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Nintendo Hard / Shoot'em Ups

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Many shoot-em-ups are arcade affairs, or at least are rooted in arcade games, so it's only natural for the bulk of them to kill you by the end of the second stage or even the first one.

It should be noted that while Bullet Hell games look obviously difficult, a very high bullet count is not needed to make a game sadistically difficult. Tight maze-like stages (even if the walls aren't deadly), fast "sniper" attacks, tricky enemy placement, and post-death powerup deprivation can make a "classical" shoot-em-up just as hard as your usual danmaku shooter. Just as there are players of older shooters who struggle with bullet hell, there are bullet hell players who are surprised by how difficult bullet-sparse games from the 80s and early 90s can be.


Note also that in the shoot-em-up community (as well as those for some other formats of arcade and arcade-style games), "properly" beating the game mandates beating the game without continues, a feat known as a one-credit clear or a 1CC. The rationale is that arcade games often allow the player to buy their way to the end of the game by spending money on continues, and in console games/ports that grant unlimited continues, being able to just replenish your life stock when it runs out by pressing a button allows the player to effortlessly beat the game even on the highest difficulty (assuming the game doesn't send them back to a Checkpoint with each death or give out a Non-Standard Game Over for losing all lives past a certain point). As such, games that offer limited chances to die or take damage per credit but have unlimited credits can qualify for this trope, if trying to beat the game on that one credit is very difficult (which, for arcade games, it will always be since arcade games are designed to eat up money).


  • Raptor: Call of the Shadows isn't as infernally difficult when compared to other shoot 'em ups (especially since the game ditches the scoring system in favor of a monetary rewards system as well as having your ship averting the One-Hit-Point Wonder trope that so many others employ) but the entire Outer Regions episode (the third and final episode) may qualify for having a plethora of Demonic Spiders and malevolent ground defenses ready to rip your titular aircraft apart if you aren't well prepared. Specifically, there's an amalgamation of Mooks, both airborne and grounded, that fire a dizzying array of flak balls, missiles, plasma balls, and lasers towards unsuspecting players. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, you will still find yourself losing a lot of your shields, thanks to the unpredictable appearances of the Mooks. What's more, there's a lot of red-coloured Mooks in this episode compared to the previous two (the first one has none of these coloured Mooks whatsoever while the second has only red-coloured helicopters with predictable patterns that first appear in the fourth wave and then making some recurring appearances up until the seventh wave), On Elite difficulty, the whole episode might as well fit this trope very aptly as it throws a ton of these Mooks at your face. Thus, it is highly not recommended to begin this episode until you are fully stacked on Phase Shields and Megabombs and have access to the most useful and powerful weapons your revenue can get; namely the Laser Turret, Pulse Cannon, Auto-Tracking Minigun, and especially the Twin Laser. The latter two are going to prove very useful for the Cores And Turrets Bosses, including the very Final Boss in the last wave, and especially since the very last wave in this episode is ridiculously merciless at any difficulty level (even on Rookie). Oh, by the way, if your health reaches zero, your game is over as there are no extra lives or continues in order to make up for the aversion of the One-Hit-Point Wonder trope, unlike other contemporaries in its genre.
    • Outer Regions seems so merciless regardless of difficulty level because the difficulty level increases when you complete an episode, so if you play all three in sequence, you must start Outer Regions on Elite. And the huge amount of health the enemies in this episode have means you will have to complete at least one of the previous two episodes to afford the equipment necessary to survive.
  • The Run-And-Gun shooter Moon Patrol actually starts out nice and easy, especially for an early '80s arcade title...and then it throws the Champion course at you, which quickly escalates from fairly challenging into downright Nintendo Hard. The Champion course is just littered with areas with multiple rocks on both sides of a pit, jumping sequences where your timing has to be just right, and sometimes a couple dozen airborne enemies on screen...sometimes in combination.
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  • Arcade cabinet horizontal spaceship Shoot Em Ups à la Zero Wing are a famous example of this trope. An egregious one is Zed Blade, also known as Operation Ragnarok. After a deceptively easy start, the player has to fight ever-increasing number of enemies, most of which are pretty strong and require a lot of pummeling to go down. This would not be particularly deserving of note, if it wasn't that the player is required to avoid a veritable storm of bullets directed at him, most of which can't be shot down. This impressive amount of firepower is often shot by the enemies in such a pattern that there's no way to avoid being hit by at least one bullet. Since the ship has no shields and even one hit will result in a life loss, this makes the game practically unplayable... unless one uses an emulator and a cheat file to make the player ship invulnerable. Of particular notice is the last level, in which along with the usual hailstorm of enemies and bullets, there is a background boss that cannot be destroyed. It'll stay there until the end of the level, spewing even more bolts in the player's direction. This writer doubts anyone ever saw the end of Zed Blade before emulation came along.
