Follow TV Tropes


Trial-and-Error Gameplay

Go To

"A Gygaxian dungeon is like the world's most fucked up game show. Behind door number one: INSTANT DEATH! Behind door number 2: A magic crown! Behind door number 3: ten pounds of sugar being guarded by six giant KILLER BEES!"
SteveD, RPGnet forums

A popular variety of Fake Difficulty, Trial-and-Error Gameplay is what happens when an incorrect action kills the character, ends the mission in failure, or otherwise forces the player to replay that part from the beginning again. And, in the most egregious manner possible, this happens even if it was not possible to know in advance that it was a bad move at all. In the end, the only thing the player can do about it is reload the area and/or savepoint, play through that section again, and remember not to take that action next time. In essence, Trial-and-Error Gameplay is whenever it is almost guaranteed for the player to fail several times before realizing what is necessary to succeed.

This is not limited to Nintendo Hard games. It does not necessarily result from Everything Trying to Kill You. Even ordinary games can abuse the non-permanence of death. If it affects the game's plot, it may also challenge the Willing Suspension of Disbelief and Character Development, because when the game's protagonist finally breaks through, in-universe it looks like he just knew what was coming. It can feel much worse in games that have set pieces, voice acting, or (heaven forbid) unskippable cutscenes that do/say/show the exact same thing every time like a skipping record playing a song you can't get out of your head.

Take heart. As annoying as this trope can be, it's far better than the game becoming Unwinnable.

Ron Gilbert of LucasArts fame rants about this trend here, and intentionally designed his games to avoid this trope (co-worker David Fox added that, unlike adventure games, "I know that in the real world I can successfully pick up a broken piece of mirror without dying"). Others who've decried the trend include this IGN blogger and Shamus Young (of DM of the Rings fame).

Also known as 'Curse You Sierra', a lament directed toward the company most prone to putting such puzzles in their games. Save early, save often, and don't overwrite saves.

Amusingly, in Edutainment Games or Puzzle Games, trial and error may actually be the puzzle itself. These count, but barely, because you may not be punished for getting it wrong; since the entire point is Trial and Error until you get the solution right. There are also in fact entire games dedicated around this concept too, although to be fair, these games generally tend to give you clues after you make an incorrect guess. Generally speaking, games based around this will generally have the "Trials" be the player learning how the game pieces work and interact with one another - and as a result, it does not take a lot of time to try again if you fail. Often these test skills such as recognizing patterns and testing a hypothesis. This goes to show that Tropes Are Tools - it can be made fair, it's just generally difficult.

This is much worse when combined with Checkpoint Starvation. That said, it is possible to reduce the difficulty by watching and closely studying YouTube videos of it being done right. Or wrong.

Compare Try Everything and Character Select Forcing. This trope is ubiquitous in "Groundhog Day" Loop stories.


    open/close all folders 

    Action Games 
  • Defcon 5 invokes this trope due to massive use of Guide Dang It!; you're plopped down in the game's setting (a Mars colony ready to be opened) with no idea of what you're supposed to do, a map that only lets you cover your immediate area, and the requirement of picking up data pads scattered around the compound for items and info on your next mission (which are so vague you practically need a strategy guide to make heads or tails of).
  • In First Encounter Assault Recon Interval 2 you jump out of a window, land in an alley and find Alma there. Only this time, she's pissed and is engulfing everything around her in flames. She walks towards you. You shoot. She's invincible as usual. 'Running past' equals death. Behind you is a part of a building, basically a dead end. What do you do? Die a lot figuring out everything previously said. Then, as you back up towards the dead end trying to fight the inevitable and figure out how to live, she suddenly force-throws you through a window high above the dead end. On to the next lev-...Wait, that's all you do? Damn.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter's snipers are well-hidden and kill in one hit, often well before you can see them. Leading to "get one hit killed out of nowhere, reload, try to find sniper, get killed again until you succeed", most often in the later levels. The original GR series is even worse with this, but at least it allowed you to save any time during a mission.
  • The Half-Quake series of Half-Life mods is full of this, along with at least one instance of Unwinnable. This is quite bluntly lampshaded in the first of them with the Hazard Course being replaced with an object lesson in sadism, and justified by the game being intended to punish the player character, torturing and eventually killing them.
  • At the Legendary difficulty level of Halo 2, the Jackal snipers kill you in a single shot and are surprisingly accurate. They can even shoot before directly aiming and bounce their beams off walls. Thus you are usually not aware of them until you have been killed. The best strategy for dealing with them involves memorizing the places they appear in the level.
    • Similarly, the Goddamned Drones attack in swarms and cherry-tap you to death with plasma fire, and you often don't see them coming until it's too late to avoid death.
    • The series' randomized jack-in-the-box Respawning Enemies, which also make Legendary a Luck-Based Mission at times, ie you may get either a group of flunkies and a regular Elite, or two Ultra Elites spawning at a given point.
    • H2's Legendary in general is a big load of trial and error, fake difficulty and luck-based situations. Not fun. Ironically enough, co-op is even more frustrating on Legendary, since both players start over when one of them dies.
      There are lots and lots of scenarios where, in order to survive, you have to know what's coming, be ready for it, and go through all the right motions exactly. (i.e., "Okay, I'll go here, shoot that Sentinal tube, go here, shoot that one, go here, kill that flood wave...") Which you obviously won't unless you've done the section before, and probably gotten killed many times. Many parts are almost choreographed, with there pretty much being one right sequence of when to take cover where, who to shoot when, when to go where, and so one, which you'll pretty much only discover by just doing the section repeatedly, trying tactics and maneuvers, and seeing what works and what doesn't over many attempts.
  • In Hitman games it is quite possible to complete most missions on your first try, but it is virtually impossible to get Silent Assassin ratings without playing them through a few times or using a guide.
  • Used to reinforce La-Mulana's sadistic old school design. The game expects you to whip or otherwise attack suspicious parts of the environment, even though whipping the wrong parts will get you hit with a lightning bolt, and often times the only way to tell what's the right thing to strike is to just start striking. Not to mention, the ruins are filled to the brim with traps that will happily crush/drop/smack/or otherwise punish you for standing in the wrong place.
  • L.A. Noire infamously has the 'Doubt' button during the interrogation sequences that make up the game's centerpiece. Since they don't specify what exactly you're doubting the interrogated about, hitting that button may do exactly what you want it to do, or it'll accuse a mere witness of masterminding the entire crime.
  • The Max Payne series is famous for taking the "quickload junkie" style of older First-Person Shooter games and pushing it to the extreme. Expect to die instantly upon rounding a corner or entering a room a lot, forcing upon you numerous attempts to get the combination of aiming, strafing, and Bullet Time usage just right.
  • Mercenaries 2: World in Flames has this annoying type of gameplay in several of the missions. As a particularly frustrating example... Your vehicle: a lightly armored SUV. Your objective: drive around eight tanks, several static recoiless rifle positions, and multiple rocket grenadiers on your way to the corporate headquarters. Good luck!
  • This is a complaint sometimes leveled at Stealth Based Games, such as Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. Getting through an area undetected may require several specific actions performed consecutively, which can often only be discovered through trial-and-error.
  • The Mission Impossible 1997 video game (which predates MGS by a few months) is particularly bad about this, due to a combination of Checkpoint Starvation, extreme linearity, and some rather vague mission objectives. For example, in one mission, one of your objectives is to eliminate an assassin at a tea party. The only problem? You're neither told who she is (other than her name) nor what she looks like. So the solution is arrived at purely by dumb luck.
  • Remember Me has the stand-out memory remix sequences, where you have to alter events in a person's memory in order to reach a different outcome than what actually happened in real life. These are largely driven by trial and error, and making some decisions creates memory states that are totally not what the player is trying to achieve.
  • An example from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat: During an early mission, you're tasked with recovering a strange artifact from an old barge. As soon as you pick it up and exit, another stalker approaches you with an obviously fake sob story about his brother being sick and needing the artifact or something. If you refuse, he pretends to let you go, only to call a couple of buddies and shoot you in the back a moment later. Since you're caught by surprise and with no cover, dying is nearly unavoidable. The obvious solution, of course, is to reload your save and shoot him first.
    • The Stalker games can embody this trope in general, especially if you're playing on the higher difficulty levels or using a "realistic weapons" mod. Expect to die a lot without even knowing where the shot came from.
  • The Tomb Raider series dips in and out of this trope a lot, even between levels; some levels have many dangerous traps but are fair as long as you don't blindly run into everything (or show some haste when you do) and pay a modicum of attention to the surroundings, while others spring fatal (or at least very damaging) traps that are near-unavoidable with very little warning. Tomb Raider III is probably the peak of this, with some levels having a seemingly sadistic desire to throw death-traps at you around every corner (the limited save system if you are on the PlayStation version also doesn't help).
  • Your Kuva Lich in Warframe can be defeated for good only by equipping your parazon with proper "Requiem" mods in a correct sequence, otherwise performing a Finishing Move on them will make them kill you, bypassing the bleed-out phase and forcing you to use a 1-Up to continue, with the lich now stronger than before. You can run missions on their territories to find out what mods can defeat your lich, but the correct order you will have to find by trial and error. Your lich's profile page thankfully lists attempted combinations and how correct they are, which means you can defeat your lich in as little as 4 trials.

