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Surprise Difficulty

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"Silly gamers expecting games for kids to be easy... have you forgotten who the target demographic of the original Nintendo Hard games were?"
Troper Servbot

Naturally there are a lot of things that happen that we just don't expect. This trope is when you just don't expect a game to be Nintendo Hard. You'd expect a shooter with robots spraying machine gun fire to be difficult, but a game with fairies shooting spells at you from their wands can still hand your ass to you.

Difficult games can be anywhere, in any genre. Of course this is YMMV, but the fact of the matter is that difficult games don't exactly have any kind of official way to mark themselves, so they can show up when we least expect them. As these examples show, woe betide those who judge a game by surface "cuteness".

When occurring in licensed games based on children's series, chances are that you expected the Animation Age Ghetto to be applied to them. Often goes hand-in-hand with Art-Style Dissonance, as people often expect a "cute" game to be non-challenging, both in mechanics and in plot. Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay is also related, as part of the difficulty may stem from the fact that the game avoids certain conventional simplifications and shortcuts found in other games of the same genre that players have come to expect by default. Also another reason American Kirby Is Hardcore.

Compare Sequel Difficulty Spike, contrast Sequel Difficulty Drop.


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  • How hard would you expect a shooter starring a cute little yellow Alien Hominid to be? Well, if you know the inspiration was Metal Slug, that should answer all your questions.
  • Battletoads, for the time. Now this game is famous for its difficulty alone, but back then, when the reputation wasn't so widespread yet, you didn't expect a game that had two cute frogs with ridiculously cartoony special moves and colorful stages to be hard.
  • Copy Kitty: A bright and lighthearted game about a Cat Girl destroying adorable and strange robots in a VR program with tons and tons of Stuff Blowing UP. The titular copy abilities give you incredibly explosive and overpowered weapons to play with, causing screen-filling lasers, homing rockets that explode on contact, several weapons that smash walls and enemies alike, the list goes on. And you will need every one of these weapons to get through levels custom-made to take advantage of their limitations and properties, with bosses that can tear the little kitty to pieces if you don't memorize their patterns well. The unlockable Hard Mode takes everything the game's taught you up to this point and puts it all to the test with levels filled with so many explosions and swarms of more powerful robots you'll wonder how you're supposed to fend them off. And the bosses...are some of the most difficult this side of Treasure with the creators citing them as a heavy influence.
  • Cuphead has a 1930s cartoons aesthetic with cute and silly cartoon characters. It's also a Cute 'em Up run-and-gun Boss Game inspired by the likes of Contra, Parodius and Metal Slug, where you get (by default) only three hits, no opportunities to replenish health mid-level, and no checkpoints. You will be struggling to beat bosses as early as Hilda Berg, but you are guaranteed to be pulling your hair out against any of the first three available bosses of the second world.
  • Hmm, a third-person actioner/shooter/platformer called Darkened Skye. Involving Skittles, you say? Probably finish it in an hour. Wow, why am I dying so much? These jumps, especially involving those freakin' sinking lily pads, are HARD, and the enemies are really good shots! What, there are puzzles too?!
  • Flicky is about a cute mother bluebird trying to save her chicks from hungry cats and iguanas that want to eat them. The levels are only as big as the screen, and are very brightly colored. The chicks don't actually die if the aforementioned enemies get to them (unlike Zombies Ate My Neighbors)...but Flicky does if she touches a cat, and the cats like to ambush her. And the iguanas can run along any surface at about the same speed as Flicky can run. Flicky can't fly, only jump high. Your only defenses are apples, telephones, cups, and other objects which Flicky can pick up by touching them and throw...but they use the same button as jumping. And there are only so many throwable objects per level. And due to the aforementioned issue, you're likely to waste a lot of them while frantically guiding the chicks to the exit. And the cats and iguanas come back after about 7 seconds even if you do manage to kill them by throwing stuff at them.
  • Mega Man Powered Up may have inflicted the Mega Man cast with Super Deformities, but the difficulty department definitely doesn't slack off, and 100% Completion for New Style mode requires you not only to complete every stage on every difficulty, but also to use every character for each of these difficulties, even characters who clearly aren't suited for certain stages at all. And hey, the original NES levels are available for you to tackle too, and they're all in Old Style mode...
  • Noah's Ark (the one by Konami, not the one by Wisdom Tree), one of the few Bible games The Angry Video Game Nerd doesn't think outright sucks, is actually insanely difficult, despite its cutesy graphics and, well, status as a Bible game, especially chapter 4. Of course, it's made by the same people who made Contra. But pressing up up down down etc. on the title screen does nothing.
  • Please do not mistake Spy Muppets: License to Croak for a very easy game.
  • To some extent, most of Treasure's output falls under this. With their whimsical art style and characters, you might not expect (for instance) Dynamite Headdy or Mischief Makers to be as hard as they are.

  • ET The Extraterrestrial the reviled game for Atari 2600. Cute movie your kids liked, what could go wrong? Cue even adults ripping their hair out trying to get out of the pits.
  • While the setting is dark, the characters in Hollow Knight are adorable bugs. The game is known for being one of the hardest Metroidvania games ever made.
  • The first The Legend of Zelda game is surprisingly hard to anyone who came to the series by its sequels. You probably heard the second game is the hardest of the series, but the first game can be a surprise since its difficulty is not discussed as often. Most of the difficulty comes from lack of clarity of objectives, with no clear storyline or progression path and many dungeons and important items hidden in totally random places. Players were supposed to work together to figure out where to go, because scouting it all out on your own would take ages.
    • Eiji Aonuma, who is one of THE most important people in the making of the Zelda series, has never beaten the first game.
  • The first Metroid, since, unlike the sequels (and even the enhanced remake), there is no map, you can't shoot kneeling, all the rooms look the same, and when you continue you only have 30 health no matter how many energy tanks you have.
    • While not as difficult as the original Metroid, those who went from the first Metroid Prime to Metroid Prime 2: Echoes were shocked by an utterly unforgiving game with large worlds, few save points and some notoriously difficult boss fights such as The Boost Guardian, The Spiderball Guardian and others, and finally a second dimension that hurt Samus when she went into it. You fight almost all of the bosses in the Dark Aether dimension (which cuts 1 to 5 health every second), essentially turning every fight into a Time-Limit Boss if you can't manage to stay in a safe zone without getting shot. Some of the later fights had NO safe zones in the arena at all. Metroid Prime 2's boss battles are so legendarily difficult that apparently the testers used debug mode to beat the Boost Guardian. The game's difficulty was nerfed in the Metroid Prime Trilogy release.
  • The Secret of Monkey Island is all fine and dandy until you have to procure a credit note (which requires memorising the turns of the shopkeeper's safe combination that correspond to 'pushes' and 'pulls'), which is one of the trickiest moments in a Monkey Island game, and thankfully, the only one of its kind.
  • Stray: People who had heard about "the cat game" and were expecting a game about exploration and purring might have been taken by surprise by the threat level posed by the Zurks, and by the fast reactions and precise movements needed to dodge them.
  • Tunic: What do you mean, this colourful game featuring a cute fox is really a Souls-like RPG, complete with stamina management and rock-hard bosses?
  • An Untitled Story is an indie Metroidvania game about a cute egg...which has plenty of pixel-perfect jumps and many bosses tend to have a Bullet Hell phase.
  • Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders looks like a simple adventure game set in the city, with a cheerful main character and humorous premise. It quickly becomes apparent that almost nothing you do in this game makes sense in real life, and you have to try many ridiculous items to find something that works. If you don't pick up something before going somewhere it will be lost and you won't be able to progress when you need it. Not only that, but on occasion you're going against an (unseen) time limit which will send you back to earlier in the game if you don't succeed, and you can be trapped or killed quite easily...which means you have to reload the game.

  • Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World may be easy to pick up and play (especially since it streamlines some of the mechanics from Budokai 3), but the AI is needlessly brutal, abusing things like teleport counters, Aura Burning, Ultimates Attacks and attack canceling. If you can't figure out any of the advance mechanics even at their base level, you will get bodied all the way to King Kai's and back.
  • The first two Mortal Kombat games seem to be the best example - simple controls and limited movements...but insanely hard.
  • Anyone who underestimates Super Smash Bros. just because it's by Nintendo and filled with their mascots is in for a shock. Yes, Mario and Pikachu and Kirby are all there, but they're not only beating the stuffing out of each other, the interplay of attacks, movement, and inherent character traits is extremely detailed. Sure, you can pick a character and probably grasp their concept within 15 minutes, but step up past Normal mode without at least a bit of practice and you can easily end up with Mario shining his shoes with your buttocks.
    • The difficulty of the more difficult Challenger Approaching battles in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate became infamous the day the game first came out. In fact, it was made notable as those kinds of battles were attributed to them being set at the 9.0 difficulty. Unlike the previous games in the franchise, where the AI simply cheats at 9.0 without seeing any notable increase in actual skill, the AI in this game is far more competent than before and will constantly dance around the player while comboing them to high percents and teching off walls and ledges at inhuman rates. They still do appear to cheat a little, but cheating aside, they're much more difficult to take on, which can make unlocking fighters outside of World of Light more of a hassle than it needs to be for less-skilled players. Even the dedicated Challenger's Approach mode doesn't help much, as losing here still leads to a cooldown period before the character can be fought again. One of the first launch week patches was forced to tone down the difficulty of these battles after the fandom became too vocal at being unable to unlock certain characters due to how downright hard these battles were.
  • Tekken 2 is much harder than the other entries in the series, despite being the game where the series came into its own.
    • Tekken 3's Tekken Force Mode starts off as a relatively simple sidescrolling beat-'em-up. This is until you get to Dr B, who you face after beating the mode four times. As you have one life in this mode, if you lose to him you have to complete the mode four more times in order to face him again. Luckily, there is a way of getting around this by playing a certain number of matches in versus mode.
    • Tekken 6's Scenario Campaign mode gets frustratingly difficult in the later stages, specifically when you have to defeat four or five different bosses within the same level.
  • Them's Fightin' Herds has an artstyle that makes it look more like a children's Saturday morning cartoon than your typical fighting game aesthetic (which makes sense considering the game was originally a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fangame, and even got its character designs from the original creative director of the series), and the raw input motions are fairly tame as far as fighting games go—only 4 buttons, and no inputs more complicated than a z-motion or a half circle. Despite this, the game has a brutal skill ceiling competitively—the combo system is more reminiscient of something like the Marvel vs. Capcom series or Skullgirls, and has equally as much character complexity.