  • In Japanese, a subset of games called danmaku are modern (or not THAT modern) variations that often feature extremely elaborate and beautiful patterns of bullet flows, especially for bosses, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of bullets on the screen at once.
    • Adding to the hardness, some danmaku games, especially Touhou, actually reward you for getting as close to the bullets as possible. Being able to "graze" bullets by having them pass through your sprite but not your hitbox earns you extra points for your score, but ups your chances of dying immensely. Thankfully, these games have mechanics to keep the grazing from getting too worthy of a keyboard/controller/arcade machine toss—such as offering plenty of lives, or the "death bomb" mechanic found in Touhou (which allows the player to use up a bomb rather than a life right after getting hit).
  • Touhou is particularly well-known for drawing in new players with its cast of cute girls, before they realize just how bullet-happy these cute girls can be. Even on Easy Mode, players not used to shoot-em-ups will find themselves wondering "how the heck do I dodge that?!" And on the harder difficulty levels, the game really starts showing its teeth—just search for a video of the game on Lunatic or its Extra stage. To make matters worse, although you can continue if you lose all your lives, continuing means not getting to see a good ending. The real kicker, though, is that, when it comes to Bullet Hell, Touhou is considered one of the easier games.
    • Even among the Touhou games, Touhou 11: Subterranean Animism stands out for being notoriously hard. You know how most Touhous have a Difficulty Spike around the stage 4 boss or so? Yeah, Subterranean Animism's spike comes in the form of Parsee Mizuhashi, the stage 2 boss, who shows up with homing attacks and a Doppleganger Attack that spews giant bullets all over the screen if you hit the doppleganger. Also, you can't stockpile bombs; bombs run off your weapon energy, and every bomb you use downgrades your shots. Combine that with somewhat mediocre weapons, a stage 4 boss that changes her abilities based on your shot type, and Orin, and you have a brutally hard Touhou.
    • Seven years later we got Touhou 15: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom which gained almost instant notoriety for being absurdly hard. About how hard is it? Let's put it this way: Save Scumming is made a central gameplay mechanic in the game and clearing with a death-count of between 100 to 200 on one's first run is considered an outright good performance. Almost half of those deaths are likely going to be inflicted by the stage 5 boss.
  • The Shikigami no Shiro series, which is to be expected, being Bullet Hell games. The games also have a "Tension Bonus System" that ups score and attack power when near enemies and bullets, of which there is plenty, especially in Extreme Mode.
  • The Kiki Kai Kai games are generally quite hard, in spite of their level of cuteness.
  • Other shooting games that have gained renown for being pretty hard include Mushihime Sama, which writes the Curtain in Curtain Fire with capital letters (it is not unusual to barely see your ship among the thousands upon thousands of bullets as the difficulty starts to ramp up).
  • Project X gives you five lives to complete five levels, each one capped with a boss you'd be lucky to beat with ten. One of them even laughs at you when you die.
  • The Silver Surfer video game might very well be one of the hardest games ever. The Silver Surfer himself has a very large hitbox that includes the surfboard itself and he is a One-Hit-Point Wonder that not only dies by touching enemies and their projectiles, but by also touching his surroundings. That includes the walls, the ceiling, the floors, and even parts of the scenery. The levels that have a top-down perspective are even harder as the graphics can make it very easy to confuse the projectiles with the scenery and the bullet hell that sometimes comes up doesn't even have a distinct pattern. And to top it off is the fact that holding down the A button doesn't shoot a constant stream of bullets.
  • A variant of the danmaku, Ikaruga is often cited as one of the hardest games ever made. And that's not even regarding going for the evasive "S++" rankings. Part of this is due to the fact that, once again, Treasure found a way to make a shooter that encourages the player to fly into enemy fire.
    • It's also one of the few shmups that you can beat without firing a single shot (you get the special "Dot Eater" rank for doing this.)
  • Sin and Punishment is easy on easy mode. And then normal mode makes your shots do less damage, you take more damage, and heal less. Took you forever to beat Normal mode? Happy joy, you just unlocked Hard. Good luck making it to the final boss, much less beating it. Beat that? Go for Turbo/double-frame mode.
