that the section at the beginning of the spike gives the most trouble to players, while the final boss (even though it may be objectively more difficult) is taken out in a relatively short time, because by then the players have adjusted to the new difficulty.


Compare Surprise Difficulty, where a kid-centric brightly colored game is Nintendo Hard. Difficulty Spike is when a game is easy, then suddenly becomes very difficult. There's no ramp up in-between the easy and hard levels like, say, a medium difficulty level.

That One Boss is a specific instance of this trope incarnated in human (or often non-human) form. Wake-Up Call Boss is for the very first boss fight instance that ramps up the difficulty compared to the previous bosses. That One Level occurs when the spike is confined to a single (utterly hellish) level.

Not to be confused with these other kinds of spikes. See also Schizophrenic Difficulty, for when this happens a bit too often, and Sequel Difficulty Spike, when the difficulty spike happens between two games of the same series.



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    Action Adventure 
  • Assassin's Creed: The fights go from "could be beaten by a badly-trained monkey" to "enemies with unblockable attack chains that take a sizable chunk out of your health" right around the time you lose the ability to avoid them.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum is fairly well-balanced on normal difficulty, but it spikes late into the game on hard. Much of the increased difficulty on hard mode comes from increased enemy health, which in the case of Mooks is ignorable if you abuse your unblockable one-hit-kill attack, and in the case of Giant Mooks isn't too unpleasant. Unfortunately for you, said Giant Mooks not only are immune to one-hit-kills, they're the only enemies that can attack you during the Overly Long Fighting Animation if you one-hit-kill regular mooks, so fights that have both regular and giant mooks become the only legitimately difficult fights on hard mode.
  • The difficulty in Batman: Arkham City spikes rather noticeably upon revisiting the Steel Mill, and stays that way for the rest of the main story.
  • In Brave Fencer Musashi, not counting the unbridled Hell that is Steamwood of course, the difficulty stays fairly moderate as you explore the same areas around town like the forest and Twinpeak Mountain. Then you go into the basement of the restaurant and realize God has not come with you: the enemies are much stronger and inflict poison on the regular, it's swarming with bats that are so hard to avoid you can absorb an ability that temporarily repels them, there are brutal platforming segments with rotating blocks, pitch black rooms where your only source of light is a bouncing fireball that hurts you, and a boss who you have to engage with the Water Scroll. After that is Frozen Palace which is swarming with very difficult enemies, ice everywhere, and a truly difficult boss, and then the Ant's Nest which is crawling with Demonic Spiders and the Mine "Cart" ride. You're basically screwed if you didn't rescue the weaver, find the L-Cloth, and get the L-Quilt made.
  • Castlevania's Stage 7 (the third area) is where the difficulty starts to skyrocket. Enemies start dealing more damage, more Goddamned Bats start assaulting you, and more deadly jumps over Bottomless Pits await.
    • Stages 5-6 can be the first real difficulty spike in the original Castlevania. Stage 7 is a pretty modest spike after dealing with the Medusa Head + Bottomless Pit combo.
    • Stage 13 is officially when the game stops pulling its punches. From now on, every hit you take drains at least a quarter of your life, you'll see early bosses appearing as regular enemies, and the normal enemies are interspersed so they can attack in the most sadistic patterns possible. Thank God for unlimited continues.
    • Akumajou Dracula X68000 is even worse. Stage 7 starts off with an infinite fleet of eagles carrying Fleamen, and you can only take 4 hits before you die (which you don't experience in the NES original until you hit Stage 13). And then, there's those hard-to-avoid bubble enemies and the statues that shoot arrows at you...
    • Belmont's Revenge is also noteworthy for the sudden spike in difficulty for the final two bosses.
    • Special mention must go to Super Castlevania IV's final level. A Rise to the Challenge level with a floating spike-ball rapidly making its way up, forcing you to be constantly on the move, while jumping from small platform to small platform where a single mistake could mean death. Add falling blocks, an unexpected section with floating rocks where you must have perfect timing else you get impaled by instant-death spikes and many annoyingly placed enemies that send you plummeting to your death if they hit you, and you get many broken controllers. It really doesn't help that, if you die, you must do it all over again. Right after that, you must face not two, not three, but FOUR bosses in a row, with little health boosts along the way. And one of those bosses is Death itself, in all his inglorious difficulty. However, if you game over by running out of lives here, you start right back at the same boss, and each of them have their own passwords.
  • Castlevania:
    • Castlevania 64 is an example of this; the game progresses pretty normally, until you have to get the "Magical Nitro" part of the game. In order to progress, you need to carry a bomb from the top of the castle to the bottom without getting hit once or even JUMPING. Yes, you heard that right, you are not allowed to JUMP. Then there's the next level: No Save Points with several jumps made trickier by the constant need to fight the camera.
    • Metroidvania titles in the series tend to have a spike immediately after you dodge the bad ending, with enemies becoming more powerful, numerous, and difficult to hit. It usually goes back to normal after you gain a couple of levels and stumble upon really good equipment found in late game areas.
    • Castlevania: Rondo of Blood has a really easy first level. The rest of the game is considerably more difficult, especially Stage 2 (the alternate Stage 2 isn't quite as bad, but it requires doing a more difficult boss to reach it, which is a spike in itself).
  • In Cave Story, depending on what you've gathered, it's either the hidden Last Cave or the final boss; either way, there will be no recharging stations onward. In Last Cave, all your weapons are dropped to level 1 as you enter a Nintendo Hard maze of enemies and traps. It gets replaced with an even harder version if you have the Booster v2.0, and you won't make it through the level without using it proficiently. Then there's a Sequential Boss consisting of 3 boss fights, the second of which Turns Red and the third of which is a triple boss. That's all followed by an escape sequence. You have to fight these bosses all over again if you fail it. Another Difficulty Spike happens on the route for the best ending. The Sacred Grounds has no checkpoints, two boss fights (the second of which has four different forms) and is considered by most to be the hardest level in the game.
  • Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime has the last boss, Flucifer. You can breeze through the whole game without dying once, all the levels are simple and even getting all the slimes you can find by then is no biggie...and then the boss has 500 HP more than you no matter what (your HP upgrades are made moot since you're controlling a different tank), has only three attacks, two of which devastate your cannon deck, making it hard, if not impossible, to counter subsequent hits, its dispensers feed the ammo directly in the cannons, letting it fire continuously no matter what even when the operator is outside, and the tank operator is insanely fast, can teleport, has AOE attacks, and always has, when hit, enough invincibility frames to cast one. And he only needs to cast it once in your engine room to spell your Game Over. And your only crew is a single, uncontrollable Slime that just randomly chucks everything in the cannons.
  • Illusion of Gaia/Time does this twice — first in Mu, and again in Angkor Wat. Prior to each, you're probably laughing about how you're cutting your foes down like grass, then you receive a nasty wakeup call. Matters aren't helped any by the boss of Mu, the Vampire Couple, being considered That One Boss for many players.
  • The Legend of Zelda has this happen in certain games right after a Sword of Plot Advancement event (usually getting the Master Sword):
    • The first five levels of the original The Legend of Zelda are all fun and games. And then in Level 6, some sadistic game designer decided to put Wizzrobes, Like Likes (who take your shield permanently), and Bubbles (who take your sword temporarily) in the same room. At which point, your fun can end pretty quickly. After that, Level 7 and Level 8 are actually easier. Level 9 is The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, so the difficulty spikes again. If you manage to beat it, the game throws everything it can and more in the second quest...
    • The sequel Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has two. The first occurs less than one-third into the game when you first go to Death Mountain to retrieve the magic hammer. After that the difficulty drops (or it least levels off a bit) until you take the path to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ramps up the difficulty considerably when Link defeats Agahnim for the first time. The environment of the Dark World is far harsher than that of the Light World, the first dungeon in this dimension (Palace of Darkness) is larger and more intricate than the previous ones, and its resident boss (Helmasaur King) is much more powerful than previous bosses.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Once Link reaches his adulthood, the difficulty of the game rises abruptly as many of his weapons are no longer usable, which becomes a problem in most of the dungeons that follow up as he's once again underequipped. The first of those dungeons, the Forest Temple, introduces several abstract and mind-blowing puzzles like corridor twisting, hunting elusive Poe ghosts, and block puzzles in mazes. Small and Big keys are required for progress, enemies are more plentiful, both the minibosses and the boss are considerably more difficult, and it has the first appearance of two of the game's Demonic Spiders, Stalfos and Wallmasters. If this dungeon seems too overwhelming, it won't be a good news that most of the others are even harder.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has it earlier with the Lanayru Desert, which has a much higher concentration of puzzles and hazards than the previous areas of the game due to the Timeshift Stones and quicksand, and introduces annoying enemies like Ampilus, Hroks, and Technoblins. Then there's the resident dungeon, the Lanayru Mining Facility, which houses very dangerous enemies like Beamos, Sentrobes, Armos, and Froaks, and the aforementioned hazards of the overworld are present to a greater extent. The consolation is that the boss is very easy to beat (and even then, shortly after completing the dungeon Link must fight The Imprisoned elsewhere, which players hardly remember fondly).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons applies the difficulty spike at the 6th dungeon, the Ancient Ruins. The difficulty of the enemies are substantially increased (Darknuts, Wizzrobes, and Gibdos start showing up in large numbers), many of the puzzles (and the boss) require precision strikes with the Magical Boomerang, and the place is five floors, which is absolutely massive by Oracle standards. It doesn't help at all that Manhandla, the boss, is considered That One Boss.
    • Due to its modular nature, the first four dungeons of Breath of the Wild are all about the same difficulty, so even if you've gotten the Master Sword and retaken all the Beasts, Hyrule Castle is a pretty steep jump. (If you haven't... goddess help you.)
  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has a downright obscene difficulty spike when you reach the final level, going from a Black Out Basement with some difficult navigation and the occasional Bonelegs to the most savagely difficult and unforgiving platforming the series has ever produced for the Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Even combining the Invincibility sub-weapon with the Magic Tiara, which grants you unlimited invulnerability, does little to placate the difficulty.
  • On a related note, Terranigma starts out easy enough, but once Bloody Mary wakes you up, you better stay wide awake through the rest of the game.
  • Tomb Raider has St. Francis' Folly which officially marks when the game lets go of your hand and really stops dicking around with the enemies, platforming, and puzzles (yes, it steps it up from dinosaurs). Right off the bat you're forced to battle groups of lions and gorillas at a time and often in tight spaces, that bastard Pierre will frequently pop up to take pot shots at you and can casually drain half or more of your health if he gets you cornered, and not only do he and the other enemies ignore each other but also you can't kill him but merely pump enough bullets into him to make him run away (if you don't realize this and prevent him from running out of sight, he'll press his attack indefinitely). This is also where the platforming becomes a lot more vertical, with you making tricky jumps at high altitudes and risking instant death if you over or undershoot the distance, and where the puzzles become much more obtuse like the Thor and Damocles rooms. You are in for a lot of abrupt deaths from here on out if you haven't mastered Lara's Difficult, but Awesome acrobatics.
  • Even on the harder difficulty levels, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is challenging, but not frustratingly so. That is, until you get to Shambhala, where even one of the natives is capable of utterly slaughtering you in the blink of an eye.
  • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception took several spikes of difficulty once you reach the ship graveyard. You now have to deal with heavily armored mooks as well as snipers, brutes, and loads of mooks spamming grenades every five seconds all at the same time.

    Action Game 
  • Cannon Fodder is easy going for the first few "run around, shoot people and lob a few grenades at huts" levels. Then you get the horror of Level Eight Phase 2, where you need to clear a map of snipers and then take control of a central turret and blow up five armoured buildings - which are spitting lots of significantly tougher-than-previously enemies out at you, including plenty capable of grenading the turret with you inside. Gets special points for being one of the hardest phases in the entire game, which tends to Schizophrenic Difficulty from this point on.
  • The last two stages of Super Contra (arcade) are a big middle finger from Konami. Demonic Spiders, cheap deaths, That One Boss, Unstable Equilibrium.
  • Cuphead greets you with one every time you move on to a new island.
    • Inkwell Isle II has you meeting a trio far beyond anything you faced in the first one: Djimmi the Great is the easiest, and that's only because you're given all the tools from the start; he's still got several tricks up his sleeve that'll kill you several times. The other two are worse: Baroness von Bon Bon is one of the hardest bosses in the entire island with her endless minions and homing attacks, and Beppi the Clown is a massive annoyance fond of catching you in spots where the only way out is taking damage and generally screwing with the terrain. The only way forward is through one of these, so this is usually the spot where the player deaths really start to rack up.
    • Inkwell Isle III has an even worse greeting crew in the form of two of the hardest bosses in the island and generally the entire game, as well as having to fight yet another infamous one right before even entering the island. Pick your poison: Either you face Rumor Honeybottoms, and suffer through endless homing attacks and an advancing pool of honeyed death in a hall full of erratic platforms, or you try your luck with Captain Brineybeard, and get utterly buried under independent threats that can and will gang up on you until you can't pay attention to it all. And no matter your pick, you will likely be coming right off Grim Matchstick, who will have burned you to a crisp several times with his erratic projectiles and constant platforming through the clouds. Once again, the only way forward is through these three, and the only saving grace is the rest of the island isn't quite as infernal (Dr. Kahl's robot aside).
  • Devil May Cry is pretty simple for the first two stages... and then Phantom shows up at the end of the third stage and mauls you. If you can get past him, there's the Shadow waiting for you in the next level.
  • Devil May Cry 3 is infamously Nintendo Hard, but it doesn't get truly painful until the fifth level's bosses, Agni and Rudra. Many a run of the game, especially the US version with the oddly localized difficulty, has ended there.
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail has two notable spikes, in the Sorrowing Meadows and Everdawn Basin. The first introduces two new enemy types (an Enemy Summoner that teleports away if you get in melee range and the first enemy that can reliably take you out of an aerial attack) while the second has an enemy capable of blocking or avoiding most any melee attack and even your aerial attack as the most common enemy.
  • Gatling Gears has the end of the prologue chapter. After four easy levels where your allies aid you, the game stops pulling its punches when you face off a sequential gauntlet of machines that spam Bullet Hell, with no chance for you to heal in between. The levels after this introduce more dangerous enemies, showing the game's true difficulty.
  • God of War III has two, both involving Hard and Chaos Mode. The first is when you start hard mode after you've played easy/normal mode. The first boss can kick your ass if you're used to playing on the easier modes. The second one is when you get farther into hard mode. After the Hades fight, the game starts to get pretty easy except for a few fights. But after you kill Hera and enter the labyrinth sections, the game starts getting extremely difficult, with enemies and bosses like Skorpius and Cerberus breeder that can rip you to shreds.
  • In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the fight with Monsoon onward is a huge jump in difficulty, with bosses requiring you to notice subtle tells and react quickly, and the stages being full of forced fights against Demonic Spiders. On a larger scale, Very Hard mode is this to players of the lower difficulties, because not only do you encounter Demonic Spiders as early as the first level, but unlike the lower difficulties, enemies attack you at the same time instead of taking turns. Another notable example is the Final Boss, due to him having attack patterns that are completely unlike anything you have seen at this point of the game, such as giant walls of fire, and having ludicrously difficult versions of prior bosses strategies. Such as throwing debris like Monsoon, which you have to cut in a certain way, like with Sundowner. However if you manage to mess up on any one of them, Raiden takes 100% damage.
  • Monster Hunter at least has the courtesy to clearly mark its difficult spike, though the transition from Low Rank quests to High Rank still comes as a shock. Low Rank starts you off at base camp with some loaner supplies, and said supplies are often enough to carry the player through the quest without items of their own. High Rank starts you anywhere on the map at random — possibly right under the monster's nose — and once you do scramble back to base supplies can arrive up to 20 minutes late and will not be enough to carry you, and even a monster you've seen before now hits much harder and has lots more health. Thanks to the way Monster Hunter works, grinding previous quests won't help either; you must clear several high-rank quests to scrape together a set of equipment balanced for the new challenge. The gulf between High and G-Rank is nowhere near as much of a shock as the sudden lack of Low Rank's handholding.
  • Ninja Gaiden 1 (NES) is already difficult to begin with, but in Act 6 the difficulty skyrockets to near Platform Hell levels.
  • The Cabin Fight from Resident Evil 4 is essentially a boss-free Wake-Up Call Boss: it basically marks the part where the game stops dicking around and gets serious. Up until now, ammo has been fairly plentiful and you've had the option to just flee if you run short or are outnumbered. Not here. You're in a small area with no cover and facing an onslaught of Mooks, and you can't even leave the cabin until you've taken enough of them down. If you haven't figured out how to effectively stun enemies and use your melee attacks, you'll run out of ammo in five seconds and be toast.
  • Wizards & Warriors is a fairly difficult game in and of itself, but anyone who's fought the final boss knows that it epitomizes this trope.
  • Wolfchild for the SNES, Genesis, and other consoles gets frustratingly harder in Stage 3 due to dozens of irritating and unfair places where enemies come out of nowhere from the floor and the ceiling in narrow tunnels.

    Beat 'em Up 
  • The most infamous among the NES generation is probably Battletoads.
    • The first level was pretty reasonable. The second level was harder, but no more than you would expect. The third level was OMG! Many gamers from the era swear Level 3's Speeder Bike sequence is the hardest part of the game; these are the gamers who (wisely) gave up early. It gets even harder from there, believe it or not.
    • There's one where you must outrun a Mook to stop him from setting off a bomb that kills you instantly, and the freaking rat not only glides effortlessly through every obstacle, he also moves and falls faster than you do.
    • Then comes the last level, which of course does it again. Not only because it's long, unpredictable, and requires lots of trial and error, but because you're glad if you have even a single credit left after the onslaught of the other levels.
  • Bayonetta has a rather notorious jump in difficulty between Normal and Hard. All of the enemies suddenly attack much, MUCH faster and more frequently, which will surprise players that have become accustomed to their slower, more languid attack speed on the easier difficulties. Enemy spawns are also adjusted, and you can expect to encounter mini-bosses almost as often as you do mooks. Most players need to spend ample time boosting their health and stockpiling items on lower difficulties before they stand a chance on Hard mode.
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: Nothing says "Welcome to Bitter Mode, bitch" by making the tutorial boss suddenly start handing you your ass. And it only gets harder from there.
  • The very first Streets of Rage. The first 7 levels are very manageable, but by level 8 the Mooks come at you in swarms and the kicking ninja-like Mooks will kick you multiple times, jump back, rush and multi kick you again, then repeat as their allies do the same to you on the other side. If the bosses here don't kill you, the Mooks will. Granted, this is toned down on an easier difficulty setting, but the spike is very noticeable on at least Normal. This is repeated in the second game where levels 6 through 8 suddenly up the amount of Mooks that appear to almost small armies.

    Card Games 

    Driving Game 
  • Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is easy enough on Easy; enemy karts don't fire as many weapons and you're almost guaranteed to get to first place with seconds to spare even if they do. Normal already requires finesse and handling and for you to quickly learn how to utilize the turbo boost to get around corners without dropping speed, but races really start to pump up the intensity by the third hub world, especially with Dragon Mines. And Hard mode will have you getting to USF (Ultimate Sacred Fire - blue-fire turbo) or near-relentless weapon spam just to make it through the first area.
  • In Diddy Kong Racing:
    • Once you got to the first boss, Tricky the Triceratops, you learned how tough the races in this game could be. The second boss, Bluey the Walrus, is a nice break, but the third boss, Bubbler The Octopus, is an absolute nightmare, especially the second time around, and the fourth boss, Smokey the Dragon, practically forces you to memorize the course and the placement of his fireball attacks to win the race.
    • Expect the Silver Coin Challenge for any given race to be much harder than the original race. Having three laps to get eight coins at various (often hard to reach) points on the track and still having to place first is harder than it sounds.
  • While you can beat most of Driver by avoiding being noticed by the cops by driving legally while in their zone, in the last level, the cops are actively trying to demolish you from the beginning to the end. It sounds easier than it is; even while using an invincible cheat, it's easy to get a game over by having the car knocked upside down.
  • Forza Motorsport 3 was criticized for its unbalanced difficulty settings, with the gap between Medium and Hard being too large. Forza Motorsport 4 balanced this out by lowering the Hard difficulty somewhat and adding Expert mode for the truly hardcore.
  • In Iggy's Reckin' Balls, World 7, Sun Canyon, feature the first stages in the game that require Flapping and Drop Swings, two complicated techniques that require good timing to use effectively and can set you back by a few seconds each time you execute it incorrectly.
  • The last level of Micro Machines. The sports cars on the desktop stages are difficult anyway, but the final iteration, "Win This Race To Be Champion" is particularly fiendish, particularly when you realise they're the only vehicle you have to do four races with.
  • Need for Speed:
    • Once you reach the last part in most games after Underground, it's not uncommon to see people switching the difficulty from Hard (or Normal) to Easy. Be very careful in Most Wanted 2005 once you reach the Downtown Rockport borough. Also, the difficulty spike of Police Chase Heat 3 to Heat 4 is massive. The cops are way more reckless, roadblocks now have spike strips (which is an instant bust in this game) on then, and a helicopter is chasing you, meaning that if you want to get out of the cops' sight, you need to hide somewhere indoors. Oh, and there's Heat 5, which is the exact same thing as Heat 4, but even worse; you're getting chased by a total of 25 Corvettes and Sergeant Cross.
    • Carbon packs especially nasty surprise when you unlock Silverton, with everyone and their grandmother getting tier 3 cars, while you have to try and keep up using your underpowered tier 2 to win some races before you unlock your first tier 3.
  • Wipeout 2097/XL had easy (Vector), medium (Venom), hard (Rapier), and very hard (Phantom) tracks. The difference was the default speed class. But during a championship, all tracks are raced at the fastest available speed class. Let's just say the tracks that are actually hard are the second (Sagarmatha), third (Valparaiso), and sixth (Odessa Keys) tracks out of eight; the easiest tracks in the whole game are tracks number one (Talon's Reach) and five (Gare D'Europa). Once you get through the first half of the championship, you have the win in the pocket unless you hit the respawn trigger at Vostok Island's bugged drop section, or worse, Spilskinanke's broken roads.