    Adventure Games 
  • As mentioned above, almost every Sierra adventure game ever made.
    • Quite possibly the most bizarre example of this is in King's Quest V, where one defeats a yeti by... throwing a pie at it. This is made even worse by Graham having the option to eat the pie when he's about to starve instead of eating (part) of a leg of lamb (which you may not have) so you can't defeat the yeti. This makes the game Unwinnable by Design, with your only recourse to restart the game. To top it off, the game never tells you that it's a lost cause to continue, either.
    • The developers of the Space Quest series have said that they adopted Have a Nice Death messages as a response to this trope. After all, they reasoned, if you're going to die a lot, you might as well get a laugh out of it.
    • A seasoned player of Sierra adventure games will be ready to save at every opportunity while playing the first Gabriel Knight game, until realizing that your character won't die no matter how haplessly he stumbles into secret voodoo conspiracies. That is, up until about the fifth day, after they've successfully thrown you off.
    • In Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), Larry has to buy a "Blue Pate" special at the airport and retrieve a bobby pin from it. The problem is that nothing hints at the bobby pin whatsoever. The player won't know about it until Larry accidentally eats it and dies.
  • Infocom tends to do this a lot as well.
    • Their take on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984) is particularly blatant, whether due to "follow the script" sequences that punish errors, or things as arbitrary as not giving a sandwich to a dog near the beginning of the game.
      • The game in general, however, is known to be extremely cruel about being Unwinnable by Design. If you don't cheat, then you will probably need to restart multiple times to figure out: How to get to the meeting with Marvin in 12 moves; exactly which 10 items you need and where to get them; that you even NEED to give the sandwich to the dog; what you need to acquire in order to solve the Babel fish puzzle; etc.
  • In Amazon: Guardians of Eden, you canoe down a river while dodging rocks, hoping the boat doesn't head into a configuration of rocks that can't be dodged and requiring reloading. You're given directions by the Shaman beforehand that the correct route is "left right right left", which you have to know or discover is "down up up down", remembering which direction you've been going between saving and reloading. Complete this section, and you end up talking to Hans Stroheim, an elderly man in a hut. You can't save while in the hut. If you don't know you're supposed to open the "offer" menu and give the map and compass, you die, since every normal dialogue option ends in death, forcing you to reload.
  • One of Ron Gilbert's complaints in the rant linked above, time limits, is played straight in RAMA. Although your explorations of the titular ship have hitherto been fairly leisurely and forgiving in constraints of time, and death has been a minor setback-a return to a point shortly prior to your death after a few remarks from Arthur C. Clarke that basically boil down to "We put this here, it's pretty apparently dangerous, you screwed with it anyway, try to be more careful in the future". Even after you've crossed the frozen sea and entered the city, things have been undemanding at worst. Through all this your play has been trial-and-error gameplay, but it's justified because you're a scientist studying this ship and you know about as much about it as any other character. Then, the sudden but inevitable betrayal happens and you have six real-time hours to solve the problem if you're standing still. When you move, the game deducts a couple of minutes from this timer to simulate the time it takes for movement. The same applies for performing an action. So you have significantly less than six hours to get off the ship, to do it you have to go to a completely new area of the ship, and you're so severely limited for time that the only way to get out in anything like a reasonable number of tries is with guide in hand.
  • Some MUDs, a form of text-based proto-Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game popular in the '80s and '90s, had "deathtraps" — rooms which killed your character instantly upon entering them and deleted all your equipment. The only reasonable way to avoid this was to use a spell or ability that lets you see what's in neighboring rooms and check every single one before entering. Understandably, some MUDs removed deathtraps to avoid driving players insane.
  • Ragnarok (also called Valhalla) is a surprisingly expansive roguelike game, with an insanely high number of ways to die or screw up royally. While there are a minimum of in-game warnings (don't eat speckled mushrooms, the gods can't be killed, etc.), most of the time, it will be down to player experience to determine things like turning into a plant is near-instant death, to survive Niflheim, you need to be cold resistant, sentinel gaze attacks are incredibly dangerous, petrification resistance is a very good idea, randomly mixing potions at low levels (and low HP) is risky...
  • Many older Interactive Fiction games rely on this, where it's generally referred to as 'learning through death'. It's frowned upon in modern IF games, though less so when the plot of the game is built around it, like in Adam Cadre's Lock and Key or Varicella.
    • Sometimes this is the whole point of the game. These games are called 'one-move' games, as the player only gets to make a single move before either dying or winning. A good example is Aisle by Sam Barlow.
  • Surviving High School is also big on this. Most choices reveal a character's personality...AFTER you make them. Especially on dating. Luckily, it's friendly with them. Oh, and the actual system for leveling attributes is pretty mean.
  • On Aztec Challenge on the Commodore 64, one of the levels is a room with booby-trapped floor titles. You have to step on the right ones in the right order, or else you get shot through with arrows. As one would imagine, this level usually takes several attempts before the player is successful.
  • Invoked in Takeshi's Challenge. The correct sequence of actions in order to complete the game is utterly counterintuitive. A few of the actions (like repeatedly singing the same song at karaoke) don't even qualify as Moon Logic Puzzle; the game doesn't even try to pretend the solutions make sense.
  • The Tell Tale Games games are notorious for this.
    • A notable example is in The Wolf Among Us, where the Woodsman has just gotten an emotional weight off his chest by revealing to Wolf that when he saved Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, it was by mere chance; he was actually planning to rob them, and only saved them in hopes of getting a reward. After he finishes, one of the response options is to "Glass Him." Given the context of the previous scene, combined with the fact that they are in a bar, many players assumed that this meant Wolf buying the Woodsman a drink. Instead, it has Wolf abruptly crack a shot glass against the Woodsman's head, prompting many-a-shocked game player to reload the section.
  • Fairly well averted in A Vampyre Story. The game almost always gives you enough information to solve puzzles without a guide, although sometimes you need to be sharp to catch it. As a non-spoilerriffic example, you need to lube up some hinges early on in the game, and in your bedroom you pick up some body oil that'll do the trick-but there's only enough oil for one hinge. No fear- the game will, if you "look" at the body oil, tell you it's made from oils extracted from nuts and dried fruits, which coincidentally you can also collect from your room. In some of the later puzzles it gives you all the pieces (a cop who desperately wants to be recognized as a hero, a little girl's dress, and a bat about the right size to fit into it) and leaves you to figure it out for yourself.
  • Cyberia is outrageous about this during the adventure game segments. Open a door, shot in the face. Don't lock the door behind you, shot in the back of the head. Don't walk towards the cover to peek around it, shot from the side. Push a seemingly random button on a wall, trapdoor opens up. At least it's good with checkpoints.
  • The Dark Seed games, although those are more susceptible to Unwinnable issues than is normal for this trope.
  • While the FMV-heavy Dragon's Lair doesn't make use of this trope (if you die, it's because you missed the visible signal), at least one computer version does. There are numerous sequences where Dirk has to react to dangers at the right time, and these are not telegraphed. Memorization is necessary in the end.
    • Even more oddly, the cartoon invokes this trope. During a commercial break, the viewer is asked to choose Dirk's next move. When the show comes back, it's revealed whether or not each choice results in his death. (Admittedly, this is a clever way of invoking the beautiful death animations from the game.)
  • In Ghost Trick the main character has the power to rewind time to four minutes before a person's death, and is encouraged to use this power extensively since in some cases it takes a lot of tries to figure out which objects to manipulate and in which order.
  • The Illogical Journey of the Zambonis is a Deconstruction Game based around this trope. Similarly to Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, the game it's parodying, you have to send your Zambonis ahead without knowing which choice is the right one. Unlike Zoombinis, picking the wrong choice is instant death for the Zamboni, and there are no clues to help you with future guesses. The narration illustrates how horrifying it would be to see your friends and loved ones die to completely unpredictable causes, knowing you could be next. Since you have no way of knowing which choice is right or wrong, the game is rigged so you are guaranteed to lose a set amount of Zambonis on each screen.
  • The Immortal is practically a Gygaxian dungeon in 3D video game form.
  • Isle of the Dead falls into this category through the use of deathtraps you have no way of predicting. For instance, if you decide to pick up the rifle as soon as you see it, you'll set off a barely-visible tripwire and get blown up by a random grenade, unless you notice the wire and cut it first. Should you then pull out the rifle and fire it, it'll explode and blow your head off unless you randomly decide to oil it first. And that's just the earliest example in the game.
  • In the Johnny Mnemonic game for the PC, you have to offload the massive data cache in your head before it kills you, much like in the film. Unfortunately, as this takes place in a cyberpunk future, practically everything is a computer (or is hooked up to one) whether it looks like one or not—and if you try to use one before you're supposed to, the game assumes you're trying to rip the data out of your head and will flash-fry Johnny's brain anyway.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Due to graphical limitations, there's no clue as to which walls are bomb-able, which trees are burnable, and which screens have a "magic effect" when you blow the Recorder. Young Link is truly the most destructive fellow in Hyrule: in order to complete both quests (and particularly the second) you'll have attempted to destroy everything in the land. The original game came with a poster-size map of the overworld, so you could mark off your reign of terror as you went, and make notes of where the quest 2 dungeons are found (the overworld has the same layout, but the dungeons are remixed).
  • Monkey Island:
    • During the first part of The Secret of Monkey Island, part of the player's training in swordplay involves learning snide insults to throw opponents off-guard; without these insults and witty comebacks, the player can't win a swordfight. These quips are learned by hearing other pirates use them in fights; thus, the player is required to repeatedly enter fights with other pirates and lose, trying out new insults and weak come-backs until finally gaining enough to win a fight. The frustration of this is lessened, however, by the fact that the player can't actually die.note 
    • Escape from Monkey Island replaces the insult swordfighting with Monkey Kombat, which is basically Rock–Paper–Scissors. Each contestant chooses one of five poses; each pose ties against itself, beats two others, and loses to two others. However, the relationships change for each playthrough, as well as the command sequences needed to move from one specific pose to another specific pose! The player needs to spend time sparring with the monkeys to learn the sequences and relationships. (The only other constant is that any single command three times in a row maintains your current pose.)
  • Both Detective and its MST Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "Detective" feature an inordinate amount of deaths that cannot be predicted ahead of time, often the result of simply taking a wrong turn. In one case the player dies in a completely ordinary dead end. Naturally, the latter version of the game has the riffers lampshade the ridiculous (and inconsistent) amount of danger the player character is in.
  • At the end of the Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned For Danger adventure game, Nancy has to open a door (to save herself from the culprit) by pushing several buttons on a panel in a certain order. With no clues given. Pure Trial-and-Error Gameplay. With a short time limit.note 
    • Many of the subsequent Nancy Drew games also utilize the "find the arbitrary secret arrangement" puzzles in the form of, for instance, making the water level in a series of eight pipes the same by turning valves that each randomly change levels in one or more pipes. Madness!
  • Panic!! could be considered the epitome of trial-and-error. You play the entire game by pressing buttons to see what happens. Most of the buttons either make a silly gag happen, blow up a real-world monument, or teleport you to another scene. However, there are exactly three Game Over scenes, and a few more than three buttons can take you to them.
  • Theresia: Dear Emile, frankly, is mean about this. Open the lower door of the cupboard? You got a necessary item! Open the upper door of the cupboard? It shoots an arrow at your head! What, you wanted a clue which door to open? (To be fair, in the first half of the game the wrong choice is often smeared with blood, but the second half requires Save Scumming and/or Healing Potions.)
  • ICOM adventure games such as Shadowgate, Déjà Vu and Uninvited are also prone to this. It's somewhat mitigated by restarting the game one screen back.
  • This is used interestingly in Shadow of Destiny; the main character always dies at the start of each chapter, and the rest of the chapter consists of trying to avoid that death after going back in time.
  • Slouching Towards Bedlam doesn't involve trial and error gameplay. However, it justifies the save/restore function as an ability, and writes the trial-and-error aspect into another character that also has that ability.
  • One puzzle in The Space Bar revolves around predicting the assignments of queeps. The game kind of implies that it's possible to figure it out through logic, but it's a thousand times easier and more reliable to just reload.
  • Played with in Star Trek: Borg, in which the process of dying and "reloading" actually occurs in-game, courtesy of Q. In order to win the game, you have to let yourself get assimilated by the Borg, get some important information from them, then die and use the knowledge you gained now that you're human again. Q will actually commend you for this "outside the box" type of thinking.
  • Shadoan is a mixed bag on this. Actual puzzles are usually Moon Logic Puzzles. The problem comes with not running into a Drop-In Nemesis who can insta-kill you, not going to certain areas where you'll be insta-killed, skipping certain fights where you'll be insta-killed... Sometimes you even need to abuse the fast-travel system to get past screens without actually entering them.
  • The Henry Stickmin Series has this in spades. At each juncture in the game, you're presented with multiple choices. Some (or maybe only one) will lead to progressing the story, while the rest cause you to fail, often via Henry's death. As the fails are as much, if not more of, the point as the successes, it doesn't really detract from the experience, especially in the later games (and the Collection remakes/remasters of all the games) due to an easy story navigation menu.

    Card Games 
  • The game Mao is largely about finding out what the rules are by getting penalized for breaking rules until you figure them out. New players are told only "The only rule I can tell you is this one". Every time someone wins a round, they add a new rule, but they don't tell anyone, requiring the other players to work it out by watching them enforce it.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Reshef of Destruction, dueling some opponents can come down to learning their deck and inserting counters specifically for them.