    • The second game doesn't seem to have lowered the difficulty any, either, and perhaps might even have raised it. Good thing the point controls make aiming so precise, because you're going to need every edge you can get.
    • Another part of the first game's difficulty is how utterly strange the game's controls arenote , which take quite a bit of getting used to. Fortunately, the Wii controls in the second game pretty much fix this problem.
  • Radiant Silvergun, the Spiritual Predecessor to Ikaruga, which is just as long and hard as hell. To demonstrate:
    • Mazes of walls, many of which have walls that are not static.
    • Tricky laser patterns that seem to have lives of their own.
    • Color-coded chaining system. Unlike Ikaruga, where you can change enemy colors every three enemies, once you begin a chain you cannot change color, and since there are three colors of enemies that means leaving roughly two-thirds of enemies intact. And before you go "meh, I don't care about score, I just want my 1CC"...
    • Weapon leveling system based around scoring points. If you can't score effectively, your weapons will remain weak, which will become fatal in later stages when enemies ramp up in durability.
    • Dozens of bosses with punishing attacks, doubly so if you've failed to level your aforementioned weapons.
    • And even on the Easier Than Easy difficulties, you'll be lucky to complete two stages out of five (six if you're playing the console-exclusive modes)!
  • And the less said about infamous titles like Pulstar, Viewpoint, or Blazing Star, the better...
  • Most of Cave's shmups became notorious for their elaborate scoring mechanics, and their difficulty; their most successful titles have earned the attention of non-competitive shmup players and score-competitive ones alike, and are often ranked high in terms of player preference. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that Cave has defined its own standards of difficulty, where Nintendo Hard isn't enough to express it. For example, the Touhou community has created a hacked version of its 6th game that's inspired by Mushihime Sama's Ultra Mode. Now, for your viewing pleasure
    • No matter what the Touhou fandom will tell you, Cave have made some of the hardest shoot-em-ups ever, and some of the hardest games ever, period. One of their games, Dodonpachi Dai-ou-jou, was out for a year and literally only 5 people in the entire world had beaten it. And these were all "professional" Japanese shoot-em-up players. No kidding. That's how horrifically difficult this game gets: you have to be a GOD in playing this game and/or any of Cave's other games, let alone 1cc-ing them all, which is pretty much the ultimate Self-Imposed Challenge in playing a Cave game. Ultra mode in Mushihime-sama Futari is pretty much legendary in terms of difficulty - you're lucky if you survive more than 30 seconds, and beating it in a single credit requires getting through Ultra Mode's TLB form of Larsa where she's floating by herself. She has a bomb-shield for the entire time, and two lifebars (in addition to the lifebar she had while on the dragon)!
      • The "Black Label" limited edition version has God mode, which features a Bonus Boss with extremely difficult requirements to encounter her. To get Spiritual Larsa you have to beat God Mode without dying at all. Spiritual Larsa herself actually is relatively easy though, especially compared to Ultra's TLB form, not counting all the resources you'd have left over if you're good enough get to her. Only her last attack is actually dangerous, and it's the only attack that has a bomb-shield.
      • And then Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu came along, and then Black Label came after that and introduced the elusive Zatsuza. Why elusive? Because for over a year, the only evidence of its existence was a track on the OST marked "Secret", because nobody was awesome enough at the game to even see it, to the point that most people just started thinking it was just a Cut Song. And for the record, Zatsuza has also managed to one-up Spiritual Larsa.
      • The ending of DoDonPachi Maximum has CAVE programmer Tsuneki Ikeda's Author Avatar basically saying "We've created many challenging arcade danmaku games with fierce bosses. Why don't you try these other games for yourself?"
      • The Espgaluda games, however, are probably the easiest shmups ever created by Cave due to the inclusion of the "Kakusei Mode" that allows the player to slow down the bullets onscreen.
    • The Death Label in Dodonpachi Dai-Ou-Jou is the hardest game ever, period. Back when it was released it was deemed to be impossible to beat if you had human reaction times. It was beaten though, SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS AFTER ITS ORIGINAL RELEASE. Touhou fans, eat your heart out.