  • The Addams Family games for the SNES were just...insane. In the first like most platformers can give you a ridiculous number of lives if you know where to look. However it is probably the only game that expects you to use them. Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt, completing a single area would take upwards of half an hour (if you knew where to go and how to progress through the levels), you were required to fight a difficult boss at the end of it (by which stage you'd be severely low on lives and energy), and then you got to do the whole thing again for the other eighteen million items you needed to collect. Oh, and did we mention that you can't save or in any way record your progress? Yeah. This from the TV show that gave us Lurch.
  • The Adventure of Little Ralph seems very child-oriented - after all, it's got a child protagonist. The first few levels are hard, but still pretty standard, but from then on, the game turns Nintendo Hard. Hazards seemingly pop out of nowhere, catching the player by surprise, and the very last level is pure Platform Hell. It doesn't help that Ralph, the main character, is a One-Hit-Point Wonder.
  • Aladdin (Virgin Games) would be a nice platformer if not for the escape from the Cave of Wonders level in which you have to very, very carefully navigate the magic carpet through tight areas while avoiding projectiles and incoming lava. Not to mention that one hit kills you, even if you crash.
  • On a special "Making Of" episode, The Angry Video Game Nerd plays Barbie for the NES. This sums it up:
    "It's a game for little girls! I can't make past the first levels!
    • Joueur du Grenier also noted the difficulty when he reviewed the same game.
      "You'd probably expect this game to be easy since it's a game for little girls. (Looks nervously at his lives counter (which decreases every time he makes a sexist joke)) But no. You alternate between levels that are ridiculously easy and levels that are surprisingly tough.
  • Like the book that created it, the world of Green-sky in Below the Root seems pretty easy to manage at first. Then you find out just how difficult it is to jump some of those gaps between broken branches and what happens when you don't crawl across bridges you've made with your vine rope. You can spend a whole day — your day, not game day — trying to get up into the farheights of Skygrund.
  • Despite being one of the games in the "Sega Club" line of games aimed at children under 12, Berenstain Bears' Camping Adventure has relentless enemies and some tricky platforming. Set the difficulty to Grizzly Bear and the game pushes the very limits of Nintendo Hard.
  • Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg runs on this. It's very cute on the surface, but the bosses are pretty tough and the stages later on embody this trope.
    • Not to mention the Rainbow Eggs which are hard to find and even harder to get.
  • Blaster Master Zero is unique in the sense that the core campaign is consistently criticized for It's Easy, So It Sucks!. However, Ver. 1.2 adds a Destroyer Mode, which is unlocked after beating the main campaign at least once. Destroyer Mode looks at the main campaign, jeers in its face, and then breaks it in half over its knee. It's that big of a difficulty jump.
  • Blinx: The Time Sweeper: Cutesy main character? Yep. Charming fantasy worlds to explore? Yep. Is this deceptive at all? YES. If some of the later levels weren't difficult enough, there's also the eighty hidden cat medals (some of which are deviously hidden) to collect, and the Nintendo Hard final boss, who is an absolute nightmare to defeat.
  • While the remake of A Boy and His Blob cuts down on the Guide Dang It! moments of the original, and the beginning levels are so easy they've earned ire, everything after World 1 is a guaranteed behind-kicking at least once. The main stages have generous checkpoints to ease the pain slightly, but the Challenge Levels...don't. Screw up just once? Have a Nice Death!
  • For being an innocuous little game about bouncing cat heads, cat planet gets difficult when it introduces threats that can kill the protagonist. Especially in the last stretch, where you become sandwiched between crows and deadly spikes.
  • Those unfamiliar with Celeste can be forgiven by its presentation (The official art and music seems like it came from the creators of Steven Universe). However, the game also tells you to "be proud of your death count".
  • Claw is bright, colorful, undeniably charming, and fiendishly difficult even with the infinite-lives cheat enabled. In fact, using said cheat is pretty much mandatory if you want to have any hope of completing the game. The code is even listed in the manual, so the developers were probably self-aware.
  • Crash Bandicoot. Especially, the first one. It's ostensibly for kids and the other games in the series are more manageable... but not the first one. Even if you manage to get through 2-3 levels without running out of lives (you start with 4 every time you load) AND find all the "Tawna tokens" in the level, you only have one shot at a bonus level to even be able to save or find out your level password. The physics fall into Damn You, Muscle Memory!, even (or especially) for people who have played the other games in the series. The lack of analog control also makes fine movement very, very difficult at times.
    • Collecting gems requires you to destroy every single destructible crate in the level. In the first game, some levels require you to fully explore two paths in order to do this. Have fun backtracking with very little view of what's ahead! You also won't know until you finish the level whether you missed any. Good luck. Oh, and you have to finish the entire level without dying.
    • Crash 2 is only more forgiving in that they removed the "finish the level without dying" gem condition. To make up for it, the developers kept everything in from the first one...and added more. Branching paths? Have fun exploring them in the dark, with bottomless pits everywhere! Secret levels? Be prepared to not only endure Platform Hell to get to them, but the levels themselves are brutal. Backtracking? Of course - and let's throw in a few levels where you not only have to backtrack, but you have to backtrack without dying. Have a Nice Death!
    • Warped eased up on difficulty a bit, but still has plenty of challenges to throw at you. Of note is the new Time Trial mode, requiring you to finish the level within a certain amount of time to win a relic. Getting the Sapphire and even Gold isn't too tough, but if you want the Platinum relic you'll virtually have to speedrun the level.
    • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy mercifully made some difficult challenges a little easier, such as removing the no deaths requirement to earn a regular gem. However, it has plenty of difficulty all its own: The physics are now the same across all three games, making some challenges significantly harder than they once were, and Crash has a pill-shaped hitbox that can result in him slipping off of edges. Time Trials have been added to the first two games, bringing a whole new challenge to the already difficult games. Two new levels, Future Tense and Stormy Ascent were added as DLC, both extremely challenging... the latter of which was a dumied Crash 1 level removed for being too difficult. Too difficult for the game that is generally considered the hardest in the series.
  • The Croc games for the PlayStation are more challenging than you'd think, mainly due to their camera angles and dodgy jumping. Oh and the enemies respawn a few seconds after you beat them.
  • Dewy's Adventure: Don't be fooled by the cute main character; the game will tear you apart if you mess around. Tons of bottomless pits, tough jumps, large groups of enemies, long levels and very low health pickups, and there are no checkpoints, meaning if you die once (Twice if you have the item which revives you when you die), you have to start the level all over again. Let us not even start on getting S ranks...
  • Donkey Kong Country:
  • Drill Dozer, in which the game stars an adorable little girl with a little adorable robot with drills for arms...but to get 100%, you have to beat levels with platforming so hard you will cry.
  • Dynamite Headdy is bright and cartoonish, but only a little harder than you might expect, until it ramps up significantly during and after the flying world. The Nasty Gatekeeper (following the much easier normal Gatekeeper) is pretty much the definition of Surprise Difficulty, with music to match.
    • That's the American/European version, by the way. The original Japanese version is still not easy, but the difficulty level is much more reasonable (and it gives you 3 continues by default).
      • The Japanese version has its own surprise difficulty (though technically more a Difficulty Spike) in the form of Twin Freaks. It's already considered to be one of the hardest bosses in the American/European version, and has twice as much health in the Japanese version, ignoring a certain glitch.
  • The Ecco the Dolphin series stars a dolphin as the player character. This dolphin will die, many, many times, be it via drowning, sharks, angry telepathic DNA, alien technology, or a particularly murderous edge of the screen.
    • It also ramps up the difficulty for certain stages. When sharks were easily something you could dodge or fight, in "Open Ocean" they suddenly have a much more damaging attack and litter the entire screen. Near the end, scrolling stages occur. One being five minutes long. The Vortex Queen isn't easy either...and if you die or get eaten by the Vortex Queen? Back to the five minute long level. "Welcome To The Machine" will be burned into your retinas by the time you memorize it.
    • Tides of Time features the Skyway, a set of gorgeous mazes in water tubes high in the sky. Hope you like falling! Defender of the Future plays a loving homage to the Skyway with the Hanging Waters levels...breathtaking beauty and enraging difficulty and all.
    • Ecco was such a severe case of Surprise Difficulty that a kid-friendly spinoff Ecco Jr. was eventually released, as an apology of sorts to all the children who asked their parents for "the cute dolphin game" only get their asses utterly kicked by the sadistic difficulty of the main series.
  • Freedom Planet. It's a Sonic-inspired platformer with a girly art style and adorable characters. And it has very few Bottomless Pits, Collision Damage, or Mercy Invincibility, this should be a piece of cake! Wait, combat is a big chunk of gameplay? Well okay, simple enough. Wow, the levels are pretty long, and why is the second boss so hard? What do you mean most enemies are spamming Bullet Hell attacks? Turns out the invincibility goes both ways, and the aforementioned Bullet Hell attacks will shave off most of your health if you're lucky. And that's without getting into the masochistic Hard Mode, where enemies deal double damage, shields break in one pop, and the bosses are faster and completely randomized their strategies. And playing as Milla gives you a very awkward combat style, with half the health of the other characters. Yeah, hope you don't lose your marbles. This game was hard enough that it received patches that lowered the difficulty, and it is still this trope.
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams starts off as a simple cutesy platformer until a certain level where the game stops having mercy and forces the player to go through several segments full of spikes and devilish enemies specifically made to be only avoided with the Dual-World Gameplay mechanic while the player still has to be careful with spikes and other hazards.
  • You wouldn't expect a game with cartoon-style graphics about a boy trying to rescue his dog from monsters to be anything other than an easy kids game, would you? Well, if that game is Heart of Darkness for the PlayStation, prepare to be surprised. The game is a Platform Hell powered by Nightmare Fuel.
  • Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is a fun little puzzle/platform hybrid that looks like your typical casual game at first glance, but the difficulty curve goes sharply up after the first world, with tricky platforming and tough bosses. The final world in particular contains some of the most challenging platformer gameplay out there, and beating the final boss is an achievement to brag about. And if you're playing Gentleman Mode, all bets are off.
  • Okay, even if I Wanna Be the Guy is never considered to be a game for kids, it still fits this trope at least because the difficulty may get really surprising at times, thanks to the fact that Everything Is Trying to Kill You. Even the things that are not obvious killers. Yet. IWBTG deserves some sort of prize in that, despite over-the-top ridiculous difficulty being the one thing the game is known for, it still manages to be surprisingly harder than whatever you were expecting when you started.
  • Jak and Daxter:
    • Jak II: Renegade: The previous game was quite easy few irritating locations notwithstanding, even on 100% Completion. While this game had higher age rating and much darker atmosphere from the beginning, replacing fairy-tale-like setting in favor of a dystopian future, it still might not be enough of a warning of how hard this game is - Platform Hell sequences (usually while you're being shot at) that are a norm rather than an exception, Marathon Level races where one mistake costs you a win, missions that have to be done without dying because the counter of everything you need to take down gets reset upon death, numerous infinitely respawning enemies and the fact that most enemies kill you in 4 hits and you can't upgrade your health greatly contribute to it. And let's not speak of optional missions...
    • Jak 3: Wastelander also qualifies. after the easy platforming course that opens the game, you then have to complete a shotgun arena challenge against enemies with quick jump attacks that exceed your weapon's range. Oh, and the arena fills with lava, and you start with the base health amount, and your ammo doesn't refill when you die. Unless you just came off playing Jak II: Renegade, it'll kick the pants off of even seasoned Jak players.
  • Keen Dreams - compared to the other games it's less violent and has a less urgent plot. Your raygun is replaced by flower-power, seeds that temporary turn enemies into flowers. It is one the hardest one of the Commander Keen series. The fact that you cannot kill your enemies permanently forces you to be very careful with your ammunition and play as fast as possible to avoid the enemies regenerating. You must effectivly do a Speed Run and Pacifist Run at once. (Only Commander Keen 5 is harder dispite your weapon beeing lethal, but the tougher enemies are simply invulnerable.)
  • Kirby: Generally, the games were made to be accessible to anyone, including kids and newcomers to gaming. So they're usually rather easy if attempting a casual playthrough. Trying to go for 100% Completion, on the other hand...
    • On standard difficulty, Kirby's Dream Land, the very first Kirby game, is very easy. However, if you enter the code to access the harder difficulty level, the game stops pulling punches.
    • Kirby Super Star has shorter stages and more bosses. The DS version adds even more bosses and more boss rushes.
    • Nightmare in Dream Land lives up to its name, especially with how cheap the enemy respawns could be. And Nightmare in Dream Land is actually easier than Kirby's Adventure, of which it is a remake.
    • Kirby's Epic Yarn deserves a special mention because you literally cannot die in the game, you only lose beads. The difficulty lies in collecting all the beads needed to get a gold medal or even progress to the next levels. Also, the challenge levels can get fiendishly difficult.
    • Kirby & the Amazing Mirror is one of the few cases where just beating the main game is harder than the extra stuff, mainly due to starting out with a low amount of health, enemies being placed in extremely dickish locations, and losing your copy ability after one hit from anything.
    • Many Kirby games have a Boss Rush in them which can be horrible if you are not good with dodging the bosses' attacks, but that is nothing compared to the horror that is The True Arena, appearing in games following Kirby Super Star Ultra. This is an even harder version of the first Boss Rush where the enemies have different, more powerful and harder-to-dodge attacks and finishes off with at least one Superboss which likely comes up after you are completely drained.
    • While the base game of Kirby Star Allies is considered fairly easy by Kirby standards (even when you're going for 100% Completion), the Wave 3 update introduced Heroes in Another Dimension and the Soul Melter EX difficulty of The Ultimate Choice, which took it to the other extreme and are among the most difficult modes ever introduced in a Kirby game.
  • The Klonoa games, even the GBA puzzle/platformers, start out incredibly easy and have a slow, gentle curve...until you reach the last couple of levels in each of them, at which point they become vicious one-way tickets to Platform Hell. And let's not even get to those crazy secret hidden levels...
  • The Lion King is based on a Disney movie; this'll be easy, right? Well, remember the "Just Can't Wait To Be King" scene from the movie, with Simba jumping from animal to animal? Yep, that's a level in the game. It's as hard as you'd imagine. And it's level 2. They get much worse from there. The following level contains 15-20 enemies that in many games would be mini-boss fights. And you can't save.
  • LittleBigPlanet: Awww, it's a cute little sackboy! Aww, look at him running around with his tongue out! Aww...wait, impact explosives? With jetpacks? And falling stalactites? This isn't cute, this is cruel! You want me to fight bosses now? There weren't any bosses before! And what's this about a Bunker?
  • The NES game Little Nemo: The Dream Master. Superficially, it looks like a children's game, but this was made by Capcom in the same era as Mega Man 2, and it shows.
  • LocoRoco's cute and whimsical art direction masks its diabolically evil gameplay in the Midnight Carnival spinoff.
  • Mickey Mania. As the name suggests, it's a Mickey Mouse game. It's also ridiculously difficult even on its easiest difficulty level.
  • Mickey's Ultimate Challenge:
    • Goofy's level where you have to guess which tools are in his toolbox à la Mastermind. In Cake, any tools you guess in the proper position are highlighted green with any in the box but in the wrong place given a red "mouse" icon. Beginning with the second part of Medium and throughout Challenging, you are only given the number of tools in (marked by green "mouse" icons) and out of position.
    • Daisy's level also qualifies, particularly on Challenging. You are tasked to match portraits of Disney characters before the castle's torches burn out. As the castle gets darker, it gets harder to see the portraits. It's the only Timed Mission in the game.
  • The cute looks of Mr. Gimmick! for the NES will disguise its tricky enemy and level design. It is actually even worse due to your main weapon being pathetic, and the character having a very annoying inertia.
  • Nefarious may be a game whose gimmick is that you're playing as the bad guy in the big machines fighting diminutive scrappy heroes, but that doesn't mean it will hold your hand. In a sense, this is justified in that you're going up against characters who regularly foil villains like Crow, so they shouldn't be pushovers.
  • The NewZealand Story is another cutesy Taito arcade platform game in the vein of Bubble Bobble or The Fairyland Story and starts off innocently enough... but then the levels become fiendish mazes full of Spikes of Doom, water areas that give you a very strict time before drowning and enemies that countinuously pour out of portals that can appear anywhere. The Mega Drive version, based on an earlier ROM build, is even harder.
  • Nicktoons: Attack of the Toybots, though not as extreme as the other examples here, is another example of a kid-friendly game which might be too much for its intended target demographic, being pretty much a platformer Death Course. Thankfully, Death Is a Slap on the Wrist there. Here, just look at the penultimate stage (And look at the comments of the second part for a complaint about this trope).
  • You are a blue alien out to save your race from being turned into meat snacks by the greedy corporate overlords that have taken over your planet. This is the general premise of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, and it sounds innocuous enough. However, once you realize that you are a One-Hit-Point Wonder in a Crapsack World where just about everything wants you dead, you'll quickly come to appreciate your unlimited supply of lives. It's hard enough just to play through the game normally. Trying to save all of the Mudokons, though? Be prepared to be subjected to some of the most tortuously difficult secret areas imaginable, most of which are hidden in the most unintuitive places imaginable. Its sequel, Abe's Exoddus, makes things slightly easier thanks to your ability to work with more than one Mudokon at a time, but it makes up for it by introducing dozens of new and fun ways to get eaten, chopped into pieces, blown to bits, and oh-so-many other creative ways of enacting your demise.
  • Plok. You play as a sentient pile of clothing who could Rocket Punch, and the graphics were really cutesy. The title character took very few hits to die, the enemies had Mercy Invincibility, and many of them were Kung Fu Proof Mooks. The bosses weren't exactly a walk in the park either (the first, a Dual Boss, was already quite tough). There were also quite a lot of traps and spikes in the game that were hard to traverse... And then you get to the last world...which is wall-to-wall Interface Screw.
  • The end of Psychonauts. The very last section of the game has the difficulty curve surge upwards like crazy.
    • Here, have a rising lava level, jumping between awkward platforms with this game's finicky and awkward controls; a level style which had previously been avoided in the game. Surprise!
  • Rabi-Ribi may have a cast of Little Bit Beastlies, including a bunny girl and her fairy companion as the Player Characters, but don't let that fool you. The bosses are more than happy to subject you to elaborate Bullet Hell patterns that will cause you to see the Game Over screen many times. In a Platform Game, so you also have to factor in gravity. Oh, and the game can be looped and/or played on unlockable Harder Than Hard difficulties if you want even more danger and more thrills!
  • The first few levels of Rayman are pretty easy. Then you reach Band Land and your whole world goes straight to hell. Suddenly the levels require dead-on precision and reflexes just to survive, Leaps of Faith to find MacGuffens required to advance the game, and those frigging grasshoppers. Even if you have 99 lives through cheats or some other method, expect to be down at least 25 by the time you finish.
    • An even better example comes in the little-known edutainment spinoff Rayman Brain Games. As an edutainment game, you'd think it would be laughably easy, as is par for the genre. That's the kind of thinking that gets you killed, as this game intended for young children somehow, in some freakish way, manages to be even harder than the already notoriously difficult original, at times bordering on Platform Hell. Sadly, this is mainly due to copious amounts of Fake Difficulty rather than genuine challenge, like being expected to react to hazards suddenly blinking in out of nowhere with inhuman reflexes. Still, it makes you wonder what the hell they were smoking when they thought this was appropriate for young grade-school children.
  • Rocket Knight Adventures and its sequel Sparkster were surprisingly tricky for their level of cutesiness as well.
  • Rugrats: Royal Ransom will smack you upside the head with how much of a deceptively difficult game it is for a game based on such a kid-friendly series as Rugrats. The game's a cakewalk on the easiest difficulty and fairly challenging but still doable on the medium difficulty. The hardest difficulty, fittingly called "Reptar Tough"? You'll want to take the advice of Tommy Pickles himself and hold on to your diapie, baby, because you're in for several floors of pure, unadulterated Platform Hell.
  • The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants for NES. Maybe nowadays you're not surprised it's Nintendo Hard since it's a primitive NES platformer, but back then you really expected at least some leniency out of a game based on The Simpsons. Nope, it's one of the hardest games on a platform famous for hard games.
  • Sonic Unleashed, especially the final zone, Eggmanland, seems to fall into this trope. Players tend to look at the ESRB rating (E10+) and assume, then are surprised when the game rips them a new one. Bear in mind that Sonic Unleashed has a World Tour theme, with every stage bearing a close resemblance to real-life locations, with the exception of Eggmanland. Sonic may be running across landscapes resembling Rome or Brooklyn pretty enough for postcards, but the platforming is still jarringly unforgiving. This is even more so with the Adventure Pack DLC stages, which raise the difficulty to the highest the series has ever seen...while still looking incredibly scenic.
    • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Part 1 is bizarrely difficult. The first level is not hard at all, but the remaining three are. Specifically there is a part of the Casino Street Zone (Casinos are usually Breather Levels in Sonic games) where you have to jump across a set of moving cards that stay flat for a second then go vertical, so you fall to your death. The problem with this is that there are far too many of these and you'd have to have sheer luck in order to jump them all.
    • Sonic Lost World stands alongside Unleashed as one of the more surprisingly difficult games in the series. Compounded with a completely new physics and control system that will mess up those who have played any of the previous game, and you've got an exercise in frustration in the making. The very cartoonish and colorful art style compared to the previous games doesn't help.
    • Sonic Mania has difficulty on par with the classic 16-bit games it was based on, which can be jarring for those who didn't grow up playing them. In particular, most of the game's stage design punishes anyone who tries to blindly rush forward. Even for those who did grow up with these games, Sonic Mania will still put up a fight and never let up.
  • Spyro the Dragon: While the second installment of these series is comparatively easy (unless you go for Skill Points), the first and the third parts aren't actually to be beaten to 100% and higher status by children under 10. The starting moments may be easy (although some players may be gameovered in the first worlds), but sidequests and hidden walls/areas may become a pain in the ass (unless you know them all thoroughly). Several enemies may also become these, and again, their attacks are easy to avoid if you've played this game a lot before. But no matter how experienced may you be on these, there are also flights to be beaten...
  • The little-known Dreamcast game Super Magnetic Neo. It involves playing with a cutesy robot with magnetic powers having platforming adventures and taking on a bunch of cartoony villains led by a baby. Sounds simple enough, right? However, since it's inspired by the Crash Bandicoot games (the Naughty Dog games, mind you) better prepare to suffer.
  • Super Mario Bros. series:
    • Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. The series isn't known for easy games, but one theory has this game not released internationally outside of Japan at first because of its difficulty, more than it being a Mission-Pack Sequel. Please note that this is an NES game, so that difficulty is in comparison to the original Nintendo Hard games! At the beginning of the game there's an easy method to get over 100 lives. You will need them all.
    • Don't let the bright and colorful graphics, along with characters appealing to kids, fool you in Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario Sunshine. They have lots of surprise challenges/obstacles that throw off even the most hardened platform gamers. The most famous ones are the challenges presented by the green lumas in Galaxy and a few of the sub-levels in Delfino Plaza in Sunshine and of course the Fake Difficulty that is the Green Star hunt in Galaxy 2.
    • Nobody who hasn't played the game would suspect that this vocal-only version of the original SMB track is the one used on the most fiendishly evil levels of Sunshine. Even worse is that, unlike in most levels of the 3D Mario games, they're mandatory! Oh, and you have to do them twice each for 100%.
      • At least during the return attempts, you have FLUDD back. Part of the challenge comes from your first attempt being without that hovering ability you've probably been taking for granted up until now.
      • And you will need FLUDD's help for those return attempts, for the additional challenge is a collect-the-coin challenge, timed. And the timer isn't generous.
    • There's also the classic 2D Mario games, which usually started off easy enough but got insanely difficult as you went along, even though some people underestimate them (and the series as a whole) for being "kiddy".
      • Super Mario World gets downright heinous in the last few worlds, largely due to much trickier platforming that absolutely will send you plummeting to your death unless your jumps are timed perfectly. And that's not even getting into enemy placement and platforms that are spaced farther and farther apart, requring wider jumps and/or a feather cape.
    • Getting through the final world of Super Mario Bros. 3 is a true test of will and patience.
      • That is provided World 7 doesn't destroy you first. Nine stages. Nine DIFFICULT stages, and two of the most devilishly evil fortresses in the game. World 7 has no breathers, it starts off tricky and only escalates from there.
    • Most players just can't make it through world 8 of the original Super Mario Bros.. The later worlds in general are filled with a larger number of enemies, wider pits that demand pitch perfect jumps not to fall into, and sound-based puzzles requiring guesswork and memorization to solve and progress through some levels.
    • Super Mario Odyssey starts out fairly easy and lackadaisy, but after you beat the final boss, things change as the new Moons are now much more fiendish to acquire. In particular, the final level of the game, Darker Side, is a marathon gauntlet that lasts over ten minutes, challenges you on almost all of the Captures in the game, and has no checkpoints.
  • Super Meat Boy: The aesthetic is cute, but it's Ugly Cute, and the game will make you feel like a piece of meat that's been put through the grinder.
  • For games based on a children's cartoon series, Tiny Toon Adventures had tons of games that, while averting The Problem with Licensed Games, are still notorious for their difficulties.
    • The 1991 NES game of the same name would chew you up and spit you out. It doesn't help that, unless you have a heart in your inventory, everything kills you with one hit.
    • The sequel, Trouble in Wackyland is comparatively easier for the most part. It helps that that game has a three-heart health bar. However, while Plucky, Hamton, and Furrball's levels are fairly easy to get through, Babs' level, which involves an out-of-control roller coaster, requires a great amount of memorization of when to jump, duck, and flip the car to get through.
    • Buster's Hidden Treasure for the Sega Genesis is also brutal towards the end, notably because of the Spikes of Doom that instantly kill you, placed under disappearing platforms in the Ice Mountains.
    • The first Game Boy game, Babs' Big Break, is comparatively simple while still having its tough moments, but the second, Montana's Movie Madness, while remaining easy enough for its first two stages, hits this trope in the third with a rocket ship-flying sequence that could give the ostrich ride in The Lion King a run for its money.
    • Buster Busts Loose for the SNES has its moments as well, particularly that train level. It's the hardest level in the game bar-none, and it's only the second stage of the game...
    • Scary Dreams/Buster's Bad Dream for the Game Boy Advance is a Beat 'em Up, and it's about as difficult as any other game in that genre, especially considering that while you do have unlimited continues, you have only one life. Thus, if you die, you start all the way back at the beginning of the stage.
  • Tomba!!/Tombi! for the PS1. You play as a pink haired dwarf who lives in a colorful world filled with psychotic pigs and carnivorous venus fly traps. Typically Japanese right? Well, it is in other aspects too - it often relies on timing to get somewhere without being killed, you need certain items (which you equip like an RPG), your life goes down very easily, and there are many occasions where the 2.5D of the game makes it look as if you can go somewhere you can't from that angle, leading to frustration.
  • Toy Story: You'd expect something not too hard for a game based on a children's film. But the game takes Nintendo Hard to entirely new levels. Even with savestates, it's hard.
    • It wasn't that easy on the Gameboy either.
  • Umihara Kawase is a loveable platformer that was based on a surprisingly good physics engine (before Havok was even a concept) involving a rubber fishing line that functions like a Grappling-Hook Pistol. Up through Field 5, it's pretty straightforward. Field 6 ramps up the difficulty a bit. Pretty much any field thereafter skyrockets into completely bonkers levels of Nintendo Hard: A level where you have to grapple across a ceiling to get to the exit...interspersed with patches of ceiling that your hook won't stick to. A boss fight in which you have to grapple your way under the stage to dodge him, then get back up before his tadpoles nibble you to death...five times (before he self-destructs, you can't hurt him). Levels loaded with (sometimes unkillable) Goddamn Bats. Levels with no floor beneath you as you frantically grapple your way to the end. All of this on a timer. This is probably the only game in history to give the player 10 lives to start with and have it considered stingy. And the ironic thing is that after you get past the learning curve, you realise that all those bits are the easy parts. Seriously. They're fun. It gets harder.
  • Wario Land 4 and Shake It / The Shake Dimension are colorful and have a silly atmosphere, but turn brutally difficult rather quickly. For the former, it's not the easier difficulties, those are incredibly nice to the player. But then you've got Super Hard mode. Yes, it's Harder Than Hard, but compared to the normal difficulty levels, is like going from Normal to Intense in Super Smash Bros.. Some levels like Pinball Zone and Arabian Night. for example, literally have next to no time for the level's length in question, and getting over 10,000 coins for 100% completion is nigh on impossible due to incredibly mean enemy placement and time limits. The first boss in the game has a time limit of 15 seconds, just to give you an idea. Shake It/ The hake Dimension just has the much more difficult than the rest of the series boss battles and the bonus challenges which make you survive Marathon Bosses as a semi one hit wonder.
  • The Wizard of Oz for Super NES. Glitched-out platform and hit detection along with just about any kind of Fake Difficulty you can think of, this broken mess of a half-century old film adaption does everything in its power to make the player feel crippled and helpless in a twisted, sadistic world of brightly-colored hell. As The Angry Video Game Nerd discovered, it's a game that needs to be seen to be believed.
  • Yoshi's Island DS. It's a sequel to one of the best loved platform games of all time...and brings back one of the nastier elements: its insane secret level difficulty. Worlds 1 to 3 are fairly easy. World 4 amplifies it. World 5 is a difficulty brick wall, with more spikes in the last two castles than probably the rest of the game proceeding it. Then you get the secret and extra levels. World 4's is doable. World 1 and 2's trap you and force Yoshi to die for every minor mistake, and have nigh-on zero checkpoints. Worlds 3 and 5's...are Platform Hell incarnate, and you'll need the huge lives stockpile you've collected after a few choice sections cost you fifty or so lives in quick succession.
    • The game that started it on the SNES isn't any different either. The game starts off very simple and the crayon-styled graphics may lure players into thinking it's a game meant for babies, but around halfway through the game, the difficulty shoots up greatly as you have to deal with tricky gap crossing using a power up or Yoshi's floaty jump or trying to avoid nothing but spikes, which is instant death. Going for 100% Completion? The extra levels in each world will make you hurl your controller and swear at a game that just looks too damn cute to be swearing at.