    Driving Games 
  • In the very first race of Midnight Club, there is absolutely no way to tell that you need to use a certain rock as a ramp to reach the finish point. The only way to possibly discover this is to watch one of the computer racers do it, which by definition means placing 2nd or worst. Of course, you need to place 1st in order to proceed in the game, so you must fail the mission at least once just to see how it's done.
    • Midnight Club 2 is even worse, stretching this trope throughout the entire game in very annoying ways. Possibly the best example is in the third race of the game where the player spends the majority of it racing along the long, wide open highway, traveling at top speed. Near the end of the race the player must navigate an off-ramp while still going full-throttle, and of course a semi truck will pull right in front of you and block your path when you get close. The only way to get through unscathed is to drive precisely between the gap in the truck's wheels. The game gives the player almost no indication of which path to take, with an overhead arrow pointing directly at the next checkpoint, regardless of the actual layout of the streets. Blindly following the arrow will inevitably cause a player to crash into buildings or concrete dividers.
  • In the dragster wheelie competition in Need for Speed Pro Street some of the cars cannot pull a wheelie no matter how many upgrades you buy. Some of the cars are much easier to use for drifting too, and the game doesn't give many clues about what to buy. It's not a massive problem since the wheelie competition only comes along when the player will probably have enough credits to buy the 'right' car. But it's irritating to spend ages tinkering with car set-up and driving style in a vain attempt to get the nose of a Supra or RX-7 to lift when the game should mention somewhere that it's a waste of time.
  • Both Stunts and its Spiritual Successor TrackMania have an unwritten rule that the first run of a track must be played not to win, but to know the layout. Though, unless you play tracks by maps from total newbies, a lot of transitions and parts become very common and familiar. If you play the game for long enough, you intuitively assume the layout, thus you can get Gold or even Author Medals on the very first run if you have the experience.
  • Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3's Ghost Battle mode. When you select a ghost to battle, you are only told the starting ramp, and not what route the ghost take, which gets annoying if, say, you select a ghost that starts on one of the faster routes (i.e. Wangan or Yokohane), and thus put all your tuning points into power and leave nothing for handling, but the race ends on the curvier C1 loop and you keep crashing into walls because your car has no handling whatsoever. The only way to know the route for sure is to have already battled the ghost or watch someone else race it.
    • Racing against normal ghost cars is tough enough (though more skillful players can take advantage of the Rubberband AI). Battling against the King Ghosts takes it to a whole new level, requiring both skill and luck, since the Rubberband AI is pretty much turned off for the player (meaning even the slightest collision is a surefire way to lose). Moreso if the player who set that King Ghost run did a near perfect run, and if the player challenging the King Ghost has a high level (A or higher) which increases the density of traffic that gets in the way. Even some of the most skillful players may take dozens of attempts to beat them, and King Ghosts have been known to remain unbeaten for at least a week.

    Edutainment Games 
  • Mind: Path to Thalamus includes a puzzle about crossing a series of platform and staircases. Some of the platforms and stairs are illusions that you fall through, while you must find the invisible platforms and staircases you can stand on. Illusions might extend seamlessly from visible, solid platforms, and invisible platforms can turn 90 degrees with no visible marker.
  • While the player isn't punished with death for running out of allotted guesses, a couple The ClueFinders games use this trope and the entire point is to test hypothesis and try to find out the logically correct answers.
    • Reading: The final challenges are basically comparable to Lingo or Mastermind, in which you have to type in a word and are then told whether or not you got any correct letters in the right places, or correct letters in the wrong places. This can be a little frustrating, as one can eventually run out of guesses and have to start over. Especially painful if they just figure out the password but run out of guesses because the player typoed, or it's another word that's just one letter away from another.
    • One of the games in Search And Solve has this. You have to get a certain number of "kinks" out of a vending machine robot's circuits, and in order to do that you have to pick a column and row (Represented by colors and shapes). In order to work the kinks out, you have to guess which color and shape are which row and column, then get the right coloured shape to push the kink out. Fairly simple, right? Well, every time, it's randomized, and you only have a certain amount of guesses. (And you would be surprised how "hard" the puzzles you have to solve in nine or less turns are compared to just the ten-guess ones!) So not only is it a Luck-Based Mission, but also pure Trial and can just be incredibly unlucky and have all the kinks clustered to one side of the field and your first couple guesses are all the shapes and colors that do not contain any Kinks so the minigame is Unwinnable by Design. It's not that uncommon to be doing it much more than Four times (like the other minigames) simply because of the trial and error.
    • Oftentimes in 3rd Grade Adventures, the gates challenge at the Monkey Kingdom can be this, especially on the challenge difficulty. The way the challenge works is that there are two numbers. To progress, you must click on a number that equals either the first two numbers added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided. Note that you have to guess whether or not the correct number is the result of addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, so as a result it's not uncommon to find all four possible answers on the board, meaning that you have to guess which one the game wants. However, this is slightly mitigated - since if you know where the next letters might be (They're adjacent to each other) then you can simply toss sneezeberries without it even having to be the right answer.
  • Granny's Garden opens with a grid of sixteen trees which resembles a copy protection screen, except the only purpose of it is to try every single one until you find the magical one. Later, you encounter items which will end up triggering a trap if picked up, and others that you'll need to progress, and there's no intuitive way to distinguish between the two.
  • In Odell Lake, you don't always learn what's what right away. "Osprey? Is that some smaller fish? Oh, it's a bird and I'm its dinner!" And even if you do get it right, you never know beforehand if those insects and larvae or that chub will be your dinner or your conveyance to the fish and chip stand.
  • The river-rafting minigame in The Oregon Trail II is pretty much this, as you often can't see a rock coming until it's too late to dodge it.

    Game Shows 
  • The Price Is Right has a few games where the player can make a guess, is shown what they got right, and can try again. The best example is Clock Game, which is about guessing the value of the prize, being told it's higher or lower, and repeating until getting it right on the dollar before the clock runs out. Five other examples, Race Game, Bonkers, Time is Money, Switcheroo and Line 'Em Up, involve the player having to make a guess (placing price tags on four items, markers on whether digits in a given price are higher or lower than those of the actual price, arranging grocery items into three price ranges, placing numbered blocks in the slots for four small prizes, and one more for the fourth digit in the price of a car, and pulling handles on the prices of three smaller prizes to align the middle numbers in a car's price, given the first and last numbers), and then run to and press a button to see if they are correct before going back to try again (except on Switcheroo and Line 'Em Up). Race Game has a sign stating how many prices are in the correct spot, but the other four only say if the given guess is correct or not.
  • Lingo involves guessing what the mystery word is from the provided letters. The teams are spotted the first letter and have to spell out what they think is the right word. After each guess, the letters in that guess are given different colors for letters that are not in the word, letters that are in the word and in the right place, or letters that are in the word but in the wrong place.
  • Some of the games of Takeshi's Castle may have contestants detect a pattern.

    Horror Games 
  • In Alien: Isolation, it is extremely easy to get lost due to the maze-like structure of the Sevastopol. While you do have a map to help pinpoint your location and where you need to go, you sometimes have to be on a certain floor or certain level of the station for the pinpoints to be exact. Not helping are how unpredictable the enemies in the game are; you can't always tell where enemies are going or what level they're on, any noise the player makes will immediately grab their attention, and some enemies (primarily the Alien) won't always have the same reactions to certain actions that the player does.
  • Alone in the Dark (1992) has quite a few:
    • There are two "evil books" in the library's secret room (which is already a Guide Dang It! to find). The first, "Fragments of the Book of Abdul", hurts you, while the second, "De Vermis Mysteriis", instantly kills you if you so much as look at the front page. That is, unless you are standing on the pentagram symbol in the room, Guide Dang It!.
    • If you accidentally bump into a ghost (touching the one by the fireplace is almost certain on the first try), they come to life as a nightmare-fueling swirling cloud of psychedelic death that chases you around the house until it kills you.
    • Another unavoidable first-time death occurs in the hallway leading to the library, where the woodsman painting starts throwing axes at you. Further down the hallway, a painting of an Indian starts shooting arrows that home in on you, at which point death is inevitable. The player learns the hard way to put the Old Indian Cover on the woodsman painting and to shoot the Indian painting with the bow and arrows.
    • Simply opening the front door of the house results in death. One of the books you can find contains something that could remotely be considered a clue to this, but it's obscure enough that it's doubtful a single player has ever been stopped from trying to open the door in good faith (rather than to see the death) on their first playthrough.
  • Alone in the Dark (2008) is also rife with moments like this, such as the part where you have to scale the side of an exploding building. Such instances are often due to shoddy game design.
  • The Call of Cthulhu-based adventure game Shadow of the Comet has a bit where your character visits a labyrinth-like crypt. After you meet a giant slug-like monster, you have to escape from the crypt as it chases you. Unless you had the good sense to draw a map, the beast will tear you to pieces dozens of times as you try to find the right route. Actually, just reaching said slug monster invokes this trope, as the crypt features multiple doors that will either kill you or warp you to the beginning of the maze, neither of which are distinguishable from the correct ones. That's not even touching on the insta-kill traps scattered about.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has a scene (pretty directly lifted from H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth) where you have to escape from some Innsmouth goons. There is one, and only one, correct escape route, and it is not very obvious. Taking a wrong turn will usually get your (unarmed) character gunned down.
    • There is also the ending, where exactly the right route must be followed, without even an inch of strafing, and you still can die because the timer doesn't stop even during the final cutscene. This is due to a bug that has something to do with an oversight in porting the game resulting in the main character's movement speed being reduced giving you BARELY enough time to make the trip.
  • Clock Tower 2 / 3. Open a cupboard? You die. Look at a painting. Die. Look at a statue? Die. It doesn't help that the deaths are very unimpressive. You can button bash to avoid death, but it's quicker to just continue.
  • Many of the instant-kill traps in Demonophobia are only obvious in hindsight. For example, interacting with a bunch of unassuming vines causes you to be pulled feet-first into a meat grinder. The game's ending outright assumes that you've died several times at the very least.
  • Much of the gameplay in The Evil Within revolves around avoiding hard-to-see traps, locating enemy weaknesses, solving certain puzzles that can result in instant death, and relying on stealth. Its 2017 sequel fortunately downplays this in spite of the more open-world setting, since you now have a map that helps players pinpoint where they need to go.
  • Fear Effect, a PlayStation Survival Horror game, embodies this to a tee. Given the mechanics of the health system (and the really arbitrary way of healing yourself), anything you try, be it solving a puzzle or duking it out with enemies, will usually result in a "special" death scene (which ranges from being shot to death, immolated, asphyxiation, and other bizarre ways to die). Many, many, times. It stops being funny when this happens 10 times in a row.
  • Despite being a pretty short game, Go Home is full of this. Notably, you can be killed immediately after solving the very first puzzle, by getting run over by a speeding truck. In a game that sets up such a Surreal Horror atmosphere from the outset, you tend to not think of mundane things like needing to look both ways before you cross the street.
  • The House of the Dead series loves doing this by throwing zombies in mid-attack at you, though this doesn't happen in House of the Dead 4. Then there's the times when civilians suddenly appear to be rescued or accidentally take away your lives.
  • Outlast often has it so that the player character has to do a bit of exploration in order to figure out where to go and how to complete the current objective. Not helping is the reliance on stealth, dark areas that make it impossible to see, and needing to be careful with maintaining your battery inventory. Its sequel is even worse due to the more open-ended setting.
  • Some of the earlier installments in the Resident Evil series were like this, in large part because the settings are so big that it's easy for the player to get lost even with a map. Plus, you'll encounter many obstacles that usually require some sort of key item to proceed, and there's a significant emphasis on resource management.
  • SCP-087-B, the game that came before SCP – Containment Breach, is rife with this. Since the maps are randomly generated there is one type of hallway, the "forked path," where one of the paths leads to instant death. There's no hint on which path is correct, and since the player has to go through 130 floors the player is always going to come across this room at some point and it will always set the player back to the beginning.
  • Siren Games . Your characters have extremely limited health, are rarely armed and are placed in near pitch dark surroundings with enemies who are much stronger, and crack shots with firearms. Oh - and they're immortal zombies. So if you do manage to beat one in combat, it'll revive after a few seconds and come looking for you.
  • Waxworks (1992) and the Elvira games are notorious for this kind of game play. The players are often given little clue as to how to solve some of the puzzles, with all sorts of deathtraps from nowhere, and too many ways to render the games unwinnable.
    • Elvira II - The Jaws of Cerberus. If you enter the wrong room without protection, you'll get killed by a vampire, or burn to death, etc. In addition, if you lose a vital item (accidentally or by spending it for a spell - or for the wrong spell), the game is Unwinnable.