  • The Darius series of shmups, particularly Darius II and Darius Gaiden. In Darius II, the player's ship is huge relative to the enemies, and Darius Gaiden attempts to piss players off with nigh-unavoidable enemy attacks and cheap bosses, several of which fire the dreaded, hard-to-dodge homing lasers, and a rather annoying Dynamic Difficulty system where powering up for the first time raises the difficulty, with the new difficulty depending on what tier of stages...what's that? Did you just die twice on the final stage and get reduced to the weaker laser shots? Too bad, Taito doesn't care.
  • Legendary Wings, particularly the arcade version.
  • The R-Type series. What it lacks in Bullet Hell, it more than makes up for it with its challenging stage designs and enemy placements, which determined players must memorize. Credit feeding and/or savestating will quickly become your best friends in practicing the stages.
  • Armed Police Unit Gallop, aka Cosmic Cop, a Gaiden Game to R-Type, is even more Nintendo-hard than its brethren.
    • To elaborate: the player ship has a large hitbox and is a One-Hit-Point Wonder - in a game that would be murderously difficult even if there were some kind of shielding. The enemies are many, they shoot a lot, and they do have a health level. The levels are all impossibly difficult to navigate, because of both Malevolent Architecture and plenty of dynamic obstacles around. The game occasionally likes to throw in your path threats that cannot be foreseen - like walls you can't go past (there's a split before you reach the wall, but you aren't told which is the safe path and which leads to unavoidable death) or enemies flying at you very quickly from beyond the screen. And to top it all off, when you die the game makes you replay the part of the level where you died from the beginning - with no powerups. Finishing this game without cheating might well be impossible; it would require superhuman reflexes to navigate the levels while dodging the obstacles and also trying to take care of the enemies.
  • Much of the Gradius series is a test of patience and being able to recover out of a death that strips you of all of the powerups that keep the game easy. The arcade version of Gradius III (not Arcade difficulty of the SNES version, but the original arcade version), in particular is a notorious example; the first stage alone will make you CRY.
    • And if you manage to make it past the dreaded 3D segment and Moai stage, you'll start raging at the end of the ice stage, with flying ice cubes that seem to be magnetically attracted to Vic Viper. Plus you have to face the boss too. And have fun during the final level's "escape sequence" after you kill the final boss.
    • Gradius Rebirth. Take 5 of the most frustrating level types from the Gradius series, add in some more stuff that kills you, and make you go through them repeatedly, each time changing the set up and making things shoot faster to the point where you can't even move without being killed. Oh and the reset points? Typically have the powerup enemies just about to exit the screen, making it hard to also grab them for a chance of survival.
      • And you can't practice all of that later stuff unless you're on the PS2 version (thanks to stage select), because this version offers no continues. And the escape sequence? Dear God, when I got to that, I gave up.
      • The ending you get on Easy Mode isn't the actual ending; in order to see THAT, you have to beat the game on a harder setting since Easy Mode only has one Loop, while all other difficulties have several.
    • Gradius is so hard that one of the creators made the Konami Code because he couldn't beat it.
    • For many players that had played the infinitely easier SNES version, trying the original Gradius III arcade version tends to be a complete bitchslap to the face. Yeah, so we're going to shift the enemies around, speed them up, make them much more dogged in their pursuit of you—oh, and while we're at it, you might want to know some of the more useful weapon configurations didn't exist here and the bosses are more resilient. Finally, if you lose all your lives, you don't even get to continue. Have fun!
      • The Asian and World arcade versions were somewhat easier than the aforementioned Japanese version, which was the basis for the PS2 port.
  • Abadox looks like Life Force or Salamander - and it is a damned good shooter - but there's one little problem. When you die - and you WILL die - you lose all your powerups. Standard shooter fare, right? Did we mention that if you don't have speed powerups, you control like molasses in January? This in a game full of tight turns, fast-moving landscapes and (especially in the later levels) enemies as fast as you are with speed powerups. It fits with all the old shmup tropes - huge sprites, One-Hit-Point Wonder and the like - but quite simply, this game is a psychotically hard example. Beating it without using the all-powerful code or savestates is an incredible achievement, on par with one-life-running Battletoads.
    • And if you do manage to beat the game, you're rewarded with the opportunity to replay the game while invincible. Yup, once again you can only get the Game-Breaker by proving you don't need it.
  • While otherwise a great game, Apogee's side-scrolling shooter Stargunner is incredibly difficult. Even on the easiest difficulty, the guardian bosses every three levels, and especially at the end of an episode, will eat through your available lives like popcorn, and you only have a maximum of nine. The rapid loss of lives when facing the bosses tends to either come from them having incredibly powerful weapons and being really good shots or just simply being extremely maneuverable and colliding with your ship.
