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Insane Difficulty Spikes That Ruined The Game

Ah, video games. Our trustiest crutch to lean on after a long day (if Frank Underwood can do it, so can we), and the industry we get most pumped up about. We love the thrill of the chase and the excitement of the boss battle, and even revel in calmer games that mellow us out and refocus our attention. The challenge is what gets us gamers going, but sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. Here are some of the most insane difficulty spikes that ruined otherwise great games.

The wind tunnel in Battletoads

Battletoads boasted difficulty from the get-go, but it was its notorious hoverbiking Turbo Tunnel level that kicked things into overdrive—and turned many players away in the process. Gamers have to knock out an opponent named Scuzz, which should be foretelling of what's in store, and then bob and weave past randomly generated walls, fly off ramps, and duck underneath barriers. Once you're officially sweating through your shirt as you strain to take down the Turbo Tunnel, another spike occurs: you have to clear the gaps between ramps manually, timing your platform jumps just right. Hit any wall, ramp, barrier—anything—once, and you're dead and done. Lose your three lives too many times in the Turbo Tunnel, and you're tossed to the start of the game to begin again.

While a few lucky players have seen success in the hoverbike stage, the consensus is that it's a nightmare and mars the rest of the game entirely. Its challenges appear before you can react, and "eventually gets so fast that reflexes alone won't cut it," according to one player, who even resorted to taking notes, plotting a course, and then shouting at the television when the Turbo Tunnel defeated him.

Level 6 in Ninja Gaiden (1989)

Stage 6-2 from this Temco-developed side-scrolling fighting game is brutal beyond belief. Playing as the protagonist Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja bent on avenging the death of his father, gamers trek through Ninja Gaiden's many levels that test their patience, attention to detail, and reaction times—none more than this one. Climbing up ladders and jumping from platform to platform seems simple enough, but toss in a slew of unforgiving external forces, and players are in for a world of trouble and confusion. Difficulty ramps up to the nth degree here, when other ninjas attack Ryu Hayabusa from all sides and small creatures blip onto the screen to distract and damage—and then there are the falcons. They swoop in with a vengeance, strategically timed to strike you right as you're leaping over a pit. Surviving Stage 6-2 is a feat worthy of praise because it's just so unlikely to happen.

Today, many gamers are hesitant to even to go near Ninja Gaiden, as its consistent difficulty and multiple spikes have been described as "unfair display[s] of intentional cheapness" and it as a whole has been stamped as a game "specifically designed to kill you repeatedly until you memorize pixel-perfect patterns."

Story Mode Chapter 7 in F-Zero GX

Here's where things get even stickier. In the 2003 futuristic racing game F-Zero GX, there are a ton of campy cutscenes and spine-tingling races to the finish, but there's also a difficulty spike so steep it's alienated a whole generation of players. Combining ruthless AI enemies with in-game track layouts sure to make any gamer's head spin, F-Zero GX kicked things up to sky-high intensity levels with its Story Mode, particularly in Chapter 7, where the F-Zero Grand Prix race takes place.

Chapter 7 of Story Mode is an absolute doozy, with every single enemy driver turned up to "the maximum AI level, except for Black Bull, who has his own AI level" that breaks the game by snaking. Enemy groups respawn too quickly for a fair fight, and fans got really upset, vowing with extremely profane language and colorful metaphors that they'd never touch another F-Zero franchise installment in the future. F-Zero GX has been heavily criticized for its insurmountable challenges, especially with the Grand Prix level, and has gone down in history as one of the most difficult games to beat.

Dal Gurak in Severance: Blade of Darkness

Any player whose intuition is telling them to stay away from Severance: Blade of Darkness based on its slightly frightening name alone would be wise to do so. This third-person PC title pulls gamers in close, emphasizing tight-quarters combat and hand-to-hand physical fighting as you traverse through multiple maps to get your hands on your daughter Ianna's Sacred Sword to finally kill the notorious necromancer Dal Gurak. This, of course, is the final boss in the blood-boiling Blade of Darkness before all loose ends can be tied up and players can face their ultimate test. Unfortunately, the jump in intensity from previous levels (which are by no means easy on their own) to the Dal Gurak showdown left many Blade of Darkness players frustrated and fizzled out. After multiple attempts to beat him, one player resorted to consulting a game FAQ on how to succeed; reportedly, the guide offered some "strategies and AI exploits" that didn't work. Talk about a game-ruiner.

Like the other titles we've touched on, Severance: Blade of Darkness has been criticized quite frequently for its unfair spikes, particularly this one, and a difficulty level that can't be adjusted. Paired together, these mark the game as one that sends everyday players packing in search of something more worthwhile.

The final battle in Ghosts 'n Goblins

Ghosts 'n Goblins revolutionized gaming—it was the first game to utilize a version of the New Game Plus feature we all know, love, and rely on in our modern gaming market. Disappointingly, it's also one ruined by its sharp spike in difficulty. The final battle is where it all plummets down for players...and up for the game's intensity. Ghosts 'n Goblins shows off its sadism by announcing that the supposed clinching level is all but a ruse: "This room is an illusion and is a trap devised by Satan," it tells players before flinging them to the start of the game. Yep, you heard right: anyone who takes on Ghosts 'n Goblins will have to play through the game twice to reach the true ending. Suffice to say, that specific struggle spoiled what could have been a smash-hit side-scroller.