  • Depending on how charitable, fair, or even consistent the writer is feeling, this can be the only possible way to win at a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Fortunately, it's not hard to flip back to the previous page.
    • The nature of Choose Your Own Adventure books is such that frequently you have no clue what outcome any given action might have. In fairness, this is sometimes true in real life also. But it's usually not a matter of "You stopped to pick a flower in a peaceful-looking field, so a dragon suddenly appeared and ate you." It doesn't help that "you" in the book are frequently Too Stupid To Live, such as continuing down a chosen path even when it becomes obvious that it leads off a cliff, instead of, y'know, turning back to the crossroads rather than walking blithely over the edge. Also not helped by authors who seem to feel that obviously suicidal choices should be rewarded and prudence should be punished, so that the stranger offering you candy to get in his van is actually a billionaire philanthropist scientist superhero with the one item that can save you, and your mom is actually a shapeshifting alien who has decided to see what human pancreas tastes like.
    • Parodied by the Kingdom of Loathing Gamebook booklets, which has obviously wrong choices to humorous effect. For example, Section 1 of one booklet has the player getting beaten up, and one of two choices at the end of Section 1 is "If you have no short-term memory, go to Section 1."

    Massively Multiplayer Online Games 
  • Cantr II: Possibly the only way to experience Mao's brand of logic without playing it, is to play Cantr. From the forum rules that are visible "Discussion of (rule breaking) is not allowed." "Only generalisation of rules is allowed" "Complaints about staff are to be made to staff, and only in private". There's a lot more rules that aren't available, not to mention it's a rare case when the player is informed of which rule was broken, or the evidence. The 'logic' behind, is that players who knew the rules, would evidently work their Loophole Abuse magic, as propounded by one staffer who is fondly referred to as the Goat Wormhole (You put in a valid argument, and the response is a goat. Any further comment is referred back to the goat. "What do you mean, it's not a good goat? See, four hooves and everything"). The game is a social simulator after all, and what better way to simulate North Korea and Soviet Russia then hiding the gamefield, until a misstep and Land Mine Goes "Click!". As further hilarity, the Players Department professed function is to 'guide' players when dealing with possible rule breaks. Yes, guide them, by standing on the other side of the minefield and shouting that everything is fine... until it isn't.
  • In Guild Wars 2 the Super Adventure Box has a hard mode called Tribulation Mode. The sheer number of hidden insta-death traps, hidden lava pools, and other such one-shot mechanics means that getting through a level largely consists of killing yourself in order to find the one clear route.
  • Until the introduction of the Dungeon Journal, this was the normal way of things for many bosses in World of Warcraft. Some of their attacks are obvious. If you get a message saying the boss is looking at you and a circle of fire starts to gather underneath, probably time to move. But some of them no one would ever guess until it is too late, e.g. when the boss starts casting a certain spell jump into the damage field it previously placed so that when the spell goes off and puts everyone to sleep, the damage you take from the field will wake you up. Or hurt the boss' aids until they're nearly dead so that when she frenzies you can kill one of them instantly, because that will dispel the frenzy for some reason. Even now that the Journal provides an in-game manual to all boss abilities, it is a normal part of higher end gameplay to look up the plentiful player-written strategy guides in advance, and making sure that everyone knows what to do when. In other games, this might be considered cheating. In Wow, this is what the playerbase demands, since a boss with only normal gameplay mechanics will be fairly easy to the high-level players; bosses need new tricks to be challenging.

    Platform Games 
  • In 8 Eyes, the first seven stages are theoretically playable in any order, but since each boss is vulnerable to only one weapon, and there's a change of weapon after each boss, the game is nigh unwinnable to players who don't know that the proper order is Spain, Egypt, Italy, India, Africa, Germany, Arabia. The manual tells players to figure this out for themselves.
  • Another World combines trial-and-error level design with Everything Trying to Kill You and, to add insult to injury, makes your character a One-Hit-Point Wonder. Fortunately, Eric Chahi, the game's designer, acknowledged making one of the most Nintendo Hard games of his time, and provided unlimited continues, somewhat easing the players' frustration. Without Trial-and-Error Gameplay, the game would take roughly an hour to complete. Depending on who you ask, this can be seen as shameless padding to compensate for storage limitations (it was graphically advanced for its time), an outdated method of creating a cinematic gaming experience by forcing you to perfect action movie stunts, or just part of the game's inexplicable charm.
  • Astro Marine Corps is the kind of game where many of the enemies can pop up and kill you instantly with little to no warning.
  • Battletoads is much, much easier once you've memorized every obstacle instead of needing to react to everything as it comes, though it does have a few random hazards as well. The worst case may be the wheel races in Terra Tubes: the wheel will One-Hit Kill you if you make an unlucky guess as to whether it will go into the barrier at the end or the alcove next to it.
  • Midway through Clash at Demonhead, you HAVE to meet with one of the game's Big Bads, you CANNOT beat him at this point, and you HAVE TO DIE and press Continue in order for the story to continue.
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns takes this to an extreme, especially in the mine cart and rocket barrel levels where a slightest mistake will cost you a life. It's even worse in the temple levels due to there being no checkpoints, so be prepared to be back at the start very often (and soon see Professor Chops beckoning you to take the easy way out and use Super Guide).
  • The infamously Nintendo Hard Ghouls 'N Ghosts has an area a short ways into level 2 where you must jump onto rickety rope bridges to get over some sucking quicksand pits. What nobody tells you, of course, is that these rope bridges are programmed to break in a few specific, unmarked locations, usually over the center of the pit, so as to send you plummeting to your death with no recourse.
  • Hans Kloss: You will keep dying or getting stuck a lot until you manage to map out the entire game and figure out the right route. Once you know where to go and which doors to use keys on, the entire game can be completed in 20 minutes.
  • Holdover is a rather short game, but this trope is imposed on you to compensate for this, as you are constantly threatened by dangers such as Spikes of Doom, Frickin' Laser Beams, and most significantly, the high risk of drowning. You are expected to perish from these dangers constantly, only to then memorize the facility's layouts and figure out the safest ways of getting through these hazards.
  • Every single Platform Hell game and Mario hack ever created. Miss that perfect jump between two walls of spikes while dodging numerous Bullet Bills and spin jumping off a conveniently timed enemy? Instant death to the character. I Wanna Be the Guy, The Unfair Platformer, Syobon Action and Kaizo Mario (and every game based off the latter) are common users of this trope. The official course-building game, Super Mario Maker, is no exception, and may have more trial-and-error courses than any Mario hack due to its high public visibility.
  • I Wanna Kill the Kamilia occasionally has spikes that will rearrange themselves or shoot out at you very quickly with no warning once you pass a certain point.
  • The Eco Well mission in Jak II: Renegade could only be completed after dying a few times. You are supposed to use your Hover Board to reach and throw 6 live bombs into 6 wells. 2 of the wells are hidden. The player has no idea the board can be used to scale the un-climbable hills. You only have 2 minutes. Even if you think quick and try everything, you will run out of time, because the mission can only be completed if you don't stop to think and if you know all the wells' locations.
  • Kero Blaster: Omake Mode has three secret sections full of fake platforms and surprise pitfalls that require either luck or multiple tries to navigate through safely. Take one step in the wrong direction and you'll find yourself short one life and right back at the beginning of the entire level.
  • Kirby's Dream Land 2 has a section in Stage 6 of Dark Castle, where there's an Auto-Scrolling Level with dead ends and no way to go back. There are 3 ways to go, and it happens several times. Technically there's a hint: The entirety of Dark Castle is symmetrical and you go through the autoscroll in the opposite direction in stage 3, but it's extremely easy to miss. Even if you suspect you missed something, it's much easier to just keep doing trial-and-error instead of going back to check.
  • Limbo is described by its own creators as having "trial and death" gameplay. You will die, a lot, and you're expected to until you figure out what to do with each new obstacle.
  • If you've played the multiplatform game The Lost Vikings, you know this one so well. As awesome as the game is, if you mess up even ONCE, you are DOOMED to repeat the level, almost inevitably. Use the wrong viking? Level is unwinnable. Go down the wrong pit? Level is unwinnable. One of the vikings dies? Level is unwinnable. At least you get an unlimited amount of retries. The game heavily lampshades its difficulty by having the vikings periodically complain about seeing the level before and getting tired of dying constantly whenever you retry a level.
    Baleog: I'm so familiar with the beginning of this level, I could do my part blindfolded.
    Erik: Yeah, it's too bad the player keeps trying to prove the same thing.
  • These moments have popped up occasionally in the Mega Man series:
    • Mega Man X5 has a motor-bike stage which is basically all trial and error. What makes this noteworthy, though, is that this stage and this stage alone requires the player to jump while the "Ready!" stage start animation is still playing. In all other stages, the player can't move while the animation is playing. The only way to realize that this stage is special is by dying once. The rest of the level is also an effort in trial and error, as you're often required to make decisions (upper path or lower path?) with no way of knowing what's ahead.
    • The same thing happens in Mega Man 2. Specifically, Quick Man's infamous laser section. All moves from the top of the fall to the bottom must be meticulously planned, but you don't know what's on the lower screens until you get there and see them, by which time it's too late. Sure, you can use the time stopper (if you have it) to stop things from moving, but if you did that you wouldn't be able to use it later in the level (because guess what's Quick Man's weakness). Luckily, Quick Man himself is one of the weakest bosses, taking 4 bars of damage from Mega Man's piddly little pea shooter. He can reasonably be killed with no special weapons at all.
    • The whole of X6. Specific portions of levels are simply completely impassable if your character can't double jump or air dash.
    • 2 has two bosses, the Boobeam Trap and the Alien, which are completely invulnerable to the Mega Buster and with only one weapon (each) that works against them. If you use up too much weapon energy for those weapons too early, the battles are Unwinnable by Design until you either grind for more weapon energy on the next life, or lose all your lives and use a continue.
    • Mega Man 3 nails you with this one time. In the second trip through Spark Man's stage, just after you beat Doc Robot the first time, you must slide (meaning you can't call the Rush Jet for this) into a pretty long (about three screens) drop down a weaving shaft lined with spikes, meaning you have to control your fall to avoid instant destruction. Because you're falling, your reaction time is darn near zero unless you already know what's coming.
    • Mega Man 9 also has its "you will die with no warning" moments. On passage in Plug Man's stage looks safe, until a block suddenly materializes in its entrance, sending anyone trying to jump into it to the Spikes of Doom below. One set of spikes in Splash Woman's stage cannot be seen until you've take the jump, and if you're now aimed for them, the game's Jump Physics aren't kind enough to let you steer away in time.
    • The Mega Man Legacy Collection (a compilation of Mega Man 1-6) has "challenges", Time Trials where you play through different parts of various stages from the games, with teleport orbs taking you from one part to the next. The problem is, you won't know beforehand which part of which stage you end up in when teleporting, and gameplay resumes immediately giving you no time to prepare. Most of these are fair, sending you to relatively safe areas, but one of them sends you smack in the middle of Quick Man's second laser pit, where you have absolutely no time to react before a laser comes at you, so you have to start holding left before teleporting in. Good thing these challenges give you unlimited lives, and you respawn on the current stage when you die, but it still costs time.
    • Powered Up has a number of Elec Man and Oil Man's challenges. They grind down to "go fast, run into something that kills you that comes out way too fast to react to, like a spike wall, then deal with it next time". Not very good, that.
  • Prince of Persia for the SNES contains one instance of this. While normally, every trap, hazard and enemy is clearly marked, there is one instance in one of the later levels where you find two identical potions. One increases your life total, and the other instantly kills you. Thankfully this is near a Save Point. This scene is absent in every other port of the game.
  • The original Rayman is all about this, being an epically Nintendo Hard romp that throws everything at you from Malevolent Architecture to Bullet Hell, with you getting past one obstacle only to be bitch-slapped by the next. Rayman Origins and Legends are similar, but the difficulty is severely toned down and most of the trial-and-error aspect is towards the option of finding enough Lums and finding each Electoon cage.
  • Rayman Origins plays this painfully straight with the bosses. They have one pattern of attacks that they perform in the same order each and every time. Since they don't telegraph their moves and you have no clue what's happening next, each boss battle is basically a memory test. Defeating each boss boils down to dying repeatedly and getting a tiny bit farther each time until you finally make it to the end.
  • Rick Dangerous suffers from a combination of this, One-Hit-Point Wonder and Everything Trying to Kill You. Literally every area is filled with dozens of hidden spikes, which will pop out of walls and floors, and you won't even know they're there until you've been hit (and sent right back to the start of the last scene). The only way to play through the game is to patiently wander into all the hidden traps on any given screen, remember where they all are, and avoid them all the next twenty or thirty times you replay it. May be considered an early Platform Hell.
  • Bringing the wrong gun to the boss fights of RoboCop Versus The Terminator can turn them into twenty minute battles of attrition, or just be flat-out unwinnable if all you have is the base Auto-9, which doesn't do ANY damage to some bosses. A good portion of the game is figuring out which gun is required against which boss, and then holding onto that gun at all costs (until you can swap it for the next "correct" gun for the UPCOMING boss, of course.)
  • Sky Roads often confronts the player with a choice of paths, not making it clear which one isn't fatal until too late. The worst are the tunnels which completely conceal deadly burning red squares from the player's view.
  • Many Sonic the Hedgehog 2D games are like this. Try running full speed ahead, what many perceive to be the whole point of the series, only to crash into an enemy as a result of having mere milliseconds to react to it once it appears. This is, however, by design as series creator, Yuji Naka, had a fascination with memorizing levels to find the fastest route and this love of speedrunning was the inspiration for Sonic's mechanics and level design.
    • The final boss in Sonic Generations is much harder than it should be due to the game drowning out the instructions on how to attack. You just have to experiment until you figure out what works.
    • Also, the Special Stages on any game in Anniversary Mode of Sonic Origins allow you to retry them if you have at least one Coin; this is especially useful on the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Special Stages, where you have to get a certain number of Rings, while avoiding Bombs, because the Bombs can make it incredibly difficult to get the required number of Rings (each Bomb subtracts 10 Rings), and you also have to learn the level layout to maximize your chances of avoiding the Bombs and getting the Rings and Emeralds.
    • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) has a great deal of this of several different kinds. Some of them are due to the notorious glitches. Some of them are due to the uncooperative camera. Some of them are due to the design choices in the game.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Featured in a couple of castle levels in Super Mario Bros., including the final dungeon. You have to choose the correct routes through the dungeon to progress or you'll be forced back to the last checkpoint to choose another. Other than by memorizing the right and wrong ways, there's no way of knowing the right paths without a guide. Castle 8 is even trickier because not only does the correct path involve locating and taking pipes, but some of the pipes go backwards to the first room while some of the correct pipe choices are easy to overlook. At least the maze only goes as far as the underwater section.
    • One of the last levels in Super Mario Bros. 3 has the same problem, and it's even worse due to its labyrinthine nature, resulting in many players running out of time trying the find the right path.
    • Many of the green stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2, because they're found floating above bottomless pits, and in places carefully put just where the camera can't see. Hence quite a few of them are just 'jump in the general direction and hope you land on the star'. Or in the case of Flipsville, hope you fall into a star you can't judge the location of.
    • The very likely to be removed in short notice Super Mario World hack Super Mario -Lost Brain- Ultimate Edition has this in spades. And by in spades, we mean in the cheapest way possible. See those normal objects? Every single one can randomly kill you without warning (as in, complete arbitrary cannons, blocks, water, coins or other stuff). They can also not kill you (in other levels). In other levels, the GROUND can kill you. In others? The AIR ITSELF. As in, random patches have what appear to be invisible spikes that insta-kill without warning. Oh how not so fun it is to play Russian Roulette with a Platform Hell setup.
  • The final level of Trine has a bad case of this. You have to climb up a narrow tower ahead of rising instant death lava while an undead wizard busily conjures objects to block your path. You're forced to endlessly repeat the level (and its loading screen) as you memorize exactly where and when the wraith will suddenly spawn a load of spiked balls, crates, or planks to block your progress.
  • Voltorometer Recharged, for no good reason, suddenly decides to throw hidden bottomless pits at you during the escape sequence that happens after the final boss.
  • The original Wonder Boy has platforms floating on the screens alone. Jumping to the next one is a leap of faith based on a random guess that ends in death if you guess wrong.
  • Yoshi's Island:
    • Yoshi's Island DS is this trope in spades, partly because the secret and extra levels are difficult enough to class as Platform Hell. Two of the most notable (read worst) examples of this are the various rooms in Yoshi's Island Easter Eggs (such as the one where the lights last for about two seconds, in a room filled with bottomless pits and enemies or the egg powered platform which is almost impossible to time correctly the first time around), or the rather unfair part in Yikes Boiling Hot! where after knocking down a bunch of rocks to use as platforms, the next one is followed by an instant death stream of lava timed just enough after the initial event that most people would be standing right under it where it fell.
    • Yoshi's Island also has this in Endless World of Yoshis, with not only the free fall section littered with instant kill spikes that you have to figure out as you go (three times without a checkpoint) but also the one way barrier in the cave. The key you need to open the locked door is the other side. You're meant to find a boulder to hold the door open while you retrieve the key, but this is never even hinted at during the rest of the game nor ever required.


