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Endless Game

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"If you're playing this game to win, you're doing it wrong."

A video game that is impossible to "win". You just keep going and going until you are killed. The best you can hope for is a place on the High Scores screen. This was actually the standard before completable games were developed and migrated from PCs to home consoles.

In arcade games, this is a fairly obvious design choice. Once someone "beats" the game, they'll stop putting quarters into it, won't they?

Some of these are technically winnable, but when you win, you are then returned to the start, whereupon you continue playing. Many have an unintentional Kill Screen, which are often a mark of honor to get to, but still ultimately result in death.

If there are enemies to destroy, don't expect any boss fight, since there can only be a limited number of bosses, and these games never end.

Contrast Unwinnable, where the game is supposed to be winnable in the first place (but is not, either because of bugs or because the player made an irreversible mistake).

If the game "loops," but does have an ending or some sort of closure, it's a case of Hard Mode Filler. If the gameplay gradually gets faster and faster to keep the player on their toes, that's Difficulty by Acceleration. If a game that normally has an ending has separate endless mode, that's an Arrange Mode.

Compare certain Wide-Open Sandbox games, where there are simply no winning conditions and the player can continue as long as he or she likes.

Note that this trope applies to most golden age arcade games because of the need for the game to be over in order for other people to play. However, specific examples follow:


    open/close all folders 

    Action Adventure 
  • Critical Mass. The four factions are locked in an unwinnable war, so your character keeps doing missions until he is killed.
  • The Batman: Arkham Series has endless combat challenges. Your goal is to get certain score by beating up mooks, who keep becoming harder, but if you have enough skill, you can potentially play them indefinitely. The "Totally Insane" map of Batman: Arkham Asylum even features a type of enemy that's impossible to finish off called lunatics, and the round gets harder the more of them appear.

    Action Games 
  • Bubble Trouble, a 1990s game for the Mac. If you pass level 50, it constantly presents random levels as levels 51+ until you run out of lives. And if you get past 99, it just keeps presenting more Level 99s.
  • Survival mode (arguably the "proper" game mode) in the PC game Crimsonland has the player character being endlessly assaulted from all sides by zombies, aliens, giant spiders, and more. There literally is no way to win.
  • In Dodge, you will eventually run into an enemy or wall. The goal is to get as many points as possible before then.
  • In the arcade game based on the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, after crossing the rope bridge, you end up in the "Challenge Round," a kind of eternal bonus room where you have to find the sacred statue. When you finally lay hand on the golden statue, you only get a lump of bonus points and the statue continuously reappears at another random location for some more bonus points. You just go around the level like this ad infinitum.
  • The Legend of Kage. You've saved the princess, only to have her captured again, and you get booted back to the start, where the season has changed and the difficulty has increased. Repeat until the machine inevitably wins. It's unlikely you'll even finish one loop of the game, as The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard.
    • The NES version, however, has an ending, as there are about 3 to 4 bosses to face after each time you saved the princess, and then it's REALLY over. However...
  • In Low G Man, there are two special passwords that allow you to play just the Cyber Express and Anti-Gravity Transport levels, which are secret levels in the game that warp you past Chapters 1 and 3, respectively. You can't leave those levels once you enter them; when the timer runs out, you lose a life.
  • The North Pole and Moon levels in Mr. Driller W (easy and hard, respectively).
  • Pac-Man and its sequels, though once you've seen all the cut-scenes, you've seen all the "story" has to offer. You might count a "win" as reaching level 256, where the game barfs all over the place and overwrites half the stage with garbage data, destroying the dots over there and making the level impossible to clear. You're still only getting out by losing all your lives, however.
  • Qix.
  • Solomon's Keep will allow the player to go through "Gauntlet" mode if they finish the game on Demigod difficulty without using Kid Mode. Gauntlet difficulty is similar to Demigod, except that death is now permanent, and if you beat it, you go through it again and again until you die. The prequel, Solomon's Boneyard, is always this — the intent is for the player to collect gold for power-ups in order to last longer and earn a higher score in the next play.
  • BurgerTime just keeps looping through the same stages, and the enemies eventually get ridiculously fast. Averted in Super BurgerTime, which ends after World 5.
  • The Sentinel has ten thousand levels, and after beating them all, the player is given the first level again, without fanfare. The director of the sequel Sentinel Returns called up the developer of the original to complain and got a "classic Crammond" response:
    Geoff Crammond: "You finished it? I never thought anyone would be so stupid..."
  • Fix-It Felix Jr., the defictionalized video game from Wreck-It Ralph, has a cutscene that plays after a set number of floors are cleared in which Felix is awarded with a medal and Ralph is thrown off the building. Then the next level begins and Ralph starts wrecking the building again.
  • Sega's Arcade Game Quartet anticlimactically loops back to the starting level after Stage 32. The Sega Master System version, by contrast, has a Final Boss and an ending.
  • Devil World keeps repeating the same stages over and over again. Eventually the level counter overflows and begins again from zero.
  • Heiankyo Alien, like most early arcade games, contains nothing resembling an ending, with the arcade version looping after the ninth level. The Game Boy remake, however, has an ending sequence after its twelfth level.
  • Carrie's Order Up! normally has a finite end, but you can unlock Endless Mode, which turns the game into this.
  • Mini Mix Mayhem is an infinite Mobile Phone Game where your score is based off of the time you last without losing all your lives.
  • The game Kung Fu Kim, where you need to block incoming objects, consists of eight relatively easy and short levels... then in level nine, the game starts gradually tossing more and more objects to block at you, until you are inevitably overwhelmed.

    Adventure Games 
  • The hard mode of Brad the Game, unlockable by finishing the regular game.