  • Angry Birds is a game where you fling cute birds into structures to topple them over and squash cute pigs inside. Good luck getting a three-star ranking, you'll need it.
  • Audiosurf is an interesting case. While you may be able to guess that some tracks will be hard when loaded up in the game, sometimes you get a nasty surprise thrown your way and what you thought would be an easy run turns out to be much harder than you thought it would be.
    • One weird example of something harder than expected is loading up a file of just white or pink noise. The game procedurally generates the level based on the rhythm of the music, but because white noise has little information to distinguish the 'easy' from the 'hard' parts of the song, the algorithm makes everything difficult.
  • The obscure Playstation title The Bombing Islands. Most people would start laughing at the ridiculously cheesy theme song (not to mention that the player character is a freaking clown). Then about 10 levels into the game, watch and be amazed as that same laughter transforms into tears of agony.
  • Candy Crush Saga: A colorful little game about matching candies that starts off as so easy a kid can play it...and then progresses to more and more infuriating puzzles that seem to have been devised by Satan himself. Double-layered jelly and chocolate squares? The. Devil's. Work. This is because it's an Allegedly Free Game and the developers want you to spend money to advance.
    • This carries over to other games made by the same developers. For example, Farm Heroes Saga, a game with cute fruits and farm animals, also have way too many Luck Based Missions or levels with sadistically unreasonable goals that are nigh impossible to fulfill .
  • Chip's Challenge: You'd think a game that looks like it was created in 10 minutes with MS Paint wouldn't be all that hard. Then you get past the tutorial levels, and just like that the game turns into the puzzle equivalent of Platform Hell. Fan-generated level packs are even worse, as they pulling off stunts that are usually considered illegal (like hiding traps and objects underneath floor tiles).
  • The GBA puzzle game Denki Blocks! has very cute graphics, cute music, cute player characters and cute opponents. However, it's incredibly hard. As soon as you get past the third of eight opponents, you will fail. A lot.
  • The Dr. Brain series is obviously full of challenging puzzles. Where this trope comes into play is when you change the difficulty level. A puzzle which was fairly straightforward on easy might become a bit harder but still a reasonable challenge when you turn the difficulty up to medium, or it might have you tearing your hair out in frustration.
    • For a specific example, the algebra microscope in The Island of Dr Brain is a piece of cake on easy, but is That One Puzzle on anything harder.
  • Dweep is a colorful, cute, non-violent game about an adorable furball. It also requires some seriously heavy-duty thinking — especially in the expansion pack levels.
  • Look at the cute little jelly in Jelly No Puzzle! It's small and cubic and smiley and adorable! And it will constantly be marooned off from its friends on your quest to make it join up with all other jellies of the same colour. This time, the undo button only undoes a few moves before disappearing.
  • Kula World. Roll a beachball to the end of a 2.5D level, jumping, avoiding enemies and collecting keys along the way. Seems simple enough. There are MANY levels (154) and they get harder as they go along. The fact you can only save every 5 levels doesn't help.
  • Lemmings. By the middle of the Taxing section your brain will ache. Mayhem will have you punching walls.
    • The sequel Oh No More Lemmings! is more of the same, even harder, and with a much sharper difficult curve (the levels suddenly jump from stupidly easy to stupidly hard and don't let up).
    • Lemmings 2. We have given you a hopper, two canoeists and a pole-vaulter. The exit is on the other side of a solid wall. Good luck.
  • Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is an educational game for kids, but the puzzles on harder difficulty levels can leave even grown-ups frustrated, especially the Very, Very Hard versions of Hotel Dimensia and Lion's Lair.
  • Nancy Drew: The Curse of Blackmoor Manor. Oh, it's a licensed game marketed to tweens, it must be pathetic...Wait, what's that noise? Did the walls just move? And why are there six doors out of the room? (takes another step) Oh, God, it's moving again! (looks back) Wait, that's not the door I entered through! Where the f*k am I supposed to go?!
    • The Nancy Drew games in general tend to invoke this trope. Other infamous game puzzles include a massive nonogram puzzle in Shadow at the Water's Edge and a deceptively frustrating game called Fox and Geese in White Wolf of Icicle Creek.
  • What's this Nyet III? ...oh, it looks like a harmless little Tetris clone with pre-made puzzles. I've done this kind of thing a hundred times, so this should be... wait, why are the blocks stopping in mid-air? Why do blocks keep popping in out of nowhere? Why are lines suddenly moving around on the screen? Why does it cost eighty in-game dollars just to freaking SAVE?! And this, my friends, is only the tip of this iceberg of madness, which is about the closest thing to Platform Hell that you'll ever find in a Tetris game. Just ask Ross Scott, who reviewed the game here. The version he was using also had an extra layer of difficulty in that it quit to desktop automatically every time he failed a puzzle.
  • Panel de Pon, Tetris Attack, and Pokémon Puzzle League. Cute characters, relaxing music, a simple enough concept...and then Hard mode throws you for a loop. Even that's nothing compared to the hidden Harder Than Hard difficulty. It's also known for one of the highest skill floors in all of puzzle games, demanding that you not only know how to chain but also to actively extend your chain while it is still popping off.
  • The fan-created Portal: Prelude. Portal was fun and funny, and lots of people downloaded it out of love for the original game. What the developers didn't bother to mention was that it should have been named Portal: Makes Nintendo Hard Look Like A Cakewalk. There was so much outrage that the developer begrudgingly released a patch that makes the mod slightly easier. Despite continued requests to make the mod easier for everyone, he has said he will not reduce the difficulty anymore.
  • Pushmo: Push blocks in and out to get to the top. It sounds simple but some puzzles are deviously hard.
  • The cute characters and vibrant settings in Puyo Puyo look like they came right out of a cartoon aimed at little kids, especially once SEGA took over. Make no mistake, however—not only is the single-player usually of a pretty high difficultynote , the series has gained quite a competitive scene, and there is a serious push for its presence in eSports. Many players will go online, expect a fun time, only to realize that, relative to the opponent who's about to initiate a 12-chain, they have no idea what the hell they are doing. And that such opponents are the usual fare in ranked modes.
  • Shivers II: Harvest of Souls fits this trope more than Nintendo Hard, unlike its predecessor. Puzzles range from the dead simple "fit tiles into shape" puzzle, to the notorious "fixed moves you can make to match all colored marbles in their correct spots" puzzle in the Warehouse. There are more easier puzzles than harder ones, but I guarantee the "Solve Puzzle" feature will be used more than once on a first play.
  • Aww, look at the cute little snakebird in Snakebird! It's flat cel-shaded and adorable and eats fruit! And it will die, die, die, get stuck, die, die, get stuck, kill its companion, die, die, get stuck, die, be unable to reach a fruit, die, get stuck, die, die, and die on your quest to make it eat all the fruit and get to the exit. Thank goodness for the undo button.
  • Aww, look at the adorable little guy called Stephen with the giant fork and sausages in Stephen's Sausage Roll! It's small and low-poly and holding a giant fork and adorable! And the sausages will get burnt, get burnt, get lost, get stuck, burnt, lost, stuck, stuck, burnt, stuck, and lost on your quest to grill all the sausages and get back to the level's start. Thank goodness for the undo button.
  • Super Monkey Ball features cute monkeys in hamster balls. It's also Nintendo Hard on Expert mode, especially the first game with its stages that force you to maneuver the ball across curved paths that's half as wide as the diameter of the ball. And on a timer that's never longer than 60 seconds per floor (level). And to get 100% Completion and unlock Master, you need to complete all of Expert (50 floors) and Expert Extra (10 more floors) without using a continue. In the first game, you also only get 3 lives (plus one for every 100 bananas you collect) before you have to continue.
  • Trash Panic is a cartoonish game where you smash garbage off of other garbage to break it up so the bin doesn't fill up. Simple right? The game's own demo has a time limit that obscures how tough the game is by ending the run early. However, actually finishing the levels of the full version is brutally hard; the garbage just keeps coming. You can burn garbage (bad for your Eco score), but if you burn or otherwise destroy valuable trash, your bin will overflow with penalty garbage. Not to mention the boss garbage, but even the Sweets (beginner) course which doesn't feature it is still pretty hard, even though the game has no limit on continues.
  • The Unfinished Swan has the forest, which is suddenly very dark and has spiders that will kill you if you aren't near any light. Aside from drowning or falling into a pit, this is the only other way you can die.
  • Zack & Wiki looks like a kid-friendly adventure game that stars a young pirate and his pet monkey. It's actually an insanely tough puzzle game. Rues the parent who purchased this one for their six-year-old.