    Puzzle Games 
  • The flash game Life Ark - just about any time you click on the wrong spot, the game becomes unwinnable and the game only vaguely indicates that this has occurred. (Couldn't you guys have provided an "undo" button, at least?)
  • Ball Revamped:
    • Many levels have fake exits. Except for the ones in Amplitudenote , you have to test them to find out that they're in fact fake.
    • Level 98 and 99 from Gemini have invisible walls that you can't make visible. You have to guess their locations to reach the exits.
    • Level 25 of Metaphysik forces you to pass an area that triggers shooters that you can't see. If you're in the wrong place when this happens, you die.
  • Chip's Challenge: The first game has several of these, mostly involving Frictionless Ice.
    • Level 140, ICEDEATH, relies on guessing which direction to take at every point on the ice of which typically only one of the three new directions leads to safe ground, while the other two lead to a watery grave. Usually. Sometimes there are even false paths that all lead to death. Of course, you can always map the stage out manually, which is recommended since the solution consists of 60-some odd moves.
    • The final (secret) level hides the exit square underneath blocks. You need to push them out of the way to find it. However, most of the blocks on the level have fire underneath, and will kill you instantly if you push them. You can move blocks from your sides in the game's Atari Lynx version (a technique known as "block slapping"), which eliminates the risk of burning; however, you cannot do this in the Windows version, forcing you to rely on luck to push straight the blocks without fire.
  • The Commodore 64 game The Castles of Doctor Creep occasionally features this trope. Perhaps the most infamous is the left "black room" in Alternation. The room features conveyor belts that need to be switched off...and most of the switches are over these moving conveyor belts. Further, because the floors are black, you can't see the conveyor belts (which are also black). The belts need to be switched off in a certain order. Pick the wrong switch, and you get pulled past the switch and into a spot you can't escape, forcing you to Hit Restore to Die. Puzzles like this are why the game has an Unlimited Lives option.
  • In each The Devil's Calculator level, your goal is to use an unknown function (or, later, multiple unknown functions) in a calculation with the answer of 666. The first step is experimenting with the mysterious function until you figure out what it is.
  • Grow games by On on the Eyezmaze website are a great example of this trope done right. You are given a bunch of objects to add to a field, and they will grow each turn until you've placed every one. Different objects take more or less time to fully grow, and some objects require other objects to be at a specific level in order to grow more. The goal is to get every object to their maximal level, but even if you don't you'll probably see something fun happen.
  • This is the point of The Impossible Quiz.
    WRONG! -1 LIFE
  • As the name implies, the Lemmings Tricky level "Lost something?" appears to have no exit. The exit is hidden inside the rock which floats above the path the lemmings take when they enter the screen.
  • A lot of levels in Scribblenauts are like this. Oftentimes, the game gives you almost no indication of what to do, or very vague indication, and you're left to your devices.
    • Many of the game mechanics are like this. There is no outward indication, for instance, that helicopters are electric, and so will electrocute anything you attach to them by a chain. Which is stronger, a Warrior or a Samurai? Hey, that Knight just ate the Carrot I was going to feed to the Horse! Maybe I can kill that Jersey Devil with a Black Hole—oops. Figuring how any two things in the game will interact is half the fun.
    • The sequel, Super Scribblenauts, takes it to another level by having many seemingly open-ended puzzles that can only be solved in very specific ways. Getting to the front of a queue? No amount of stealth, force or other silly solutions will do, you have to give the other people in the queue an item they're interested in which somehow makes them leave the queue. Putting a child to sleep? None of your regular methods of putting anything to sleep will fulfill the criteria, despite making the child sleep. The solution is to give the child something like a teddy bear, which in any other circumstance would have no such effect.
  • The goal of an Understand sublevel is to draw a line that satisfies the level's set of rules. However, you are not told what these rules are, so you have to deduce them by trying various lines and seeing which rules are satisfied under which conditions.
  • The Witness: A few (optional) puzzles have hidden elements that light up only when you miss them.

    Rhythm Games 
  • DanceDance Revolution is infamous amongst Rhythm Game fans for introducing all manners of BPM changes that will catch a sightreader (someone playing the song and chart for the first time) off-guard. Some of these BPM-gimmick songs are part of Extra Stages, meaning that the player can only miss up to three times before failing, or as part of Encore Extra Stages, where the player cannot miss at all, meaning that it will take hundreds of retries or watching others play before the player can complete the chart, assuming the player doesn't decide to just wait until the song is unlocked for normal play.

  • Nauticrawl has you figure how to even control the vehicle you ended up on, which features absolutely zero labeling and no manual. Your first few deaths will probably happen even before you can properly start the engine. This is justified by the fact that you're a slave worker escaping with a machine that's purposefully designed without any button labeling, specifically to prevent the scenario that you're pulling off. After all, if you're trained to operate it, labeling would be unnecessary.
  • Dwarf Fortress. Unless you read an incredibly comprehensive guide before even downloading it (which you probably won't understand anyway; until you play enough to learn the interface, it will all sound like gibberish), you probably won't even know how to play the game. Until after you've started, been horribly confused by, and lost multiple fortresses. The motto of the game, of course, is "losing is fun."
  • In NetHack, there are at least 200 known unique ways of dying. After you've learned not to eat kobold corpses, not to drink unidentified potions, not to attack floating eyes in melee, not to read unidentified scrolls, and not to kick sinks at a low level, you might be able to live long enough to learn not to attack a cockatrice in melee, not to touch a cockatrice corpse barehanded, not to attack cockatrices while polymorphed, not to eat tinned food while hallucinating (because it might be stewed cockatrice), and a lot, lot more.