    • The fact that you can save and load your exact gameplay position makes the game a good deal easier. But the fact that no other shmup known to man gives you this option makes realizing the said ability infinitely more difficult than it should be.
  • The Thunder Force series of Shoot Em Ups has all sorts of unexpected death traps designed to make life miserable. It doesn't help that players who are very good at these games will hate you if you can't one-credit-clear a Thunder Force game within days of starting to play it.
  • Battle Garegga. If you can handle the realistically-colored bullets, prepare for a different dimension of hurt: the Dynamic Difficulty ("rank") system. To elaborate, the game increases the rank over time and when you perform certain actions like firing especially with higher shot power and collecting items, meaning you can't just hold down the fire button all day and you have to pace your collection of shot powerup items. The only way to reduce rank is to die, i.e. you have to strategically use up lives so you don't burn them all up in a high-rank situation later; this means that to keep earning lives to sacrifice for rank control, you need to get very good at scoring points (the main method of earning extra lives) in this game, which involves collecting medals without leting them escape in order to maximize their point values, a task that is far easier said than done. Mistakes in rank management won't be readily apparent until you reach the later parts of the game and see enemies popping off unusually dense attacks, potentially rendering the game Unwinnable by Design.
  • Sub Terrania, for Sega Genesis, is an unusual shoot 'em up that has the player pilot a small sub/fighter craft around sandbox caves and gun down aliens and robots while trying to rescue survivors and retrieve sub modules (in the first half of the game) and simply clear obstacles (in the second half). The difficulty stems from several factors: 1) your fuel runs dry pretty quickly and there are only a handful of fuel stations (which can each only be used once) throughout the levels, usually far away when you need it; 2) your shields also drop quickly, and shield recharge stations (also one use) are very rare—some levels don't have any; 3) the controls, while not clunky or unwieldy, are extremely touchy, requiring very delicate applications of thrusters and turns, or you'll smash into a wall and explode. Also, you can't float in place if you need to shoot sideways, so you constantly have to adjust your orientation and give a light thruster boost before turning again and continuing to shoot (giving enemies plenty of time to smack you around).
    • Also, once you reach the underwater section of the cave system (the second half of the game), gravity increases drastically for some reason, meaning a faster consumption of fuel and an increased danger of overcompensating and slamming into a wall.
  • Big Bang Mini is a tribute to old-school shoot em ups.
  • Bangai-O Spirits for the DS is hard and knows it. The game actually tells you how to do the Invincibility and Infinite Limit Break cheats in the Tutorial, because they know many people will need them just to beat some stages.
  • The obscure Jim Power: The Arcade Game has not only the usual "all manner of obstacles" business as well as Jim himself phasing out in seconds after touching any hazard or enemy, but there is also the SHMUP sections where the ship you are flying is pretty slow (read: annoyingly slow) and there are enemies that toss tons of bullets at you. And, of course, there are the Zig-zag segments in which the autoscrolling randomly speeds up and slows down. Watch Youtube LPer Kikoskia's LP of the game and you'll see how frustrating this game gets... even the very first level is insane.
  • For all it manages to avoid The Problem with Licensed Games, Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a bastard in later levels. The first playthrough is all right, but once you enter the second one, every enemy doubles the amount of damage they can do. By the time you reach the last level, forget your health bar - you can take maybe three hits. Did I mention some enemies randomly don't go into hit-stun, meaning they can freely attack you while you hit them? And that many of the flying stages are Bullet Hell? (This is a Treasure game.) Oh, and the entire second half of the game is a massive Guide Dang It!. Still surprisingly fun.
    • It's true the first playthrough is doable... unless you're playing on Hard Mode, which truly lives up to its name. Have fun trying to get past the second boss. You'll have a hard enough time just getting to him.
    • One boss late in the second playthrough is about five times bigger than Astro. Super attacks only do about 10% damage. And the worst part? It can kill you in only. One. Hit.
      • Said boss has laughably simple pattern though; those that remember they can dash through enemies usually beat it on the first try.
  • Konami's forgotten vertical shmup Lightning Fighters came out the same year as Raiden, but is considerably harder. Has moments of Fake Difficulty in the later levels, as well as suffering from "Gradius Syndrome".