  • Crash Team Racing is even more difficult than Mario Kart due to its complex boost mechanics, though fortunately the AI isn't too fast, and they can't use some of the more powerful items like the Warp Orb or Clock. The bosses, however, are a different story. Pinstripe and Oxide in particular are very fast and are constantly spamming power-ups, making it very difficult to catch back up if they get ahead of you. Oxide even jumps the gun at the beginning of the race, preventing you from getting an early lead! And you will need to master the game to beat the time trial ghosts and earn platinum relics. The remake adds even more challenge, adding a hard AI that can keep up with highly skilled players, and introducing online play where you'll often find yourself up against masters of the game, not to mention that there are now extra DLC tracks that are often challenging in their own right.
  • Diddy Kong Racing, period. It's meant for kids, but getting 100% Completion in that game is something no kid could possibly hope to do, or even come close.
    • It was harder on the N64. They toned it down a lot in the DS remake.
  • Gran Turismo has license tests. National B and A can be challenging but the International C (Only on 2 and 5), B and A will give you a hard time. Super License will make you destroy your controller because it's not just a small part of the track, it's a full time trial. And God help you on 4...
  • Mario Kart in general falls under this trope. A racing game with bright and colorful graphics and a wacky cast of characters will lull players in a false sense of "This is so damn easy and childish" until they encounter the AI pulling the best items out of their ass time and time again to screw the player over or playing with people who are actually really good at the game and know how to use items effectively against others. The fact that much of it is Fake Difficulty due to Rubber-Band A.I. doesn't help.
  • Mickey's Racing Adventure for the GBC. To fight a boss, you had to solve a sliding block puzzle with AT LEAST over one hundred moves required and a time limit. Add on rubberbanding and other cheating, the mixing of everybody's most hated game styles from the "flip around the track tiles while the train is on the track so it doesn't crash" to "dig up blade of grass to find coins" to Pac-Man converted into super mega hard mode with the possibility of crushing to attempting 3D tracks in 2D, endless MacGuffins, glitches, unavoidable obstacles, not even to mention some of the worst graphics and writing in any game. And this is supposed to be a kid's game.

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • Real-Time Strategy games in general have a very common bit of Surprise Difficulty when players used to multiplayer jump into a game against AI bots. Not even counting explicitly coded "enhancements", game-controlled AI is able to multitask and micromanage in ways that no human could match. So, maybe the computer isn't coded to explicitly know the most efficient build to ramp up to the top-tier units and instead ends up spamming mid-tier units that are typically skipped because they're Awesome, but Impractical; then all of a sudden these things that are skipped because they need such fine-tuning that they distract you from other priorities perfectly synch up abilities and you end up with an entire army/team locked down, out of power or outright dead, and those impractical units go on to crush your base before you can rebuild.