    Fighting Game 
  • In BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, you will probably make your way through the first nine stages of Nu's Arcade Mode with ease. Then you reach the tenth stage, where you meet Unlimited Rachel. Have fun! And Unlimited Rachel will haunt you again when you try score attack mode as the ninth match. And there's another spike with Unlimited Nu and Unlimited Ragna! And then there's Continuum Shift, where the boss of arcade mode is Hazama, who is several notches above the AI you've been fighting to get to him, partly because of some blatant reading of your controller inputs. Oh, and he's Unlimited, which means he siphons off your health and refills his own by being near you.
  • Few have have matched the difficulty of the final boss of Dead or Alive 4, who could essentially counter at will any move you might care to toss in her direction while dishing out highly damaging, unreasonably fast, unblockable attacks from across the screen. Also, anyone unlucky enough to face Jann Lee in the regular story mode is in for an unbelievably nasty surprise.
  • Fate/unlimited codes (Fate/stay night's Fighting Game spinoff), has a fairly normal difficulty progression during arcade mode... until you come to the final stage. On any difficulty above Easy, the CPU suddenly becomes nightmarishly competent (and gods help you if your character's last boss is Gilgamesh...). As one person on Gamefaqs put it, arcade mode is "less of a difficulty ramp than a difficulty teleporter".
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy's story modes do this somewhat. The first, the Destiny Odyssey set, has you fight low level opponents. The next, Shade Impulse, the enemies you fight are all at much higher levels, so you'll have to do some level grinding before going into it. Chaos, the final boss, is extremely cheap, and many new players give up on the game because of how tough he is. Next up, Distant Glory, has enemies take a jump in difficulty. The last, Inward Chaos, all of the opponents are maxed out: The enemies you face in Inward Chaos start at level 91 and end up at level 110! To make matters worse, they're all set to the highest AI competency level, which means they'll block, dodge, and counter all of your attacks. And every single one of them has very high stats and some of the best equipment in the game (only the exclusive level 100 weapons are better), so unless you have comparable equipment, you won't hit hard enough, and you'll get devastated by a single combo.
  • Guilty Gear XX Story Mode goes from breezy to hellish in record time. And in order to get all the endings, you have to 1) conclude matches via bizarre and/or very difficult stunts and 2) win nigh-impossible matches that you can't replay, all of which the game doesn't tell you about. It's a good thing the game gives you the 100% Completion characters if you play it for long enough.
  • The King of Fighters sure loves pulling this off. Did you have fun walking all over the CPU AI competition? Congratulations! Have A Nintendo Hard SNK Boss for your troubles!
    • The King of Fighters '94: You've beaten three teams. Have a cutscene. Now kiss your ass goodbye.
    • The King of Fighters '96: So you beat every other team in the game? Meet the Boss Team - Geese Howard, Wolfgang Krauser, and Mr. Big! You may collect your teeth at the door.
    • The King of Fighters XI: Three teams in, the Sub-Boss arrives. There are five, four of which require certain actions on your part to reach. (The fifth one is Adel Bernstein.) It doesn't matter which one shows up, you're in trouble. They fight alone, but their defense is three times normal, and their AI is much better than the usual.
  • Medabots AX: Metabee and Rokusho: The AI during the preliminary battles isn't particularly challenging, but when you finally get to the World Robattle Championships don't be surprised when you lose more than one to the same boss.
  • The difficulty in Sonic the Fighters will rocket all the way up to space once you face Metal Sonic.
  • Soul Calibur III's Story Mode, Tales of Soul, does this. For the most part, the AI raises gradually, then when you reach a certain point where, well if you had any difficulty at before then, it will take you about a have dozen attempts to get through ANY of the stages. This is part of why people say the superboss Night Terror is so hard, the computer handles him so well.
  • M. Bison is the boss for every character in Street Fighter Alpha 3 except himself, naturally. While the fights get progressively more difficult as the player gets nearer to him, Bison himself is pure torture, with super-fast cheap moves and a super-strong super move that eats up half of your total health if you don't block in time (and "only" 1/4th if you do). And if you fail, a Non-Standard Game Over with no chances to continue will ensue.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • The original Super Smash Bros. 64 has the AI ramped up a little on Fox, then the Kirby team, during the single-player mode.
    • In Super Smash Bros. Melee, it happens around the fourth opponent in Classic and All-Star Modes.
    • The Subspace Emissary of Super Smash Bros. Brawl gets noticeably worse around the levels where you play as Marth, due to many of the nastier enemy types beginning to appear at that point. Most of the bosses tend to give players a lot more trouble than the levels before them, as well.
    • Classic Mode on Brawl also has a Difficulty Spike in the Free-For-All right before Master Hand, the result of the AI deciding to Gang Up on the Human.
  • Tekken's AI bounces all over the place, from imbecile, hardly moving AI to ones that keep interrupting your combo with punches and love to juggle...The exact time of difficulty spike in the fifth game is the Sub-Boss. You have three easy fights and then the game hands you your head.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • BioShock 2: Siren Alley is known to fans as a Difficulty Spike, where all of the gun-using enemies now use shotguns, and the easier melee weapons no longer appear for the rest of the game.
  • In Bioshock, after the fairly simple Medical Pavilion, Neptune's Bounty represents a sudden shift in difficulty, marked in large part by the arrival of Spider Splicers. Your gear doesn't improve to match until partway through the area. Actually lampshaded the first time a Spider Splicer shows up:
    Peach Wilkins: What was that?... My boy, you are fucked!
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the Favela missions. Impossible to tell where you're going, enemies that have numerous hiding places while you get little more than the occasional doorway, low ammo. Oh, and dogs. Yeah.
  • Dead Space, Chapter 4: Obliteration Imminent is fairly standard for what you've dealt with for the last three chapters until you're told you need to step outside the ship in the middle of what is essentially a meteor storm. The only hint you are given for this sequence is "take cover." Now, once you realize that there is a perceptible warning and you know what "cover" looks like, the sequence is less of a difficulty spike and seems more like Fake Difficulty for the uninformed. However, no amount of information will help you fend off the giant rocks in the next room. Once you've memorized what Isaac looks like getting killed in that room and move on, though, it's back to business as usual.
  • Descent:
    • The first game has a massive, permanent difficulty spike after the first seven "shareware" levels. Levels 6 and 7 depict homing-missile hulks and Class 1 Drillers as deadly Demonic Spiders that appear only now and then and are much stronger than normal enemies. Levels 11 and 12, four maps later, are almost entirely populated by them and they're not one iota easier to kill than they were at first. The difficulty spikes further around levels 18 and 19, with the even deadlier Demonic Spiders that are Class 2 Missile Platforms and Heavy Drillers greatly increasing in number.
    • The second game's difficulty also ramps up significantly after the first eight levels, and again at level 21, which introduces several new Demonic Spiders to rival anything in the first Descent. And the fourth boss's difficulty spike after the first three makes it That One Boss.
  • Doom:
    • Doom II officially gets serious with you on the "Dead Simple" level right after the first intermission. Prior to this point, you've been fighting mostly humanoid enemies and low-level mooks, with the occasional mid-grade monster. "Dead Simple" immediately throws you into a melee with newly introduced high-powered enemies and Giant Mooks in very close quarters.
    • The player-created mod Hell Revealed shows its Nintendo Hard quality on Map 11 with a long trek through an underground base that gives the level its title. The Cyberdemon, the toughest enemy in the game, makes its debut on this map — and unlike the unmodified game, where you'll only ever face five of them at most, only one in any given map they appear in, here you'll meet over 100 of them by the end.
    • So you had the idea of playing Hell Revealed on Brutal Doom or Project Brutality? The game goes from moderately challenging to very hard - there are rooms that spawn so many enemies that it isn't possible to remain alive through any feat of masterful gameplay.
  • DOOM (2016), from "Lazarus Labs" onward, the game has finally introduced every non-boss demon in the game. And, to see if you really have what it takes to beat the big badasses, the game throws ALL OF THEM at you multiple times per level. Since the game's difficulty is also scaled in such a way that the developers expected you to get most of the upgrades for your weapons/character by that point, going into a Nightmare "no upgrades" run of the game is basically asking for you to spread your cheeks and bite the pillow.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter takes a disproportionate leap in difficulty with "Mayday! Mayday!", slightly under halfway through the game. And that's just on Normal difficulty. Prepare to get pegged many times by the guards in the forest area with the jammers.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo 3, many players find the "Cortana" mission to be the most difficult mission of the game. This may be partly because there are more enemies, fewer places to take cover when you get attacked by mobs of Flood (they almost always come in packs), and no NPCs to cover you until the very end. Beating it makes the next mission seem a lot easier by comparison.
    • "The Library" in Halo: Combat Evolved. While the Flood had been introduced in the previous mission, they were still somewhat manageable due to the gradual introduction of their tricks; combat forms, human combat forms that are smaller and more difficult to hit, and their ability to use weapons. In The Library however, all the rest of their tricks are shoved down the player's throat with the introduction of carrier forms that explode when shot or if they get near the player, the Flood's tendency to jump down from passages inaccessible to the player and thus appear to be constantly respawning, and the occasional combat form with rocket launchers near the end. The end result is hundreds of hard to kill, fast moving zombies, some of which explode when shot, and a limited supply of ammo.
    • Halo: Reach has a large difficulty spike starting with the second mission. If you're playing Legendary, prepare to be wasted.
  • Killing Floor 2: Hard mode isn't a huge step above normal mode. It is admittingly the only difficulty increase where enemies get more health, but for the most part their AI is mostly the same with the only other addition being that they do more damage per hit (which increases every difficulty level). At most, the weakest enemies will occasionally run at you instead of walking. However, once you jump from Hard to Sucidal, things become very different. Suddenly, weaker enemies no longer walk. They run. On top of that, special versions of enemies spawn much more frequently, being a common occurrence rather than the very rare thing they are in normal and hard. Other enemies gain new AI quirks as well. For instance, Husks have a major weakness to players that get very close to them in normal and hard. They can't really shoot you and their melee attack is a rather pitiful swing at you with their cannon. Come Suicidal mode, they get a freakin flamethrower. And it hurts. All in all, suicidal mode feels like a completely different game that the difficulties before it. And it isn't even the hardest one...
  • Left 4 Dead has this to some degree. The first level of every campaign never has any Witches or Tanks, but by the second level onward (depending on the director's mood), you could easily get stuck because a Tank keeps spawning in one area.
  • Left 4 Dead 2:
    • "Dark Carnival" has two gauntlet crescendo events (racing to turn off the the Screaming Oak's alarm in The Coaster, which involves running three quarters of the rollercoaster's tracks while being hassled by nonstop waves of Infected; and the sprint to the stadium safe room in The Barns, the map immediately afterwards, which is much the same except you have to Hold the Line until the gates open first) that will make you tear your hair out. If you didn't bring a Bile Bomb or Chainsaw to make these event easier, you will have a hell of a time getting to the final objetives; also, there is a possibility that you will encounter a tank or a witch on the waynote . The first two maps and the start of the third, up until the Screaming Oak, are relatively manageable.
    • A more general example is the jump between Advanced and Expert difficulties. On Advanced, common infected hit for 5 points of damage from the front (compared to 2 on Normal and 1 on Easy). On Expert, common infected hit you for 20 damage from the front, and besides that, they take half damage. Tanks can incapacitate with a single hit, and Witches will just flat-out kill you.
  • Medal of Honor: Allied Assault has a (mostly) permanent difficulty spike starting with Mission 3-3, The Nebelwerfer Hunt on the normal difficulty, then again at The Command Post (psychic guards setting off alarms that summon Respawning Enemies). On Hard, the spike starts with Cover Blown. Let's not talk about Sniper's Last Stand.
  • Metroid:
    • Metroid Prime has a fairly linearly increasing difficulty curve most of the time. That is, until you reach Phazon Mines. The next segment requires you to do half of the area, beating 2 minibosses, one of which is INVISIBLE, navigating morph ball puzzles, introducing you to new space pirate types and spamming them, and getting the Power Bombs, without saving. After that, it feels like a relief it's over as it's not as bad after that.
    • Dark Aether in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes throws you a nasty spike as early as Agon Wastes (the first area after the Hub Level), as you learn to deal with its atmosphere. After you get the Dark Suit, it's much less nerve-wracking.
    • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption has it with the fiery zone of Bryyo, not only because of the Fuel Gel hazards and overall difficult navigation but also because of Rundas, a Wake-Up Call Boss; it also holds the first moment when Samus's Hypermode ability shows its dangerous side.
  • Modern Warfare 1: Charlie Don't Surf, especially on Veteran; after the first two missions that were a cakewalk where you took on, at most, a dozen people at once, the insanity hits like a ton of bricks when you enter a TV station and get swarmed by five dozen, all of whom respawn several times. Later on, there's the infamous One Shot, One Kill, and it doesn't get any easier from there.
  • Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend is a breeze (mostly because you can stock on weapons and healing items), but then near the end you are stripped of all your stuff and have to fight your way out of a military base, where healing items are very scarce and the only enemies are heavily-armored soldiers who soak bullets up and are immune to instant death from the sledgehammer, the only one of the expansion's new melee weapons you can find for the vast majority of the level. Prepare to be ridiculed by the protagonist for save spamming. Following this, levels are relatively simple again.
  • The first/shareware episode in Quake is a walk in the park compared to the rest of the game. After completing the preparation "slipgate" level (featured at the beginning of each episode), be prepared for your brain (and likely your mouth) to drop a series of Atomic F-Bombs once you're inside the castle.
  • Xaero in Quake III: Arena was head and shoulders above any other bot in the game. Not only does he have Improbable Aiming Skills, the arena you fight him in has a railgun right next to a respawn point. So if you did manage to kill him, he would return the favor immediately from across the map. And then kill you again and again until you managed to respawn in a spot that wasn't exposed.
  • Most of the Rainbow Six series have this around the 1/3 or halfway point. Especially Stone Cannon in Raven Shield.
  • Red Faction gets a lot harder around the one-third mark and just keeps getting worse from there. Why? Because the enemies (and you) get better weapons, but you never get more HP, and even refills become harder to find. And then you get to the last level and it becomes just ridiculous - the enemies now have weapons that shoot through walls, and while you have the same gun the whole thing becomes a race to spot the bad guys through the walls before they can spot you. And you're still occasionally instakilled by someone who's just past your detection range.
  • Scythe, a Game Mod for Doom II, is a fairly well-balanced mod... up until the final set of levels (beginning from level 21), which are set in Hell, and their ridiculous difficulty lives up to the location. Barely any ammo, barely any room to maneuver, and hordes of enemies from all sides.
  • In Soldier of Fortune: Payback's final mission, the enemies have a massive spike in the damage they deal, and can inflict one hit kills with as little as a pistol.
  • In Unreal Tournament:
    • The last fight against Xan is far harder than anything seen in previous battles. This is caused by that final opponent being a Rubber-Band A.I., automatically adjusting itself to player skill. The same also applies to the 2003 and 2004 installments. Oddly enough, the end boss (Malcolm again) in 2003 was somewhat easier, given that the arena for that battle was small and had ample flanking opportunities.
    • The Assault matches are significantly harder than the rest of the single-player ladder (save for a couple of the Capture The Flag matches), sometimes even exceeding the difficulty of the Xan fight. And if you do manage to win, expect to terminally come in last place as your teammate's laser-guided map savvy lands them the fastest routes, all the vehicles, all the objectives, and 98% of the kills.

      That said, the other modes get pretty insane pretty quick as well, one notorious example being the Bombing Run snow level, which, in addition to suddenly steroid-injected AI, involves particularly cruel level design that will take you and your team 2-3 times the time limit to reach the enemy goalpost and score—that is, if the "AI of Death" team doesn't get to yours first.
    • Akasha in Unreal Tournament III as well. Her rubberband code may actually exponentially break the normal limits of bot skill factors, leaving you with a bot rated 15 out of 10 on "easy". Oh, and she favors the shock rifle, which caters equally to impossible AI aiming and impossible AI prediction skills.
  • The entirety of the VC campaign in Vietcong 2, when compared to the US campaign, due to being much shorter (only 4 levels!) compared to the latter (13 levels).
  • Wolfenstein 3-D goes absolutely insane in the sixth episode, throwing one dick move after another and forcing you to navigate horrific mazes. Its Mission Pack Prequel Spear of Destiny does likewise at level 16. Whether level 16 or level 18 is the hardest map in the entire Wolfenstein series is debatable; level 16 has more difficult regular fights, but level 18 has That One Boss, the Death Knight. Then the difficulty drops precipitously for the Bonus Level of Hell and the underwhelming final boss.

    Game Mod 
  • Donner Party undergoes a noticeable shift in difficulty between Rounds 6 and 7. To wit: the amount of damage the player takes doubles, flying over large swaths of territory is impossible, few enemies die in a single hit, and the three-boss-per-level standard returns with a vengeance. Round 7 specifically includes a segment where taking damage is required in order to progress. Round 8 introduces an abrupt and awkward shift in play-control, which becomes permanent for the rest of the game.

    Hack and Slash 
  • Diablo II:
    • The game has a dramatic change as you go from Nightmare to Hell difficulty. The effectiveness of just about everything is reduced to a quarter, your resistances plummet to a base of -100, and almost every single monster is not only resistant, but entirely immune to a particular element (often when the monster had zero resistance to anything in either of the previous difficulties) while gaining additional resistances to one or nearly all attributes. The immunities are a particular problem, as it's very possible for your character's skills to be focused on only one form of damage if you didn't know about the problem beforehand.
    • Some monsters possess immunity to physical damage. I.E, melee attacks don't work. There are three randomly generated per normal level in hell difficulty as opposed to one in normal, plus their flock of minions is deadlier too.
    • Less dramatic is Act IV of the game, when you invade Hell, featuring a jump in monster difficulty — suddenly homing, mana draining missiles, etc. Then of course there's Diablo himself.
    • The battle with the Ancients is far harder than the the battle with Baal, the final boss.
  • The first five realms in Gauntlet: Dark Legacy are swarming with Goddamn Bats (it's kind of the point of Gauntlet), but world 6, the Desert Realm, suddenly throws in Demonic Spiders in the form of the Desert Generals, whose psychotic fervor has the potential to arouse in the player the same real-life fight-or-flight panic mechanism as many a Left 4 Dead player has felt facing down a Tank — among stronger and more durable Goddamn Bats, and more chances to be attacked from all sides. A player who breezed through the last five realms may find themselves losing thousands of HP in this realm - fast.