    Beat 'Em Ups 
  • Fairy Bloom: It's literally called Endless Mode. The setup is that you have a full-grown plant, and the Player Character is defending it. Fighting off monsters that drop in and come from the sides, for as long as possible.
  • Kung Fu Master for the arcade and NES ends the fifth level with Thomas and Sylvia reunited, only to be told that "their happiness does not continue long," implying that Sylvia just gets kidnapped again. The game then restarts.
  • While the arcade version of Kunio-kun plays this straight, the NES version averts it. Oddly enough, the arcade version actually has something resembling an ending, with Mr. K reuniting with his girlfriend after the fourth stage, while the NES version simply skips to the end credits (the Japanese version of both games had endings).
  • Unending Dusk have a special mode where you fight an endless wave of raiders, robots, demons, and assorted monsters that keeps on coming no matter how many of them you kill, with the enemy variety generated at random.

    Driving Games 
  • Bump 'n' Jump (arcade): after level 8, levels 4-8 loop indefinitely.
  • The original arcade Spy Hunter and its ports.
  • Zone races in the WipEout series. Your speed increases slowly and gradually, and the only way out is to crash.
  • Subverted with the arcade driving game S.T.U.N. Runner's Ultimate Challenge. It is supposed to be completely unwinnable, mainly because it serves as one of the high-score boards, but it is possible to make it past all 132793 feet of track. The factory default best distance? 65184 feet - less than half the distance of the course. The game actually has a handler for this exceedingly rare possibility to prevent a crash, which includes a specific sample not heard anywhere else in the game.
  • Atari's APB deserves a special mention because virtually nobody ever knew that it was endless. The ultimate objective was to arrest 15 dangerous criminals, each of which looked different and drove a different vehicle. The levels got harder as you went, and you could continue for as long as your tokens held out. It looked for all the world that if you played long enough, there would eventually be a triumphant victory screen, or at least an acknowledgement of your prowess before the game looped. Nope and nope.
  • In Antarctic Adventure, it's no surprise that the game repeats after 10 stages, since the game's between-stage display shows how the path loops around Antarctica. However, the sequel Penguin Adventure had Multiple Endings.
  • What's your reward when you beat Level 5 on the original Road Rash game on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis? You get to play Level 5 again! And again... and again... forever. The same goes for Road Rash III: Tour de Force. Road Rash II actually has an ending after level 5, which is the game crashing.

    Edutainment Games 
  • Word Munchers, Number Munchers, and Fraction Munchers. On Level 19, the troggles move faster. Nobody has lasted long enough to see if the same thing happens on Level 37. Urban Legend of Zelda goes that people have lasted past level 100.
  • Unlike other games in the series, Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge has no ending. You just keep capturing the same six crooks over and over again forever.
  • My Friend Peppa Pig does have a defined ending in that you can only visit Potato City once you've done everything else. However, after you have done so, you can repeat any of the activities in the game as much as you want, which probably isn't much, given that there's nothing new to reveal.

    Fighting Games 
  • Endless Melee/Brawl from Super Smash Bros..
  • Yie Ar Kung-Fu repeats its ten stages endlessly, with no discernible shift in difficulty unless player fatigue counts.
  • Survival Mode in the Tekken games. Each time you win a fight, you gain a little bit of your health back and move on to the next round, which is a little bit harder than the last. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you are inevitably defeated.
    • By extension, most fighters include a Survival Mode.
  • Soulcalibur 2's Conquest Mode in the arcade version. You pick one of four armies, you help them conquer the world, 8 rounds at a time. Once all the enemies are out of the way, the world is yours! And then what happens? A civil war breaks out and splits the victorious army into four factions! Always.
  • BlazBlue Continuum Shift: Extend has the level 4 Abyss dungeon, which goes on for 99,999 floors. Even getting to floor 2,000 is a challenge with the right abilities, for comparison.

    First Person Shooter 
  • Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi Zombies mode. If you manage to get past ten waves, the bloody tally in the corner switches to a number in a simple sans-serif font. It's rumored that the game does eventually end (in a crash!) once you hit an overflow number for rounds e.g. 128, 256, 65536, and so on.
    • Averted with Mob of the dead and Origins where completing the Easter Egg end the game.
    • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 adds a Survival mode that plays much like Nazi Zombies, but with live, bullet-shooting Russians instead of zombies. Like the above, it goes on forever until a player dies.
  • The April 2009 update for Left 4 Dead added Survival Mode, which is Exactly What It Doesn't Say On The Tin.
  • Halo: Reach's Playable Epilogue. The objective is to "survive"(as long as possible). As Noble Six takes damage, his/her visor is progressively cracked and dinged, and the HUD indicators start to fail. When damaged enough, the game switches to a cutscene where s/he discards the helmet and a squad of Elites delivers the coup de grace, shown from the helmet cam's perspective.
  • Tower of Guns' Endless mode which restarts at the first floor with increased difficulty everytime you finish the final level.

    Four X 
  • Sword of the Stars has Progression Wars, in which you keep on jumping galaxies trying to survive an enemy that gets more and more difficult.
  • Civilization has victory conditions, but continues on endlessly if you decide to play just ... one ... more ... turn ...
    • Civilization Revolution avoids this by giving specific winning conditions that, even if you feel the need to specifically avoid them, some one will eventually accomplish, no matter how long it takes.
    • Technically, most versions of Civilization have an ending year, with the game ending (and victory awarded to the highest-scoring civilization) if nobody has beaten the game by that point. You'll still be given an option to keep playing; the game just stops tracking score and / or victory conditions.
      • And to make it truly Endless, some versions allow you to turn the victory conditions off completely.

  • Most MMORPGs could be said to fall into the trope, but especially the greatest MMO of all time, Progress Quest!
    • Runescape plays with this trope. When all skill levels are maxed out and released quests are completed (which takes years), a message appears: "You have completed the game! GO OUTSIDE! ~Love, Jagex"
  • A number of flash games on Neopets follow this, but scoring well on the high-score tables nets you a permanent trophy. One game, called Neverending Boss Battle, somewhat Lampshades this fact by stating outright that you have no chance to actually win.