    Role Playing Games 
  • Baldur's Gate and its sequel have certain particular boss fights which are basically puzzles where you have to find the right weapons or spells to bypass enemy defenses and immunities. You are not given any hint on how to face those challenges, nor advised about the enemy powers. For example, nobody tells you that a specific monster is immune to +3 and lesser weapons until you actively try to hurt it. The game implicitly encourages players to experiment with various combinations in order to find one that works. Sometimes, incredibly difficult fights become ridiculously easy once you accidentally discover the right solution. For example, Kangaxx can be one of the most fearsome enemies, considering that it is immune to countless spells, weapons and types of damage, and can insta-imprison all party members without a warning if you don't have the right protection spells. Until you discover that Minsc's berserk rage ability makes him immune to any of Kangaxx's attacks, turning what would otherwise be a difficult battle into a trivial buttkick.
  • Chrono Trigger has the optional boss Son of Sun, which is a floating eyeball-like monster with five smaller orbs surrounding it. Attacking it directly doesn't hurt it and triggers a powerful counterattack. Attacking one of the smaller orbs does one of two things: Four of them will trigger counterattacks, and the fifth will cause damage to the boss. They all look exactly the same. To win the fight, you need to attack the smaller orbs until you find the right one, then focus on that one until the boss shuffles them around.
  • The Dark Souls franchise has some elements of this:
    • There are many traps and powerful enemies, and players need to be cautious and observant in order to survive them all. As well, the player is expected to die to bosses on their first (several) attempts, as the games use death itself as a learning mechanic: get killed by a boss's attack, learn its telegraph, dodge it the next time only to be killed by a different attack, rinse and repeat. Even a highly skilled player who is playing through the games a second time is likely be to killed if they're ever caught off-guard. Players can leave messages to one another to warn about upcoming dangers, but beware, for Trolls like leaving fake messages as well. There is a great reason "Git Gud" is a meme for these games.
    • Dark Souls, the first in the series, is notable for a few very problematic areas, above even the normal progression of the game.
      • The Hellkite Dragon/Bridge Wyvern/Red Drake at the cusp of Undead Parish, after defeating the Taurus Demon. At the level that it is encountered at, it can kill the player in a mere one or two attacks, and blocks the way into the Parish. And unless you make a break for the safe spot in the middle of the bridge (which isn't exactly obvious) before it gets a chance to roast the length of the bridge, chances are you'll die and have to go through the entire Upper Undead Burg all over again just to unlock the shortcut back to the bonfire. And this isn't even getting into actually fighting the creature itself.
      • The Capra Demon at the end of Lower Undead Burg is notorious for ending most first-timers' runs. You must pass through a fog gate to get to bosses, and the Capra Demon and two rabid dogs attack you without warning, even before the fog gate stops obscuring your vision. Many players get instantly killed a few times without even finding out what's attacking them, and take many more attempts before finding the precise order of actions to take in order to get enough space to kill those two dogs and stand a fighting chance against the Capra Demon itself.
      • Blighttown. The descent down to the bottom is otherwise rather painless, were it not for the almost perfectly-camouflaged blowdart snipers with uncanny range and accuracy who inflict severe Toxic, enough to kill most players in mere seconds if they don't have Toxic curing consumables. In order to survive the level, players will have to equip a poison-blocking shield (that's starting gear for the Bandit class, but otherwise a missable pick-up), immunize themselves with Dung Pies (which also give them the Toxic status effect but drains HP much more slowly), or try to find and counter-snipe them (which requires having enough Strength/Dexterity to use a bow). Thankfully, the snipers don't respawn, so killing them just once is enough.
      • Sen's Fortress is one of the most notorious areas in the entire game. Not only is it filled to the brim with extremely lethal traps (from swinging blades to pressure-plate traps to rolling boulders), but is also guarded by snake-men that are extremely resistant to physical damage, only becoming easier to defeat once the player finds a specific elemental weapon that's dropped by a specific enemy partway through the dungeon. In the meantime, players will have to learn (the hard way) how to avoid all the traps and beat all the enemies, with each death sending the player back to the start, and the only bonfire in the entire level being accessible through a hidden drop-down.
      • The infamous Bed of Chaos boss, the source of huge amounts of Fake Difficulty in a game normally absent of it. It's the only Puzzle Boss in the entire game, so first you need to figure out how to damage it. Then, Bottomless Pits open up in the floor without warning, instantly killing you if you happen to be there. Fortunately, the boss does not reset when you die, so previously collapsed floor sections stay that way, and the boss retains its HP level.
    • Dark Souls II also has its share of Guide Dang It! moments.
      • The Dark Stalkers in No-Man's Wharf can be a pain to deal with unless you know what their weakness is ahead of time. They're long-reaching, hard-hitting and their attacks will build up your bleed bar even if blocked. What isn't immediately apparent is that if you shine a light in their faces, they'll recoil and back away, allowing you to cut them down with minimal resistance.
      • The Lost Sinner can be one of the harder early-game bosses to beat without proper preparations. When fighting her head-on, the poor lighting in the room will reduce the player's lock-on range, making it easy for her to simply jump over you, break target lock and bring her greatsword into your back while you're wondering where the hell she went. So you'll have to light the torches outside of the arena first, which proves impossible without the Bastille Key (which, in the original PS3/360/DX9 version, requires beating an optional boss to get).
      • Dragon Aerie can prove to be plain impossible to get through without learning the real trick to getting to the end. While the enemies are certainly not insurmountable, the entire level is littered with dragon eggs that seem to serve no purpose other than to be destructible objects; destroy any number of them, and the dragons will get pissed at you, to the point where if you try to leave to go to the next area, they will swoop down on you and destroy the bridge you're standing on, dropping you immediately to your death. Unless you know that these dragon eggs are the source of your problems, you're likely to just keep trying to run through the level and dying at the end because you didn't know to leave them alone.
      • The (optional) Ancient Dragon boss is widely considered one of the most frustrating bosses to beat in the base game. The first time the player encounters this fight they will have no way of knowing that practically any attack suffered will cause instant death to the player. If the player tries to block with any shield other than the Gyrm's Greatshield, almost maxed out with max stamina, then all fire attacks will break the player's guard and instantly kill them. Alternatively the boss's flying, fire breath attack tracks the player for the first 30% of the attack and has massive AOE (area of effect) damage that will instantly kill the player. As a result if the player is not under 25% weight encumbrance they simply are not fast enough to always dodge the breath attack.
      • King Vendrick can prove nearly insurmountable without the right items on hand. Unless the player knows to collect Giant Souls (only three of which make themselves readily available to the player, with the remaining two hidden behind optional enemies), he'll have an absurd amount of damage resistance, causing two-handed strong attacks with a maxed-out ultra greatsword to deal chip damage to him and rendering any attempt to defeat him futile (unless you're extremely persistent).
    • Bloodborne has moments of this like in previous Souls games. Of note is a couple of the chalice dungeon bosses.
      • The Bloodletting Beast often starts the fight launching a difficult to avoid punch that can easily one-hit kill the player. It's easy to see the charge up but almost impossible to know the exact timing of the punch until he is fought a few times meaning the likelihood of many deaths. Also many of his standard attacks can instantly kill low HP builds without forewarning.
      • Pthumerian Descendant has many combos that can instantly kill lower HP builds that come out of seemingly nowhere and are fast to boot. Also he covers an insane distance which will often catch a first time fighters off guard leading to being combo'd to death.
    • Dark Souls III learned a lot of lessons from its predecessors, but doesn't quite avoid this trope.
      • Cathedral of the Deep is perhaps one of the most well-designed levels in the game, however it is also one of the more frustrating areas to navigate due to checkpointing and difficulty. The rooftops are full of crossbow archers who launch multiple volleys at the player from range, the inside of the cathedral proper is guarded by two giant slaves whose attacks can easily shave off half a player's health bar in one hit, the lower floors are guarded by extremely tough Cathedral Knights and riddled with all sorts of poison traps, and there is only one bonfire in the entire cathedral (not counting the one spawned by defeating the area boss), requiring the player to progressively unlock shortcuts back to the main chapel area.
      • Irithyll Dungeon has earned a deserved reputation as pain incarnate. Beyond the layout of the dungeon itself, it's filled with Jailer enemies that will reduce quickly your health just by looking at you (read: not deal continuous damage to you, but lower the maximum number so that you can't heal it back). If you're not careful and run headfirst into a Jailer, expect him to stun-lock you with his branding iron, and then proceed to kill you in one hit thanks to having reduced your HP down to double digits (in a game where even the lowest-HP class starts with hundreds) after chasing you down, sending you back to start.
      • Yhorm the Giant can be this due to the mechanic required to defeat him in a timely manner. As the biggest Lord of Cinder, and as a proper giant, he takes Scratch Damage from almost all of the Ashen One's attacks, unless they're targeted on his arms and head (staggering him will allow the player to perform a visceral-like attack that takes off a big chunk of his health). However, even with this, Yhorm is still a Marathon Boss who can end players in a few successful attacks, unless you take the time to search the boss room and find the Storm Ruler near his throne, and then equip it and shave off huge swathes of his HP bar at a time using the weapon art.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind expansion Tribunal has a nasty end-game sequence of death-puzzles. Most of which involve trial and error using the WASD keys or jumping at 'just' the right time to avoid getting killed, regardless of what defensive precautions you might have taken.
  • Elohim Eternal: The Babel Code: The dueling minigame with Lamech requires the player to determine whether to use strength, skill, or cunning based on the enemy's dialogue, but the tells for the latter two options are easy to mix up.
  • Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight exaggerates this trope among the whole series by making almost every major boss follow a strict pattern, and some of them threaten to punish the party with a deadly attack if they don't prepare the correct defenses or find a way to stop it. Without a guide, you may end up scrutinizing boss behavior over multiple attempts to figure out a step-by-step strategy to defeat it.
  • Fallout: New Vegas downloadable content Dead Money includes a number of sequences having the player advance through an area before nearby radio signals set off the explosive collar that they are forced to wear for the duration of the expansion. These segments can be made easier by destroying the signal emitters (radios, PA systems), but the emitters are often hard to see in the dark and hazy environments of the ruins of the Sierra Madre casino, and at times simply cannot be destroyed at all note , often making the player resort to a disorienting charge, often resulting in repeated deaths and frustration. There are also a number of instant-death explosive booby traps that are difficult to see the first time around. These along with the Ghost People, poison gas, and lack of supplies makes Dead Money a very difficult and divisive experience.
  • In Faria, you have to fall off the cloud level in just the right spot, or else you have to go back and do it over again.
  • Final Fantasy IV: The After Years has a boss near the end of the game who will wipe out your party before you get a chance to act unless you've brought two specific characters along with you. While one of those characters is pretty good and likely to have been chosen, the other is absolutely useless up to this point and pretty much guaranteed to not be in your party. So, the typical player will play through and get a Game Over at least once, at which point they'll get a hint as to one of the characters they need to bring. Bring that character, but not the other, and you'll get a Game Over, but this time a hint as to the other character you need, at which point you can finally proceed with the game. But if you want to avoid one of these characters being Killed Off for Real, you'll have to bring along two more characters, with no hints being provided by the game that this will help.
  • Final Fantasy VI has one example of the delightful combination of Trial-and-Error Gameplay and Checkpoint Starvation in the Cultists' Tower. Along with already having an unusual gameplay gimmick (in battle, most characters can only use the "magic" and "item" commands while there), there are no save points in the tower and the Warp spell doesn't work. The boss at the top of the tower, upon death, automatically casts Ultima, a ludicrously powerful unblockable spell that will kill your entire party unless you're obscenely overleveled. There is absolutely no indication that this is coming, and the only way to survive is to have Reraise cast on at least one party member so they auto-resurrect after this attack. Also, because Warp doesn't work, you have to get all the way down the tower as well after beating the boss, so it's very important to make sure you've kept up your MP one way or another. Effectively, if you aren't using a guide you are practically guaranteed to die to the boss the first time you attempt this dungeon and have to start all over again from the beginning. Unless you're savvy enough to know the game averts My Rules Are Not Your Rules, and just decide to get rid of all his MP to keep him from being able to use any magic. Knowing that he can be berserked or that he will spend his MP casting Ultima as he dies, however, does fall under this trope.
  • Final Fantasy X's Yunalesca is That One Boss for a number of reasons, but one of them is just a classic case of this on the part of the developers. The second phase of the battle randomly casts Zombie on party members, and then heals them (which damages party members affected with Zombie). Because there is no way of restoring the hit points of any character with Zombie, the natural impulse of the player will thus naturally be to de-Zombify any character afflicted with the status. So what happens at the third phase of the battle? Naturally, she casts an instant death move that automatically kills any party member not afflicted with Zombie, unless they have Deathproof armor. There is absolutely no way of knowing that she will do this ahead of time. Oh, and there's an unskippable cutscene before the battle. This verges on Fake Difficulty and the fight is almost universally despised even by people who otherwise praise the game.
  • Final Fantasy XII: Bosses are normally immune to the Enemy Scan Libra. You can spend a lot of time rummaging through your characters' spell libraries trying to find out what does and does not work, or you can hammer away with basic attacks and hope that the AI controlled characters know what they're doing with their spells.
  • Final Fantasy XIII has this for its battle system. You can set six different paradigms which will tell your AI what roles they are in and what moves to perform. However, the game can be difficult and certain enemies (bosses in particular) demand a particular strategy or a "Deck" (specific paradigm suits) in order to obtain the five star ranking to increase item drop rates. One of the only ways to know if your paradigms are no good for a particular segment or mission is to get into some fights, get your ass beat, start over, and configure the correct paradigms to suit the mission in general. Thankfully though, many of the enemy team formations in a given area are susceptible to a certain deck or formation (weak to magic? team of Ravagers/Relentless Assault will fix that), so it's not like you have to configure the paradigms that often until you tackle the missions or the endgame bosses, but rather find out the enemies and figure out the proper assault choices to conduct battle.
  • Mass Effect games feature dialogue wheels with options that often don't sound like what Shepard says in result. It could be very possible to be doing a Paragon playthrough, only to pick an option that looks like a harsh chastising and suddenly reloading yourself after Shepard blasted the other end of the conversation.
  • Monster Hunter, although it's somewhat part of the design of the game, has very heavy instances of this.
    • Many times, newcomers to the series can be found exclaiming they don't understand what to do, or are dying repeatedly to a monster and don't know how to beat it. The game gives very little useful information to the player about how to actually play the game well. The enemies are designed for the player to make mistakes against, and they will frequently be fatal mistakes. Sometimes the game also throws in monsters that act as That One Boss, often to force players into using new strategies, since old ones are outright punished. Barroth is this hurdle in Monster Hunter 3 (Tri). Monsters before it are slower, hit for lower damage, and have many openings. Barroth is fast and strikes hard, changing the pace from the previous fights while having openings that are much more difficult to discern.
    • Sometimes the series uses this trope to the detriment of the game. As of the third generation (namely Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate), the monsters' AI has become noticeably more random in their attack combinations, leaving very few openings to get in reliable attacks and causing frustration for players while turning some fights into guessing games. Brachydios, for instance, can spam as few as one or as many as four fist slams at any moment, after almost any attack; meanwhile, other attacks, such as the "standing horn slam", cause random sets of fixed explosions in order from closest to furthest from him, giving the player no good understanding of when to attack. But you have to attack at some point, because you're on a time limit every quest. Therefore, you must risk damage/death at a moment's notice just to get some simple damage in during certain parts of the fight. It isn't always a problem for all weapon classes on all monsters, but particular weapons are clearly inferior to others in a fight due to this trope occurring.
  • Paper Mario: Sticker Star received a ton of flak for this. Most puzzles require a specific Thing to beat, and using the wrong one deletes it from your inventory; this wouldn't be a problem, except that many of the puzzles are completely illogical and require items found in different levels (One notorious puzzle puts a tornado in Mario's way. To get past, you have to find a household vacuum cleaner in a secret room in another world, and then make the cognitive leap that a vacuum cleaner is capable of sucking up a tornado). Boss fights are oftentimes unwinnable if you don't use a specific Thing - again, not found in the same level - at a specific time. Enjoy having to backtrack to refind all of the Things you lost trying to solve a puzzle.
  • Feebas in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl can only found by fishing in a few specific squares in a large body of water. There's no way to find these special squares, other than fishing in hundreds of places for hours. Later games got rid of this ridiculous tediousness by making the Feebas-squares visible.
  • Ruina: Fairy Tale of the Forgotten Ruins:
    • The nodes in the dungeon crawling system can contain useful rewards, traps, or both. There's no way to figure out the best approach without taking a leap of faith or looking up a guide.
    • Unlike the mixing menu, the cooking menu doesn't list all the recipes, meaning players will need to experiment in order to find out what foods they can make.
  • Many of the bosses in the Shin Megami Tensei series can be like this. Most bosses have specific elemental weaknesses to exploit, and there's often no way to anticipate them beyond checking online or just dying and trying again with what you've learned.
    • The dungeon-crawling portions of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey can also get like this, with mazes of teleporters or one-way doors that will throw you back to the start or dump you into a roomful of damage/status tiles if you take a wrong turn. The most irritating area about this is probably the New Game Plus part of Sector Grus, where essentially every wrong turn will result in you falling down a pitfall and having to trek back to the beginning.
  • Shin Megami Tensei / Persona:
    • In most games in the series, you obtain new Demons by talking to them, then giving them items and money based on how good of an impression you made on them. However, the answers the Demon would prefer are often impossible to figure out on your own. For example, if a Demon asks you "Which fruit am I the most like?", your answers are "A watermelon", "A tomato", and "A durian". You can probably guess that "A durian" is a bad answernote , but that still leaves two possible answers, including one that may enrage the Demon. And some Demons might like the "bad" answer in some cases.
    • The Amala Temple in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne contains three smaller Temples, each with a different gimmick. The Black Temple is less of an example (you just have to jump down from some pits on the top floor to open a hole to the basement where the boss is), but the White Temple is a maze where certain doors are teleporters, while the Red Temple has invisible traps that take you to the Shadow World, where there are more damage floors and the stairs and save points are disabled until you find lights to return. Both of these require navigating a specific route by memorizing where the teleporters/traps are.
    • Persona 4:
      • At one point, you are given a serious moral choice to make. It's fairly clear to most players what the "good" thing to do is. However, doing so involves getting through several dialogue choices. Picking the wrong one even once gives you a bad ending. Oh, and this occurs right after some lengthy cutscenes.
      • Enemy resistances. Until a very late-game upgrade, discovering what an enemy is weak to or strong to can only be done by hitting them with that element. As such, if you're not playing with a strategy guide, you will wind up healing a few enemies and damaging yourself along the way.
    • Playing Persona 3 FES on hard mode during your first run-through becomes this. You often go into a boss fight with absolutely no idea what the boss can do, which often means a Total Party Kill because you didn't go in with the right set of resistances and abilities. Even on Normal mode, the only way to find out the Weaknesses of a boss are to simply spam attacks until you find that he's weak to a certain type.
  • Suikoden Tactics has an interesting twist on this trope: when you Game Over, you keep the Experience Points you earned during the failed battle. As such, you can Level Grind and experience Trial-And-Error at the same time.
  • Sword of Paladin: The duel system requires the player to figure out which dialogue line corresponds to which type of action, which requires trial-and-error for some lines due to the bad translation and difficulty in reading the enemy's intent. In later duels, players will have to memorize facial expressions too.
  • Undertale in precisely one instance: Sans' boss battle. While not technically unwinnable on the first try, many of his attacks come so fast and thick you pretty much have to start moving before they appear. It is a deliberate instance of Fake Difficulty in order to make the player themselves to give up on playing the game, thus leaving the survivors of your own bloody swath, necessary to even reach this point of the game, in peace.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X has several missions in which picking the wrong dialogue choice results in an innocent NPC's death. At least three of these missions require you to overhear information from somebody in the massive New Los Angeles or the many BLADE camps scattered across Mira in order to even be able to make a life-saving choice; one of them requires you to have obtained a certain rare collectible on top of that. Two other missions require you to be able to know the geography of a region and the attacks of a specific enemy type, respectively, from memory.