  • Elsword starts off very simple with short three-to-four room dungeons and fairly weak field enemies. Then you reach Bethma, where the dungeons get longer and have branching paths. And then the next town, Altera, brings 4-6 (Altera Core), which is such a large dungeon that there are three layers on the map, has lasers that either cause damage, summon mooks, or both, throws three mid-bosses (which are all demoted versions of dungeon bosses) at the players, and introduces the largest boss thus far, the King Nasod, which requires more strategy than just "mash buttons until it dies". It gets worse from there.
  • EVE Online:
    • The game has a steep difficulty spike with 0.5 and 0.4 security space. The latter has no CONCORD, allowing player pirates to roam freely in search of juicy targets like you. In fact, a frequent occurrence is you running into a gate camp when you jump from an 0.5 system to an 0.4 system. Translation: you're dead and podded and you never saw it coming.
    • The Sleepers and Sansha Incursions. Sleepers are found exclusively in Wormhole Space (players have to physically enter any wormhole that spawns randomly in the universe), and these bastards have an upgraded AI compared to regular enemies. They actively target Logistics ships if they are present (the game's equivalent to healers), and if you think to bring any capital ships like, say a carrier, into the sites, the sites will spawn 6 more Sleeper battleships for EACH carrier. The Sansha Incursion rats behave the same as the Sleepers too, except they can be considered an end-game raid instance, particularly if it's an "Ouroboros" instance, where it can take as many as up to 50 players with top-shelf ships, modules and leadership.
  • Everquest had particularly infamous difficulty spikes called "Hell Levels." These usually came along at already naturally awkward levels(30, 35, 40, etc.; where you're growing out of your current leveling zone), and amplified them by increasing the amount of experience needed to level by insane amounts; so much so that the next level will actually REQUIRE LESS experience than the hell level did. Also, 50-60 were considered a bit of a "hell bracket" since the needed experience jumped up to relatively high amounts because 60 was the original level cap(and thus had a LOT of xp "padding" that was never reduced when 60 ceased to be the cap).
  • EverQuest II has three different "tiers" you can play on — solo, group, and raid. Solo is designed to be handled by just about any player class with ease. Moving from solo to group requires a much more detailed understanding of how to play your class and function in a group. Moving from group to raid requires intricate knowledge of game mechanics. To make the spike more severe, for the most part you can only get group level gear by running group missions and raid level gear by raiding, meaning that someone trying to make the jump for the first time is going to be critically undergeared.
  • Final Fantasy XIV features mostly simple bosses in the early dungeons, where tactics usually revolve around avoiding one or two obvious area or cone effects and summoning adds, the latter of which can sometimes be ignored by the DPS entirely. In comes the Chimera, the final boss of Cutter's Cove, who has a grand total of seven abilities that the party has to content with: A frontal cone fire breath, two sideways cone breaths that can inflict Heavy or Paralysis, an area attack that deals damage and inflicts Paralysis to all players outside of melee range, an area attack that deals damage and inflicts Heavy to all players in melee range, a homing thunder orb that explodes and inflicts Paralysis, and an ice orb that leaves an ice patch that disrupts movement. Almost all these abilities all deal enough damage to kill most classes in one shot, making this fight a massive skill check in comparison to prior dungeon bosses.
    • The Alphascape phase of the Omegascape raid series is considered to be a step up in difficulty from Deltascape and Sigmascape on normal difficulty. Delta and Sigmascape are not too challenging, with a few gimmicks and mechanics that can throw you for a loop here and there, but nothing too difficult. Alphscape mostly does away with gimmicks in favor of more complicated mechanics. Chaos is easily the easiest part. He has a lot of mechanics, but they are all easily telegraphed. Midgardsomr begins to increase the difficulty with mechanics that don't have immediately obvious tells and the frequent stream of Exaflares in the second phase of the fight that can kill you rather fast. Omega is easily the hardest with a mechanic that requires you to figure out which direction is the boss's Starboard or Larboard(Port) side, then move to the opposite side within 8 seconds, with a ground tell that comes out for one second essentially to tell you if you made it. This is immediately followed by the attack again, except the boss has flipped 180 degrees and you only have 4 seconds to figure out where to be the second time. This combined with some other fast paced attacks and a few attacks that instantly kill, and this boss can serve as a major stumbling block for lower level players. The final boss Omega M-F isn't quite as fast paced as its predecessor, but has more mechanics to it that aren't immediately obvious on how to manage. It also splits into two enemies in the final phase of the fight, forcing the party to split into two to bring down both bosses together as they perform their various mechanics simultaneously.
  • For a majority of the early Main Story chapters in Granblue Fantasy, players can easily take down the mobs and boss battles using only starting or moderate builds. But come Chapter 40, and the player will be pitted against Ygddrasil Malice, the first real challenge of the story mode. Oh, and it gets more difficult from there, as the story's succeeding boss fights will have millions of HP and can pack a punch.
  • Guild Wars Prophecies is a cakewalk until you reach the desert, and then it ramps up. It ramps up AGAIN on the Ring of Fire. Factions goes from "reasonably challenging" to "murderous" when you reach the Kaineng Mainland (and the Undercity...dear GOD the UNDERCITY!!) and Nightfall does more or less the same a few missions in.
  • Guild Wars 2 is not very difficult, built for casual players, with most dungeons easily puggable. Then you get to the Heart of Maguuma.
  • Lord of the Rings Online is very easy at the beginning, like most MMORPGs. By the time you hit level 15 or 20, you think you have your class figured out. You may have even grouped one or two times. Then you decide to try the Great Barrow at level 20, and fight the first boss where the worms start emerging from the ground, spraying acid everywhere and throwing you around. If your Fellowship is all new and doesn't know standard MMORPG roles, it's a wipe. Granted, this first boss fight is harder than the rest of the dungeon.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE has the Old Ichigaya Camp Gold instance. If you decide to skip the lower floors, and just go right ahead to the boss room, the enemies that appear on the way there are fairly easy to defeat (most lv30 characters can kill them in 2 or 3 hits). Then you hit the boss room, and have Jikokuten ignoring knockback and hitting your skull with Almighty basic attacks, around 10 Gandharva spamming a skill with a huge area of effect that causes multiple status effects (including one that renders you unable to even defend) as well as powerful ice attacks (including one that can hit from halfway across the room) and another area of effect one that lowers all your status, and around 15 Gaki who are pretty weak and only have one attack, but once they start ganging up on you, you're easy prey to the spell-spamming Ganharvas. Granted, this can be turned into children's play if you have someone especiallized in using Erosion Hex on your party.
    • Also from IMAGINE, there's the Shibuya Metro instance. Despite the constant HP and MP drain throughout the whole dungeon, it's fairly easy, with all enemies being weak to one of the easy to get four elements. The boss room, however, has a boss with the most powerful electric spell, lots of HP, and over 10 minions that not only can heal him, but also love to use attack- and spell-reflecting skills. All the time. And no, the HP and MP drain does not go away during the boss battle. Also, the boss gets even stronger if you enter the dungeon with anyone else in your party, wether they entered the dungeon too or not.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Levels 15 through 30 are pretty frustrating compared to later on. The first 10-15 levels act as tutorial and are usually easy (provided you don't run into the wrong direction), but then it picks up considerably and you'll be seeing the Spirit Healer pretty often. And the level range features some of the most frustrating dungeons aswell, such as Gnomeregan, Shadowfang Keep and Blackfathom Deeps. And if you play on a PvP server, you'll face the most annoying gankers (bored high level characters killing low level ones just for giggles) during those levels as you'll be leveling in contested zones. After that, it only gets better. The expansion zones on the other hand are laughably easy, at least as far as solo-Quests are concerned.
    • In the Firelands, the first six bosses have become considerably easier after the nerf, but Ragnaros is much more difficult than any of them, particularly because if you let one Son of Flame reach his hammer in the transition phase, the raid will most likely wipe.
    • Mogu'shan Vaults begins with the fairly difficult Stone Guard, but then has the more manageable Feng the Accursed, Gara'jal the Spiritbinder, and Spirit Kings. Then comes Elegon, a very difficult DPS race that is even more difficult than the last boss of the instance. Some groups give up and go on to the first bosses in the next instance, Heart of Fear, until they are well-geared enough to defeat Elegon.
    • The Brawler's Guild matches are fairly easy during Rank 1-7, then comes Rank 8 where you fight a engineer pair Dual Boss with OHKO rockets, a necromancer who is only vulnerable when you destroy his adds that have to be stunned with a beam of light and can also OHKO you with one melee hit, and an arcane construct surrounded by a ring of highly-damaging explosives, before taking a break with an easy match against a gnoll who takes reduced damage but you're able to run over powerups to increase your damage output to exponential levels to mitigate it. Then there are the optional bosses, one of which is a cyborg version of your first opponent who is near impossible to kill with any max damage output lower than 65-70k because the third time he roots you in place he'll use an attack that is — you guessed it — an OHKO.
    • Legion has several, and it's mostly due to the new scaling mechanics. Fresh level 110 characters are in for a world of pain as they are initially quite squishy compared to mobs until getting geared up, and certain quests are much more difficult as a freshly capped character than they are as a lower level questing through (especially true in Azsuna and Stormheim and for certain class-specific Artifact quests). The max level zone of Suramar also represents a considerable kick up in difficulty compared to the rest of the game, due to the aforementioned scaling and the Genre Shift to Assassin's Creed-style stealth mechanics.