    Platform Games 
  • Lampshaded by a PlayStation 3 commercial featuring a "completionist" asking Kevin Butler about what to do when finished playing LittleBigPlanet. As advertised, due to the absurdly vast stream of user-created levels, you are physically incapable of finishing the game.
    • In the story mode, there are also Survival Challenges that end when you die, playing this more traditionally.
  • Cliffed, an iOS game where you footrace down a bottomless cliff that autoscrolls and scrolls down freely when you get to that point, but prevents you from scrolling up. The invisible ceiling also kills you, with the Game Over message saying "You got Cliffed!" You also can't jump.
  • The Arcade mode of ColourFire, in the vein of classic arcade games, only ends when the player dies; enemies just get stronger and spawn more quickly as time goes on. The latter has a limit, but the former doesn't.
  • Donkey Kong, for the most part, though it's notable as being the first game with a true storyline with an ending, even if viewing it doesn't end the game. There appears to be an ending when you manage to save Pauline from the titular ape, but when that's done the game just restarts at a higher difficulty level (and in the American arcade version, with extra levels) so that you can further increase your score until you run out of lives. At iteration 22 (which very very few people have reached), an overflow occurs which causes the time bonus, which is also a death timer, to start at a mere 400note , which is far from enough to complete the level. This is the so-called "kill screen".
  • Door Door, at least the Famicom version, loops back to level 1 upon clearing level 50.
  • The Touhou Project fangame Endless Alice -Crysis- falls into this. The game is spent chucking countless exploding dolls at endlessly spawning mushrooms (and the occasional Marisa) in horizontal-looping levels. The difficulty increases and the health restoration decreases with each stage you clear. Since the layout resets to Level 1 every dozen stages or so, there's little to do beyond just trying to survive as long as possible.
  • Everybody Edits has as many levels as the players make. Even if one somehow beats every level made, it may as well have doubled in the time taken.
  • Every game in Nintendo's Game & Watch line of LCD handhelds from the 80s falls into this. While some later games like Donkey Kong have definite endings, they just repeat a little faster until you run out of lives. Judge and Zelda are the only two games that can be finished.
  • Hollow Knight, in the Godmaster DLC area, there's a very well-hidden bonus challenge appropriately called "The Eternal Ordeal", in which you fight an endless gauntlet of Zotelings of various shapes and sizes. Defeating 57 of them rewards you with a new title screen.
  • Lode Runner originally had 150 levels; level 151 was level 1 with faster enemies, and so on. Particularly Hang On mode in the 25th Anniversary Xbox Live Arcade release.
  • The third Luna Game does this, after a fashion. After a certain point, the only way to progress forward is to allow yourself to fall into a pit and die. If you avoid the pits, the forest just goes on forever, simply offering pit after pit to fall into.
  • Ponpoko only has 20 "patterns," and the 20th one just repeats after you beat it.
  • Smurf: Rescue In Gargamel's Castle for the Atari 2600 and the ColecoVision: Each time you reach Smurfette, you get sent right back to the Smurf Village to start over.
  • WarioWare:
    • Series-wide: The first time you play a character's stage, you win once you beat the first boss microgame. After that, it just continues on endlessly, getting faster and more difficult, until you lose all your lives, so all you can do is aim for the high score. Of course, there are rewards for getting a high enough score...
    • WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$:
      • The extra minigames unlocked as you progress (Paper Plane, Skating Board and Jump Forever) go on forever, and the farther you go before your first (and only) clash the higher your score will be.
      • The postgame Easy, Thrilling and Hard modes consist of clearing as many microgames as possible, and the first and third modes will only end when the player loses four lives (Thrilling only gives one). Easy, true to its name, features microgames on their lowest difficulty, while Hard goes the opposite direction (Thrilling has them on Normal, but the caveat of giving the player only one life makes it very challenging). Reaching at least 15 microgames on Easy will unlock Thrilling, while reaching at least 15 on Thrilling will in turn unlock Hard.
  • In Woah Dave!, the only way to end a game is running out of lives, and the primary goal is collecting as many pennies as possible.

    Puzzle Games 
  • ClueSweeper: Endless mode lets you play a neverending series of cases until you accuse the wrong suspect.
  • Cubis and Cubis 2 each have 50 levels per level pack, but once you complete level 50, the levels repeat; level 51 is identical to level 1, but with less time on the timer, level 52 is identical to level 2, etc.
  • Dynomite had this for two of its game modes. The Fossil Challenge had a defined end, and Time Trial mode gave you one level intended to be completed in the shortest time possible (and, in fact, was impossible to lose), but Endless Mode kept spawning more eggs from the top of the screen until you lost, either by carelessness, bad luck, or the game becoming essentially Unwinnable due to there being too many egg colors moving at too great a speed, and Stomped mode had 30 levels, but after that, level 31 was identical to level 1 except that it would take one less egg to make the level shift down, and so on.
  • JezzBall continues for as long as you don't die, but after level 49 (50 balls), all the rest have just 50 balls.
  • The Game Boy port of Marble Madness for some reason lacks the final stage found in other versions, and instead loops levels 2 through 5 until time runs out.
  • Meteos becomes this if no opponents are added to a game. It also has a mode called "Deluge" that is this exactly, complete with a high-score screen.
  • Shapez always gives you the same goals for every playthrough and the same unlocks to go along with it - up to Level 26, after which the shapes get randomly generated. With a little finesse, you can still construct your factory in such a way that you don't ever need to rebuild it, which could mark the end of your playthrough.
  • Slydris, in both the Survival and Infinite modes. You keep going until you hit the top of the screen and die.
  • Super Hexagon credits you with completing a level if you survive for 60 seconds, but your high score is always simply how long you last.
  • Tetris (certain modes).
    • It has actually been shown that, assuming the version of Tetris in question has a (reasonably) unbiased RNG, the endless mode of the game cannot be played "forever." The right sequence of S- and Z-shaped blocks forces the player to leave a hole in one corner, then the opposite corner, and so on; this is an infinite sequence, so if the probability distribution is truly uniform, the probability of hitting it eventually is 1. Official Tetris games' random number generators thus follow a specific algorithm that prevents such unlikely events from ever occurring.
      • The odds of your next piece being the first in the so-called "kill sequence" are about one in "more than the number of atoms in the universe" against. So while it is eventually going to kill you, the universe's heat death is more likely to occur.
    • Completing B-Type mode of Tetris for Game Boy at level 9 and height 5 would show various Nintendo characters dancing to "Trepak" from The Nutcracker, followed by a Buran shuttle launch.
    • In Justin Taylor's short story "Tetris" (in the collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, the answer is the end of the universe. (Or at least the world.)
    • Zig-zagged with NES Tetris. For a very long time, level 29 was thought to be a Kill Screen, due to pieces falling far too fast to move by the game-intended method of holding down left or right on the D-pad. However, the techniques of hyper-tapping and then rolling were introduced which let players continue far beyond level 29. At the end of 2023, player BlueScuti finally reached arguably the true Kill Screen of NES Tetris, making the game crash at level 157 due to the instability of the game's code. One may argue that he for all intents and purposes beat the game and thus it is not endless. However, it is theoretically possible to play the game, deliberately avoiding moves that will crash the game, and loop back to level 0 after 256 levels. So in that way, it may still be considered an Endless Game.
    • Averted with the Tetris: The Grand Master series, which end in all modes after reaching a levelnote  target (usually 999) or, if playing Sakura mode in TGM 3, clearing all stages and whatever EX stages the player earned.
    • Versions with "infinite spin" (which prevents a piece from locking into place when the rotate buttons are hit quickly) can be played nigh-infinitely assuming the player has the focus to keep using the technique.
      • And with the right version of Tetris, and no increase in drop speed, it's possible to play forever.
    • A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris, by Pig with the Face of a Boy, uses this as a metaphor for how even through a hundred years and two revolutions, things never seems to get any better for the Russians.
    • In Tetris DS, it's technically possible to keep playing forever in endless mode... but after level 99/999 lines, it stops increasing counting your lines or increasing your score, making continuing to play pretty pointless.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • The alien fleets in rymdkapsel keep coming faster and getting bigger, but your defenses are capped by the amount of minerals on the field to mine. By about round 30 you're just trying to hold out as long as possible.
  • This is the final Protoss level of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty in a nutshell. To get the bonus achievement you have to hold on long enough against Hybrid-led Zerg for the Protoss archive building to finish recording the sum knowledge of Protoss civilization, after which it buries itself in the ground and becomes indestructible. After that, your objective is simply to fight until every last warrior at your disposal is dead.
  • The only objective in Timberborn is to make sure your beaver civilisation doesn't die.