  • Defense of the Ancients: Oh that ranged carry (often Drow Ranger) looks so easy. All they have to do is just right click and boom. Then you get surprised as you're subsequently trashed with them. Compared to League of Legends, carries in Defense of the Ancients and Heroes of Newerth are MORE item-dependent.
    • Drow Ranger gets more damage if no enemy heroes are 400 units near of her. Considering there are alot of items to initiate and alot of heroes than can close the distance, this can be very hard to keep the distance. You can prevent that with a Shadow Blade of Blink Dagger, but dusts and sentries will spot you and Blink Dagger is immediately on cooldown for 3 seconds everytime an enemy hero hits you.
  • The bots in League of Legends. It's not uncommon to see people assume that since it's a bot game, they'll just dink around or that the other players wouldn't mind someone sabotaging the game. Except that only a few people seem to realize that bots are much better farmers than players are, it's impossible to stop them from farming, and that they receive items on a timer rather than having to actually buy them. So if you're stuck on a team full of players who prefer to just run laps around the map or play around thinking "Free win!", they'll wind up surprised when they're facing champions with thousands of HP and tons of armor on top of godlike reflexes, focus-firing skills, and crowd control.
    • Not to mention, if one doesn't entirely know what they're in for, they might be surprised on playing a champion to find that they're harder than they look.
    • Two words: Annie Bot. Here's a bot controlling a character whose entire playstyle is based on stunning you and offloading 3 high damage spells as fast as possible, with instant reflexes and impossible aim, and it gains free items that are always one step ahead of the player. Magic resist defeats this, but for the many players that don't want to sacrifice their damage to buy some defense, she is their worst nightmare.
    • Trundle Bot also manages to place that stupid environmental hazard in the worst possible spots.
    • Some players see a champion, either an ally who beats enemies up or are pummeled into oblivion by a champion (Usually a carry or assassin) and think they're easy. Then they realize that it's not that easy.
      • Note that this is usually because the champion seen has a very hard early and/or late phase (in exchange for an easy late and/or early phase), requires very specific items, requires lots of farm and/or enemy kills to get enough gold for their expensive items, requires very good map awareness and/or guesswork of enemy locations, requires very deep understanding of their skills and abilities or any combination of the above. It is quite easy to find first time users of such champions failing very, very hard.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time is a rather hilarious/cartoony casual tower defence game just like its predecessor. Unlike the first game, PVZ 2's difficulty is far greater. Several Zombies can easily destroy or disable even the toughest defensive plants, or have very irritating and dangerous abilities. Then there's worlds like Big Wave Beach, Jurassic Marsh, and Modern Day with world-specific mechanics that will make you tear your hair out. And then there's the extra levels for each world, which pretty much require leveled-up plants if you even want some semblance of moderate difficulty with them.

  • Aikatsu! is easier than most examples above, but the game itself is not a cakewalk despite the cute characters and lighthearted premise, especially for fans who watched the anime adaptation first. The just-as-strict timing judgements and quick timing events will make careless players fail. It gets worse with Aikatsu! Photo on Stage!!, its mobile game adaptation with gameplay and difficulty on par with Jubeat.
  • DanceDanceRevolution.
    • Hottest Party still caught a few gamers off guard who thought they knew the series and didn't read the instructions. And even the instructions don't tell you exactly how you're supposed to swing the Wii Mote and trying to figure out what do do with your hands easily messes up your steps. Added gimmick steps didn't help either.
    • Songs by jun as of recent. Yes, Silver Dream may be a pretty happy song, until you realize that it's a level ten boss song on expert.
    • Disney DDR. Should be a cakewalk, right? Admittedly, the songs aren't that terrible, but some of them ("Nobody's Perfect" by Miley Cyrus comes to mind) seem to be a lot harder than you'd expect from a Disney-themed DDR game.
    • Some first-time players have a perception that, since DDR doesn't punish you for hitting an arrow when not prompted, that must mean you can get a "good enough" score by randomly stomping around not paying attention to the screen and are surprised when it doesn't work. The technical explanation for this is there is a large "Almost" timing window that triggers if you hit an arrow with poor timing; even if the arrow is hit again, the poorly-timed hit (which drains health) has already applied.
  • Elite Beat Agents and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. Who would have guessed a Widget Series about dancing secret agents and male cheerleaders with Anime Hair could be so difficult? (Curse you, Canned Heat!)
    • Difficult doesn't cut it. The final level on easy is difficult, requiring at least three tries to do even somewhat well. The final level on hard difficulty will make your hand blur, your vision go fuzzy, and your loved ones begin thinking about staging an intervention. And Hard is about halfway up the difficulty levels.
    • And if the official games didn't make you cry enough, then osu! will.
  • Ooh, Gitaroo Man! It has all the things we've come to expect from an iNiS game: an odd premise, some awesome music...and hand-crushing difficulty. This game will give you thumb cramps on the harder levels.
  • Guitar Hero. Not all the really hard songs have titles like "Raining Blood" or "Hangar 18". Some of the nastiest songs are innocent sounding names like "Jessica" or "Trogdor". Be especially wary when there is no bassline, only two guitars.
  • HarmoKnight is meant to be a fun, happy game for the Nintendo 3DS. You'll swipe through each world with ease, but once you reach World 7 and World 8, you might even want to throw your 3DS out the window. (Don't think we like you, Final Trial!)
  • Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA stars Vocaloid Hatsune Miku, one of the best-known moe icons, and her friends. Despite the cute characters, however, This game is HARD. Of course, the difficulty makes sense when you consider that as Synthetic Voice Actors, Vocaloids are not bound by physical constraints and can effortlessly sing songs that would be impossible for humans.
  • Just Dance may count as well for the harder routines. People think the games are easy as all you have to do is to copy the dancer's moves. The harder routines feature very strenous and fast-paced dance moves ordinary people can't pull off easily.
  • Karaoke Revolution: many people mistake this for nothing more than a karaoke sim. What many of them don't realize is that the game will penalize you for "getting creative" with how you sing, and it's even possible to fail miserably on easy mode while playing a song you know if you don't have a feel for how much you need to match the pitch.
  • maimai, also known as "that washing machine game", has cutesy visuals and mascots, especially in entries made from 2018 onwards with the cafe mascots, but it is also known for its very high skill ceiling that can take a few years to reach.
  • Both Parappa The Rapper games. The characters and settings seem to be ripped straight out of a cartoon, along with the cheesy dialogue and aesops, but by the time you get past the halfway mark, just trying to stay with the rhythm of the buttons is hell.
  • pop'n music. A colorful, cute-looking game on the outside. It's not for kids, though not for the usual reason: it's a Nintendo Hard Rhythm Game with its share of Those One Bosses on the inside.
    • The difficulty of 9-key and 5-key have crept up over the years, but they're far from murderous, especially compared to IIDX's equivalents. EX, however, was made to kick butt and take names. Attempt it without lots of dedicated practice, and you get exactly what you deserve.
    • The "Toy Contemporary" boss song is quite un-boss-like, as well. It's basically a circus charge with kitten meowing thrown in.
  • Rhythm Heaven. Think WarioWare, only all the (mini)games are rhythm songs. Seems easy, huh? Wrong. Some of the games will prove to be pretty hard, and some requirements are INSANE. On some stages, getting as few as two misses results in a fail for the stage. Not a D grade, not some mild ridicule, absolute, abject failure. Oh, and the visuals never match the rhythm closely enough, so you MUST rely on the music or you will fail. Luckily, you can skip them all if you want after three tries, and you'll pass most games after some practice.
  • Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure is made by the same people as Project DIVA but a lot more story-based. Its gameplay is similar to the (also very tough) Rhythm Heaven series, only you are not penalized for being slightly off. Yet, it is still ridiculously difficult, as the designers love putting in tempo changes, random gameplay switches mid-stage, visual cues that you barely have time to react to, and rather lengthy memorization sequences that you then have to do to the music's rhythm.
  • Rock Band.
    • For guitar, you expect songs like ''Painkiller'' to be difficult, but you probably won't be expecting to get your ass kicked by songs like "Can't Be Tamed" or 'According to You', which, despite being radio-friendly pop songs, have blazing guitar solos that rival the harder Heavy Metal tracks.
    • For vocals, many pop songs in Nightmare Tier get this sort of reaction. "Good Vibrations" is a feel good surf rock song that makes you sing in a three octave range within a strange key amid bizarre lilting staccato-legato rhythm and almost no accompaniment. Then it slows down, makes you speak for a few measures, speeds up to a different speed and changes keys. Have fun!
    • LEGO Rock Band. Just because it's family friendly doesn't mean it isn't difficult; while they tried to cherry-pick easier songs to an extent and lowered the thresholds of the difficulty tiers to compensate, the charting standards are no different from the original game, so the solos to, for example, "The Final Countdown" and "In Too Deep" don't hold anything back on the Expert difficulty. To take the point further, one achievement asks the player to get 100% on the former's guitar solo on Expert, which is many times harder than any of the achievements in Rock Band 2.
  • A song-specfic example: Sound Voltex gives us "Nyan Cat". In Sound Voltex II, it gets an Infinite chart. The chart is rated a 15, the highest difficulty rating in the game at the time of the chart's releasenote .
  • Taiko no Tatsujin is another prime contender for this trope. Everything in the game is ridiculously cute. Not to mention the simple drum scheme where you only have to hit one at a time. But then we have songs like this. To say nothing of Joubutsu2000. Oni Mode indeed!
  • Vib-Ribbon. Take Parappa's gameplay, and add in the "choose your own tunes" aspect of Audiosurf. Therein lies the potential for some truly nightmarish levels. Did we mention that obstacles in Vib Ribbon tend to overlap when they scroll down the highway?
  • We Cheer as well. People won't expect a motion-controlled dancing game to be difficult. Don't forget to calibrate the controls (some have), but even then, the game only goes easy on the first few songs.