    Platform Game 
  • Banjo-Kazooie starts players off with Spiral Mountain, a short tutorial area teaching basic actions and exploration skills, then Mumbo's Mountain, the first proper world of the game that is comparatively small and eases players into the core collectathon gameplay with easy-to-find collectibles. The gloves come off immediately in the second world, Treasure Trove Cove, a full-sized world filled with the typical amount of enemies, puzzles, and hidden collectibles, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
  • Banjo-Tooie increases drastically the difficulty through the second half of the game. Compare the relatively flexible Jolly Roger's Lagoon to the larger and more intrincate Terrydactyland, which in turn is followed by the even more difficult Grunty Industries.
  • The first three levels of Blinx are very tame. The enemies are weak, the bosses are easy and the time crystals needed to complete puzzles are always conveniently waiting to be collected. Then level 4 arrives and every changes, requiring much more consideration on the player's part to make sure they have the right time powers, ammunition and time management because not fulfilling those requirements may cause them to get stuck and have to restart the stage. The next few levels aren't as bad until level 7 where the difficulty skyrockets. Being a snow level, ice physics apply. This can be very frustrating in tight spaces considering that merely touching an enemy will cost you a life. Not to mention the several obstacles that necessitate time controls like doorways with spikes and parts of the ground collapsing below you. The next level is challenging, but nowhere near as infuriating.
  • Osman/Cannon Dancer starts out fairly difficult, but during the final areas it turns abusively so, by removing the ability to spam continues to reach the end. During most of the game, you respawn where you die, even when you lose your last life. In the last areas you restart from checkpoints after dying. Better think twice about wasting those Fatal Attacks.
  • Chuckie Egg gets harder quite steadily — the extra features in each round of eight levels are nicely balanced by returning to the layout of the easy Level 1. That said, the third iteration (with the hens and the Mother Duck) is much harder than anything up to that point, particularly from Level 21 onwards. Near the end, you may wonder whether it could get much harder, but the final Level 40 still manages to be another drastic leap in difficulty.
  • While the first three Warp Rooms in Crash Bandicoot 2 scale the difficulty gradually, Warp Room 4 is where things get intense. Two of its levels, Diggin' It and Cold Hard Crash, are That One Level normally and even worse to get the box gem on (both require backtracking through Death Routes), and Ruination has a lot of tricky platforming over bottomless pits. And N. Gin at the end is the closest thing the game has to That One Boss.
  • Donkey Kong Country:
    • Up to the second world, everything's a breeze. Then you get Mine Cart Carnage. Don't expect it to get any easier from there.
    • After that, when you're used to the new level of difficulty, comes Gorilla Glacier and its first level, Snow Barrel Blast. It's the first time you come across Frictionless Ice, which covers the entire level, the level is extremely long compared to anything that came before it, the spinning barrel cannons are frustratingly difficult to aim with, and to top all that off, when you're halfway through the game, the mounting blizzard shows up on the foreground and masks your view of what's going on, right at the part where it's the most difficult. If you didn't get a Game Over in Mine Cart Carnage. but didn't breeze through more of the earlier levels either, it's almost guaranteed you'll get one here.
    • Last but by no means least is the final world before the Final Boss, Chimp Caverns, which has some of the most frustrating levels in the game. While the previous world, Kremkroc Inc., is by no means easy, most of the levels in Chimp Caverns have some gimmicks (which mostly revolve around some variation of surviving a ride on very narrow platforms while dodging enemies, making tricky jumps, or collecting fuel for said platform) which make them wildly different from any level before it. Even the more traditional levels crank up the difficulty to a level that makes most of Kremkroc Inc. look tame in comparison.
  • Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest has a more gradual difficulty curve than the original game, but the fourth world, Krazy Kremland, is the exception to the rule. Not only does it introduce the Hornet Hole levels that give the trope its name and the games' version of the aforementioned Mine Carts, but it has one of the game's most infamously difficult stages, Bramble Scramble, as well as one of its toughest bosses (which is also the first boss fight in the series to be fought while riding an Animal Buddy), King Zing. Like the first Donkey Kong Country, the rest of the game doesn't get easier once you're past that particular world, but it's a considerable step up from the three worlds before it.
  • Donkey Kong Land 2, the Game Boy pseudo-sequel of Donkey Kong Country 2, has a major spike in its second world, Krem Cauldron. This is largely because the second and third worlds of the SNES original are smooshed together into one world, resulting in a much sharper difficulty curve. Ironically, this makes the spike in the aforementioned Krazy Kremland much less noticeable in comparison, though it's still present.
  • For many players, Earthworm Jim went straight Down the Drain the minute players entered the Tube Race level. Imagine a big glass ball that breaks if it happens to bump into a wall ten times, which you have to steer through a long, narrow obstacle course while being harassed by a dwindling oxygen meter. Fortunately, the immediately following boss fight makes up for it in terms of difficulty. The sequel followed this up with The Flyin' King, an isometric SHMUP level where you have to escort a bomb on a balloon to the end of the level. And then the difficulty spikes again in Inflated Head / Circus of the Scars, which is Tube Race all over again.
  • While the first three levels of Freedom Planet are fairly average, the fourth through sixth is where things start getting challenging with longer levels, new mooks in every stage, and the bosses requiring the player's grasp on the game's combat and timing. But it's in the eighth (Battle Glacier), where things start getting crazy. What with all the Stuff Blowing Up onscreen from all the bullets and bombs everywhere, a level design with so many pathways it can be easy to get lost, with tons of alien troopers with their strong lasers that chase you across the level if you don't stop to damage them eight times to take them out, two jarringly difficult bosses, and a long second act with a tricky coridor of switch puzzles, it'll have you raging at how tough the game has suddenly become. Then there's Final Dreadnought, which takes the already challenging combat and bosses Up to Eleven and stays that way for the home stretch of the game.
  • The first two chapters of Gish are relatively easy. The third chapter is a test to anyone who hasn't mastered the controls of the game as lava pools and more difficult jumps start to appear.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a fairly standard 3D platformer, with a few spell-casting or flying minigames and puzzles mixed in. Then at the end there is a boss fight, in a third-person shooter style that hadn't been seen all game, where the boss can kill you in one or two shots and you have no real offensive spells. He's a pushover when you figure out the trick to it, though.
  • As soon as Henry Hatsworth reaches Atlantia (World 3), the game's Surprise Difficulty kicks in.
  • In Iji, the difficulty spikes massively once the Komato appear. Komato Troopers are roughly as tough as Tasen Commanders, and Komato Berserkers are roughly as powerful as Tasen Elites, except they can reflect projectiles back at you. Komato Beasts, Assassins, Annihilators and Skysmashers go off the charts. Still, you'll eventually get used to it. And then when you start playing through on Ultimortal, you'll probably find it not too hard... until you meet Asha.
  • Jak II: Renegade features not one, but many spikes over the course of the game. The first arrives at about the time you need to blow up an ammo supply and you are being chased by an indestructible doom tank. The camera is fixed as the view from the tank for a while, and the first part of the area is a bit hard to navigate. The most notable, however, comes during the escape from the Water Slums. You can't touch the water that is surrounding the tiny walkways you must navigate, the guards will infinitely respawn if you move incorrectly or dawdle in the wrong place, and you can take a total of 3 hits and live. Fortunately, the Krimson Guards are all graduates of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. Unfortunately, there are so many of them that it really doesn't matter how bad of shots they are. And the game doesn't get any easier from there.
  • Jed's tends to border on Schizophrenic Difficulty, with whether or not the player is attempting to collect all five of the stage's babies being a key determinate. Assuming you're only attempting to get through the level, the slope is simpler.
  • Most of Jiggly Zone's gameplay is simply navigating around spikes and collecting treasures, but the Crimson Islands leans far more on pinpoint precision and skillful use of every powerup you have collected to get there in the first place. The Princess Dress, however, subverts this by making spikes a non-issue.
  • In Jumper, the first sector is patheticaly easy, and then there are sectors 2 and 3, that jump suddenly up. Sector 3 in Jumper Two is such a case, too.
  • The Jurassic Park Licensed Game for Sega Genesis is fairly sedate on most levels. Until you get to the Pumping Station. Both Grant and the Raptor will die repeatedly there due to the many, many jumps that will cause you to fall into a bottomless pit unless you're standing on the right pixel when you hit the button.
  • Kid Chameleon has a few examples: the first boss is quite difficult compared to the game up to that point, and the game after the third boss in general becomes significantly harder, with many levels containing routes through them that will kill you, levels which don't have conventional exits (or do but they're extremely difficult to get to), level loops that can make you play through the same levels over and over again until you go the right way, and many more of the hardest enemies. However, the worst of the lot is Bloody Swamp, a level so difficult most people who have beaten the game did so by taking an alternate path that allows you to avoid the level, and it is only midway through the third section of the game — though you also have to play through it if you take the route that skips you from halfway through the second world to halfway through the third. The levels after Bloody Swamp are far easier.
  • Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is a pretty easy game throughout. The first level can easily be defeated without taking any damage, and the difficulty gently slopes, occasionally teaching you a new trick or introducing you to a new concept or enemy. Still, all the way up to level 5 keeps an easy-to-modest difficulty. Then level 6 comes along and bitchslaps you through a wall with hair-tearing timed puzzles and the precision platforming sequences from hell. Then there's bonus level that appears after that...
  • The first seven areas of Little Nemo: The Dream Master give no hint as to how difficult the final area is.
  • While the Mega Man (Classic) series is Nintendo Hard in general, Mega Man 3 ratchets the difficulty to unfair levels once you reach the Doc Robot stages after beating the eight main Robot Masters, which makes the game's Obvious Beta status come to light. The fights against the Recurring Boss himself consist of him copying the Mega Man 2 Robot Masters... but the difficulty of most of these fights are frustrating for the wrong reasons, with his Wood Man and Quick Man forms being the worst offenders. His Air Man form also has a tornado pattern that's outright impossible to dodge due to inflated hitboxes. Additionally, the stages themselves have various locations that require Rush's various utilities, but if you die during these segments, Rush's energy does not replenish, and furthermore, the weapon energy capsules don't respawn, making these segments Unwinnable by Mistake. Fortunately, the difficulty drops back down once you reach the Wily Castle.
  • Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus gets a lot harder when you escape the bone mines and start wandering around the jungle. It may not appear this way at first, but then you're introduced to Fleeches. Gone are the days in the mines when you were given a reasonable period to assess the situation; there are several screens in a row where you're thrown into a fleech-infested mess the moment you emerge from the entrance door.
  • Ori and the Blind Forest takes off the kid gloves once you reach the Ginso Tree Escape Sequence. Expect to die about 50 times before getting the hang of it.
  • In level 3 of the original Prince of Persia, you must first jump onto a precariously situated platform with a pressure plate that opens a gate three screens to the left. Then, you have to quickly rush over to the gate before it closes, making five jumps along the way, the last one being a particularly hard running jump. Miss one jump, and you fall to certain death. After this puzzle, the second half of the level isn't so hard, even with an invincible skeleton enemy — unless you die and have to start the whole level over.
  • Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones has a series of three levels back-to-back that are harder than anything that comes before or after it: a cerebral gear-turning puzzle, a trial-and-error chariot race and an unforgiving two-on-one boss fight, with exactly one save point between them.
  • Psychonauts turns absolutely sadistic when you get to the timed Escort Mission in the last level. There's also the Rise to the Challenge segment later in the level, which would be bad enough if it weren't for a Game-Breaking Bug that makes one particular part virtually impossible about 75% of the time. Thank heavens Death Is a Slap on the Wrist.
  • Psychosomnium has the unexpectedly difficult spike-covered corridor near the end, where you have to fly through a curving path without touching any of the walls. It's so tough, compared to the rest of the game, that there's a cheat code specifically to get rid of the spikes.
  • In Rainbow Islands the difficulty goes up significantly after the first introductory world, but up until world 6 it is more or less manageable. And then you start Robot Island, and you're faced with about twice as many enemies as what you've been fighting up until that point. They're also much faster and almost all of them home in on you instead of following a predefined movement pattern. Now, in this day and age you're almost certainly emulating the game, but that level is a harsh reminder that Rainbow Islands was originally an arcade cabinet: cue the horror at the thought of how many quarters must have been spent way back in the eighties to get past the murderously difficult levels to come.
  • Rayman: Dream Forest is a solid beginner world. A little tricky in the later levels, but not too bad. Band Land is when the gloves come off and what better way to show that then by putting the player through a six stage level full of musical notes that act like spikes and fewer power ups and 1-ups? Also, after defeating the boss of Blue Mountains, Mr. Stone, and receiving the fifth and final new power, the player is treated to a colorful world known as Picture City. Looks relaxing as well as a nice change of pace right? Right? RIGHT!? Say goodbye to a lot of hard earned lives from here on out!
  • Being a Mega Man clone with an Improbably Female Cast and Moe aesthetic, Rosenkreuz Stilette seems like it'll be a toned down homage to the classic series. And for a time, this appears to be the case. Liebea Palesh is a piece of cake, Zorne's AI makes it easy to avoid her attacks, Schwer has some cheap surprises in her level but is otherwise easy with some practice, and so on. But it's when you get to Grolla's stage that the levels incorporate a ton of Goddamn Bats that nip at your health at an alarming rate in a game that's stingey with its health drops, tricky platforming above many a Bottomless Pit, and of course, the bosses themselves, which have fiendishly difficult strategies and desperation attacks that you can't just plow through anymore. In hindsight, Freudia's stage foreshadows just how hard the endgame will be, with lasers from Quick Man's stage now taken Up to Eleven and her her near-unavoidable lasers and spikes she launches across the screen. Speaking of the endgame, Iris' Castle would make Dr. Wiley proud. Disappearing blocks, spikes everywhere, the traditional Boss Rush including Grolla and Freudia, and an Expy of the Yellow Devil, now even harder as it can reverse both the gravity and controller input simultaneously. And then there's Rosenkreuzstilette Grollschwert...
  • The Smurfs (1994) on the SNES and Generis have the final two Acts go from "hard" to "insane". The penultimate act is a single stage with omnipresent instant death (when the tree trunk bridge starts rotating under your feet, you have a split-second to jump or fall to your death); the last act has a frustrating (but hardly lethal) first level, a long and and dangerous second level (with instant death too from flies with The Virus), a short and dangerous third level and a Final Boss with One-Hit Kill Collision Damage. You'll lose so many lives here that the only way to survive is to start the game from the beginning and collect Extra Lives on the way, making the Password Save near-useless. (Fortunately, this has been somewhat toned down on the Gameboy Advance port Revenge Of The Smurfs, where at least you have infinite lives.)
  • The first difficulty spike in Something occurs at "Dat Bass!" The level has Boss Bass, but this time Boss Bass is immune to fire, so Fire Mario can't kill him.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog series does this quite a bit.
    • In all three Sonic Advance games, the first six special stages range from really easy to kind of tricky the first time, but the last is Nintendo Hard.
    • Sonic Unleashed has a smoothly escalating difficulty curve reaching its peak at Adabat. Then the curve becomes a straight line, crashing into the ceiling and staying there. It says something when the level designers deliberately place a respawning extra life next to EVERY checkpoint in the last level, including some that are impossible to avoid collecting.
    • Sonic 2 is generally nice and easy, but Chemical Plant Zone act 2 is quite a harsh snap for where it is in the game, and the game then throws another spike in Metropolis Zone, a spike which lasts right until the end of the game. Also Mystic Cave, considering its inescapable spike pits and crushing vines which force you to take your time and be careful in order to beat the level.
    • Sonic 4 will make you frustrated once you get to E.G.G. Station Zone.
    • Sonic Rush is even more brutal on that note, because once you get to Night Carnival in order to notice everything that allows you to get past that stage without falling into those Bottomless Pits, you have to play the game very differently than you're used to: in other words, Take Your Time and you'll survive. Probably. It's even more jarring when you play as Blaze as Night Carnival is the FIRST LEVEL, then it gets easy again until the 5th stage.
    • Sonic Generations gets more difficult starting with Crisis City. The Modern era overall is more difficult than the previous two and the levels are longer, and Crisis City is the introduction to that. Modern's Crisis City in particular is one of the hardest levels in the game, Classic's Rooftop Run has a lot of devious obstacles, and Planet Wisp overall is a Marathon Level. The bosses also pick up the pace to match.
  • In Spyro the Dragon, the Beast Makers world has higher completion requirements than the previous worlds (50 out of 58 dragons). It's the second world that you cannot skip without playing through at least one level (the first world is the first). It also contains Misty Bog and Terrace Village, which contain aggressive enemies and few butterflies, as well as That One Level, Tree Tops.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • 5-2 in Super Mario Bros.. 5-1 is certainly harder than the last few levels, but nothing too nasty. 5-3 is just a revamp of 1-3 with smaller platforms and a Bullet Bill generator. 5-4 is a revamp of 2-4 with a few more Firebars. 5-2? Hammer Brothers on STAIRS.
    • The arcade game has a much steeper incline in difficulty than the NES version, due to the Hard Mode Filler levels being replaced with unique boards that were later incorporated into the infamously hard Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, which contain many narrow platforms, sadistic enemy/obstacle patterns, and long jumps that require bouncing off Koopa Paratroopas at the right height, as in 6-3.
    • Super Mario Bros. 2:
      • World 3-3 is noticeably longer and more difficult than the first two castle levels (1-3 and 2-3) as well as the first two levels in the world, with long sequences of climbing towers with tons of Sparks moving around oddly-shaped platforms, Shy Guy-generating pots, and, for the first time, a variety of different doors to enter, not all of which will allow you to progress depending on which character you are playing as. The difficulty will spike again in World 4's dungeon, then AGAIN in world 5's dungeon. In the particular case of level 4-2, you're first greeted by a Zerg Rush of Beezos in a section that seems to last forever with only slippery ice terrain to work with, then some Nintendo Hard platforming. And you have to fight Birdo. On ice.
      • In the Super Mario Advance remake for GBA, a game criticized for being much easier due to all the extra power ups, the Yoshi Challenge has this. Through the first ten levels you play, it feels like a good challenge for seasoned veterans, but still easier than the original NES and SNES versions despite only having 2-3 hearts per level instead of 4. Even 3-3 isn't so bad. Then you get to 4-2, which in the Yoshi Challenge quickly becomes That One Level. Survive the Beezo Zerg Rush onslaught, and you'll have to get two Yoshi Eggs from here without losing a life in the next phase. And you only have two hearts to work with. The difficulty only becomes reasonable again in 6-3.
    • Super Mario Bros. 3:
      • 1-4 isn't amazingly difficult, but it is by far the hardest regular level in World 1 (even the fortress and airship are easier), containing many falling platforms, bottomless pits, and the dreaded autoscrolling.
      • World 3 in general is a huge difficulty spike over worlds 1 and 2. Let's put it this way, 3-6 is a souped up version of 1-4 and is by far the EASIEST level in world 3, besides maybe 3-9. The rest of World 3 contains mostly levels that alternate between underwater levels, cheep cheep Zerg Rush levels, and rising and sinking platforms where Boss Bass awaits and can eat you in a single gulp (unless you're invincible).
    • Super Mario World:
      • The game starts off as a not too challenging platformer that eases you into the game, even Iggy's Castle isn't so bad except maybe for the smasher in the autoscrolling room leading up to the simple boss battle, but even then it's not so bad. And then you arrive at Donut Plains 2, an autoscrolling cave level that's fairly dark, has rising and falling platforms that can crush you, cruelly placed death pits, and Goddamn Bats everywhere. Granted, it's not amazingly hard, but after the non-threatening Yoshi's Island levels and Donut Plains 1, this level serves as a real wake-up call about what's coming up later in the game. That difficulty won't be matched again until Vanilla Dome or even the Twin Bridges depending on your perception.
      • Happens once again in Chocolate Island, where the game goes from challenging but fun platformer to mean and nasty Nintendo Hard nightmare that pulls no punches in the blink of an eye. The game keeps its foot on the gas for the remainder of the game, until reaching its peak in the special zone. The Front Door of Bowser's Castle tends to look harder than it really is, especially if you enter doors 2 and 5.
    • Most of the levels in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins aren't too difficult, but then you get to Wario's Castle, the final level, and you find yourself in a very long and difficult level compared to the rest of the game. To add insult to injury, there are no checkpoints (if you die at any point, even when fighting Wario, you have to start from the beginning).
    • First time players of Super Mario Sunshine are in for a cruel surprise when, after mostly easy levels, they are thrust without warning into The Sand Bird Is Born. It is likely to be the first of many of the nasty infamously difficult sub-levels peppered throughout an otherwise not too difficult game that the player encounters.
    • The majority of levels in Super Mario Galaxy are very easy. Then they start getting a bit harder, but not too much, and then the difficulty of the last few stars (most of them corresponding to the galaxies accessed via the Garden dome) spikes to unexpected levels. Luigi's Purple Coins is an example of this.
    • Super Mario 3D World is pretty forgiving, up until World 3's Chain-Link Charge, which is an Auto-Scrolling Platform Hell with a brutal Stamp and Green Stars. Later on, Worlds 7 and 8 take it to a bigger scale with more devious levels like Trick Trap Tower, Boiling Blue Bully Belt, Rammerhead Reef, Cookie Cogworks and Grumblump Inferno.
    • Super Mario Odyssey has the Luncheon Kingdom, where platforming actually becomes a major part of the game and deadly pits of lava line every pit. It also has the postgame in general, since beating the final boss adds at least one more challenging bonus level to each kingdom, and breaking the moon rock in a kingdom adds two more even harder ones on top of that. Add the two secret kingdoms, and you've got a game which jumps in challenge past the final boss.
  • Areas 4, 5 and 6 in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The latter two are full of Demonic Spiders that take tons of punishment to kill, and the former's boss is in a random location. And the Final Boss can kill you in one hit, not to mention the hallway full of Laser Troopers leading to him. In the former's case (the Airport), most of the previous two stages' difficulty—and length—goes away once you figure out where the underwater bombs and downtown Plot Coupons are. The Airport, on the other hand, is one long, confusing maze that seems neverending without a guide, and even with one it's still an exercise in patience and tedium. Which wouldn't be too much of a problem if it weren't for the added Spikes of Doom, instant-death Lava Pits, and Malevolent Architecture that makes all the Goddamn Bats from the previous levels, as well as the aformentioned death traps, all the more fearsome. The only respite is the Anticlimax Boss (the Humongous Mecha from the series) at the end which, if you've kept Donatello with you the whole time, you will beat without even being so much as attacked.
  • Treasure loves to put space shooter levels in their platforming titles. Depending on one's proficiency at the genre, they'll experience anything from a mild to extreme difficulty spike upon entering stage 6 of either Gunstar Heroes or Dynamite Headdy.
  • Trine's last level combines platforming with a boss that constantly hinders your progress and tops it off with Rise to the Challenge.
  • While 20XX uses Procedural Generation to make its levels and so the degree can be variable, the fifth stage generally sees a rather sharp spike in misery, with Gamma-level enemies, fiddly puzzles requiring lightning reflexes, or, if you're very unlucky, Gamma enemies turning up and going at you while you're trying to handle the fiddly puzzles.
  • Wallace & Gromit: In Project Zoo is a fairly short game, with only six levels in total; but despite this, it manages to have two difficulty spikes. The first two levels are a piece of cake, with forgiving platforming and only mildly challenging puzzles towards the end of the Mines. But then the game hits you with the Volcano, where you are suddenly thrust into a world of claustrophobic level design, awkward camera angles, fire all over the place, a dramatic increase in the enemy count, side-missions with unforgivingly strict time limits, and bloodcurdlingly difficult bonus levels. The next level, the Warehouse, is notably easier, with the only real difficulty being the unexpected Stealth-Based Mission at the beginning. The difficulty quickly shoots back up again in time for the Ice House, a huge, sprawling level that's one third waiting around for irregular platforms, one third getting knocked off said platforms and falling to your doom, and one third getting shredded by buzz-saws; and things only get worse in the final level.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Chip's Challenge starts easy, staying that way during the first 22 levels. But then come levels like Blobnet (23, due to enemies that move randomly) and Blink (25, for it being a maze with teleporters), from which the game quickly increases the difficulty level. And the number of levels in total is 149.
  • Oh No! More Lemmings has five difficulty grades for its puzzles: Tame, Crazy, Wild, Wicked and Havoc. The Tame levels are all walks in the park: 20 of each skill, four minutes, save 25 of 50 Lemmings and most times it's easy to save all 50. The other four grades, however, are total nightmares with little to distinguish each grade in terms of difficulty.
  • Marble Blast Gold has a noticeable difficulty gap between beginner and intermediate, and between intermediate and advanced. Even worse the beginner and intermediate stages only have 24 levels each, but advanced has 52.
  • Puyo Puyo:
    • Puyo Pop Fever takes a huge spike in difficulty on stage 3 of the HaraHara course and ANOTHER spike on stage 7 of that course.
    • The original Puyo Puyo has a ridiculous difficulty spike starting with Level 4. And it only gets worse from here. Not only is the AI much smarter, but the pieces drop about as fast as the high levels of Tetris.
    • Luckily, the Dolled-Up Installment Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine was toned down somewhat, having more of a difficulty curve. Although it does have at least one spike.
  • Levels 1 to 10 of Repton are pretty easy (once you know how to do the Repton shuffle, but that's more Guide Dang It! than difficulty as such)... but the next level is "Giant clam".
  • The Talos Principle: The Road to Gehenna DLC puzzles are significantly harder than even the grey sigil puzzles of the main game. The difficulty of obtaining stars also ratchets up accordingly. However, they are also more cerebral; the original game had some really long marathon puzzles in it, while the DLC's puzzles are all fairly short but require lateral thinking.
  • In Tetris: The Grand Master, if you hear the music fade out towards the end of a section, one of these is going to happen in the next section. Most famously, in the original TGM, Level 500 raises the drop speed from "a few rows per frame" to "pieces drop automatically", otherwise known as "20G"note . From Tetris: The Grand Master 2 onwards, music fadeout while already at 20G means the next section's timings — such as time until a landed piece locks and delay until the next piece spawns — will get significantly tighter, throwing you off drastically and potentially ending your game if you aren't prepared for it.
  • Wonderland Adventures: Mysteries of Fire Island has one of these in the pirate camp.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • All Age of Empires campaigns (and most of the Age of Mythology) raise the difficulty exponentially with each scenario. Tough requirements while giving you limited armies\resources? Enemies that start to build wonders? Being forced to break into a heavily guarded town the other side of the map? Anything goes!
  • Chapter 2-2 of Anno 2070, with a side order of Guide Dang It!. The difficulty comes from the game going from a well-advised development curve, to a clean slate where you're expected to manage your own finances. The game does NOT tell you the hand-holding has stopped. Nor does it warn you that thanks to the pre-existing infrastructure you're provided with, you're starting with a direly negative cash flow, and the new Tech population the objectives guide you to settle have the most expensive facilities in the game and pay bugger-all tax. True, these conditions have existed since the start of the chapter... but it's in 2-2 that you'll notice how much trouble you're in, along with the fact it's too late to do anything about it. What you're expected to do is settle a population of your chosen faction (who generate MUCH more revenue) in another corner of your island and manage their growth independently... except a different event will cause that population to crash unless you complete an out-of-the-way sidequest and obtain a very specific item to blunt the effects.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2's penultimate Soviet mission. You needed to defeat Yuri's forces for good, but this was the only mission where you had to constantly hold out against enemy forces. It was also very difficult to break the base defenses without resorting to exploration or Guide Dang It! behavior. At least you could build a nuke silo to hit the objective directly.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert:
    • The final Allied mission in the original. The Soviets have two bases, on of which is very close to where you set yours. It's small, but will get big if even you don't take it early. Even when do, you will still be under nearly constant attack from the other, very large base. In short, you are in for a very long fight. Add to this, the Soviet faction in the game is broken, you will only win fights against them through sheer numbers. As a silver lining, one of the attack routes the Soviets stupidly use goes through a fairly big lake that, so you can get an added punch from your destroyers (which outrange most of the Soviet units) and cruisers (best range and firepower in the game, but their shots have a sad tendency to miss, but they're worth it). You also get to use the Chronosphere to move a cruiser to a lake the Soviet base and pick off some of their buildings.
    • The fifth Soviet mission in the same game is also surprisingly difficult. The idea is to capture a Radar Station to find out what the Allied are planning. The problem is that there is a huge island filled to the brim with ressources the Allies will land on with a Mobile Construction Vehicle via naval transport should you even think of building a submarine facility. Once they did just that, the mission becomes stupidly difficult because the base over there gives them ressources to the base next to yours which will begin Zerg Rushing you with impunity. Surviving the onslaught won't help much either because you'll still have to get rid of the island base which by that point would be too big and too well defended to send your own navy transports with tanks over. The solution is the newly-introduced paradrop ability of the airfield - landing infantry on the island will still make the Allies send their MCV, but as long as you play Catch Me with your infantry while shooting it, it cannot deploy. Scratch Damage will eventually destroy it, disabling the Allies from getting anything meaningful out of it.
  • The seventh Chinese mission, Operation: Nuclear Winter, in Command & Conquer: Generals also deserves its place here: the GLA throws everything but the kitchen sink at you very early on, while you are short of supplies and has barely built your base. Add to that the fact that they have a SCUD launcher platform that will fire and annihilate your forces/base if you have 5000 money or more, and you get players having one hell of a surprise. After that, the game returns to its normal curve.
  • Operation: Red Revolution was hard, yes, but could be made very easy with a couple of tricks. Most importantly, capture one of the power plants on the hill near the start, then cover the cliffs with turrets and Tesla coils. The start of Operation: Chrono Defense, the final Soviet mission, is hell. The Allies repeatedly teleport tank divisions into the middle of your base while you're still setting it up. Build order is crucial, as you need to balance power supply with the all-important turrets that will save your base. And if you get the order wrong and lose power, all your construction rates drop.
  • The whole game of Pikmin is no cakewalk, but the game really takes a dive in difficulty once Olimar reaches the fourth and final non-boss level, Distant Spring. Most of the level is at least partially submerged, neutering the combat effectiveness of your Pikmin as a whole (as the only Pikmin able to survive the tide are the unremarkable Blue Pikmin, as opposed to the explosive Yellow Pikmin or hard-hitting Red Pikmin). Adding to this is the abundance of powerful enemies, some instances including Spotty Bulbears (more durable versions of the resilient-as-is Spotty Bulborbs), Yellow Wollywogs (larger versions of the already terrifying Wollywogs), and a return of an earlier boss, the Armored Cannon Beetle, for no real reason. On a plus side, it lacks a real boss outside of the mentioned Armored Cannon Beetle, and a lot of the level can be shortened by clever usage of Bomb Rocks.
  • StarCraft I had a few levels that tested people's patience. Protoss mission 7 had the player fighting against an army of Protoss that was further up the tech tree. This lead to some frustration, as the presence of Arbiters and Carriers made it difficult for anyone to reasonably counter the enemy. Most players won by massing troops or Photon Cannons instead of using any real strategy. In Brood War, Terran mission 8 got rather ridiculous when the Zerg sent in a much harder to kill Ultralisk every few minutes to harass your troops. The worst offender had to be Zerg mission 8 and 10 (in Brood War), with the former having a deadly Zerg/Terran air force, and the latter had two powerful Terran and a Protoss attacking players at once.
  • StarCraft II's last mission is significantly more difficult than, well, any of the previous ones. Except maybe Supernova.
  • Warcraft II:
    • The final Human mission is considerably more difficult than all the previous ones, as the computer will constantly send dragons to attack you even as you're trying to build your base from scratch (fortunately, guard towers are your friend). Also doesn't help that you start off with a sizable army and no farms, forcing you to either kill off your own troops or build a zillion farms before you can even start training additional workers to increase your income rate.