  • Most Roguelikes, by design, will continually produce new floors every time you go down a level. The original Rogue, in fact, could get to a ridiculously high floor count as long as your defense was high enough - wielding your food as a weapon could one-shot most enemies well past the intended "limit" of the game.
  • The Binding of Isaac:
    • Entering BASEMENT as a seed in Rebirth will cause the Basement to loop over and over, forever. Playing it long enough will cause the player to become very powerful. Afterbirth inadvertently made the game beatable in this mode, however, as using the Sacrifice Rooms enough will warp the player to the Dark Room, which is one of the final levels
    • Afterbirth+ introduces the ability to perform a Victory Lap after beating The Lamb, which restarts the game with almost all of items obtained in the previous run. This can be done indefinitely, the difficulty increasing each time. Doing a Victory Lap 3 times in a row unlocks a New Game Plus mode.
  • Dwarf Fortress has absolutely no win parameters, encouraging you to Story Branching instead; you simply play until your fortress dies out for whatever reason, or the action grinds to a standstill because your computer's processing power can't keep up with the ever-increasing number of dwarfs/cats/water/magma/etc, or you get bored. This, and the multitude of ways your game can end up in an Epic Fail, have led to the community motto becoming "Losing is Fun!"
    • Same for adventure. There is nothing you must do in order to win, so the best you can hope for is to fight your way through all the Brutal Bonus Levels and get a character that will be firmly placed in history as the slaughterer of many figures. Even though the new versions give you more goals, like becoming a bard or building your own base, you really cannot do much to "win".
  • Luck be a Landlord: If you so wish, in earlier floors you could continue playing your run past the defeat of your landlord paying more rent still until you either cannot keep up with rent or get a run so overpowered that rent could never catch up. Later on the landlord becomes a boss fight and you remove them so that instead the place is yours with no rent but a counter for turning in essences and getting items so you can keep going either plodding along without worry or letting a snowball build wildly until the Guillotine Essence kicks in.
  • Tales of Maj'Eyal brings in an unlockable Infinite Dungeon campaign, which is just that - a dungeon consisting of an infinite number of levels, with tougher and higher-leveled monsters on each subsequent floor. The player is not subject to the level cap as well (contrary to the standard campaign, where player level caps at 50).

    Role-Playing Games 
  • ShadowKeep for the PC was an interesting variation: you could win the game and defeat the Shadow King. However, once you did, the game wouldn't end. You had to actually quit the game to end it—and get chided for being a coward and a knave.
  • The appropriately named Eternal Corridor from Jade Cocoon just keeps going and steadily increasing the level and number of enemies and bosses. According to the manual there is an end to the corridor, but that was just the developers being dicks.
    • Some players report the game crashing at corridor 1000. (And you cannot save in the corridor). Others report corridor 1000 repeating itself. Maybe it varies depending on region of the game.
  • Anti-Idle: The Game:
    • In the Arcade: Pong Survival and Ultimate Avoidance last until you miss twice. Triangle Count lasts until you are off by more than one on a wave. Balance 3 runs until any of the three pillars hits the bottom of the screen or you top out any of them.
    • The Spooky Crypt raid in Battle Arena runs until you get killed, unlike the rest of the raids, which have "fulfill this condition within a time limit" and "do as much of this thing as you can until time runs out" as victory conditions. It's one of the few areas not to take away your rings or EXP if you die without a means of nullifying the death penalty.
      "Defeat monsters until thYOU die!"
  • In Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, you're given 100 turns to complete the term of the main protagonit, Nelke, in building the kingdom of Westwald. However, so long as you earn anything other than a bad ending, you can continue playing indefinitely afterwards to see more scenes and clean up any achievements you may not have earned yet.