  • Agarest Senki: Not helped by a trailer heavily advertising it as an eroge dating sim first and a turn-based strategy game second. The game itself can be insanely hard with several difficult bosses, and even normal enemies can be tough, the game require wit to be well played, specially if you want to get the True Ending, which requires to end the game with less than 500 battles fought (giving little space to grind or hunt items) and keep your karma meter on Neutral.
  • Most games in the Atelier series are hit with this (except for those on PS2, which are more traditional JRPGs and look the part). The series has a Moe aesthetic and tends towards Slice of Life stories instead of epic, fate-of-the-world quests, but those expecting to have a relaxing time are in for a shock. If you don't master the complex Item Crafting mechanics that the series revolves around, enemies will quickly become much more powerful than you can handle. And in many of these games, you also have a time limit that prevents you from experimenting and messing around too much, or relying on level grinding to make up for your equipment. The protagonists are all Item Caddies who deal most of their damage by throwing limited-supply bombs, which in most games are replenished by crafting (consuming more of your limited time). Once you found the right balance between crafting and exploring, the Superbosses are there to ruin your day, posing a Nintendo Hard challenge that will annihilate any player that doesn't have the best possible equipment.
    • Even by the standards of Atelier, the Spin-Off title Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World took many players by surprise with its complexity and challenge. The game's marketing led many to expect a Facebook-style Casual Game driven more by Fanservice than actual gameplay. In truth, it's a deep and complex town-building simulator where the goals you have to meet are sometimes brutally difficult (especially the eighth and ninth missions, which have sent many new players towards the bad ending). And while the most recent Atelier games before its release had removed the Timed Mission aspect, it's back in full force here.
  • Bug Fables is a cutesy for the most part, all-ages game with a Paper Mario-inspired storybook look to it. It also asks quite a bit from the player, such as action commands generally being faster than the ones from its inspiration, basic enemy encounters being able to beat the unprepared, strategy with managing the trio's strengths and weaknesses, and difficult side-content, the Devourer especially being considered one of the hardest bosses in the game. This is all without equipping the Hard Mode Medal. Much of the equipment also comes with some sort of tradeoff, so carelessly dumping all stats in to Medal Points and bulking up on them with no strategy is not an option to breeze through the game.
  • The Dragon Quest series of RPGs have artwork by Akira Toriyama and a general Pokémon-style look to the settings, but the games are regarded as some of the hardest JRPGs, though Dragon Quest V tends to be one of the easier installments (it's followed by the harder Dragon Quest VI, however). Remakes tend to tone down the difficulty a bit, though the games still stay challenging (just less so than the original versions).
    • Dragon Quest XI plays a bit of a dirty trick here. After the credits roll, a lot of the enemies in the game suddenly grow very powerful, despite this being one of those rare games where the defeat of the final boss sticks post credits. In particular, the bird you zapped in the game's tutorial is back, and it is very, VERY angry. It does not care that you are strong enough to defeat the final boss, it is out for BLOOD!
  • Etrian Odyssey may have cute character designs, beautiful dungeons, and a pretty game interface full of relaxing blues and greens. Looks much easier on the eyes than Atlus's other big RPG franchise Shin Megami Tensei so it can't be that hard, right? Haha, wrong. Beneath that surface lies a device-tossingly challenging RPG series filled with difficult Random Encounters, even harder Pre Existing Encounters called "FOEs" that will instantly destroy any party unlucky or stupid enough to run into one, a Skill Scores and Perks system that's easy for those without critical thinking skills to mess up leaving them with poorly-built characters, and a brutal in-game economy that basically says "Oh, you're back from dungeon exploring? Inn healing, one piece of new equipment, consumable supplies: Pick one." To put it this way: It is not uncommon for series beginners to go into the first floor of any given game and get party-wiped by a random encounter there. This series will test the patience and determination of many gamers, from kids who think the game is suited for them to adults expecting the game to be a pushover. It is rather telling that it took four games for the developers to finally add an easy mode for those who like the concept of the game but don't want to put in the arduous amount of blood, sweat, and tears needed to complete the game at the series' traditional level of difficulty, especially its Post-End Game Content. Some even consider it to be harder than Shin Megami Tensei, which is saying a lot.
  • Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales. Really hard minigames (at least some of them) and The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard during the card battle segments (specifically, it can see your hand, while you can only see the colors of its cards). To put it in more perspective, most of the non-plot-essential minigames (and a decent chunk of the plot-essential ones, too!) are Luck Based Missions, The CPU in the card battles doesn't just know what cards you have, but what card you're going to play, and those minigames that aren't entirely up to chance require Jedi-like reflexes to get a decent score on. Keep in mind that this game was marketed as Lighter and Softer than the mainstream Final Fantasy games.
  • Final Fantasy XIII, particularly to those who played the first hour or two of the game and thought "The battles fight themselves? Where's the challenge in this?!" (or are going by word-of-mouth of someone who criticized the game for that reason). Then a few hours later you have added paradigms for each character that you will be required to switch to defeat enemies efficiently, followed by many encounters that will completely slaughter you if you don't know how to utilize said paradigms well.
  • Five Nights at Fuckboy's. You wouldn't expect a crude, foul mouthed and raunchy parody of Five Nights at Freddy's to be difficult, but the Mooks can hit pretty hard, there's an Absurdly Low Level Cap, the bosses can be hard even at maximum level and are frequently meaty ones as well, and this isn't even factoring in different difficulty levels.
  • The obscure game Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja for the Nintendo DS has bright, cartoonish graphics, a light-hearted comedy storyline, and simple controls...but it's also a Roguelike, and therefore completely merciless. Older gamers will take note of the fact that it's published by Atlus, who are pretty notorious for Nintendo Hard games. To show how far it goes; in most rpgs, you can Level Grind to beat anything. In Izuna, even at level 99 the final dungeon can be a nightmare. Compared to many other Roguelikes, this is pretty easy as the heroine maintains her levels even after being defeated. It does have a dungeon which drops your level to 1 and requires you to bring no items at the start of it for that old school feeling.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • In Kingdom Hearts, you can get reamed on easy if you're not prepared for some bosses or are just hitting the attack button (specially in the case of Sephiroth in the first game, who is probably the hardest boss, but is available way before it can be reasonably expected to beat him). This is especially true in the early game where you can only stock like three potions and don't know Cure, so healing is limited. This continues in all the later games too.
    • Zexion in Re: Chain of Memories can be this. In the original game and even in his character entry in II he was implied to be a coward and not a particularly good fighter, and infamously ended up being a Cutscene Boss. The remake gives him a boss battle that's way harder than any player would anticipate, with a deck stocked exclusively with high-level cards that steal cards from Riku and track him acros the arena, making card breaks the only way to save your cards, and a sleight that summons a tornado in the center of the arena that pulls Riku towards it and steals three cards everytime Riku gets near. And when he's stolen enough cards he proceeds to creates three copies of himself and relentlessly attack you with a barrage of devastating sleights or bum-rushing you using his newly acquired Lightning Bruiser abilities. And even if you manage to dispel the clones he'll place fake cards in your decks that will stun you when you try to use them. To put things in perspective, this is the only fight in the entire campaign where Riku has unlimited access to his Dark Mode, and Zexion still manages to be a challenge.
    • II is considered to be easier than I. Even Sephiroth is debatably easier here than in KHI. That is until you play the Final Mix version of the game, which offers a fourth difficulty setting that makes it possible to beat the entire game at level one. Even if you manage to beat the (even harder) Absent Silhouettes and the Data Organization XIII superboss battles in the Bonus Dungeon and you think there's nothing else that could possibly top that, there's still the Lingering Will. Get this: At level 99, endgame Min-Maxing, the Decisive Pumpking or the Ultima Weapon, Normal/Easy mode and Second Chance; he will kill you if you don't know how to approach him. Not even Sephiroth was this extreme.
    • 358/2 Days will offer to take pity on you by lowering the difficulty level if you continuely fail on a certain boss. Leechgrave in Halloween Town often requires such pity.
    • As some of the Headscratchers for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep show, don't walk into that game expecting something light.
    • Even veteran players were surprised by the difficulty of Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]. It features several boss rushes, your abilities are tied to your Dream Eaters (so your more useful abilities like Second Chance, Once More, and Leaf Bracer require a bit of know-how to get), and normal enemies can kill you very quickly if you're not careful. Many consider it to be the most difficult Kingdom Hearts game yet.
    • Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage- puts all of the previous KH games to shame with its Critical Mode. Critical Mode has the same AI difficulty as Proud Mode, and comes with your usual Halved HP nerf. But to make up for the same Difficulty from enemies in Proud Mode, Critical has new restrictions that make up the real challenge for the difficulty setting, these being: Only 3 items can be used in a Boss Fight and they are greyed out afterwards, HP/MP/Focus Orbs are no longer dropped by anything in the game, and Combo Master, Leaf Bracer, and Second Chance are no longer equipped. This means all you really have at your disposal besides your current offensive abilities are few items, Once More and your own skill to defend you, and because you have Once More equipped but not Second Chance, usually the harder bosses can one shot you if the hits they give you aren't one of a combo. Definitely the most difficult Critical Mode in a KH game to date.
    • At this point, one has to wonder a little why people would still be fooled enough by the Disney logo to go into the game thinking it'd be easy.
  • The Legend Of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC has a bright and colourful artstyle with chibi sprites. And its prequel, and sequels, aren't that difficult, so it can't be that bad, right? Wrong. The game is tough even on Normal, but Hard multiplies enemy stats to such an extent that most people only recommend it for New Game Plus runs. It's common for players to spend dozens of attempts before beating it, and on Nightmare the Prologue's boss is generally considered Unwinnable if you don't use your resources in a very specific way. Many bosses use specific tactics that are designed to screw with you, abuse of the Turn Order Bonuses is required to outlast many chest monsters/sidequest bosses, and just about everything on the Liber Ark wants you dead.
  • Monster Girl Quest! might be a series of H-games, but the gameplay is genuinely challenging, especially on higher difficulties. The original trilogy has relatively simple combat (it's more of a visual novel/RPG hybrid), but many of the battles require the player to conserve their SP, know when to heal and which spirits to use. Monster Girl Quest! Paradox RPG takes this further, with a much more complex combat systemnote , more difficulty levels and even an entire Bonus Dungeon, the Labyrinth of Chaos, for those players looking for extra challenge. At higher difficulties and/or in the Labyrinth of Chaos, enemies can one-shot unwary players while being quite tough to kill themselves.
  • The Mother trilogy looks simple and cartoony, but all three games have some serious difficulty. EarthBound Beginnings consistently goes up in difficulty, although there's a couple of major spikes at Duncan's Factory (due mostly to its size) and Mt. Itoi (the enemies being way harder than anywhere else in the game). EarthBound, despite being much better than its predecessor, had random Difficulty Spikes throughout the game. Mother 3 finally settled for a consistent difficulty, and while the regular enemies aren't too bad, the bosses will mash you.
  • The Neopets RPG, NeoQuest. You really wouldn't expect an RPG based on cute animals to be so difficult, especially since the first dungeon is so disarmingly easy.
    • NeoQuest II's difficulty takes a turn for the nasty as you get closer and closer to Meridell Castle and Ramtor's Tower. And Meridell is the first world (of 5).
  • Nocturne: Rebirth qualifies less for its graphics (though no enemy has a horrifying appearance by JRPG standards and some are quite cute) and more for the outward appearance of its battle system. At first glance, the battle system makes the game look like a typical ATB experience that won't be too different from early Final Fantasy games or "cookie-cutter" RPG Maker games. This turns out not to be the case due to how the game adds several unusual mechanics and reinvents some of the traditional RPG mechanics, forcing experienced RPG players to adapt and learn. Additionally, the protagonist is considered a powerful vampire in the story, but the party will still struggle against bosses due to how healing is balanced so that slow HP regeneration is easy while instant HP recovery is difficult, making it hard to stay alive in long battles.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door definitely qualifies for this trope, despite everything looking like a cardboard cutout. While the first Paper Mario wasn't too difficult, provided you pay attention and learn the game mechanics, this game ramps up the difficulty quite a bit. Bosses having tons of HP and having at least one attack that can do massive damage to the party, being forced at one point to go alone when Doopliss steals Mario's body and his allies, and enemies inflicting nasty status ailments such as Freeze, Sleep, and Stop, which can end your game if you're not careful.
    • Similarily, the Mario & Luigi RPGs (except Superstar Saga) were pretty deceptive about their difficulty. They have bright, Mario-typical graphics, but the enemies and bosses can get very deadly if you don't master the battle-mechanics of dodging and countering attacks.
    • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team takes this up even further. You thought this was going to be about the same difficulty as the last games? Think again. This one is much harder still (although you can go easy mode if you lose a fight). For example, some attacks need to be dodged with the circle pad now and attacks can hit much harder. And the giant bosses? Not basically glorified cutscenes this time around, with the second or third giant boss of Dream Team being on par with the last two from Bowser's Inside Story.
      • For extra fun, try Hard Mode. No retrying fights, cap of ten on every item, shorter windows for action commands, and yes, the Giant Battles get harder too, to the point that the rematches in the late-game Battle Arena demand absolute perfection just to clear them.
    • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam drops the difficulty a little bit when compared to the previous game but it is still difficult. This is mostly due to the addition of a third character who, unlike the two from the second game, is completely independent of the two Mario Bros. and makes dodging attacks much harder, especially attacks that hit multiple characters.
  • Pokémon Yellow is significantly harder than the Red and Blue versions. All the Gym Leaders and rival battles have new, more powerful teams, and since you start out with Pikachu, the game takes a jump into the wilderness of Nintendo Hard when you find out that the first Gym Leader you have to face is Brock.
    • Brock was actually made weaker than in the originals. They also made several Pokémon that could easily roundhouse his team (such as Mankey) available early. There are also the male and female Nidoran. In this game, they earn Double Kick very early, so you can beat Brock with a Nidoran very easily. And they're found in the same place as Mankey. Then you come up to Misty (who as a water type leader should be weak to Pikachu) and find she is terrifyingly strong even with Pikachu.
    • Speaking of Pokémon, older players should remember Pokémon Stadium and its sequel, which were focused on battling hordes of AI trainers under some pretty fiendish conditions (such as using only baby Pokémon, randomly selected Pokémon, level limits, etc.). Round 1 in both games tended to be difficult as the player progressed and would require legitimate skill to beat, but most of it wasn't too bad. Round 2 bordered on Nintendo Hard, suffering from frustrating AI and the general feeling that it was pretty much made for the "Stop Having Fun" Guy sector of the fanbase.
      • The Stadium games were even worse if you didn't have a Transfer Pak to bring your Pokémon over from the Game Boy games and thus had to rely on the crappy rental Pokémon.
    • Diamond and Pearl seem to have an accidental case of difficulty. Due to the fact that Sinnoh's region dex had little variety, the Gym Leaders and Elite Four didn't had enough of their chosen type to actually fill a team, and the resulting loosely connected replacements (Playboy Bunny on the fire team? Sure it's "hot" but...) make them impossible to sweep with a single move like the past 3 generations.
      • Thankfully, much of this was fixed in Platinum. Extra mons were added to the Sinnoh dex, allowing the Gym leaders and Elite Four members to have teams consisting entirely of their type, in addition to allowing more variety in the player's team.
      • Not to mention, the updated movesets caught a lot of people off guard because they wouldn't expect almost every Pokémon available to have a move to use when fighting its weakness. Ah, using a Luxray on me? Well Torterra, I think it's time to use Earthqua-ICE FANG?! How'd you get that?!
    • Likewise, HeartGold and SoulSilver, with the added bonus of being Video Game Remakes and therefore most fans thinking they have a pretty good idea of the difficulty level to expect. They'd be wrong. The Gym Leaders actually employ advanced tactics (while not as bad as actual Sporepunch, Hypnosispunch still hurts), now have abilities that they put to good effect (you can no longer avoid Miltank's Stomp by using a Ghost-type as its ability lets it ignore Ghost's immunity to Normal-type moves), have teams with perfect IVs (Kanto even had its non-Gym trainers' levels raised because the whole region was otherwise a curb stomp), and the final boss now has even higher levels.
      • The simple matter of Houndoom getting one new move (Nasty Plot) in the generation shift made Elite Four Karen much, much harder than she was before, which often comes as a shock to players of the originals.
    • Pokémon Black and White actually surprised a few, but after Gen IV's Sequel Difficulty Spike we knew what to expect so the updated movesets didn't catch people off guard. Instead, it's the improved AI that uses more instances of Artificial Brilliance outside of important trainers. Even Pokémon Rangers (default trainer classes) use techniques such as baiting and switching.
    • Pokémon X and Y would also qualify for some who think the ease in overlevelling is a bit over the top. After being overlevelled for a while, you'll probably forget that important trainers are still no slouch when it comes to making educated guesses about type relations and strategic move combinations, and if you don't use any of the ways you can get overleveled, you will find that the game is still as difficult as the past two generations. Specific examples would be Viola and Grant, the first two gym leaders, because most Bug/Rock gym leaders in previous games suffered from Poor, Predictable Rock, and these two don't, or at least not to the same extent. (More specifically, Viola has the Bug/Water Surkit to annoy anyone bringing in a Fire-Type, while Grant's Rock/Ice and Rock/Dragon types counter or resist a couple of Rock's common weaknesses.) And if you forego the Exp Share entirely, X and Y become some of the hardest games in the series; particularly in the late game, trainers' Pokémon are high-leveled enough to easily punish anyone who hasn't been using it.
    • Pokémon Sun and Moon ups the difficulty by removing some of the ways you could become overpowered in X And Y and nerfing the ones it keeps. The addition of the new SOS system means wild Pokémon battles can become two on one battles at any time. The game also removes gyms and replaces the leaders with Totem Pokémon; they have a Status Buff added at the start of the battle which generally increase whatever their most prominent stat is, or all of them. They can also use the SOS system and the Pokémon they summon allow them to use double battle strategies against you and they are not afraid to use them. And unlike Mega Evolution in X and Y, which only 2 bosses in the game used against you, there are many opponents who use Z-Moves, some of them being regular trainers.
    • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: Due to the open world nature of these games and the lack of level scaling, many challenges will be absolutely brutal if you choose to take them on early. However, even if you stick to the level curve many of the story events can be pretty challenging. As far as gym challenges go, most players will come across at least one they thought was pretty tough. Though the difficulty REALLY gets amped up with the Team Star bosses, who all send out a Revaroom as their last Pokemon, though it's not a Revaroom so much as a giant Pokemon-powered vehicle that has a Revaroom strapped to the front for some reason. These things soak up tons of damage and give back just as much, and it'll likely take multiple Pokemon to bring down even when you have a type advantage.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is similar - nice, kid-friendly license plus roguelike gameplay = at least it's merciful when you die, to the point of allowing for other players to rescue you like in most of the games labeled Mystery Dungeon.
  • Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, mechanically a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, also has bright cartoonish graphics and a plot about Idol Singers... but don't let that fool you, the gameplay is as Nintendo Hard as you'd expect from its two parent franchises.
  • Undertale may look cutesy and the tagline is "The Friendly RPG Where Nobody has to Die", but don't let those elements fool you. Battles use bullet hell segments when you are attacked and the gimmicks ramp up in difficulty as you face off against the bosses. And if you attempt to utilize Video Game Cruelty Potential to the fullest, the game will make you pay, badly.
  • Gaia Online's zOMG is meant to be a casual MMO, and so it's fairly easy for the first few zones. But by the time you enter the Zen Gardens zone the difficulty starts ramping up. Charge Orbs (EXP) and Rings (Skills) both randomly drop, only a few of the enemies in the game don't attack you on sight, and the game is designed in such a way that if you don't form a crew, you probably aren't going to last very long. (Admittedly, the game is still in the testing phases, so this is subject to change). Not to mention some of the instanced levels such as The Hive World, The Gauntlet, and The Shallow Sea scale based on your CL, so that an enemy will always be the same relative level to you. This includes the final boss. zOMG is a very fun game featuring a vibrant colorful world, high levels of character customization, and a fun story, and it's easy to pick up. But do not mistake this for an easy game you can breeze right through. If you want that Scarf of Asskicking, you've got to work for it!