    Rhythm Game 
  • In beatmania IIDX:
    • You don't fail a song by running out of life, but you do need to finish with your life meter at 80% or higher to clear it. Many songs will abuse this by having sudden jumps in difficulty at the end; some of the biggest offenders are Holic (Another), Blame (Another), Contract (Normal) (the rest of the song is fairly easy in comparison), and Inori (Another). This issue is subverted Go Beyond!! (Another), which has its most difficult part in the middle of the song, and the rest of the song is easy enough for someone who can clear level-11 songs to easily recover in. Many players avoid this by using the "Hard" option for the life bar. In this, as long as the life doesn't reach 0%, you pass.
    • As far as level progression goes, going from level 9 charts to level 10 is one of the biggest walls for many players; whereas someone who can reliably clear 8s can do some 9s, those who can reliably clear 9s will get smoked on many 10s.
    • Similarly, a lot of Single Play players can't graduate out of 6th Dan due to 7th Dan using THE SAFARI's mash-heavy Hyper chart as its final stage, causing many players to hold onto as much as 90% of their Groove Gauge as they enter that stage and still fail it.
  • DJMAX Technika's Weekly 27 course, available only from July 12 through 19, 2010. Stage 1 is Enemy Storm [PP]; one of the easiest stage 2 songs in Popular Mode. Stage 2 is Cherokee [PP]; a few steps up but still doable for some. Then there is Stage 3, A.I. [TP], which is many steps harder than Cherokee thanks to a rather annoying repeat note segment at the end.
  • Elite Beat Agents and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 had three of these each, one on the "final" song, one on the actually final song, and one on the third bonus song. "Canned Heat" from EBA also counts, as it's the only song which has its taps on the offbeat. If you're not ready for it, you'll lose quickly.
  • Woe betide Groove Coaster players who only have access to the smartphone version but not the arcade version, as the level 200 and 300 unlockable songs "Got more raves?" and "Got a pain cover?" have brutal AC-Hard charts that are rated 20 and feature insane track speeds and rapid patterns that border on being unsuitable for touchscreens. The next highest-rated songs in the smartphone version are six Tatsh songs that are only rated 15 and don't come anywhere near the "Got" songs in terms of brutality, meaning that nothing in the game can prepare the player for these two songs. This is not as big of a problem in the arcade versions, where there are far more "boss" songs that can help the player smoothly improve their skills to the point of being able to tackle these songs.
  • Both Guitar Hero and Rock Band feature a general Difficulty Spike when moving from Medium to Hard on guitar or drums.
    • Guitar charts start including the orange fret, meaning that you have to start moving your hands around instead of having your four fingers sit on green, red, yellow, and blue all the time. On drums, the bass pedal finds itself on the off-beats more often, forcing some extra limb independence out of players, and that's not taking into account the presence of drumrolls and fills with much more notes than one would see in a Medium chart. On vocals, the jump happens from Hard to Expert. The pitch-detection becomes much less lenient and requires better precision to ensure high scores. Both series are well-known for having sudden brick wall songs. You'll be progressing along fine before suddenly being hit with a difficult song that'll take a day of practice just to pass.
    • In Guitar Hero II the song that broke several players' kneecaps was Psychobilly Freakout.
    • Guitar Hero III has the infamously hellish last set, 'Battle for your Soul', Raining Blood in particular. When the other 3 songs are One, The Number of the Beast and Cliffs of Dover, culminating in the battle with Lou to the tune of The Devil Went Down To Georgia, it's not surprising that only the MOST hardcore players ever beat the game on Expert.
    • In Guitar Hero: On Tour, first it hits you with "I Don't Wanna Stop", with a hellish solo near the end; then it hits you with "I Know a Little", which has a slightly less difficult solo, but at the start of the song, before you get any Star Power. Then it takes a sledgehammer to your balls with "Through The Fire And The Flames".
    • The first Rock Band game gave us Run to the Hills on hard drums, which was so beyond anything else in that difficulty tier that most veteran players advised newbies to start the game again on a higher difficulty setting when they reached it, rather than spend hours futilely flailing away at a song that was tougher than many of the Expert tier's end-game songs. Of course, then you unlocked the same song on Expert and realized that the game had been going comparatively easy on you up to that point. note 
    • Rock Band 2 followed this up with Everlong, which, while slower than Run to the Hills, has a much less intuitive bass pattern. Of course, once you get past Everlong, there are five more songs that take the difficulty to ridiculous levels: Battery, Shoulder to the Plow, Painkiller, and Panic Attack are difficult (and decently long), but Visions takes the cake. Visions has the fastest blast beats in the game, the bass is very fast, and the pattern is very technically complex. Many players can five star every other song and still can't pass Visions.
    • Rock Band 2's Sound Guy challenge, if there's an Expert drummer in your band. It ends with Everlong, ranked the 5th hardest song on the disc, and it's not under-rated; it's filled with high-speed 'tika-tika-tika-tika' hi-hat hits that will fail out most players unless they've been breezing through everything else up to that point. The silver lining is that if you can beat it once, you probably won't fail it afterwards, and you can switch down to Hard with little if any penalty.
    • For guitarists, some Rock Band songs start off fairly easy, then they throw you for a loop with a vicious solo section which can easily screw up your entire run, "Can't Be Tamed" "According To You" and "Forever" are all prime examples.
  • Rhythm/Platformer HarmoKnight features a difficulty spike when you enter the Baroque Volcano. Suddenly there are fire hazards that are difficult to avoid, floating enemies that are tricky to hit, collapsing ground everywhere, and an offbeat timing that is hard to get used to. Worse, getting a "great" rating on these levels requires an almost perfect performance.
  • Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA has a fairly reasonable difficulty progression with every song being completable with enough practice. Then you get to The Dissapearence of Hatsune Miku and your head explodes.
  • ReRave's difficulty takes a flying leap from Level 8 to Level 9, when the different note types suddenly start hitting you all at once, like having to sustain a long Follow Note while hitting random Omni Notes that appear all over the screen.
  • Many Rhythm Games have this on a select few of the hardest songs.
    • On DanceDanceRevolution, there is a huge gap in difficulty between most 9s and most 10s. A player who can easily get a Full Combo and/or AA on most 9s may barely scrape by with a B on a typical 10. The gap was slowly smoothed out over the years, only for Konami to release a new batch of charts so hard that they created a new gap, just as big but further up.
    • The difficulty progression in pop'n music stays relatively constant up until you reach Level 28, which is where the notecharts start throwing more advanced techniques (scales and jackhammers in particular) at you. Spikes also occur at Levels 32, 35, 38, and each level thereafter. Then, as with beatmania IIDX, there are a ton of songs that will devolve into total notejam in the last ten seconds or so. Playing with the Extra Stage lifebar cuts out the 80% requirement, but you need to get specific combined level scores to access it-and from the 16th mix onward, the criteria were raised enough to make it nigh-impossible without using ojamas.
  • Rhythm Heaven:
    • The DS game progresses at a simple rate for the first five stages. Then the game smacks Rhythm Rally in your face, one of the least lenient mini-games in the game. Then the game smooths out again, and finally hits its head with Big Rock Finish, which doesn't allow practice for 6 of the 8 playable songs, immediately followed by Frog Hop, the longest song in the game. Then the game crashes the ceiling through your body with Lockstep, a game that is downright impossible for first-timers; Space Soccer, which nets you a fail if you mess up twice; and Remix 6 which is the first Remix to fake you out by switching minigames mid-tap. Then comes Round 2, which elongates, quickens, and/or adds effects that make focus difficult, and getting all perfects.
    • Rhythm Heaven Fever has its first wall in Monkey Watch. All of the previous stages, as well as their Remixes, simply have the player reacting to sound and visual cues. Monkey Watch is the first one to require the player to push the button to the beat of the music, from beginning to end, with the occasional offbeat patterns. It's also a longer song than anything before it, so many people attempting this game wind up going a bit too fast or too slow and fail the stage. Monkey Watch also sets the tone for the rest of the game, with more of these keep-the-beat type stages, only with harder or more complex cues. For the record, it's the 6th stage in the game out of 50.
    • Lush Tower in Rhythm Heaven Megamix is when the game stops going easy on the player. Though those used to the Rhythm Heaven formula of past games will be accustomed to it, those who began with Megamix who grew used to the early stages, most of which are within one minute and are easier versions of returning stages, will find it jarring when the cues suddenly get denser, the stages get longer, and they encounter Remixes at the end which combine the previous four stages together. Those who are used to the Rhythm Heaven formula will find the game getting a lot harder upon leaving Earth World and ascending to Heaven World, which begins with the pretty tough Ninja Bodyguard and culminates with the infamous aforementioned Lockstep.
  • In Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, almost every song is available in three difficulties: Basic, Expert, and Ultimate. The increase in difficulty from Basic to Expert is reasonable. The increase in difficulty from Expert to Ultimate is absurd. A player who is good enough to Perfect Chain an Expert-level song on their first attempt is probably going to fail that same song on Ultimate difficulty within ten seconds of starting.

  • The Binding of Isaac is already a brutal game. However, beat the game once and the Final Boss is demoted to Climax Boss and more floors are added afterwards. In these floors, everything does a full heart of damage unless you have The Wafer... which you can't get until you beat these floors multiple times. This is essentially where the game gets serious.
  • The difficulty in Crowntakers explodes through the roof when you reach the Barbarian Mountains, thanks to the namesake barbarians. The ones with 5 HP and 5 armournote  would be bad enough, but they're also capable of generating more armour with no upper limit. But even worse are their leaders, huge brutes with "only" 3 armour (who can't generate more) but 20 HP. And far worse, every one of their attacks will stun one of your guys, including counterattacks. And not only do both types of barbarian have insanely high movement (allowing them to charge your party from offscreen and sometimes even get into a flanking position), they have frustratingly good AI, making liberal use of Guard stance to not only make them harder to hit, but allow them to counterattacknote . And these are the basic enemies in the area. Coming only about half way through the game, this is where most runs will end, even on Easy.
  • To progress through the story in Crypt Of The Necrodancer, first you have to clear each zone as Cadence (the standard character). Then you have to clear them as Melody, who is locked into one weapon that is very strong once you get used to its attack radius. But then you have to beat them again as Aria, a One-Hit-Point Wonder (technically two, since she starts with a revive) who can't use any other weapon besides the basic dagger and dies if you miss a beat. Not to mention she has to clear the zones in reverse order.
  • Darkest Dungeon:
    • The difficulty climbs sharply between the level 3 dungeons and the level 5 ones, especially after the Radiant Update. The new enemies introduced for Champion runs in the Radiant Update tend to have the HP and defences of a Large enemy crammed into a single position in the lineup, and have fancy new forms of cruelty: Bone Bearers constantly resurrect fallen enemies unless you destroy the corpses, Hateful Viragos can prevent you from healing, Swine Skivers can deal horrifying amounts of regular damage with blight on top to the rear ranks, and Squiffy Ghasts can inflict absurd quantities of stress. To make matters worse, you can't even build up XP by doing partial runs, because Resolve XP is only awarded on completion of a dungeon objective!
    • The titular Darkest Dungeon itself assaults you with a hellish spike in difficulty, especially in the second mission with a total of 3 very difficult mini-bosses in the Templar Warlords and Impalers. On top of this, if you retreat from the dungeon you must surrender one of your heroes to hold off the monsters so the rest of your party can escape.
  • In Dead Cells, by the time you get to the 5th difficulty setting, the game already stopped throwing you any extra healing flask charges. What's left for the game to throw at you? Malaise. Malaise makes everything more dangerous the more Malaise there is, like making enemies hit harder or faster, increase their aggro range, spawn enemies you can't normally find in the biome, or even transform enemies into Elites. Killing enemies or drinking your potion is the only way to bring down Malaise, and it carries over between stages. The game now puts you at a soft timer since Malaise increases over time and grows faster the more enemies there are left in the stage. Also, enemies teleport after you, making hit-and-run tactics much harder.
    • Malaise used to work completely different before v21. It used to inflict you with a stack of Malaise whenever you got hit by anything, and when it accumulates to 10 stacks, it drops your Health down to 10%, meaning you will get one-shot by pretty much anything. Drinking potions, eating clean food, and specific Malaise-removing mutations were the only way to counteract this. While most enemies still hit you like a truck regardless, Malaise adds one more layer of difficulty that prevents you from cheesing through the game with ample healing.
    • The game used to have this problem as soon as you graduated from the base normal difficulty. Enemy scaling suddenly shot through the roof and you'd find yourself be surprised by the fact that a basic enemy in the first stage is now hitting you for almost half your health. This was on top of the fact that you would likely still have a low Forge level, so the odds of finding an enhanced quality equipment was very low. What makes this a problem is that higher quality gave bonuses to stats, which meant more damage and HP in the early game, and by extension more money to spend. The 1.9 update addressed this issue by removing bonus stats from quality and a general flattening of the difficulty curve (which included making the normal difficulty harder).
  • FTL: Faster Than Light's final boss flagship is noticeably harder than the rest of the game (most of the game is already at pretty high difficulty, but the final boss just shoots up another mile in difficulty level).
  • NetHack has Gehennom, the hell area at the bottom of the dungeon. Instead of rooms and corridors, Gehennom has featureless maze levels. The randomly-spawning enemies are almost all demons and undead. And every once in a while, you'll stumble into a special level with a demon lord waiting for you.
  • Noita has a sharp increase in diffculty at the Snowy Depths, the third level. The level introduces flying Hiisi enemies that pursue you relentlessly, Snipuhiisi with accurate and damaging long-ranged attacks, powerful Hiidenkivi super-enemies, and so on. Additionally, many enemies from here on out are heavily-armored, so if you haven't upgraded your offensive capabilities you may not be able to meaningfully damage them at all. The devs have smoothed this spike a bit over time, but it's still very noticeable.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time and Darkness:
    • The game has a nice progression... until you hit Hidden Land. In the previous dungeon, you would face Seel, Staryu and Kingler, with the occasional Dragonair appearing every now and then. Suddenly, Dragonite, Garchomp, Magmortar and Rampardos start to raid your team with no mercy, coupled with a boss battle that can easily be That One Boss for the unprepared.
    • The post game follows quite nicely until you hit Miracle Sea. Enemies that return the damage dealt automatically and Octillery by dozens pelting you with Game-Breaker moves from the other side of the room.
    • And finally there's the Dark Crater. Let me tell you one thing. The other dungeons are nothing compared to this. Like above, enemies will have moves that will hit you regardless of the distance, they hit hard as hell, and expect a lot of them. Some Pokémon have the counter activated (and you can't even know which ones), so if you don't one-shot them, you will be one-shotted; and if you aren't then the enemy will, because the counter doesn't count as an enemy attack; fortunately, it doesn't happen too often. There are also some enemies that will shield the ones who are almost defeated granting them an attack; unfortunately, Aggron is one of those Pokémon and they have Protect (you see where I'm getting?). Then there are the three banes of this dungeon: Camerupt, Rhyperior and Mismagius. Camerupt has Earth Power, Magnitude and Earthquake. Three moves that will hit all of your party by simply being in the same room with them. Rhyperior has Earthquake and Horn Drill, can shield enemies, has a very high Defense and Solid Rock (meaning that super-effective moves will be weaker against them). Mismagius can pass through walls, and that means they can attack you without being able to retaliate, until you drag them out the wall by ignoring the attacks and going ahead (unfortunately though, they hit disgustingly hard). For those who have a Fire-type either as partner or main character, then it will be even more hellish, since some Pokémon here will have Flash Fire, the others are Ground-type and the remaining are Aggron and Mismagius. The dungeon also has 30 floors divided in two (the Dark Crater with 16 floors, and the Deep Dark Crater with 14). To top it all, there's the True Final Boss, which if he wasn't one and also more of a Bonus Boss, he would be a That One Boss, especially in Explorers of the Sky. Basically, it's Hell on Earth.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team, Sky Tower is markedly harder than anything you've previously done, featuring ghosts that can move through walls, changing weather, enemies with attacks that hit the entire room, and potential Monster Houses that can be extremely dangerous.
  • Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon: Choose any dungeon early on that's not from the story mode or the Water Continent, and your sorry kiddy ass will be handed back to you.
    • In terms of the story, Poliwrath River is a major one especially if you chose Fire and/or Water types. Prepare for Luxio dealing insane damage with a Charged Spark and Heliolisk hitting an entire party with Razor Wind. The three Poliwrath (and Poliwag) waiting at the end are no joke either, as they will try to surround one Pokémon and spam Round, which gets stronger as more Pokémon use it.
    • The Submerged Cave is outright cruel, with wild Pokémon being able to use Hydro Pump to hit a whole team in a straight line. The damage can easily cap above 100 HP, while your choices haven't left the double digits yet. Grass-type starters may barely survive one hit (without taking into account that Rain Dance may be in effect), but everyone else...
    • If you chose a fire-type as your player character, the Sand Dune of Spirits is probably going to give you a hard time if not outright kick your butt. There's no avoiding it, because you are required to get through it to advance the post-game. The reason why it's so challenging if you're a fire-type is because you have to go through it alone in order to find out how to get your partner back and the dungeon is crawling with high level rock and ground-types. Further complicating matters are two fire-types with Flash Fire (Growlithe and Houndoom), an ability that completely nullifies any fire attack you throw at it.
    • Going through Mystery Jungle as a Grass type is simply hellish; literally every Pokémon in there is a Poison type, with a fair few of them also being Bug or Flying type, and they are perfectly capable of ending you in one hit. Similar to the Sand Dune of Spirits, it is also plot-demanded and you cannot bring allies on your first visit.
    • In general, many dungeons and Connection Orb missions can seem like this due to the heavier emphasis on the Roguelike side of the gameplay. This seems to have been done to encourage players to swap their team members out rather than sticking with their player and partner. Since leveling your Pokémon is so slow, it's easier to do the harder missions with a team of the higher-level Pokémon that you gain access to early on in the game.