    Shoot 'Em Ups 
  • A great many vertical scrolling Shoot Em Ups do this, including Tiger Heli, Truxton, Terra Cresta, Fire Shark etc.
  • There are also many shooters that loop back to the first stage with increased difficulty, such as the Gradius series.
  • The arcade version of Commando, while having more unique levels than the NES version, infinitely repeats after level eight, while the NES version, with only 4 unique stages, ends after the fourth loop, with a "Blind Idiot" Translation A Winner Is You screen.
  • Crystal Quest theoretically has an ending after level 256, at which point it asks for your name and then sends you back to wave 1 with no points. However, the game is so Nintendo Hard that no one has actually beaten the original game.
  • Galak-Z: The Dimensional has "The Void" mode, where players travel through the Void in their hunt for the Baron. Because the Void houses alternate versions of the Baron, all the player can do is hunt down each and every one until they die.
  • Geometry Wars, in all its forms. Running Grid Wars without a graphics card (which means slower performance, which means an easier game) is only good for buying a couple of minutes.
  • Missile Command. The only way to avoid THE END is not to play.
  • The old, good, addictive game Prohibition used the "return to start" variant, with your death timer going faster. If anybody ever managed to survive the second run, please say so.
    • The good part is, some versions stored the High Scores on the game floppy, rather than just in RAM.
  • Space Invaders.
  • Xevious. Absurdly, the tagline for this game (at least in Nintendo's VC description) is, "Are you devious enough to beat Xevious?" Later Xevious games, such as Xevious: Fardraut Saga, Xevious: Fardraut Densetsu, Xevious Arrangement, Solvalou, Xevious 3D/G, Super Xevious: GAMP no Nazo, and Xevious Resurrection, do have endings.
  • Tempest (arcade): if you get past level 98 (which is actually a repeat of level 82), you're stuck on "level 99" until you lose all your lives. (However, if you re-enter the level - whether by clearing it, or by losing a life - the shape changes to a random choice from the 16 shapes available.)
  • Twin Cobra arcade version: After level 10 (which is nearly impossible to get to without credit-feeding, and levels 6-10 are mainly Hard Mode Filler), the game loops back to level 1 with faster bullets and enemies. Averted with the NES and Genesis versions, as well as the Super Easy mode in the Kyukyoku Tiger Heli Compilation Rerelease for PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
  • Tyrian has several arcade modes (most of them hidden) which use the "loop back to the beginning" approach to making the game endless.
    • Two of the bonus games available in story mode are endless. One occurs at the end of episode 1 and the other is one of the two that can show up at the end of episode 4.
    • The bonus Easter Egg game, Destruct (which is a homage to Scorched Earth, but played in real-time), pits you against the computer on an endless series of random landscapes. The game ends when you decide to quit.
  • The Bullet Hell shooter Warning Forever consists of boss fight after boss fight, with each new boss adapting to what defeated it in the last round, until you run out of lives.
    • It seems like they have a set progression right up until that weak spot you hit last time now has shields and extra turrets on it...
  • Warblade is very definitely this.
    • Levels are arranged into sets of four: The first two are normal, the third one has Giant Mooks in adition to the normal enemies, and the fourth is either a bonus level (get all the enemies before they leave the screen to get an increasing bonus) or a kamikaze level (enemies fly into the level and then fly out. They fire even more than normal, and give small bonuses).
    • After six of these sets of levels, there will be a boss level. Levels XX25, XX50, XX75, and XX00 are like this.
    • After four of these 25-level blocks, level 101-200 are the same as levels 1-100 but with the enemy formations flipped horizontally.
    • 201-300 are the same as 1-100 but with a small but noticeable speed increase. 301-400 are the same as 201-300 but flipped horizontally, 401-500 is a bit faster again, and so on and so forth forever. The games at the top of the highscore list have levels in the thousands and scores in the tens of billions. Nobody has gotten anywhere near to 10000 levels, though, so it's unknown what happens when the 4-digit level counter breaks.
  • The NES version of Legendary Wings loops back to the first level with a higher difficulty on completion, but the arcade version displays the standard Game Over screen after the ending text.
  • Survival Mode in Heavy Weapon is like this. The PC version's survival mode ends when you lose a life, while the Xbox 360 remake gives you three lives.
    • The remake also has multiplayer modes Arms Race and War Party, the first of which gives each player three lives, while War Party gives you infinite lives and a respawn timer- the game ends when there are no surviving players on the screen.
  • Eschatos has Endless difficulty, in which every time you clear the game, you start over at a higher difficulty level.
  • Schildmaid MX has Chimera mode. In the other modes, the game ends after completing three cycles of the three stages, but in Chimera you keep going until you run out of lives — which is to say, one life, and this mode specifically disables extra lives. Notably, this mode gives you access to the Chimera ship, which basically comes with all the benefits of the other three ships but without any of the drawbacks. Furthermore, getting far enough in Chimera mode allows you to see new game design elements not present in Jager (normal) or Krieger (hard) modes.
  • The Bullet Hell Monday series has Extra mode, which is a series of randomly-generated endless levels where you only get one life and no way to get more. There are three basic variants, each with a "earn extra bombs when a recurring condition is met" and "no extra bombs" sub-variant:
    • Endless: The standard endless mode, with no further gimmicks.
    • Accel: The game speed increases as you collect point items (not just enemies and their bullets, but the entire game, including your ship speed), and slowly decays back to 100% when you aren't.
    • Burst: As in Accel, but your special attack gauges recharge faster, and the game speed fluctuates more than in Accel. Exclusive to Bullet Hell Monday Finale and the Steam Updated Re-release of Bullet Hell Monday Black.