    Shoot Em Ups 
  • The C64 shoot-em-up Delta is pretty much the embodiment of this trope. Enemy waves will quickly scroll across the screen, usually before the player can hope to kill them with their pea-shooter of a gun, and will inevitably destroy the One-Hit-Point Wonder player ship. A post on a C64 forum described it as an "interactive memory test disguised as a game".
  • Last Hope by NG:DEV.TEAM is a good modern example. It's even more memorization-heavy than R-Type, to the point where even getting past the first level requires you to plan and memorize a path through the entire stage.
  • At a glance, Ikaruga doesn't require a lot of this. But playing for score, which requires stringing together chains (shooting 3 consecutive same-colored enemies), is like studying for a final exam.
  • Image Fight and Image Fight 2 are both extremely memorization heavy shmups by IREM. The Penalty Stages are pretty much guaranteed death unless you've memorized it entirely.
  • Topping Ikaruga's chaining is Raiden Fighters's Micluses. To find out where they are, you'll either be doing this trope A LOT or watching superplays.
  • A vast majority of the challenge in the R-Type series is knowing exactly where to be at all times, even when there's nothing dangerous on-screen. In fact, an empty screen is a good sign that SOMETHING is about to clamp down or fly open or sweep through and trap and crush you, unless you know beforehand which square inch of the screen is safe. That square inch also moves around a lot, and its interior walls usually spray bullets at you.
  • Thunder Force III has a few death traps that, without prior knowledge, are nearly guaranteed to kill you. Examples include a pillar of lava on Gorgon that doesn't stop, very sudden enemy attacks, and the moving terrain in Haides.
  • Touhou Project:
    • Mima in Touhou Fuumaroku ~ the Story of Eastern Wonderland has a pattern where she'll briefly charge... then ram the area below her. You're not fast enough to get out of the way after she's started moving.
    • Yuuka is fond of this in Touhou Gensokyo ~ Lotus Land Story. As a stage five boss, she'll stop and charge up... then hit 90% of the screen with an undodgeable laser (at least undodgeable if you don't know that it's coming). In stage six, one of her patterns puts a circle under the player. Following action-game instinct and moving away will kill you, since it's actually the safe spot.
    • Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism is quite fond of this. Examples include Parsee's midboss spell card,note  Parsee's second boss spell cardnote  Yuugi's last spell cardnote  and basically all of stage 5. (See the annotations for this video.) Memorizing what to do is fairly helpful in all of the games, but SA is really the worst, at least outside the Extra Stages.
    • The systems for gaining more lives and bombs in Touhou Seirensen ~ Undefined Fantastic Object and Touhou Shinreibyou ~ Ten Desires, while not requiring memorization, strongly encourage it.
    • Anything with infinite lives will be shameless about their use of this trope. Including Touhou Kanjuden ~ Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, which has on option to play with lives instead of checkpoints.
  • In Xenon 2 Megablast, the side-shot and the rear-shot are Mutually Exclusive Power-Ups. At the mid-point and end of each level you are given the opportunity to sell and buy equipment, but without having already played the following section there's no way of knowing which one of the two you should have - and if you get it wrong, you will lose.

    Sports Games 
  • In The Wacky World of Miniature Golf, the success of every putt you make is determined entirely by the timing of when you press the putt button. However, seemingly different timings can result in the same failure animation, and the timing to get a successful shot is very specific, so the only way to figure it out is to repeatedly get missing shots that either block or destroy your ball until you find the exact moment you need to hit the ball.