  • Capcom's 19XX series which has you fighting through storms of projectiles and enemies and plenty of bosses which take the form of Huge Expensive Superweapons. Not helped by 1942, 1943, and 1944 being exceptionally long by arcade standards.
  • Adventures Of Dino Riki: In this game, Dino Riki is armed with throwing rocks and must contend with hordes of fast-moving enemies, quicksand pits, bottomless chasms, and river crossings where he must be extremely careful with his jumps or else he will end up in the drink.
  • Sunset Riders is essentially Contra in the old West, and for good reason. Multiplayer made the game easier, there were powerups for your gun, but you still had to master aiming and effectively making use of cover; not to mention the stampedes and one-hit kills. Then there's The Smith Bros...
  • Don't let the playful graphics in Aqua Rhapsody fool you. Fast and precise mouse movements are a MUST to make any decent progress in the game.
  • Rayxanber II for the PC Engine not only forces R-Type-like memorization, but has weapons that are underpowered for defeating the fast-moving enemies, some of which will completely encircle the ship.
  • Syder Arcade on Pure difficulty. It's a good thing that powerups carry over from previous stages, because you need EVERY edge you can get.
  • Recca is the Ur-Example of Bullet Hell. Except, unlike most bullet hells, it's EXTREMELY fast paced and frantic. You get no continues, you lose all powerups when you die, note  the bombs need to be charged note  The game has little slowdown for the most part note  and in general it doesn't fuck around. The credits even state that Recca is a "Super Hard Shooting Game" Then there's hard mode, which changes the entire game around to make it even harder, and Zankai Attack, which puts the "Bullet" in Bullet Hell. This makes it the vertical scrolling equivalent of Gradius.
  • Army Moves was largely responsible for giving Spanish company Dinamic its reputation for making games with wonderful graphics but ludicrous difficulty. The first two stages of the Gameplay Roulette feature player vehicles that go down in one hit from any of the constant swarms of enemies from all sides. Collision detection only aggravates this.
  • Hellsinker is relentless, confusing, and even the first two bosses on the Behind (default) path are pretty difficult. If you don't know how to use your character's weapons effectively (which isn't easy), every boss will feel like a Damage-Sponge Boss.
  • To give you an idea of how difficult Truxton is, its Japanese title is Tatsujin, which translates to "Expert". Its sequel, Truxton II / Tatsujin Ou ("Expert King") is a tad more fair, in the sense of giving you autofire and powerful weaponry, but provides even more challenging enemies.
  • Raiden derives its difficulty from fast enemy bullets and "sniper" tanks/gunboats that pop out and immediately fire a fast shot at you. To elaborate, if you consistently perform well (i.e. constantly smashing through Mooks without even dying once), the game gets downright vicious by throwing these things at you frequently to ensure that you won't try to 1cc a single playthrough. In addition, dying reduces your firepower back to minimal, forcing you to pick up powerups again unless you picked up one of the rare fairies that generously drop powerups for you upon your death. Have fun trying to finish the final stage with only a weak 3-way spread and missiles that do practically nonexistent damage because you died once.
  • Burning Force is a brutally difficult Space Harrier clone (but with most of the game being played on a hoverbike that can only move left and right.) By the midway point of the game, there's a constant barrage of things flying at you, and the 3D perspective can make it hard to tell how close projectiles are to you in some instances. Hoverbike bosses can also be frustrating, because unless you have homing missiles you can only hit them if they're low to the ground, so obviously a lot of them like to just fly up frequently so you can't hit them. Not only that, but even in the arcade version, getting a game over kicks the player back to the beginning of the stage, preventing them from just Bribing Their Way To Victory, and getting a game over in the final stage (when the Final Boss is a massive Marathon Boss) ends the game right then and there without a chance to continue.
  • From the very first stage Zanac is utterly unforgiving and constantly throws a thousand things at you at once (even during boss fights) with very few breathers. Furthermore, it's known for its Dynamic Difficulty system that increases difficulty the more the player shoots, therefore trying to play Zanac by firing all the time like in many other shooters will see the player getting punished swiftly by Elite Mooks. Power-ups are gotten from shooting one of three boxes, one of which contains the power-up, one of which has nothing and one of which fires at you when you destroy it. And Continuing Is Painful to such a degree that if you die at all in the later stages, you're pretty much screwed unless you have godlike reflexes, making this another vertical scrolling game with "Gradius Syndrome".