    Simulation Games 
  • There are two schools of thought about Animal Crossing series. One side thinks AC is a typical Wide-Open Sandbox example: the player can never win but can't lose either. The other side claims aversion, citing hints from the shopkeeper in the opening cut scenes that the player "wins" with a fully paid-off mortgage and a perfect town, and the rest of the game is a Playable Epilogue.
  • A staple of the Anno Domini games. There are also scenarios and a campaign.
  • Currently it's impossible win in survival mode in Dino System, one can only play until either dying or quitting. Although it's also impossible to "win" in god mode, one can't lost either so the trope doesn't apply to it.
  • Most games made by Kairosoft don't have a hard endpoint. They'll 'end' after several years and calculate a score based on how you've done, but after that you can keep playing the same save file indefinitely.
  • Mini Metro keeps running until any station in your subway network stays over capacity for too long. Endless mode removes this sole defeat condition, allowing you to play as long as you want no matter your skill level, instead scoring you based on how efficiently you complete passengers' rides. This is the same in its sequel, Mini Motorways, which was added in the November 4, 2022 update.
  • Reigns uses this as an ending in and of itself. While you have plenty of years to figure out how to achieve your main goal, it's entirely possible to run out of time, and the Spirit of the Fallen informs you of this. However, you can choose to ignore this and continue playing as long as you like, until you're ready to try it again from the top.
  • Will Wright's Sim Series games.
    • Essentially any game with Will Wright's name attached to it is endless. There are two notable exceptions: in SimCity 2000, covering the entire city with Launch Arcologies would make them, well, launch into space, thus effectively ending the game (no population left). In Spore, the Space Age has a number of different goals, including collecting various medals, finding the treasure at the center of the galaxy, and controlling the entire galaxy. Although all the goals will take an extremely long time to complete, once they are completed, the Space game is essentially over.
    • And SimAnt, if you manage to wipe out all opposition in the yard and the house. The homeowners give up and sell the house, abandoning it to the ants.
      • However, experimental mode is endless, but also has no objective.
    • The lack of win conditions in SimCity is why Will Wright referred to the program as a "software toy" rather than as a "game". But there is "scenario" mode, in which the player is provided with a city that has a problem, and a time limit after which the city is either fits the "win" condition for the scenario or not.
      • Realistically there was a period of 5ish years where all the various Sim games (and there were an unbelievable amount) had win conditions. Games before and after were all sandboxes though.
      • In SimCity 2000 at least, accomplishing the "win condition" only means that you don't get thrown out of office and can continue playing indefintely. You don't even get A Winner Is You.
    • In SimEarth, getting your intelligent species to achieve Exodus (all the world's cities take off in giant city-spaceships, returning your planet to the Evolution phase) counts as a "win", although you can still keep playing and try to raise another species through the Evolution, Civilization, Technology and Exodus stages.
      • Eventually though, the sun will expand into a red giant and then you're really done.
    • Sim Farm also had a win condition, though you could continue to play afterward.
    • Sim Isle had numerous victory conditions, even in the sandbox maps, though figuring out how to achieve them was a headache.
    • The Portable versions of The Sims: Bustin' Out and The Urbz: Sims in the City have their own stories composed of objectives within missions within chapters, but like always, you can keep playing after you've finished them all.
    • SimTower has reaching TOWER status (i.e., the one above five stars) as a victory condition of sorts, although again, you can keep playing. At least TOWER status gives you a nice wedding at the cathedral (on the 100th floor) that you can use as a convenient "the game is now over" point.
    • The Sims Medieval has Kingdom Ambitions, but once you beat them you can keep playing in the kingdom, and a free-play mode opens up once you beat the first ambition. It does a better job of pretending not to be an Endless Game than the original, though.
  • Justified in the Intellivision game Space Spartans, in which it's actually part of the plot: "In 480 B.C. a small Spartan force held off Xerxes and the entire Persian army, in the famous Battle of Thermopylae. The Spartans chose to die defending the pass into Greece, to give their allies time to prepare for attack. SPACE SPARTANS reenacts this battle in space, in a heroic adventure that pits you against overwhelming alien odds. You are the elite force. Stop the first alien onslaught and a new alien force appears. Hold the aliens back as long as you can and give your home galaxy time to prepare for attack!"
  • Transport Tycoon, being a simulation game in the SimCity vein, does have an "ending" wherein 100 years after the game begins, your company is given a rating and possibly posted on the high score list. You do get to keep playing after this. In the earlier versions, once you reach the year 2070, the year would repeat; OpenTTD doesn't have this limit.
  • Trauma Center:
    • A certain mission in Trauma Center: Under The Knife 2 goes on forever unless you use a special move to end it. Otherwise, you're just racking up points until the patient dies.
    • All the missions in Trauma Center are timed. The ones that aren't don't have patients that die.

    Sports Games 
  • SkiFree never ends. You just keep skiing until a hyper yeti charges in and swallows you whole. It's possible to evade it by entering Fast Mode with the F key, in which case the course will just loop around. The yeti know neither fear nor defeat, however, and will hound you for the rest of your days.
  • The Punch-Out!! games occasionally go for this:
    • The original arcade Punch Out! and Super Punch Out! don't have a true ending even after defeating the World Champions (Mr. Sandman and Super Macho Man respectively) of each game in the rematch rounds, after that is done the game will proceed like normal with another round of rematches but now the boxers will gradually get stronger, faster and more unpredictable with each new round, it will get to the point where it won't matter how much of an expert at the game you are, you will eventually be overwhelmed by the AI's reflexes and get a Game Over.
    • This isn't the case for the NES Punch Out! and SNES Super Punch Out! where the main game ends after defeating the final Superbosses Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream and Nick Bruiser, respectively complete with a credits and cast roll. In the SNES game you can even go on to rematch the other boxers either in Time Trial or Challenger mode.
    • In the Wii game it happens for the first time in years since the original arcade games. It doesn't matter how good you are at the game; you WILL lose eventually, resulting in the game's Downer Ending. It's possible to defeat all the returning and one new opponents in "Mac's Last Stand" repeatedly; but after 10 wins in a row, the game only gives you the option of the "Champion" mode, in which any fighter (including Glass Joe) can knock you down with just one punch (a reference to the NES game's "Dream Fight" mode where you fight Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream) which itself doesn't trigger any ending when completed. "Mac's Last Stand" keeps going this way until you lose three matches at which that point Mac will retire from the ring and you'll get the ending of him having truly left boxing behind him forever. There is no "good" ending. To add injury to insult, the file you were using is listed as "retired" afterwards. You can still access it, but you can only play the game's exhibition mode. The game's career mode can never be played again with that file. You have several save slots, but still. The only caveat is that Donkey Kong can only be fought in this mode and the opponents are picked randomly, so if you lose without meeting him, he becomes unobtainable for that save.
  • Football Manager: The player character manager will never die. So you can play until you get bored or you die in real life.
  • Similar to the above, the Master League mode in the Pro Evolution Soccer series goes on for as long as the player wants or can. It can only end in a Game Over, if either your team cannot field enough players (you need to have at least 16 players, i.e. five substitutes for your starting team) or your financial balance becomes negative.
  • In the NES port of 720 Degrees, Class 4 repeats indefinitely until you get a Game Over from the "Skate Or Die" bees.
  • This is fairly standard in sports games with a "Franchise" or "Dynasty" mode that put the player in the shoes of a team's general manager, such as Electronic Arts' Madden NFL, NHL Hockey, FIFA Soccer, etc. If they so choose, players are free to continue for season after season, long past the point when the game's real world sports stars have all retired and their roster contains only fictional athletes.
    • Actually averted with FIFA, whose Career Mode lasts 15 seasons in total.