    Role-Playing Game 
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura seems rather tricky in and out of Shrouded Hills, lobs you enough easy experience in Tarant, only to send you to the Black Mountain Mines, which will surely kill you once or twice even if you know what to expect.
    • The main problem is that a) Arcanum's combat system has its flaws, b) the Black Mountain Mines are a pure dungeon crawl against enemies that do damage to melee weapons if you attack with them (or do damage to you, if you use your fists). Add to that significant portions of the game being cut-off until you finish the Black Mountain Mines...
  • In Avernum 4, the difficulty curve is very gentle — until you hit the Eastern Gallery, at which point it shoots sharply upward, before settling back down to a more moderate climb for the rest of the game. Wall, thy name is Chitrach.
  • Once you manage to get the hang of Bloodborne, the beginning areas aren't really so tough (Gascoigne aside). After you defeat Vicar Amelia and unlock the Forbidden Woods, however, all bets are off. Dark environments, twisty path ways, plenty of traps and dozens of villager enemies. And that's just the first half. After the windmill, you meet the Snake Heads, who can attack you during your attacks, have cartoonish health for that stage in the game and are everywhere. At the bottom, two pigs (Who can basically one-shot you with their charge attacks) a mess of corpse walkers and the boss, the Shadow of Yharnum. Hell, on the way to the woods, you find your first Brain Sucker. Everything after that point is almost as difficult, more in line with a standard Souls game.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm has a mild one at Mt. Dramatica in Chapter 3, and then a major one at The Spire in Chapter 7, which features much more challenging puzzles and random encounters as tough as the earlier bosses. The Deep Web kicks things up another notch, but at least it’s optional.
  • The entire postgame story of Capella's Promise requires a lot more grinding between bosses compared to the main story. Even the developer acknowledged this, to the point where they increased the experience of postgame foes just to make it less tedious to complete.
  • Class of Heroes 2 flows nicely until you get to the parallel world. The dungeons make Witch's Woods look small and straightforward, enemies are much stronger, it introduces dark areas and gate keys get more and more common. However, once you approach Lanzlet the game throws a nasty curve ball by making all melee classes almost useless — either you nuke enemies on the first turn with Bomb and other spells that hit all the enemies in the battle or watch them kill your sturdiest tanks in two hits.
  • All of Dark Souls is hard, but Blighttown, with its maze-like layout, powerful, poison-inducing foes, difficult to see toxin-inducing snipers, and rickety footing above instand-death drops is where things really start getting tough (not helped by lousy framerates in the original version of the game). Another difficulty spike is Sen's Fortress which, assuming the player is playing the levels in the intended order, comes immediately after Blighttown. The area is a convention center for booby traps and considerably stronger mooks than previously encountered.
  • Dark Souls II has the Shrine of Amana — huge, wide open areas where you are constantly bombarded by magic homing spells from far off priestesses while dealing with packs of fast, aggressive and hard-hitting melee enemies who are difficult to lure out of their groups. And you spend most of the time up to your knees in water which both hinders your mobility and make it hard to see the sudden drop-offs into bottomless pits. It was so bad that FROM Soft had to nerf the tracking of the priestess' spells to make it less rage-inducing.
  • Dark Souls III:
    • The game has the Cathedral of the Deep, which kicks off a string of between four and six That One Levels in a row. The Cathedral itself is a sprawling, inconvenient area where you are constantly being shot from multiple angles, mobbed by hard-to-hit enemies, forced to cross narrow bridges, and forced to fight a giant in knee-deep giant excrement while dodging a swarm of slimes. This leads into Farron Keep, where the knee-deep excrement is everywhere and causes poison. After Farron Keep, you come to the Catacombs of Carthus, a sprawling, obnoxious region of ridiculously nimble skeletons where you need to go a ridiculously long way to reach the first bonfire. You can descend from here into the optionalnote  area of Smouldering Lake, which is both almost impossible to navigate and swarming with vicious opponents including two minibosses, or proceed past High Lord Wolnir into Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, home of pyromancy knights who, if you come within their ridiculous aggro range, can hit you with remarkably precision even if you're hiding behind a very thick wall. From Irithyll, you can fight your way past a recreation of the "high, narrow paths under constant greatbow fire" thing from the first game to reach the remnants of Anor Londo, or descend into the intolerable hellscape of health-draining jailers and death-vomiting mutants that is the Irithyll Dungeon...and you'll need to do both to complete the game.
    • The "Ashes of Ariandel" and "Ringed City" DLCs both spike the difficulty viciously upwards even given that they are explicitly late-game areas (you're not even supposed to attempt Ariandel unless you've reached the Twin Princes, even though the NPC who actually lets you go there is in the early-game Cathedral of the Deep, and the Dreg Heap can also be reached from just before the Final Boss). Ariandel favours enemies who are hard to hit and even harder to stun with things like the giant wolves and Corvian fighters, plus a three-stage boss (the Final Boss only has two!). The Ringed City, meanwhile, has the remains of Earthen Peak from II, which gives a real vibe of "Farron Keep if it was under constant murder-laser bombardment until you found an out-of-the-way enemy", followed by a Corridor Cubbyhole Run full of stunlock-spamming ghost archers, followed by a sprawling urban area covered in difficult opponents, sometimes in groups, followed by a thankfully non-poisonous swamp that is also covered in groups of difficult opponents, followed by a dragon bridge run where the dragon can one-shot you if you're not embered, highly fire resistant or both.
  • Digimon World 3:
    • There's the West Sector difficulty spike where you go from kicking digimon ass to getting kicked in the ass by powerful digimon. And after the Amaterasu Server spike, Asuka's North Sector and Amaterasu's own West and North Sector just makes things even worse.
    • The second spike comes once you get to the Amaterasu server, but the game is infamous among those who played it in that wild digimon can vary wildly in power from just one screen to the other, with absolutely no indication that you have just stepped into an area that you really shouldn't be in at that particular point in time. If you go out exploring too far in the wrong direction you can easily run into a super powerful wild digimon that your team won't possibly be able to defeat (given that the game's encounter rate is fairly high it may be difficult to get out of an area like this without dying).
  • Dragalia Lost has this with the Legend Agito boss fights. Each boss can only be fought by adventurers and dragons they're weak against, making it so off-element Game-Breaker characters can't be brought in. Even with the chosen party having max weapon bonuses and all facility bonuses, some of which come from Temporary Online Content, they are built with Damage-Sponge Boss in mind having tens of millions of HP, with even the best units only able to do 100k fully buffed all while having many different ways to give One-Hit Kills.
  • Playing Dragon Age: Origins, you'll wonder where its Nintendo Hard reputation comes from. . .until you get to the courtyard of Castle Redcliffe.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • Dragon Quest II has a legendary difficulty spike in Rendarak, the final area. They ran out of time and simply didn't have time to playtest any of it. Of special note are the Gold Batweevils (Gold Batboons on the NES) which are a random mook that can cast Kamikazee (sacrifice on NES). If they choose to use it, the result is a 100% guaranteed instant party wipe. Then there's the final boss himself Malroth who can cast Fullheal on himself...Be prepared for a long, long fight.
    • Dragon Quest VII Saving Alltrades Abbey. You encounter it having just permanently lost your most powerful party member, have limited healing options, and it's looooong. To top it all off, you don't have class skills yet, because completing this scenario is what unlocks the class system. Hopefully you don't waste all your healing items on all those supposed-to-lose fights as well.
    • Dragon Quest VIII's Bonus Dungeon has a boss at the end of it, and you must go through it each time to defeat a new one. The Darksteel Dragon is much more difficult. He has far less HP than his predecessors, but his defense is so high that, barring critical-or-miss attacks, you won't hit him that often. Also, he gets triple attacks.
  • In Dragon Slayer, the fifth through eighth monsters have 5,000 HP, 7,500 HP, 10,000 HP and 20,000 HP. Then the ninth monster has 300,000 HP.
  • EarthBound:
    • The Peaceful Rest Valley. Up until that point, the only challenging part was the Giant Step dungeon, and even that's not too bad if you're well-equipped. Peaceful Rest Valley teems with Demonic Spiders, especially the dreaded Territorial Oaks. It doesn't help that it takes forever to get out.
    • The mine is another major difficulty spike. It's a long maze level swarming with poisonous enemies, requiring you to find and defeat five giant moles. The first time playing, you will get lost and spend a long time aimlessly wandering. And it doesn't get any better afterwards; almost immediately you get forced through the Fourside Department Store and Moonside, both of which are even more difficult.
    • There's also the infamous Mt. Itoi from EarthBound Beginnings.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind:
      • Big Bad final boss Dagoth-Ur of the main game is level 35. The final bosses from the expansions (Almalexia and Hircine) are both level 100. Even the non-bosses from the main game into the expansions spike. Bloodmoon especially, because even the local wildlife on Solstheim rivals the strength of enemies of the Ghostfence on Vvardenfell.
      • The Bloodmoon expansion is especially guilty of this if you choose to complete the expansion's main quest as a werewolf. You're stripped off all your items and magic spells and have to face around 30 enemies who are all about as strong as you and attack in packs of 2-4. All without a chance to heal yourself. To make things worse, if you manage it, your reward will be lesser than it would have been if you took the easy path.
      • Simply starting a new game with the Tribunal expansion installed, as a Dark Brotherhood assassin may spawn at any time when you sleep. The assassins do level scale, but even the lowest-leveled ones will be a major challenge for a brand-new character.
    • Oblivion is not too difficult initially. However once you level up, you will find that enemies are far more stronger along with more deadlier variants appearing. Since they all scale to your level, if you are not careful and choose to increase your non-combat skills, you can find yourself quickly outpaced by your enemies.
  • Fallout Tactics does this every time the story shifts focus. You start off with leather armor and conventional weapons, fighting raiders. When your squad moves on to battling the beastlords, if you haven't learned the value of stealth in your tactics you will have to if you want to survive, let alone complete missions. Plus you encounter Deathclaws, which are suitably lethal. From then, you go on to super mutants, with the first major difficulty spike (though at least the game forewarns you), where no matter how clever your tactics are, if you don't find a good gun soon you will simply not have the punch to kill the mutants. After you defeat the mutant leader, you then seem to have hit a difficulty plateau, as your next mission involves the Reavers, technophiles who practically worship their creations...but that's a fake-out, as you now have to deal with robots, which can shrug off attacks that would shred even the toughest super-mutants.
  • Fallout 2 is never exactly an easy game, but it starts you off comfortably enough, against low-level critters and bandits which are pushovers at any level. Around the time you get to Redding you're likely to start feeling a bit like a powerhouse - by then you'll have metal armor and your first assault rifle, which chews through bandits like so much paper. And then one of the early missions has you going down in the mines to take care of a bunch of Wanamingos, mutated things with insanely damaging tentacles and armored skin which will wipe the floor with your entire party. Low-level players will have no choice but reload, keep the mission for much later, and continue the game with newfound humility.
  • Fate/Grand Order has three significant major spikes:
    • Okeanos has a major level spike from Septem, indicating that yes, you are expected to level your Servants in order to progress through the story.
    • Camelot marks where the game stops pulling its punches. Enemies which would have been minibosses in previous chapters will start coming out more frequently, sometimes in waves even, and bosses will start to outright cheat and bring unfair buffs such as changing which classes they're weak to or the ability to use their Noble Phantasm every single turn.
    • The Epic of Remnant chapters, which are unlocked after completing the first arc, expect you to have fully mastered the game and start tossing in new mechanics such as multiple HP bars and new hazard effects. While not as difficult as Camelot, the new mechanics can throw the unprepared for a loop.
  • While Final Fantasy III is difficult throughout, the back-to-back dungeons Crystal Tower/Dark World turns it from "difficult but manageable" to "9th circle of hell". The Crystal Tower is filled with difficult enemies and a difficult boss, then after a long, unskippable cutscene you get thrown into the Dark World. From there, the player needs to beat 4 extremely difficult bosses with One-Hit KO attacks (unless they want to get destroyed by the Final Boss immediately) in a dungeon also filled with Bosses in Mook Clothing. While none of this out of control for the game, the kicker is that there are no save points. You have to go through the 2 hour long gauntlet every time.
  • In Final Fantasy IV, the first visit to the Moon is annoying, but manageable, also because it's short. The next dungeon, the Giant of Babil, has quite the spike in difficulty. The monsters there will halve the HP of your party like nothing, also considering that you only have two fighters and three mages, and they have much more HP than previous enemies. Spamming Curaja is probably the only way to make your party survive...IF they survive. And if that's bad, then the spike that happens at the Lunar Subterrane is almost sadistic. Before exploring it, train hard.
  • At the end of the first half of Final Fantasy VI, the Floating Continent has a sudden jump in the difficulty of random monsters compared to previous locations.
  • Final Fantasy VIII contains a particularly nasty example, whereby the final dungeon seals all of your abilities except for your basic attack, and you must defeat the various bosses to unseal your abilities. If you've been relying on Summon Magic to get through the entire first three discs, this strategy will now be useless and you may be screwed if you don't have any alternative strategies.
  • Final Fantasy X
    • The first spike comes with the Macalania Woods. It's already considered That One Level for many players because of its Check-Point Starvation, but there also the fact that monsters have become much more durable now. Unless the player made sure to level everyone up evenly — meaning to swap characters around and have them all participate in each battle, they can be quite difficult for the player.
    • Then there's Mount Gagazet near the last third, at which point not only do the standard enemies start getting a lot tougher, but the next four bosses all qualify as That One Boss, culminating in a fight that many players consider the hardest non-Bonus Boss in the entire game (and happens to come right after an unskippable 10-minute cutscene). It doesn't let up from there, even if you're not going for 100% Completion.
  • Final Fantasy XIII:
    • Chapter 11 counts as one in itself because the monster variety is much larger, including having Behemoths wandering around freely. The only kindness is that the game nudges the player towards a series of sidequests that ease the player into the higher difficulty.
    • Chapters 12 and 13 can be pretty challenging if you didn't grind a lot in Chapter 11. You can't go back to the Ch. 11 area until right before the final boss, and there's no clear indication at the end of Ch. 11 that you should train.
    • While they aren't required, some of the later Mission Stones represent ludicrous difficulty spikes, along with some of the enemies that wander Gran Pulse. It's quite possible to beat the game without ever bothering with the upgrade system, for instance. But if you get far enough along in the Missions? Yeah. Need upgraded EVERYTHING - which probably takes you as long or longer to do than beating the entire game, storyline-wise. Oh, and those wandering turtles.. Guide Dang It!.
  • In Folklore, the difficulty level in the final level, the Netherworld Core, is far greater than all previous areas.
  • Golden Sun has a large difficulty spike whenever you enter one of the 4 elemental lighthouses.
    • Final bosses don't tend to count for this trope unless particularly absurd — like in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn! At the very end of a 20-30 hour game that got a lot of flak for being trivially easy from the start all the way through the penultimate triple boss (you may well never have the slightest pressure to touch your inventory in combat throughout the game), the Chaos Chimera is quite suddenly very, very powerful and grueling on the scale of the previous games' Bonus Bosses.
    • Dark Dawn's version of Crossbone Isle is a certified Brutal Bonus Level. Hope you did your level grinding and got all the Djinn.
  • Infinite Space has two major difficulty spikes. They remain challenging on New Game+ because access to ships, crew members, and key skills are reset after completing the game and must be reacquired by progressing through the storyline.
    • Lutsk Sector, the second area of the game, is a large jump from the starting sector. The player is only able to command one ship at a time, and is only able to use barely-armed freighters, while random encounters have two to three pirate vessels that are considered a good match for the local navy. In fact, they're balanced for the two-ship fleet that the player can assemble after a little exploration.
    • After a Time Skip, the party winds up on the lam in the Large Magellanic Cloud, where technology is generally more advanced than in the Small Magellanic Cloud they came from. They're better off fleeing from battles until they gain access to LMC designs.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Enemies get much stronger after completing Hollow Bastion in Kingdom Hearts. The game itself even tells you that they have.
    • In the final level of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, be prepared for all of the previously easy enemies such as Darkball and Shadows to be upgraded to ridiculous levels, with them using 0 cards strategically, 8's out the ass, and generally being royal dicks. You literally have to have a deck of nothing but 9's in order to win. As a word of caution, 100% of the 0 Card Breaks come from Neoshadows.
  • Knights of the Old Republic is a pretty easy game to get through, provided you have even a small idea of what you're doing. Then you hit the final area. All of the enemy numbers that had been missing through the rest of the game come to bite you in the arse. That nice, skilled, diplomatic character you played? Toast. You won't even make it to the final boss without spending all of your money on healing items and saving often, or lowering the difficulty level. The boss itself has the nasty ability to one-shot weaker characters, ignore your attacks, and recover himself multiple times.
    • This section is even more annoying as a Dark Side character, when you are stuck with a recently returned and recently nerfed NPC. You can't opt out of taking them in.
    • For a combat-focused character it's fairly easy though. It's the ones that focused on other skills that get it in the shorts.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has this applied to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
    • The final boss is especially notable. Although several of the Koopalings were timed boss battles, and Fawful had some hard-to-avoid attacks, they weren't too hard to deal with. Even Bowletta isn't that hard...and then you reach Cackletta's spirit. Mario and Luigi are reduced to 1 HP each, and most of the time the boss will attack first, using up to four attacks. The attacks are brand new, and if you die, you have to beat Bowletta again before getting another chance to analyze (and hopefully dodge) the attacks. It's common for an unsuspecting player to die before getting a single hit in, and the boss only adds new attacks from there.
    • Superstar Saga also has this at Joke's End, which is a Marathon Level, ice level and That One Level in one, coming right after a fairly easy set of side quests and relaxed happy areas of the game. And right before the even harder final dungeon.
    • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time also had a difficulty spike with the final dungeon, and especially with the final boss(es). In both games, even the normal enemies in the final dungeon are a huge step up from what has come before them.
    • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team has Somnom Woods, where the puzzles get more confusing, the enemies often become Demonic Spiders with a ton of health (especially the Beehoss) and two fairly difficult bosses lie in wait near the end. The final dungeon after this area is even harder.
    • It also has one earlier in the game with Mount Pajamaja, which has surprisingly difficult enemies, a Plot Tunnel which acts a temporary Point of No Return (in the dream world version) and the first potentially aggravating giant Luigi boss.
  • Mass Effect 2 on Insanity is manageable during the first recruitment missions. Definitely very challenging, but if you've practiced, they're reasonable. get to Horizon and fight the Collectors. Anytime you fight the Collectors, it's like this.
    • Just imagine it. First you've got the regular Collectors who have stronger weapons and shields than almost any other enemies in the game. Guardians and Assassins will beat you down. Then...Harbinger shows up and Assumes Direct Control. This guy will constantly spam fireball attacks and use a certain attack that will knock you out of cover allowing you to be hit by an immediate fireball and fire from the other Collectors. Then you've got the Scions who will constantly move forward with an attack that keeps your shields drained for about 30 seconds if it hits. Two shots from it, and you are dead. Finally, there are the Praetorians. You'll have to go through this hell a few times over the course of the game. But it is satisfying as hell to get through.
    • Horizon is generally considered to be the hardest level to get through, simply because you're up against the full might of the Collectors, but your choice of weapons or squad members is limited. The Collector Ship is easier, simply because you get advanced weapon training there and have something that can deal with those damn Scions.
  • Mega Man Battle Network. An interesting case, as the series as a whole spikes difficulty distinctly at each installment.
    • The entire first game is basically an extended tutorial sequence for the rest of the series. Sure, there are a couple places you can get trashed (Magicman says hi), but the game actually expects you to not be particularly adept at the quirky combat system just yet — you don't notice at first because you're still adjusting to the mechanics, but there's a ton of leeway. MMBN2 stops pulling punches when you get to Quickman and is never forgiving enough to do so again. By 3, there is no Warmup Boss — the first one is downright vicious. 4-6 are just plain ornery. Then you go back and play the series in sequence again and realize the following. Tactics, reaction time, maneuvering, and mistakes that would let you S-rank an opponent in the first game would give you about an 8 at best in BN2, 4-5 in BN3, and would in all likelihood get you outright killed in the last three.
    • Each game also has a massive difficulty spike upon entering the Undernet. Say goodbye to the slow, cutesy Mets, and get used to your deadliest virus no longer being a Bunny. Say hello to meteor-raining mages, Spikies that move faster than any Bunny you've seen so far, arena shenanigans, and absolutely brutal enemy combinations that will happily murder you and eat your source code. Granted, it's not too hard to adjust to, but the sheer spike in difficulty more than makes up for it.
  • Monster Racers has Eurasia. The first two areas, Oceania and Asia, are easy to the point of being silly, usually being cases of "hold right to win." There are a couple oddballs (such as the Breeder's Cup), but for the most part, they're easy to moderately difficult. Then Eurasia smacks you in the face with snowy terrain (one of the most difficult to race on), high-leveled enemies, and much more brutal AI. And it only gets harder from there.
  • MS Saga: A New Dawn has a high spike after you lose one of the main healer, Aeon, and the choice of worthwhile mobile suits are limited to the five Gundams from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing series and the Burning Gundam, all which require you to go fight loads of That One Bosses with only two healer at max and a few melee tankers, one with very outdated unchangable suit to boot.
  • In the Neopets browser game NeoQuest II, the game's difficulty fluctuates, but there is quite an increase about halfway through Act IV, first when you fight The Four Faeries and the optional Hubrid Nox. Then the monsters in the Nox Mountains and the Goo Bog have stronger team synergy than seen before, with powerful spellcasters that aim for your mage and living slimes that slow your team and haste themselves. The spike ends right when you fight The Esophagor, and doesn't come back until the end of Act V.
  • Nocturne: Rebirth becomes a lot more difficult once Luna joins the party in order to balance the fact that only she can fill the fourth party slot. The first boss you can fight after recruiting her is a Wolfpack Boss against four Ristill clones, which is a huge step up from the already tough bosses that Reviel had to fight with only familiars.
  • Octopath Traveler:
    • There is a big spike in the difficulty of the random encounters when you enter the areas around the various Chapter 2s, and another one when you enter the areas around the various Chapter 4s. These coincide with a change in the normal battle theme music, as well.
    • The True Final Boss battle is exponentially harder than anything else in the entire game, including the above-mentioned Boss Rush that comes right before it and every other Bonus Boss battle.
  • Twilight Town and Creepy Steeple are a rough ramp-up in difficulty after the comparably easy Boggly Woods and Glitz Pit in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. You're faced with Hyper Goombas who can boost their attack by six (a huge deal this early in the game), Crayzee Dayzees who can put you to sleep, and Clefts with their high defensive abilities. To make matters worse, there's a segment where you need to make a mad dash for town with no partner which consists of running like mad, praying you can dodge random encounters or stay alive via Superguards. It doesn't get easy until you get Vivian who can attack nearly any enemy and inflict burn status with her normal attack.
  • Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth starts off as you'd expect from a Atlus game: tough but fair. Then you get to the Evil Spirit Club, where the dungeon layout and puzzles are more elaborate, the enemies are horribly brutal (using tactics like casting debuffs that make your whole party weak to an element, then spamming full-party hitting spells of that element) and the F.O.Es either chase you and can join in battles if you let them go on for too long, or jump you out of nowhere. (Previous F.O.Es were either stationary or followed preset patterns) The fact that the dungeon has a horror theme compared to the lighthearted previous dungeons seems an unsubtle Lampshade Hanging of this.
  • Pokémon games will normally have a huge level difference between the team of the final Gym Leader and the Elite Four... and the Champion of the region is in a whole different weight class.
    • Gen I and Gen IV throw an extra curveball by giving the Champion a Pokémon with no weaknesses. note 
    • There are usually various bonus battles scattered across the region, including rematches with upgraded Gym Leaders and the Elite Four, who now all have a new team of Pokémon from all across the world (instead of being limited to the region the game is set in), usually in their seventies. The Rival also gains a few extra levels. And then there's the Battle Frontier...
    • Pokémon Black and White add a new spin: by the first time you reach the Elite Four, their levels will range from mid-40s to 54. Once you beat them and upcoming opponents you'll unlock the rest of Unova for exploration... where even the average trainers will have their pokémon above level 60. Grinding at the Elite Four is out of question, because suddenly their weakest Pokémon are above level 70. To compensate for this, some of these Level 60+ Pokémon aren't fully evolved for whatever reason and give decent amounts of experience when beaten. However, this makes the trainers that are using final forms difficulty spikes in comparison to the ones that aren't.
    • HeartGold and SoulSilver are particularly egregious. The highest-leveled Pokémon in the Elite Four is level 50. The Kanto Gym Leaders have Pokémon in the 40s and 50s. However, Red's entire team has levels in the 80s. In GSC, while the Elite Four doesn't upgrade, there's also a slightly lesser spike between Blue and Red's levels. Fortunately, in the remakes, the Elite Four does upgrade to help you level grind better. Of course, you'll need every bit of grinding you can get in preparation for Red.
    • Pokémon Colosseum is also this way when you hit Realgam Tower. Everything up to the final boss is level 47 to 49 max. But then you hit Nascour, who's in the 50s,and then Evice and all his team is 60 and 61. Prepare to go enter several Colosseum battles to get your team high enough to beat him.
  • In Robopon, around the fifth or fourth-ranked competitor of both games, things get hard fast.
    • The problem with Robopon 2 lies on the game mechanics. First of all, each robot gains fixed stat bonuses when they level up, when you upgrade your robot, the level is halved and the stats get down, it may sound bad but when you re-train the robot, it gets new skills and better stats so it helps in the long run (the sooner you evolve the better but you may lose some skills). The problem is, that only applies to YOU, the player, none of you enemies get their stats down or lose skills, they get the stats equivalent to the form they are now. That's why the BOOT robots (they can't equip weapons but have better stats and unique skills) are useless to the player and so broken for the enemies, in fact, if you train your own robot to the last evolution and analyze the same robot as the enemy, you can see he has better stats (most of the time)! The huge spike comes when you're almost getting the fifth rank, when you visit the windmills on first time, they have weak enemies, but when you return there, most the random enemies evolve and THEN you feel the difference! For example, the weak Sumito robot becomes Yokomo (3 times stronger, but if you make one it's terrible), a robot with massive stats, regeneration and Revive+ skill that can make a single random battle take long minutes. You went from "Kill everything in one hit!" to "This random encounter is too damn hard!" in less than 30 minutes, from there on, the enemies are usually evolved and since they have better stats than your robots, your only chance to survive is to overlevel them and/or abuse equipment/skills.
  • 7th Dragon III: code VFD mostly has easy random encounters and hard bosses. Then comes the postgame dungeon, where every enemy has boss-class damage output.
  • While the enemies and bosses early in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne aren't particularly easy, they will pale in comparison when you get to the first Fiend battle with Matador. After beating him, the game only gets harder, and most bosses will force you to use specific strategies or fuse certain demons to have a chance to beat them. Certain dungeons will also have random encounters that are able to use the skill Beast Eye, a usually boss-only skill that allows them to attack two times with absolutely no drawbacks.
  • The Suikoden series of games follow a general pattern: The majority of the game is smooth and easy to handle, with random encounters increasing in difficulty but never becoming unmanageable, and relatively few bosses that are usually fairly simple, with maybe one or two of those kinds of bosses. Then the Final Boss or series of bosses comes up, and they are a hitpoint-munching game-over machine. They tend to be about five or six times harder than the entire rest of the game.
  • Suikoden III plays with this pattern — there are several boss battles that are brutally difficult... but the catch is that the game proceeds on regardless of whether you win or lose and the required bosses are fairly manageable. The Final Boss of the game, though, holds to the aforementioned trend of being death-in-a-bucket.
  • Super Mario RPG picks up in difficulty when you get to the Sunken Ship. Enemies here and beyond pack quite a punch compared to even Star Hill (excluding Pulsar), which comes right before it. From that point on, if you thought the Work Pants were better than the defensive armors, you might be re-thinking that once you see magic attacks doing 40+ damage, especially Yaridovich's Water Blast.
  • Boss fights in Tales of Vesperia tend to be rather jarringly difficult in comparison to the average random battle, but especially during the fight with Gattuso some players chose to change the battle difficulty to "easy". This spike in boss difficulty takes place, oddly enough, about five hours into the game.
    • Same with Alexei, but it tends to be amplified after traversing the Disc-One Final Dungeon and all gels and life bottles have been exhausted getting to the boss.
  • Each form change in Trillion: God of Destruction, by design. The Titan Form is dangerous, but has fairly slow and predictable attacks. Then you chip it down to Dragon Form, which uses completely different attack patterns, hits harder and faster, and has a completely different body shape; an Overlord who was specced for fighting Titan is probably headed for the grave. Once you adapt your strategies, Dragon form becomes manageable... and then there's the Final Form. It's much smaller, meaning less damage as there's less to hit. Its attacks are vicious and rapid, and it takes the meta step of sealing several game mechanics like retreating and practice battles. Your Overlords have a single chance each, with less preparation, against the toughest challenge in the game. It's not fair, but it's not supposed to be.
  • Undertale:
    • The game is pretty decent with its difficulty for boss encounters and they ramp up at a considerable pace. Each boss has a gimmick to exploit in the game's bullet hell styled mini-game you play whenever the enemy attacks. Omega/Photoshop Flowey puts the "hell" in bullet hell with little to no time to react to his attacks as they cover nearly the entire screen. The battles after him if you are on the true pacifist route are much easier.
    • The Genocide/No Mercy route has a major difficulty spike. The random encounters are always easy, and you essentially skip the boss battles for the first half of the game — and then you reach Undyne the Undying, who abruptly requires some serious reaction time to beat, even more so than all the bosses in the normal/pacifist routes.
  • The World Ends with You gets harder with each week in the story. On-field enemies get stronger and the boss fights become a lot more challenging, with some requiring you to really think in order to figure out their weakness. The fact that you have to adjust to controlling Neku's new partner in each week only adds to it. The game's control scheme involves using Neku and his partner simultaneously in battle (Neku on the bottom screen, his partner on the top). There's an AI that controls the top-screen character if you don't but it's not that good, which means you'll have to get the hang of it fast and you definitely need too, since you share the same health bar and some of the later boss fights involve fighting a boss on each screen.
  • The first several hours of Xenogears are pretty easy; a couple of the Gear bosses might cause some trouble, but nothing some basic strategizing won't fix. Then you enter the Nortune Sewers. All of the enemies hit hard, many cause status ailments (practically unheard of until this point), the area is a maze, and just initiating the boss is a puzzle that might result in the player wandering around for some time. Also, said boss is one of the most maligned in the game.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles:
    • Sword Valley. Even if you went out of your way to complete every single sidequest possible up to that point, the enemies levels will still likely be higher than your own. In addition, you get introduced to the Boss in Mook Clothing Fortress Units, which will kill you if you try to take them on in a direct fight. Additionally, the game gets more spam happy when it comes to enemy units, to where it's not impossible to end up fighting five to six enemies at the same time. Also, if you want to go through it without having Shulk in your party twenty four seven, you'll be forced to downgrade to weapons that are weaker than the ones you already have and have only one slot, but can damage Mechon without Monado Enchant. While all this makes sense considering you're storming one of the enemies strongholds, it's still likely to catch many first time players off guard.
    • Everything after the events of Mechonis Core also turns the game's difficulty into overdrive; most of the new sidequests available are catered towards endgame levels, making it difficult for those wanting to prepare themselves for the story-based fights ahead, themselves considerably more difficult than what came before.
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon maintains a fairly constant difficulty throughout the game, with most encounters requiring little more than smart healing, exploiting enemy weaknesses and hitting your action commands. Then comes Chapter 12 and you run into the Level 50 Majima and Saejima shaped wall. By contrast the previous chapter's boss is only level 37 and the buildup to Chapter 12's boss fight is little more than running around doing errands, and then a stealth section. The only hint given by the game that you will want to power level are Sotenbori's random encounters and the suspiciously convenient Peninsula of Power Leveling.

