Pinball games can be tough enough on their own. For most casual players, the pinball experience can be summed up as: Launch ball, watch it bounce off some bumpers and flippers, and make a beeline for the drain or the inescapable outlanes, all in the span of about 20 to 30 seconds; repeat two more times. If you're lucky, you might trigger a jackpot or special mode, but that joy will probably be short-lived thanks to drainages that seem to be beyond the player's control. In addition, nearly every machine released from the mid-80s and onward have a lot of rules and awards not explained to the player until they stumble across it or read the rules online. As a result, non-enthusiasts may just walk away dismissing pinball as a scam to shake money out of customers' wallets under the false pretense of providing a fun experience.
There is a technique called nudging—slapping and shaking the cabinet in order to influence the ball's movement—that can give you more control over the game beyond just activating the flippers, but it requires a good understanding of how much force you need to knock the ball and how much and how many times you can hit the table before it gives you a "TILT" penalty and kills your current ball and whatever end-of-ball bonuses you would've gotten otherwise. (Note that unlike Smart Bombs in video games, you don't get any sort of in-game indicator of how many more "tilt warnings" before the game decides to just wipe your current ball.) Not only is nudging (without triggering a TILT) a legal move in many pinball competitions, but many games encourage it; in any other genre of arcade games, hitting the machine—especially if it's a redemption game—will create scared looks from other customers at best and get you kicked out of the establishment at worst.
Some games are even more difficult by design, some games are difficult due to operator settings and table configurations, and some are difficult if you aren't really good at them. Inclining a table by half a degree or moving an outlane post two millimeters can be enough to turn a reasonable game into a beast. Specific examples follow:
- A few Williams Electronics games in The '90s (for instance, Fish Tales) came standard with "lightning" flippers, which are 1/8 of an inch shorter than standard pinball flippers, which is definitely much more than it sounds like.note Sometimes games that normally use standard flippers will be customized to use lightning flippers for a Self-Imposed Challenge and/or to reduce play times during tournaments.
- Sonic Spinball is basically four gigantic pinball tables (all of them tough as hell, especially the last one) that all have to be beaten with no continues or passwords.note Good luck with that.
- Bally's Baby Pac-Man is notoriously hard for both pinball players and Pac-Man experts. Not only is the pinball table small and prone to drains, the player starts off with no power pellets or offensive capabilities in the maze game, the ghosts are more aggressive than in other Pac-games, and all of them can reverse direction at any time.
- A trend with some modern pinballs is to have a reasonably-difficult table that's capped off with a final Wizard Mode that is insanely hard to reach. That keeps the game approachable for beginners, but makes it Nintendo Hard for the die-hards.
- Stern Pinball's Iron Man has the legendary "Do Or Die Multiball" mode, which is nearly impossible to reach due to the difficulty of the goals needed to enable it — the player must beat the game's five main goals multiple times, and the game does not award any extra balls at all. Unfortunately, the mode itself is simply a series of ramp shots, making it an Anti-Climax Boss for those who do manage to reach it.
- The Simpsons Pinball Party has the aptly-named "Super Duper Mega Extreme Wizard Mode". Lore is that those who have reached it have an unspoken oath to not tell others about it.
- Then there's "Valinor Multiball" in The Lord of the Rings, which rivals The Simpsons Pinball Party for the sheer difficulty of reaching it. It can only be enabled if the player completes all three multiball modes, achieving "There and Back Again", collecting all of the Gifts of the Elves, and Destroying the Ring. A master player demonstrates reaching Valinor Multiball here, which took 54 minutes, a serious marathon run even for a top-level player.
- This was a common complaint about The Lost World: Jurassic Park, as it followed the same progression system as Pinball Party (five modes, then the Wizard Mode) - which doesn't seem that bad, but every mode is rather hard on its own to clear.
- James Cameron's Avatar is infamous for this, to the point where some players unfairly downgrade the game for its sheer difficulty. In addition to being a fast game that requires precise shooting skills, reaching the final Wizard Mode requires either completing the game's six main modes... or starting them on the same ball.
- Hyperball, Steve Ritchie's attempt at creating a Shoot 'em Up pinball game, is notorious for being insanely difficult — which, coupled with its unorthodox gameplay, made it very hard to find public acceptance. Collectors universally advise turning down the difficulty to make it less frustrating for home play.
- Defender can be this for new players, as those expecting a conventional pinball game are surprised by its wave-based design, Video Game-style structure, or the manually-activated kickback. If the operator has removed the center post between the flippers, the game becomes even harder as a result.