    Survival Horror 
  • Lasting, There is no end to the game, you are tasked with collecting the disks and avoiding the sinister force, only when you are caught does the game end.
  • 7 Days to Die is currently in this state, due to lack of any story and loss state.
  • In The Dark Meadow, if you manage to defeat the final boss, you get a choice of three cool ending sequences and the ability to reawaken. You can repeat this sequence of events as long as you want.
  • Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion has this mode as Downloadable Content.
  • Each movie in Lakeview Cabin Collection features an alternate title you unlock after beating that episode for the first time. III's alternate, Lake of the Dead, is a Last Stand against endless waves of zombies, while IV's Treasure of the Redneck Vampires is about trying to steal as much gold as possible before your party's wiped out.

    Third Person Shooter 

    Tower Defense 
  • Many Tower Defense games are designed that they are in the beginning cakewalks, towards the middle challenges, later-on challenges that required foresight to handle, and in conclusion impossible. Usually, games such as these possess a fixed growth rate for the enemy's health per level, and/or towers that stop getting stronger or become too costly to upgrade. Some games avert this loss by having fixed missions or a certain number of levels.
  • Monday Night Combat (a Tower Defense game at its core) features two Endless Blitzes (Blitz being the solo/cooperative mode of the game). Sudden Death Blitz literally had endless waves of robots trying to attack your Money Ball, and you and / or your friends simply held out for as long as you could. But when players displayed strategies that allowed them to hold out for hours (until either boredom or the bad luck of a string of boss waves got you), the creators added a Super Sudden Death Blitz on a specialized map. The rules were the same, but the enemy robots came in much stronger numbers and more strategic patterns and the map was less in your favor.
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Vasebreaker and I, Zombie have Endless modes, but Survival Endless is the best known due to its sheer relentlessness. The point isn't to win, it's to hold off losing long enough to earn bragging rights.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • The classic computer game Crush, Crumble, and Chomp!. The only way to end the game is to (eventually) get killed by the humans.
  • Some campaigns in Battle for Wesnoth has scenarios where your only objective is stated to be surviving for as long as possible... which technically isn't this trope. Then we have the scenarios with unlimited enemy reinforcements and turns. The only "official" (meaning that it comes with the game) campaign that does this, Descent Into Darkness, even hangs a lampshade on it:
    Mal Keshar: Is there an endless supply of foolish heroes with death wishes? Honestly, where do you all come from?
  • While BattleTech has a campaign mode with a story and a definite end, there is no real 'end' in the career mode setting, where you do not participate in any of the storyline missions and simply try to be the best mercenary possible. Sure, there's a grade you can receive after 5 years, but that does not actually stop your game by any means, and you can keep on playing until time advances well past most of the major events of the setting.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Minecraft was this until its version 1.0 release added a Final Boss, the Ender Dragon, alongside end credits for beating it.
  • In a very similar vein, Don't Starve. The game keeps on going until you die or use the Wooden Thing, which takes you to a freshly-generated world with your inventory items intact. An official ending is currently in the works through Adventure Mode, though.
  • In The Long Dark, there is no ending. You just keep playing until your character starves. Or freezes. Or dies of sickness. Or runs out of water. Or gets torn to shreds by a wolf or a bear. You will die, and all deaths are final. You get achievements for surviving certain lengths of in-game time. How long can you fight off the long dark?
  • In Project Zomboid, the game doesn't end until you die. There is no hope of any rescue and all you can do is survive for as long as possible before you meet your inevitable end.

    Other Games 
  • Various gambling/casino video games have no end and you just keep playing until you lose all of your money or turn the game off once you got bored.
  • Many of the games on Action 52 loop around to the first level upon "completion" while keeping track of your score. Most of the others, infamously, crash a few levels in. Only a few have a clearly-defined ending.
    • Ooze crashes on level 3 of the more common version of the cartridge, but does have an actual ending on the rarer second version (wonder if anyone actually entered this contest).
    • Non Human resets itself at a certain point in level 1 which does not look anything like the end.
    • Spread Fire seems to be the only game that does this intentionally, presenting every level after the 19th as Level 1.
  • Conjoined: The object of the game is to collect hearts from Alina to get the four items you need to separate her from Alisa, her Ax-Crazy twin. Once you do, the game starts over from the beginning.
  • The browser game Cookie Clicker has no defined end condition; one can continue playing virtually indefinitely, building more and more buildings to increase the scope of one's cookie empire. In version 1.036, there was a Kill Screen when one reached 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cookies, and said condition was effectively unreachable without hacking. Of course, as of fall 2015, the game barely starts at that point.
  • In Defend Your Castle, you keep going until your castle is destroyed, or until you get bored due to the ability to load your game when you fail. Due to subpar balancing typical of old Flash games, it's likely that you'll get so powerful you can just leave the game going forever and never lose.
  • In Drol, after finishing three missions, you get a victory screen accompanied by a message saying something like: "You did it! But is it really over?" This repeats every round until the level counter eventually rolls over.
  • Duck Hunt keeps on going until you either reach the Kill Screen at Level 100, or you miss enough ducks for a Game Over and have to endure the dog laughing at you. Again.
  • The Interactive Fiction game Endless, Nameless has a past In-Universe example. In this game, there are two worlds-inside the game, and outside the game-and the inside game used to called Endless Quest before the creator of it added an ending and renamed it Nameless Quest.
  • Game & Watch:
    • The extreme simplicity of a Game & Watch game meant that there's no story or a victory condition. Only an aim for the highest possible score until you failed three times.
    • Averted with Judge and Zelda. The former ends when one player reaches 99 points, and the latter is won once Zelda is rescued.
  • Garden Gnome Carnage: The Christmas elven army is endless and relentless. No matter how well you do, your anti-elf crusade is doomed to always end in failure, but you can be Scoring Points for a long time, though.
  • Type "Zerg Rush" in Google and you'll get to play a game where you must defend your search results against a bunch of O's. There's too many of them, and they'll eventually defeat you.
  • Puzzle platformer Steak 'n' Jake has thirty challenge levels, thirty "milk races" and three randomly-generated levels per named stage (a regular level, a boss level and a "balloon break" level). After it runs out of named levels, it repeats unnamed regular and boss levels, balloon breaks and two of the challenge levels for as long as you care to play.
  • Tutankham loops after 16 stages, most of which are Hard Mode Filler.
  • Wrecking Crew loops back to the first level after the Bonus Stage following the hundredth level.