  • Crimzon Clover has a unique take on this trope: the game is brutally difficult not just because it is a danmaku game, but if you die before reaching the Final Boss, using even a single continue bars you from getting to face the Final Boss, and instead ends the game with no credit roll after you defeat the final stage's second boss. That's right, the game actually mocks you for not 1cc-ing the game because you weren't using your godlike reflexes to even make it through all the levels. So 1cc-ing is pretty much mandatory if you want to play this game.
  • After Burner and its sequel allows you to add additional lives on top of your starting three at the start of the game and during the game, by inserting credits. Why? Because the missiles the enemies shoot out are damn near unavoidable without seizure levels of juking your aircraft, and it doesn't help that your fighter's sprite can obscure the view of the oncoming missiles. An average player will have exhausted their starting three lives by the end of stage 3, or even stage 2; mind you, this game has 18 stages. On top of that, the game has a fairly unnecessary barrel mechanic, ostensibly to help you dodge missiles, but all it does is prevent you from taking any other movement-related action until the roll ends or you get hit by a missile. After Burner Climax alleviates this somewhat by giving you a Life Meter and a better view of what's in front of your ship, but a missile still takes away 70% of your health.
  • Gunbird 2 is considered to be one of the hardest 2D-shooters ever made and is easily the hardest one released in Europe and one of the harder ones released in North America. It is in many ways a step up of the original Gunbird/Mobile Light Force, replacing the upgrade system with a leveling system, having updated graphics and more sprites. The thing though is that the leveling system, while being able to upgrade by shooting enemies and picking the power-ups, is extremely slow and you will be unable to be maximally powered up (which is at level 3) until the second level at the very least and the meter returns to level one after you lose a life. There are way more bullets than in the original and the enemy AI has become stronger, which means that bullets are harder to dodge and that the dodge requires more precision. The bosses are, just as the bosses in Gunbird/Mobile Light Force, strategy based (to give an example, one boss in Gunbird/Mobile Light Force shoots lots of slow bullets, the best strategy is to visualize where all the bullets will go and dodge them) and have multiple forms, but they have made the strategies Up to Eleven, so that the right strategy is needed and that it still would be even hard to do the stuff correctly. Memorizing the levels is also practically useless, since like the original Gunbird/Mobile Light Force, the level types are randomly generated with only the increasing difficulty intact. The only thing saving you is bombs, which are rare, but clear the screen of all bullets and obstacles. It is especially in the later levels that it gets ridiculous, with tons of bullets literally flashing through the screen. If anything it proves that importing is not necessary to get some of the most hardcore shoot-em-up action ever put on a CD (unless you are in Australia of course).
  • Namco's Dragon Spirit is a vertical-scrolling one where the player plays as a dragon who must avoid both aerial threats and attacks from the ground. The normal fire blasts would only strike the aerial forces. While one could gain power-ups to strike ground forces, it left the player unable to fire at aerial threats. Gaining other power-ups, such as doubling or tripling the total number of heads of the player, and thus increasing total volleys shot and rate of fire, is mitigated by typically increasing the size of the dragon, and any hit on part of the dragon counts for a lose of life.
  • DownWell is a short game, but will require multiple attempts to even see the boss, let alone defeat it.
  • To The Earth is a wickedly difficult NES shoot-em-up featuring enemies that swoop down at you in waves, fire quickly, and pull away before you can so much as get a shot off, meaning they're barely on screen for a fraction of a second. How is this any different or harder than a traditional shoot-em-up? You have to use the Zapper for this game. Yes, a high speed space shooting game where you actually have rely on your own gun-handling reflexes. Oh, and if you shoot and don't hit a target, you lose some of your lifebar, so you can't just fill the air with shots either. This contributes to a ruthlessly hard game that ended up being quite polarizing among reviewers at the time.
  • Mars Matrix features brutal patterns as early as stage 3 (of 6) and a difficult item-chaining system that you are required to master to defend against and counter enemy attacks, earn enough EXP to level your ship up, and get extra lives. Its only major mercy is averting Collision Damage; anything that's not a bullet, such as enemy ships and asteroids, are safe to fly over.
  • Air Buster, especially on hardest difficulty on home consoles.
  • Speaking of Battle Garegga, theres another game like that, it's called Cyvern The Dragon Weapons.
  • P-47 Aces, the forgotten "sequel" to P-47: The Phantom Fighter, has it's nasty moments here and there. Not the mention the dynamic difficulty that makes things worse, why?, because you can get only ONE extra life.


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