    It gets worse; the way the final boss used to work, if when your team of 6 got their asses handed to them, one could stay behind and keep the boss at its current health while the other five went back and restored their health and stamina. Then they were faced by the 107 missiles that the boss spawned while you were going through the run again. It wasn't really that good, since after three hours, people kind of had to leave to take a break from the last ten hours spent on the "casual" MMO. It wasn't really that effective, unless you were really fast, since the boss tended to restore health anyway, but at least you didn't have to start all the way over from the beginning of the boss fight...but wait, the new update changed it that if all six crew members are dazed, you're escorted out of the room! And this is all if your computer can handle Shallow Seas without lagging and dying, anyway. Given that you more than likely have to beat the first chapter to make it to the second chapter...people are going to be pissed.

    Shoot 'em Up 
  • Play modern Bullet Hell games for long enough and you'll be in for a shock when you play older, "classical" Shoot 'Em Up games. Fans who are used to Bullet Hell may attempt older shmups, expecting the difficulty to be cakewalk due to the lower bullet count, only to get sniped in the ship-sized hitbox by fast bullets into a quick Game Over; Raiden is notorious for "sniper" enemies that can kill the player with almost no advance warning. Labyrinthine level designs with Deadly Walls, like those in R-Type can also be very difficult for players accustomed to the open, wall-less stages of most bullet hell games. Last but not least, many older shmups have Check Points rather than respawning in place, as well as depriving you of most or all of your powerups upon death; while dying in Touhou or other Bullet Hell games typically only results in a slight drop (if any) in power alongside the life loss and scoring enhancements (if you're playing for score), dying even once in Gradius, for example, means losing all of your remaining lives in the 30 seconds if you do not have the skill to pull through wherever you just died in spite of your total loss of powerups. Even the Bullet Hell entries from long-running "classical" shooter series tend to carryover those fast bullet velocities, depriving many players at the hardest settings possible.

  • Beat Hazard can generate some surprisingly difficult sessions from certain audio files.
  • The "Cute 'em Up" sub-genre, a variation of the Shoot em Ups and Bullet Hell genres, with everything replaced with cute cartoon creatures, like bunnies, penguins, and kitties. Rarely localized outside of Japan, and then usually just in PAL regions, those unfamiliar with these games may think these games would be easy or even "kiddie". Don't do that!
    • Touhou Project might very well be the most well known example. Fans know what to expect. Those who aren't go in for the loads of cute little girls in frilly dresses living in a cheerful fairy land, only to find out at about level 2 or 3 that these little girls love shooting enough ordnance to carpet bomb the entire United States. And Touhou is actually not particularly hard compared to other games that would fit this entry.
    • The Kiki Kai Kai series, a game where the eponymous characters are a Chibi Miko and a raccoon dog, is one of the few to be localized in North America under the Market-Based Title of Pocky & Rocky.
    • The Parodius is a light-hearted, colorful take on Konami's other shoot-em-up mainstay Gradius - and is just as Nintendo Hard.
    • And Otomedius. First stage, easy. Second stage, not too painful. Third and fourth stages, painful. The remaining stages will tear your lungs out.
  • Everyday Shooter is a cool-looking little indie game. Despite its simple graphics, the game is much harder than it looks.
  • Similar to Audiosurf, Space Invaders Infinity Gene can generate different stages based on whatever song you selected for your iPhone, leading to stages that are easier or harder than they look. That, being a smartphone game, the cramped screens makes it even harder.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Advance Wars gives us a lovable Idiot Hero as a main character, with the sisterly Nell teaching him how to battle a bumbling bearded villain named Olaf in a cutesy cartoonish setting that treats the battles as if they're a good natured game of chess. Shit gets very real VERY fast as soon as the other enemy COs roll up to the party, and assuming you survive those battles, don't even think of breathing a sigh of relief when you see Olaf is your opponent again...
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is usually scoffed as a Lighter and Softer version of the more grim Final Fantasy Tactics, but many players can easily get caught off guard with the harder missions that can have nasty enemy setups as well as laws (rules that dictate what you can and cannot do) that can make some fights very difficulty. Final Fantasy Tactics A2 retains the same colorful style and harder fights.
  • In the Fire Emblem franchise, the seriousness of the game's plot or overall tone has very little relevance to the game's difficulty. Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War is considered by many to be the darkest game of the franchise, with a tragically deconstructive story, but its gameplay sacrifices difficulty for atmosphere. Meanwhile, Fire Emblem Engage is bright, goofy, cheery, and full of fanservice for long-time fans of the series... which is why, like most of the older games, its higher difficulties are no joke.

  • Amazon Trail is an Edutainment Game. It should not be this hard to get 100 percent completion!!
    • What makes this one (and its sequels, which are no easier) so difficult is that there's certain things that can only be gotten at certain points in the game. For example, in Amazon Trail II, if you don't happen to pick up the basket or mask at certain stops along the way, you're straight out of luck, as they are the only places they can be traded for.
  • In a non-children's version of this trope, the maker of the Avernum games got sick of people complaining that Torment mode was too easy. Well, Be Careful What You Wish For—as of the fifth game, on Torment a mere oversized wolf can have an HP of 4,000, with you lucky to deal 100 damage per hit.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – Into the Inferno is meant to be played by two players controlling two characters. If you play it solo, the battles are quite difficult as it's easy to be overwhelmed by enemies.
  • The art-style for The Battle Cats is cartoony, you control an army of cute cats and characters who fight other enemies with said cartoony art-style and the Google Play Store even lists this game in the "Casual" genre. How hard can it be? To keep it brief, if you don't use the correct cats and don't create a solid strategy, then you will be overrun by the many, many stages that use and, in some of them, spam Demonic Spiders, most of which are Degraded Bosses who usually avert Villain Forgot to Level Grind, like no tomorrow.
  • Club Penguin:
    • The Bean Counters minigame. All you do is catch bags of coffee beans and place them on the other side. Easy, right? Wrong. By the time you reach levels 4 and 5, the game takes a huge Difficulty Spike as anvils, flowerpots, and fish rain heavily upon you as you attempt to unload the coffee truck.
    • The hidden candy mode has extra Expert and Extreme modes, and also reveals that Hard is the easiest difficulty in the game.
  • Cooking Mama appears as a very cutesy easy game... that is until you try to get gold medals in every recipe. Midway through the game it becomes almost impossible, since you have to be PERFECT in every step and even missing the most insignificant part of a minigame results into a silver medal. There's also a good share of Fake Difficulty: play it too much and you'll get hungry!
  • DK: King of Swing wasn't too hard, so you'd expect DK: Jungle Climber not to be to hard either; but the game had some surprises.
  • Katamari Forever is a brightly colored, cartoonish game that revolves around trying to roll up objects into giant balls, with an appropriately catchy J-Pop soundtrack to match. But there are some levels that will humiliate you repeatedly, such as the stage in which you have to achieve a certain temperature. To add insult to injury, the game characters themselves will snark on your poor performance!
    • The Katamari games tend to have a lot of That One Level. This goes back to the original Katamari Damacy with the Prince rolling up one bear and one cow. And a milk carton is a cow. A MILK CARTON!
  • The cartoony appearance of Kerbal Space Program, and the zany hijinks in many of the advertisements, can leave new players unprepared for the game's complicated controls and counterintuitive physics. Just getting into orbit around your home planet, a trivial task in most space games, is surprisingly difficult—an actual astronaut and engineer tried to do it with help from an experienced player, and still failed the first couple of times. Exploring the whole solar system is, needless to say, quite challenging.
  • Anyone jumping into Little Witch Nobeta expecting a cute little adventure with cute little girls will be in for a rude awakening when this Souls-like Third-Person Shooter hybrid proceeds to beat this cute little witch up like a ragdoll. And while the common Mook's are bad enough, the bosses are downright sadistic with their challenge that require a precise understanding of the games systems to beat, and that's before taking Monica into account.
  • Lovely Planet may look cheerful and has visuals often compared to Katamari Damacy, but it's also a challenging First-Person Shooter that requires good aim, reflexes, first-person platforming skills, and planning in order to clear levels.
  • WayForward's Mighty series. All Puzzle Platformer games. All starring a cute girl (each providing their own brand of fanservice). All hell in their own way.
    • Mighty Flip Champs! is simple enough in theory. Rescue all of the animals while traversing dimensions (flipping) that can be seen on both DS screens. Despite the only enemies being spikes and your own hand, it's still VERY easy to die continuously. And that's not even getting into getting S ranks.
    • Mighty Milky Way involves jumping/destroying and creating planets while trying your best to get from the start of a stage, to the exit portal. Death Is a Slap on the Wrist... for good reason. Starting in the middle of World 2, the "puzzle" part of the game shows its colors, and you'd better be prepared for precise placement and timing, lest you fail, die, and have to restart the stage...
    • Mighty Switch Force! involves catching prison escapees while switching between what platforms can and can't be used for standing, shooting, etc. Sounds and looks simple enough, but Surprise Difficulty kicks in once you start getting levels with fewer checkpoints, forced switching, less legroom to avoid enemies, cannon maze levels, or any combination of the four.
  • Nintendo Land. If you thought it would be easy because it's a Casual Video Game, DON'T. The first one or two levels on any given solo or team attraction are usually a cakewalk. After that, good luck. These games will hand your ass to you several times over. And then there are the Brutal Bonus Levels... To give you an example of how bad they get, in the Legend Of Zelda: Battle Quest attraction, Ganon is a Degraded Boss.
  • Overcooked! may have a cute and cartoony art style and easy to pick-up controls, but easy is it not. You're constantly trying to send out orders as quickly as possible. Between prep work, cooking, sending out dishes, and then cleaning the dirty plates (not to mention stage gimmicks!), this turns a simple time-management cooking game into a chaotic co-op experience that is demanding with coordination between you and your friends.
  • The Pretty Cure games for the GBA are, well, Pretty Cure games, presumably expected to be played by little girls. The first one's a platforming Teamwork Puzzle Game, starting out mind-numbingly easy and getting more complex as a fairly reasonable rate...and it continues doing so way further than you might expect. And then, when you beat the game, you unlock another full set of levels as a "hard mode" of sorts, where the rise in difficulty continues almost-uninterrupted (level 51 is easy, as there's really no way they could have made level 1 hard). Somewhere in the seventies, you will begin to cry.
  • Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon features a minigame inside it known as Bear Stormin', which features you piloting a plane through an Auto-Scrolling Level. You have to keep your fuel up as high as you can by hitting balloons to regain some, while avoiding obstacles that take away some and objects that kill you in one hit. If you run out of fuel, you won't die instantly, but you won't be able to fly anymore. The first ten or so levels (of 47) aren't too terrible and are even the level of easiness you would expect in a kids' game, but the difficulty goes through the roof after that. Objects eventually start to fly in all directions, some fly the other direction, others change direction mid-flight, and some will just suddenly fly at you for no reason at all. Oh yeah, you only get three lives to make it through this too, which is painful because the later levels are long. Thankfully it is possible to save anywhere you want to, but if you really don't feel challenged enough, you can also try the recycled version in Putt-Putt & Fatty Bear's Activity Pack, which ups the ante even more. There are now 75 levels instead of 47, and no ability to save! You can skip by 16-level increments depending on which of the four difficulties you pick, but no continues otherwise. Seriously, when did they expect kids to make it through this?
  • Robot Unicorn Attack. It's just what you'd expect in terms of theme, but if your reflexes are a quarter second too late you're done for.
  • Rugrats: Royal Ransom on Reptar Tough difficulty is insanely hard at many points, to the point where it'd be hard to expect an adult to beat it easily, much less a small child.
  • The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary is an Edutainment Game aimed at grade school kids. The "Tax Factor" minigame requires enough algebra to stump adults regularly, unless you play as B. Ginner and invite Easy-Mode Mockery.
  • The Simpsons Hit & Run can be surprisingly nasty, with tight timelimits, difficult objectives, and a tendency for the game to force you to use the worst possible vehicle for the job. The Difficulty Spike in the final few missions is near legendary.
  • Super Mario Party: Sound Stage looks fun to play, but then there is the Remix difficulty. You think you are going to have 6 rhythm games in one right? Well, after just about 3 rhythm games you played, you're wrong, as the screen goes to black and has the message saying "Faster!". Now that is when things start to get really tough.
  • Visual novels are not the kind of game one would expect to have much difficulty with, but Virtue's Last Reward, the second game in the Zero Escape series, has some of the most mind-bogglingly difficult puzzles and challenges ever created in a video game. As if simply getting through the escape rooms normally isn't challenging enough, good luck trying to get those Golden Files (and by extension, the secret bonus ending) without a guide. Thankfully, each level features an easy mode where the party offers hints for the player if they are having trouble.
  • Go away and try and get the achievements in the bowling practice games in Wii Sports. We'll be here when you get back... in a few months time of non-stop attempts.
  • Winnie the Pooh's Home Run Derby. It's Winnie the Pooh batting against his woodland friends... who throw incredibly fast, erratic, hard-to-hit balls. After the first few rounds the pitches start explicitly breaking the laws of physics. It's hailed as one of the toughest sports games ever.