Non-video game examples:

    Tabletop Games 
  • Roleplaying games in general operate on the principle that the players and the Game Master are the ones who decide when the game is completed. It is generally possible to play one of these games for years, with characters growing and changing over Story Arc after story arc.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The nature of the game's ending, if there is one, depends greatly on what edition of the game is being played. In all editions, though, players can continue indefinitely, though usually after a point the character has mastered their powers completely and will improve no further.
    • The 1980s "colored box" games stopped characters from improving beyond level 36 (for human characters) or their race's final Rank (for demihuman characters). While nothing stops players from simply continuing, an ambitious character can officially "win the game" by ascending to join the Old One. This requires becoming a god, rising through the ranks to become the Top God of one of the Spheres, giving it all up to become mortal again, becoming a god again, and becoming a Top God again. The character, who by this point is effectively 144th level, "wins" but exits the game.
    • First edition allowed human characters to continue leveling and amassing power indefinitely, but players could "win" the game by doing enough quests for their god to be elevated to demigod status themselves and, again, exit the game. Demihuman characters generally peaked in power at much lower levels to discourage people from playing them.
    • Second edition again allowed characters to level indefinitely, though after a certain point they wouldn't particularly gain much with each level. For the first time there was no official method of "winning."
    • Third edition scaled infinitely with no level cap, allowing characters to keep growing and gaining power for as long as their players kept playing them. At very high levels, though, game balance issues, very long combats, and the problems inherent on writing adventures for such powerful characters encourage DMs to draw the game to a close and start over.
    • Fourth edition has a level cap of 30, and is unique in that "winning" is the intended outcome for a character played over years, not an optional ending that must be specifically sought out. Each character race and class chooses an "Epic Destiny" from their class/race list upon reaching 20th level. The journey from 20th to 30th level is supposed to lead the character to this destiny, which is achieved in a final adventure. This could be anything from ascending to minor god status, to fading into the shadows, becoming a mover and shaker unseen. But the point is, you won, you pick up a new sheet and start again.
    • Fifth edition, like third, scales indefinitely with no level cap and eventually runs into the same balance problems as its predecessor.
  • In the Old World of Darkness, certain character types were threatened with some kind of imminent doom (Gehenna for vampires, the Apocalypse for werewolves, a Technocratic Ascension or Nephandi Descent for mages). However, unless the Game Master was using the Meta Plot there's no guarantee these events would ever happen, and the characters could conceivably haunt the night until old age got them (which for vampires could be millennia, and even then they could still wake from torpor occasionally). As horror games, the only win conditions provided were largely mythical and probably impossible, and no real description of them was provided.
  • Certain games, like Tales Of Equestria, have no specific ending, but do cite a level of character power when it's best that the character retire. In ToE specifically, once the player characters are as strong and versatile as the Elements of Harmony, finding stories capable of challenging them will become increasingly difficult.
  • Some games, like Dread and Polaris, have an ending built into the rules that will happen sooner rather than later.

  • Referenced in Ernest Cline's monologue "When I Was A Kid": "...and there were no multiple levels, there was just one screen... forever. And it just kept getting faster and harder until you died. Just like life."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the game Strategema could turn into one if neither side can gain a winning advantage. Data uses this fact in order to defeat a person who beat him in a normal version of the game.note 
    Data: In the strictest sense, I did not win...I busted him up.
  • Jeopardy!: Until 2003, Jeopardy! champions could win up to 5 games before being retired. Starting in the 2003-04 season, the producers instituted a "sky's the limit" rule, where champions could go on and on winning until being defeated, perfectly exemplified by Ken Jennings' 74-game winning streak that lasted into the next season.

  • In Homestuck, this is what happens in SBURB when you get a Void session. If nobody puts anything into the kernelsprites, then the battlefield doesn't completely form and there's no endgame. That said, it's possible for a Void session to break out of this if another session interferes with it, causing things to get really weird.

  • The Ur-Example may be pinball. You keep going till you run out of balls (lives) and the only reward for playing well is bragging rights... not unlike Video Games, really. But there have been a few exceptions:
    • Flipper Football simulated a soccer game and ended when the clock ran out of time.
    • The goal of Safe Cracker is to reach the center of vault, at which point the game spits out a collectible token. Although the "regular" game does not end at that point, that token can be inserted back into the game to unlock "Assault on the Vault" - a special timed multiball mode.
    • The unreleased Golden Cue was an attempt to be a goal-based game, ending when the player met all of its objectives.
    • Golden Logres end when all quests have been completed.

Alternative Title(s): Kobayashi Mario, The Only Way To Win, Survive As Long As You Can Mode, Survival Mode, Endless Mode