    Strategy Games 
  • A particularly bad example can be found in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: Uprising. The final Allied mission has you going up against an Empire commander after choosing one of two locations to build your base on, no big deal. The northeast position looks far, far more defensible and has closer ore nodes, so most players will probably pick it on their first playthrough. However... As soon as you kill off the Empire commander, the real Big Bad reveals himself and comes gunning for you. The map expands to accommodate his base and guess what - it's directly north of the earlier mentioned starting position. Which before marked the edge of the map, so you probably have no defenses there whatsoever. And he starts out with a ridiculously huge and well-equipped strike force already rushing to attack you. Hell, there is a good chance his longer-ranged units will be shelling you before the cutscene even ends. If you don't know this is coming, you are basically guaranteed to die, and even when you're prepared it's a difficult battle.
  • Company of Heroes can embody this trope if you're trying to get the medals in the singleplayer campaign. Many of them require beforehand knowledge of what will happen in the heavily scripted missions, as attaining them without this knowledge can be virtually impossible.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics has shades of this, since you're never given a clue as to what sort of situation you're getting into before a battle. You just have the (very basic) layout of your team's immediate starting area, so if you unwittingly put your team of melee combatants into a map against, say, a whole team of archers and mages on the other side of a valley or river, you're in trouble.
    • Especially bad during several sequential battle sequences, where you no longer have the option of Level Grinding if you don't have the right job classes available or if you simply aren't high enough level for the enemies. This can lead to several instances where the game is essentially Unwinnable... Especially during the final game sequence if you made the mistake of passing up your special characters in favor of the generic ones and thus missed the dozens of fights which comprised the "optional" portion of Chapter 4.
  • Fire Emblem games can be this to a player trying to not lose any units, thanks to enemy reinforcements. Often, units will spawn behind where the player's main force is likely to be at a certain point in the battle, and one has healers, mages, and archers in the back. In some games or situations, reinforcements will announce themselves without warning, appear on the map in a spot pre-programmed but unknown to the player, move, and attack, all in a single enemy phase. Or it will just be one of those damn foggy levels. Newer games can disable Permadeath via Casual Mode (or Phoenix Mode in Fates, or the use of Mila's Turnwheel in Echoes or Divine Pulse in Three Houses), but even then it'll be quite annoying to lose an unit even if just for one stage/turn.
  • Rise of the White Sun is a complex, multi-layered combination of a political sim with a 4X and heavy focus on character management, where a plethora of factors interact with each other, rarely in a transparent way. At the same time, the game is deliberately and intentionally made obtuse for new players, expecting them to simply sink hours after hours of gameplay to figure out how things work. The alleged tutorial only covers the location of windows for basic actions and sparsely discusses what they do.
  • Supreme Commander and its standalone expansion, Forged Alliance, rely heavily on scripted events and changing objectives during the single-player campaign, often meaning you're screwed unless you take every possible precaution or know what's coming. Huge enemy armies have a habit of popping up at the edge of the map when you least expect them, the map itself can expand in unexpected directions, you may suddenly receive objectives that are impossible to complete in your current state, and so on. The missions are actually fairly easy once you know what's about to happen, because you generally have unlimited time to prepare (despite the game nagging you to hurry up), but trying to pass a mission on the first try can be an exercise in frustration.
    • The fourth Cybran mission is a perfect example of this. In the beginning, you're tasked with destroying an enemy base on an island and capturing a building. As soon as you finish this objective, the map expands and you see another base, far off to the west, which is already under attack by the enemy and asking for your help. Unless you have a large army prepared and ready to go (in transports, no less, and not sea units, as they won't get there fast enough), the mission is lost. There is no way to prepare for this unless you knew about it in advance.
    • Similarly, the final Cybran mission basically pits your faction (known for its weak defenses) against relentless attacks by two different enemies from different directions, alongside throwing mission objectives at you. Unless you know exactly what to build when, you basically stand no chance.
  • Later levels of Valkyria Chronicles have elements of this to it, as does character selection as something as simple as not including the right number of different types of troops can severely mess you up.
    • Chapter 14 is particularly bad about this: The briefing says your mission is to capture the enemy camp, but nothing even remotely hints that, when you do capture it two giant tanks appear from the top and bottom of the map, and your objective now is to destroy both of them. If you left your Anti-Tank units behind, you're screwed. There's also Chapter 13, where the only path to the enemy camp is blocked off by a minefield. If you forgot to bring an Engineer, who can disarm mines, you're pretty much forced to restart. There's absolutely no way you can know about that minefield until it's already too late.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Tabletop Games players have a term for a dungeon with particularly random ways to inflict instant death: Gygaxian, though the term also implies heavy use of Malevolent Architecture. One of the most famous modules of this type is the Tomb of Horrors. People who survived that module largely did so by searching everything for traps, and sending Mooks to open every door in the dungeon. (It should be noted that it takes more effort to roll up a new character than to load a saved game.)
    • Favourite Tomb of Horrors moment: There's at one point a statue of a demon that holds an orb. This orb is a teleporter you need to pass through. There's ANOTHER identical demon statue right next to it. That one isn't a portal though — it's a Sphere of Annihilation. Oh, and to get through the teleporter safely, you need to perform a non-obvious sequence of actions.
  • This trope is the central gameplay mechanic of the board game Mastermind. The object of the game is for one player to put down pegs in a pattern, and for the second player to guess what colors the pegs are and in which order they're placed. The first player then tells them whether they have any correct colors in the right places or correct colors in the wrong spaces, so the second player has to use those clues given by the first player to guess what order the pegs are in.
  • Also the entire point of Battleship, where both players try to destroy the other players' fleet by guessing a random square on the grid, and then being told whether or not they hit a ship or missed it, and if you hit, you have to guess what adjacent squares contain a ship as well.

    Visual Novels 
  • A general rule of thumb in Type-Moon games is to always pick the most dangerous option when you're given one. Playing it safe usually ends up with you being eaten by a shark on the ninth floor of a hotel.
    • Tsukihime: If you don't leave a room, you die. If you attack a temple, you die. If you refuse the call, you die. Luckily, you get NUMEROUS "Have a nice death" things from the Tiger Dojo or Ciel-Senpai.
    • Fate/stay night: Shirou comes up with a plan to win one of the coming big fights and all you have to do for the decision is follow that plan...the problem is that you the player are not told what the plan is until after this vital decision and since you're PLAYING AS SHIROU, there's no reason you aren't told what the plan is.
  • Enzai: Falsely Accused is quite merciless if you want to get an ending that's not suicide or being somebody's Sex Slave, partly because the only choices that would lead you to a satisfactory ending are counter-intuitive at best. You chose to open the folder that would possibly have information on how to escape prison before a box of chocolates? Enjoy your remaining 30 gameplay minutes before the game kills you. Wanted to go to Jose's cell for a notebook that allegedly would set you free from jail? Say hello to your new life as Durer's sex slave. Especially frustrating since some of the options the game presents can become auto-chosen based on your previous actions.
  • Big Bang Age is rather straightforward in the School chapter and the Regional chapter. Once you reach the National chapter, on the other hand, you're going to be doing a lot of reloading. That odd schoolgirl who tells you she's with a certain council and that she wants you to pay them a visit? If you blow her off, every faction in the game goes hostile. Took that one seemingly-harmless region? Factions go hostile a few turns after you take neutral spaces next to their territory. Expect to start over a few times.
    • A particularly painful example happens near the end of the game. Thought that you would automatically be taken to the final boss after reaching the deadline of 100 days? Nope, you need to conquer Shinjuku (which is spitting out up to six demons per turn and requiring a lot of resources to so much as hold) to get the event to proceed with the story. Saved on the end of the 99th day? Loading that save immediately sends you to a cutscene and the game over screen.
  • The fan-made visual novel, CLANNAD: The Past Path, suffers from a pretty severe case of this. All but two of the endings are bleak, Despair Event Horizon-crossing conclusions, and you're usually one wrong choice away from them. The final choice point in the main heroine's route is particularly sadistic in this regard, as the wrong decision results in the protagonist's suicide, and you won't even know you've made a mistake until you've already gone through virtually the entire third act of the game.
  • Illusionary Trauma states that it's pretty much mandatory to save after everything due to how easy it is to die. That said, it helps set the mood better.
  • The Stealth-Based Mission in Corpse Party: Cross Fear includes a point where your only clue as to when it's safe to move is a series of audial clues. There is NO indication of which sound signifies it's safe to move, nor of how much time you get before you're automatically discovered and killed. Without a guide, your only recourse is guessing and hoping for the best... and dying a lot.
  • Deiz has thirteen possible endings. Good luck getting all of them without a walkthrough, since the choices that lead up to each can be arbitrary sometimes. For instance, the difference between your best friend consoling you after you learn that your crush loves someone else and your best friend locking you in his room to try an "experiment" is how you respond to said crush earlier in the game when she first talks to you. Even worse since your best friend wasn't even there for the decision, so it shouldn't reasonably have an effect on his behavior.
  • The entire idea of Long Live the Queen is this. You're hopelessly unqualified for this situation and everyone is trying to kill you. You're going to die a lot. As soon as you manage the skills and choices necessary to dodge one terrible fate, you're probably going to trigger another. Take notes or get used to staring at the game over screen.
  • The Shell: While few people try it, preferring to rely on walkthroughs, correctly mapping out how to find the various side routes and special endings requires trying every option, writing down what happens, and then reloading to try the other ones. Most of the main plot can be reached through common sense deductions. Side routes require collecting every optional appearance of that particular character in order to unlock the final scenes, and there is literally no way to know where and when those characters will appear other than visiting every place on the map and making notes of who's present on that date.
  • Zero Escape:
    • Finding your way to the True End of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors requires choosing different doors at several branching paths and going through several potential endings. You can't get the real ending on the first try - Akane needs the information she gathers from each trial run to figure out the correct path that will save her life.
    • Virtue's Last Reward is more forgiving since you can use the Flow screen to go back to a previous scene instead of having to play through from the beginning. However, you still have to play through all the endings to get the game's real ending.
    • In Zero Time Dilemma, there's a decision game in Team C's route that requires them to roll 3 dice and have them all end in 1, them being executed if even one of the die ends up in a different number. There's no trick or alternate solution at all; the game does expect you to roll three dice and have them all land in 1 in one try. Probability is not in your favor, and you'll more than likely die in your first tries. Subverted in two different ways: first, while the first two rolls do use the actual 1/256 chance of success, the third attempt is rigged to guarantee three 1's, which plays into a discussion afterwards. Secondly, the timeline where Team C loses the roll is fundamental to get the Golden Ending.

In-universe examples:

    Films — Live-Action 

  • All You Need Is Kill, and its film adaptation Edge of Tomorrow: The protagonist is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop until he finds a way to defeat the alien invasion, and he keeps trying different ways while repeatedly dying.
  • Qualia the Purple: Hatou's mindset when saving Yukari is to keep trying until she succeeds. Naturally, this ends up producing countless failed parallel universes, including ones where she's arrested, killed, or worse.

    Live Action TV 
  • Round 2 of the reality Game Show The Butcher has the contestants delivering portions of an exact height and weight to one of the judges. The catch is that they cannot use scales nor any other measuring tool, only their own instincts and skills as butchers. If they weigh over the requested weight, they're allowed to correct their cut, but if said cut weighs under, the cut is rejected, and a new cut must be produced. The first two butchers who deliver the required amount of approved cuts advance to the third and final round.


    Western Animation 
  • Robot Chicken featured the Hall of Memory. All you have to do is make it to the end of a trap-filled tunnel, but the only way to know where and what the traps are is by watching all the previous contestants fail (and die).

    Real Life 
  • Science is at its core trial and error. You observe a phenomenon, try to find an explanation, and then devise experiments to see if your explanation is right or not. You will get it wrong along the way. A lot of times. But each time you succeed, you have unlocked new possibilities to predict and manipulate natural phenomena in your favor.