    Non-Video Games 


  • A Running Gag in the Sherlock Holmes stories is Holmes making snide comments about the various creative liberties that Dr. Watson takes with his records of their cases, with Holmes feeling that they should be dry academic studies of his exploits in deductive logic rather than the mysteries, thrillers and adventures that Watson turns them into. "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" is one of the few tales narrated from Holmes's first-person perspective, apparently after Watson got a bit fed up with this and challenged Holmes to Let's See YOU Do Better!, and it opens with Holmes conceding that taking one of his investigations and turning it into a narrative people are actually interested to read is actually harder than he gave Watson credit for.

TV Shows and animation

  • Pretty much any Quiz and Stunt Game Show. Most think it can be a walk in the park to easily beat something you can trounce through easily with your skill and knowledge. It isn't, especially if they give out big money, especially in front of millions of viewers, and especially if those millions of viewers could put you in an Epic Fail montage if you fail horribly. Naturally, these kinds of shows are made to be as difficult as possible so that the show doesn't have to constantly pay out the nose for prizes won every single day.
  • Teams on The Amazing Race, even those who have been fans of the series for years, have finished the first leg in shock of how difficult the Race actually is. This could be in part that, while very little of the travel portions are shown on TV, teams can sometimes spend hours looking for flights to their next destination, and all the sitting around and waiting doesn't help either.
  • Another kids Game Show; Eliminator. The Easy questions were your typical kids TV fare. Your Normal questions were hard for a kids gameshow, but not too bad since the kids got to choose what difficulty level of question to answer based on the category...the hard questions, on the other hand, would be considered at the very least tricky on an adult gameshow. Arguably justified by the fact the top prize was a Safari, and kids could quit before answering hard pointers (which became almost a requirement to stay in the game), but to the point that adult gameshow fans have stated that they would only go for hard in categories they're extremely strong (...And, at that, reluctantly) in unless they absolutely have to - assuming they were on an adult adaptation of the show that kept the same (non-relative) question difficulty?
  • Fast Money in Family Feud. Sure you can't help but laugh or facepalm when someone says a stupid answer to a question with an obvious number one answer. But when you actually play for yourself, you realize you only get four seconds per question. The tight time constraint can really make it hard to focus and come up with logical answers.
  • The kids Game Show Knightmare qualifies, especially in earlier years, having 8 winners across 8 seasons, and no winners in seasons 1 and 3. To be fair, it was based on a desire to be a televised version of a mid-80s fantasy RPG, and as such a bit of Nintendo Hard is to be expected...but to the point that there are still debates, by fans of the show who are now adults, as to what the correct solution to some of the challenges was? And riddles that required surprisingly in-depth knowledge of Arthurian legend?
  • Legends of the Hidden Temple. The final temple run didn't look that hard, as long as the kid was in decent shape. It was a maze of 12 rooms, each of which had some minor task to do, which ranged from laughably easy (The Throne of the Pretender was sit on the throne,) to kind of difficult (The Shrine of the Silver Monkey was a three-piece puzzle, which seems to stump everyone.) However, the show had a less than 25% success rate. Why? Temple Guardians, that's why. 3 were placed in random rooms and there was no indication as to where or when they would pop up. Usually, they were unavoidable, regardless of what path you took. Sometimes you would even be caught by one in the unskippable first room. Basically, if you didn't earn all those Pendants of Life in the challenges, and the path you chose just happened to go past 2 or 3 guardians, failure would be the only possible outcome for your team.
    • Another one was the Jester's Court - that wasn't a very fair task, because you could see people having an easy time with it, but that was because they had to hit all the buttons at once; and that wasn't easy if you were short.
  • Many viewers of The Masked Singer have claimed that the show looks extremely easy. All you have to is dress up and keep yourself hidden from the judges, right? Well, the costumes are known to be extremely hot and heavy (and many singers often dance as well) to the point where several singers have reported breathing issues. In addition, many of the costumes are also extremely hard to see out of as well.
  • Password as well as its variants (Plus, Super and Million Dollar). As lampshaded by Ludden, it's harder than it looks. Because you see the word written right in front of you, many people accidentally read the word by mistake. This is very similar to the Stroop effect.
  • The Price Is Right catches many people off guard when they become contestants on the show. People tend to think the show is easy (probably because they can easily look up prices of products through Google as the show is playing on TV) and how they would never make the same stupid mistakes people on the show do. It isn't until you get to actually play the games on the show that you are under the pressure of guessing the general price range of a car with a limited amount of chances or trying to correctly guess the prices of four prizes in a strict time limit while running around on stage with the price tags in your hands. The more focused contestants tend to do better than the ones who let their excitement take control.
  • In-universe example in the Sonic Boom episode, "Fuzzy Puppy Buddies"; The Fuzzy Puppies board game is implied to be a lot more sophisticated and difficult to learn than the name and theme suggest. The playing pieces are adorable puppy figures that each have their own unique ability, they can be equipped with cute hats that also bestow different abilities, you need to have a balance of enforcers, decoys, and support puppies on your team to play it well, the playing board is a hex-grid, and a 20-sided die is involved.
  • When you watch Survivor on TV, it looks somewhat easy for what they're doing. I mean, a kid can do this, right? Well, when you watch it on the TV, you're well fed, well rested, see what's going on in the other camp, etc.
  • This was the entire point of the show Trapped. In each challenge, the contestants (known as Unfortunates) would attempt to complete a simple challenge, such as assembling a wall or filling a goblet with snow. However, in each round, a saboteur was chosen from among the remaining Unfortunates in secret with their goal being to mess with the challenge in some way, such as knocking down the tower when a blackout strikes or purposefully stepping on the ground to tip the goblet over. It's no surprise that some challenges were never beaten during the run of the show, especially in the two examples mentioned as they didn't end when the task was completed (instead, they had to be complete when the timer ran out).
    • However, being a saboteur wasn't as easy as it sounds; they had to make sure the challenge was failed without the team realising who the saboteur was. If the team beat a challenge or if the saboteur was spotted, they were eliminated from the game (the same would happen to another Unfortunate if the saboteur succeeded at both of these).
  • The final round ("Let's go to the map!") on Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? actually had its difficulty ramped up as the show ran on, because too many kids were winning and PBS couldn't afford to keep paying for trips. Seven countries in 45 seconds, not too bad. Eight cities or bodies of water in 45 seconds? Considerably worse. Not to mention that the map tended to be someplace unfamiliar to American audiences like Africa, and it was upside-down from the contestant's perspective.
    • Don't forget that the contestant had to wait until the host completed reading his question before running over to the proper location. Often, these were long questions, and even if he read them fast they took upwards of 5 seconds to finish. Thus, there were many instances in which a contestant was very fast and perfect about each location, but still lost because the host took too long in his part. Often, the bonus round was humanly impossible to complete.
    • Although they took the long readings out after a season or two. Eventually he would just say "Carmen went to Zaire".
      • The final round of the spinoff, Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego, was even worse. The final mission was "The Trail of Time." Roughly, the kids had to run from one gate to the next, answering questions or performing a small but time-consuming task (turn a wheel, pull a rope.) The questions were long (albeit rather simple, usually a two-choice multiple choice.) But the tasks were time-consuming and, probably the worst offender, the gates were not in order, rather just jumbled around. Even with the Engine Crew waving with airport flashlights, kids kept going to the wrong gates.
  • Wipeout (2008) and Takeshi's Castle. It looks really fun... but damn are they hard! These obstacle courses take a lot more stamina and luck than one thinks.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeon Petz. While its light, breezy theme and Xtreme Kool Letterz title suggest that it would be a simple, kid-friendly game, it's actually a fairly heavy Euro Game.
  • Katamino and its derivatives. Look at those colorful pentominos. Now try to form a 5x9 rectangle with them.


  • Hilariously used in one xkcd strip:
    When I'm in a rock band, I'm gonna do a cool, mellow song. Then in the middle I'll stop, announce "this part is just to be an asshole to people playing Guitar Hero," and then flail wildly on the strings for 30 seconds.

Real Life

  • National spelling bees.They're spelling bees. For kids. The contestants are all middle-schoolers. Wait, is... is that word even English? Is it even a word? Holy shit, did that thirteen-year-old kid actually get it right?!
    • The movie Spellbound and the book American Bee both establish just how much training it takes to get far in those things. Essentially, you have to develop monomania for words.
  • Eating competitions. It sounds easy because all you have to do is eat, which is what many people can do effortlessly. However, the catch is that you have to eat the most food in a short amount of time. If you've eaten fast or so much food before, you know it's not comfortable to shove up food and swallow it quickly, with so much food in your stomach already.
  • Dave Barry once said that synchronized swimming is the easiest sport in the world. After being invited to a swim meet with them, he said that it was the hardest sport in the world.
  • Open-book tests can be merciless if you're not prepared. Some are designed so there isn't enough time to skim notes and books for all the answers, while some compensate for the available notes by being so advanced or in-depth that even with them it's hard. Also, go ahead and ask a trademan how easy tests involving the National Building or Electrical Code can be, where finding some of the obscure or oddly worded code references can be downright brutal.
  • Flat stages of major road bicycle races like the Tour de France can sometimes be this. Generally they are considered the easier stages to finish decently in, and also come down to a bunch sprint at the finish line. However, strong crosswinds on the route have the capability of splitting the peleton into two or more groups of riders, leaving general classification contenders or sprinters caught behind the split suddenly in trouble. Also, generally flat stages with a tricky finish (tight turns, significant slopes, or other difficulties) can throw off pure sprinters before the finish line, leaving more technical riders (who can deal with the difficulties) to vie for the finish.

Alternative Title(s): Harder Than It Looks