QTEs in Knights Contract

Boss battles are the bread and butter of games, and quick time events are expected to crop up in a slew of popular titles, but the context-sensitive cut-scene missions in Knights Contract that follow near-deadly duels are in a league of their own.

While the stock structure for a QTE does kick its players back to the start if they fail a sequence, those in Knights Contract follow quite lengthy levels and require gamers to grind through stages to the point of exhaustion simply in hopes of mastering the QTEs' every move. One critic said that while Knights Contract has a number of wonderful elements—like its "blistering combat, absorbing story, and dark fantasy setting"—the game is completely ruined by this spike. The post-boss-fight play has been described as the title's most "soul-sucking, eff-word-eliciting flaw."

The sewer level in Jet Li: Rise to Honor

Though it may appear at first glance a title too hammy to be even remotely hard, this third-person action shooter game from Sony Interactive is anything but; the only thing over-the-top about Jet Li: Rise to Honor is a particular level that will leave players out of breath and begging for mercy.

Noted as a "great bit of entertainment," the beat-'em-up game flows along swimmingly with a steady difficulty curve and numerous checkpoints, until players are thrust into an underground sewer level out of which few make it alive. With up to 120 enemies angling their attacks from all around, the "number of characters allowed to fight at one time doubles," meaning that not only is this horde of men actually inflicting damage, the battle lasts far longer than ones that came before it. That is, if you survive long enough to put up a fight.

As if an army of enemies to defeat wasn't heart-stopping enough, the game's control system can't handle the 360-degree combat fluently; players' only chance at hope is with "critical pauses between moves," but that leaves them vulnerable and crushed down in no time at all. Which is a shame, as one player noted they were pleased with the game until they hit the "ridiculous difficulty spike" in the sewer slums.

The dam level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

We suspect you're noticing a trend here: the Nintendo Entertainment System is legendary for its titles' lethal levels. The minds behind 1989's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles apparently weren't satisfied with bringing an entertaining side-scroller to arcades around the world; they needed something intense, something for which the game would be remembered. Enter the dam level. Widely regarded as the one of the most hated gameplay formats, underwater stages knock players around, hinder their speed and agility, and threaten to reduce them to tears. This level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the paragon of submarine pitfalls.

With numerous obstacles to dodge like Energy Draining Leaves, 8 Bombs, and electric pink seaweed that's literally everywhere, difficulty rises as players go below the surface of the sea. The steepness of the spike has left the dam marked as "the most stressful video game level of all time." It's little wonder why many were left with a bad taste in their mouth after attempting to play it, and why the sharp jump soured the teenage turtles for good.

The Matador in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

Spooky skeleton? Check. Eerie backstory? Double check. Yet another insane difficulty spike that diminished hope for an otherwise promising game? Unfortunately, check.

Though the post-apocalyptic title Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has gained some traction for its strong narrative and aesthetically sharp character design, its overall reception is dinged by criticism of its overwhelming challenges, particularly the mysterious Matador that appears later in the game's plotline.

Utilizing a Press Turn battle system for the majority of gameplay and keeping a steady curve of difficulty, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne flips things on their head so quickly and intensely, you'd swear you were transported to a Stranger Things-like Upside Down. Players go sword-to-sword with the menacing Matador, duking it out in the Great Underpass of Ginza, a task that is nigh impossible to accomplish. Thanks to the Matador's powerful Mazon Force Spell and Andalucia abilities, he can channel all four of his battle turns into damage on a single character: you. And on your end? Miss a hit, and you're out a turn, which is practically unavoidable given the Matador's lightning-quick speed and unpredictable moves.

While Nocturne received praise for its high replay value and efforts to innovate plot structure and combat systems, the Matador is its Achilles' heel. One player describes the game-ruining spike: "Matador is a very rude awakening... a massive spike in difficulty compared to what came previously, and usually requires special preparations to actually defeat [like] having a physical-resisting main character, a demon that nulls Force, a way to counter Red Capote, and a healer that can heal everyone at once." Crushing to hear, as Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne could have been epic on all accounts if not for its boney bullfighting boss.

Every new mission in Stuntman

Stuntman is probably the most damaged game in our list, as its fantastic concept took irreparable hits from its upward ticks in toughness. With each new mission in the adrenaline-soaked action-adventure game come newer, harder, unforeseen challenges.

Amidst car chases, glittering Hollywood lights, and throngs of beautiful celebrities, players climb up the social ladder by breaking bones and cutting teeth at the bottom of the B-movie barrel in hopes of landing a job on a high-budget film. But with every new mission comes increased difficulty, pigeon-holing players into a repetitive re-try cycle in hopes they can successfully complete each level.

The 2002 PlayStation 2 title has been heavily criticized for its skewed increase in difficulty, and one writer even said that players will "spend more time watching the reload screen after failing for the 100th time" than enjoying or finishing the game. So much for stuntman stardom, as the only stunts happening in the game are the levels stunting your ability to progress.