    Shoot 'em Up 
  • The first 16 tutorial levels for Bangai-O Spirits teach you the mechanics of the game. The 17th (last) is an average difficulty level. On a scale of 1 to 100, the first 16 are all 5s or below, and the last is a 40. This is mitigated a bit since one of the demos shows a way to beat this one with the loadout given.
  • In Beat Hazard you can consider yourself screwed when the music gets quiet.
  • Blazing Star turns nasty when you're up to the boss of stage 3, which attempts to overwhelm you by boxing you into a very small space with its attacks, then sprays bullets maniacally in its last form. Stage 4 has enemies that appear so quickly the game has to warn you where they're coming from, and a boss that throws destructible bullets which end up blocking your shots, while frequently trying to ram you. Stage 5 has wall-mounted turrets that fire bullets in every direction at once, and a boss that does the same for one of its attacks but in a denser spread. Stage 6? Your ship's hitbox will start being a trouble.
  • In Bloons Super Monkey, the game get so much harder after the first MOAB in the first game. It gets worse in the sequel, as the first MOAB is stage five!!
  • Cho Ren Sha 68k follows a fairly reasonable curve for the first six stages. Then the seventh stage (numbered Stage 0) comes to wreck your day, with spinner enemies that fire indestructible homing missiles and many enemies that feel like midbosses as they shower difficult patterns upon you.
  • The first three and a half stages of DoDonPachi are designed to break you in. The rest of the game is designed to break you.
    • And then there's the second loop. And then there's Hibachi, who makes the entire rest of the game look like cheesecake.
    • True to its predecessor, DoDonPachi Daifukkatsu's first 4 stages are pretty easy. Then comes stage 5, which is significantly harder. If you make it into the second loop, stage 2-1 makes stage 5 look like cake, and it only gets harder from there. And of course there's Hibachi.
    • Continuing the trend, DoDonPachi Saidaioujou's 4th stage is as hard as the first 3 stages combined, stage 5 is twice as hard as stage 4, and Hibachi is as hard as ever. This might be because unlike past games in the series, SDOJ has no second loop. Except this time there's a second True Final Boss, Inbachi, who makes even Hibachi look like a piece of cake.
  • Heavy Weapon:
    • After the rather manageable Dictastroika (with a rather easy boss, War Wrecker), you go into Zamblamia where you fight blimps with tons of health and explode into a shower of hard-to-avoid, indestructible purple balls, and a durable helicopter enemy that spams homing missiles. The boss at the end "Kommie Kong" is also a Wake-Up Call Boss to those playing the PC version.
    • The next level Tankylvania tops that even further by introducing the Reflex Fighters which have Deflector Shields that deflect your regular shots as purple balls, and the Havanski Atomic Bomber which drops nukes that take a long time to destroy and instantly kill you regardless of shielding if they hit the ground. Like Kommie Kong, the boss also has a One-Hit Kill move.
    • Lastly, there's Killingrad, which contains a lot of the previous levels' mooks. There are no Atomic Bombers but there are two new Demonic Spiders for you to play with: The Romanov Attack Satellite and the Shovak Bulldozer, both of which can instantly kill you.
  • While Hellsinker is rather easy by Bullet Hell standards it still packs a vicios spike in difficulity starting with Rusted Dragon.
  • Ikaruga's difficulty follows a modest curve through the first two chapters, then shoots up exponentially starting with the third, where Collision Damage and Deadly Walls becomes as bad or worse than the bullets being thrown at you.
  • Mushihime Sama Futari's Original Mode has a massive one shortly after the stage 3 midboss. The section of stage 3 between the midboss and the boss is harder than the first two stages combined, and so is the stage 3 boss.
  • All of the Raiden games do this around Stage 3, but Raiden IV takes the cake, increasing its bullet density to near Dodonpachi levels. Not to mention the second loop and True Final Boss. Raiden II has an especially large spike in the second and third levels on the higher two difficulty settings. Sniper tanks, sniper tanks, everywhere.
  • Rez's third area takes a nasty leap in difficulty. Then there's the boss, which is much harder than the first two.
  • Old-time gamers would reference the arcade game Sinistar. If you were on the ball, the first level was a snap. The second was absolutely brutal, and it just got worse.
  • Many fans of the Touhou Project series would actually feel weird with a game that didn't include at least one difficulty spike. It's very traditional that the game gets into its real difficulty level only around level 4 or so, being comparatively easy before. Some particular games do it one level before, some it one after, but the fact that there will be a difficulty spike is unavoidable.
    • Also, the gap between Hard and Lunatic tends to be much bigger than between Easy and Normal and between Normal and Hard.
    • The most pronounced spike is in normal mode of Ten Desires... it's the Final Boss. Within the same game, the overdrive version of a spellcard is often vastly worse than any of the other versions, including lunatic.
    • The 15th Touhou game, Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, really mocks players. The otherwise often ridiculed Easy Mode is kinda alright, but playing Normal and above gets absolutely merciless. People who can reasonably play Normal mode in other Touhou games will find this entry in the series absolutely impossible.

    Simulation Game 
  • Black & White 2's levels are pretty easy with the AI throwing a couple of battalions of troops at your villages every so often, easy to defend against provided you have wall, a troop of warriors yourself and if that fails you can send out your creature to fight while you causally build up resources. In the last level you face full on assault by multiple cities at the start, you've got restricted resources and then your whole village is destroyed by a volcano and while rebuilding you'll be constantly attacked.
  • FreeSpace 2 to some extent - the first three missions are a warm-up, most of the rest of the game has a normal progression...
    • ...then you are promoted to Squadron Leader of the elite 70th Blue Lions and are immediately given a near-impossible escort mission - where much of the difficulty comes from your reinforcement wing being absolutely green, despite flying in supposedly elite-only fighters. The following two missions are definitely on the high-difficulty side as well, but the final mission is a bit of a cool-down.
  • Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming: Most of the characters' story modes are fairly straightforward. Most have a gradual increase in difficulty, and the boss battles with the Witch Princess are basically Survival Mode battles in disguise. And then there's Vaughn's final stage. You have to score 100,000 points in five minutes. You haven't been required to do more than 75,000 before (and won't be required to for any of the other characters). Vaughn's special skill (Instantly harvesting any big vegetables on the field) is totally at the mercy of the game board and your two AI partners are near useless. Beating Vaughn's last stage is practically a Luck-Based Mission.
  • Sim Copter, as bizarre as that sounds. Start up a custom map, and try to adjust the sliders that control the chance of a mission spawning. The result is not for the faint of heart.
  • The Battle of Yavin from the original X-Wing. Most of the game has Schizophrenic Difficulty, even after the Redemption mission. The three missions comprising the assault on the Death Star ratchets up the difficulty significantly for the rest of the game. There are lesser difficulty spikes in the final missions of the two previous Tours of Duty, but these are nothing compared to the Battle of Yavin.
  • The Imperial Construction Yards in Rogue Squadron is where the game gets real. Where previous levels gave you straightforward objectives (defend the convoy, destory all enemies, etc), this one starts off with a Stealth-Based Mission of sorts where you have to destroy radar dishes before you or your squadron come within range, and from there it's a free-for-all where you're tasked with destroying the AT-AT and AT-ST factories as well as any other targets you feel inclined to take down. There's not a whole lot of room to maneuver, the area is riddled with anti-air laser and missile turrets which can take you down in seconds, and it's not at all clear where you need to go with plenty of Red Herring targets to distract or trick you, and the mission doesn't end until you destroy both factories and enough arbitrary extra targets elsewhere. Not to mention you're forced to use the Speeder and it's weak armor and Tow-Cable subweapon in lieu of missiles or torpedoes. It's definitely a satisfying level (especially if you love shooting fleeing enemy shuttles and helpless Stormtroopers on the ground) but it's also the first level where it's a chore to stay alive long enough to finish it.

    Sports Game 
  • In All-Pro Football 2K8, the Los Angeles Legends are a My Rules Are Not Your Rules stacked team which had far more elite players than you were allowed. They were all but guaranteed to make the playoffs, so unless you got lucky and someone else took them out, you would wind up facing them at some point in your quest for the title.
  • In Arc Style: Baseball!! 3D's Tournament mode, the games are very easy to win... until you get to Team Crystal. The fast heats and breaking balls will most likely throw you off. And if you get on par with them, that will be utterly insufficient for the next game, which is against the Arc Stars. Their pitches are insanely fast to say the least.
  • Going to the next division on the Soccer games, FIFA Soccer and Pro Evolution Soccer. Because your team will probaly go to the next division unprepared, you're going to have a hard time dealing against the opponents because they can be way better than you. This can bite hard if you go up to the 1st division, because that's where the powerhouse Clubs reside.
  • In Mario Power Tennis, the tournaments aren't too bad; even a moderately skilled player can get through them without much difficulty. Then comes the Planet Cup, the final cup of the Star Tournaments, specifically the Doubles version. The difficulty bumps up substantially between the Moonlight Cup and the Planet Cup, almost to a shocking degree. If one's skills aren't up to par, the Planet Cup will almost certainly push the player to the limit.
  • Punch-Out!!'s final fight against Mike Tyson (Mr. Dream in later versions after Tyson's contract ran out) takes Nintendo Hard to ridiculous extremes. In fact, the World Circuit as a whole (save the opening Piston Honda rematch) is a sucker-punch in the face after the relatively manageable fights that came before. In addition to having to face Bald Bull again, you get the nice little one-two punch of Mr. Sandman and Super Macho Man. These two fighters, along with Soda Popinksi from earlier in the Circuit, make the rest of the game look much like how Tyson makes them look.
  • Punch Out Wii has Bear Hugger, who's much trickier than his predecessors (every fighter before him had a method to knock them down with one hit; the only way to do so with Bear-Hugger is with a three-star punch or by landing a star punch at the moment you're supposed to punch to get a star, or a 10 frame window, while including the lag with the star punch). He also marks where Title Defense gets painful.
  • Super Punch-Out has Dragon Chan. While the first five fighters you encounter range from being pretty straightforward (Bob Charlie) to an absolute joke (Gabby Jay), Dragon Chan is the wake-up boss. He's faster than the other fighters. He has three different special moves (one of which is a kick to the face, even though this supposedly isn't kickboxing). And his recovery time is quite a bit lower than the previous five fighters.
  • A massive chunk of the browser game Winnie the Pooh's Home Run Derby's notoriety and Surprise Difficulty comes from its brutal difficulty spikes. Eeyore through Piglet aren't difficult once one gets the controls down, and while Kanga and Rabbit will catch unsuspecting players off guard they are manageable with practice. Then come Owl and Tigger, whose gimmicks (zigzagging and invisible pitches respectively) will have a player tearing their hair out in frustration. And lurking beyond them is Christopher Robin himself, who can throw any pitch in the game at incredible speeds, and the home run quota needed to beat him gives one absolutely no margin for error.

    Stealth-Based Game 
  • Splinter Cell has Burma. Enemy troops now fire in full auto, and their guns have ZERO shot dispersion. If direct confrontation was problematic before (but could be countered by spamming medkits), it's downright suicidal from here on out.
  • The original Tenchu has a bit of an erratic difficulty curve: the first 3 stages are the learning steps, with the third being a bit more challenging but still manageable. Stages 4 and 5 (which, coincidentally, weren't part of the original japanese release) are longer, more complex and mook-filled than before. Stages 6 and 7 are quite more toned down (specially the Manji temple, where the player can cut to the chase and go directly to the boss). And then comes Stage 8, set on a mountain top where there's a lack of hiding spots and an overabundance of Bottomless Pits, plus archer mooks who can snipe at you from the other end of the chasm. The last two stages are slightly easier by virtue of lacking any Bottomless Pit (though the last one is three times as large as any previous one).
    • The second game isn't as bad, as long as you're not going for the Grandmaster ranking since, unlike every other game in the series, the requirements for the rank change from level to level. So, some levels let you a bit of leeway in terms of Stealth Kills/being seen, while others force you to Stealth Kill every mook in the entire stage while not being seen. Even still, Ayame's Story Mode is a more straight example, throwing in a "Not Be Seen or Game Over" requirement in Stage 3, and the tricky Stage 8 and its respective boss, Kotaro the Tiger, which if it gets you on your back, can end the battle unscathed.
  • The original Thief: The Dark Project suffers a huge difficulty spike going from Mission 4, 'Assassins' to Mission 5, 'The Sword'. The Gold version adds a new mission, 'The Downwind Thieves' Guild', between the two specifically to smooth the bump a little.
  • The first two missions of Commandos Behind Enemy Lines are relatively easy, with the first mission easing the player in and the second introducing escaping the mission zone as a requirement. The third mission, however, adds a larger map, introduces barracks that spawn reinforcements when the alarm goes off, and a machine-gun pillbox by the objective that requires destruction, meaning that the alarm will go off at some point.

    Survival Horror 
  • Dead Space is a fair challenge save for the (turret mini-game) in chapter four. It is mandatory that this part is completed to advance in the game. The reason this portion is so difficult is that the margin for error is strikingly slim compared with the rest of the game.
  • Eternal Darkness' first three chapters are pretty manageable, with the game's sanity and magick elements being incrementally introduced. Karim's chapter, though, pits him through several encounters with Horrors and a couple gauntlets of enemies, and depending on which Ancient Pious is serving, he might only have limited charges of a health recovery spell to use. It evens out a little once he finds the Ram Dao, and later chapters start decreasing in difficulty again as more magick spells are brought into the fold.
  • Fatal Frame is fairly manageable during the 1st Night. However, the 2nd night increases the difficulty dramatically. There are more ghosts and they are far more powerful and harder to target. The Blind Woman in particular is prevalent throughout this night and has a tendency to teleport around the room before rushing the player.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's progressively gets worse as the week goes on, but on Night 5, all the animatronics' prior patterns are reversed. Damn You, Muscle Memory!, indeed! It's also commonly believed that the AI adapts to your playing style.
  • Resident Evil, both the original and the remake, get a nasty difficulty spike when you've beaten the guardhouse and get back to the mansion. Cue Shaky P.O.V. Cam charging through the courtyard and down the balcony you just used to enter the mansion and your first battle with a Hunter. You'd better pray you didn't burn through all the ammo and health caches in the mansion either, since this guy isn't a Boss in Mook Clothing: the mansion is crawling with them now.

    Third-Person Shooter 
  • One of the most common criticisms of the otherwise well-reviewed Ghostbusters: The Video Game. The game is comfortable most of the time, only to catch the player off-guard with a section that will require several tries to overcome. The most infamous would be a part where the player is expected to throw flying stone gargoyles into a gate. The combination of the inherent difficulty of this task, the (numerous) gargoyles being very quick and will often one-shot you from off-screen, and the Artificial Stupidity of your fellow Ghostbusters led to more controllers being thrown through TV's than gargoyles through gates.
  • Hatred has the Military Base, an enormous difficulty spike in an already-challenging game. Whereas previous maps started you out in an open environment with mostly civilians and gradually added law enforcement, the military base throws you into a gauntlet right from the beginning, with dozens of enemies and a Humvee with a turret in the very first area you run into. Being a military base, nearly every NPC is a soldier armed with an assault rifle or missile launcher, and all of them are heavily dug in. There is very little cover to use aside from the buildings filled with soldiers or sandbag fortifications that can be destroyed, rendering them useless. A very cautious playstyle is required to survive even on Easy difficulty.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising arguably has three overall spikes (with individual levels being key offenders): one after the Disc-One Final Boss that is Medusa, and then again soon after when the Aurum are introduced, and then again immediately after that arc is solved. In every case, the levels in general become longer and/or tougher, new enemy factions jump into the conflict with their own set of baddies that you need to learn how to deal with, and bosses don't get any less challenging. By the time the final spike happens before the Final Boss, Pit is literally fighting waves of enemies from multiple factions at the same time in downright sadistic combinations, and the Final Boss proceeds to almost hang a lampshade on how over the top he is in comparison to his predecessor Disc-One Final Boss by escalating his boss fight to a Shounen Anime fight.
    • Additionally, the player can do this to themselves by artificially spiking up the difficulty of any level in order to get better rewards. The difficulty can be raised in increments of 0.1, and every full point raise is a noticeable step up from the previous, with the jumps from 7.0 to 8.0 and 8.0 to 9.0 being by far the most dramatic.
  • Playing Max Payne on the level "New York Minute" is like shooting yourself in the head. You get a minute per section, and you can only get about 4 seconds per kill.
  • While Oni isn't exactly an easy game, the difficulty of level 11 comes out of nowhere with three tough bosses in a row, broken up by fights against some of the toughest mooks in the game, along with very meager supplies; most of which is gotten off the bodies of your enemies, then the game goes back to the normal overall difficulty curve for the rest of the game.
    • The absurdly difficult final section of level 3 tops that easily. Good lord, the death count nearly reached the triple digits. At least the next level went easy on the player after that onslaught. An honorable mention goes to level 12. Dodging five sets of trip lasers (which are armed with near-fatal Mercury Bow rifles) at the start makes for some frustrating gameplay. It's not quite as sadistic, but agonizing, nonetheless.
  • Splatoon 2:
    • Salmon Run gets massively more difficult after you rank up for the first time, and proceeds to get even more difficult with each subsequent rank.
    • The Octo Expansion DLC is largely designed for people who wanted additional singleplayer challenge, and as a result takes flying leap off of where the normal singleplayer campaign left off. Prepare for Platform Hell.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Advance Wars:
    • Only 3 missions into the first game you're hit across the face with Air Ace. Not only does the enemy get a factory to manufacture units while you don't, not only are you grossly outnumbered by air units with little means of defense, but the enemy CO is Eagle. The already deadly overpowered air units gain a 20% power boost and fuel bonus under his command, and his CO Power lets him strike twice in one turn. Good luck.
    • Provided Air Ace left you standing in one piece, you'll run into Blizzard Battle a few missions later if you chose the Max route. The goal is to capture 10 properties, which is easier said than done. Your opponent has you outnumbered 13 to 7, and already has 6 properties to your 3. Worse still is his CO Power, which not only weakens you but also reduces your movement range while he gleefully moves unhindered.
    • The third mission of Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, though not impossibly hard, is a cruel spike in difficulty compared to the earlier missions. Your opponent is Lash, the best commander in the entire game next to Sturm himself, and you're using Sami, the weakest of the three Orange Star commanders. Not only does the enemy get a factory to deploy new units while you don't, but you also only have seven turns to win the battle. There's very little room for error; even playing the level flawlessly still typically ends on turn 6 or 7.
    • Dual Strike, at least on Normal Mode, is relatively easy up until the first That One Level, "Verdant Hills". From that point, the difficulty ramps up, and after the Climax Boss "Crystal Calamity", nearly every mission is listed under the That One Level page. For good reason.
    • Mission 10 in Days of Ruin is both harder than anything before it and harder than a lot of missions after it. It's the first time your enemy has both production facilities and the money to take good advantage of them, and he additionally has a strong offensive force around his base. The enemy also tends to dig in rather than charge (which is odd given the enemy CO for the mission is the Beast, who usually did the exact opposite previously), meaning you have to roust him out, which is going to cost you some units.
  • Agarest Senki: In the middle of the third generation (chapter) you get to fight Midas, who proved to be That One Boss for many. However, it also starts off a tendency of ridiculously powerful bosses. Up until that point, bosses weren't such a big deal. After Midas, however, they start to regenerate truly large chunks of their hit points and start using one-hitting area of effect attacks that cover half of the battlefield. Not to mention, the game starts to routinely throw 2-3 bosses at you.
  • Chessmater 3000 added a feature to make it easier for less experienced players - a slider that controlled the percentage of moves it considers. Because of how AI systems work, this led to a difficulty spike where some players can always defeat it at 99% difficulty but always lose at 100%. Chessmaster 4000 corrected this by using move strength rather than hiding random moves from the AI.
  • The last two maps of Disgaea are simply murderous.
    • The penultimate battle pits you against a major villain who isn't terribly tough himself, but is protected by a whopping eighteen guardsnote . Nearly two-to-one odds against your party, and comparably levelled too. Then the final boss inverts this problem — his guards are fewer and not as tough, but the boss himself is so ridiculously overpowered that all but your most powerful characters can't even scratch him. Even with a few of those characters on your side, it's a hit-and-miss fight because he'll occasionally use a standard attack to kick off a Counter war. All those times you laughed at enemies who you dealt the deathblow to with a Counter-Counter? Feel their pain, dirtbag.
    • Disgaea in general is a little tough between the late game story, up to where you can complete the Cave of Ordeals, and then later after you've defeated Priere and Marjoly. The real reason is because by about chapter 11 in the story, enemy levels start spiking and you need to start level grinding to survive, whereas before you could usually stay competitive just by leveling normally. From there on you need to deliberately stop and level grind, but until you can mid-way through the Cave of Ordeals it's difficult to do that. Then, once it's time to take on Baal, the previous level grinding areas just aren't giving you effective returns anymore.
    • All of the Disgaea games have a similar difficulty curve; the levels raise by around ten in the first six chapters, then start shooting up by five or so levels per map in the last seven or so; although this is only preparation for the post-game content, which goes to absurd lengths to top itself.

  • In Fantasy General, the first mission on the second continent is much harder than the final mission on the first continent. The map is large and the time limit fairly strict, you face enemy Sky Hunters (fliers who can attack other fliers, as opposed to Bombardiers, who only attack ground units) for the first time, there are many river crossings that the enemy can defend as choke points, and the enemy leader can hit one of your units with a spell each turn and is generally significantly more competent than his predecessor.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics somewhat bizarrely has its difficulty spike midway through the game. The Riovannes castle is absolute murder, first with an Annoying Duel Boss (Weigraf) then That One Boss (Velius) then finishing with the Escort Mission From Hell (lemming-Rafa). Nothing that comes after that point is anywhere near as brutal as Riovannes.
    • FFT has secondary Difficulty Spikes in Limberry and the final sequence of battles, but since by that time you probably have a bunch of Game Breakers (including Thunder God Cid, who gets handed to you automatically) it's pretty hard to tell it's there unless you're deliberately handicapping yourself.
    • If your levels are low, the Golgorand Execution Site will force you to gain some more. The time mages, archers, knights (dark and otherwise) are a well-oiled player-killing machine.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has this for its Bonus Dungeon. The dungeon is made up of several floors followed by the top floor, so you'll have several rounds of fighting. Most of the enemy levels range from 45-55, but when you hit the top, the enemy levels suddenly SHOOT UP to level 90-99! Unless you had spent tons of time level grinding, most players will be totally caught off guard. Just to insult you further, the enemies on the towers' top floors will be able to take extra turns and cast Haste on themselves. Of note is that all enemies in said dungeon get a turn at the start of the battle - no matter anyone's speed stat - so you can't just grind and kill them before they have at least a single turn. Or, far more likely, 5-6 turns, as that first turn is almost always spent casting Light Curtain, which hastes the already ludicrously-fast enemy party.
  • Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 is already infamous for its brutal difficulty, and one of the biggest reasons is what is known as the "Manster arc". Spanning chapters 4-7, the Manster arc disperses a majority of the army you were just building, leaving you with only the protagonist Leif and an optional thief named Lifis. While you do gain brand-new units to counteract the loss of most your party, they still need some training to really shine, and Manster throws wave after wave of enemies that whittle away at the player's weapons and occasionally land a critical hit, killing them, which puts you at a major disadvantage if you decide to proceed. Add in the fact that most maps are of the "Escape" objective (which means if Leif leaves before everyone else escapes first, then they get captured) and Manster shows just how brutal the game can get.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses has one right after the Time Skip on all routes besides Crimson Flower. Without a chance to visit the Monastery or manage equipment, you're thrown into a battle with only Byleth and your Lord or Seteth on Silver Snow, against enemies that have jumped up in stats since before the Time Skip, especially on Maddening. You get reinforcements from the members of your chosen House as the battle progresses, but this can be a double-edged sword if you didn't train some of them, as you'll be forced to protect them. And if you think you can level grind freely after this, one of the first available skirmishes consists almost entirely of Swordmasters. It takes a few maps before you can comfortably steamroll enemies the way you could at the end of Part 1.
  • In Heroes of Might And Magic III, the last mission of each of the three starting campaigns, which can be completed in any order, is much more difficult than the others, since you go from fighting enemies who can't build their best units and won't attack you until you're ready to much stronger and more aggressive foes. The worst of the three is the last mission of Dungeons and Devil, "Steadwick's Fall," in which you must capture Erathia's capital of Steadwick, which is guarded by an extremely powerful hero with a large army. To make matters worse, you only have three months to win.
  • The original Panzer General has a nasty spike on the third mission — the invasion of Norway — but only if you have received major victories on both of the first two missions. Your "rewards" for doing so well on the first two missions: your first naval battle, which is easily lost yet critical to the mission; your first real air battle; the first time the weather turns against you, introducing low visibility, uncrossable rivers, and making your air forces useless; and a nasty journey through rough terrain between the final two target cities, meaning even if you make it that far you are likely to run out of time traveling through the wilderness.
  • Stella Glow has a spike towards the end of Chapter 10 where the game begins to throw bosses that are immune to ailments, and thus cannot be stopped with crippling ailments like Stop or Paralysis. Prior to this, one could get by through keeping roughly in-line with the recommended levels and by abusing Rusty Key or Ice World, but the sheer strength of the end bosses might force one to stop to level grind.
  • From the Total War series: Each game has its own difficulty level, but Attila is perhaps the single hardest, with its new mechanics that add complexity to the game and the oppressive nature of the time period.
  • For some reason in Valkyria Chronicles the Outskirts of Bruhl skirmish map, the easiest skirmish map in the game on normal difficulty, takes a massive spike in difficulty in the Hard and Extreme versions, with Squad 7 starting off boxed in on all sides to the point that you'll get shredded to pieces by interception fire within seconds of taking control of a character, and absolutely perfection in every action is required just to survive. None of the other skirmish maps are this punishing even though they're all harder than the Outskirts of Bruhl map on Normal difficulty.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a large spike in form of the first Terror mission. First, as opposed to usual search-and-destroy missions, you have to take care of civilians in the area before aliens kill them all. Secondly, this will usually be the first mission where you encounter local Demonic Spiders, Chryssalids, which can One-Hit Kill both civilians and your troops and turn them into zombies - and if you don't kill them fast enough, they'll spawn even more Chryssalids. And finally, losing previous missions meant significant, but manageable consequences - however, failing a Terror mission causes affected country to instantly withdraw from XCOM project, permanently reducing your funding and putting you one step closer to Game Over.

    Vehicular Combat 
  • Twisted Metal 2 had a very strange difficulty curve. The eight levels went something like this: very easy > hard > very easy > average > very easy > hard > OMFG COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE > average. The difficulty of a level was inversely proportional to the amount of cover you could find, with the easy levels having places where the AI wouldn't even go. The second level was fairly easy, but only if you managed to pick up the full health before either an opponent grabbed it or the ramp leading to it got blown up taking all of the cover and the lightning generator with it, in which case it just got a lot harder. Then suddenly that seventh level Holland had nine opponents in a tiny square field with no cover other than two windmills that explode after ten seconds of enemy fire. Good luck.
  • Twisted Metal 3 has two notable spikes up: the first in the second stage, which is Holland minus hiding spots and a not so easy Mini-Boss. All following stages are more or less not that hard afterwards, and then one reaches the 7th stage, Egypt. It's also sorta like Holland, except the hiding spots don't break down and the general terrain has thousands of bumps, making handling and avoiding enemy fire very tricky. The final stage wouldn't probably be as hard if it wasn't for the 5 panels the player must destroy so the enemies stop respawning after death.
  • Twisted Metal (PS3) carries on the tradition with several very uneven spikes, most notably the death race levels and boss fights.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Minecraft: The Nether is far less forgiving compared to the overworld. Ghasts, while having less health than the average enemy, will be everywhere and will bombard the player with explosives that can easily kill someone who is not prepared. Magma, fire, and player-slowing soul sand are all everywhere, providing more hazards than the deeper parts of caves in the regular world. Magma also cannot be extinguished as any water placed in the Nether will instantly evaporate. Compasses do not work in the Nether at all, while maps generate a confusing static pattern, so navigation is made much more difficult. This is all before finding a Fortress and dealing with the Blazes and Wither Skeletons within, and going through a Fortress is necessary to beat the Ender Dragon. There's a good reason why it was called "Hell" while in development.
  • Saints Row 2 difficulty rises pretty evenly, as long you're following all story threads at about the same rate, collecting sidequest rewards as you go. The game likely expects the rest of the game to be completed before starting the Epilogue chapter...and it's highly recommended, as the difficulty leaps in each mission are tough to scale even for completionists.
  • Lisa's level of The Simpsons: Hit & Run surprises the player with a nasty hike in difficulty. Time limits are suddenly very tight (you'll be finishing every mission with less than 10 seconds to spare), vehicles you're expected to follow are now much faster, and it's suddenly a lot easier to trigger a Hit and Run (hitting anything fills out, at least, a full segment of the meter and there is much heavier traffic and pedestrians). Making matters worse is this stage starts you with the Malibu Stacey Car which is statistically the fastest vehicle available in this level, meaning you can't even hope to do a sidequest or race missions to get a faster car. If not for the mission skip featurenote , most players wouldn't pass this stage without a lot of angry yelling and broken controllers.
  • Terraria becomes much harder after killing the Wall of Flesh and entering Hardmode. Almost all biomes, including the surface forest at night, permanently get new enemies that can rip apart a player with the best pre-Hardmode armor. Upgrading one's armor requires going deep in the map to mine three increasingly rare tiers of ore, and as soon as that ore becomes available, the Mechanical Bosses have a chance to spawn randomly every night, all of whom are much tougher than any pre-Hardmode boss even with some of the best possible weapons. The Corruption/Crimson is no longer in self-contained pockets as not only can it spread faster and through more blocks, but a giant diagonal line of it and the Hallow appears when Hardmode begins. Purification Powder suddenly becomes almost useless, and stopping Corruption/Crimson/Hallow takeover now falls on an expensive item that can only be bought after killing a Mechanical Boss. With most Pre-Hardmode bosses, it was possible to build an arena of just a few layers of platforms and easily use hooks to keep at a comfortable distance while shooting at them; Hardmode bosses are far more mobile and tougher than that, requiring better dodging skills, and can't be tanked.

Non-video game examples:

    Live-Action TV 
  • The first few legs of The Amazing Race are typically very straightforward, but generally around leg 3 or 4 (though this is not a concrete rule, as some seasons never have a Difficulty Spike, while Season 10 had its spike in the first leg) the handholding stops and the difficulty ramps up. This leads to some teams being a part of the lead pack for the first few legs, but ultimately dropping off and finishing in the middle of the pack. The most obvious example would be from leg 3 of Season 6, the infamous hay bale Roadblock, considered by many to be the hardest task in race history (it reduced one racer to tears).
  • The last two seasons of America's Next Top Model have added a challenge where the contestants must participate in a music video. A music video. Where they have to sing. Yes, that's right, the chance of being a successful Top Model lies in the hands of whether or not you can do something completely irrelevant to your profession and entirely separate from what you have practiced your entire life. Needless to say, the two models it killed off also happened to be considered the ones most adept at, you know, modeling.
  • The final round of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? requires the gumshoe to catch Carmen by identifying 7 locations on a map in 45 seconds. Later seasons increased the winning condition to 8 locations in 45 seconds. The show also increased the sizes of several of the maps, such as expanding the United States map to add all of the Canadian provinces, Mexican states and Caribbean countries, and added bodies of water as new locations. The Great Politics Mess-Up was also an unintentional difficulty spike by adding several new countries that seceded from the former USSR (e.g. Kazakhstan and the other "stan" republics).

  • Many players feel this occurs once you make it to the vertical playfield in Banzai Run.

  • The people in charge of the Scripps National Spelling Bee used to call Round Three "the Lawnmower Round". On at least one occasion, it took out two-thirds of the competitors. The word-selection committee eventually readjusted their entire method of ranking words simply to get around that.
  • For the grand finale of Twitch Plays Pokémon Crystal, which is the climbing of Mt. Silver and the final battle with Red, the game was put on a time limit of 7 days, and Democracy has been permanently disabled. For those not familiar with Twitch Plays Pokemon, there are two methods of control: Anarchy, where the character does anything the chat says, and Democracy, where the chat is "skimmed" every five seconds, with the most popular choice the one being used; the chat can switch between them by a majority vote for one or the other. With Democracy disabled, the game is at the mercy of the crowd, and the chat is not exactly well-known for agreeing with itself.
  • Reportedly, the 2015 Edexcel GCSE (Standardised exams everyone who finishes secondary school in the UK takes) in Maths was this, compared to previous papers. So much so that it managed to get to the number one hashtag on twitter in the UK, and outlets such as Buzzfeed, Huffpost and even ITV and the BBC reported on it.
  • Most of the villains in Sentinels of the Multiverse have higher-difficulty modes: Advanced, Challenge and Ultimate (which is both Advanced and Challenge effects). Usually, these add a bit of difficulty without causing too much trouble. There are several cases that are not "usual", however, most notably Challenge Cosmic Omnitron and the Advanced Ennead. The Ennead are a Wolfpack Boss who start out in a group of 3-5; on Advanced difficulty, they get a new member every turn, meaning that it doesn't take them long to build up to the full nine. Cosmic Omnitron has a lot of damage-dealing effects that scale based on number of heroes; on Challenge difficulty, the H count is doubled, which can lead quite swiftly to an early-game wipe. (Iron Legacy also gets new, horrible bonuses in Advanced, such as irreducible damage and deflecting the first attack aimed at him each turn when flipped, but because Iron Legacy is already crushingly powerful, it's not that much of a spike.)
  • Proposition 5 of Book 1 of Euclid's Elements — prove that the angles opposite the equally-long sides of an isosceles triangle are also equal — is popularly known as the pons asinorum, Latin for "bridge of asses", as in traditional geometry teaching it was considerably more demanding to the student than the four relatively simple problems that preceded it.
  • Ask any university student taking a course what their assessment of the material is like early on in the semester versus near the end. While this obviously isn't universal, many courses do get harder and harder as the weeks go by, and sometimes a major difficulty spike occurs after the midterm.


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